June 11th, 2012


Southern Africa : The land of Gold

With the discovery of gold, ancient man moved from the age of stone to the age of metals, a transition which occurred somewhere between India and Mesopotamia. Man’s search for gold caused Africa to enter the age of history. Not surprisingly, southern Africa, the world’s greatest repository of gold, caught the attention of Indian prospectors and traders at least as early as the 1st millennium BC, if not earlier. The Buddhist literature of India refers to Africa’s gold trade in pre-Buddhist times i.e., at least as early as the 6th century BC. The early prospectors left evidence of their search not only in the form of alluvial diggings, reef workings and ore processing plants, but also in agricultural terraces and religious structures built of dry stone. Since 1983, these structures have been the subject of study by this research team.

Suikerbosfontein in Komatiland

The area of Suikerbosfontein hiking trail drains into the Komati River, the main commercial artery of the ancient gold-producing region known as Komatiland ( Eastern Transvaal, Swaziland and northern Zululand). This region was prospected and traded during the 1st and early 2nd millennium AD by Dravidion ( South Indian) gold seekers along with the emerging Quena (Hottentots) and, later, with Bantu-speakers. Gold was found in the Komati valley and copper deposits were detected in the immediate vicinity of Suikerbosfontein. Throughout this region, ancient prospectors and traders constructed numerous shrines, temples and other places of worship – some of them visible along this trail. Only a few of more than a dozen stone ruins at Suikerbosfontein have been investigated to date.

The Chariot

The most interesting of the ruins along the trail are the ruins of the Dying Sun Chariot temple, so named because of their shape and function. The temple consists of the shield – shaped body of the chariot and two wheel – like compartments attached symmetrically to each side. The well preserved body of the chariot can be mounted through a narrow door on the eastern side. Its front arch, marked by an upright stone built into the wall inside, aims at the Qanda ( egg shaped summit) of Doornkop, where the dying sun of the winter solstice sets at about 4:50 pm on June 21. On the outer side of the arch begins a narrow passage which pierces the outer ecclosure on the winter solstice sunset line thereby indicating the way of the dying sun’s demise. Clearly this chariot is celestial rather than terrestrial.

The time is up when the sun is gone

The chariot, the celestial car of the sun god (Suriyan), is a representation of time. Cyclical year – end festivities were celebrated annually in this temple. Worshippers gathered here to give thanks for the bounty received in the past year and prayed for the return of the dying sun without which there would have been no new planting season or harvest. Offerings of mineral tints, fruit, vegetables, grains, nut, etc. were ground to a paste on rubbing spots on outcrop and on loose stones, which can be seen on both sides of the Sun’s path passage in the western part of the temple’s enclosure.
These spots attest to the faith of the ancient worshippers. Their trust that their prayers would be answered and the sun would return is indicated by a seat in the left wheel compartment of the chariot. A priest ( called suri ) , sitting on this seat and looking over the altar (charioteer’s rest post )that separates him from the main body of the chariot, faced the high cliffs in the north – east where the new sun would rise on the morning of June 22. His line of vision runs over a well built ‘nose’ or projection in the right side wall of the chariot. Here the lines of several cosmic alignments intersect.

The celestial wheel

The chariot’s celestial nature is further indicated by its two lunar wheels, located on parallel axles at right angles to the shaft. The North Wheel can be seen under the cliffs across the stream. Its Axle runs over the ‘nose’ towards the large flat seat of the officiating suri in the southern cell just outside the chariot, and continues to the western edge of the South Wheel. The South Wheel is hidden beyond a low ridge, but its axle intersects the shaft of the chariot precisely at the eastern entrance to the chariot’s enclosure and continues to the eastern edge of the North Wheel. The arrangement of the wheel(s) reflects lunar connections which are to complex to be explained here.

The Way North

A Third important line that passes over the ‘nose’ is the axis of a 10.25km-long Pilgrim’s Way North. It leads from the Penance Triangle in the south (a short distance south of Rooikrans Camp) to the Sun and Moon temple on the mountain in the north. It goes by way of the chariot-breaking to allow for worship and sacrifice-, and by the sacred pool. Several small shrines, each reflecting different aspect of pilgrim’s devotion, line the Way North towards the heaven of final liberation, believed to be located in the North.
The Penance Triangle (Tapas Mukonom) contains a hermit cell, hidden under the boulders from which a narrow crevice path leads to a flat rock table where the inmate performed penance (tapas, heat). Sitting in the middle of the SE side of the triangle, the ascetic (tapasvi) automatically faced the flame shaped boulder placed in the NW corner, thus exposing himself to the purgatorial influence of the North-West and the Agni (fire) influence of the South East.
Exiting through the best walled North Gate, the Way North led the pilgrim to a precinct at the site of Rooikrans Camp. Thence to a complex at the large vertical slab and a meditation seat under a rock that looks like the mouth of a serpent. Next, the Moon’s (Chandra’s ) blessings were invoked on a well-built, NE orientated megalithic terrace. A series of terraces leads to the dramatic crevice waterfall, another meditation seat and a purgatory crevice.
The wide path of the Way North between the Dying Sun Chariot and the stream suggests that a purifying bath in the sacred pool was an important part of the ritual. Many other stations along the Way North need to be studied and explained. Eventually, the Way North climbs up the high escarpment and, passing through the Sun and Moon Temple, leads by means of a stone passage and a few steps to the natural amphitheatre, where an offertory heap of stones marks the end of the journey.

The Heritage

How many people performed the ritual pilgrimage along the Way North and how often will never be known, but the monument as a whole shines brightly on the veld of southern Africa, proclaiming the undeniable message that historically, culturally and religiously speaking Africa is in fact INDO-AFRICA. Here the cultures of Africa and India mixed produced numerous monuments of this nature. It is our duty to study and preserve these relics of the ancient times.


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