Friday, November 17, 2017

Yoga Mudras in Orthodox Christian Art: Does it indicate a Hindu-Buddhist Influence?

Note: This article has been included as a chapter in Prof.Michael Lockwood's anthological book The Unknown Buddha of Christianity.

Yogic knowledge had spread far and wide in the ancient world. My research into the Olmec culture of Mesoamerica had revealed that the Olmecs were ardent practitioners of hatha yoga – a set of asanas or postures that balances and aligns the body, mind, and spirit. 

Quite unexpectedly, I also came to a startling realization: a large number of religious icons of the Orthodox Christian Church depict Jesus, Mary, and the saints performing hand-gestures which correspond exactly to specific yoga mudras. This suggests that, meditation using yoga mudras may have formed an essential part of the spiritual practices of the early Church.

Before proceeding further, let me briefly explain the concept of yoga mudras. Yoga mudras are generally regarded as a component of hatha yoga. They comprise of a set of hand-gestures performed during meditation. The hand-gestures direct the flow of the vital energy (prana) to the different parts of the body through the energy channels (nadis). This helps to balance the five elements (Pancha Mahabhutas) which constitute the human body, namely - fire, air, ether, earth, and water. In Ayurveda, it is believed that imbalances in these five elements results in various diseases. Yoga mudras not only regulate and strengthen the physiological functions of our body and assist in healing, but also provide a number of mental and spiritual benefits for the practitioner.


The following set of images illustrate the 11 yoga mudras that I was able to identify in Byzantine art. There must be many more mudras waiting to be found out.


1.    Prithvi Mudra

The Prithvi (Earth) Mudra is performed by touching the tip of the ring finger with the tip of the thumb. The mudra is very efficient at strengthening and healing the body. The mudra also activates the root chakra, which promotes a sense of stability and self-assurance. 
Fig 1: The Prithvi Mudra

2.    Prana Mudra

Prana Mudra is called the Mudra of Life. It is given immense importance in the yogic practice for it can heal more than a hundred different kinds of diseases and health conditions. 

The Prana (Vital energy) Mudra is formed by touching the tips of the ring finger and little finger with the tip of the thumb. The mudra increases the flow of prana in the body, which strengthens the immune system and gives the body the resilience to heal itself. The mudra activates the root chakra which promotes stability, calmness, and self-confidence. 

Fig 2: The Prana Mudra

3.    Apana Mudra

The Apana (Descending Vital energy) Mudra is formed by touching the tips of the ring finger and middle finger with the tip of the thumb. The mudra regulates the excretory systems of the body. It detoxifies and purifies the body, and also helps in digestion.
Fig 3: The Apana Mudra

4.    Karana Mudra

A variation of the Apana Mudra is called the Karana Mudra, in which the ring finger and middle finger are folded but their tips do not touch the tip of the thumb. Sometimes, the thumb might hold down the middle and ring finger. The Karana Mudra is believed to dispel negativity and obstacles, and ward off the evil eye. 

Although I could not find any representation of the Karana Mudra in Orthodox art, the mudra is still popular in Italy and some Mediterranean countries where it is called the Corna (phonetically very similar to Karana). The Corna has the same function as the Karana Mudra i.e. it wards off bad luck and offers protection in unlucky situations. In popular media, the Corna is sometimes interpreted as a "satanic symbol", which is quite certainly an idea propagated by people with hyperactive imaginations.
Fig 4: The Karana Mudra

5.    Shuni Mudra or Akasha Mudra

The Shuni (Saturn) Mudra or Akasha Mudra is performed by touching the tip of the middle finger with the tip of the thumb. The mudra generates awareness of our inner divine self, and promotes living in the present moment. It also encourages compassion, understanding and patience towards others.
Fig 5:  The Shuni Mudra or Akasha Mudra

6.    Dhyana Mudra

The Dhyana (Meditation) Mudra is performed by sitting in a cross-legged position (preferably padmasana or sukhasana) and placing the hands on the lap, one on top of the other, such that the thumbs touch at the tip. This mudra stills the mind and helps one to build the one-pointed focus which is essential for meditation.

This Byzantine icon of Jesus shows him meditating in the Dhyana Mudra posture, seated on a double-lotus under a mustard tree, with a conspicuous protuberance on top of his head. The Buddhist influence in this imagery is palpable. The Buddha is frequently shown seated in Dhyana Mudra on a double-lotus throne. While Jesus is seated under a mustard tree, the Buddha is often shown seated under a Bodhi Tree – the place of his enlightenment. The red protuberance on Jesus’s head corresponds to the topknot on Buddha’s head called ushnisha, which was represented as a crown-jewel radiating rays of light or as a flame signifying the Buddha’s spiritual power and illumination.
Fig 6:  The Dhyana Mudra

7.    Surya Mudra (Agni Mudra)

The Surya Mudra / Agni Mudra is performed by folding the ring finger and pressing the second phalanx with the base of the thumb. This mudra has a therapeutic effect on digestive disorders, and helps to lower body fat and bad cholesterol.
Fig 7:  The Surya Mudra / Agni Mudra

8.    Anjali Mudra

The Anjali Mudra is the “Namaste” gesture. It is formed by bringing the palms together in front of the chest, such that the thumbs rest lightly against the sternum. The mudra brings together the left and right hemispheres of the brain and makes us aware of our divine essence. This releases stress and anxiety, and promotes respect for others.
Fig 8:  The Anjali Mudra

9.    Abhaya Mudra

The Abhaya Mudra is performed by raising the hand with the palm facing outwards. This mudra is performed by deities and spiritual masters to dispel fear and afford divine protection to the devotees. The open palms radiate the silent will and vital energy of the spiritual master.
Fig 9:  The Abhaya Mudra

10.    Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is performed by holding out the hand, palm facing outwards, with the fingers pointing downwards. This is a boon-bestowing gesture, and symbolizes the act of bestowing blessings and charity. Like the Abhaya mudra, this mudra is performed by deities and spiritual masters, whose divine energies are directed outwards through the open palms. The Abhaya Mudra and Varada Mudra are often performed together, one with each hand.
Fig 10:  The Abhaya and Varada Mudra

11.   Ardhapataka Mudra

The final mudra in this list is the Ardha-pataka Mudra, which appears in both Orthodox and Buddhist art. In this mudra, the ring finger and little finger are folded while the others are kept upright. It is believed that performing the mudra enables people to free themselves from the nuisances in their lives. 

This mudra generally does not appear in the traditional list of yoga mudras, and its knowledge and practice seems to have been limited. The term Ardha-pataka is used for this mudra in the Indian classical dance, Bharatanatyam. It is possible that this mudra had a different name in the context of yogic practice in the ancient times.

Fig 11:  The Ardhapataka Mudra
Evidently, a large number of yoga mudras are depicted in the religious icons of the Orthodox Christian Church.  It is interesting that the term “Orthodox” means “right belief” and Orthodox Christians consider themselves to be the inheritors of the “true faith and Church” passed on in its purest form. They claim to have maintained the original teachings of the Apostles, and preserved the correct form of worshiping God. 

This implies that meditation using yoga mudras must have formed a core part of the spiritual practices propounded by Jesus and the Apostles. Most of the Orthodox icons were created from the 6th century AD till the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD. Therefore, the knowledge of these yoga mudras may have persisted within the Orthodox Church till the 15th century AD. In the present day, however, most scholars do not seem to be aware that these hand-gestures are yoga mudras, and instead refer to them generically as signs of blessing.


The relative abundance of the different yoga mudras in Orthodox art reveals that particular emphasis was placed on two specific yoga mudras – the Prithvi Mudra and the Prana Mudra – for they appear in the largest number of icons. While the Prithvi Mudra strengthens and heals the body, the Prana Mudra strengthens the immune system, which gives the body the resilience to heal itself. Both the mudras also activate the root chakra which promotes a sense of tranquility, stability, and self-assurance.


Since, both the Prithvi Mudra and the Prana Mudra are extremely effective “healing mudras”, it helps us to understand why they have been accorded so much importance in Orthodox art. The Gospel records tell us of the presence of a multitude of sick people in Palestine during the time of Jesus, and how they were brought in great numbers to Jesus to be healed. In fact, healing all manner of sickness and disease was characteristic of Jesus's ministry. It is possible, therefore, not only did Jesus heal the sick people, but he also taught about yoga mudras, so that they would remain healthy and energetic even when he was  gone

This indicates that, in its infancy, the Church did not draw a line between the east and the west, and instead adopted all those religious practices and customs which they felt would help their followers to lead healthy lives, and establish a closer communion with God. This also explains why a number of Christian rituals and customs overlap with those of Buddhism and Hinduism. For instance:
 
  • The rosary beads of the Church are the same as the japamala used by Hindus and Buddhists.
  • The holy water used by the Church Priest for baptism and blessings correspond to the sanctified water called amrita used for purification in the Hindu-Buddhist faiths.
  • The asceticism, prayer, meditation, fasting, and monastic life of the Eastern Orthodox priests is similar to that of Buddhist monks.
  • Some of the Eastern Orthodox monasteries, perched on the top of hills, are reminiscent of the Buddhist monasteries of the Himalayas.
  • The use of religious icons, and their worship by lighting candles and incense sticks, by the Orthodox Christians is very similar to the Hindu mode of worship.
Fig 12:  The Holy Trinity Monastery in Meteora, Greece.  Source: www.touropia.com
Fig 13:  The Buddhist Monastery of Taung Kalat perched on top of Mount Popa in Myanmar (Burma). Source: Wikimedia Commons
The question is, when and how did the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and customs get incorporated into the Christian religious practices?

While there appears to have been long-standing contacts between the Indians and the Greeks since the time of Pythagoras and Plato, trade and cultural contacts along the Silk Route blossomed on an unprecedented scale after the conquests of Alexander. The Romans traded heavily with South India and Sri Lanka for luxuries, and there are a number of historical accounts of Buddhist monks and Indian philosophers being present in Alexandria and the countries around the Mediterranean, before and after the period of Christ. For instance:
 
1. In the third century BC, the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries as far as the Greek kings of the Mediterranean. In Rock Edict 13, Ashoka says: “Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule...”

Interestingly, one of the Buddhist missionaries named Dharmaraksita, who was sent by Ashoka to propagate the faith to the northwestern parts of India, has been described in the Buddhist historical texts, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa, as being a Greek (Pali: “Yona” which means “Ionian”). This shows that the Greeks even took active roles in spreading Buddhism as leading missionaries.[1] 

2. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period (305 BC – 30 BC) have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel, showing that Buddhists were living in Hellenistic Egypt at the time when Christianity began.[2] It was in Alexandria, located at the cross-roads commerce and cultural interactions, that some of the most active centers of Christianity were established. Historian Jerry H. Bentley notes “the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity”.

3. Roman historical accounts describe an embassy sent by the Indian king Porus to Caesar Augustus sometime between 22 BC – 13 AD. One of the members of this delegation was a Sramana (wandering monk of Buddhism / Jainism) who burned himself alive in Athens to demonstrate his faith. The event made a sensation, and was described by the Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus who met the embassy at Antioch (Turkey) in 13 AD. 

Strabo states that, as per Nicolaus of Damascus, the following was inscribed on the tomb of the Sramana: “Zarmanochegas, an Indian, a native of Bargosa, having immortalized himself according to the custom of his country, here lies.”[3] These accounts indicate that Buddhist / Jain monks were circulating in the Levant during the time of Jesus.

4. Clement of Alexandria, a Christian theologian and Church Father of the second century AD (c.150 AD), was the first Greek to refer to the Buddha by name: “Among the Indians are those philosophers also who follow the precepts of Boutta (Buddha), whom they honor as a god on account of his extraordinary sanctity.”[4] 

Clement was also aware of the Indian philosophers called gymnosophists (whom Alexander had met in India), and writes that, “the Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sarmanæ (i.e. Sramana) and others Brahmins.”

5.The founder of the Neoplatonic school, Plotinus, was so serious about learning Indian philosophy that he took part in the military expedition against the King of Persia in the hope that it would bring him into the region. According to one tradition, Plotinus went to India in AD 242 expressly to study its philosophy. 

There is, in fact, a strong similarity between Neoplatonism and Vedanta and yoga systems. Neoplatonism also had many points in common with Buddhism, especially abstention from sacrifice and from eating meat. A doctrine similar to Neoplatonism later became part of Christian theology as reflected in the writings of the Egyptian St. Anthony, St. John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhardt, among others.[5] 
 
6. Scythianus was an Alexandrian religious teacher who visited India around 50 AD from where he brought the “doctrine of the Two Principles”.[6] Epiphanius mentions that Scythianus wrote four books: Mysteries, Treasure, Summaries, and a Gospel. He went to Jerusalem, where he disputed his doctrines with the Apostles. 

The account of Cyril of Jerusalem states that after Scythianus' death, his pupil Terebinthus went to Palestine and Judea, where he presented himself as a “Buddha”. This suggests a link between his philosophy and Buddhism. His books and knowledge were taken over by Mani, and became the foundation of the Manichean doctrine.[7] 
 
7. There were some contacts between the Gnostics and the Indians. The Syrian gnostic theologian Bar Daisan describes in the 3rd century AD his exchanges with the Indian Sramanas (wandering monks of Buddhism and Jainism), passing through Syria.[8] This has given rise to suggestions by Zacharias P. Thundy that Buddhist tradition may have influenced Gnosticism and hence Christianity.

Thus, there is no dearth of historical evidence that Sramanas i.e. Buddhist and Jain wandering monks were present in Alexandria and in the countries around the Mediterranean during the time when Christianity was in a nascent stage of evolution. This would explain the presence of so many yoga mudras in Orthodox art, as well as the overlaps between Christian theology and religious practices with that of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.

Unfortunately, the outlook of modern-day Church Priests towards yoga, and eastern spiritual practices in general, seems to be diametrically opposite to that of the founders of their faith. Every now and then, one hears of Catholic Priests who deem yoga to be “satanic”, a “sham”, “dangerous for the soul”, the “work of the devil”, and much more. It is alarming that such mindsets exist even in the 21st century, especially when yoga has been scientifically proven to confer many health benefits, and is at the forefront of many holistic healing techniques.

Such misgivings appear even more absurd when we realize that yoga mudras must have formed an essential part of the religious practice of the Church since the beginnings of Christianity. Going by the large numbers of Orthodox icons that depict Jesus and the Apostles performing yoga mudras, it would appear that the early Church actively enjoined its followers to practice yoga mudras to heal themselves. The legacy of yoga in Christianity needs to be explored and understood in order to dispel many irrational fears and doubts harbored by the leaders of the Church.


PS: Readers may be interested in an engaging article in The Wire written by my friend Devdan Chaudhuri, where he has discussed the implications of the Ardha-pataka Mudra depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi.

End Notes
[1]"Encyclopaedia of Oriental Philosophy and Religion", ed. N.K.Singh, A.P.Mishra, Vol.8, Buddhism, Global Vision Puslishing House.
[2] W.W. Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, South Asia Books.
[3] Strabo, Geography, Book XV, Chapter 1-73
[4] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book I, Chapter XV
[5] Susantha Goonatilake, Toward a Global Science: Mining Civilizational Knowledge (Indiana University Press, 1998) 29-31.
[5] Hippolytus (Romanus), 1716, pp. 190-192
[7] Cyril of Jerusalem, Sixth Catechetical Lecture Chapter 22-24
[8] Porphyry, De abstin., iv, 17 [3]

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Sphinx of Balochistan: Is it a Man-made, Rock-cut, Architectural Marvel?

Note: The article has been published on Graham Hancock's website and on Esamskriti.

Concealed within the desolate, rocky, landscape of the Makran coastline of Southern Balochistan, Pakistan, is an architectural gem that has gone unnoticed and unexplored for centuries. The Balochistan Sphinx, as it is popularly called, came into the public eye only after the Makran Coastal Highway opened in 2004, linking Karachi with the port town of Gwadar on the Makran coast. A four-hour long drive (240 kms) from Karachi, through meandering mountain passes and arid valleys, brings one to the Hingol National Park where the sphinx is located.
Fig 1: It is a four-hour drive from Karachi to the Hingol National Park along the Makran Coastal Highway. The Balochistan Sphinx is located inside the Hingol National Park. Source: Google Maps
Fig 2: The Makran Coastal Highway. Source: www.tresbohemes.com

The Balochistan Sphinx 

The Balochistan Sphinx is routinely passed off by journalists as a natural formation, although no archaeological survey appears to have been conducted on the site [1]. If we explore the features of the sphinx, as well as some of the associated structures, it becomes very difficult to accept the oft-repeated premise that it has been shaped by natural forces. Rather, the entire site looks like a gigantic, rock-cut, architectural complex.
Fig 3: The Balochistan Sphinx inside the Hingol National Park. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Bilal Mirza CC BY 2.0

A cursory glance at the impressive sculpture shows that the sphinx has a well-defined jawline, and clearly discernible facial features such as the eyes, nose, and the mouth, which are placed in perfect proportion to each other. 

The sphinx appears to be decked up in a head-dress that closely resembles the Nemes head-dress of the Egyptian pharaoh. The Nemes head-dress is a striped headcloth that covers the crown and back of the head. It has two large, conspicuous, flaps which hangs down behind the ears and in front of both shoulders. The ear-flaps can be clearly seen on the Balochistan sphinx (including some stripe marks on it as well). The sphinx has a horizontal groove across the forehead which corresponds to the pharaonic head-band that holds the Nemes head-dress in place. 


One can easily make out the contours of the reclining forelegs of the sphinx, which terminate in very well-defined paws. It is difficult to see how nature could have carved out a statue which resembles a well-known mythical animal to such an extraordinarily high degree.

Fig 4:  The Balochistan Sphinx resembles the Egyptian sphinxes in many respects.
The Sphinx Temple   
 
In close proximity to the Balochistan Sphinx is another important structure. From a distance, it looks like a Hindu Temple (like those of South India), with the Mandapa (entrance hall) and the Vimana (temple spire). The top part of the Vimana appears to be missing. The sphinx is reclining in front of the temple, appearing to act as a protector of the sacred site.  
Fig 5: The Balochistan Sphinx reclines in front of a temple-like structure. Source: www.pakistanpaedia.com
In sacred architecture, the sphinx always performed a protective function, and was generally placed in pairs on either side of the entrance to temples, tombs, and sacred monuments. In ancient Egypt, the Sphinx had the body of a lion, but its head could be that of a man (Androsphinx), a ram (Criosphinx) or a falcon (Hierocosphinx).[2]  It was always regarded as a protector of temples or sacred places. The Great Sphinx of Giza, for instance, acts as a guardian of the Pyramid complex. 

In Greece, the sphinx had the head of a woman, the wings of an eagle, the body of a lioness, and according to some, the tail of a serpent.[3]  The colossal statue of the Sphinx of Naxos stood on a towering ionic column, at the sacred Oracle of Delphi, acting as a protector of the site.

Fig 6: The Balochistan Sphinx Temple shows clear signs of being a man-made, rock-cut temple.
In Indian art and sculpture, the sphinx is known as purusha-mriga (meaning ‘man-beast’ in Sanskrit), and its primary position was near the temple gateway, acting as a guardian of the sanctuary.[4]  However, sphinxes were sculpted all over the temple premises including the entrance gates (gopuram), halls (mandapa), near the central shrine (garba-griha) etc.

Raja Deekshithar had identified 3 basic forms of the Indian sphinx: a) A crouching sphinx with a human face, but with certain lion characteristics like mane and elongated ears; b) A striding or jumping sphinx with a fully human face; c) A half-upright or fully-upright sphinx, sometimes with moustaches and long beards, often in an act of worshipping a Shiva-linga.[5] 

Sphinxes also feature in the Buddhist architecture of South-east Asia. In Myanmar, they are called Manusiha (from the Sanskrit manu-simha, meaning man-lion). They are depicted in a cat-like crouching posture at the corners of Buddhist stupas. They wear a tapering crown and ornamental ear-flaps, and have feathered wings attached to their front limbs.[6]


So, all across the ancient world, the sphinx acted as a protector of sacred places. The Sphinx of Balochistan also appears to be guarding the temple-like structure near it. This suggests that the site was laid out in accordance with the principles of sacred architecture.


A closer look at the Sphinx Temple shows clear evidence of pillars carved on the boundary wall. The temple entrance is visible behind a large pile-up of sediments or termite mounds. An elevated, sculpted, structure to the left of the entrance could be a subsidiary shrine. Overall, there can be little doubt that this a massive, man-made, rock-cut, monument of immense age.

Fig 7:  The Balochistan Sphinx Temple shows clear signs of being a man-made, rock-cut, temple
Interestingly, there seem to be two massive sculptures carved on the façade of the Sphinx Temple, right above the entrance, on either side. 

The carvings are heavily eroded, making their identification difficult, but it looks as if the figure on the left could be Kartikeya (Skanda / Murugan) holding his spear (vel), while the figure on the right could be a striding Ganesha. Incidentally, both Kartikeya and Ganesha are sons of Shiva, which means that the temple complex could have been dedicated to Shiva. 


While any identification at this stage is speculative, nevertheless, the presence of sculpted figures on the façade lends greater weight to this being a man-made structure. 

Fig 8:  The facade carvings on the Balochistan Sphinx-Templecould be that of Kartikeya and Ganesha
The structure of the Sphinx Temple suggests that it may actually be a Gopuram i.e. the entrance tower of a temple. Like the Sphinx Temple, gopurams are generally flat-topped. Gopurams have a row of ornamental kalasams (stone or metal pots) arranged on top. If we look carefully at the flat-topped Sphinx Temple we can see a number of “spikes” on top, which could be a row of kalasams, covered with sediments or termite mounds. 

Gopurams are attached to the boundary wall of a temple, and the Sphinx Temple appears to be contiguous with the outer boundary. Gopurams also have giant figures of dvarapalas i.e. door guardians sculpted on them, and, as we have noted, the Sphinx Temple has two massive figures carved on the façade, just above the entrance, which may be serving as the dvarapalas.
Fig 9:  The Balochistan Sphinx-Temple could be a gopuram i.e. the entrance tower of a temple
An elevated structure to the left of the Sphinx Temple could be another gopuram. This implies that there could be four gopurams in the cardinal directions leading to a central courtyard, where the main shrine of the temple complex was built (which cannot be seen in the photograph). This kind of temple architecture is quite common in South Indian Temples.
Fig 10: The Arunachaleshwar Temple in Tamil Nadu, India, has four gopurams i.e. entrance towers in the cardinal directions. The temple complex houses numerous shrines.  Source: Wikimedia Commons / Adam Jones CC BY-SA 3.0 adamjones.freeservers.com
The Sphinx Temple Platform

The elevated platform on which the Sphinx and the Temple are situated, appears to have been elaborately carved with pillars, niches, and a symmetric pattern that extends across the entire upper part of the platform. Some of the niches may well be doors which lead to chambers and halls under the Sphinx-Temple complex. It is believed by many that there could be chambers and passages under the Sphinx on the Giza plateau as well. It is also interesting to note that the Balochistan Sphinx and the Temple are situated on an elevated platform, just as the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Egypt were built on the Giza plateau overlooking the city of Cairo.

Another conspicuous feature of this site is a series of steps leading to the elevated platform. The steps appear to be evenly spaced, and of uniform height. The entire site gives the impression of a grand, rock-cut, architectural complex, which has been eroded by the elements, and covered by layers of sediment, masking the more intricate details of the sculptures.

Fig 11:  The Balochistan Sphinx-Temple platform with steps, pillars, niches and a symmetric pattern.
What could have deposited so much sediment on the site? The Makran coast of Balochistan is a seismically active zone, which frequently produces enormous tsunamis that obliterate entire villages. It has been reported that the earthquake of November 28 1945, with its epicenter off the coast of Makran, caused a tsunami with waves reaching as high as 13m in some places.  

In addition, a number of mud volcanoes are strewn along Makran coastline, a bunch of which are concentrated within the Hingol National Park, near the delta of the Hingol river.  Intense earthquake activity triggers the mud volcanoes to erupt, thereby spewing staggering amounts of mud, drowning the surrounding landscape. Sometimes, mud volcano islands appear off the coast of Makran, in the Arabian Sea, which are dissipated by wave action within a year.  

Therefore, the combined action of tsunamis and mud volcanoes, along with termite mounds, may be responsible for the build-up of sediment on the site. 

The Historical Context

An elaborate temple complex on the Makran coast should not come as a surprise, for Makran had always been regarded by the Arab chroniclers as “the frontier of al-Hind”.[10]  A-Biruni wrote that, “the coast of al-Hind begins with Tiz, the capital of Makran, and from there extends in a south-eastern direction….”[11]  Though the sovereignty of parts of the region alternated between Indian and Persian kings from very early times, it retained “an Indianized identity all along”.[12]  In the decades preceding the Muslim raids, Makran was under the dominion of a dynasty of Hindu kings, who had their capital at Alor in Sind. [13]

The term “Makran” is sometimes taken to be a corruption of the Persian Maki-Khoran, meaning fish-eaters. “But it is also thought that the name derives from a Dravidian toponymic “Makara”.[15]  When the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang visited Makran in the 7th century AD, he noted the script that was in use in Makran to be “much the same as that of India,” but the spoken language “differed a little from that of India”.[16]  Historian Andre Wink writes that:
“The same chiefdom of Armadil is referred to by Hiuen Tsang as O-tien-p’o-chi-lo’, located at the high road running through Makran, and he also describes it as predominantly Buddhist, thinly populated though it was, it had no less than 80 Buddhist convents with about 5000 monks. In effect at eighteen km north west of Las Bela at Gandakahar, near the ruins of an ancient town are the caves of Gondrani, and as their constructions show these caves were undoubtedly Buddhist. Traveling through the Kij valley further west (then under the government of Persia) Hiuen Tsang saw some 100 Buddhist monasteries and 6000 priests. He also saw several hundred Deva temples in this part of Makran, and in the town of Su-nu li-chi-shi-fa-lo - which is probably Qasrqand- he saw a temple of Maheshvara Deva, richly adorned and sculptured. There is thus very wide extension of Indian cultural forms in Makran in the seventh century, even in the period when it fell under Persian sovereignty. By comparison in more recent times the last place of Hindu pilgrimage in Makran was Hinglaj, 256 km west of present day Karachi in Las Bela.”[16]
Thus, as per the accounts of Hiuen Tsang, even in the 7th century AD, the Makran coast was dotted with hundreds of Buddhist monasteries and caves, as well as several hundred Hindu Temples, including a richly sculpted temple of Lord Shiva.

What happened to these caves, temples, and monasteries of the Makran coast? Why have they not been restored and brought into the public eye? Are they suffering the same fate as the Sphinx-Temple Complex? Probably so. Eroded by the elements and covered with sediment, these ancient monuments have either been entirely forgotten or are being passed off as natural formations.

Close to the Balochistan Sphinx, on top of an elevated platform, are the remnants of what appears to be another ancient Hindu-like temple, complete with the Mandapa, Shikhara (Vimana), pillars and niches.

Fig 12:  An ancient Indian Temple of Makran with Vimana, Mandapa, pillars and niches.
The question is, how old are these temples of Makran?

The Indus Valley Civilization extended along the Makran coastline, and its westernmost archaeological site is known as the Sutkagen Dor, near the Iranian border. Some of the temples and rock-cut sculptures of the region, including the Sphinx-Temple Complex, could, therefore, have been built thousands of years ago, during the Indus Period (c. 3000 BCE), or perhaps earlier. 


It is possible that the site was built in phases, with some structures being extremely old, and the others comparatively recent. Dating rock-cut monuments, however, is difficult in the absence of inscriptions. If the site contains readable inscriptions, and if they can be interpreted (another tricky proposition, given that the Indus script has not yet been deciphered) then it may be possible to put a date on some of the monuments. In the absence of inscriptions, scientists will have to rely on datable artefacts / human remains, architectural styles, geological erosion patterns, and other clues.

One of the persistent mysteries of the Indian Civilization has been the profusion of exquisite rock-cut temples and monuments that have been built since the 3rd century BCE. How did the skills and techniques for building these sacred places of worship appear without a corresponding period of evolution? The rock-cut monuments of the Makran coastline may provide the much-needed continuity between the architectural forms and techniques of the Indus period and the later-day Indian civilization. It may have been on the mountains of the Makran coast that the Indus artisans honed and perfected their skills, which were later transported to the Indian civilization.

Fig 13:  The Indus Valley Civilization included sites located along the Makran coast. Source: http://www.waa.ox.ac.uk
Undoubtedly, there is a virtual treasure trove of archaeological wonders waiting to be discovered on the Makran coast of Balochistan. Unfortunately, these magnificent monuments, whose origins go back to unknown antiquity, continue to languish in isolation, thanks to the appalling level of apathy towards them. 

It appears that little attempt has been made to acknowledge or restore them, and the journalists routinely pass them off as “natural formations”. The situation can only be salvaged if international attention can be drawn to these structures, and if teams of archaeologists (as well as independent enthusiasts) from around the globe visit these enigmatic monuments to research, restore, and publicise them.

The importance of these ancient monuments of the Makran coast can hardly be overstated. They could be thousands of years old, and provide us with important clues to uncover humanity’s mysterious past..


End Notes

[1] See for example: “13 natural rock formations that look man-made”, Angela Nelson, MNN.com 19 Jul. 2016 <https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/photos/13-natural-rock-formations-look-man-made/sphinx-balochistan>; 
Also see: “Natural Featured Sphinx of Pakistan”, Saamia Malik, CNN iReport 18 Dec. 2014 <http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1198228>
[2] "Sphinx",New World Encyclopedia <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sphinx#cite_note-4>
[3] “Sphinx”, Theoi.com < http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Sphinx.html>
[4] Raja Deekshithar, “Sphinx of India, the Living Tradition” < http://www.chidambaramhiddentreasure.com/sphinx-in-india-tradition/ >;
Also see the You Tube Video: “Sphinxes of India”<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGoJx0VMpXI>
[5] Raja Deekshithar, “Sphinx in Indian Art” <http://www.chidambaramhiddentreasure.com/sphinx-indian-art/>
[6] Raja Deekshithar, "THE SPHINX IN ANCIENT BURMA AND MODERN MYANMAR" <http://www.lchr.org/a/37/1q/myanmar.html>
[7] UNESCO, ‘Remembering the 1945 Makran Tsunami’, <http://iotic.ioc-unesco.org/1945makrantsunami/1945-makran-tsunami-booklet.pdf>
[8] https://pakistaniat.com/2007/03/02/mud-volcanoes-volcano-balochistan-baluchistan-hingol-offroad-makran-pasni-hinglaj/
[9] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110126-mud-volcano-new-island-pakistan-arabian-sea-science/
[10] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 132
[11] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 132
[12] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 136
[13] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 133
[14] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 137
[15] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 137.
[16] André Wink, Al-Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest (BRILL, 1991) 135.