Ophir - The Search for El Dorado
Search for "Ophir," the gold rush source (or 'El dorado') of the
Biblical times continues. This is an endeavor to locate Ophir conclusively.
Locating 'Ophir', a place renowned as a source of much gold of the finest
quality, during the Biblical days, continues. The search for gold began
during the early days of the First millennium BC, but is still not concluded.
Even today, this yellowish lustrous metal known chemically as AU metal
continues to retain its attraction as unit of exchange and value. Countries
in their monetary system adopted gold standard to specify certain weight of
gold to equal the value of its' currency unit.
Earlier, the ancient city of Ur, a prominent Sumerian city in Mesopotamia,
dominated the trade in gold and remained an important marketing center in the
region. Ur received its large supply of gold, from an unknown location below
South India, a landmass, considered the holy-land, according to the beliefs
of the Sumerians
After the fall of Ur, during the early Biblical days, Lebanon emerged as a
leading gold market in the region. Lebanon received its supply of gold from a
region only known as 'Ophir'. Did Ur too receive its gold supply from Ophir?
Where is the place Ophir located?
Locating Ophir, well known for its abundance of gold, during the early
Biblical days, remains a matter for speculation and continues to draw the
attention of scholars, biblical scientists and even laymen alike. This
"El Dorado'- the fabled city in South America, supposedly rich in
treasures, attracts considerable interest. Unfortunately, Ophir, to date,
remains elusive and mysterious to all.
According to the Bible, the world witnessed great efforts taken to obtain
gold, during the reign of King Solomon that continued into the reign of his
successors and others, in the ancient Middle East. During the reign of
Jehoshaphat, one hundred years after the demise of King Solomon, attempts
were made frantically to reach Ophir for gold, but the efforts failed to
succeed. Numerous lengthy negotiations took place between Jehoshaphat and
Ahaziah, the King of Israel, to prepare journey to Ophir.
Even though, those negotiations failed, his ships too were wrecked at
Eziongebar, the seaport, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. "King
Jehoshaphat built great freighters to sail to Ophir for gold; but they never
arrived, for they were wrecked at Eziongebar'-
1 King 22 (48). Those events testified that, the region called Ophir; lied
far away from Israel and the hazardous voyages, involved intense
preparations. In addition, the voyage demanded special expertise, technical
and professional knowledge and training in navigation.
Biblical scientists, and historians, attempted to locate the place exactly,
except for their fanciful speculations; they failed to arrive at any
conclusion, regarding the exact location of Ophir. According to the Biblical
information, Eziongebar, the seaport in the Red-Sea, served as the point of
departure for ships that undertook sedulous voyages in search of Ophir and
gold. However, up to date, Ophir almost eluded its location to historians and
The present voyage of discovery is undertaken, to put to rest conclusively,
the controversy regarding the location of Ophir.
Jews and Israel
For many people, the humankind's history, before the coming of Christianity,
was the history of Jews. The Jews are the descendants of Abraham, who was
born in Ur, one of the oldest Sumerian cities in the old kingdom of
Mesopotamia. He left Ur to Haran and finally migrated to Canaan, in the
shores of the Dead Sea. The descendants of Abraham, spoke one of the Semitic
languages, called 'Hebrew,' and grouped round the cult of 'Yahweh'. The
Hebrew means 'wanderers'. The Bible began to distinguish Abraham's people
from their days in Canaan. The history of the Jews and other people is
available in the 'Old Testament,' the sacred writings of the Jewish people.
Those documents provide interesting and valuable information, about the
gradual development of human civilization.
Jews are a new kind of people, belonging to ancient tribe of 'Judah'. The
first one to
use the name 'Jew' was Jeremiah, the writer of the book of Kings. Jews were
people without a King, a City and a Temple. Persians invaded them in 587 BC,
destroyed their first Temple built by King Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar took the
Jews into captivity in Babylonia. This was considered the beginning if the
Diaspora (Dispersion) of the Jews and finally they lost everything in 70 AD.
Jews continued to maintain their religious, and ethnic identity and their
exclusivity. They managed to hold together, for more than 2000 years and
consolidated out of heterogeneous elements only by the power of the written
words of the Old Testament (The Bible).
King Solomon (970 BC- 931 BC)
In the first Book of Kings, which begins with the reign of King Solomon, (970
BC - 931 BC) (date is to be confirmed), who was the first King of Israel,
where reference of Ophir too emerged. He succeeded his father David (1003 BC
- 970 BC). He was outstandingly incredible, both for his strength and
Although, no archeological evidences are available that King David existed,
he still lives in the Bible, as one of the greatest figures and a model king.
He placed himself under the protection of Hiram, Phoenician King of Sidon.
This Phoenician alliance, sustained him, considered an essential element in
the greatness of King Solomon.
Solomon decided to recast the religion of his people. He continued the
alliance with Hiram, who used Solomon's kingdom as a highroad to reach and
build shipping-lanes through the Red Sea, on the coast of the Hebrew hill
country. Normally, Phoenician trading lanes went to Red Sea, through Egypt,
but during that period, the country was in a state of disorder. Therefore,
Hiram established a close relationship with both, King David and later with
his son King Solomon.
King Solomon informed Hiram that his father King David was unable to build a
Temple to Jehovah, due to numerous wars that were going on during his time.
He conveyed his intention to build a Temple to Lord Jehovah, as instructed by
God to his father King David. He appealed to Hiram to assist him with his
project. Solomon requested him to send his men to Lebanon, to cut cedar
timber for him. Accordingly, he agreed to supply both Cedar and Cypress logs,
from Lebanon's mountains, to the Mediterranean Sea and float them along the
coast, wherever Solomon needed them.
Solomon laid the foundation for the Temple in May 966 B.C., during the fourth
year of his reign, and completed his building in November 959 B.C., in the
eleventh year of his reign. Solomon's Temple was designed more to Canaanite
standard than Jewish. He also built his own palace that took thirteen year to
King Solomon leaves behind a great literary reputation, centering on
"Wisdom." Ascribed to him are the biblical Proverbs, Ecclesiastics,
the Song of Solomon and Psalms 72 and 127. When King Solomon died, the
combined kingdom of Israel and Judah began to disintegrate. His son Rehoboam
succeeded him (931 BC - 913 BC).
The Bible-1 King
Following excerpts are recorded in the Bible, regarding Ophir, the building
of the Temple and the Palace: "So, Hiram produced to Solomon cedar and
cypress timber as he desired." 1King: 5 (10)
"(And when king Hiram's ships brought gold to Solomon's from Ophir, they
also brought along a great supply of 2algum trees and gems.1King: 10 (11)
Solomon used the algum wood to make pillars for the Temple and palace, and
for harps and harpsichords for his choirs. Never before or since has there
been such a supply of beautiful woods.)" 1King: 10(12)
"King Solomon had a shipyard in Eizorngeber, near Eloth, on the Red Sea,
in the land of Edom, where he build a fleet of ship." 1 King: 9 (26)
"King Hiram supplied experienced sailors to accompany Solomon's crew.
They use to sail back and forth from Ophir, bringing gold to King Solomon,
the total value of which was several million dollars each trip." 1King:
"King Solomon's merchant fleet was in partnership with king Hiram, and
once in every three year, a great load of gold, ivory, apes and peacock
arrive at the Israel port."
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
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 Eziongerber. Any ship that set-off from the
Eziongerber, 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 entre 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 entre 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, borrowed the words from the
Tamil inhabitants of the port area.
Srilanka, 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,' 'Elam,' 'Eelam,' of 'Eelanadu,'
and Thas 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), the Tamil King of
Ilanka. Earlier, the Aryan poet, a mystical waif, as well a robber turned
ascetic, Valmiki, who wrote Iramayanam in Sanskrit, described the indomitable
aborigines of Ilanka, the Tamils, Rakshasas- monsters, demons and cannibals,
- with contempt, which has marked all the civilized conquerors in all ages.
Rakshasas, according to popular Indian belief, are malignant beings, demons
of many shapes, terrible and cruel, which disturb the sacrifices and the
religious rites of the Brahmans. It appears indubitable that the poet of
Iramayanam, vociferous with his vitriol and applied the hated name of
Rakshasas, to an abhorred and hostile people and that the denomination found
in Dipawamsa, Mahavamsa and Rajavaliya are expression of hatred and horror,
rather than a very historical name for a sect of people. Pali and Sinhalese
writers of the ancient Buddhists chronicles, used derogatory terms, whenever
referring to the original descendants of the country- the Tamils. Earlier
days, the Aryan ascetics, not necessarily Brahmans, served as pioneers and
spies against non-Aryans- the Dravidian, whose forest they occupied without
permission, and helped in a great deal towards the Aryans Southward thrust.
However, it is clear that ancient writers from Pali, Sanskiritic and Sinhala
languages, used vituperative epithets such as, Asuras, Rakshas and Yakshas.
(Yaksha's means Devil, who can transmigrate and transform themselves to any
shapes or size,) to denote the Dravidian - the Tamils, who were the enemies
of the Aryans and for a long time resisted the progress of the pale-skinned
race, into the Indian sub-continent. They were contemptuously called Asuras
(teetotalers) Rakshas (Protectors of the Dravidian race and faith, or
Iyakkhas - the archers) and Yakkhas (devils in the Sinhala language) because
of their physical strength, courage and valor, and super natural powers
ascribed to them by the early Aryans. Dravidians established a powerful
kingdom in Ilanka and asserted their authority even over the Dekkan plateau
and other parts of South India.
However, according to the historical evidences, judging from the southward
movement of the Aryans, generally dated around 1100 BC to 900 BC, one has to
conclude that, the original Iramayanam must have been composed, at least
fifty or hundred years later. Therefore, it is historically correct to assume
that, the Irama- Iravanan war occurred in the ancient Ilanka, around the
period of Aryans' southward movement.
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 entre 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
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
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 Srilanka.