The most ancient city according to Sumerian inscriptions is Eridu. It is the city from which the Sumerian civilization is said to have emerged. Worship was central to the Sumerian civilization. Amazingly, in Sanskrit the word ‘Iradh’ (इरध्) of which Eridu might be a distortion, means ‘worship’. 

The ruins of Eridu, the ancient Sumerian temple city.
Iridh ( इरध् ) is Sanskrit for ‘worship’.

The Zagros Mountains make the back-drop for the ancient cities of Sumerian civilization.

The ‘Zagros’ mountains were named after a seafaring race,
the Sagar-tians. ‘Sagara‘ is Sanskrit for ‘sea’. 

The Zagros Mountains in Iran-Iraq were named after an ancient nomadic tribe, referred to by the name ‘Sagar-tians’. Stephanus Byzantinus (6th century AD), who was the author of a geographical dictionary entitled ‘Ethnica’, wrote that there was a peninsula in the Caspian Sea called ‘Sagartia’ and that the Sagartians moved south from Sagrtia to what were later known as Zagros mountains. In Sanskrit ‘sagara’ (सागर) means ‘sea’ and its other form ‘sagartia’ means ‘of the sea’. The Zagros mountains were named after the Sagar-tian tribe who were also referred to as Zagar-thians. The Zagros formed the backdrop to the ancient cities of Sumerian and Babylonian civilization. For more on the ancient cities of central Asia and the Sanskrit connection to their names, click here.

Samuel Noah Kramer writes in his book ‘The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character’, “… it was rite and ritual…which played a prominent role in their (Sumerian) religion. Since man was created for no other purpose than to serve the gods, it was obviously his major duty to perform and perfect this service in a manner pleasing and satisfactory to his masters…”.

Central then to the city of Eridu was its many temples which were simple in structure but as time went on the buildings became more complex – however what remained constant was a niche for an idol and an altar for offerings.

One of the ancient sacred temples of Sumer was known as ‘gipar-ku’. That name seems to be a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘gopura’ (गोपुर) meaning ‘temple gate’.

Samuel Kramer states. “The building and re-building of a temple was accompanied by numerous rites and rituals, as is evidenced by that long and remarkable hymnal narrative poem inscribed on the two Gudea cylinders excavated in Lagash… . the temple head was known as the sanga, and his duties were no doubt to keep the temple building and finances in good order….the spiritual head of the temple was the en who lived in a part of the temple known as gipar.  Under the en were a number of priestly classes including .. mah, ishib, nindigir….” . 

Here is a look at these Sumerian terms through the Sanskrit lens: ‘En ‘(इन) is ‘glorious’, ‘master’, ‘ruler’, ‘sun’ etc, ‘mah’ (मह्) is strong or powerful. ‘Ishib’ may be a distortion of ‘Ishva’, the ‘v’ often changing to ‘b’ as in ‘Bishnu’ derived from ‘Vishnu’ – ‘Ishva’ (इष्व) meaning ‘vedic teacher’. ‘Nindigir’ may be a distorted version of ‘nandikar’ (नान्दीकर) meaning ‘speaker’ or ‘one who addresses’ or ‘speaker of prologue’.

An analysis of the inscriptions of the Gudea cylinders by Sanskrit scholars, well versed in Vedic hymns, can reveal any links to the Rig, Sama and Yajur Vedic verses of ancient India.

The Gudea Cylinder are inscribed
with hymns and chants
accompanying the construction of temples

Sumerian legends repeatedly mention a paradise-land by the name ‘Dilmun’, which Samuel Kramer states is “…perhaps to be identified with ancient India…“. In Sanskrit a close cognate of Dilmun is ‘Dalmi’ (दल्मि) which is another name for lord ‘Indra‘.

In the Sumerian legend ‘Dilmun’ is a land that is ‘pure’, ‘bright’ and ‘clean’, though it lacks water until the Sumerian water-god Enki orders ‘Utu’ the sun-god to fill it with fresh water. Enki too therefore seems to be the Sumerian avatar of Indra, the Vedic god of rain. 

Sumer itself is often interpreted as Su-meru (सुमेरु),   meaning ‘excellent mountain’ – the sacred peak of Vedic cosmology. 

1. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character
2. Ur Excavations Volume VII The Old Babylonian Period
3. Myths and Legends of Babylon
4. Rama: King of Sumer


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