In the region west of India including Afghanistan and Turkey there are many ancient sites which have names that end with the word ‘tepe’. Though the most well known of these is Goebekli Tepe in Turkey (discussed in an earlier blog here), an equally important 4000 year old site, by the name ‘Gonur Tepe’, was discovered near Merv (ancient name Meru) in Turkmenistan. Read more about ancient Merv here.

Mainstream archaeologists describe Gonur Tepe  as an Indo-Iranian sacred site where religious austerities were performed. It comprises of two temple complexes – one dedicated to fire, the other to water. The two temple complexes are aligned with the cardinal North direction. The artefact and traces found at the site reveal that the site was used for fire-worship and preparation of what is known as ‘hoama’ in Zoroastrian texts. 

It is generally believed that the name ‘Hoama’ may be the distorted version of the Sanskrit ‘Soma’ (सोम). ‘Soma’, as described in the Vedas, is translated as ‘nectar of the gods’ and is regarded as a ‘heavenly elixir’. But a study of Ayurveda reveals that Soma is a medicinal preparation used for the detoxification of the body. 

The use of Soma is complex and its administration is to be done in a precise manner which is detailed in the Ayurveda. (For more details on the tedious process of  preparing ‘soama’ and requirements of the Vastu Shastra of the buildings where ‘soama’ can be administered, click here. To know more about the ancient 70-day ‘Ayurvedic body detoxification process’ click here).

However, the name ‘Hoama’ may not be a distortion at all. In the Vedic tradition of India, ‘Homam’ is a fire ritual of sacrifice. It is also known as homa or ‘havan’ or ‘yajna’ (yagya) or ‘yajana’. Whether the site was used for preparation of ‘soma’ (सोम) or whether it was used for offering ‘homa’ (होम), Gonur Tepe is a Vedic sit, since it belongs to a time that Zoroastrianism had not yet emerged as a religion until 1200 BC.

Gonur Tepe, Turkmenistan, Photo Courtesy: Kenneth Garrettwww.historum.com

Mainstream historians have concluded that the Gonur Tepe citizens lead a very complex religious life. Apart from that they have not yet  been able to throw much light on what the site was used for.

What about the origins of the name Gonur Tepe? The name is generally translated in Turkmenistan as ‘Brown Hill’. A look at the name through the Sanskritic lens will link the word ‘tepe’ with its cognates ,’tupa’ (तूप) or ‘mound’ and ‘tapa’ (तप) which means ‘penance’ or ‘austerity’. 

Since places of meditation are always in remote places, mostly hills and mountains, the word ‘tapa’ (तप्) is often equated with ‘hills’, though the applicable word here is ‘tupa’, more specifically “stupa’ (स्तूप) meaning mound. In India too most sages practised their ‘tapa’ (penance) on hills and mountains therefore ‘tapa’ is linked with mountains, but ‘tapa’ simply means a place for meditation or penance or austerity and not ‘hill’. In Turkey and its vicinity the word ‘tepe’ is now used for all ancient megalithic sites not necessarily those on hills and mounds. ‘Gonur Tepe’ is not located on a hill either, it is located in a desert.

In the Sanskrit-Vedic tradition, the word ‘tapa’ (तप्) is related to ‘meditation’, ‘austerity’, ‘warmth’, ‘sun’, ‘heat’, ‘concentration’, ‘illumination’, ‘enlightenment’, ‘concentration’, ‘glow’, ‘fire’ , ‘religious austerity’, ‘refinement’, ‘scientific testing by fire’, etc. In fact the word ‘tapa’ (तप) entails the combined meaning of all the words listed above.

The Vedic sages were engaged in ‘tapa’, the scholars of ancient India were engaged in ‘tapa’, in fact the ‘gods’ and ‘devas’ were all engaged in ‘tapa’. Fire was, and is, considered sacred in the Vedic Dharma also known as Sanatana Dharma (today called Hinduism). An austerity performed was always done in front of a ‘fire’ and was known as a ‘yagya’.

A ‘fire yagya’ in present day India 

Gonur Tepe in Turkmenistan was

also the site for fire worship. The

offerings made to fire are known

as ‘homa’ in Vedic tradition.

Scholars such as Gene Matlock have linked the word ‘tepe’ to the Sanskrit ‘tupa’ (तूप) meaning ‘mound’, hepa meaning ‘pile’, or ‘stupa’ (स्तूप) which means a ’rounded structure’. It was later that the word ‘stupa’ came to be associated with the Buddhist ‘stupa’ structures.

As for ‘Gonur’, in the Sanskrit tradition the word may be linked with ‘guna’ (गुण) meaning qualities. All beings have three qualities or ‘guna’ – satwa (सत्व), rajas (राजस) and ‘tamas’ (तामस ). Satwa is the quality of purity, benevolence and knowledge; rajas is action, bravery and result oriented actions; tamas is laziness and inertia. We must make an effort, that is do ‘tapas’, to overcome ‘rajas’ and’ tamas’ and increase the ‘satwa’ quality. This is known as ‘ tapoguna’ which means a quality obtained by performing penance. 

The fact that ‘Soma’ preparation urns have survived in this  4000 year old Temple Complex at Gonur Tepe indicates that it may have once been a site for performing the Ayurvedic ‘Tapa-Guna’ Yagya type of ceremonies. Administration of  ‘Soma’ is a part of the ‘Tapa-Guna’ process.

An artist’s impression of a ‘Soma’-Preparation chamber as explained in the Ayurveda: 

Soma Rasa Administration Chamber as described in the Ayurveda.
The Chambers must face north. The two temples of
Gonur Tepe too face North.

Courtesy: http://mathomathis.blogspot

Ancient ‘soma urns found at the 4000 year
old site at Gonur Tepe in Turkmenistan

The real meaning and function of these Indic-Vedic sites anywhere in the world cannot be understood without the aid of either Sanskrit or the Vedic texts.


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