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The Sumero-Tamil Origins of Democracy

Dr K.Loganathan, Oct 2002

One way of understanding the essence of the democracy is see it as anorganizationofsociety where instead of the Individual Will of a person,no matter how powerful or gifted he is, is NOT allowed to hold sway over the political praxis of the community but raher the transpersonal Tarmam , Dharma.Forgetting the various social processes or mechanisms of realizing this that the Western nations have introduced, it appears that it existed in the early Sumeria, continue to exist even after the birth of hereditary kingship and continues to exist among the Tamils to this day in the villages as the institution of uur-manRam, the Sabaa, the Village assemblies of elders who function with unwritten laws of conventional wisdom.

 

It may be possible that the institution was already pre-existent even before the Sumerian times and coeval with the birth ofcommunal living in Urs, settlements where people are forced to live together perhaps for social safety and security. 

In this essay, I want to trace the development of this institution in Sumero-Tamil literature.

 

The Ur Saba or Assembly in Suruppak’s Neri

 

As I have already mentioned, the earliest written version of Suruppak's neRi (Su.nari) is dated around 2500 B.C and hence it was probably composed several centuries earlier and perhaps around 3000 B.C. In this text the latest fragment of which existed even around 1100 B.C. we have mention of Sabai (Su. sa-ba) as in the following lines

 

57. mah-bi nig [x]-ba-an-sub-be nig-e ba-an-sub-be(Do not throw anything too fiercely, it will throw you down)

58. ur.tuku na-an-bad-e lu-bi sa-ba-e-re - eb-kur ( Do not drive away a debtor, that man may turn hostile against you.

 

Obviously the translations are inaccurate and I offer the following.

Tamil. 57. maahbi nika [x] paNNu suumbe nikavee PaNNu suumbee ( Submit yourself to the powerful (persons), you must really submit yourself(thus)

Tamil: 58. Ortoku naa-an-paduvee uLubi sabaiyiree ib kuuRu ( Do not put down the great ones, they will mention it in the assembly)

 

What is clear is that there were people who were socially powerful and who wielded some kind of respect among the people and who are generally submissive towards them. The advice is that not only the young men should accept their social leadership but also REFRAIN from insulting them or putting them done in public (Ta. padu: to cast down) But what is interesting to note is that should this convention be transgressed, the offended will mention it (Su.kur Ta.kuuRu: to tell) among the members of the assembly (Su.sa-ba-e-re, Ta. sabaiyiree; enee> eree, Su.sa-ba, Ta. sabai> avai, Sk.sabha)

 

Thus there was perhaps in every town or Ur, an assembly where matters pertaining social misconduct was mentioned and which would pronounce appropriate punishments by way meeting out justice.

 

The Assembly of the State in Sulgi’s Hymn B.

 

The notion of arasavai, an assembly in the Place and where the King holds counsel appears to be a development of the Ur-saba, extended now to the political unit of the Kingdom be it a city state or a nation of several such city states 

We find mention of this in Sulgi’s MutarIbiyam (Hymn B) (c. 2000 BC.). The following lines, devoted to a description of how Sulgi ruled the state are evidences for this.

 

225 bu-uh-ru-um ki nam-tar-re-de ( In the assembly where decisions were taken)

226. sagub-e-ne ad-gi-gi mu-un-za/ enim dug-dug mu-un-zu ( I taught the governors how to deliberate, suggesting the apposite words)

 

Tamil.226 porUum kiiz tarunam ede (At the place of dialogue where dharma was established)

Tamil. Saakuppinee aadu miimii mun-cuuva/enem tuukku tukku muncuuv. ( Among those sat in the assembly, I encouraged continuous dialogue, encourage free expression of thoughts)

 

Here the ‘bu-uh-ru-um ki’ is the Tamil porUum kiiz, a place where those present encage among themselves and which means entering into debates, dialogues and discussions. This perhaps is the assembly of the King where he holds counsel with the important people of the state and who are made to sit (gub) or be members. What is interesting is that it is considered the place where dialogues were held so that JUSTICE or nam-tar-re (> Ta. tarmam> Sk. Dharma) was upheld. It is also interesting to note that Sulgi claims that he encouraged untrammeled and extensive and free expression of thoughts (enem tuukku tukku). Thus it is clear that what went outas the major political decision was not the willof the King but rather the collective decision of the assembly and this more as an expression of Dharma than the will of the people. The free dialogues, debates and discussions among the members of the assembly were seen as the way in which the transpersonal DHARMA comes to hold in the affairs of the state.

 

The Assembly of the Celestial Beings.

 

It is interesting to notethat the SumeroTamils saw the functioning of the celestial beings and who regulate the affairs of the world as whole also function along the same lines but under the leadership of An. The following lines taken from the account of the deluge is evidence for this.

 

10. gestu-[tuk-a-mu] ( my wise one)su-me-a (by our hand)a-ma-ru ............. 

* Ta. kestu tuukku moocuul meya amaru ( What I tell you is this: there will be a flood enveloping everything) 

gestu Ta; akastu, akattu: knowledge, understanding;su Ta. cuuz: to envelope; a-ma-ru Ta. amuri : waters)

 

11. numun-nam-galu ( the seed of mankind) ha-lam-e-de (to destroy)............. di-til-la ( is the judgement) 

*Ta. numuL kaallunamalamidee... viti tiira ( To destroy everything living .. is the final judgment) 

(numun Ta. numuL, muLai: that which sprouts;nam-galu Ta. kaal: to stay, to stand; kaallunam: that which are;ha-lam Ta. alam: to destroy as in alam-koolam etc; di Ta. viti: judgment : til-la Ta. tiira: final)

 

12.dug-pu-uh-ru-[um-dingir-ri-e-ne-ka] (the word of the assembly [of the gods] 

*Ta. tukku porUum tingirinee akam ( taken in the assembly of the gods) 

pu-uh-ru-um Ta. porUum: to contact , combat, discuss etc;(a) -ka Ta. akam: inside)

 

13. du(g)-dug-gaan [en-lil-la] ..........(the command of Anu and Enlil ..........) 

*Ta. tuuk-tuukka aaN eeNliilla ........... (These are the words of An and Enlil....) 

( dug Ta. tuukku: to sing, and genitive case marker "-a " in Enlil-la makes it the words of An and Enlil)

 

Here we have the same word for assembly but more clearly spelt out: dug-pu-uh-ru-um but that of the great celestial beings, dingir-ri-e-ne, the teevar inam. The destruction of world with deluge is the di-til-la (viti tiira) the final decision of An and Enlil and which also means that after considering several possibilities, perhaps suggested by the lesser gods, the final decision is taken by the Great Gods An and Enlil, who survive now as Siva and VishNu.

 

Dialogue Democracy and Dharma

 

These examples clearly show that the democratic notion of coming to a collective decision after discussing a problem extensively in an assembly meant solely for that, permeated not only the Ur Saba, the Assembly of the King but also the Celestial World. The sabai was the PorUum kiiz, the place for encountering or even combating so that as many views as possible emerge to the surface and after considering all a decision is made andwhich also turns out to be upholding the Dharma, the tarmam.

 

Thus the Dravidian (and hence Indian) notion of democracy is seen as a social institution where not the individual or collective will but rather the transcendental principle of Dharma is allowed to rule and regulate the affairs of the state and that it is a way of realizing the functional features of the divine world itself.



Dear Dr. Loganathan,

    It would be nice to find a democracy functioning in the Sumerian city states but all evidence show that these states were ruled by dynasties of kings.  These kings may have had a council or assembly of elders or landowners enfiefed to the king but they were hardly elected by any electorate we could envision as "the people".

     I would be interested in more thought on there being one or more cities that functioned more as a republic with representatives of guilds or clans serving as a governing assembly.  These nobles would not be elected by the "people" but would act as elders in council to represent the interests of their constituents in council.

     With most of the cities being autonomous before Sargon there may have been several types of governing bodies as well as hierarchical systems.

Best Regards,  John Piscopo
PO Box 137
Western Springs, IL 60558
(708)246-7111

In a message dated 10/22/02 12:20:19 AM Central Daylight Time,
subas@pc.jaring.my writes:
> 4. The western notion of democracy is quite different, at a superficial
> glance,  in that it not understood as a system that allows the Dharma  to
> emerge and rule the people. The place of Dharma is taken over by the will
> of the electorate. But I believe that if you ask further questions as to
> why this, what is so special about the public will, I think it will be
> noted that there is a transpersonal element in the notion of the collective
> will of the people as a whole and which may be actually  the Sumerian
> Tarmam, Dharma.
>
> Dear Dr. Loganathan,

      I don't think that you can export the philosophical concept of Dharma
as conceived by Indian Metaphysics into ancient Sumeria.  While there may be
some parallel concepts arrived at independently, truth is not the province of
any single people, and you will have to accept that a pious and godly people
of good will and religious introspection will arrive independently at the
same intellectual destination.

     If you are correct about the relationship between Tamil and Sumerian,
you would still have to answer the question of when did Dharma begin within
Tamil thinking before ascribing a link to the Sumerians.  You have no
evidence of a priestly migration from Ur to Tamil Nadu at the only time such
a migration could occur, 1900 +/- 100. Finding that link could solve your
basic problem. Peasants, traders, soldiers or sailors would not be of the
priestly class and would be insufficient to your need if they were found.

     One piece of archaeological evidence that might help:  Are there any
remains of ziggurat (Multi-storied temple structure of impressive height)
structures in Tamil lands?  The ziggurat was the center of Sumerian religious
activity and within its precincts would have been extensive schools and
libraries. Reconstruction of such a temple would have been a probable first
activity to newly arrived exiled priests. They would surely wish to thank the
gods for their deliverance!

    Remember that the King in Sumerian cities was also high priest, he fought
all of his wars in the name of the city's gods. Victory or defeat were
achieved on behalf of the gods and their gods showed active favor to the
pious.

Best Regards,  John Piscopo
Forum</A>
PO Box 137
Western Springs, IL 60558
(708)246-7111 

In a message dated 10/22/02 12:20:19 AM Central Daylight Time, subas@pc.jaring.my writes:

1. It may be possible that democracy of a kind that had tremendous impact on Western Civilization could be an adaptation from the Sumerian who were perhaps the Black Athenians. There are so many features of Greek life that is so similar to the Sumerian that I suspect that there were actually an influx of Sumerians into ancient Greece. You have already mentioned how the Epic tale Gilgamesh set the model for the Greek way of life and so forth. Perhaps Winters can add further notes to this.



Dear Dr. Loganathan,

     The Epic of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was indeed the basis of the literature of the near east and was most certainly known my some of the Mycenaean traders who had settlements on the Levantine coast during the Late Bronze Age and there may have been some story telling parallel to its episodic cliff hanging structure that was adopted by the bards of Greece but they would not have known that Homer was borrowing the style of the Gilgamesh saga when he consolidated the stories that became the Odyssey. You must remember that Homer was a thousand years and more after the collapse of Sumeria as a power, and there was no written Greek that was continuous. Linear B died out by 1150, Homer wrote some time in the 8th-7th centuries. The lesson of Gilgamesh was how to sing a heroic tale over a campfire and get the locals to supply you with food and drink.

     At least in this area I can assure you with certitude that at the time Sumer collapsed as an independent entity to its new Babylonian conquerers in the 19th Century there was no Greece.  There were no Greeks.  There were powerful kingdoms between the old Sumerian lands and the Mediterranean that would not have permitted any migration o peoples.

     By the time Athens became a serious polity within the Mycenaean culture, some time after 1500 BC, Sumerian was a religious language known by the priesthood but no longer spoken by the commoners on a regular basis.  I would assume that many might know it as a second language, just as many Catholics in the USA studied Latin in order to recite prayers and communicate with others.

    I have studied a bit on the 3rd Millennium Sumerians and could find no mention of any kind of democratic process.  Can you provide me with a citation from Kramer or another source?  I did find one short sentence referring to the republican form that I discussed earlier. I am willing to be persuaded if you can provide some evidence.

    Perhaps we should try to narrow this thread of conversation to a single city at a specific time rather than Uruk/Sumer over a thousand years. There were 30 cities in Sumeria, 12 of them of importance.  Select one or two and we can start researching to find some way to interpret the surviving texts to give us evidence upon which we can base an opinion.

      I too hope that others will join us in this little research project.  The original texts are often ambiguous and can be interpreted in several ways, often with gaps that leave out key information that would assist us in understanding.  Additional insights are always welcomed, I need to bounce ideas off of another's mind to test their soundness.

     As for now, my conception of the Sumerian governance is Kingship, probably preceded by judges or priests, that lasted until the city states were consolidated into a single Sumero-Akkadian state around 2350 under Sargon I.

Best Regards,  John Piscopo
PO Box 137
Western Springs, IL 60558
(708)246-7111

Dear John

 

Thank-you for your questions again and I hope other scholars will also participate in this dialogue. Just some points to ponder.

  1. It may be possible that democracy of a kind that had tremendous impact on Western Civilization could be an adaptation from the Sumerian who were perhaps the Black Athenians. There are so many features of Greek life that is so similar to the Sumerian that I suspect that there were actually an influx of Sumerians into ancient Greece. You have already mentioned how the Epic tale Gilgames set the model for the Greek way of life and so forth. Perhaps Winters can add further notes to this.
  2.  

2. I have NOT yet mastered all the Sumerian texts that I have managed to collect. The earlier the predyanstic notions is actually arrived at through semantic archeology, going into the deeper layers of meaning such as lugal, u-mu-un and so forth. But nevertheless I want to point out that among the Sumerians,  leadership was seen as the gift of God and that some individuals are CHOSEN to lead the people in times of cirisis. Thus we have Utuhegal, an ordinary man becoming the leader who announced the dreams he had had and how in those dreams the gods disclosed that he has been chosen to redeem Sumer from the Sabarians and so forth. The people having believed in it, supported him and which resulted in an expedition against the sabarians who were defeated. The tablet recording this, taken from Gadd , is available in the SumeroTamil Campus.

Thus here we have here an instance of public support, a kind of election, but on the basis of the believe that he has been selected by the gods for the task.

 

  1. The following lines indicate that though birth was a factor that was taken into consideration, but it was not the only factor, the COMPETENCE for leadership was also taken as important.
  2.  

Sulgi (Hymn B)

 

358 i-ne-es (d0 Utu u-ne-a-a (Suddenly, on that particular day)

359. kur dumu ki-en-gi-ra nu-zu-ba ( The land of the sons of Sumer being taken unawares)

360. sa-KU kaskal-bi-se su ila-ba-gal-la-ba ( (And) being prevented to go back to their pasture lands)

361. jag-ba KA-KA-ma lu nu[x].ma [xx] ( In that predicament nobody [was there] to give orders, I [became] the man for it

.

These lines and other lines indicate that it was NOT soley because of his birth as the eldest son of a fampus king ( Utuhegal, Urnammu? ) that he became the Lugal, but also because of his abilities for leadership during times of crises. Thus Sulgi was given public support and allowed to be the LugaL in recognition of his leadership qualities.

 

Isn't here some kind of election mechanism at work here?

 

  1. The western notion of democracy is quite different, at a superficial glance,  in that it not understood as a system that allows the Dharma  to emerge and rule the people. The place of Dharma is taken over by the will of the electorate. But I believe that if you ask further questions as to why this, what is so special about the public will, I think it will be noted that there is a transpersonal element in the notion of the collective will of the people as a whole and which may be actually  the Sumerian Tarmam, Dharma.
  2.  

I may not have answered all the question you have raised.  But I shall remember the issues you have raised and will attend to them in due course.

 

Loga

----- Original Message ----- 

From: jpisc98357@aol.com

To: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com

Cc: meykandar@egroups.com ; IndianCivilization@egroups.com ; tamil@tamil.net

Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 12:05 PM

Subject: Re: [akandabaratam] Re: Democracy or other?

Dear Dr. Loganathan,

      Democracy is government by people as a whole.  It was invented by the ancient Athenians.  The people eligible to become electors were citizens, native born Athenians, who were male and in their majority. It was invented in the 5th Century B.C.

     Here in the United States there are only a very few government bodies that operate as democracies, only at the town or township level and mostly in New England, equivalent to a Tamil village or small group of villages.

     Most government bodies in the USA are in the republican form where representatives of the people are democratically elected by a plurality of the electorate.

     Our national government is in this form, based upon Roman rather than Greek models of government. The Romans had a hereditary Senatorial class from which the head of the Gens would take office in the Senate.  Other officials, Tribunes for example, could be elected by the citizens during the Republican period.  After Augustus took office in 31 B.C. as Imperator these offices all became appointive by the Emperor.  There were 2 Consuls elected to serve one year terms, they were elected by the Senate but the Senate seldom challenged the Emperor by rejecting his choice for the Consul position.

      Perhaps you can translate the above into the terms of the discussion so that we can be assured that we are using the correct meanings in the discussions.  Language should not shield us from understanding and wisdom.

      I still would like to know if you have found that one or more of the Sumerian City States was governed by any form other than a kingship or priesthood.  I would even be interested to hear of a king who assumed office upon nomination and election of some assembly or council of elders.

      I think that tablets showing how the cities were governed are incredibly rare, do you have any inventory of such inscriptions?  I would suspect that most of the surviving tablets are post 2350 B.C. but would be most pleasantly surprised to hear of earlier tablets.

Best Regards,  John Piscopo
PO Box 137
Western Springs, IL 60558
(708)246-7111 

Dear John,

 

Just one point at the moment. You said

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I don't think that you can export the philosophical concept of Dharma as concieved by Indian Metaphysics into ancient Sumeria.  While there may be some parallel concepts arrived at independently, truth is not the province of any single people, and you will have to accept that a pious and godly people of good will and religious introspection will arrive independently at the same intellectual destination.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

I cannot disagree with you on this. Nor would any Hindu for this has become  enshrined as one of the basic unserstanding that has been repeatedly mentioned  throughout the ages in India.  Howver it appears to be a fact that ONE of the ways of letting emerge DHARMA, especialy in po;itical life,  is to allow untrammelled free expressions of thoughts without meaning that there are NO OTHER ways. Different societies may have different ways and sometimes even individuals in one society may have different ways. It is for this reason that Agamic Hinduism not only cultivates yogas, tapas, phisolosophical discussions etc but also music dance and so forth. The modalities and ways of truth-experience are numerous and an OPEN society must allow for all.

 

With respect to the question whether I am reading the notion of Dharma of Indian metaphysics into Sumerian, I don't think so. Now let us consider the following lines of Sulgi again.

 

225 bu-uh-ru-um ki nam-tar-re-de ( In the assembly where decisions were taken)

226. sagub-e-ne ad-gi-gi mu-un-za/ enim dug-dug mu-un-zu ( I taught the governors how to deliberate, suggesting the apposite words)

Tamil.226 porUum kiiz tarunam ede (At the place of dialogue where dharma was established)

Tamil. Saakuppinee aadu miimii mun-cuuva/enem tuukku tukku muncuuv. ( Among those sat in the assembly, I encouraged continuous dialogue, encourage free expression of thoughts)

 

The key word here is 'nam-tar' where the 'nam' is noun formative that exists as individual word 'nayan' in Tolkappiyam and which means 'essence". The word 'tar/ tar-re" is , taken as the archaic form Ta. taru means 'to give, donate' etc . The Ta. taruman in addition to meaning the philosophical 'dharma' also means the practice of donating as in 'taana tarumam' etc. Thus the philosophical 'dharma/ tarumam' is a natural givenness that is seen to emerge in cambative kind dialogues (not only in this way of course)

 

This dharma/ tarumam is also rendered as 'destiny, fate' etc . See the following line from Sulgi again

 

12. Sul-gi-me-en dumu-gi sa-ji-ta nam-dug-tar-ra-me-en (I, Sulgi, the legitimate prince, was allotted a good destiny, right from the faithful heart ( of Nin-na?)

 

The expression nam-dug-tar-ra-me-en can be taken as ' tuGka taranam maan" i.e one who has been given an excellent (tuGka)  dharma ( by Mother)

I think that this sense of 'fate' 'destiny' etc but actually a naturalgivenness (by the deities, here Mother Nina) is the beginning of the Indian metaphysical concept of Dharma and hence, I think, I am not mistaking in taking it as thus.

 

I shall attempt the history of Dharma concept in Tamil culture later.

 

Loga

 

----- Original Message ----- 

From: jpisc98357@aol.com

To: IndianCivilization@yahoogroups.com ; akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com

Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 2:37 PM

Subject: [akandabaratam] Democracy or Kingship?

In a message dated 10/22/02 12:20:19 AM Central Daylight Time, subas@pc.jaring.my writes:

4. The western notion of democracy is quite different, at a superfical glance,  in that it not understood as a system that allows the Dharma  to emerge and rule the people. The place of Dharma is taken over by the will of the electorate. But I believe that if you ask further questions as to why this, what is so special about the public will, I think it will be noted that there is a transpersonal element in the notion of the collective will of the people as a whole and which may be actually  the Sumerian Tarmam, Dharma.

Dear Dr. Loganathan,

      I don't think that you can export the philosophical concept of Dharma as conceived by Indian Metaphysics into ancient Sumeria.  While there may be some parallel concepts arrived at independently, truth is not the province of any single people, and you will have to accept that a pious and godly people of good will and religious introspection will arrive independently at the same intellectual destination.

     If you are correct about the relationship between Tamil and Sumerian, you would still have to answer the question of when did Dharma begin within Tamil thinking before ascribing a link to the Sumerians.  You have no evidence of a priestly migration from Ur to Tamil Nadu at the only time such a migration could occur, 1900 +/- 100. Finding that link could solve your basic problem. Peasants, traders, soldiers or sailors would not be of the priestly class and would be insufficient to your need if they were found.

     One piece of archaeological evidence that might help:  Are there any remains of ziggurat (Multi-storied temple sturcture of impressive hight) structures in Tamil lands?  The ziggurat was the center of Sumerian religious activity and within its precincts would have been extensive schools and libraries. Reconstruction of such a temple would have been a probable first activity to newly arrived exiled priests. They would surely wish to thank the gods for their deliverance!

    Remember that the King in Sumerian cities was also high priest, he fought all of his wars in the name of the city's gods. Victory or defeat were achieved on behalf of the gods and their gods showed active favor to the pious.

Best Regards,  John Piscopo
JohnPiscopoSwords.com
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