In the last post, we read about the Ratha-yatra in Nepal. Today we will read about a similar yatra in Egypt. But prior to that, we will briefly read about the Puri Ratha-yatra to better understand the concept.
|Puri Ratha Yatra|
In the Puri Ratha-yatra, idols of Lord Jagannath (Krishna as the lord of the universe), his brother Balarama and their sister, Subhadra are taken out in three huge and magnificent chariots pulled by thousands across the town of Puri. The yatra begins from the Jagannatha Temple and is taken to about 2kms away to the Gundicha Temple. The Lords rest at the Gundicha Temple for a week and then the same procession comes back to the Jagannath Temple in what is known as the Ulta-ratha-yatra, i.e. the reverse procession. There is celebration over these seven days and the procession marks joyous cheering all along the route.
Reference of the Ratha-yatra can be found in the Vedic texts thousands of years ago, though the present Jagannath Temple came into existence much later. The story of Lord Jagannath is mentioned in the Puranas too, carrying on the tradition of the yatra right from the Vedic times. In the earlier days, the King of Puri had a very important role to play and even today the descendants of the royal family are called in for the ritual sweeping of the chariot before the yatra begins. Without delving too much on this, let me focus on a similar yatra in another continent altogether.
Ancient Egypt used to host a famous festival called the Opet Festival. The Opet Festival was celebrated in the Thebes during the second month of Akhet, i.e. the season of the Inundation which in today’s times would be in the month of August/September. At this time the Nile would overflow and all the crops would be under the much needed water and there would not be much work for the then Egyptians. Initially the festival lasted for a week and later it became a two-week festival.
The most important aspect of the festival was the towing away of the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu southward on their barques both by boats and by men along the shoreline amid much fanfare and celebrations. The procession would start from Karnak and end about 2 miles away in Luxor and would stop midway for the priests to rest as well offer prayers till they reached the final destination. The Pharaoh would preside over the rituals prior to the procession and would return along with the deities.
For the ancient Egyptians this was both a fertility ritual as well as a renewal of the Pharaoh’s right to rule. The timing of the festival during the Inundation signifies its association with the fertility rituals. Similar rituals were performed with the Pharaoh which established his ties with the deity Amun. The Egyptians had a belief that over the course of the year, both the deities and his representative on earth, i.e. the Pharaoh, would grow tired thus diminishing their powers. The rituals performed during the festival would ensure that the power of the universe would return to the deity and his representative!
Many scholars have dated the Opet Festival to a much later period than the Puri Ratha-yatra whose origins can be traced to the Vedic times. The opening up of the Silk-route and the intermingling of cultures and the great similarities between the Indians and the Egyptians, both cultural and mythological, gives rise to the theory that the idea of the Opet Festival is based on the Indian Ratha-yatra. The similarities are a many –
- In both the processions, there is a triad. In the Opet, it was the triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu while in the Puri yatra it is the triad of Jagannath (or Krishna), Subhadra and Balarama.
|The Puri Triad|
|The Opet Triad|
- Amun has been depicted as a blue hued god with feathers in his headdress, similar to the depictions of Lord Krishna
- The Pharaoh has an important role to play in the Opet Festival similar to the importance of the King of Puri in the olden times
The Opet festival lives on in the present day Egypt in a different form, when a procession of a Muslim saint is carried out in a model boat.
The idea is not to establish the ‘supremacy’ of concepts, but just to highlight the fact that the world then was more open to cross-cultural concepts, be it philosophical or mythological and religious. People were not so rigid then and cultural assimilation was a norm. Modern times have undergone a sea change where rigidity and deep rooted faith and belief system has taken precedence in our day to day life. I go back to the introduction of the series where I said that the world was one; man broke it into pieces!