Note: This article has been published on the Iskcon News site, the Graham Hancock website, eSamskriti, Satyameva Jayate and the Viewzone Magazine
Amun and Krishna
An interesting piece of information caught my attention during my journey across the sacred sites of Egypt during early 2010. During the light and sound show in the magnificent temple complex of Karnak, I heard a voice booming over the loudspeakers: “I am Amon-Ra...The waters of the Nile sprout from my sandals.” This immediately reminded me of the Creator God Vishnu in Hinduism. In the typical depiction of Vishnu in Hindu iconography, the sacred river Ganges is shown emerging from the toe of the Vishnu, while in Egypt, we find a very similar imagery associated with Amun. But who was Amun? I knew that Amun was the presiding diety of Karnak, and he was worshipped there as the Creator God, along with his wife Mut, and his son Khonsu. The next day, while discussing about the light and sound show with my tour guide, he gave me another piece of information that I was not aware of, and that took me completely by surprise: “Amun was always depicted in funerary art and temple inscriptions with a ‘blue skin colour’ and having two feathers in his headdress.”
Now, if anyone ever travels to India, and he talks to the people there about a god having a blue skin colour, with a couple of feathers in his headdress, and from whose sandals or toes a sacred river emerges, he will get a single answer: Vishnu, or more likely Krishna, for it is Krishna who was always depicted with two peacock feathers in his headdress.
This realization has significant implications. Krishna is an exclusively Indian diety, whose demise in 3102 BC signified the start of the present Kali Yuga in the Vedic Yuga system. Amun on the other hand, was not worshipped in Egypt prior to the beginning of the New Kingdom in c.1550 BC. He is mentioned in the creation myth of Hermopolis as one of the four pairs of divinities who were present in the Primeval Waters of Nun. As Amun-Amaunet, he represented the “hidden” properties of the Primordial Ocean. An early Twelfth-Dynasty inscription in the jubilee chapel of King Senusret I (c.1965 – c.1920 BC) at Karnak describes Amun as the “king of the gods”. While he was known to the Egyptians, he was not a part of the Egyptian Ennead, the Divine Company of Gods, who were the primary deities of worship.
But suddenly at Karnak, at the beginning of the New Kingdom in c.1550 BC, Amun usurped the position of Atum, as the head of the state patheon. He became the self-engendered Creator God. Evidence indicates that the construction of the temple complex at Luxor and Karnak may have started as early as the Middle Kingdom (c.2055 – c.1650 BC), although the buildings visible today date from the reign of Amenhotep III (c.1390 – c.1352 BC), the great temple builder of the Eighteenth Dynasty. What could have trigerred his precipitous rise to the head of the Egyptian pantheon from relative obscurity as a diety of the Primeval Ocean? How did a whole new patheon of deities, along with associated symbolisms, rites and rituals suddenly spring up in Egypt during the New Kingdom?
|Fig1: The blue-complexioned Amun. Source: edupics.com|
|Fig 2: Krishna with Radha, 18th century Rajasthani painting.|
The Opet FestivalI was also taken aback by the descriptions of the annual Opet festival that used to be celebrated in Karnak, during the season of the flooding of the Nile. In this grand festival, the idols of the Theban triad of divinities - Amun, Mut and Khonsu - were placed on sacred barques (boats), which were carried in a splendid, joyous procession down the Avenue of the Sphinxes, along the 2 mile road that connects the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The celebrations have been depicted in detail on the walls of the Great Colonnade at Luxor. At Karnak, the idols of the Thebian triad were first ceremoniously washed and magnificently dressed with colorful linen and precious jewellery and placed on sacred barques. The pharaoh then offered his obeisance to each of the barques. The barques were then carried by the priests on their shoulders, accompanied by musicians, and soldiers carrying standards decorated with brilliant plumes and streamers. Elegantly decorated horse drawn chariots would also accompany the procession. Huge crowds of people gathered along the road, blowing trumpets, dancing and singing, clapping, offering prayers, burning incense sticks and generally raising a tremendous din. Nubian musicians and female acrobats entertained the crowd. The barques rested along the way at six way-stations that were built by Queen Hatshepsut.
Once the idols reached Luxor Temple, the coronation rites of the king were repeated in a sacred ritual, which effectively transferred the power of divine rulership from Amun to the pharaoh. The idols rested in Luxor for a period of time and subsequently came back to Karnak, in another procession along the river Nile. Although the Opet festival was initially celebrated over only 11 days, later it was extended to nearly 24 to 27 days. The festival not only symbolized a restoration of the divine right of the king to rule, but also signified a rejuvenation of the creative forces of the cosmos, through the sacred rituals and boisterous celebrations.
Jagannath Ratha YatraAmazingly enough, an exactly similar festival is still celebrated every year in the coastal town of Puri, in the state of Orissa in eastern India, after the onset of monsoon in the month of July. Here, in the yearly Ratha Yatra festival, the idols of Krishna (or Jagannath), his brother Balaram and his sister Subhadra are carried in three magnificent chariots pulled by thousands of devotees along the 2 km (1.5 mile) road that connects the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple.
I had the good fortune of being able to witness this grand spectacle in the year 2010. An immense collection of humanity had descended on Puri on this day from all over India. The actual festival, of course, had started nearly two weeks earlier when the idols of Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra were given a ritual bath and redecorated. On the day of the Ratha Yatra, the idols were installed on the three massive chariots, nearly 45 feet high, which had been constructed for the three deities. The chariots were kept outside the Jagannath Temple walls, and the endless stream of devotees blew conch-shells and played trumpets as soon as the idols were brought out of the temple on decorated palanquins and placed on their respective chariots.
Then the King of Puri paid his obeisance to each of the chariots. He sprinkled sacred water on the chariots, and swept the chariots clean with his golden broom. The chariots then started making their way along the Grand Avenue one by one, pulled by ropes by the thousands of devotees. Needless to say, a considerable din ensured. There was loud chanting and singing, beating of drums and blaring of trumpets, as the procession slowly made its way to the Gundicha Temple. The chariots stopped at many points along the way, in order to provide an opportunity to the devotees to catch a glimpse of the idols inside the chariot and offer their prayers. It is said that one who observes the face of Jagannath during the Ratha Yatra festival gets absolved of all past sins. I did not accompany the procession the entire way to the Gundicha Temple. But what happens is that, after the procession reaches the Gundicha Temple, the idols rest there for a period of 7 days. After this they return back to the Temple of Jagannath, in another joyous, noisy procession known as the Ulta-Rath. The entire celebration, starting from day of Jagannath’s bathing ceremony, till his return from the Gundicha Temple, lasts for 25-26 days, nearly the same as the Opet festival of Karnak and Luxor.
The similarities between these two ancient festivals are obvious and striking. There can be no doubt that the Opet festival of Karnak is identical in form and spirit to the Ratha Yatra festival of Puri.
Fig 4: The chariot of Subhadra being pulled along the Grand Road by the devotees at the Rathayatra Festival, Puri. Image Credit: Bibhu Dev Misra
|Fig 5: The flower decorated palanquin (poo-pallakku) of goddess Meenakshi taken out in a procession in the evening of 10th day of the Chithirai festival – when Goddess Meenakshi weds Lord Sundareswarar. Source: http://www.thehindu.com|
That implies that this ancient festival, along with the triad of divinities - Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra – must have been transferred from India to Egypt, sometime prior to 1550 BC.
|Fig 6: Amun, Khonsu and Mut (left to right) Source: kenseamedia.com|
|Fig 7: Krishna, Subhadra and Balarama (right to left). Source: Wikipedia|
Migration from India?Although we know that Indian traders had trade relations with the first Pharaohs of dynastic Egypt in 3000 BC, and sold them cotton, muslin, spices, gold and ivory, such a major influence of India on Egyptian religious systems has not been explicitly identified till now. Some scholars have, however, pointed out the similarity between the culture of Egypt and India. Peter Von Bohlen, a German Indologist, mentioned that there are elements of folk art, language, place names and rural culture of Bengal (the state adjacent to Orissa and included in it in ancient times) which have an affinity with their Egyptian counterparts. However, when you consider the fact that an entire patheon along with associated ceremonies and rituals seems to have been exported to Egypt from India, it appears that the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Emperors of India must have maintained very close relations since ancient times. This pantheon transfer would have been possible only through express royal patronage. But when and why did this happen? Who all were involved?
We know that when the Hyksos invaders of Egypt were finally evicted from the country after 200 years of occupation, the pharaohs Kames and Ahmes had fought under the banner of their new-found god - Amun. This event, which took place in 1550 BC, marked the beginning of the New Kingdom and the 18th dynasty, which is acknowledged as the greatest royal families of Egypt. Amun became the supreme protector god of the monarchy and the state and his priesthood gained immense power. Magnificent temple complexes dedicated to Amun were established in Thebes. Is it possible, therefore, that this pantheon transfer from India to Egypt was also accompanied by a transfer of armed forces which enabled the pharaohs Kames and Ahmes to defeat and drive out the Hyksos invaders and reunify Egypt?
Interestingly, the people of Egypt themselves claimed to have come from a land called “Puanit” (corrupted to “Punt”) located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Punt was referred to as the “Gods land” or the “land of gods and ancestors”. Punt can be reached leading off the Red Sea, in a south-east direction, and is described by the scholar Dr. Adolf Erman as “a distant country washed by the great seas, full of valleys, incense, balsum, precious metals and stones; rich in animals, cheetahs, panthers, dog-headed apes and long tailed monkeys, winged creatures with strange feathers to fly up to the boughs of wonderful trees, especially the incense tree and the coconut trees.”
These descriptions may be a reference to India. The ancient maritime trade routes, popularly known as the Silk Route, led from Egypt in a south-east direction, to the flourishing ports on the western and eastern coasts of India. Along these ancient routes, Egyptian and Indian ships plied back and forth since unknown antiquity, carrying precious objects of trade such as gold, ivory, myrrh, incense etc.
|Fig 8: The Silk Route. Source: Wikipedia|
It was widely in the ancient times accepted that Indians had colonized Ethiopia. The earliest Ethiopian tradition says that they came from a land situated near the mouth of the Indus, and this has been confirmed by the testimony of Eusebius and Philostratus. In the seventh century, St. Isidore made a summary in his Encyclopedia of knowledge derived from ancient Greek and Latin authors, many of whose works have now disappeared. Regarding the Ethiopians, he says in his Etymologiarium (IX.2.128): “They came in ancient times from the River Indus, established themselves in Egypt between the Nile and the sea, towards the south, in the equatorial regions.” Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren (1760-1842) an Egyptologist has observed (Historical Researches - Heeren p. 309): “It is perfectly agreeable to Hindu manners that colonies from India, i.e., Banian families should have passed over Africa, and carried with them their industry, and perhaps also their religious worship. Whatever weight may be attached to Indian tradition and the express testimony of Eusebius confirming the report of migrations from the banks of the Indus into Egypt, there is certainly nothing improbable in the event itself, as a desire of gain would have formed a sufficient inducement.”
Many questions are raised here. If Punt is India, then when did the ancient Egyptians migrate to the shores of the Nile from Punt? If we assume that the migration took place sometime around 3000 BC, at the beginning of the Kali Yuga, then who built the Giza Pyramids? Evidence indicates that the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids might be far older than what Egyptologists have been claiming so far. It has been shown by Boston University geologist Dr. Robert Schoch and Egyptologist John Anthony West that the intense weathering of the Sphinx and the Valley Temple due to water erosion could have been possible only if these structures had been exposed to the damp and watery "pluvial" period that accompanied the end of the last Ice Age. The implication of the distinctive "water induced weathering" was that the Sphinx and the Valley Temple must have been constructed before 7000 BC. Schoch's analysis has been broadly corroborated by another geologist, David Coxill, who agrees that the Sphinx has been heavily weathered by rainwater and must therefore have been carved in pre-dynastic times.
In addition, Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval have argued (The Message of the Sphinx ) that the relative positions of the three pyramids of the Giza plateau correspond exactly to the relative positions of the three stars of the Orion belt (Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka), as they appeared in the skies above Giza at 10,500 BC. In other words, the three pyramids are a terrestrial map of the three stars of Orion's belt. The period from 10,970 BC - 8810 BC was the “astronomical age of Leo” during which time the spring equinox sun rose against the backdrop of the Leo constellation. Therefore, the Sphinx (which has a lion's body) would face directly towards the Leo constellation as the sun rose on the spring equinox during this period.
|Fig 9: The Sphinx, with the Giza Pyramids in the background. Image Credit: Bibhu Dev Misra|
In addition, since this magnificent pyramid complex is entirely devoid of any hieroglyphic engravings or inscriptions, which is very unlike the Egyptian pysche, it raises the question whether the Giza Pyramid complex was built by the ancient Egyptians or by others before them. Is it possible that was it built by a “race of giants” who built similar megalithic structures around the world, including many of them in Mesoamerica? Maybe the arrival of the ancient Egyptians to the shores of the Nile from the distant Punt displaced this ‘race of giants’ and a new civilization was initiated? No one knows what secret knowledge lies embedded within these fantastic tombs and inside the innumerable underground chambers and network of tunnels that exist below the Giza plateau, and what new secrets the future will unfold. Whatever be the truth about ancient Egypt, it is clear that we are barely scratching the surface of it in the present times.
Note: I have written a follow-up article to this one titled: "The journey of Jagannath from India to Egypt: The Untold Saga of the Kushites".