Saturday, February 04, 2006

Glossary: Yamakoti

The ancient Indian astronomers placed the location of Yamakoti in the East precisely one quarter of the world's circumference from Lanka/Ujjain, the Indian meridian.

The 11th century Muslim geographer/astronomer al-Biruni makes the following statements about Yamakoti:

Yamakoti is, according to Yakub and al-Fazari, the country where is the city Tara within the sea. I have not found the slightest trace of this name in Indian literature. As koti means castle and Yama is the angel of death, the word reminds me of Kangdez, which according to the Persians had been built by Kai Kaus or Jam in the most remote East, behind the sea...Abu Mashar al-Balkhi based his geographical canon on Kangdez as 0 degrees longitude.

The city of Tara is also called Nara in other literature such as the Hudud al-Alam. It could refer to the Tantric goddess Tara, whose name means "star" and who is, among other things, the goddess of the sea and seafarers.

Tara's connection with mariners is particularly strong in her association with the sea goddess Ratu Kidul of Java, and Kuanyin, the Chinese goddess of mariners.

We have mentioned Kangdez before in reference to Zoroastrian prophecies of the King of the East. It was considered the center of the world and the hiding place of the savior kings. Similar concepts were adopted into Shi'ite Islam.

The geographers who used Kangdez as the prime meridian belonged to what is known as the al-Balkhi school, after Abu Mashar al-Balkhi, known in Latin as Albumasar. During the Middle Ages, Albumasar was the most renowned of Muslim astronomer/astrologers in Europe. His theories of historical cycles linked with the planets influenced many European astrologers including Nostradamus whose key work "Revolutions" was based on such concepts.

While other Muslim geographers used Ptolemy's meridan of the "Happy Isles" off West Africa, or the Indian meridian of Ujjain, the al-Balkhi school placed the meridian in the far East. His followers saw Kangdez as one and the same as the Indian Yamakoti. In addition to Kangdez, the city Tara/Nara was placed in Yamakoti at the equator.

In al-Qanun al-Masudi, al-Biruni writes that Tara was 90 degrees east of Lanka/Ujjain basically agreeing with the Indian texts about the position of Yamakoti. Again Yamakoti was the same distance from Lanka/Ujjain as the latter was from Romaka.

The city of Romaka has been variously identified as Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. Biruni equates it with the city or capital of Rum i.e., Constantinople which is practically at the same meridian as Alexandria. It should be said however that al-Biruni did not accept the equation of Lanka's longitude with that of Ujjain. He thought instead that it referred to the isle of Langabalus, the island of cloves (lavang), which may refer to the Nicobar/Andaman chain.

If we accept the Ujjain meridian, the longitude for Yamakoti would be at around 120-122 degrees East longitude.

Not much was written about Yamakoti other than it possessing walls and ramparts of gold, but Kangdez is another matter. The immortals lived here and a great fortress was hidden here within a mountain. It is associated with the Varkash Sea, in the deepest part of which is produced the Haoma (Soma), the elixir.

This reminds us of the Churning of the Milky Ocean tale in the Mahabharata where the burnt runoff of flaming Mount Mandara flows into the sea:

The friction of the trees started fire after fire, covering the mountain with flames like a black monsoon cloud with lightening streaks...many juices of herbs and manifold resins of the trees flowed into the water of the ocean. And with the milk of these juices that had the power of the Elixir, and with the exudation of the molten gold, the God attained immortality. The water of the ocean now turned into milk, and from this milk butter floated up, mingled with the finest of essences.

The general location of the prime meridian of Kang-dez and Yamakoti would agree with Chinese myths of the three isles of the blest including Penglai, shaped like cauldrons in a manner that reminds us of the Hermetic Krater. They were located somewhere in the "Eastern Sea" but in a location where the Sun rose at the horizon i.e, in the equatorial parts. The Formosan speakers of Taiwan have legends of a homeland to the south or southeast of Taiwan also associated with the Sun (or the multiple superfluous Suns).

Even though the Indians used Lanka as their own meridian, they usually named Yamakoti first when listing the four quadrants of the globe.

Paul Kekai Manansala


King, David A. World-Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance to Mecca: Innovation and Tradition in Islamic..., Brill Academic Publishers, 1999.

Minorsky, V. Hudud al-`Alam. the Regions of the World: A Persian Geography 372 A.H.--982 A.D., London: C.E. Bosworth, 1970.

Sachau, Edward C. Alberuni's India Vol I: An Account of the Religion, Philosophy, Literature, Geography, Chronolog..., Routledge, 2001.