The Mittanni, empire located in northern Mesopotamia flourished roughly from 1500-1300 BC. At its height the empire extended from Kirkuk (ancient Arrapha) and the Zagros Mountains in the east through Assyria to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, (present-day northern Iraq, down through Syria and into Turkey).

Located in the fertile stretch between the Tigris and the Euphrates river, its heartland was the Khabur River region, where Wassukkani, its capital, was located. Much like the Sanskrit names of the Mittani kings Wassuukkani has also been traced to Sanskrit ‘Vasu-khani’ (वसु खानि), that is, ‘a mine of wealth’. The exact location of this archaeological site has not yet been identified.

The foreign policy of Mitanni during its early years was based largely on competition with Egypt for control of Syria, but amicable relations were established with the Egyptian king Thutmose IV who reigned between 1425–1417 BC. Mitanni’s north-western border with the Hattian kingdom of the Hittites was fluid and constantly subject to aggression except when the two rivals concluded the well known peace treaty in 1380 BC- the one that invoked the Rig Vedic pantheon of Gods including Mitra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatyas (Aswin twins)- signed between Suppiluliuma and Shattiwaza.

Despite its greatness no Mittani texts regarding its own history have been found, so most of the information concerning the Mittani comes from Egyptian, Hittitie and Assyrian records and the treaties signed by the Mittani with them.

It is generally accepted that the Mittani Kings were Indo-Aryan, more specifically, Hindu. Two important figures in the Mittani-Egyptian equation are the Mitanni king Tushratta and the New Kingdom Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. The Sun King Akhenaten of Egypt who ruled between 1352-1336 BC was a son-in-law of Tushratta, the Mitanni king. The name Tushratta has been recorded in the Hittite cuneiform script. Not only does the name Tushratta originate from either the Sanskrit ‘Dasaratha’ meaning ‘owning ten chariots’ as the name originally appears in the Ramayana, or from Tvesaratha meaning ‘having splendid chariots’, a name which is attested in the Rigveda; some have even put forth the view that the Egyptian name Akhenaten is also a corruption of  Sanskrit ‘Eknathan’, meaning ‘one god’, especially because it was Akenathan who had brought in the concept of one God into Egypt.

A cuneiform inscription. Amarna Letter from King Tushratta

to Akhenaten, Egyptian Pharoah of the 18th dynasty.

The name Akhenaten has been traced to the Sanskrit Eknathan.

Professor Subhash Kak traces the names of some other Mittani kings to Sanskrit. He says, “The first Mitanni king was Sutarna I (good sun). He was followed by Baratarna I (or Paratarna (great sun), Parasuksatra (ruler with axe),…. Saustatar (Sauksatra, son of Suksatra, (the good ruler), Artadama (abiding in cosmic law)..Tushratta (Dasaratha), and finally Matiwazza (Mativaja, whose wealth is thought) during whose lifetime the Mitanni state appears to have become a vassal to Assyria”. Subhash Kak traces the ‘arna’ syllable in the names Sutarna, Baratarna and Paratarna, to ‘araNi’ (अरणि) meaning ‘sun’.

There are some scholars who are of view that though the Mitanni kings were supposedly Indo Aryan (most do not use the word ‘Hindu’), they used the language of the local people, which was at that time a non-Indo-European language, Hurrian. Wikipedia states that, “Their sphere of influence is shown in Hurrian place names, personal names and the spread through Syria and the Levant of a distinct pottery type.” However, if one studies the map of what would later become the Mittani Empire, i.e. during the times of the Hurrians, one finds that a vast majority of river and place names can be explained quite easily by Sanskrit, and some of these explanations are even supported by some form or the other by a cultural collateral provided by Hindu texts.

To begin with there is the Khabur river itself, its name said to mean ‘source of fertility’ in the local language. If indeed that is the meaning carried from the Hurrian times, through centuries to the present times, the word Khabur is a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘Urvara’ (उर्वर ) for not only does it hold the same meaning of ‘fertility’ as the Proto Indo language, more specifically Sanskrit, used by the Mittani, it also reveals, why the Hurrian language itself had Sanskritic or Indo-European links and secondly also reveals the source from where the Hurrian kings might have named the river so.

We refer here to one of the most fascinating sections of the Mitanni-Hittites Treaty which mentions five major Indo-Aryan (Hindu) deities – Mitra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatya. But the interesting part us that they appear in the treaty in the exact same order as they appear in the Rig Veda. Manfred Mayrhofer who was an Austrian Indo-Europeanist who specialized in Indo-Iranian languages and served as professor emeritus at the University of Vienna and is noted for his etymological dictionary of Sanskrit observed, “If asked to cite them in their most common nominative forms, no Vedologist could possibly hesitate to put down the series: Mitrá, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya. If further asked to name a Rigvedic verse in which these names appear side by side and in this order, he would have to quote Rig Veda 10.125.1bc :

“Aham mitra varunobha bibharmyaham

aham indragnee aham asvinobha”

But now back to the name Urvara. In the Rig Veda it is Indra himself who was called Urvarapati, which means ‘lord of fertility of the fields’. It is therefore highly likely that the Mittani kings named the river Khabur as Urvara after Indra for they were familiar with his many names and invoked him in his different avataras. It is in Rigveda verse 8.21.3 where Indra is called Urvara-pati.

In his research ‘About the Mittani-Aryan Gods’, Indologist Arnaud Fournet observes, “A number of Indo-European sounding words have been identified in the cuneiform documents of the Mitanni kingdom (1500-1200 BC). In addition to nouns and adjectives with parallels in Sanskrit this Hurrian speaking kingdom had kings with Indo-Aryan names and two documents even list the main Gods of the Indian pantheon….” Arna ud Fournet quotes Mayrhofer who had written about some other adjectives that have been found in a document in Yurgan Tepe (ancient Gasur) which included ‘babru and pabru-nni (cognate of Skrt babhrú- ‘brown’), parita (cognate of Sanskrt palitá- ‘grey’) and pinkara (cognate of Sanskrit pingala or ‘red’).”

If Sanskritic names appear in the treaties made by the kings with other states and if Sanskrit appears in their own names, it is evident then that Sanskrit should appear in the names of mountains, rivers and cities of the Mittani times. A look at the maps of the Mittani Empire during the said period can shed some light on this matter.

Mittani Empire Cities

Ugarit, Urkesh, Megiddo, Aleppo, Asshur are all

Sanskritic names.

Sanskritic interpretations of the names of the cities lead us to the following information. Ugarit, from Sanskrit ‘ugra’ (उग्र) or ‘fierce’, Urkesh (उरु + केश ) from Uru+kesh or earth+mane, ‘kesh’ is often used in place names. Megiddo – from Magadh – one of the most powerful empires of India mentioned in the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharat – itself derived from ‘magadh’  (मगध) literally ‘balladeer- who sings praises of his ancestry’. Aleppo – its more ancient name was Alep as is mentioned in the map below, from ‘alep’ (अलेप)  ‘pure’ or ‘clean’. Asshur, from Asur (असुर), name of the tribes that stood against the Vedic ‘Sura’ (सुर).

Saggartum town at the confluence of the River Euphrates 

and Khabur. Sagara is Sanskrit for ‘ocean’

Sagaraga means ‘river’ and is another name for Ganges.

The confluence of the River Euphrates and Khabur (Urvara) was known as Saggaratum, from Sanskrit Sagar (सागर)  or ‘ocean’, Sagaraga (सागरगा)  meaning ‘river’ which is also another name of the Ganges.  On the coast of the Mediterranean was the town of ‘Arvad’ – probably Sanskrit Arvat (अर्वत) meaning ‘low lying’  as against Parvat (पर्वत)  meaning ‘high’ or ‘mountain’. Close by was the town of ‘Amrit’ (अमृत)  or ‘nectre’. Yamkhad , from “yama’ the Vedic god of Death, also meaning twin-born.  Sanskritic interpretations of the name render Harran from Haran or Hari (हरि), Karana from “karan’ (करण), a well loved Mahabharata character of the Kuru dynasty, Shekhana from ‘Shikhara’ (शिखर) or ‘peak’, in both the names Sippar and Nippur, two cities on the Euphrates,  the suffix is pura (पुर) is definitely ‘city’, Sipa is water vessel, but since Nipa means ‘lower or poured out, it is possible that Sippar which is upstream from Nippur, its name has the meaning of ‘pouring out from the vessel’. ‘Uruk’ is from ‘uru’ or earth, Larsa from ‘lahar’ or ‘wave’,  ‘Umma’ from ‘uma’ (उमा)  or city and so forth. The above words are definitely Indo-European with legitimate meanings in the Sanskrit language.          

This map of Mittani map includes the name ‘Nagar’

Sanskrit for ‘town’.

Extending into the Meditarranean, was the city of Alashya, the Sanskrit interpretation of this name is ‘Jalashya’ (जलाशय) meaning ‘lying in water’. Today this island is known as Cypress.

An archaeological site by the name Kultepe was discovered near the town of Kayseri in Turkey. The site consists of a tell, the actual Kültepe, and a lower town, where an Assyrian settlement was found. Its name in Assyrian texts from 20th century BC was Kanešh or Kanis, the Hittites mostly called it Neša, occasionally Aniša. It is also the site of discovery of the earliest traces of the Hittite language, the earliest attestation of any Indo-European language, dated to the 20th century BC. Here is a map of it.

Kanus, also spelled Kanesh, is probably a distortion of the 

name Kamesh, another name of Lord Shiva.

Closeby is the town of Purushattum, its name Sanskrit for

 ‘the highest being’.

Kanesh contained a large kārum (merchant colony) of the Old Assyrian Empire from the 21st to 18th centuries BC. This kārum appears to have served as “the administrative and distribution centre of the entire Assyrian colony network in Anatolia. Once again a Sanskrit interpretation of karum leads us to kraya (क्रय) meaning trade.

A bit of history about Karnesh. More than the story itself it us the occurence of Sanskritic names in the stort thaat are of interest here. This is how the story goes:

“The king of Zalpuwa, Uhna, raided Kanes, after which the Zalpuwans carried off the city’s Šiuš idol. Pithana, the king of Kussara, conquered Neša “in the night, by force”, but “did not do evil to anyone in it.”Neša revolted against the rule of Pithana’s son, Anitta, but Anitta quashed the revolt and made Neša his capital. Anitta further invaded Zalpuwa, captured its king Huzziya, and recovered the Šiuš idol for Neša. In the 17th century BC, Anitta’s descendants moved their capital to Hattusa, which Anitta had cursed, thus founding the line of Hittite kings. The inhabitants thus referred to the Hittite language as Nešili, “the language of Neša”.

Zalpuwa, is an undiscovered Anatolian city that was located by the Sea of Zalpa. Zalpa therefore can be interpreted by the Sanskrit ‘jala’ (जल)or water, the puwa has to be ‘pura’ or city. 

And though Kussara is the name of the king here, it is the same as the Sanskrit Kesari which means ‘lion’ in Sanskrit, and is the root for words like Kaiser, and Caesar, common names for kings in Europe. And though the son of Kesari calls himself Annitta his name should be Annadata, ‘one who grants food’, a common Sanskrit name of Kings, rather tha Annahita which means ‘somebody who does nobody’s good’. Uhna’s name can be interpreted as Uhana (उहन) ‘the reasonable one’, and Pitthana can be explained by the word ‘peeth’ (पीठ) ‘royal seat’, or ‘pedestel’.

1. Mittani Names
2. Vedic Mythology
3. Urvara: Definitions in Hindu Texts
4. Indian Influence Abroad by Subhash Kak
5. Vedic Culture in the Middle East by Stephen Knapp


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