Tag Archives: Religion

The Hindu Symbol of Lingam of the God Shiva

In Hinduism, the term stands for the phallic symbol of the Hindu deity Shiva. It is also an abstract or aniconic representation of the god in Shaivism. The stone representations of lingas were worshiped as a symbol of the god’s creative power, often depicted in conjunction with yoni, the symbol of his wife, Parvati (Devi).

Featured image: An eleventh-century linga-yoni plaque with a worshipper (Nepal). Nepal, dated 1068 Sculpture Repoussé gilt copper alloy Purchased with funds provided by Harry and Yvonne Lenart (M.85.125) South and Southeast Asian Art. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Lingam” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Lingam” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3vPT8so>. [Accessed 9th May, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 230. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Unique Pyramid of Polonnaruwa with Little Trace in History

In my head I could still hear the noise of the airport, a commotion and rush at the customs control and at baggage claim, when I suddenly fell into the arms of tropical scenery, with its heavenly peace and tranquility given by the sound of the river and the whisper of huge leaves swaying in the wind. Hidden in the shadow of the tall boughs on the shore, I lazily observed a bright sunlight pouring profusely over the river and a group of elephants frolicking in it.

At first, I could not believe that I had become part of this picturesque image: in the background of a dense curtain of tall palm trees and thick creepers protruding from green ficuses and their trunks, heavily wrinkled bulks of elephants were wading in the silvery water of the river. Some turned over and poured water on each other, using their long trunks like watering cans.

Rhapsody for an elephant

Elephants have always been a very important national element of Sri Lanka and as such these animals have become part of the folklore and leading characters of Southeast Asian legends. Throughout ages, men in Asia have taken numerous advantages of elephants’ strength to create massive constructions, using the animals not only for dragging heavy loads and their transportation but also for military purposes. The aforementioned king of Sigiriya, Kashyapa (also Kassapa), was to take part in his last fight also on the back of an elephant (see: In the Realm of Demon Ravana).

Especially the white elephant with long tusks has always been of a great importance to both, Hinduism and Buddhism, where, as tradition says, it serves either as a mount for the Hindu god, Indra, or appears in a dream of the mother of Gautama Buddha, just before he is conceived. The white elephant is an equally significant symbol of the royal power in Sri Lanka. During the processions of religious festivals in Kandy, the king’s white elephants have driven a reliquary with the most venerated there a Buddhist relic, namely, the famous Buddha Tooth preserved to our times, and brought to the island in the fourth century AD. by Mahinda’s sister, Sanghamitta. The same relic had previously been also preserved in another ancient capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa, where it was possibly housed in the shrine of Hatadage.

Tired after the journey in the cramped seat of the plane, I was laying on the steps of the stairs leading down to the river, and I was watching a wonderful spectacle of playing elephants as if I had been in a daydream. But such a sweet laziness could not last forever. And after a short break in Pinnawala, a famous elephant orphanage on the island, we finally set off on the way to meet archaeology of one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka.

Gateway to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa was first designed as a country residence before it became the successive capital of the Sinhalese kings, after the destruction of the former royal centre in Anuradhapura, in 993 AD. (UNESCO 2021; Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005).

In the foreground of the remnants of the Palace of the kings of Polonnaruwa. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Actually, Polonnaruwa was designated as a capital by the Chola dynasty, who abandoned the previous one in Anuradhapura for strategical reasons (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020). In 1070 AD., it was, however, overtaken by Sinhalese kings who kept Polonnaruwa as their capital (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020). As a matter of fact, it was during the Sinhalese rule when the city’s glory reached its peak (Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020). Among the greatest kings of that period was the second king who ruled the capital, namely King Parakramabahu the First, whereas the third one, the King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196) eventually led the kingdom to bankruptcy and so, in the early thirteenth century, the glory of Polonnaruwa had ceased (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020). Finally, it was abandoned, and the Sinhalese capital was moved to the western side of the island, to the city of Kandy, which became the very last capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020).

Part of the Cultural Heritage Triangle of Sri Lanka

Together with two other historical capitals, Anuradhapura and Kandy, the city of Polonnaruwa creates one of the three angles of the pyramid-shaped graphic sign of the Cultural Heritage Triangle of Sri Lanka (Saumya 2020; see: In the Realm of Demon Ravana). As an archaeological and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Polonnaruwa comprises numerous monuments of different periods and functions; besides the Brahman ruins of the Cholas rule, from between the tenth and eleventh centuries, there are picturesque remnants of abundant Sinhalese constructions, built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, including a famous king’s, Parakramabahu the First, magnificent garden-city (UNESCO 2021; Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020).

Unknown building among royal and sacred edifices

Almost all the constructions in the area of Polonnaruwa are historically recorded (Mohan 2019). Apart from earlier temples dedicated to Hindu gods, there are mostly secular buildings, like the Royal Palace and the Audience Hall, and Buddhist shrines, most famous of which are Dalada Maluva, including the Sacred Quadrangle with the unique Vatadage (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020), “where the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha was housed” (Bell 1903:14-15 in: Manatunga 2009:2004), Lankatilaka Vihara and Gal Vihara (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020).

The Satmahal Prasada in Polonaruwa. The only feature that may give some insight into the origins of Sathmahal Prasada are sculpted statues. Nevertheless, their identity has been disfigured by intentional destruction. Copyright©Archaeotravel. Photo by Bernard Gagnon (2006). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Satmahal Prasada” (2021). Photo source: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Nevertheless, there is no account of a pyramidal-like stepped edifice situated in an elevated area, which is generally perceived as the most mysterious structure of all in the whole ancient city and sometimes the only ancient pyramid in Sri Lanka (Mohan 2019; Manatunga 2009:2004; Lapkura 2021).

Named as Sathmahal Prasada

The structure has been named in modern times as Sathmahal Prasada, which literally means a seven-storey building (Mohan 2019). It is located in the proximity of the Vatadage and so it is included within the Buddhist complex of Dalada Maluva (Brown D. Brown J. Findlay 2005; Wulff Hauglann 2020; Saumya 2020). This is why Anura Manatunga (2009:204) thinks it was also build for religious purposes  as other constructions on site. For this reason, Sathmahal Prasada is believed to have served as a stupa, built in the proximity of other prominent Buddhist ruins such as stupas and monasteries of Polonnaruwa (Lapkura 2021).

As much as the Quadrangle may have played the role of the most important royal monastery of Sinhalese kings ruling in the city, Sathmahal Prasada must have had a very significant function as well (Manatunga 2009:204). Yet, the pyramid may not have belonged to the Buddhist complex originally (Mohan 2019). And as Anura Manatunga (2009:204) admits the construction “is still unidentified and remains an ambiguous monument [as] we cannot [pinpoint its] builder, purpose or even the ancient name of the building”.

Accordingly, experts do not know who built it or why it was built (Mohan 2019; Manatunga 2009:204; Lapkura 2021). Its original name is equally lost in history (Mohan 2019; Manatunga 2009:204). As such, it can be described only by means of its appearance and it actually resembles a stepped pyramid with entrances on all four sides (Mohan 2019; Lapkura 2021). Moreover, it is also one of no more than four other ancient constructions on the island with square bases, providing that the others are all older religious ruins in Anuradhapura, most of which are damaged (Lapkura 2021). It is equally worth mentioning that none of the three structures reveal any signs of having been pyramids and all appear to have been rather squat in their shape (Ibid.).

Origins shrouded in mystery

Due to its growing mystery, Sathmahal Prasada has continuously provoked some new theories and scholars’ guesses concerning its provenience and function (Manatunga 2009:204-205). For example, Don Martino de Zilva Wickremasinghe (1865–1937), an epigraphist and archaeologist of Sri Lanka, speculates (1928:92-93) that it may have been once a palace, as much as it is claimed today about the function of the construction on top of the Rock of Sigiriya (Ibid.:204). The scholar based his theory on the fact that epigraphical sources say that one of the most famous kings of Polonnaruwa, Nissanka Malla (1187- 1196) had built a seven-storey palace for himself (Ibid.:204). Nevertheless, unlike in the case of the so-called ‘Palace’ on top of Sigiriya, academics commonly agreed that “the solid tower-like building [of Sathmahal Prasada] is not habitable and, therefore, cannot be residential building” (Ibid.:204).

Another symbolic representation of the Mount Meru in the shape of a pyramid

Most relevant of all seems to be a suggestion made by Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), a Sri Lankan Tamil metaphysician, pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art, who proposed  (1965:165) that Sathmahal Prasada actually represented the mythical Mount Meru, as much as many other examples of sacred architecture in Southeast Asia and in India (Manatunga 2009:204). Some alternative authors even claim it has similarities with pyramidal architecture, created by contemporary oversea cultures (Lapkura 2021).

A Buddhist monk passing by Sathmahal Prasada, in Polonnaruwa. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Harry Charles Purvis Bell (1851-1937), who was the first Commissioner of Archaeology in Ceylon, describes Sathmahal Prasada in his Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey 1903, 1906, and 1910 (2009:14) as “a solid brick structure with seven storeys that diminished in width and height stage by stage” (Manatunga 2009:204). And although he does not directly call it a pyramid, his narrative undoubtedly identifies it as a pyramidal structure. HCP Bell (1903:14) also adds  that “[the] top of the building has collapsed but it is still high, at 53 feet, [which is over 16 metres. And] at the ground level it is a 39 [feet] 2 inches square building, [that is, almost 12 metres]” (Ibid.:204).

Southeast Asian affinities

In terms of the construction’s origins, Anura Manatunga (2009:204) claims that Sathmahal Prasada, together with Gal Vihara statues and Pothgul Vehera, shows more likely Southeast Asian affinities. Her theory is also supported by earlier authorities (Ibid.:204-205). Reginald Le May (1885-1972), a British art historian and a Honorary Member of the Siam Society, writes in A Concise History of Buddhist Art in Siam (1962:97-98) that Sathmahal Prasada bears some similarity to a bigger and taller pyramidal structure of Wat Kukut in Northern Thailand, which is additionally contemporary to the Polonnaruwa Quadrangle (Ibid.:205). Among other contemporary Thai constructions similar to Sathmahal Prasada, the book Sri Lanka and South-East Asia: Political, Religious and Cultural Relations from A.D. C. 1000 to C. 1500 by W. M. Sirisena (1978:123) also enumerates Suwanna Chedi in Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai, which is also pyramidal in its structure (Ibid.:204).

On the other side, HCP Bell (1903:14-15) claims that Sathmahal Prasada resembles more Khmer constructions of the Angkor complex in Cambodia (Manatunga 2009:204). Accordingly, the construction would be “an architectural link between the simplest form of rectangular pyramid such as Ka Keo, [possibly Ta Keo] with plain vertical walls and strait of stairs up the middle of each side and the elaborate towers at Mi-Baume, [in Angkor Wat] and other similar shrines” (Bell 1903:14 in: Manatunga 2009:204).

Mysteries come in pairs

Nowadays, in its ruined but still pyramid-like shape, Sathmahal Prasada is usually compared to an equally mysterious Khmer temple in Cambodia, namely, the unique pyramid of Prasat Thom (Prang) of Koh Ker, which also features seven platform, or to Baksei Chamkrong temple in Siem Reap (Mohan 2019; Saumya 2020; “Polonnaruwa” 2021; Lapkura 2021). Possibly significant is the fact that the both temples were once dedicated to Shiva and built around the tenth century AD. (Mohan 2019; Lapkura 2021). What is more, they resembles some Mayan temples built in Mesoamerica, though on a smaller scale (Lapkura 2021).

On the whole, the construction of Sathmahal Prasada is entirely distinctive from other ancient temples in Polonnaruwa or other buildings, characteristic of Sri Lanka (Mohan 2019; Saumya 2020; “Polonnaruwa” 2021; Manatunga 2009:204). There are no such architectural parallels found in the country or in the South Asia (Mohan 2019; Manatunga 2009:2004). In fact, both tourists and archaeologists are puzzled, while looking at the construction (Mohan 2019).

The mysterious pyramidal structure of Polonnaruwa has been named in modern times as Sathmahal Prasada, which literally means a seven-storey building. Its original name is unknown, whereas most of the constructions in the city is identifiable. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Pyramids also come in pairs

In all ancient civilisations, there are similar pyramidal constructions, built in different time and in various places around the world (Mohan 2019; Lapkura 2021). Stepped pyramids exist in Egypt, Mexico, in lands of the former Ancient Mesopotamia (ziggurats), and in India (Mohan 2019). Generally, such structures appear in a given area usually in numbers and, as it has been speculated, there is also another stepped pyramid in Sri Lanka, possibly once built on top of the Sigiriya Rock (Ibid.). The latter is sometimes referred to as the Great Pyramid of Sri Lanka, in comparison to Sathmahal Prasada, which is much smaller in scale but more completely preserved than its possibly larger equivalent of Sigiriya (Ibid.).

Two pyramids found on the island

After Praveen Mohan (2019), Sathmahal Prasada is actually a perfect match for the pyramid on top of Sigiriya; it features bricked ramps and is also built with the lime mortar set between the bricks. It is furthermore composed of the four sides, with a bricked quadrangle base, like at Sigiriya (Ibid.). It also contains a remaining flight of stairs made of bricks, on the west side of the pyramid, leading up to the first storey (Manatunga 2009:2004; Mohan 2019). Looking at Sath Mahal Prasada, it is also possible to speculate how the Great Pyramid of Sigiriya would have looked like before its upper part was demolished (Mohan 2019).

Carved figures with disfigured identity

The only feature that may give some insight into the origins of Sathmahal Prasada are sculpted statues; namely, “[the] centre of each storey of the building has niches on all four sides. A standing figure, [possibly] of a deity made of bricks and stucco is projected on these niches” (Manatunga 2009:2004).

The area between the twelfth century’s shrine of Hatadage and the pyramid of Sathmahal Prasada of the unknown age. There is another mysterious construction; namely, the stone wall featuring visible polygonal masonry. Such elements, as the pyramid and the boundary hedge question the real origins and age of the site of Polonnaruwa. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

An anomaly regarding the sculpture is that the faces of all the statues carved around the stepped pyramid are entirely chopped off, erased or disfigured (Mohan 2019). It could not be an effect of natural forces as the visible destructions are strikingly similar on all the four sides of the structure (Ibid.). Consequently, it can be claimed that the statues’ faces were meant to be deliberately destroyed and so their identity was to be forgotten together with the name of the pyramid’s builder and the true origins of the construction itself (Ibid.).

Polygonal masonry in Polonnaruwa

Yet before I approached the towering façade of Sathmahal Prasada, my attention was immediately drawn by a stone henge separating the remnants of an ancient shrine of Hatadage, built by King Nissanka Malla in the twelfth century, and the pyramidal construction itself. Interesting was the fact that the wall featured polygonal masonry, where huge megalithic stones of various sizes and shapes had been dressed together in a way they resembled a jigsaw puzzle. I also observed that surfaces of each polygonal stone had been cut either with straight or rounded sides but all had joints perfectly fitting adjacent blocks. Sometimes among two or more larger slabs, there were tiny polygonal stones, matching perfectly the free space between them. I was just amazed. The same type of polygonal masonry is very characteristic of megalithic constructions not only in Asia but also in the whole world. Is the wall contemporary to the bricked pyramid of Polonnaruwa? Or maybe it is even more ancient as possibly are some examples of megalithic masonry at Sigiriya … (see: Denied Pyramid on Top of the Rock of Sigiriya)

The question of the lost civilization appears again

Nowadays, all the four entrances to the pyramid of Sathmahal Prasada are completely sealed off and there are guards preventing anybody from walking inside it (Mohan 2019). Such precautions are said to protect people from being at danger in case the structure accidentally collapses (Ibid.).

Two friendly macaques were sitting down on the bricked wall of the Eastern Gate. They are apparently attracted by passing tourists, or rather by contents of their bags and backpacks. In the background, the facade of Sathmahal Prasada. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

‘It is a pity that Sathmahal Prasada cannot be properly restored and seen also from the inside’, I thought, while observing its upper part, narrowing behind a bricked wall of the Eastern Gate to the city. Two friendly macaques were sitting down on it, visibly attracted by passing tourists, or rather by contents of their bags and backpacks.

For a while I was observing with pleasure their graceful movements over broken bricks of the wall.

‘Oh, how much this bricked wall differs from that beside Sathmahal Prasada’, I was still considering the matter of the seen example of polygonal masonry.

Finally, gathering all the facts about the two archaeological sites of Sri Lanka, with their partially surviving constructions, namely the said gigantic stepped pyramid on top of Sigiriya and the smaller one in Polonnaruwa, it can be understood that there was possibly once an ancient civilisation who built pyramidal structures and created polygonal megalithic walls on the island, as elsewhere, anyway, in the whole ancient world (Mohan 2019).

Featured image: The area between the twelfth century’s shrine of Hatadage and the pyramid of Sathmahal Prasada of the unknown age. There is another mysterious construction; namely, the stone wall featuring visible polygonal masonry. Such elements, as the pyramid and the boundary hedge question the real origins and age of the site of Polonnaruwa. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Polonnaruwa” (2021). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3z9ObwE>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

“Satmahal Prasada” (2021). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3DhCmaj>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

“Wat Phra That Hariphunchai” (2021). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3j5Fw8H>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Amazing Lanka (2021). “Sathmahal Prasadaya (Seven Storied Palace)”. In: AmazingLanka.com. Available at <https://bit.ly/3j4XZm0>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Bell H. C. P. (1903). Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey 1903, 1906, and 1910. Government of Ceylon.

Brown D., Brown J. Findlay A. (2005). “Polonnaruwa”. In: 501 Must-Visit Destinations: Discover Your Next Adventure. London: Bounty Books.

Coomaraswamy A. K. (1965). History of Indian and Indonesian Art. New York: Dover Publication.

Free images at Pixabay. Available at <https://bit.ly/3fTQX0u >. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Lapkura (2021). “Sathmahal Prasada”. In: Lapkura.com. Available at <https://bit.ly/2UEc40l>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Le May R. (1962). A Concise History of Buddhist Art in Siam. Tokyo: Charles F. Tuttle.

Manatunga A. (2009). ”Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia during the Period of the Polonnaruva Kingdom”. In: Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia. Kulke H., Kesavapany K., Sakhuja V. eds. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies.

Mohan P. (2019). “Secret Pyramids Discovered in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka?”. In: PraveenMohan Youtube Channel. Available at <https://bit.ly/3CtIFH1>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Saumya (2020). Polonnaruwa. Sri Lanka. In: Stories by Saumya. Available at <https://www.storiesbysoumya.com/ancient-city-polonnaruwa-sri-lanka/>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Sirisena W. M.  (1978). Sri Lanka and South-East Asia: Political, Religious and Cultural Relations from A.D. C. 1000 to C. 1500. Leiden: F.J. Brill.

UNESCO (2021). “Ancient City of Polonnaruwa”. Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0. In: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Available at <https://bit.ly/3sFqE41>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Werk E. (2008). “Wat Kukut (Wat Chama devi), Lamphun, Thailand – Example of Dvaravati art”. In: Wikipedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3y5fyXf>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Wickremasinghe D. M. De Z. (1928). “The Slab Inscription of Kirti Nissanka Malla at Ruvanvali Dagaba, Anuradhapura”. In: Epigraphia Zeylanica, Volume II. Government of Ceylon.  

Wulff Hauglann M. (2020). “10 Must-See Things in The Ancient City Polonnaruwa”. In: Nerd Nomads. Available at <https://bit.ly/3sEmyJN>. [Accessed on 22nd August, 2021].

Sacred Enclosure of Abaton in the Ancient World

In ancient times, the name given to holy places, sacred district or underground, usually Greek temple buildings, or a sacred grove, accessible only to priests and so restricted to common people. Sometimes, it was accessible to the faithful who have submitted to ritual cleansing. In Greek, the definition described ‘untrodden place’, as only priests were allowed to set foot in most of them.

The term stands either for an inaccessible religious building, such as a monastery or part of a sacred building and its enclosure. In ancient Greece, abaton was also meant as a bedroom for patients expecting miraculous healing while sleeping and it was usually built as a long stoa.

Among others, abaton is mostly used in reference to an enclosure or a temple of Asclepius, in Epidaurus (sixth century BC.-fourth century AD., Peloponnese, Greece), a temple on the island of Bigeh, in the Nile river situated in historic Nubia, where ancient Egyptians venerated the burial of Osiris (The Middle Kingdom, 2055–1650 BC.), and finally a monument on the island of Rhodes, erected by Artemisia the Second of Caria to celebrate her conquest of the island (the fourth century BC.).

Featured image: View of the Island of Philae with Isis Temple and Trajan’s Kiosk, in the Nile, Nubia. Island of Bigeh and its ruins in foreground. 1838 painting by David Roberts. Painting by David Roberts (1838). Public domain. Image cropped. Photo and caption source: “Bigeh” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Bigeh” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3kjpuYy>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Abaton (disambiguation)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3D4SWdg>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Epidaurus” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3sD1VgI>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Artemisia II of Caria” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2XL5Htj>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Abaton” (2018). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3B08ehr>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Abaton” (2021). In: Powered by Oxford Lexicon. Available at <https://bit.ly/3D3rnkt>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 1. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Votive offerings or Deposits in Ancient and Modern Societies

From Latin: ex voto – ‘by vow’

A religious object for a specific intention or as an expression of gratitude, or as a means of giving thanks for the fulfillment of a wish. They can include “one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use” (“Votive offering” 2021). Such votive objects or offerings are usually dedicated to gods (in polytheism) or to the God or saints (in Christianity) in a shrine, temple or a church, or others places of pilgrimage.

In pagan antiquity, a votive was often a symbolic offering, given to a deity or deities as a thanksgiving (agalma) or in order to ask for answering the faithfuls’ prayers. It was usually in the form of small terracotta or metal (bronze, lead) figures or body parts made of clay, and even vessels. The more rare form of votive offerings were statues or small buildings.

Christian religious offerings are symbolic items related to a specific intentions of the faithful or their gratitude for all that they have received from the God. Christian votive objects can take various forms, usually of devotional articles, such as lit candles and rosaries.

Featured image: Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos votive; a Mexican votive painting of 1911; the man survived an attack by a bull. Photo by Andreas Praefcke (2008). Photo and caption source: “Votive offering” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Votive offering” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2V0oAHK>. [Accessed 28th August, 2021].

“Dar wotywny” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3DqhoWt>. [Accessed 28th August, 2021].

Lucie-Smith, E. (2003) The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Thames & Hudson World of Art, p. 227.

Jamb of a Window and a Door in Architecture

The term jamb stands for a recess between the wall face inside the room and the side of a fitted window (window jamb) or door (door jamb) or other wall opening.

The jamb on a medieval church doorway (in a Gothic portal accompanied by lintel and trumeau) is normally occupied by a cascading row of carved figures. “These [jamb] statues are often human figures, typically religious figures or secular or ecclesiastical leaders” (“Jamb statue” 2020). Such jamb figures are very often visible in Gothic cathedrals of France and elsewhere in medieval Europe.

Featured image: The fragment of the West Portal of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, France. The portal is occupied by the so-called jamb figures of saints and angels, which is typical of the French style of medieval architecture. The figures are positioned below the so-called capitals. Above them, there is a fragment of a beautifully carved archivolt and of the tympanum. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Framuga” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3y6hjn8>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

“Jamb statue” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3miJYTK>. [Accessed 21st August, 2021].

Lucie-Smith, E. (2003) The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Thames & Hudson World of Art, p. 122.

Saint Anne of Nubia – “It Will Make You Specheless.”[1]


[1] An advertising slogan accompanying the painting of Saint Anne and promoting Faras Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!

Book of Isaiah 18:2

Kazimierz Michałowski during the excavations at Faras (1960s). Photo by Tadeusz Biniewski – National Museum in Warsaw. CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. (modified). Source: “Kazimierz Michałowski” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Saint Anne is a Nubian wall painting estimated to have been painted between the 8th and 9th centuries, by using the technique al secco with tempera on plaster. This early Christian painting was discovered by a Polish archaeological team led by the Professor Kazimierz Michałowski during a campaign undertaken in the 1960s under the patronage of UNESCO (the Nubian Campaign) in Faras. The image itself belongs to a unique collection of wall paintings and architectural elements from the Faras Cathedral, discovered by an archeological mission. Faras Gallery is the only permanent exhibition in Europe featuring Medieval Nubian paintings from the Nile River Valley south of the First Cataract. The collection of over 60 paintings from the 8th to 14th centuries came from the cathedral in the city of Faras, a large urban centre in the Medieval kingdom of Nobadia, in present-day Sudan.

National Museum of Warsaw (2015). “The Faras Gallery 3D. Treasures from the Flooded Desert. The Collection of Nubian Art in the National Museum of Warsaw”. In: Google Arts&Culture.

Nobadian rulers controlling the Nile Valley from the first to the third cataracts converted to Christianity around 548 AD influenced by missionaries sent from Constantinople by the Empress Theodora.

Excavations at Faras – wall painting on site 1960s. Photo by Tadeusz Biniewski – National Museum in Warsaw. CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. (modified). Source: “Faras Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The first cathedral was erected in the 7th century, when the city was still known as Pachoras, and likely stood at the exact site where Polish archaeologists taking part in the Nubia Campaign discovered the subsequent 8th century cathedral. The Nubia Campaign was an extensive international mission to preserve ancient legacies threatened by flooding from the imminent construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the resulting formation of the artificial reservoir, Lake Nasser. Since 1964 the painting is in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, of which the image has been used as a logo.

National Museum of Warsaw (2015). “The Faras Gallery. Treasures from the Flooded Desert. The Collection of Nubian Art in the National Museum of Warsaw”. In: Google Arts&Culture. Accessed on 12th of July, 2018.

Saint Anne, of David’s house and line, was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus according to apocryphal Christian tradition. Mary’s mother is not named in the canonical gospels. In writing, Anne’s name and that of her husband Joachim come only from New Testament apocrypha, of which the Gospel of James (written perhaps around 150 AD) seems to be the earliest that mentions them. In the painting, St Anne places her finger against her mouth, asking for silence, which may allude to the ‘divine silence’. The finger on the mouth could also indicate that the saint is praying.

Restoration work on the paintings from Faras at the National Museum in Warsaw. Dewaxing the surface of the painting depicting Bishop Petros with Saint Peter the Apostle, and applying compresses in 1960s. Published by National Museum of Warsaw (2016). Public domain (image modified). Source: Wikipedia (2020).

This gesture is rarely visible in Christian art and probably it refers to the tradition of Egyptian Christians (the Copts) who did so while praying undertone. It was believed to ward off evil powers trying to break into a human heart. Personally, I also understand this gesture as a synonym of a mystery and unuttered truth, which remains in silence. Also it is likely that Nubian women, similar to all women in the Christian world, directed their prayers towards St Anne requesting a child and a successful labour.

Featured image: Saint Anne (fragment) (9th c. AD). Nubian wall painting. By Unknown Author. The National Museum in Warsaw. Public domain (image cropped and modified). Source: “Saint Anne (wall painting)” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia

Continue reading Saint Anne of Nubia – “It Will Make You Specheless.”[1]

Mount Sinai Trekking in Search of the God at Sunrise

That night was simply full of magic and mysticism. When we reached our starting point to head off the Mount Sinai, the world had already laid down in darkness, yet disfigured with a thousand spots of light coming from clusters of bonfires and torches. Black silhouettes of Bedouins and camels were standing out sharply against their orange flames, casting their elongated shadows on the rocky ground, like the finest dancing lacework. Above us,  the navy-blue dome of the sky was spread out, sprinkled with shiny stars.
Mount Sinai, Egypt. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Awe Inspiring Feeling

I felt at once happy, excited … and cold. It was January. By the Red Sea, about three hours away, the weather was much warmer, letting me swim and sunbath all day long, but here the temperature was far lower, and suddenly I felt a freezing blast of air all over my body. I trembled from cold and quickly started to follow an example of my friend putting on herself subsequent layers of a pullover, waterproof jacket, scarf, winter hat and gloves.It’s difficult to imagine I was wearing my bikini yet in the afternoon …

Egypt or Saudi Arabia

Covered from head to toe, we were ready to take a night time hike up the legendary mountain of Sinai.

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With its peak reaching up to the height of 2285 meters, the mountain is placed on the Sinai Peninsula, close to the famous monastery of Saint Catherine, situated just at its foot. According to the biblical tradition, Mount Sinai was once climbed up by Moses, where he was given Ten Commandments by God, as the set of laws and teaching instructions to mankind. For this reason, the track leading up the mountain is usually called The Path of Moses and as such it has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years. Some scholars disagree with a common belief that the Old Testament event took its place in here. Actually, the tradition of placing the biblical meeting of Moses with God on the Sinai in Egypt was started in the fourth century, by Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen. Furthermore, the same scholars argue that according to the Bible, a “real” Mount Sinai is located in the ancient land of Midian, and it is nowhere else but in Saudi Arabia.
At the beginning, the rocky track was wide enough to walk more comfortably. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Yet it is difficult to gather enough evidence to definitely prove the theory and convince all who still doubt it, but as long as there are questions waiting to be answered, the quest for the truth will hopefully go on.

Before going on a spiritual journey

It was about 1 or 2 AM when we headed off our torch lit trail of pilgrimage with an intention to catch sunrise from its summit. It was going to take us about three to four hours to get there. However, the time taken usually depends on people’s ability and physical condition. We need also take into account regular stops to rest and warm up, preferably at small stalls along the way with hot water and blankets. It’s also useful to have a bottle of mineral water with you and a bar of chocolate (just in case you need to charge up your batteries) in your backpack.

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I admit I was not so well prepared at that time as I would do, planning my trekking anew, but for those who would like to climb up there, if it’s possible in the future (I mean here the political situation in Egypt), it is good to know such essentials. Additionally, you should definitely take good trekking shoes and warm clothes if you climb up in winter.

Fourth Wise Man

At the beginning, the rocky track was wide enough to walk more comfortably. Some people mounted camels led by Bedouins, others decided to go on foot. We chose the latter way of transport … and we survived! Moreover, anytime you feel tired walking, you can also hire one of these useful desert  animals to carry you up.
Many a time it was difficult to use camels, and with heavy heart, people had to go down to walk on their own. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Under starry sky, among muffled sounds of mixed languages and the clamor of grumbling camels walking between us, I felt as if I was back in time, going to welcome the newly born Christ.

South Korean Sweets on the Egyptian Desert

Halfway, the path was getting narrower, with rocky stairs up and down and partially icy. Many a time it was difficult to use camels, and with heavy heart, people had to go down to walk on their own. Standing right in the middle of an Egyptian desert I saw that red granite mountains were covered in white caps of snow, shining beautifully against the rock.

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Finally, just one hour before the expected sunrise, we got to the last stop to be fully ready to take our final climb to the summit. I was chilled to the bone. My friend as well, and as she was much more tired than me, she refused to go any further before she took some rest. I quickly agreed to do so. We entered one of numerous tents put up for pilgrims, just at the foot of the summit. A warm stream of air hit me from the inside. Only a loud gurgle of boiling water and a Bedouin’s voice recommending a variety of refreshments could be heard over the hubbub of the crowded people, talking, laughing, eating and drinking. And all of them squeezed together on wooden benches were trying to win as much of a heavy blanket so they could to cover their frozen legs under.
‘There is enough space for you to sit down with us!, said eastern-looking man smiling so widely his eyes turned into two horizontal lines.
‘Thank you a lot’, I replied.
‘Welcome, welcome!’, he uttered, still smiling.
We sat together one by one and I reached for a piece of the desirable blanket.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you don’t like it much’, I apologized  my friend. I kept yet in mind she refused to use it several times on the way as they did not look clean enough to her … and they smelled strongly with camels.
‘It doesn’t matter’, she said hiding her legs under the smelly blanket. ‘Well …  I’m going to stink, but at least I would feel warmer … and I’ll take a shower first when we finally get back to the hotel!’
Standing right in the middle of an Egyptian desert I saw that red granite mountains were covered in white caps of snow, shining beautifully against the rock. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
I smiled to her. I really like her gentle irony and sarcastic sense of humour. She is so honest in it. I’m sure that if it was somebody else sitting by my side, such remarks would make me crazy but Gosia behaves in such a sweet way I’ve just got addicted to her. Since our first journey together to the Middle East, we have already travelled many times, and I hope we will keep travelling together in the future.
‘Some soup?’, asked me the same smiling man moving a vaporous bowl full of noodles toward my nose.
‘Oh no!’, Gosia strongly refused. ‘It’s too risky. I don’t trust them. They may not have boiled the water enough. I’m not going to stay in the middle of nowhere suffering from an Egyptian diarrhea.’
Of course she said it in Polish and luckily the eastern-looking man did not understand a word. Instead he made a big gulp of his noodle soup not caring much if the water had been prepared appropriately.
‘No, thank you. We are fine’, I replied. ‘Where do you come from?’, I asked after a while.
‘From South Korea. I’m here together with my friends to see the sunrise’, he replied waving to a group of smiling young people from the opposite bench. ‘And you?’
‘We are from Poland, and we are here just for the same reason as you are, I suppose …

My new friend smiled and nodded to my guess.

Suddenly I realized all people came here from far away, climbed up and were waiting for a miracle of sunrise, whereas they could admire just the same miracle at their houses scattered around the world. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Suddenly I realized all people came here from far away, climbed up and were waiting for a miracle of sunrise, whereas they could admire just the same miracle at their houses scattered around the world. Their passion for travelling is an answer itself.
‘Are you single?’, the man asked out of the blue.
‘Well …’, I felt disconcert. ‘… Why are you asking?’.
‘If you are single, my friend is single too’, he said to me and then added something in Korean, surely to his single friend. The latter approached me with a piece of Korean sweet and encouraged me to try it: ‘It will give you power to reach the summit’, he promised while I was unwrapping up something that looked like orange jelly. I tried it carefully. It tasted like jelly.
‘Do you want some?’, I asked my Gosia.
‘No, thank you. I don’t feel like having a Korean diarrhea either …’, she said outright. ‘Enjoy!’

Sunrise

The very last length of the track turned out to be the most challenging of all. The stairs carved out along the path were filled with sharp stones covered in ice, and the slope itself was dangerously steep. Our Egyptian guide was doing his best trying to help us to move forward even if he kept sliding down the rocky steps. When eventually we reached the summit I forgot I was tired, frozen and out of my breath. The view itself was breathtaking …
“Wow!” I sighed.

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The sunrise had just started. When the very first rays reached the rusty rocks of the summit, the Sinai Mount shone up reflecting the sunlight. Beneath, the curtains of darkness opened and blazing red landscape appeared to people gathered together at the top. Some were sitting side by side covered in blankets; others were standing up like enchanted columns of rock. Flashes of cameras brightened time after time. While the sun was rising higher and higher, the Sinai mountains uncovered their rugged outlines to the coming day, casting their dark shadows against a rocky desert.
It does not matter if Moses had ever been here. In such moments like that, you can definitely meet God and talk to Him …

Saint Catherine and Her Monastery

And then there left just trekking down. It was much funnier as it was already taken in the warm, Egyptian sun. In front of our eyes desert colours were dancing happily; even usually unmoved camels were pleased with the daylight and surely with the fact they could throw heavy loads away from their backs.
Approaching Saint Catherine’s Monastery. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
At the end of the way down, we came to the high walls of Saint Catherine Monastery. Built in the sixth century, the monastery is one of the oldest working Ortodox Christian monasteries in the world. It is very famous for its unique collection of Byzantine pre-iconoclastic panel icons that miraculously survived the hard time of religious turmoil on the lands of Byzantium. By the same tradition which leads Moses’ track to the Sinai Peninsula, the Burning Bush from the Bible grows just in here, within the walls of the monastery. According to the narrative, Moses heard the Voice of God who had taken the form of the burning bush not consumed by the flames. At that time Moses was ordered to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
Before we stared visiting that religious pearl in the desert, we opened our lunch boxes and enjoyed the silence of monastic atmosphere.

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Unexpectedly, Gosia interrupted it thinking aloud: “I feel sorry for Moses” she said seriously “Poor man … he must have been exhausted just walking up and down…”

Egyptian Uprising

Few days before our trekking to the Sinai Mount, at the end of January, 2011, we landed on the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh. On the coach to the hotel I noticed numerous armed soldiers spread out all over the way. Suddenly our coach was ordered to stop by a military. From the perpendicular road a long black limousine went across in front of our coach. Then I found out that inside there was Sajjid Mubarak, the former president of Egypt who was coming back from an emergency summit meeting organized in the face of the situation in Tunisia. A week later while we were crossing Israelite-Jordan border in Eilat, we learned about the Egyptian Revolution that had forcefully burst out in Cairo.

Featured image: Sinai mountains, Egypt. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“The Real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia”. In: Revealing God’s Treasure. In: Providence’s Youtube Channel. Accessed on 29th Jun. 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/3wPg8Jh>.

Amer (2018) “Catching Sunrise at Mount Sinai, Egypt – Breathtaking to say the least”. In: “Mount Sinai Trekking”. In:  Where it all begins. Accessed on 29th June, 2018, link unknown.

Vetratoria.com (2018). “The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine’s Monastery”. In: The Holy Monastery of the Mount Sinai. Accessed on 29th June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/3d8zMYQ>.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery” (2015). In: Wkipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 29th June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2QeBPle>.

Lost Myth of the Gundestrup Cauldron – Wild Hunt, Sacrifice and Rebirth

In 1891 a precious silver cauldron appeared during peat-digging in the bog Rævemosen, near Gundestrup in Himmerland. The vessel, which dates back to the first century BC., had been deposited in the bog – an immensely valuable sacrifice to the powers above. Before this occurred, the cauldron had been taken apart. The rim and the large silver plates, which make up its sides, were taken off and placed in the bottom of the vessel. Among them, there was a set of thirteen silver elements: one round, known as the base plate with a decoration of a round medallion in the center of the interior, five interior panels, long and rectangular and seven exterior ones, shorter and rectangular (the eighth one was not found). These elements, made of 97% silver, were partially gold-plated. In 1892, Sophus Müller reconstructed the Cauldron, arranging all the elements in the shape known today, with five shorter ones on the inside, seven long on the outside and a circular plate as the base. Following the idea by Ole Klindt-Jensen’s, the exterior plates are now denoted by lowercase letters from a to g and interior plates by uppercase letters from A to E.

Life-giving cauldron

Magic cauldrons appear as a leading theme in Celtic mythology, both Irish and Welsh. Some, like the one belonging to the god Dagda, never empty themselves as long as they are not used by cowards. Others, like the cauldron of the god Bran, bring the dead back to life. Still others contain an essence of the knowledge called greals. The name itself is reminiscent of the Christian tradition of the Holy Grail, which ultimately turned the miraculous Celtic cauldron into the Christian relic, described on the pages of medieval romances. As such, it promises immortality to those who find their physical and metaphysical way to its holy powers.

Mixture of influences

Surviving pagan Celtic cauldrons are made of bronze, copper or silver and are richly decorated with mythological scenes. The Gundestrup Silver Cauldron is the greatest known example of European Iron Age goldsmithing. All its plates, except the base, are excessively decorated by using a repoussage (repoussé) technique, which consists of hammering from the reverse side beneath to push out desired parts of the front side and, by these means, obtain an image in low relief. “Other techniques were used to add [details with] extensive gilding and some use of inlaid pieces of glass for the eyes of figures. Other pieces of fittings were [also] found. Altogether the weight [of the object] is just under [nine] kilograms” (“Gundestrup cauldron” 2021).

The style and workmanship suggest a Thracian origin, although the ornamentation points to Celtic origins, including such motifs as torques, horned deity, carnyx, decorative leaves in the style of La Tene. Yet, some of the themes are derived from Ionia (the central part of the coast of Asia Minor), like griffins and seahorses. The lion, leopard and elephants were, in turn, influenced by Eastern cultures. Moreover, the scene evoking Hercules’ fight with a lion comes from the Greek mythology. Figures with raised arms refer to motifs and gestures known from Asia Minor. On the other hand, goddesses supporting breasts are associated with representations of a naked goddess from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.

Who made it and where did it come from?

The variety of themes and influences created a field for various, often contradictory, theories about the Thracian or Gallic origins of the object. A.K. Bergquist and T. F. Taylor propose that the cauldron was made by Thracian artisans, probably commissioned by the Scordisci, a Celtic-Thracian tribe having lived in present-day Serbia, and later fell into the hands of a Germanic tribe of the Cimbri (Jutland), who invaded the Danube basin in 120 BC. G.S. Olmsted, in turn, interprets the iconography of the Cauldron as a prototype of the Irish myth described in Táin Bó Cuailnge, linking the figure of the horned god with Cúchulainn rather than Cernunnos, with whom, however, such a character in central part of the interior plate A is mostly associated.

The image of the horned god Cernunnos surrounded by a deer and a dog or a wolf. It is the most famous representation from Gundestrup Cauldron. interior plate A. Photo by Nationalmuseet (2007). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Kocioł z Gundestrup” (2020). Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

On the whole, the variety of Cauldron’s motifs draw the observer into an alien universe far from that of the people who deposited it in the bog in north Jutland. Elephants, lions and several unknown gods, represented in a foreign style, indicate that the cauldron originally came from a distant area to the south or southeast. Exactly where it was made is still open to question. Perhaps it was a gift to a great chieftain or could it have been war booty? Most scholars, however, agree that hammered decorations on the Cauldron depict Celtic deities and rituals. It is for this reason and due to its size (69 centimetres in diameter, 42 centimetres in height) that it is believed that Gundestrup Cauldron may have been used for sacrifice by druids. But was it animal or human sacrifice?

The image of the interior plate E and its interpretation

Silver and gilded interior plate E detail, known as the “Warriors and Cauldron” (La Tene III) is one of the most interesting and intriguing scenes hammered into reliefs on the silver Cauldron. It may represent a ceremonial scene with a larger than life god-like figure on the left and three musicians playing and ancient instrument – carnyx, on the right. In front of the god, there is a row of probably dead warriors standing in the underworld. A depicted dog is to symbolize that sphere. They are wearing helmets, spears and shields – so they must have been killed in the fight.

Above them, there’s a horizontally represented plant stem or a tree trunk with bell-like flowers and roots – maybe the Celtic representation of the Tree of Life. At first, it seems as if it was knocked down on the ground. Nevertheless, as it blossoms, it must be alive. Consequently, if the image is turned 90° left, the tree’s roots actually stem from the cauldron itself, and so the walking warriors are walking down, towards the cauldron, and the horse riders going up, along the trunk. Accordingly, the gigantic god and his cauldron would find themselves underground, and the presence of the dog beside the cauldron supports this idea. In turn, the underworld stands for the kingdom of the dead, who by drinking from or being washed in the cauldron find their the way to the afterlife. But only those who deserve it will be revived for entering it. The warriors with shields seem to be the chosen ones, who are waiting in a queue for a reviving bath in the god’s vessel, which may be interpreted as the gateway to their immortality. Can it be just the same cauldron on which the scene is depicted?

In the representation, one of the warriors is just caught by the god, hanging upside down, held by the leg; he is going to be saved from the dead. The riding horsemen above the tree are apparently the already revived in the afterlife. The appearance of a snake above, guiding them ahead, itself indicates the concept of their being restored to life.

Gundestrup Cauldron is composed of internal (A to E) and external silver plates. Here are visible the external plates, from the left: D, E, C, F. Photo by Nationalmuseet (1992). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo and caption source: “Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

God “of the Tribe”

The mysterious god is sometimes recognized as Teutates or Toutatis, immersing his victim in a liquid-filled cauldron. His name means “of the Tribe” or “of the Whole People”. He is one of the chief early Celtic gods and occupies a significant place in the Gallic pantheon. In Roman times, Teutates  was identified either with the god Mars or Mercury. Although the former evokes warfare, the former serves as the guide of souls to the underworld. Both roles are embodied by the Celtic Teutates. He described by the Roman writer Lucan, who enumerates him as the major Gaulish gods, together with Taranis and Esus, as deities known for their desire for blood.

The problem is, however, there are no known images of Tetuates and his identification with the colossal image of the god from the Cauldron’s scene is a pure speculation. It is only recorded that the god killed his victims by drowning and hence some scholars associate this feature to the described scene, where a supreme figure is holding a smaller one upside down over the huge vessel. On the other side, the Roman records of human sacrifice ascribed to the Celts may have been just a useful propaganda, in order to underline the superiority of the Roman civilization facing the barbarian and blood-thirsty Gauls, who did not deserve to survive.

It is also worth noticing that the mythological cauldron was to revive and not to destroy. Accordingly, the scene may imply hope for an eternal life after serving his tribe as a courageous warrior who died in a fight.

Christian face of the Celtic cauldron

Similar iconography possibly occurs on later monuments on the lands previously owned by the Celts. Namely, on the bases of some of the High Irish Crosses, such as the Market Cross from Kells, the scene from the Gundestrup Cauldron seems to be recalled on its two separate representations. Neither the colossal god or the cauldron is represented there. Nevertheless, there is a fierce battle on the South Side of the Cross, and the horsemen with shields on the East Face, which is usually dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ represented on the High Crosses of Ireland. The East Face scene additionally resemble the horsemen from the upper part of the Cauldron’s Plate E, hovering over the trunk of the Tree of Life, and implies their victorious parade. Is it then the shaft of the cross itself a counterpart of the Tree of Life in the Christian version?

Simultaneously, on the North Side and West Face of the same base of the cross, there are scenes representing the world of fauna in its two different aspects. Whereas on the West Face, analogously to the East Face, the scene indicates a harmony, where in the former it is held between mankind and forest animals, the North Side, as if referring to the South Side, shows a battle expressed by means of a wild hunt led by two centaurs, armed with bows pointed to the animals. Among them, there are also canine figures, as much as in the Cauldron’s scene. 

Moreover, the imagery of the West Face also greatly resembles the scene on the interior plate A of the Cauldron, where the horned anthropomorphic figure, possibly the god Cernunnos, is surrounded by wild animals, such as a deer and a wolf. His calm attitude, open arms and the yogin’s position evokes but peace and harmony among the animals. Similar atmosphere is very tangible in the scene on the base of Christian cross. Possibly this is why it is also believed to represent the narratives of Genesis, either Noah who is gathering animals on the Ark or Adam who is naming the animals in the Garden of Eden.

Providing that images in bas-relief from High Irish Crosses constitute an undecipherable mystery of their own, there can be apparently a direct link between iconographical elements on the verge between the Paganism and Early Christianity in Ireland. Is it then possible to open the unknown Celtic world by the key provided by the Christian symbolism and iconography?

Featured image: The Gundestrup Cauldron. Iron Age, c. 100 BC–AD 1. Found in Gundestrup, northern Jutland, Denmark. National Museum of Denmark.: the interior Plate E: Warriors and Cauldron or a Ritual initiation. By The British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Photo and caption source: The British Museum (2015). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron” (2018) In: britishmuseum.tumblr.com. 

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Kocioł z Gundestrup” (2020). Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/35dPBsF>.

“Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). Wikipedia. Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/35f3OFI>.

“Repoussé and chasing” (2021). Wikipedia. Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3zoSoNy>.

Dunning R. Dr. (2007). “Celtowie”. In. Mitologie Świata. Boguta M. et al. trans. Cotterell ed. Warszawa: Firma księgarska Jacek Olesiejuk.

Gąssowski J. (1987). Mitologia Celtów. Mitologie Świata. Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe.

Image of the external plates of the artifact in the “Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th April, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tarky4>.

Madar SC (Olchowik-Adamowska L.) (2007). Mitologie Świata. Celtowie. Kałużna-Ross J. ed. Kraków: Drukarnia Narodowa.

McGrath S. (2018). “Toutatis: god of the tribe”. In: We are Star Stuff: a Blog about Mythology. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3zjcAjE>.

Photo by SassyGirlJenna729 (2015). Photo source: “From Review by SassyGirlJenna729 (Feb 2015) : Another Cross!! of The Market High Cross”. In The Market Cross”. In: Trip Advisor. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3gqVyrh>.

Photo by Nemoi (2010). In: Wikimedia Commons. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ROd9kO>.

The British Museum (2015). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron.” In: British Museum Tumblr.com. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2Ic39qN>.

The National Museum of Denmark’s video: “The Gunderstrup Cauldron Brought to Life” by National Museum of Denmark posted by Irisharchaeology.ie (2015) on: Facebook. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ywqTGx>.

The National Museum of Denmark (2018) “The Gunderstrup Cauldron” In: The National Museum of Denmark. Accessed on 21st, Jun., 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2tivFCd>.

Archeurope Prehistoric Archaeology (2018). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron”. In: Archeurope: Prehistoric Archaeology. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2JVWwhU>.

In the Realm of Demon Ravana

High density of palm trees and a heavy breath of tropical climate were the first impressions that had touched my foggy senses since my arrival in Sri Lanka. Confused and exhausted, I crawled out of the airport dragging my suitcase behind me and carrying an unnecessary winter jacket over my shoulder. The flight was long and a nightmare, but a thought about staying on a warm island during the European winter slowly gave me a new strength to live.

The Rock of Sigiriya being stormed by the crowds of tourists. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Pyramid in the hands

Before travelling to Sri Lanka, I was planning, reading and watching a lot about that corner of the world, including the preparation of a bucket list things to do during my journey. I knew from experience that similar plans are subject to verification in the field. There were most famous monuments usually mentioned in tourist guides, especially Sri Lanka’s old state and religious capitals – the milestones of the island’s history. The official website of the Sri Lankan governmental organization CCF (Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka) connected all of them by means of a line creating an equilateral triangle, placed almost in the very centre of the island.

An official logo of Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka. Source: “Pyramid in the hands” (2013). In: Kovalov V. ( 3rd June, 2013). “New mysterious riddles of Sri Lanka. What unites the ancient civilization of the Indian subcontinent with Africa, Atlantis and South America?“. In: Vladimir KovalSky.

The figure of the triangle was additionally covered by a pair of hands, as if in a gesture of protecting cultural heritage. This pyramid-shaped graphic sign contains three ancient capitals of Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Inside the triangle field, the majestic Sigiriya and Dambulla with temples carved in the rocks were enclosed. Although they are indeed the most visited places, which are must-sees according to tourist folders, and at the same time extremely important places for the Buddhist community, it does not mean that the number of important places in Sri Lanka should be limited to the mentioned heritage triangle. On the contrary.

Heritage sites in Sri Lanka. Photo source: “About the World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka”. In Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs (2018).

A similar sign of the pyramid enclosed in the hands, this time carved in the granite rock, can also be found elsewhere – in a place that is already outside the line of the geometric figure mentioned above, at the ancient site, called Mihintale. It is believed to have also been made by the same government organization to mark the place of Sri Lankan cultural heritage in the same way as it is represented in its famous logo. But why did the CCF choose a place for this sign beyond the delineated triangle? Why did they choose a less known site of Mihintale? The author of a series of articles devoted to the puzzling history of Sri Lanka, Volodymyr  Kovalov (Cf. 3rd June, 2013), draws attention to yet another pyramidal-like triangle … It is formed by ancient cultural-religious complexes suspended on rocks, and simultaneously, unknown Sigiriya’s sisters.

Seat of gods suspended in the sky

The main symbol of the island constantly appears on postcards, folders and on more or less successful paintings hung on the walls of hotel rooms. The massive monolith from magma rock shoots from the ground in the very center of the island to the height of 180 meters.

The Way to the Top: Water Terraces. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

If you remember the tales about turtles, so big that their shells  seem to be islands covered with thick woods, you can easily compare them to the bulk of Sigiriya. The rock seems to bend under the weight of secrets that it wears on its steep back covered with tourists: “Lion Gate”, “Mirror Wall”, frescoes of women whose bodies are drowning in flowers and jewellery, and disappearing in clouds (see: Debate on the Paintings of Damsels Flying on the Clouds), megalithic constructions worked out in hard granite of unknown purpose … And there is only one written note about this giant in the archives preserved on the island:

He betook himself through fear to Sīhāgiri
which is difficult to ascend for human beings.
He cleared a roundabout, surrounded it with a wall
and built a staircase in the form of a lion…
Then he built there a fine palace, worthy to behold,
like another Alakamanda, and dwelt there like the god Kuvera.

 Culavamsa CH 39 v2-4 (circa 1200AD)

The main character of this fragment tells about a builder of Sigiriya who, according to the record, was called the King Kashyapa (also Kassapa). He is believed to have ruled on the rock in the fifth century A.D. (473-495).

The Granite Pool on the Top. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The fragment above comes from the chronicles called Culavamsa (Lesser Chronicles), which are a sequel to the much older chronicles of Mahavamsa (Great Chronicles). Mahavamsa covers the period from 543 to 300 BC., while Culavamsa deals with the period from the 4th century BC. up to 1815 AD. Over the centuries, the chronicles have been repeatedly transcribed and compiled, which greatly obscures the original history of the country. The text on Sigiriya itself appeared 700 years after the reign of the King Kashyapa. There is no other evidence of the age of the Sigiriya complex. And this is indeed a multipart construction, as it is not limited to the rock itself, but it also covers a significant area around the monolith. First, the road to the top of Sigiriya leads through the so-called “Water Terraces” and before it starts to steeply roll around its protruding belly, it climbs up the stairs that wind through the corridors created by the formations of huge granite boulders. These, in turn, faithfully guard the passage to the famous “Lion’s Gate”, flanked by two paws armed with claws … but are these really the remains of a lion, as it is described in the fragment above?

Lion’s Gate Flanked by Two Paws . Copyright©Archaeotravel.

If the chronicle does not lie, Kashyapa had only 18 years to create the entire complex. Taking into account the material used, the impetus of the construction and quality of the tools available at the time, it seems rather unlikely. What’s more, after completing the feat, the king did not use its significant potential of defence, as if he had ignored the primal function of the fortress and the workload involved in its construction. In order to fight the final battle, he abandoned his insurmountable rock and faced heavy defeat at its feet. Besides, the circumstances of Kashyapa’s death are also shrouded in mystery and have different versions. Finally, the victorious brother of the beaten king moved the capital back to Anaradhapura, and Sigiriya fell into the hands of Buddhist monks and with time it became a pilgrimage and tourist centre. Probably the Buddhist followers had inhabited the rock much earlier, precisely around the 3rd century BC, as soon as the Buddhism appeared on the island.

Brick Constructions on the Top. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Stepped-like Pyramid or a Palace? Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Sigiriya is not a lonely island

In the same period, Buddhist monks undoubtedly formed monasteries in the caves of the Pidurangala rock, which is located a few kilometres north of Sigiriya.

Sigiriya’s Fresco. Photo by Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Both rocks are the monoliths created as a result of volcanic activity, and their stories are related to each other. Pidurangala’s peak resembles the form of a slanted, flat triangle, as if someone had cut the top of the rock across with the same ease with which the butter is sliced.

From the top of Sigirya, you cannot see this characteristic triangle, or a heart to be more poetic, because it lies on the other side of Pidurangala (see: Kovalov 3rd Hune, 2013; 22nd March, 2013). The entrance to its summit is even more strenuous than in the case of the nearby Sigirya, but the view from there is magnificent, particularly on the famous neighbour, who is stormed by the crowds of tourists (see: Kovalov 3rd Hune, 2013; 22nd March, 2013) .

Women in the Clouds. Photo by Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Are these really just fairy tales …?

Before I came to Sri Lanka, in my imagination Sigiriya dominated the plain as a lone monolith. Now it turned out that it is just one member of the team of rocks monoliths that form an enigmatic whole.

Together with already mentioned Pidurangala, Sigiriya points out a peculiar top of the pyramid with two other peaks at its base: Mihintale – in the northwest of Sigiriya and Yapahuwa – in the southwest.

Like Sigiriya, Yapahuwa has a flat bevelled top and steep walls. In the 13th century, there was a capital of the state and a religious centre with a famous Buddhist relic, which is now kept in Kandy. Mihintale, in turn, is a rocky table that carries huge blocks of granite. However, nature did not pull them up there. According to legends, the Mihintale summit once served as a place for anchoring aircraft, vimanas, described by Vedic texts such as Mahabharata.

Climbing up the Rock. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The aforementioned Sri Lankan oldest chronicle, Mahavamsa, describes the arrival of Mahinda to Sri Lanka from India. Mahinda was a Buddhist missionary and a famous monk who was also the son of the ruler of India, Ashoka. With his coming he brought the new faith to Sri Lanka. Every tourist arriving on the island hears this story as a testimony to the beginnings of Buddhism there. I have heard it myself as well, but never in a full version of the story described by the chronicle. Namely, according to the full text Mahinda came to the island by landing in his vimana at the top of Mihintale, and his flight from India would have taken him less than a day …

As if I heard a modern report on an airplane journey from India to Colombo … The summit of Mihintale is also linked to the monk by his name – Mihintale means in Sinhalese as much as the “Mahinda Plateau”. According to ancient epic stories, both Sinhalese and Tamil, before the arrival of the monk, the same rock was called Sagiri, while the name Sigiriya is pronounced in the Sinhalese language as Sigiri (Cf. Volodymyr Kovalov, 3rd June, 2013). Such similarities certainly testify to the relation between the rocks.

Of course, similar content about ancient flying machines is treated as a fairy tale. Still it is quite illogical that the record compiled in the 11th century on the history of Sigiriya is widely accepted as an irrefutable fact, and some of the content that comes from much older sources is cut off  in order to pass on only what the human mind is able to fully accept.

Ah, those ever-present pyramids…

Sigiriya-Yapahuwa-Mihintale
Photo by Volodymyr Kovalov, “The Carving of the Glyph of a Pyramid at Mihintale”. Source: Kovalov, V. (3rd June, 2013). “New mysterious riddlesof Sri Lanka. What unites the ancient civilizationof the Indian subcontinent with Africa,Atlantis and South America?“. In: Vladimir KovalSky.

On the stone in Mihintale, there is a carving of the already mentioned glyph of a pyramid or triangle covered by the hands. The top angle of the figure contains a smaller pyramid, as if an Egyptian pyramidion crowning the top of the main pyramid. The above-mentioned author, Volodymyr Kovalov (Cf. 3rd June, 2013), draws attention to this sign when he mentions a triangle made of rock monoliths: Sigiriya (Pidurangala) – Yapahuwa – Mihintale. The axis of symmetry of the triangle, from the top of Sigiriyia to its base, i.e. the horizontal line joining Mihintale and Yapahuva, meets with the axis of symmetry of the triangular peak of Pidurangala. As we all remember Pidurangala’s summit itself had once been shaped as a triangle. Couldn’t it be symbolically represented as a pyramidion of the pyramid carved in the Mihintale granite rock?

And who was Kuvera?

Kuvera or Kubera, mentioned above in the fragment of the Younger Chronicle (Culavamsa), was a god and legendary ruler of Lanka, today Sri Lanka. His half-brother Ravana (or Raavan) took power over him and became an undisputed ruler with his royal seat on Sigiriya (Alakamanda). There are other written sources telling of those events, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Movie Still From The Film Raavan (2010), directed by Mani Ratnam; starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai. In the photo:  Abhishek Bachchan. Photo Source: “Raavan” (2016). In: Bollywood Hungama. Bollywood Entertainment at its Best.

They belong to the epic Sanskrit of ancient India which was written on the basis of oral tradition, first formed during the Vedic period, namely in the first millennium BC. Ramayana focuses mainly on the armed conflict between Ravana and Rama, ruler of India, which was to take place millennia ago. Ramayana, meaning ‘the Way of Rama’, is one of the greatest Indian poems that has been adapted to many films and theatrical plays. Its authorship is attributed to also a legendary poet, Valmiki (see: ‘The Way of Rama’ Between India and Sri Lanka). Indian eposes describe the time of flying vehicles – vimanas, an advanced technology and a nuclear war … Even today, inhabitants of Asia take those stories as actual records of their lands and ancient rulers … Although it is still impossible for western scholars to explain certain phenomena or purpose of major constructions scattered around Sri Lanka (likewise everywhere in the world), similar records are only treated as a bunch of legends created by people with a vivid imagination, just as an ancient genre of sci-fi.

Featured image: The Rock of Sigiriya/One of Sigiriya’s Frescoes. Photo by Joanna Pyrgies&Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

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