A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Sphinx

The moment someone speaks of Egypt, immediately two monuments come to our mind – the Pyramids and the Sphinx. With Egypt in the news for all the wrong reasons, I thought of discussing about the famous Sphinx, even though, it is found in places beyond Egypt.

Egyptian Sphinx
The Sphinx is a mythical creature which is half human and half animal. In Egypt, it has a body of a lion and the head of a human. It was a prominent figure which was known to guard the temples, palaces and the pyramids along with the secrets of the temples. The Sphinx was supposed to be a later day manifestation of the ancient Hathor, the goddess of birth and death. It was also supposed to be the guardian of the distant horizons, and faced the East, i.e. the rising Sun. It was a prominent figure of solar worship that existed during the ancient culture.

There are no major myths associated with the Sphinx, and today it exists more of a structural marvel. However, in some depictions it is shown as crushing some objects under its feet, used to depict the crushing of Egypt’s enemies. It is worth mentioning, that there has been intense speculation over the broken nose of the Sphinx. Some say, that it was broken by cannon ball struck at the nose by Napoleon’s soldiers, when they had attacked Egypt in 1798 (uncertain date). Some Egyptian historians attribute the loss of nose to acts of vandalism by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic, who was outraged when he saw some Egyptian farmers making an offering to the Sphinx for want of a good harvest.

Greek Sphinx
The Sphinx existed in the Greek mythology too, except that it did not hold a place of veneration, like it did for the Egyptians. The Greek Sphinx had the head of a woman, the body of a lioness and the tail of a serpent. She was evil and guarded the gates of Thebes and asked a riddle to all who wanted to enter the gates of Thebes, failing which they would be devoured. This Sphinx features in the tale of Oedipus and she repeats the riddle to Oedipus too. The famous riddle was – Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be? To this Oedipus was supposed to have answered – Man - who crawled on all fours as a baby, walked on two feet as an adult, and then used a stick in old age. On hearing the answer, the sphinx is supposed to have killed itself, thus freeing Thebes of the menace of the Sphinx. However, the Greek Sphinx was a greedy and an evil creature, and does not find any mention elsewhere.

In India, there exists a sphinx like creature known as Purushamriga, meaning man-beast. It is found in many South-Indian temples and is engraved at the entrances of the temples, whose main duty is to take away the sins of the people who entered the temples. Sometimes such figures are also found near the entrance to the sanctum-sanctorum of the temples. The Greek Sphinx is also quite similar to the Sharabha form of Lord Shiva (please refer to the article   dated 29/12/2010 from the Archives). It is important to mention that one should not confuse the Sphinx with the Narasimha (avatar of Vishnu), which is an exact opposite. The Narasimha has the body of a male and the face of a lion as against all the Sphinxes that we have been speaking about.

Sphinxes are also found in many of the Buddhist art forms in some of the South-Asian countries like Philippines, Thailand, Burma and even Sri Lanka. The Sphinxes are also found in the Freemasonry architecture. But it is definitely the Egyptian Sphinx that remains as such overbearing sculptures or landmarks which has captured the mind-space of each one of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment