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By the quays of Akkad


According to Lamberg-Karlovsky the Kathiyavad and Mesopotamia trade was not a ‘direct contact trade’, which is kathiyavadi traders did not carry goods all the way to Mesopotamia and vice-versa; it happened through two transshipment points Tepe Yahya and Bahrein [Lamberg-Karlovsky, 1979: Trade Mechanisms In Indus-Mesopotamian Interrelations, in Possehl (ed): Ancient Cities Of The Indus, 130]. But there is evidence to the contrary.

Why are we going into such a detail in the Mesopotamian connection of the kathiyavadi ksatriya? Because we want to understand how important this trade was in the formation of the kathiyavadi ksatriya identity, and how this trade could have led to the infusion of Sumerian or Mesopotamian culture and ethnicity in Komkan. Ananta Dhume writes of the advent of Sumerians in Goa [Dhume, 2009: The Cultural History of Goa]. Romila Thapar redefines Meluhha to possibly include the entire western coast of India, or at least the northern half of it [Thapar, 1975: A Possible Identification Of Meluhha, Dilmun And Makan, in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Volume 18, Number 1]. We have already discussed how the kathiyavadi caddi built a chain of ports on the coast of Komkan after the submergence of Kathiyavad. We want to see if all these pieces of the puzzle fall in place to tell us a meaningful tale.

There is evidence that the kathiyavadi traders did indeed go all the way to Mesopotamia. A late Sargonic tablet datable to about 2,200 BCE mentions a man with an Akkadian name entitled “the holder of a Meluhha ship”. This could be an Akkadian citizen who owned a ship sailing to Kathiyavad or a man of a kathiyavadi descent who owned a similar ship. An Akkadian cylinder seal bears the inscription ‘su-ilisu’ as its owner, meaning Meluhha interpreter, pointing to the possibility of some persons working as intermediaries between the Mesopotamian and kathiyavadi traders. Such interaction seems to have continued even after the fall of the Akkadian empire. An inscription of King Gudea (2,143- 2,124 BCE) states explicitly that “the Meluhhans came up (or down) from their country” to supply wood and other raw materials for the construction of the main temple at Lagash, his capital [Parpola, 1977: 131].

Vidale notes a significant difference between the seals, beads, and other objects found in Mesopotamia and at Indus sites. He interprets this as being suggestive of the fact that these objects were “made locally by Indus craft persons or artisans trained in an Indus technical tradition but producing shapes and decorations after the specific local demand” [Vidale, 2001: Growing in a Foreign World: For a History of the “Meluhha Villages” in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium BC, in Melammu Symposia4, 265]. This, he concludes, “unescapably points to the existence of enclaves settled by Indian immigrants”, craft villages, in major cities of Mesapotamia. He quotes Kenoyer to suggest that merchants and entrepreneurs from the Indus Valley may have set up shops in cities such as Ur to market their goods and also produce objects with local designs. Guabba, is the only location of such a ‘Meluhhan enclave’ or ‘craft village’ identified as of now, based on numerous texts [Vermaak, 2008: Guabba, The Meluhhan Village In Mesopotamia, in Journal for Semitics, 17/2]. Though only the Meluhhan village at Guabba has been identified, Vidale is of the view that such enclaves must have existed “at other major cities as well”.

It is now time probably to look for a similar phenomenon in reverse direction: Mesopotamian settlements in Meluhha. Let’s begin with Thapar’s take on the latter, which is based on some strong hypotheses. The first of these is that “the highland folk in north-eastern Iran were using Proto-Dravidian in c 4000 BC. From here they travelled south-eastwards to the Indus plains and western India from the fourth millenium BCE onwards and later to the peninsula of India”. This is not a new hypothesis [Mahadevan, 2009: Vestiges of Indus Civilisation in Old Tamil]. But several inconsistencies that it leads to are yet to be resolved; basically it calls ‘proto-dravidians’ (tamil) the people whom we have called the ksatriya. If we accept Thapar’s contention, it means the entire interaction between the Mesopotamians and the Meluhhans from say the forth millenium BCE to beginning of the second millennium BCE was between two communities of ‘proto-dravidians’, one from north-eastern Iran and the other from north-western India! But we know well that the ‘dravidians’ (tamil) were already confined to the southern part of Indian peninsula much before that. It makes more sense to suppose that tamilakam was a culturally and ethnically distinct entity much before the trade with Mesopotamia

Does that mean that Thapar is completely off the mark? Definitely not. As we have said before, most of the historians fail to distinguish between the tamil in the southern extremity of the Indian peninsula and the people between them and the Vindhya, whom we had earlier called the vadukar. Now we have called them the kur community, and found that they inhabited even to the north of the Vindhya, that is the sub-Himalayan plain. So, Thapar’s proto-dravidians are what we have called the kur, not the tamil; it is this anomaly in Thapar’s analysis that During-Caspers points to when she writes about “neglecting completely the Munda languages which are at present spoken in central India”[During-Caspers, 1978: R Thapar’s Dravidian Hypothesis for the Locations of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan – A Critical Reconsideration, in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Volume 21, Number 1, 117]. It is these people that the early Mesopotamians must have encountered when they sought to establish trade with what was to be the Greater Indus Valley. Perhaps the kur had flourishing trade with the Near East, which was eventually captured by the ksatriya, the Zagros farmers turned into traders. That is the feeling we got as we studied the kur – ksatriya encounter [The Bhil, June 30, 2019]. Having set that record right, it is time to return to Thapar’s rest of the discussion; it is the location of Meluhha and Dilmun that we are particularly interested in.

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