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Abu Simbel › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 09 May 2018
The Small Temple, Abu Simbel (Dennis Jarvis)
Abu Simbel is an ancient temple complex, originally cut into a solid rock cliff, in southern Egypt and located at the second cataract of the Nile River. The two temples which comprise the site were created during the reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279 - c. 1213 BCE) either between 1264 - 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE. The discrepancy in the dates is due to differing interpretations of the life of Ramesses II by modern day scholars. It is certain, based upon the extensive artwork throughout the interior of the Great Temple, that the structures were created, at least in part, to celebrate Ramesses' victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE. To some scholars, this indicates a probable date of 1264 BCE for the initial construction as the victory would have been fresh in the memory of the people. However, the decision to build the grand monument at that precise location, on the border with the conquered lands of Nubia, suggests to other scholars the later date of 1244 BCE in that it would have had to have been begun after the Nubian Campaigns Ramesses II undertook with his sons and was built as a symbol of Egypt's power.
Whichever date construction began, it is agreed that it took twenty years to create the complex and that the temples are dedicated to the gods Ra-Horakty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses II (The Great Temple) and the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramesses' favourite wife (The Small Temple). While it is assumed that the name, `Abu Simbel', was the designation for the complex in antiquity, this is not so. Allegedly, the Swiss explorer Burckhardt was led to the site by a boy named Abu Simbel in 1813 CE and the site was then named after him. Burckhardt, however, was unable to uncover the site, which was buried in sand up to the necks of the grand colossi and later mentioned this experience to his friend and fellow explorer Giovanni Belzoni. It was Belzoni who uncovered and first excavated (or looted) Abu Simbel in 1817 CE and it is considered likely that it was he, not Burckhardt, who was led to the site by the young boy and who named the complex after him. As with other aspects regarding Abu Simbel (such as the date it was begun), the truth of either version of the story is open to interpretation and all that is known is that the original name for the complex, if it had a specific designation, has been lost.

THE GREAT TEMPLE STANDS 98 FEET (30 METRES) HIGH WITH FOUR SEATED COLOSSI DEPICTING RAMESSES II FLANKING THE ENTRANCE.

THE TWO TEMPLES

The Great Temple stands 98 feet (30 metres) high and 115 feet (35 metres) long with four seated colossi flanking the entrance, two to each side, depicting Ramesses II on his throne; each one 65 feet (20 metres) tall. Beneath these giant figures are smaller statues (still larger than life-sized) depicting Ramesses' conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans, and Hittites.Further statues represent his family members and various protecting gods and symbols of power. Passing between the colossi, through the central entrance, the interior of the temple is decorated with engravings showing Ramesses and Nefertari paying homage to the gods. Ramesses' great victory at Kadesh (considered by modern scholars to be more of a draw than an Egyptian triumph ) is also depicted in detail across the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall. According to the scholars Oakes and Gahlin, these engravings of the events surrounding the battle,
Present a lively account in both reliefs and text. Preparations for battle are being made in the Egyptian camp.Horses are harnessed or given their fodder while one solder has his wounds dressed. The king's tent is also depicted while another scene shows a council of war between Ramesses and his officers. Two Hittite spies are captured and beaten until they reveal the true whereabouts of Muwatalli, the Hittite king. Finally, the two sides engage in battle, the Egyptians charging in neat formation while the Hittites are in confusion, chariots crashing, horses bolting and soldiers falling into the River Orontes. In the text, Ramesses takes on the whole of the Hittite army single-handed, apart from support rendered by [the god] Amun who defends him in battle and finally hands him the victory. (208).
Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

The Small Temple stands nearby at a height of 40 feet (12 metres) and 92 feet (28 metres) long. This temple is also adorned by colossi across the front facade, three on either side of the doorway, depicting Ramesses and his queen Nefertari (four statues of the king and two of the queen) at a height of 32 feet (10 metres). The prestige of the queen is apparent in that, usually, a female is represented on a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh while, at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramesses. The Small Temple is also notable in that it is the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a ruler dedicated a temple to his wife (the first time being the Pharaoh Akhenaton, 1353-1336 BCE, who dedicated a temple to his queen Nefertiti ). The walls of this temple are dedicated to images of Ramesses and Nefertari making offerings to the gods and to depictions of the goddess Hathor.

A SACRED SITE

The location of the site was sacred to Hathor long before the temples were built there and, it is thought, was carefully chosen by Ramesses for this very reason. In both temples, Ramesses is recognized as a god among other gods and his choice of an already sacred locale would have strengthened this impression among the people. The temples are also aligned with the east so that, twice a year, on 21 February and 21 October, the sun shines directly into the sanctuary of The Great Temple to illuminate the statues of Ramesses and Amun. The dates are thought to correspond to Ramesses' birthday and coronation.The alignment of sacred structures with the rising or setting sun, or with the position of the sun at the solstices, was common throughout the ancient world (best known at New Grange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland ) but the sanctuary of The Great Temple differs from these other sites in that the statue of the god Ptah, who stands among the others, is carefully positioned so that it is never illuminated at any time. As Ptah was associated with the Egyptian underworld, his image was kept in perpetual darkness.
Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

THE ASWAN HIGH DAM

In the 1960's CE, the Egyptian government planned to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile which would have submerged both temples (and also surrounding structures such as the Temple of Philae). Between 1964 and 1968 CE, a massive undertaking was carried out in which both temples were dismantled and moved 213 feet (65 metres) up onto the plateau of the cliffs they once sat below and re-built 690 feet (210 metres) to the north-west of their original location. This initiative was spearheaded by UNESCO, with a multi-national team of archaeologists, at a cost of over 40 million US dollars. Great care was taken to orient both temples in exactly the same direction as before and a man-made mountain was erected to give the impression of the temples cut into the rock cliff. According to Oakes and Gahlin:
Before the work began, a coffer dam had to be built to protect the temples from the rapidly rising water. Then the temples were sawn into blocks, taking care that the cuts were made where they would be least conspicuous when reassembled. The interior walls and ceilings were suspended from a supporting framework of reinforced concrete. When the temples were reassembled, the joins were made good by a mortar of cement and desert sand. This was done so discreetly that today it is impossible to see where the joins were made. Both temples now stand within an artificial mountain made of rubble and rock, supported by two vast domes of reinforced concrete. (207).
All of the smaller statuary and stelae which surrounded the original site of the complex were also moved and placed in their corresponding locations to the temples. Among these are stelae depicting Ramesses defeating his enemies, various gods, and a stele depicting the marriage between Ramesses and the Hittite princess Naptera, which ratified the Treaty of Kadesh.Included among these monuments is the Stele of Asha-hebsed, the foreman who organized the workforce which built the complex. This stele also relates how Ramesses decided to build the complex as a lasting testament to his enduring glory and how he entrusted the work to Asha-hebsed. Today Abu Simbel is the most visited ancient site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza and even has its own airport to support the thousands of tourists who arrive at the site each year.

Shiva › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 10 May 2018
Shiva with Nandi, Aihole (Jean-Pierre Dalbera)
Shiva (or Siva) is one of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon and, along with Brahma and Vishnu, is considered a member of the holy trinity ( trimurti ) of Hinduism. A complex character, he may represent goodness, benevolence and serve as the Protector but he also has a darker side as the leader of evil spirits, ghosts and vampires and as the master of thieves, villains and beggars. He is also associated with Time, and particularly as the destroyer of all things. Nevertheless, Shiva is also associated with creation. In Hinduism, the universe is thought to regenerate in cycles (every 2,160,000,000 years). Shiva destroys the universe at the end of each cycle which then allows for a new Creation. Shiva is also the great ascetic, abstaining from all forms of indulgence and pleasure, concentrating rather on meditation as a means to find perfect happiness. He is the most important Hindu god for the Shaivism sect, the patron of Yogis and Brahmins, and also the protector of the Vedas, the sacred texts.

SHIVA, PARVATI & GANESHA

Shiva's wife was Parvati, often incarnated as Kali and Durga. She was in fact a reincarnation of Sati (or Dakshayani), the daughter of the god Daksha. Daksha did not approve of Sati's marriage to Shiva and even went further and held a special sacrificial ceremony to all the gods except Shiva. Outraged at this slight, Sati threw herself on the sacrificial fire. Shiva reacted to this tragedy by creating two demons (Virabhadra and Rudrakali) from his hair who wreaked havoc on the ceremony and beheaded Daksha. The other gods appealed to Shiva to end the violence and, complying, he brought Daksha back to life but with the head of a ram (or goat). Sati was eventually reincarnated as Parvati in her next life and she re-married Shiva.

SHIVA IS THE DESTROYER WHO ENDS THE CYCLE OF TIME WHICH, IN TURN, BEGINS A NEW CREATION.

With Parvati, Shiva had a son, the god Ganesha. The boy was in fact created out of earth and clay to keep her company and protect her while Shiva went on his meditative wanderings. However, Shiva returned one day and, finding the boy guarding the room where Parvati was bathing, he enquired who he was. Not believing the boy was his son, and thinking him an impudent beggar, Shiva called up the bhutaganas demons who fought the boy and eventually managed to distract him with the appearance of the beautiful Maya and, whilst he admired the beauty, they lopped off his head. At the commotion, Parvati rushed from her bath and screamed that her son had been killed. Realising his error, Shiva then sent for a new head with which to make the boy whole again but the nearest at hand was of an elephant. And so Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, was born. Other sons of Shiva are Skanda or Karttikeya, the god of war and Kuvera, the god of treasures.
Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

Ganga (the goddess who personified the river Ganges ) was given to Shiva by Vishnu who could not take any more of the constant quarrels between his then three wives of Lakshmi (goddess of good fortune), Saraswati (goddess of wisdom) and Ganga. To cushion Ganga's fall to the earth, and prevent such a great river destroying civilisation, Shiva caught her in his hair topknot; once again, illustrating his quality of self-sacrifice.

SHIVA NATARAJA IS THE LORD OF THE DANCE WHO SWEEPS AWAY ILLUSION & IGNORANCE.

SHIVA IN MYTHOLOGY

As with any major god, Shiva was involved in many adventurous episodes which illustrate his virtuous character and offer instruction on how to live correctly. For example, self-sacrifice is emphasised when Vasuki, the king of Serpents, threatened to vomit snake venom across the seas. Shiva, assuming the form of a giant tortoise or turtle, collected the venom in his palm and drank it. The poison burned his throat and left a permanent blue scar, hence one of his many titles became Nilakantha or Blue Throat.
Another celebrated episode describes how Shiva became associated with the bull Nandi. One day, Surabhi, who was the original mother of all the world's cows, began to give birth to an untold number of perfectly white cows. The milk from all these cows flooded the home of Shiva, somewhere in the Himalaya. Angry at this disturbance to his meditation, the god struck the cows with fire from his third eye. In consequence, patches of the cows' hides were turned brown. Still angry, the other gods sought to calm Shiva down by offering him a magnificent bull - Nandi, the son of Surabhi and Kasyapa - which Shiva accepted and rode. Nandi also became the protector of all animals.
Shiva is closely associated with the Linga (or Lingham) - a phallus or symbol of fertility or divine energy found in temples to the god. Following the death of Sarti, and before her reincarnation, Shiva was in mourning and went to the Daru forest to live with rishis or sages. However, the wives of the rishis soon began to take an interest in Shiva. In jealousy, the rishis first sent a large antelope and then a gigantic tiger against the god but Shiva swiftly dealt with them and wore the tiger skin thereafter. The sages then cursed Shiva's manhood which, in consequence, fell off. When the phallus struck the ground, earthquakes began and the ricsis became afraid and asked for forgiveness. This was given but Shiva told them to forever after worship the phallus as the symbolic Linga.
Shiva, Vietnam

Shiva, Vietnam

SHIVA IN ART

In Asian art Shiva may be represented in slightly different ways depending on the particular culture: Indian, Cambodian, Javanese etc. but he is most commonly depicted naked, with multiple arms and with his hair tied up in a topknot. He often has three horizontal stripes and a third vertical eye on his forehead. He wears a headdress with a crescent moon and a skull (representing the fifth head of Brahma, which he decapitated as punishment for the god lusting after his own daughter Sandhya), a necklace of heads, and snakes as bracelets. In this guise, he usually represents Nataraja and dances the Tandava within a circle of fire which represents the never-ending cycle of time. He holds the divine fire ( agni ) which destroys the universe and the drum ( damaru ) which makes the first sounds of the creation. One hand makes the calming abhayamudra gesture and another points to his left foot, symbol of salvation. He also stamps one foot on the dwarf figure Apasmara Purusha who represents illusion and who leads men away from the truth.
Shiva may also be depicted standing on one leg with the right leg folded in front of the left knee and holding a rosary in his right hand, the typical posture of ascetic meditation. Sometimes he also rides his white bull, carries a silver bow ( Pinaka ), holds an antelope, and wears a tiger or elephant skin, all symbolic of his famed prowess as a hunter.

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