‘KURANGUN’ STONE RELIEF OF IRAN – THE VISHNU CONNECTION

Elam was an ancient Pre-Iranic civilization located in the far west and south west of what is present day Iran, also called Persia, dated to roughly 3200-540 BC. Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary and the reconstruction of its history is based mainly on Mesopotamian sources. 

Source of the name Persia:

It is quite obvious that the name Persia, & also the name of the province of Fars in Iran (which has the remains of a Vishnu stone relief seated on a coiled serpent), both get their names from the distortion of the Sanskrit word ‘para’ (पार) generally pronounced as ‘par’ in Hindi, which means ‘across’. This region was across from India. This name was therefore not an endonym, it was given to the area by the Indians. In fact Iran was considered as the outer edge of the Indian civilization. It was part of Greater India.

Who were the Elamites:

The Elamites were known as a warlike people who were the rivals of Babylon. Although the presence of other groups and tribes in Fars is also known from other written evidence, yet the Elamites are the best- attested pre-Achaemenid population east of the Tigris-Euphrates plain in the cuneiforms (wedge shaped script etched on clay tablets) of Mesopotamia, Susiana (east of Tigris river in Iran), and Fars, the above mentioned ancient Province in Iran which is the location of Persepolis, Pasargad and Estakhr sites.

Stone reliefs of Kurangun:

The history of Elam’s artistic culture is closely linked with the art of Mesopotamia. Among the Elamite remains from the second millennium B.C. are two fascinating rock reliefs – one at the cliffs of Kurangun, the other at Naqs-i Rustam. Both show nearly similar scenes, but while the Naqs-i Rustam relief has almost entirely disappeared, the Kurangun relief, carved a top a cliff by the Fahlian river  has been preserved in an excellent condition.

The Kurangan Relief in Fars, Iran.
The relief depicts a god and a goddess seated on a coiled serpent.

The central panel of the Kurangun Relief dates to the seventeenth century BC and is carved in a rectangular frame. It shows a divine couple, sometimes identified as the god Insusinak seated on a coiled serpent and goddess Napirisa by his side and are shielded by the hood of the serpent. The divine couple is honored and surrounded by nobles or dignitaries who standby with folded hands. 

A sketch of the Kurangan Relief, Iran.
Notice the central character seated on a
coiled serpent.

The divine couple is shielded by the serpent’s hood.

The Significance of the Coiled Serpent in Vedic tradition:

Now, the above scene is reminiscent of the reliefs and stone sculptures that depict Vedic India. In the Vedic pantheon the coiled serpent named Sheshnag is the seat of Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi too. In the picture of a sculpture below, Vishnu is depicted as being seated on Shesha, the coiled serpent.

Sri Vishnu seated on the coiled serpent named Shesha,
shielded by the hood of Shesha.
Sculpture from Deogarh Temple, Uttar Pradesh, India


In the Vedic belief, when a cycle of creation comes to an end, a subtle residue of the destroyed universe still persists, and is known as ‘Shesha’ (शेष) – ‘shesha’ or, in Sanskrit,  ‘what remains’. Sri Vishnu’s serpent named Shesha embodies the remains of the destroyed universe.

Sri Vishnu and Lakshmi seated on the coiled Shesh Nag

The significance of Shesha Nag in the context of the stone relief of Fars:

In the Iranian annals there is no clear idea as to what the Kurangan relief depicts though it is said that in the Elamite tradition the snake represented the earth. It is most likely then that the couple deity in the Kurangun relief though identified as Elaminite deity Insusinak and his consort Napirisa, are just distortions of the names and persona of Vishnu and Lakshmi of the Indian pantheon. The Iran Tourism and Touring NGO Website itself states that, “This relief shows a God with horned crown sitting on a throne. Behind him sits a goddess who is crowned in the same way. Both hold snakes in one hand, the animal that symbolizes the earth in the Elamite pantheon. Around these two deities, other characters are seen in outline. It’s similar to Vishnu & Lakshmi in Vaikuntam.”


The name Shesha in Iran:

So does the name Shesha appear anywhere in the vicinity of the Kurangun relief. Yes it does. The Kurangun Relief is located on the Fahliya river which is formed by the confluence of two rivers, the Shesh Peer and the Rood Peer. It is here that we see the name Shesha in the name of the tributary of the Fahlian River. This cannot be dismissed as a coincidence and is relevant to the coiled serpent of Kurangun site. The river Shesh Peer represents the Shesha serpent of Vishnu. It is evident that in the past people were aware of this though now it is a forgotten memory.

Other Sanskritic names in Fars:

There are other Sanskritic-Indic names in the vicinity. After passing the Qaleh Sefid Mount, the river enters the Fahlian Plain. This river then crosses a deep valley called the Tang-e-Abjan and in a region named Bardangan ( 30° 13′ 3″ N, 51° 20′ 29″ E) joins the Katikoor River. The name Bardangan is most likely the distortion of the Sanskritic ‘Vardhana’, meaning ‘water jar’ or ‘a place that receives water’. It is now known as Gardan-e Tol Bardangan.

The Fahlian River, also known as Rudhkhaneh-ye-Shesh-Pir finally flows to south and creates the natural border between Mamasani and Gachsaran. Saran is a common suffix in town names on waterbodies in India as ‘sara’ (सर) is Sanskrit  lake. 

The name Kuranguan and its Sanskrit links:

The name Kurangan has no meaning in Persian. In Sanskrit ‘kurang’ (कुरङ्ग) means ‘musk’, the fragrant substance obtained from the glands of the musk deer, also known as the Himalayan deer. Musk was unknown in the western world and was introduced to the west from India via the trade route. Fars was a province on the trade route. The 6th-century Greek explorer Cosmas Indicopleustes, who was also a merchant merchant and had made several voyages to India, first mentioned musk as a product that he obtained from India. Soon afterwards Arab perfume makers began to use it, and it acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Since the ancient traders from India carried ‘kurang’ to the west via the province of Fars, they are also most likely the architects of the Vishnu-Laksmi Temple of Kurangan.




Suggested Links:

1. Rama – King of Sumer
2. India of the East, India of the West and the Nomadic Jews

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