Indo-Mitanni ConnectionBy Subhash C. Kak
Published on Jul 17, 2003Akhenaten, Sūrya, and the RigvedaThe Mitanni
The Mitanni, who worshiped Vedic gods, were an Indic kingdom that had bonds of marriage across several generations with the Egyptian 18th dynasty to which Akhenaten belonged. The Mitanni were known to the Egyptians as the Naharin (N'h'ryn'), connected to the river (nahar), very probably referring to the Euphrates. At its peak, the Mitanni empire stretched from Kirkuk (ancient Arrapkha) and the Zagros mountains in western Iran in the east, through Assyria to the Mediterranean sea in the west. Its center was in the region of the Khabur River, where its capital, Wassukkani was probably located (Figure 1).
The first Mitanni king was Sutarna I (good sun). He was followed by Baratarna I (Paratarna, great sun), Paraśukṣatra (ruler with axe), Saustatar (Saukṣatra, son of Sukṣatra, the good ruler), Paratarna II, Artadāma (Ṛtadhāman, abiding in cosmic law), Sutarna II, Tushratta (Daśaratha), and finally Matiwazza (Mativāja, whose wealth is thought) during whose lifetime the Mitanni state appears to have become a vassal to Assyria.
The early years of the Mitanni empire were occupied in the struggle with Egypt for control of Syria. The greatest Mitanni king was Saukṣatra who reigned during the time of Tuthmose III. He was said to have looted the Assyrian palace at Ashur. Under the reign of Tuthmose IV, more friendly relations were established between the Egyptians and the Mitanni.
The daughter of King Artadāma was married to Tuthmose IV, Akhenaten's grandfather, and the daughter of Sutarna II (Gilukhipa) was married to his father, Amenhotep III, the great builder of temples who ruled during 1390-1352 BC ("khipa" of these names is the Sanskrit kṣipā, night). In his old age, Amenhotep wrote to Tushratta many times wishing to marry his daughter, Tadukhipa. It appears that by the time she arrived Amenhotep III was dead. Tadukhipa was now married to the new king Akhenaten, becoming famous as the queen Kiya (short for Khipa).
The Egyptian kings had other wives as well. Akhenaten's mother, Tiye, was the daughter of Yuya, who was a Mitanni married to a Nubian. It appears that Nefertiti was the daughter of Tiye's brother Ay, who was to become king himself. The 18th dynasty had a liberal dose of Indic blood. But how could an Indic kingdom be so far from India, near Egypt? A plausible scenario is that after catastrophic earthquakes dried up the Sarasvati river around 1900 BC, many groups of Indic people started moving West.
This idea of westward movement of Indic people is preserved in the Vedic and Purāṇic texts.
We see Kassites, a somewhat shadowy aristocracy with Indic names and worshiping Sūrya and the Maruts, in Western Iran about 1800 BC. They captured power in Babylon in 1600 BC, which they were to rule for over 500 years. The Mitanni, another group that originated thus, ruled northern Mesopotamia (including Syria) for about 300 years, starting 1600 BC, out of their capital of Vasukhāni. (For Mitanni names, I give standard Sanskrit spellings rather than the form that we find in inscriptions in the inadequate cuneiform script, such as Wassukkani for Vasukhāni, "a mine of wealth".) Their warriors were called marya, which is the proper Sanskrit term for it.
In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, Indic deities Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra, and Nāsatya (Aśvins) are invoked. A text by a Mitannian named Kikkuli uses words such as aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (panca, five), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round). Another text has babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (piṅgala, red). Their chief festival was the celebration of viśuva (solstice) very much like in India. It is not only the kings who had Sanskrit names; a large number of other Sanskrit names have been unearthed in the records from the area.
Documents and contract agreements in Syria mention a warrior caste that constituted the elite in the cities. The ownership of land appears to have been inalienable. Consequently, no documents on the selling of landed property are to be found in the great archives of Akkadian documents and letters discovered in Nuzi. The prohibition against selling landed property was dodged with the stratagem of "adopting" a willing buyer against an appropriate sum of money.
Information of the mythology of the Hurrians of the Mitanni is known from related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub who had violently deposed Kumarbi paralleling the killing of Vṛtra by Indra. Major sanctuaries of Teshub were located at Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) and at Halab (modern Aleppo) in Syria. Like Indra, Teshub also had a solar aspect. In the east his consort was the goddess of love and war Shaushka (Venus), and in the west the goddess Hebat (Hepat). In addition, a considerable importance was attributed to impersonal gods such as heaven and earth as well as to deities of mountains and rivers. Temple monuments of modest dimensions have been unearthed.
The general Indic influence in the area may also be seen in the comprehensiveness of the god lists. The most "official" god list, in two Ugaritic copies and one Akkadian translation, consists of 33 items, exactly as is true of the count of Vedic gods. These gods are categorized into three classes, somewhat like the three classes of the Vedic gods, although there are difference in details.
Greek accounts tell us that the Ugaritic believed in a cosmic egg out of which the earth emerged which is reminiscent of brahmāṇṇa of the Vedic view.
How do we know that the Mitanni were Indic and not Iranian? There are several reasons, but to be brief, I shall only give three: 1. the deities Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, and Nāsatya are Indian deities and not Iranian ones, because in Iran Varuṇa is unknown and Indra and Nāsatya appear as demons; 2. the name Vasukhāni makes sense in Sanskrit as a "mine of wealth" whereas in Iranian it means "good mine" which is much less likely; 3. satta, or sapta, for seven, rather than the Iranian word hapta, where the initial `s' has been changed to `h'.
Why could not the Mitanni be the descendents of a pre-Vedic people as in the Gimbutas model of the spread of the Indo-Iranian people from the Kurgan culture of the steppes of Central Asia? They would then have had no particular affinity for Indic deities. If the pre-Vedic people in Central Asia already had Indin deities, how would these small bands of people impose their culture and language over what was perhaps the most densely populated region of the ancient world. Furthermore, that view does not square with our knowledge of the astronomical tradition within India. The Vedic Saṃhitās have very early astronomical and its geography is squarely within India. The Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa, a late Vedic text, already belongs to the middle of the second millennium BC. The earlier texts remember events within the Indic geographical area going back to the third and the fourth millennia BC. The theory of a proto-Indoaryan people in Iran from whom the Aryans of India descended in the second millennium BC does not work for the same reasons.
The idea of invasion or large-scale immigration of outsiders into India displacing the original population in the middle of the second millennium BC has been rejected since it is not in accord with archaeological facts, skeletal records, and the continuity of the cultural tradition. In a recent synthesis, it was concluded that "there is no archaeological or biological evidence for invasions or mass migrations into the Indus Valley between the end of the Harappan Phase, about 1900 BC and the beginning of the Early Historic period around 600 BC." Other scholars see no break in the cultural tradition between 4500 BC and 600 BC.
The Indian textual tradition also does not permit us to accept the Gimbutas model because of the length of time required for the rise of the voluminous Indian literature. Pāṇini already in the 500 BC knows of the Bh¹rata and the Mahābhārata in one of his sūtras (6.2.38). This means that the epic was substantially complete by 500 BC, although it may have undergone further modifications and interpolations in subsequent centuries. The evidence of the sūtra by Pāṇini seems to have escaped most historians although V.S. Agrawala did call attention to it decades ago.
The Mahābhārata tradition itself acknowledges that the text was originally 8,800 verses, composed by Kr.s.ṇa Dvaipāyaṇa Vyāsa, when it was still called Jaya. Later, it was enlarged to 24,000 verses and came to be called Bhārata. It was transmitted by Vyāsa to Vaiśampāyaṇa and finally recited by Ugraśravas as the familiar Mahābhārata of the 100,000 verses; the two latter bards appear thus to be responsible for its enlargements. Since the enlargements of the Mahābhārata are likely to have stretched over several centuries, it is unlikely that the text would not remember the migrations out of Central Asia as is required in the Gimbutas model.
Furthermore, the astronomical references related to the Aśvamedha rite in the Mahābhārata point to its extreme antiquity going back to the 4th millennium BC, which cannot be squared with the Gimbutas model.Indic Names in West Asia
Over fifty years ago, Roger T. O'Callaghan and W.F. Albright published in Analecta Orientalia of Rome a list of 81 names (13 from the Mitanni, 23 from the Nuzi, and 45 from the Syrian documents) with Indic etymologies. Out of this list, Dumont provided the etymology of 45 names in the much more readily available Journal of the American Oriental Society of 1947.
A few of these names with the Sanskrit cognates in parentheses are:
- Abirata (Abhirata, pleased, contented)
- Aitagama (Etagama, with the gait of an antelope)
- Aitara (the son of Itarā)
- Artamanyu (Ṛtamanyu, revering the divine Law)
- Ardzawīya (Ārjavīya, straight, honest)
- Bīrasēna (Vīrasena, possessing an army of heroes)
- Biridāšwa (Bṛhadāsva, possessing great horse)
- Bardašwa (Vārddhāśva, the son of Vṛddhāśva)
- Bāyawa (Vāyava, the son of Vāyu)
- Bīryašura (Vīryaśūra, the hero of valour)
- Bīryawādza (Vīryavāja, owning the prize of valour)
- Bīryasauma (Vīryasoma, the moon-god of valour)
- Bīrya (Vīrya, valour)
- Indarota (Indrota, upheld by Indra)
- Kalmašūra (Karmaśūra, the hero of action)
- Purdāya (Purudāya, giving much)
- Ručmanya (Rucimanya, revering light)
- Satuara (Satvara, swift)
- Šaimašūra (Kṣemaśūra, the hero of security)
- Subandu (Subandhu, being good kinsmen)
- Sumāla (having beautiful garlands)
- Sumīda (Sumīḍha, bountiful)
- Swardāta (Svardāta, given by heaven)
- Tsitriyara (Citrya-rai, having distinguished property)
- Urudīti (Urudīti, having wide splendour)
- Warasama (Varasama, equal to the best)
- Wāsasatta (Vāsasāpta, possessing seven dwellings)
- Wasdāta (Vasudāta, given by the Vasus)
- Yamiuta (Yamyūta, favoured by Yamin)
Analyzing the names, Dumont concludes that the names are clearly Indic and not Iranian. The initial s is maintained and the group śv is represented by the similar sounding šw and not the Avestan aspō. Also, most of the names are bahuvrīhi or tatpuruṣa compounds.
Considering the language, it is clearly an Indic dialect because the initial v is replaced by b, while medial v becomes the semivowel w. Like Middle Indic (Prakrit) dialects, the medial pt transforms into tt, as in sapta becoming satta.
Dumont stresses its relationship to Sanskrit in the characteristic patronymic names with the vṛddhi-strengthening of the first syllable, like in Saumati (the son of Sumati) or Sauṣapti (the son of Suṣapti). The worship of the Vedic gods like Indra, Vāyu, Svar, Soma, Ṛta, Vasus has already been noted. The fact the the Mitanni names suggest a Middle Indic dialect is supportive of the thesis that the emigration of the various groups from India took place after the early Vedic period had come to an end.
Vedic Religion in West Asia Our argument actually goes beyond the presence of people in West Asia whose languages were Indic, as was the case with the Mitanni. There is evidence that Indic religion and culture had adherents even outside of groups with Indic speech.
The Avesta speaks of the struggle between the worshipers of Ahura Mazdā and the daevas. This opposition in the Zoroastrian texts is expressed as one between the Mazdayasnas and the Daēvayasnas. It is a conflict in which Zoroaster wished to defeat and convert the worshipers of the daēva religion. The Yašts speak of legendary heroes and kings who participated in this struggle. The wars against the Daēvayasnas by Vištāspa (Yt. 5.109, 113; 9.30-31), Jāmāspa (Yt. 5.68-70), and Vistaru of the Naotara family (Yt. 5.76-77) represent this ongoing conflict in the historical period.
In the Vendidad, the Zoroastrians are encouraged to take possession of the lands, waters, and harvests of the daēva worshipers (Vd. 19.26). Elsewhere (Vd. 7.36-40), it is recommended that the art of medicine should be first tried on the daēva-worshipers and if they survive then it should be attempted on the Mazdayasnians.
Although the Zoroastrian heresy triumphed in Iran and the great Persian kings of the middle of 1st millennium BC followed the religion of Ahura Mazdā, the daēva worshipers survived, especially in the West, in the Mesopotamian religion.
Whether Zarathuštra belonged to the second millennium BC or later, it is clear that the Vedic gods survived for a pretty long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of the survival of the Vedic gods from the daiva- inscription of Xerxes (ruled 486-465 BC). The revolt by the daēva worshipers in West Iran is directly referred to:
Proclaims Xerxes the King: When I became king, there is among these countries one which was in rebellion. Afterwards Ahura-mazda bore me aid. By the favor of Ahuramazda I smote that country and put it down in its place.
And among these countries there was a place where previously daiva were worshiped. Afterwards, by the favor of Ahuramazda I destroyed that sanctuary of daiva, and I made proclamation:
'The daiva shall not be worshiped!' Where previously the daiva were worshiped, there I worshiped Ahuramazda at the proper time and in the proper manner. And there was other business that had been done ill. That I made good. That which I did, all I did by the favor of Ahuramazda. Ahuramazda bore me aid until I completed the work.
The analysis of early Persian history has shown that the Māzandarān, the region south of the Caspian sea and the Alburz mountain range, remained for long a centre of daēva worship. It has been suggested that the Xerxes inscription refers to the suppression of these people.
Burrow takes the daēva worshiping people to be proto-Indoaryans and sees them as the remnants of a population that stretched from West Asia to India. The Iranians coming down from the northeast drove a wedge between this belt, leading to the eventual assimilation of the western daēva worshipers in the course of centuries.
Irrespective of what the original movement of the Indoaryans was before the fourth or fifth millennium BC, it is clear that since their Indian branch recognizes the geography of only their region, it is either necessary to push back the proto-Indoaryan phase to the fourth or the fifth millennium BC or to postulate their movement out of India as is suggested in the Purāṇas.