The gold, algum trees, gems, ivory, apes, spices, sandalwood and peacocks, came to Israel from Ophir. The name of the place, spelt in the English translation, as Ophir, but this word must have been the product of the translation in the earlier years from Hebrew into Greek and later into Latin and English. This essentially contributed to the basic confusion in locating the place. The word Ophir is derived from the Greek word “Ophis,” meaning a serpent and the word for serpent in Hebrew is also supposed to be the same. However, the Hebrew word for serpent is “Nachash” or “Saraph” (the Tamil word is Sarpam) and has no phonetic similarity to Ophir. It was the Hebrews and not the Greeks, who called the place Ophir and to resort to the Greek term “Ophis” for elucidation would be an error.
Many Biblical scientists seemed confused over the location and no one confirmed the location with authority. Some suggested the place to be in the South-eastern Arabia, the Ethiopian coast of the Red Sea , a place known to the Egyptians as Punt. This suggested that, Ophir and Punt were located in the same region and third suggestion was that, Ophir was in Mashonaland, the ruins of Zimbabwe , between the Zabezi and Limpo rivers. All those suggestions, fell wayside, when a single voyage to Ophir and back took nearly three years to accomplish.
Therefore, the location of the place ought to lie very far, several thousand nautical miles away from the port Ezion-geber. Any ship that set-off from the Ezion-geber, passed through the Arabian-sea and sailed into the Indian Ocean . Therefore, the location ought to be in the midst of the Indian Ocean .
There were further suggestions that, Ophir located in India , in the regions between the tributaries of the river Indus and China . In addition, few identified the old seaport of Supara or Sopara, located 40 miles north of Bombay (Mumbai). The British archeologist Earnest Mackay, first to discover India ‘ s earliest civilization, believed that, the inhabitants of the cities in the Indus valley sailed to Sumer and other countries in the Mediterranean regions, using sea route. Thanks to the archeological discoveries, in the eastern section of Lothal, the world ‘ s oldest seaport of Bombay (Mumbai), a canal of seven meters in wide was constructed, to connect this shipyard, with the river, flowing into the Arabian sea . It is a noteworthy fact that, Lothal, a city founded 4,000 years ago, far south to the Indus valley, just as old as Mohenjo-Daro . A few Indian historians made vain attempts to connect Ophir with Supra and Lothal.
The first excavations of the proto-Indian cities in Mohenjo-Daro revealed, pictures of ships with masts and this proved that, large ships were available in those early days for long and protracted sea journeys by way of Arabian Sea . While, Ur seemed to be the key entrée port into Mesopotamia, between 2350 BC and 1700 BC, archeologists found thousands of cylindrical seals in Mesopotamia , which belonged to the period between 2300 BC and 2000BC. Many of those cylindrical seals, bore inscriptions in Dravidian language- the earliest form of Tamil written letters, which confirms that, sea trade to Ur existed from a Tamil area, located below the Indian sub-continent. According to available reports, Ur imported various commodities like gold, silver, copper, lapis, lazuli, carnelian, beads, exotic woods and inlay from a location far away from the old city of Mohenjo-Daro .
The determination of the sea trade routes with the West, during historical times, has been greatly facilitated by references in the remarkable ‘ Periplus of the Erythraen Sea , ‘ of the First century AD. When going through Periplus, one may note that, several places, cities and ports are recorded in the Dravidian language – Tamil.
“A number of South Dravidian words almost all of them geographic and dynasties names, occur in such Greco-Roman sources as, Periplaus maris Erythrael (circumnavigation of the Erythraen sea) of 89 AD, and in the writing of Ptolemaeus of Naukratis of the 2nd century AD; it is probable that, Western language term for Rice. (Compare Italian riso, Latin oryza, Greek oryza) and ginger (compare Italian Zen zero, German ingwer, Greek zingiberis) are cultural loans from Old Tamil, in which they are arici and inciver, respectively.” (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 4, 15th Edition, page 699). Early Mesopotamians, used Tamil words to name places, during ancient days such as, ‘ Ur ‘ means settlement, town or community and words with Ur in the root, such as, ‘ Uruk ‘ , ‘ Nimrud ‘ , etc.
Further more, in the Hebrew version “ivory, apes, ahalim and peacocks arrived at the Israeli port. 1 King: 10 (22). In the old Hebrew version, it is referred as: Ivory- shen; apes- kapi; ahalim- aghil, peacocks- tuki. These four are Tamil words.
When reflecting on the need to adapt the Tamil words in Hebrew version of the Bible, then it becomes necessary to turn the focus on the word ‘ Ophir. ‘ The Tamil word ‘ Ovar ‘ means, painters, artists, sculptors, engineering technicians, artisans, and skilled workers in the construction trade. The country of the Ovar was also called “Oviyar Nadu,” the ancient land of Oviyar . Artisans or skilled craftsmen were called Ovar, which was also the adapted name of the seaport in the Northwestern coast of Ilanka (Lanka), by the foreign sailors.
Now, it is appropriate to venture and suggest that the word Ovar was corrupted by foreign sailors due to the proclivity of their tongues and came to be called Ophir as the country of the Oviyar. In this Oviyar land was mainly populated with the tribe of the Nagas, who lived in and around Mantai (Mathottam, the greatest emporium), a port city in the North-Western part of Lanka, as will be seen in Cirupanarrupadai, one of the ten idylls of the old Tamil Academy (Sangam) period.
Oviyar were a tribe of Nagas, inhabiting the sea coast of Lanka . Aghil (incense) and sandalwood being washed against the bodies of damsels, shows that the place was a port and that those articles, had dropped out of the ships. – Cirupan, 11: 161.221: –
The Nagas were of Tibeto-Burman origin and by about 4000 BC, driven by some political disturbances from Central Asia into India , through the North- east frontier. Nagas were a prominent non- Aryan race in India and their names are still preserved in various parts of India .
Ptolemy in his “Geography,” written in the middle of the 2nd century named Mantai as Modouttou, and was the entrée port for sea trade in the Indian Ocean . In addition, in the pre-historic days, it was a famous international emporium. The phonetic similarity between Ophir and Oviyar is certainly striking and Ophir must have been borrowed in the same manner, as the Hebrew words for ivory, apes, aghil and peacocks-ibha, kapi, ahalim and tukeyium, respectively, which are identical with their Tamil words- ipam, kapi, aghil, and tokai. The Hebrew mariners, no doubt, payday loans high acceptance borrowed the words from the Tamil inhabitants of the port area.
Sri Lanka , from the pre-historic period and from the days of Iramayanam (Ramayana), is known as ‘ Ilanka ‘ , meaning the ‘ resplendent ‘ land but it also received several other names by different nationalities. The Arabs called Ilanka as Serendib ‘ , the Portuguese ‘ Ceilao ‘ , the Sinhalese ‘ Sinhala Dwipa, the Tamils with the original name of ‘ Illam
Thaïs added the honorific Tewa, calling the land Island of ‘ Tewa Lanka ‘ (divine Ilanka) and the Greeks as ‘ Taprobane. ‘ Ptolemy thought that ‘ Simondou ‘ was the old name of Ilanka, but according to Periplus, Ilanka was then not known as ‘ Palaisimoundon. ‘ (Paliya Seela Mandalam- Old virtuous region) ‘ Telmun, ‘ or Dilmun, ‘ was the name given by the Sumerian of Ur. In 1972, the country ‘ s name was changed officially from Ceylon to Srilanka.
The ancient Hindu epic ‘ Iramayanam ‘ , “represent Ceylon (Ilanka) as a huge continent, a tradition not unsupported by science.
The description in Iramayanam about Irama (Rama) crossing the peninsula and conquering Ilanka is a clear representation of Aryans- mean outsiders, penetration into the Indian peninsula, down south. According to the Sri Lankan Buddhist chronologies, such as, The Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Rajavaliya etc., Ilanka had been the abode of Asuras- demons and Yakkhas- the devils. (Ausras means in Tamil, A+Sura- Sura means those alcoholic who drink toddy. Asura means the teetotaler). Buddhist chronicles refer, as Asuras and Yakkhas, the aboriginal people of the ancient country, the descendants of the devout Hindu and the descendant of Iravanan (Ravana),
Iramayanam depicts the details of the Aryans southward movement. However, Iramayanam relates the story of the abduction of Sita- the spouse of Irama, by the South Ilanka king Iravanan. When Iravanan was the ruler of the Southern Ilanka , the Naga tribe who were ‘ Ovar ‘ or artisans of the highest order ruled the Northwestern portion of Ilanka. The artisans tribe originated from their chief, Viswakarma, the divine architect. The five classes of artisans, namely – Manu-Black-Smiths, Maya- carpenters, Tuvashta Kannar- brass- founders, Silpa Sirpi- masons, Stone-cutters, sculptors, architects, image makers and painters, Visvanna – gold-smiths, said to be born out of the five faces of Viswakarma.
Though, their country known as Mathottam, and the capital called Mantai- the port city, the whole country was popularly known as “Ovar” or “Oviyar Nadu” – means the land of the divine craftsmen. Ravana ‘ s spouse Mandotari was the daughter of Mayan the king of this country. Several thousands ‘ years ago, a temple for Lord Shiva, was constructed in this region, Tirukethiswaram (Tashis) by one great Lord Shiva devotee. The lord of the temple, was called, ‘ Obanna. ‘
Artisans of Oviyar Nadu also possessed the skill even to build aircraft. King Iravanan used an aircraft (dirigible) called ‘ Puspakavimanam, ‘ to abduct Sita, and that too was built by the craftsmen of Ovar. At the entrée port at Ovar, a busiest one on the region, ships from various countries, used to call for gold, silver, copper, exotic woods, pearls, spices, and other luxurious items grown, manufactured and mined in and around Ovar. Similarly, King Solomon ‘ s ship called at the seaport of Ovar, for exotic cargoes required for the building of the Jews ‘ temple and his palace.
The availability of Gold and silver in Ilanka is another important aspect that needs confirmation in our effort to locate Ophir.
The Phoenician, ‘ History of Sanchoniathon, ‘ is the earliest record available regarding the kingdom in North Ilanka . Sanchoniathon lived before the Trojan War. According to him, “Four kings governed the Island (Ilanka), all subordinate to paramount sovereign, to whom they pay tributes, cassia, ivory, gems, and pearls, for the king, has gold in abundance.” Further more, Ptolemy in his great work of ‘ Geography of the World, ‘ complied in 150 AD, writes as follow, in Bk. Vii, Chap. IV –
“Sect.1, Opposite Cape Cory, which is in India, is the projecting point of the Island Taprobane, which was called formerly Simoundou and now Salike. The inhabitants are now called Salai. Their heads are quite encircled with luxuriant locks, like those of women. The country produces rice, honey, ginger, beryl, and hyacinth and has mines of every sort of gold, silver and other metals. It breeds at the same time elephants and tigers.” Hope that, the above two descriptions, clarifies the availability of gold and silver in Lanka (Ilanka), during those days. Ptolemy went a step further to testify that, gold and silver were mined in Ilanka.
Even Pliny The Elder, in his “Natural History” while referring about Taprobane writes, “Megasthenes says that Taprobane is divided by a river and that the natives are called Aborigines (Palegoni-born long ago) and produce more gold and larger pearls than the Indians.” (Megasthenes was an envoy of Seleucus Nicator, founder of the Syrian monarchy. Megasthenes wrote his work on India (Indika, – as a result of his experience while being ambassador to the king of Prasii.)
Voyage for gold
Available historical information reveals that, only once, King Solomon and King Hiram ‘ s sailors jointly sailed successfully to Ophir. This voyage for gold must have happened during or just after lifetime of Iravanan. According to the historical information, the great part of Ilanka submerged under the sea, after Iravanan ‘ s debacles, in the war with Irama. Rajavaliya describes the aftermath of the war as follows: “Be it known that, by his (Iravanan ‘ s) wickedness, his fortress, 25 palaces and 400,000 streets were overwhelmed by sea.” This deluge took place in the Southern and Northwestern part of Ilanka.
Subsequently, during the Second century BC, again according to Rajavaliya, when Kelanitissa was the King of South Ilanka, 100,000 seaport towns, 970 fishers ‘ villages, 470 villages of pearl-fishers, making altogether eleven-twelfth of Ilanka submerged by the sea. According to Eratosthenes, the dimension of the Island was 804 miles in length and 575 miles in breadth, in the 2nd century BC. Therefore, the Ilanka today is one-twelfth of the Ilanka of ancient days, minus the gold prospecting region of Ophir. The actual measurements of the present island of Sri Lanka are 271X137 miles.
After Solomon and Hiram ‘ s demise, no other successful expedition to Ophir took place. Unfortunately, King Hiram and his own talented sailors were the only group of mariners, who were able to locate Ophir in North-west of Ilanka. When they were no more, and even when the Ophir mentioned in the Bible submerged under the sea, firstly after the Iravanan ‘ s debacle and later during the reign of Kelanitissa, people continued to speculate about and try to locate the place, that was no more.
Subsequently, the sea trade along the coast of Ilanka and in the Indian Ocean , few centuries before the Buddhists and Christian eras, remained in the hands of the Arabs, who jealously guarded against the encroachment by other nations, by their sedulous dissemination of fabulous and blood curdling stories, of the dangers of navigation.
The monopoly of the Arabs in the Indian Ocean shattered in the latter part of fifteen century AD. European colonialists set their sails to conquer the countries in Asia, after Vasco da Gama discovered India in 1498.The Baobab trees that form a special feature in the landscape of the Gulf of Mannar and the present Mathottam areas, testify to the Arab ‘ s ancient settlements during those periods.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to finalize that, the exact location of Ophir was in the North-west of Sri Lanka, the place called Mathottam and it had disappeared from the map of the world, due to seawater flooding twice and now, a submerged city, lying below the Indian Ocean .
Therefore, now the world, based on the above final location of Ophir, could put to rest conclusively any further search, but, could consider to initiate geological surveys for prospecting Gold and other precious metals in and around and off the coast of North-west region of Sri Lanka .
KT Rajasingham (Weekend Express 6,7 Feb 1999)
(We do not agree with all the conclusions of the author. But confirm that other ancient authors have verified that Biblical Ophir of Gold fame could have been in Tarobane).