'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, February 25, 2011

'He of the Two Horns'

In recent weeks, I read a bit about Mohenjodaro and stuff, a very old interest rekindled by a visit to the National Museum in Delhi.

There is this mysterious Indus seal showing a three headed male human figure sitting cross-legged with animals in attendance. Here it is: Several scholars have claimed it to be a proto-Siva in his Pasupati (lord of the beasts) form. That he is ithyphallic supports this claim. But this view is not universally accepted and is sometimes even opposed on an ideological plane as a Hindu Nationalist attempt to appropriate Indus into Hinduism. I am not into taking sides in this quarrel; but I do find a view from the 'other' side interesting, trying to identify this mysterious figure with 'Zulqarnain', a mid-eastern legendary hero. This theory is based on an extravagant pair of horns that he wears (or have sprouted from his head).

Wiki defines 'Zulqarnain' thus: "a (heroic) figure mentioned in the Qur'an, the sacred scripture of Islam, where he is described as a great and righteous ruler who built a long wall that keeps Gog and Magog from attacking the people who he met on his journey to the east (ie, the rising of the sun).... According to a classical interpretation, the name is due to his having reached the two 'Horns' of the Sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets" during his campaign...

Wiki goes on to say: "Arabic ذو القرنين ḏū al-qarnayni literally translates to "possesor of the two horns". ذو ḏū means "owner". The construction is semantically weakened, however, and a better translation would be "having, possessing, endowed with".[3] القرنين al-qarnayni is the definite genitive dual of قرن qarnu "horn"; thus, "he who is endowed with the two horns".".

Secular scholars have identified Zulqarnain with either Alexander the Great or Cyrus the Great; both these guys lived in the first few centuries BC and post-date the Mohenjodaro seal by a good two millennia. So, the theory that it is him on the seal is certainly non-standard.

I have a further question: Does Zulqarnain refer to 'two horns' or 'both horns'? I don't know if Arabic has a word for 'both' (Hindi for example as 'donon' for 'both' and the Sanskrit 'ubhayam' also probably has a similar meaning. My own Malayalam has no such specific word). Whatever, 'both' makes better sense (irrespective of whether the horns refer to some abstraction or to cranial protuberances). Indeed, having a single horn can be a defining characteristic of some being (the unicorn or the Indian rhino); having three horns is defining enough as well (the 'triceratops'); but two is the 'default' number of horns and saying 'the one with two horns' is too weak and vague for a definition, just like saying someone is 'two-eyed' (a silly Mallu film from the early 1990's has a thug character 'Two-eyed Kuttappan'; the hero of the story mocks the thug specifically for his idiotic nickname - before thrashing the lights out of him). So, imo, 'the one who has (acquired) BOTH horns (of the Sun or whosever)' sounds a lot correcter than 'the one with two horns'.

Somewhere during this exploration, I was reminded of Moses. The famous statue of the formidable prophet by Michelangelo has several peculiarities, the most documented being those little horns ( Enough has already been written how the Mosaic horns were the product of a mis-translation. Aside: The horns notwithstanding, the most remarkable thing about the statue is that Michelangelo has bestowed upon Moses a very generous amount of clothing, including a sort of 'baniyan'!

Although such a possibility is not inconceivable, I don't know of any speculations identifying Zulqarnain with Moses. However, while searching for such theories, I found the following episode, adapted from the Scripture.

Prophet Moses had grown old. The angel of Death came to fetch him. The two fought and Moses bashed up the angel, who went and complained to God: "Lord, when I asked Moses to drop everything and come with me, he refused to lie down and die - and gave me a black eye!"

God the Father spoke to Moses: "Fine. Put your palm on the back of an ox and as many hairs as come under it, you will live for that many years!"

Moses asked: "And after that, what happens, My Lord?"

God said: "Death"

And Moses said: "Enough! Take me right away!"

And when Moses had been taken away, God the Father said: "I made him an offer he couldn't accept!"

Note: this episode is rather similar in spirit to a legendary Keralan Hero trying to get goddess Kali to tweak his lifespan (I wrote about it sometime back).

Zulqarnain is quite an uncommon given name. I know of only two guys with it - both are Pakistanis; coincidentally, both have played for the Pakistan cricket team; and remarkably, both are wicket-keepers. One was active in the mid-1980s and the other quite recently. The earlier Zul was short, stocky and bearded; the latter, tall, lean and usually clean-shaven. Both had very short careers with the national team. Zul-1 appears prominently in photos of the Pak cricket team celebrating the Australasia cup (THAT last ball six match) and Zul-2 was prominently in the news for some high-risk whistle-blowing against match-fixers but is now totally out of the limelight.

Update (February 2012): Parallel to Ramzan-Ramadhan-Ramadan, an alternative spelling of Zulqarnain could be Dhulqarnain/Dulqarnain. This implies that the name of up and coming Malayalam film star Dulqar Salman may be a derivative of this Arabic name. But 'Nitpicker' feels the name 'Dulqar' could be a mistake since Dulqarnain ought to be analyzed as "Dul + Qarnain" and not "Dulqar + Nain".


  • At 3:52 AM, Blogger helle said…

    It's Very Nice post. I liked it.

  • At 11:23 AM, Blogger jk incx said…

    Looks like they took something literally here:

    Judging from your post you might find this interesting


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