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Were there Sumerians in Komkan?

TENSING RODRIGUES

Thapar’s location of Meluhha [Thapar, 1975: A Possible Identification Of Meluhha, Dilmun And Makan, in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Volume 18, Number 1] could give us a lot of insight into what we are looking for: how important trade was in the formation of the kathiyavadi ksatriya identity, and how this trade could have led to the infusion of Sumerian or Mesopotamian culture and ethnicity in Komkan.

Based on the reference to ‘sailors and maritime people’, Thapar concludes that Meluhha was a ‘coastal area’. Noting the goods that it traded in, she tries to speculate on its hinterland. The four major items that we find mentioned in Mesopotamian literature as imports from Meluhha are carnelian, shells, ivory, and wood [Potts, 209: Babylonian Sources Of Exotic Raw Materials, in Leick : The Babylonian World, 124]. As carnelian came from Rajpipla mines or the mouth of Narmada River, it could have been exported from Kathiyavad as well as some north Komkan ports. Shells came mostly from around Kathiyavad. Ivory and wood definitely came from the Western Ghats and its foothills, going down right up to the southern tip of the peninsula. Thus, according to Thapar, the entire western coast could have been the extended hinterland of Meluhha. Were there any Mesopotamian settlements in Meluhha or its hinterland as described
above?

Vidale is quite categorical about the fact that “Sumerians did not travel directly to the coasts and plains of the Indus, nor they settled – at least in substantial groups – in the Indus cities” [Vidale, 2001: Growing in a Foreign World: For a History of the “Meluhha Villages” in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium BC, in Melammu Symposia4, 262]. Before we proceed to discuss Dhume’s evidence for Sumerian settlements in Goa, let us understand the relation between the terms like Sumerians, Accadians, Babylonians, Mesopotamians, etc, which we have used up to now without distinguishing between them. Mesopotamia is a region more or less covering the Tigris–Euphrates river system. By 6,000 BCE, farming settlements began sprouting in the Tigris–Euphrates river basin. By around 4,000 BCE, trade started emerging, soon followed by urbanisation. Around 3,500 BCE the Sumerian civilisation began taking shape in the southern Mesopotamia. Soon the region was divided between people of two language groups: Sumerian-speakers in the south, and Semitic speakers, or Akkadians, in the north. By about 2,334 BCE, Sargon of Akkad seized control to become the overlord of both Sumer and Akkad. Eventually the Northern Mesopotamia was brought fully within the fold of Sumerian-Akkadian civilisation. When the control of Sargon of Akkad began weakening, there followed a long period of internal strife within local overlords and between them and the semi-nomadic clans from the desert, till one such chief, Hammurabi, an Amorite, founded a small kingdom based on the hitherto unimportant town of Babylon in about 1,792 BCE. Over the course of a long reign he turned his territory into a large empire covering the whole of Mesopotamia and beyond. This should make the picture fairly clear. As the internal differences are not of much relevance to us, we shall continue to use the terms like Sumerians, Accadians, Babylonians, Mesopotamians, etc, without distinguishing between them; we are interested in the interaction between the Indian sub-continent and the broad region of Mesopotamia over the last few millennia BCE.

Now to Dhume’s evidence for Sumerian settlements in Goa. We take cognizance only of his finds of the etchings on stone of what he considers the Sumerian cuneiform script and symbols of Sumerian deities. His one find was a cave at Savoi-Verem, which had twelve Sumerian cuneiform signs on one of its walls. In the same village he found two ‘oracle plates’. One plate showed a tiara with two horns, according to him, the symbol of god Anu, in bas-relief. Close to the tiara, on the right side, was an etching of a fish. The second oracle plate had an etching of a shepherd’s stick, the symbol of goddess Inanna. In Priol he found a black stone with lines etched on it, which he feels was a Sumerian oracle plate. At the same place he found two ‘steles’ (upright stone slabs); one of them had in bas-relief a tiara with two horns, which he feels was the symbol for Sumerian god Bel. Dhume surmises that some other stone objects which he found could be oracle plates or steles, but which had been in worship as ‘linga’; we can confirm their Sumerian origin only after verification [Dhume, 2009: The Cultural History of Goa, 118].

Such objects and signs may be found in the rest of coastal Komkan as well. If Dhume’s identification of these as of Sumerian origin is right, it would throw open the possibility of Sumerian presence in Komkan. As of now, the presence looks very scanty. Unlike the Meluhhan village Guabba, we have not found evidence of any large Sumerian settlement. We have also not found evidence suggesting trade. Though, as we have seen earlier, there is every possibility that the Komkan ports that flourished at the time of the kathiyavadi caddi, could have existed earlier, Dhume’s finds do not seem to point in that direction. Both Savoi-Verem and Priol are away from the coast; and no evidence of Sumerian connection has yet been found at any of the ancient port sites. Importantly for us, the Sumerian presence in Goa does not seem to have anything to do with the trade enterprise of the kathiyavadi caddi.

The advent of Sumerians in Komkan, if true, seems to be in a different context. It could be some Sumerian families who strayed into Komkan for non-trade purposes, or for small trade. It could be even large groups, as Dhume seems to suggest. But we are still to know of their motive. Dhume hypothesises that the padie bhat (paddie bhat) and citpavanbramhan(chitpavan brahman) are of Sumerian origin [Dhume, 2009: 119]. At the moment this can be no more than a conjecture. But given the unique features of these two komkani bramhan communities, and the clear distinction between them and the sarasvat bramhan, it could be an interesting trail to follow.

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