Was Australia actually Astralaya & did Indian yogis ever build the Baalbek Temple in Lebanon? Competing claims about Australian and Lebanese history have been reportedly made by spiritual figures, some known across the globe. One by Sadhguru’s organisation Isha, and the other by Sri Sri Ravi Sankar, both spiritual gurus have over millions of followers on their social media.

20, Mar 2024 | CJP Team

Do these claims pass the test of facts?

Claim: Indian yogis built the Baalbek Temple in Lebanon.

Busted! Sadhguru’s website claims, without citing any sources, that Indian yogis built the Baalbek temple in Lebanon. While trade and culture exchanges between India and countries across the globe have taken place for millennia, there seems to be no available record to point towards Indian builders of the Baalbek temple in Lebanon.

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Figures like Sadhguru have also reportedly contributed to the spread of misinformation. Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev, better known as Sadhguru, is a self-styled spiritual leader and founder of the organisation Isha Foundation. In 2019, he was in the news for having called a Muslim student ‘Talibani’ when he was delivering a talk at the London School of Economics. While he later clarified that it was a joke, and that it was a term used in India to call someone being ‘overly-enthusiastic.’ Following this, he was also seen supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act brought forth by the BJP government in 2019 which has been termed by many as anti-constitutional and anti-Muslim. He has also often praised PM Modi, most recently being regarding the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Temple in Uttar Pradesh in January 2024. He also termed the Ram Temple’s inception as ‘a resurrection of a damaged national spirit’. News reports allege that he has over 300 spiritual centres located around the world. Interestingly, the headquarters of his foundation, which is a 50-acre property in Coimbatore has been accused of being built illegally according to a report by NewsLaundry.

His influence seems to be vast with over 12 million followers on Instagram presently, he has boasted of devotees such as Hollywood actors Will Smith and even Mathew McConaughey, according to a report by Vox News from 2022.

On Sadghuru’s website, an article on his website ‘Isha’ named Baalbek Temple – Lebanon’s Ancient Yogic Connection has claimed that the Baalbek monument in Lebanon and suggested that the temple was constructed by Indian yogis and labourers. The writer, who is described as a female ‘meditator’, describes her ‘realisation’ that the temple was built by Indian yogis during her visit.

Later, Sadhguru’s official Facebook page has also posted this claim, in 2017. The post reads, “In Lebanon, there is a temple in Baalbek which is over 4,000 years old. Children in Lebanon schools study that Indian labour, elephants, sculptors and yogis constructed this. It is a massive temple. Some of the foundation stones weigh three hundred tons. Sculptures of lotus flowers are hanging from the ceiling. Obviously, there are no lotuses in Lebanon; it was sculptured by Indians. Every Lebanese child knows this. Has any #Indian child heard about it?”

The author claims that the temple had lotus engravings, which he suggests are not found in the area, “Some curious facts about the Baalbek temple are that you will see stone lotuses carved on the temple’s ceilings. That is intriguing, because there are no lotuses in Lebanon. But when I later came to India, I saw that the lotus is the most common symbolism of spirituality here.”

The essay on the website then goes on to point towards the idea that Indian yogis may have built the temple.  Furthermore, she claims that the stones at the temple were very large (“eight hundred tonnes each”) and thus must have required elephants, which she suggests do not exist in West Asia, to transport such massive slabs of stone.

However, while the author does not seem to provide any details or dates of these events she suggests or “realises” and merely notes from her own observations during the visit and fails to cite any historian or scientist. Furthermore,  her observation that there were no elephants in West Asia seems to be misplaced, as it has been recorded by scientists that the region around Syria was noted to have elephants that went extinct around 8 century BCE.

Furthermore, according to the factual historical record outlined by UNESCO on its website, the Baalbek complex which is located at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range was a huge cultural institution during Roman times and served as a prominent sanctuary within the Roman world. UNESCO’s description of the site stated that it had Roman origins.

Temple of Jupiter (Baalbek) – Source: Britannica.com

 While, not much is known about the temple from before its Greek conquest in 323 BCE, it was reportedly a significant model of Imperial Roman architecture and has its own history as it was dedicated to the Roman Triad of Heliopolis which consisted of Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Furthermore, UNESCO’s documentation reveals that the Roman constructions were superimposed upon earlier ruins, which included remains of the Phoenician tradition. Sadhguru’s attempt to reshape history that is surrounding Baalbek contradicts established historical facts and risks distorting the significance of cultures and traditions from different parts of the world. The Temple was dedicated to three gods of Roman mythology – Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury, which were, as per UNESCO, a part of a Phoenesian cult. The Phoenicians were a Semitic group that were found in the region of Levant, near east of the Mediterranean Sea.

Hence, apart from this piece written by the author for the organisation’s website ‘Isha’  there is little mention of the Indian presence at the temple that was found while conducting this research. While cross cultural exchanges have taken place between India and the globe, from Greeks to the Chinese, it is difficult to ascertain and certify these by layperson observations by religious figures.

Claim: Australia’s original name was Astralaya.

Busted! Sri Sri Ravi Shankar  has been claiming that during the time of the Mahabharata, there was a Sanskrit origin for the name Australia, Astralaya – which means armoury. However, Australia’s name means southern land in Latin, due to its position vis a vis the rest of the world. There is no evidence that points towards Astralaya ever being the name according to official records.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation. He is from Papanasam, Tamil Nadu. In 2023-2024, his foundation, Art of Living, has signed several MOU’s with the government in relation to environmental concerns, farmers’ concerns, substance addiction. As per Financial Times, in 2024, Shankar was part of a team of leaders who led an anti-corruption campaign against the then prime minister Manmohan Singh of Congress. According to a 2016 article about him, The Quint reported that his AOL foundation is mired in several controversies, namely that the foundations buildings are built on encroached land in Karnataka. In 2010, he was also accused by an NRI of taking his 15 acres of land. Shankar is endorses by leaders globally, so much so that his foundation has even been praised by the US president Joe Biden. Shankar’s X page, where he regularly posts about his global engagements, has about 4.1 million followers at present.

 He has reportedly done so by linking it to the term “Astralaya” (Astra-Alaya) which supposedly translates to armoury. In an undated video posted on YouTube uploaded in 2021 by a page called NRI Affairs, the spiritual leader responds to a person’s question and tries to concoct the idea that Australia had ties to India Hindu heritage, saying, “Do you know the country, Australia? Where did its name come from? Australia (armoury) in Mahabharata became Australia.”

History provides a different narrative. The national library of Australia which holds historical records pertaining to the land and nation, informs us that the name “Australia” was actually coined by English explorer Matthew Flinders to describe the continent on a map. Prior to Flinders, the landmass was referred to as ‘Terra Australis Incognita,’ a term which means unknown Southern land in Latin. Here, the word Australis which means Southern.

Prior to the name Australia, the land was named ‘New Holland’ by the incoming Dutch immigrants to the land in the 17th century. However, both these names are admittedly named by white Anglo-Saxon colonialism that dominated and plundered the habitats of indigenous people in Australia. The advent of European colonialism did not just result in cultural changes and domination of the whites but also led to a decline in the population of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. When the Europeans arrived Australia was declared as ‘terra nuilis’, a land that belonged to no one or wasteland. This shows how little value the Europeans gave to the indigenous as they sought to colonise and inhabit the land.

However, before the Europeans arrived, the territory now called Australia was known by several different names among its Indigenous peoples, reflecting the multitude of languages and cultures across different regions, according to the National Library of Australia. Each of these names had spiritual significance to the land. The act of Indian spiritual leaders to make such claims seems to be another, deliberate or otherwise, means of erasure of aboriginal history, culture, presence.

While there is an undoubtedly western, Anglo-Saxon domination behind this interpretation, and indigenous aboriginal insights need to be factored in, Indian market gurus take on the term is certainly fallacious.


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