Phoenicia was an ancient civilization composed of independent city-states which lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea stretching through what is now Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. The Phoenicians were known for their mighty ships. Phoenicia thrived as a maritime trader and manufacturing center from 1500 to 332 BCE. The Phoenicians were regarded highly for their skill in ship-building, glass-making, the production of dyes, and in the manufacture of luxury and common goods. But above all they were astute traders.

The names given to the Phoenicians, like Poeni by the Romans and Phoinike by the Greeks, resemble the Vedic terms Pani (पणि) meaning bargainer or trader, Paani (पाणि) meaning shop, Vani (वणी) and Vanik (वणिज् ) meaning bargainer and  trader. Many scholars have identified the Vedic Panis with the Phoenicians about whom a lot has been stated in the Rig Veda. 

The Panis were Vedic Hindu traders who were wealthy but did not either recognize the priest-class or did not pass on alms to the priest-class as was the tradition. They showed their disregard for the priests for which they were much disliked. The Panis are therefore not spoken of very highly in the Vedas. They were regarded as miserly, lowly, rude of language, cow thieves and were referred to as malecchas. They were ultimately driven away from the Sapta-Sindhu region for the same reason, their defeat was at the hands of Indra himself. With time the word Pani distorted to Kani and became the endonym that the Phoenicians gave themselves. They called themselves Kanana, or Canannites.

This is the story of the roots of the Phoenicians and the beginning of their journey from ancient India around the world. In his article titled ‘The Panis of the Rig Veda and Script of Mohenjodaro and Easter Island’, in the Journal of the Polynesian Society dated January 1938, vol. 3, part 2, the author N. M. Billimoria, on p 92-103 states, “I will give a very short history of the wanderings of the Panis and how they helped in the course of several years to spread such culture as they possessed over a large portion of the then known world.

“The Panis left Sapta-Sindu through sheer necessity. They first settled among the Cholas and Pandyas of Southern India; these aborigines learnt from the Panis the culture and spirit of navigation and trade. From this place they went to the coasts on the Persian Gulf, accompanied by the Cholas; there they settled down for generations; they were in constant communication with South India, became friendly with the aboriginal inhabitants and taught them their principal vocation—trade.”

He further adds, “When after ages the colony was invaded by the uncivilized Semites the Panis moved on towards the north and settled on the sea-coast of Syria, which they called Phoenicia, or the land of the Panis or Panikas. This land gave them facilities to trade in the islands of the Greek Archipelago, South Europe, and North Africa. The Panis had several slaves with whose assistance they manufactured articles of trade; they became a prosperous and powerful people; they founded colonies in the islands of the Mediterranean and on the coasts of North Africa. Carthage was a Phoenician colony, and we know what part she played in South and Western Europe. In all the countries where the Panis settled they taught the original inhabitants the arts of civilized life. They traded by sea as far as the coast of Great Britain and ancient France and even Scandinavia, whose aborigines learnt from the Panis the use of metals and the art of agriculture. Thus the Panis or Phoenicians spread Aryan culture not only among the Semitic peoples of Western Asia and Arabia but also among the early pre-historic people of Egypt, North Africa, the Greeks, the Romans, the Iberians, the Celts, and the Gauls of Europe. It is said that the Phoenicians had settlements far up on the northern shores of Norway also, where they spread the worship of their god Baal.”

Billimoria traces a brief history of the Panis. He stated that the Semites also, with the help of the Chaldeans who were originally the Cholas of South India, founded the famous kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria, to which the early European civilization was greatly indebted. The ancient Egyptians, who are considered to be an amalgamation of the Punic race (the Panis), the Pandyas of the Malabar coast of South India, and the aboriginal inhabitants of the land, developed a civilization, which had great influence over European civilization. The Greeks received their culture from the Phoenicians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians, and imparted it to the Romans, who in turn passed it on to the Iberians, the Celts, the Teutons, and Slavs.

In India, the defeat of the Panis is recorded in the Rig Veda. There are 36 verses in Rig Veda about the Panis, and the ones in Mandala VI refer to their defeat from the nobles who expected veneration from Pani – the traders. For example, Rigveda Book 6, Hymn 22.4 states, “There, Indra, while the light was won, the Paṇis fled, ‘neath a hundred blows, for wise Dasoni.”

We look at Billimoria’s contention whether the Mesopotamian city of Babylon had any Indic links. The first clue comes from the Rig Vedic verses that state that Bribu was king of the Phanis and it is from the name Bribu that Babylon gets its name. Babylon’s name occurs as Babili or Babil in the Akkadian texts. According to Vedic estimates Bribu must have lived around 5000BC. The available list of Baylonian kings available today only goes back to 1800 BC.

Babylonian cities include names such as Nippur, Borsippa, Sippar, Mari, Ellasar, Kutha, Sirpuria, Ashur, Nimrud, Ramad, Haradum, Nagar and Urkesh. A look at the names of these cities ancient reveal a Sanskritic link. ‘Pur’, ‘Pura’ or Puri’ all mean city and are often added as the suffix to the name of any city, ‘sara’ is the suffix to cities that are located near water-bodies, Rama and Hara are names of Vedic gods, ‘Nagar’ means town, and ‘kesha’ is also a suffix to city names in India such as ‘Rishikesh’. Nimrud’s ancient name was Caleh or Kalakh, perhaps the name can be ultimately derived from Sanskrit ‘kalil’ (कलिल) meaning ‘impenetrable’ from which words such as Kila meaning fort are derived. Caleh or Kalakh was a fort city built by Shalmanesar 1 (1274-1245 BCE) an Assyrian king of the Phoenician stock.

Ancient Haran, located north of Euphrates River.
Haran is another name of Vedic God Shiva.
Sanskritic names on the map include a town

by the name ‘Nagar’ – Sanskrit for ‘town’.

The ancient river names of Babylon too include Sanskritic names. One of the rivers of Babylon is the ‘Karun’. ‘Karun’ (करुन) is Sanskrit for ‘compassionate’ or ‘plaintive’. The other major river of Babylon is the Tigris. The Tigris has always been described as the ‘swift river’ as compared to the ‘slow moving’ Euphrates. The most common etymological source of the Tigris is the Sanskrit ‘Vyagra’ (व्याग्र) meaning ‘tiger’. The Persian name for Tigris was Arvand-Rud. ‘Arvan’ (अर्वन्) in Sanskrit also means ‘fast’ or ‘swift’. The Euphrates flows through Mesopotamia for some 1,700 miles (2,700 km) from its source in eastern Turkey to the Persian Gulf. Edward Pococke was of the view that the Greek name Euphrates is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Su’ and ‘Bharat’, after the name of the ancient king ‘Bharat’. This may well have been so for the Akkadian name for the river was ‘Purattu’, probably a distortion of ‘Bharat’. Fausset’s Bible dictionary states that in the word Euphrates, the first syllable Eu, is derived from the Sanskrit Su (सु), which denotes ‘good’; the second syllable denotes ‘abundant’. The Sanskrit word for abundant is ‘Purna’ (पूर्ण). Hence Euphrates may be derived from the Sanskrit ‘Su-Purna’ (सुपूर्ण) meaning ‘Good-Abundance’. 

The Babylonians and Assyrians called Euphrates ‘Su-Purattu’. It was known as ‘Purattu’ in Akkadian and ‘Puranti’ in Hurrian, ‘Puranti’ may be linked to Sanskrit ‘Purandhi’ (पुरन्धि) which means ‘bountiful’ or ‘abundant’ and is therefore consistent with the meaning of its name given in Fausset’s Bible Dictionary. 

These names indicate that even before the Phoenicians or Phani settled in Babylon, Vedic Hindus were perhaps travelling to these areas and had already colonized and named these lands. Or else, the Phoenician who spoke a lowly language or a lower form of Sanskrit for which they were ridiculed by the Vedic Hindus, in naming their new colonies and settlements, they too used the Sanskrit language, perhaps with the aim of upgrading themselves to the level of aryas or the nobility of the society from which they were driven away.

When the Pani started trading, the system of payment was barter. But because they travelled, barter was a cumbersome process. Eventually the Panis invented the first metal coin in about 1200 BC. It is therefore from ‘pani’ that the word ‘money’ is derived, though etymological dictionaries do not generally accept this derivation of the word ‘money’. 

The Phoenician God Baala is referred to as Vala in the Rig Veda, whom Indra is supposed to have defeated and killed in the final battle between the Panis and Vedic Hindus. The Phoenicians were astute skills men and traders; and money was their only focus. Though they are known to have been practitioners of child sacrifice, it is generally believed that Phoenician carvings of what appear to be child sacrifice might have been misinterpreted. Current research reveals that the 6000 urns found in Cartharage – one of the Phoenician cities, are urns contain foetuses and bones of still born babies rather than of babies who have been sacrificed. There are no references to any child sacrifice by the Phoenicians or Panis in the Rig Veda either. However, the Hebrew Bible links the name of the Cannanite God Moloch to child sacrifice. The Hebrew Bible states that the Moloch derives from combining the consonants of the Hebrew melech (king) with the vowels of boshet (shame). In the Sanskrit tradition anyone who was not noble was a malecch, and the Vedic Hindus looked upon the Panis as malecchas. That tradition probably may have carried on in the Phoenician society too until the name maleccha emerged as Moleck and became the god of the Panis or Phoenicians.

Syria, another city where the Panis constructed settlements for themselves, mag derive its name either from Sanskrit ‘Surya’ or sun, or  from Sanskrit ‘sura’ meaning deity. The latter is more likely for in India the nobility or the deities were referred to as ‘sura-s’, and was a clan and association with it was much aspired for during the early Vedic times.

Another Phoenician city that the Panis developed was Carthage located on the coast of Northwest Africa, in what is now Tunisia. It was created to facilitate trade from the city of Tyre on the coast of Lebanon. Carthage developed into a significant trading empire throughout the Mediterranean. A sarcophagus found in Carthage depicts the hand gesture of a priest in an Indic blessing mudra.

A Sarcophagus of a priest. Carthage 4th century BC

The raised hand is typical blessings gesture of a Hindu priest

indicating a continued link of the Phoenicians 

with Vedic India – a land they had been driven away from.

At Lebanon, the name perhaps a distortion of the Sanskrit name Lavana, was built a majestic temple dedicated to the Phani God mentioned in the Rigveda – Vaal; or Baal as he later came to be called. The Phoenicians build this very Indic temple, known as Balbek on the pattern of temples in India. The ceilings of this temple were carved with lotuses much like the ancient temples of India. The lotus is not indigenous to Lebanon, and it is said that the skilled labour that constructed this massive temple with the help of elephants transported from India, also brought with them the design from the temples of India. In the Vedic tradition the lotus is sacred and is a symbol of wisdom, and is the highest offering that is made to god. Its occurrence on the ceilings of Balbek is therefore not just a design but an invocation of the offerings made to god.

The entrance of the Balbek Temple

is very Indic in design. Elaborate carvings on the 

entrance gate edges are commonly seen on Hindu or Vedic temples.

Lotus motifs on the ceiling indicate a Vedic Hindu link.

Elaborate lotus carvings are the most common design in

Ancient Vedic temples.

The most ancient name of Lebanon first appeared in history around 4000 BC and is recorded in ancient Egyptian annals as ‘Rmnn’ – a reminder of the Hindu Vedic king Rama. Also the name Canaan appears as ‘ki-na-ah-na’ in the Amarna letters dated to 14th century BC and is a reminder of the name Kanan, another name of Sri Krishna. The names of Rama and Krishna appear as Ramah in the names of a few towns in Israel and the name of Krishna appears in the name of river Kishon in Israel.

The Phoenicians had continued association with India and this can be inferred from the fact that in the inscriptions, sculpture and carvings of Phoenician cities traces of Indic culture are still found. As far as the dates are concerned, Indian scholars have long argued that the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are way older than western scholars have put forth in their theories. Hence, the Panis who’s name appears in Vedas are way older than the rough dating of 2000 BC. Hence it is not surprising that the Panis have left their traces and those of Hindu deities like Indra, Rama and Krishna in ciites that are at least 4000 years old.Here is an artifact from the Phoenician city of Nimrud dated to 900 BCE. Nimrud was known by names such as Kalhu, Caleh and Calah. The city had been built on the location of an earlier Phoenician city under the reign of Shalmaneser I (1274-1245 BCE) but had become dilapidated over the centuries and Ashurbanipal II rebuilt the city later. The Assyrian Empire was ruled from Kalhu from 879-706 BC. Both the names, Assyria and the name of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, derive from the Sanskrit Asura or demons, those who were driven away by the devatas, the deities. In the Vedic tradition all those who were defeated by the devatas were asuras. In this case one must refer to the Vedas which state that the Panis were defeated by Indra devata himself and came to be associated with the name asura.

An artifact from the Phoenician city of Nimrud or 

what was known as Kalhu or Caleh, dated to 900BC. 

The tile is identified as that of Ashurbanipal II with his attendants. 

But it is obvious that this artifact depicts the lore of Sri Rama, Sita and Laxman 

of the Ramayana.

Suggested readings

1. Is Cherokee=Phoenician by American Cherokee Association and Gene Matlock
2. About the Phoenicians and the Jews by Gene Matlock
3. Some aspects of Ancient Glass Making in India by V. Govrnn
4. Phoenician by Gene Matlock

5. Phoenicia by Joshua J. Mark

6.The Phoenicians in East Africa


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