Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Mexico

Chichen Itza

The Pre-Hispanic culture

Latin America in general and the Mesoamerican region of Mexico in particular is a place where history literally lies asleep; through the monuments and images created by the numerous ethnic tribes who lived in the area centuries back. In other words we can say that these objects are sentinels of a rich culture that bound these people together for thousands of years. The Chichen Itza monuments are the creation of the Maya Civilization that existed in this are during 600 AD. The whole monuments are located in the northern center of the Yucatan Peninsula and managed by National Institute of Anthropology and History Mexico (INAH); but the land is owned by Barbachano family.

The power of myths!

The amazing constructions built by these prehistoric people remain as striking objects for the modern world to wonder that how these people in the absence of wheeled cart made all these. Still more wonderful thing is how these tribes constituted such an empire and lived together, how such fathomless myths led an empire to form a cohesive society; remains as yet another wonder; even the well armed modern military fail to hold a nation together. Please remember the Inca Empire almost whole South America and the Caribbean.

Capital of the Mayan Empire

Chichen Itza Map courtsey:

The Chichen Itza city (means ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’) was the capital of the Mayan Rulers where numerous structures of great archeological value are located; while some of them are mere remnants a good number of them are intact enough to tell their tales. The ancient city of Chichen Itza lies in the Yucatan peninsula in the Mesoamerican region (the Mesoamerican region is that comes between two Americas).

No wheeled carts no animals to work

Chichen Itza - Columns in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors

These people did not know the how to tame animals and make them work and wheeled carts were also were not known to them. They were experts in geometry, medical sciences, astrology, architecture etc. Their architecture was a mixture of what prevailed in middle Mexico and the locally developed skills.

Cenote Segrado!

Northern Yucatan area where Chichen Itza is located is an arid region and there is no river or other water bodies. The whole city’s water requirement was met from two natural water holes by name cenotes. The city itself was named (as ‘well at the mouth of Chichen Itza’) so because of the presence of these two natural water holes; of which the ‘Cenote Segrado’ (sacred cenote) is the most famous (it still enjoys the status of a pilgrimage center). Examination of these natural water holes have revealed the presence of human bones with markings of ritual sacrifices; hence it is presumed that people even conducted human sacrifices to please the Gods for uninterrupted availability of water.

Tlabloc the terrible!

However good the meat is it doesn’t taste without gravy, myths are the gravy that makes the daily life bearable; for the Mayan and the Toltec there is no dearth for myths; as these were for them; their life blood. Chac and Tlaloc were their favorite gods. Tlaloc belongs to the Aztec Myths; he was considered as the rain-god as well as the god of virility. Aztecs sacrificed children to please this fearsome god with projected eyes, sharp canines, feather-cap etc. Chac is a world apart he wears an axe with which he strikes at the clouds to form lightening.

Qeqchi myth

The Sun, Moon and the Chac are brothers; they have a tyrant adoptive mother who used to abuse these sons. One day these brothers together defeat and drove away the adoptive mother and her lover. After the exit of the mother friendship between them did not last. One day Sun finds Chac doing adultery with Sun’s wife. The punishment given to Chac was such that he remembers it for ever and shed tears in the form of rain. The rain water is actually Chac’s tears. Before he starts weeping he may angrily strike the clouds with his axe to produce lightening! .

Kukulcan Temple.

Chichen Itza - Chac Mool Statue image courtsey:

Let us have a brief look these structures one by one; the first and the most prominent is the El Castillo; the Temple of Kukulcan (known as Quetzal coatl in Maya language). This is a huge step pyramid made in accordance with astronomical events. At the time of spring or fall equinoxes; the shadow of the rising and setting sun resembles a plumed serpent (a mythical creature depicted as half serpent and half bird) worshiped by Toltec and Aztec Civilizations. (Kukulcan and Quetzal coatl also mean the serpent in their language). There was one more temple unearthed from the same compound.

The temple of the Warriors

This complex is a large stepped pyramid fronted with large columns representing soldiers, at the top of the stairways on the summit of the pyramid is located a magnificent statue of the Chacmool (a lying man with head partly raised, the myth regarding it is unknown).

The Great Ball-Court, The most impressive play-field ever found in any archeological sites. It is 166 * 68 meters in size surrounded by a 12 meter tall wall. It is believed the field was used to play the Mesoamerican ball game.

Las Monjas is a complex for the Government offices; the Spanish earlier took it for a nunnery hence this name Las Monjas (nunnery) and hence the misnomer. This complex consist of numerous structures all built in ‘Puuc’ style (carvings in veneer stone embedded in concrete).

The La Iglesia in the Las Monjas complex, The High Priest’s Temple, El Caracol all are there open for the tourists.

Cultural invasion

It has been established that there was human inhabitation in Mexico more than 10,000 years back; from then to the 16th century (up to the arrival of the Europeans) there arose so many civilizations, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Toltec, Aztec etc are just some of them; which were destined to arise, flourish and ultimately perish in the blessed soil of Mesoamerica. These cultures before there end fortunately left many monuments for the present world to see and remember them with affection.

Long live these monuments!

Chichen Itza - Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors)

These are things of the past; these entire scenarios changed with the arrival of Europeans who made an invasion not only physical form; but the cultural invasion they made was far deeper that led to the death of the soul of the innocent people. The remnants of most of the monuments still have marks of burning that hints the violent reprisals these cultural monuments had undergone. As all those cultures are dead; let us hope ‘long live these monuments’!

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