EGYPTIAN PYRAMIDS

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Built during a time when Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world, the pyramids—especially the Great Pyramids of Giza—are some of the most magnificent man-made structures in history. Their massive scale reflects the unique role that the pharaoh, or king, played in ancient Egyptian society. Though pyramids were built from the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the close of the Ptolemaic period in the fourth century A.D., the peak of pyramid building began with the late third dynasty and continued until roughly the sixth (c. 2325 B.C.). More than 4,000 years later, the Egyptian pyramids still retain much of their majesty, providing a glimpse into the country’s rich and glorious past.

THE PHARAOH IN EGYPTIAN SOCIETY

During the third and fourth dynasties of the Old Kingdom, Egypt enjoyed tremendous economic prosperity and stability. Kings held a unique position in Egyptian society. Somewhere in between human and divine, they were believed to have been chosen by the gods to serve as mediators between them and the people on earth. Because of this, it was in everyone’s interest to keep the king’s majesty intact even after his death, when he was believed to become Osiris, god of the dead. The new pharaoh, in turn, became Horus, the falcon-god who served as protector of the sun-god, Ra.
Did You Know?
The pyramid’s smooth, angled sides symbolized the rays of the sun and were designed to help the king’s soul ascend to heaven and join the gods, particularly the sun god Ra.
Ancient Egyptians believed that when the king died, part of his spirit (known as “ka”) remained with his body. To properly care for his spirit, the corpse was mummified, and everything the king would need in the afterlife was buried with him, including gold vessels, food, furniture and other offerings. The pyramids became the focus of a cult of the dead king that was supposed to continue well after his death. Their riches would provide not only for him, but also for the relatives, officials and priests who were buried near him.

THE EARLY PYRAMIDS

From the beginning of the Dynastic Era (2950 B.C.), royal tombs were carved into rock and covered with flat-roofed rectangular structures known as “mastabas,” which were precursors to the pyramids. The oldest known pyramid in Egypt was built around 2630 B.C. at Saqqara, for the third dynasty’s King Djoser. Known as the Step Pyramid, it began as a traditional mastaba but grew into something much more ambitious. As the story goes, the pyramid’s architect was Imhotep, a priest and healer who some 1,400 years later would be deified as the patron saint of scribes and physicians. Over the course of Djoser’s nearly 20-year reign, pyramid builders assembled six stepped layers of stone (as opposed to mud-brick, like most earlier tombs) that eventually reached a height of 204 feet (62 meters); it was the tallest building of its time. The Step Pyramid was surrounded by a complex of courtyards, temples and shrines, where Djoser would enjoy his afterlife.
After Djoser, the stepped pyramid became the norm for royal burials, although none of those planned by his dynastic successors were completed (probably due to their relatively short reigns). The earliest tomb constructed as a “true” (smooth-sided, not stepped) pyramid was the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, one of three burial structures built for the first king of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.) It was named for the color of the limestone blocks used to construct the pyramid’s core.

THE GREAT PYRAMIDS OF GIZA

No pyramids are more celebrated than the Great Pyramids of Giza, located on a plateau on the west bank of the Nile River, on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo. The oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza, known as the Great Pyramid, is the only surviving structure out of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built for Khufu (Cheops, in Greek), Sneferu’s successor and the second of the eight kings of the fourth dynasty. Though Khufu reigned for 23 years (2589-2566 B.C.), relatively little is known of his reign beyond the grandeur of his pyramid. The sides of the pyramid’s base average 755.75 feet (230 meters), and its original height was 481.4 feet (147 meters), making it the largest pyramid in the world. Three small pyramids built for Khufu’s queens are lined up next to the Great Pyramid, and a tomb was found nearby containing the empty sarcophagus of his mother, Queen Hetepheres. Like other pyramids, Khufu’s is surrounded by rows of mastabas, where relatives or officials of the king were buried to accompany and support him in the afterlife.
The middle pyramid at Giza was built for Khufu’s son Khafre (2558-2532 B.C). A unique feature built inside Khafre’s pyramid complex was the Great Sphinx, a guardian statue carved in limestone with the head of a man and the body of a lion. It was the largest statue in the ancient world, measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high. In the 18th dynasty (c. 1500 B.C.) the Great Sphinx would come to be worshiped itself, as the image of a local form of the god Horus. The southernmost pyramid at Giza was built for Khafre’s son Menkaure (2532-2503 B.C.). It is the shortest of the three pyramids (218 feet) and is a precursor of the smaller pyramids that would be constructed during the fifth and sixth dynasties.
Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone (averaging about 2.5 tons each) had to be cut, transported and assembled to build Khufu’s Great Pyramid. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that it took 20 years to build and required the labor of 100,000 men, but later archaeological evidence suggests that the workforce might actually have been around 20,000. Though some popular versions of history held that the pyramids were built by slaves or foreigners forced into labor, skeletons excavated from the area show that the workers were probably native Egyptian agricultural laborers who worked on the pyramids during the time of year when the Nile River flooded much of the land nearby.

THE END OF THE PYRAMID ERA

Pyramids continued to be built throughout the fifth and sixth dynasties, but the general quality and scale of their construction declined over this period, along with the power and wealth of the kings themselves. In the later Old Kingdom pyramids, beginning with that of King Unas (2375-2345 B.C), pyramid builders began to inscribe written accounts of events in the king’s reign on the walls of the burial chamber and the rest of the pyramid’s interior. Known as pyramid texts, these are the earliest significant religious compositions known from ancient Egypt.
The last of the great pyramid builders was Pepy II (2278-2184 B.C.), the second king of the sixth dynasty, who came to power as a young boy and ruled for 94 years. By the time of his rule, Old Kingdom prosperity was dwindling, and the pharaoh had lost some of his quasi-divine status as the power of non-royal administrative officials grew. Pepy II’s pyramid, built at Saqqara and completed some 30 years into his reign, was much shorter (172 feet) than others of the Old Kingdom. With Pepy’s death, the kingdom and strong central government virtually collapsed, and Egypt entered a turbulent phase known as the First Intermediate Period. Later kings, of the 12th dynasty, would return to pyramid building during the so-called Middle Kingdom phase, but it was never on the same scale as the Great Pyramids.

THE PYRAMIDS TODAY

Tomb robbers and other vandals in both ancient and modern times removed most of the bodies and funeral goods from Egypt’s pyramids and plundered their exteriors as well. Stripped of most of their smooth white limestone coverings, the Great Pyramids no longer reach their original heights; Khufu’s, for example, measures only 451 feet high. Nonetheless, millions of people continue to visit the pyramids each year, drawn by their towering grandeur and the enduring allure of Egypt’s rich and glorious past.

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Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

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The popular view of life in ancient Egypt is often that it was a death-obsessed culture in which powerful pharaohs forced the people to labor at constructing pyramids and temples and, at an unspecified time, enslaved the Hebrews for this purpose. In reality, ancient Egyptians loved life, no matter their social class, and the ancient Egyptian government used slave labor as every other ancient culture did without regard to any particular ethnicity. The ancient Egyptians did have a well-known contempt for non-Egyptians but this was simply because they believed they were living the best life possible in the best of all possible worlds. Life in ancient Egypt was considered so perfect, in fact, that the Egyptian afterlife was imagined as an eternal continuation of life on earth. Slaves in Egypt were either criminals, those who could not pay their debts, or captives from foreign military campaigns. These people were considered to have forfeited their freedoms either by their individual choices or by military conquest and so were forced to endure a quality of existence far below that of free Egyptians.

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Plowing Egyptian Farmer

The individuals who actually built the pyramids and other famous monuments of Egypt were Egyptians who were compensated for their labor and, in many cases, were masters of their art. These monuments were raised not in honor of death but of life and the belief that an individual life mattered enough to be remembered for eternity. Further, the Egyptian belief that one’s life was an eternal journey and death only a transition inspired the people to try to make their lives worth living eternally. Far from a death-obsessed and dour culture, Egyptian daily life was focused on enjoying the time one had as much as possible and trying to make other’s lives equally memorable.

Sports, games, reading, festivals, and time with one’s friends and family were as much a part of Egyptian life as toil in farming the land or erecting monuments and temples. The world of the Egyptians was imbued with magic. Magic (heka) predated the gods and, in fact, was the underlying force which allowed the gods to perform their duties. Magic was personified in the god Heka (also the god of medicine) who had participated in the creation and sustained it afterwards. The concept of ma’at (harmony and balance) was central to the Egyptian’s understanding of life and the operation of the universe and it was heka which made ma’at possible. Through the observance of balance and harmony people were encouraged to live at peace with others and contribute to communal happiness. A line from the wisdom text of Ptahhotep (the vizier to the king Djedkare Isesi, 2414-2375 BCE), admonishes a reader:
Let your face shine during the time that you live.
It is the kindliness of a man that is remembered
During the years that follow.
Letting one’s face “shine” meant being happy, having a good spirit, in the belief that this would make one’s own heart light and lighten those of others. Although Egyptian society was highly stratified from a very early period (as early as the Predynastic Period in Egypt of c. 6000-3150 BCE), this does not mean that the royalty and upper classes enjoyed their lives at the expense of the peasantry. The king and court are always the best-documented individuals because then, as now, people paid more attention to celebrities than their neighbors and the scribes who recorded the history of the time documented what was of greater interest. Still, reports from later Greek and Roman writers, as well as archaeological evidence and letters from different time periods, show that Egyptians of all social classes valued life and enjoyed themselves as often as they could, very like people in the modern day.

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Egyptian Grinding Corn

POPULATION & SOCIAL CLASSES

The population of Egypt was strictly divided into social classes from the king at the top, his vizier, the members of his court, regional governors (eventually called ‘nomarchs’), the generals of the military (after the period of the New Kingdom), government overseers of worksites (supervisors), and the peasantry. Social mobility was neither encouraged nor observed for most of Egypt’s history as it was thought that the gods had decreed the most perfect social order which mirrored that of the gods. The gods had given the people everything and had set the king over them as the one best-equipped to understand and implement their will. The king was the intermediary between the gods and the people from the Predynastic Period through the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) when the priests of the sun god Ra began to gain more power. Even after this, however, the king was still considered god’s chosen emissary. Even the latter part of the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE) when the priests of Amun at Thebes held greater power than the king, the monarch was still respected as divinely ordained.
Upper class
The king of Egypt (not known as a ‘pharaoh’ until the New Kingdom period), as the gods’ chosen man, “enjoyed great wealth and status and luxuries unimaginable to the majority of the population” (Wilkinson, 91). It was the king’s responsibility to rule in keeping with ma’at,and as this was a serious charge, he was thought to deserve those luxuries in keeping with his status and the weight of his duties. Historian Don Nardo writes:
The kings enjoyed an existence largely free from want. They had power and prestige, servants to do the menial work, plenty of free time to pursue leisure pursuits, fine clothes, and numerous luxuries in their homes. (10)
The king is often depicted hunting and inscriptions regularly boast of the number of large and dangerous animals a particular monarch killed during his reign. Almost without exception, though, animals like lions and elephants were caught by royal game wardens and brought to preserves where the king then “hunted” the beasts while surrounded by guards who protected him. The king would hunt in the open, for the most part, only once the area had been cleared of dangerous animals.
Members of the court lived in similar comfort, although most of them had little responsibility. The nomarchs might also live well, but this depended on how wealthy their particular district was and how important to the king. The nomarch of a district including a site such as Abydos, for example, would expect to do quite well because of the large necropolis there dedicated to the god Osiris, which brought many pilgrims to the city including the king and courtiers. A nomarch of a region which had no such attraction would expect to live more modestly. The wealth of the region and the personal success of an individual nomarch would determine whether they lived in a small palace or a modest home. This same model applied generally to scribes.
Scribes & Physicians
Scribes were valued highly in ancient Egypt as they were considered specially chosen by the god Thoth, who inspired and presided over their craft. Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson notes how “the power of the written word to render permanent a desired state of affairs lay at the heart of Egyptian belief and practice” (204). It was the scribes’ responsibility to record events so they would become permanent. The words of the scribes etched daily events in the record of eternity since it was thought that Thoth and his consort Seshat kept the scribes’ words in the eternal libraries of the gods. A scribe’s work made him or her immortal not only because later generations would read what they wrote but because the gods themselves were aware of it. Seshat, patron goddess of libraries and librarians, carefully placed one’s work on her shelves, just as librarians in her service did on earth. Most scribes were male, but there were female scribes who lived just as comfortably as their male counterparts. A popular piece of literature from the Old Kingdom, known as Duauf’s Instructions, advocates a love for books and encourages young people to pursue higher learning and become scribes in order to live the best life possible.

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Egpytian Scribe’s Palette

All priests were scribes, but not all scribes became priests. The priests needed to be able to read and write to perform their duties, especially concerning mortuary rituals. As doctors needed to be literate to read medical texts, they began their training as scribes. Most diseases were thought to be inflicted by the gods as punishment for sin or to teach a lesson, and so doctors needed to be aware of which god (or evil spirit, or ghost, or other supernatural agent) might be responsible. In order to perform their duties, they had to be able to read the religious literature of the time, which includes works on dentistry, surgery, the setting of broken bones, and the treatment of various illnesses. As there was no separation between one’s religious and daily life, doctors were usually priests until later in Egypt’s history when there is a secularization of the profession. All of the priests of the goddess Serket were doctors and this practice continued even after the emergence of more secular physicians. As in the case of scribes, women could practice medicine, and female doctors were numerous. In the 4th century BCE, Agnodice of Athens famously traveled to Egypt to study medicine since women were held in higher regard and had more opportunity there than in Greece.
Military
The military prior to the Middle Kingdom was made up of regional militias conscripted by nomarchs for a certain purpose, usually defense, and then sent to the king. At the beginning of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat I (c. 1991-c.1962 BCE) reformed the military to create the first standing army, thus decreasing the power and prestige of the nomarchs and putting the army directly under his control.
After this, the military was made up of upper-class leaders and lower-class rank and file members. There was the possibility of advancement in the military, which was not affected by one’s social class. Prior to the New Kingdom, the Egyptian military was primarily concerned with defense, but pharaohs like Tuthmose III (1458-1425 BCE) and Ramesses II(1279-1213 BCE) led campaigns beyond Egypt’s borders in expanding the empire. Egyptians generally avoided travel to other lands because they feared that, if they should die there, they would have greater difficulty reaching the afterlife. This belief was a definite concern of soldiers on foreign campaigns and provisions were made to return the bodies of the dead to Egypt for burial.
There is no evidence that women served in the military or, according to some accounts, would have wanted to. The Papyrus Lansing, to give only one example, describes life in the Egyptian army as unending misery leading to an early death. It should be noted, however, that scribes (especially the author of the Papyrus Lansing) consistently depicted their job as the best and most important, and it was the scribes who left behind most of the reports on military life.
Farmers & Laborers
The lowest social class was made up of peasant farmers who did not own the land they worked or the homes they lived in. The land was owned by the king, members of the court, nomarchs, or priests. A common phrase of the peasants to start the day was “Let us work for the noble!” The peasants were almost all farmers, no matter what other trade they cultivated (ferryman, for example). They planted and harvested their crops, gave most of it to the land owner, and kept some for themselves. Most had private gardens, which women tended while the men went out to the fields. Up until the time of the Persian invasion of 525 BCE, the Egyptian economy operated on the barter system and was based on agriculture. The monetary unit of ancient Egypt was the deben, which according to historian James C. Thompson, “functioned much as the dollar does in North America today to let customers know the price of things, except that there was no deben coin” (Egyptian Economy, 1). A deben was “approximately 90 grams of copper; very expensive items could also be priced in debens of silver or gold with proportionate changes in value” (ibid). Thompson continues:
Since seventy-five litters of wheat cost one deben and a pair of sandals also cost one deben, it made perfect sense to the Egyptians that a pair of sandals could be purchased with a bag of wheat as easily as with a chunk of copper. Even if the sandal maker had more than enough wheat, she would happily accept it in payment because it could easily be exchanged for something else. The most common items used to make purchases were wheat, barley, and cooking or lamp oil, but in theory almost anything would do.
The lowest class of society produced the goods used in trade and therefore provided the means for the entire culture to thrive. These peasants also made up the labor force which built the pyramids and other monuments of Egypt. When the Nile River flooded its banks, farming became impossible and the men and women would go to work on the king’s projects. This work was always compensated, and the claim that any of the great structures of Egypt were built by slave labor – especially the claim of the biblical Book of Exodus that these were Hebrew slaves oppressed by Egyptian tyrants – is not supported by any literary or physical evidence at any time in Egypt’s history. The claim by certain authors such as Egyptologist David Rohl that one misses the evidence of a mass enslavement of Hebrews by looking at the wrong time period is untenable since no such evidence exists no matter what period of Egyptian history one examines.

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Egyptian Wooden Statue of a Woman Grinding Cereals

Work on monuments like the pyramids and their mortuary complexes, temples, and obelisks provided the only opportunity for upward mobility of the peasantry. Especially skilled artists and engravers were in high demand in Egypt and were better paid than unskilled laborers who simply moved the stones for the buildings from one place to another. Peasant farmers could also improve their status by practicing a craft to provide the vases, bowls, plates, and other ceramics people needed. Skilled carpenters could make a good living creating tables, desks, chairs, beds, storage chests, and painters were required for decoration of upper-class homes, palaces, tombs, and monuments.
Brewers were also highly respected, and breweries were sometimes run by women. In early Egyptian history, in fact, they seem to have been entirely operated by females. Beer was the most popular drink in ancient Egypt and was frequently used as compensation (wine was never that popular except among royalty). Workers at the Giza plateau were given a beer ration three times a day. The beverage was thought to have been given to the people by the god Osiris, and breweries were presided over by the goddess Tenenet. Beer was taken very seriously by the Egyptians as the Greek pharaoh Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE) learned when she imposed a beer tax; her popularity plummeted more for this one tax than for her wars with Rome.

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Ancient Egyptian Brewery and Bakery

The lower class could also find opportunity through work in metals, gems, and sculpting. The exquisite jewelry of ancient Egypt, gems mounted delicately in ornate settings, was created by members of the peasantry. These people, the majority of the Egyptian population, also filled the ranks of the army, and in rare cases, could become scribes. One’s job and position in society, however, was usually handed down to one’s son.

HOMES & FURNISHINGS

These artists were responsible for creating the furnishings for the lavish palaces, upper-class homes, and temples of Egypt as well as the tombs which were considered a person’s eternal home. The king, his queen, and family lived in a palace which was richly decorated and had their needs tended to by servants. Scribes lived in or near the mortuary or templecomplexes in special apartments and worked from scriptoriums while, as noted, nomarchs lived in greater or lesser accommodations according to their level of success. The peasants who provided the food for the upper classes also helped build their homes and supply them with chests, drawers, chairs, tables, and beds while they themselves could not afford any of these things. Nardo writes:
After a hard day’s work, the farmers returned to their houses, which stood near the fields or in small rural villages located nearby. An average agricultural peasant’s house featured walls made of mud bricks. The ceiling was fashioned from bundles of plant stems, and the floors consistend of hard-beaten earth covered by a layer of straw or mats made from reeds. There were one or two rooms (perhaps occasionally three) in which the farmer and his wife and children (if any) lived. In many cases, the stabled some or all of their farm animals in the same rooms. Because such modest homes lacked bathrooms, the residents had to use an outside latrine (a hole in the ground) to relieve themselves. Needless to say, water had to be hauled in buckets from the river or the nearest hand-dug well. (13)
By contrast, the palace of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE), known as Malkata today, covered over 30,000 square meters (30 hectares) and included spacious apartments, conference rooms, audience chambers, a throne room and receiving hall, a festival hall, libraries, gardens, storerooms, kitchens, a harem, and a temple to the god Amun. The palace’s outer walls were painted bright white while the interior colors were vibrant blues and yellows and greens. The entire structure, of course, had to be furnished and these articles were supplied by the lower class workers. In its time the palace was known as ‘the house of rejoicing’ and other similar names. It is known as Malkata today from the Arabic for ‘place where things are picked up’ owing to the massive debris field found there from the ruined palace.
The apartments and homes of scribes, as with those of the nomarchs, were opulent or modest depending on their level of success and the region in which they lived. The author of the Papyrus Lansing, Nebmare Nakht, claimed to live in grand style and to own land and slaves on par with a great king. This claim is no doubt true, too, as it is well established that priests were able to achieve the same level of wealth and power as some rulers in Egypt, and scribes would have had that same opportunity.
CRIME & PUNISHMENT
In ancient Egypt, as in every era of human history, the wealth of one person was often coveted by another who might choose to steal it, and in such cases, Egyptian law was swift. After the New Kingdom there was a police force, but even before this time, people were brought before the local official and charged with crimes ranging across the spectrum of criminal activity in the modern day. The state did not involve itself in local affairs unless the criminal had robbed or vandalized state property, such as robbing or defacing a tomb. Egyptologist Steven Snape writes:
The opportunities for criminal activity provided by the concentration of weatlth and property in towns and sities were seized upon wholeheartedly by some ancient Egyptians, just as they have been within all societies. Equally, significant centres of population and administration provided places where justice could be done and punishments meted out. However, the picture we get from ancient Egypt is that the administration of justice was pushed as far down to local lecel as possible. Villagers were expected to regulate their own affairs.
Judgment and justice were ultimately the responsibility of the vizier, the king’s right-hand man, who delegated that responsibility to officials beneath him, who further delegated to others. Even prior to the New Kingdom, there was an administrative building in any city called the Judgment Hall where cases were heard and verdicts rendered. In small towns and villages, these courts might be held in the market place. The local court was known as the kenbet, made up of community leaders of sound moral judgment, who would hear cases and decide on guilt or innocence. In the New Kingdom, the judgment hall and the kenbet were gradually replaced by oracular judgments in which the god Amun would be consulted directly on a verdict. This was accomplished by a priest of Amun asking the statue of the god a question and then interpreting his answer through various means. Sometimes the statue would nod its head, and other times there would be different signs given. If the defendant were found guilty, then punishment was swift.
Most punishments were fines for minor offenses, but rape, robbery, assault, murder, or tomb robbing could result in mutilation (cutting off of the nose, ears, or hands), incarceration, forced labor (essentially slavery for life in many cases), or death. The Great Prison at Thebes held convicted felons who were used for manual labor on the Temple of Amun at Karnak and other projects. There was no death row in Egyptian prisons since a person who was found guilty of a serious offense meriting the death penalty was executed immediately. There were no lawyers to argue a case and no appeals made after a verdict was rendered. The priests were entrusted by the people to give a fair and just hearing to any complaint and to judge according to the precepts of the gods, knowing that they faced a far worse fate in the afterlife should they fail in these duties.
FAMILY & LEISURE
Priests could be male or female. The chief priest of any religious cult was usually the same sex as the deity they served; the head of the Cult of Isis was female, that of the Cult of Amun, male. Priests could and did have families, and their children usually became priests after them.
This was the paradigm for all of Egypt as far as succession went: the children carried on the occupation of the parents, usually the father. Women had almost equal rights in ancient Egypt. They could own their own businesses, their own land, and their own homes, could initiate divorce, enter into contracts with men, have abortions, and dispose of their own property as they saw fit; this was a level of sexual equality which no other ancient civilization approached and which the modern era only initiated – under duress – in the mid-20th century CE.
At least four women ruled Egypt, the best known two being Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) and Cleopatra VII. This was not the norm, however, as most rulers were male. Royal women, for the most part, had slaves and servants who cared for the children and had no responsibility for cleaning or tending the home. They assisted their husbands in receiving foreign dignitaries and advancing certain policies. Women of the upper classes knew a similar lifestyle but might have taken more time caring for the children, while in the lower classes, the care of the home and children were wholly the woman’s responsibility.
Marriages in ancient Egypt were more of a secular than religious affair. Most marriages, in any of the classes, were arranged by the parents. Girls were usually married around the age of 12 and boys around age 15. Royal children were often betrothed to those of foreign kings to seal treaties when they were little more than infants, though it was forbidden for women to leave Egypt as brides for foreign rulers since it was thought they would not be happy outside of their own land. Since Egypt was the best of all places, it was considered disrespectful to a young woman to send her off to some lesser place. It was perfectly acceptable for foreign-born women to come to Egypt as brides, however. Once in Egypt, these women were accorded the same respect as natives. Women of all social classes were considered on par with their husbands, even though the man was considered the head of the household. Nardo notes:
Upper-class husbands and wives dined, held parties, and went hunting together, while both well-to-do and poorer women shared many legal rights with men. In fact, ancient Egyptian women seem to have enjoyed more freedom in their private lives than women in most other ancient societies, even if men made most of the really important decisions. Egyptian men benefitted from positive, loving relationships as much as their wives did.
Although the wives of farmers did not go out to the fields with their husbands (for the most part), they still had plenty of work to do keeping the house clean, tending to any animals not used in plowing, administering to the needs of the elderly in the family, and raising the children. Women and children also would tend the family garden, which was an important resource for any family. Cleanliness was an important value of the Egyptians, and one’s person and home needed to reflect that. Women and men of all classes bathed frequently (priests more than any other profession) and shaved their heads to prevent lice and cut down on maintenance. When an occasion called for it, they wore wigs. Men and women also both wore makeup, especially kohl under the eyes, to help with the sun’s glare and keep the skin soft. Tomb inscriptions and paintings also often show men and women plowing and harvesting in the fields together or building a home.
The life of the ancient Egyptians was hardly all work, however. They found plenty of time to enjoy themselves through sports, board games, and other activities. Ancient Egyptian sports included hockey, handball, archery, swimming, tug of war, gymnastics, rowing, and a sport known as ‘water jousting,’ which was a sea battle played in small boats on the Nile River in which a ‘jouster’ tried to knock the other out of his boat while a second team member maneuvered the craft. Children were taught to swim at an early age, and swimming was among the most popular sports, which gave rise to other water games. The board game of Senet was extremely popular, representing one’s journey through life to eternity. Music, dance, choreographed gymnastics, and wrestling were also popular, and among the upper classes, hunting large or small game was a favorite pastime.

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Game of Senet

There was also a sport called ‘shooting the rapids,’ which is described by the Roman playwright Seneca the Younger (1st century CE) who lived in Egypt:
The people embark on small boats, two to a boat, and one rows while the other bails out water. Then they are violently tossed about in the raging rapids. At length they reach the narrowest channels and, swept along by the whole force of the river, they control the rushing boat by hand and plunge head downward to the great terror of the onlookers. You would believe sorrowfully that by now they were drowned and overwhelmed by such a mass of water when, far from the place where they fell, they shoot out as from a catapult, still sailing, and the subsiding wave does not submerge them but carries them on to smooth waters. (cited in Nardo, 20)
After or even during such events, spectators enjoyed their favorite beverage: beer. The favored recipe most often consumed was Heqet (also given as Hecht), a honey-flavored beer similar to, but lighter than, the later mead of Europe. There were many kinds of beer (generally known as zytum), and it was frequently prescribed as a medicine as it made the heart lighter and improved one’s spirits. Beer was brewed commercially and at home and was especially enjoyed at the many festivals the Egyptians celebrated.

FESTIVALS, FOOD & CLOTHING

All of the Egyptian gods had birthdays which needed to be celebrated, and then there were individual birthdays, the anniversaries of great deeds of the king, observances of acts of the gods in human history, and also funerals, wakes, house-warming events, and births. All of these and more were celebrated with a party or a festival.
The festivals of ancient Egypt were each unique in character depending on the nature of the event, but all had in common drinking and feasting. The Egyptian diet was mainly vegetarian and consisted of grains (wheat) and vegetables. Meat was very expensive, and usually only royalty was able to afford it. Meat was also difficult to keep in the arid Egyptian climate, and so animals who were ritually slaughtered had to be used quickly.
Festivals were the perfect opportunity for indulging in every kind of excess, including meat eating for those who chose to do so, though self-indulgence was not appropriate at every gathering. Each celebration or commemoration had its own unique characteristics as historian Margaret Bunson explains:
The Beautiful Feast of the Valley, in honor of the god Amun, held in Thebes, was celebrated with a procession of the barks of the gods, with music and flowers. The Feast of Hathor, celebrated at Dendera, was a time of pleasure and intoxication, in keeping with the myths of the goddesses’ cult. The feast of the goddess Isis at Busiris and the celebration honoring Bastet at Bubastis were also times of revelry and intoxication. (91)
These festivals were “normally religious in nature and held in conjunction with the lunar calendar in temples” but could also “commemorate certain specific events in the daily lives of the people” (Bunson, 90). At funerals, as one would expect, people dressed in respectful black (though the priests usually wore white) while at birthdays or other celebrations one wore whatever one pleased. At the Festival of Bastet, women wore nothing but a short kilt which they often raised in honor of the goddess.
Clothing in ancient Egypt was linen woven from cotton. In the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods, women and men both wore simple linen kilts. Children went naked from birth until around the age of ten. Bunson notes that “In time women wore an empire-type long skirt that hung just below their uncovered breasts. Men kept to the simple kilts. These could be dyed in exotic colors or designs although white was probably the color used in religious rituals or court events”(67). By the time of the New Kingdom women wore linen dresses which covered their breasts and went to their ankles while men wore the short kilt and sometimes a loose shirt. Lower-class women, female slaves, and female servants are often shown wearing only a kilt through the New Kingdom period. At this same time, royal or noble women are shown wearing form-fitting dresses from the shoulder to the ankles and men are seen in sheer blouses and skirts. In the colder weather of the rainy season, cloaks and shawls were used.
Most people, of every social class, went barefoot in emulation of the gods who had no need for footwear. On special occasions, or when someone was going on a long journey or to a place where they might injure their feet or in colder weather, they wore sandals. The cheapest sandals were made of woven rushes while the most expensive were of leather or painted wood. Sandals do not seem to have a great deal of importance to the Egyptians until the Middle and New Kingdoms when they came to be seen as status symbols. A person who could afford good sandals was obviously doing well while the poorest people went barefoot. These sandals were often painted or decorated with images which could be quite elaborate.
At festival times – and there were many of them throughout the Egyptian year – the clothing of the priests was white, but people could wear anything they wanted or almost nothing at all. The Egyptians wanted to live life to its fullest, to experience all their time on earth had to give, and looked forward to its continuance after death.

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Male Egyptian Mummy with Amulets

One’s earthly life was only a part of an eternal journey, and one’s death was seen as a transition from one phase to the next. A proper burial was of the utmost importance to the ancient Egyptians of every class. The body of the deceased was washed, dressed in wrappings (mummified), and buried with those objects which they would want or need in the afterlife. The more money one had, of course, the more elaborate one’s tomb and gravegoods, but even the poorest people provided proper graves for their loved ones. Without a proper burial one could not hope to move on to the Hall of Truth and pass the judgment of Osiris. Further, if a family did not honor the dead properly at death, they were almost guaranteeing the return of that person’s spirit, which would haunt them and cause all manner of trouble. Honoring the dead meant not only paying respects to that individual but to the individual’s contributions and achievements in life, all of which were made possible by the goodness of the gods.
Living with mindfulness of kindness, harmony, balance, and gratitude toward the gods, they hoped to find their hearts lighter than the feather of truth when they came to stand in judgment before Osiris after death. Once they had been justified, they would pass on to an eternity of the very daily life they had left behind when they died. Everything in their lives which seemed lost at death was returned in the afterlife. Their emphasis, in every aspect of their lives, was to create a life worth living for an eternity. No doubt many individuals often failed at this, but the ideal was one worth striving for and imbued the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians with a meaning and purpose which infused and inspired their impressive culture.
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Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh

Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh

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Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh of Egypt. She reigned between 1473 and 1458 B.C. Her name means “foremost of noblewomen.”
Her rule was relatively peaceful and she was able to launch a building program that would see the construction of a great temple at Deir el-Bahari at Luxor. She also launched a successful sea voyage to the land of Punt, a place located somewhere on the northeast coast of Africa, where they traded with the inhabitants, bringing back “marvels.”

Despite the apparent success of her reign, and a burial in the Valley of the Kings, her monuments would be defaced after her death, apparently by her co-ruler and step-son/nephew Thutmose III.

The fact that a woman became pharaoh of Egypt was very unusual. “In the history of Egypt during the dynastic period (3000 to 332 B.C.) there were only two or three women who managed to rule as pharaohs, rather than wielding power as the ‘great wife’ of a male king,” writes Egyptologist Ian Shaw in his book “Exploring Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Birth
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Hatshepsut, along with her sister Nefrubity, was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I and his wife Ahmose. Thutmose I was a warrior king who launched successful campaigns into Nubia and Syria, expanding the territory under Egyptian rule.

After Hatshepsut became co-ruler of Egypt, she claimed to be of divine birth, the result of a union between her mother and the god Amun. She also claimed that Thutmose I had named her as his successor before his death.

“Underscoring her claim, one of the reliefs decorating Hatshepsut’s enormous funerary complex depicts Thutmose I crowning her daughter as king in the presence of the Egyptian gods,” write Helen Gardner and Fred Kleiner in “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective” (Cengage, 2010).

Queen to Thutmose II

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After the death of her father, the Egyptian throne passed to Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband. In ancient Egypt, it was not unusual for royalty to marry within their family. Like his predecessor, he fought in Nubia. “The Egyptian army continued to quell uprisings in Nubia and brought about the final demise of the kingdom of Kush at Kerma,” writes Betsy Bryan in a section of “The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2000).

In their personal life, the couple had a daughter named Neferure who would go on to assume royal duties. She “appears during her mother’s reign officiating as ‘God’s Wife of Amun’…”writes Michael Rice in “Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt” (Routledge, 1999).

Regency and elevation to pharaoh

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With the death of Thutmose II, the throne fell to Thutmose III, a step-son and nephew of Hatshepsut. He was, however, a child and unable to rule Egypt, leaving Hatshepsut to serve as regent. She did this for three years until, for reasons unknown; she became a pharaoh in her own right (although technically a co-ruler with Thutmose III).

She took on a full throne name, and statues were created depicting her as a male king, right down to the beard. However, she did allow some feminine traits to come through. “Although for most of her reign Hatshepsut was depicted with the traditional image of a male king, the names that she used as king were formed with grammatically feminine participles, thus openly acknowledging her female status,” write Gay Robins in a 1999 article in “The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.”

In addition, University of Toronto Professor Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner, whose team found a wooden statue at Abydos that may be of Hatshepsut, notes that her waist was depicted as being somewhat slimmer than her male counterparts.

“Even though she was portrayed as a man [in her statues], oftentimes they did give a nod to her female physique by making her waist narrower,” she is quoted as saying in a LiveScience article.

In addition, Hatshepsut appears to have taken care to cultivate loyalty and obedience among officials. Bryan notes that there was a “sudden increase in large decorated private tombs” at Luxor and Saqqara, and an inscription carved in her temple at Deir el-Bahari reads “he who shall do her homage shall live; he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die.”

“As a ruler, Hatshepsut inaugurated building projects that far outstripped those of her predecessors,” Bryan writes, noting that in conquered Nubia, she built monuments at a number of sites, including Qasr Ibrim, Semna, Faras and Buhen.

In Egypt proper, she launched a number of building projects. At the temple complex of Karnak, she erected a series of obelisks and built a “Palace of Ma’at,” a rectangular structure that was composed of “a series of small rooms with a large central hall for the placement of the central bark [a small ceremonial boat]. The walls of the palace were covered with carved and brightly painted relief scenes of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III,” writes a team of UCLA researchers working on the Digital Karnak Project.

Perhaps the most impressive architectural achievement of Hatshepsut’s builders is the temple at Deir el-Bahari. Shaw notes that its ancient name was djeser-djeseru “the most sacred of sacred places,” with its three colonnaded terraces leading to a sanctuary.

When archaeologists excavated the temple in the 19th century, Shaw notes, they found shrines dedicated to Hathor and Anubis. Shaw writes that they also found, on the lowest terrace, a relief showing Hatshepsut as a sphinx “triumphing over her enemies” and another “describing the quarrying and transportation of two granite obelisks from the quarries at Aswan.” He also notes that the middle terrace contains an “unusual group of painted reliefs” showing a trading expedition to the land of Punt.

Voyage to Punt

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This voyage to Punt (also known as “God’s land”) was a key foreign relations triumph during Hatshepsut’s reign. Punt is believed to lie in northeastern Africa, somewhere in the area of Eritrea, Ethiopia and southern Sudan. Egyptians had made voyages to it for centuries by Hatshepsut’s time.

The depiction of Punt at the Deir el-Bahari temple shows “scenes of the Puntite’s village (with) conical reed-built huts built on poles above the ground, entered via ladders,” Shaw writes, adding that palms and myrrh trees can be seen. “The ruler of Punt is distinguished from the Egyptians primarily by his beard and unusual costume, and his wife is depicted as an extremely obese woman.”

An ancient record of the voyage indicates that it was wildly successful. “The loading of the ships very heavily with marvels of the country of Punt; all goodly fragrant woods of God’s-land, heaps of myrrh-resin with fresh myrrh trees, with ebony, and pure ivory, with green gold of Emu.”

After listing more goods, the record concludes that no Egyptian ruler had ever been so successful in Punt. “Never was brought the like of this for any king who had been since the beginning.” (Inscription from “Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant,” Shelley Wachsmann, Texas A & M University Press, 2009)

Death and defacement

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Thutmose III, who was technically co-ruler with Hatshepsut, succeeded the female pharaoh after her death. Although Hatshepsut was given a burial in the Valley of the Kings, her memory was not honored.

“Soon after her death in 1457 B.C., Hatshepsut’s monuments were attacked, her statues dragged down and smashed and her image and titles defaced,” writes Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley in a 2011 BBC article. She argues that this may have been an attempt by Thutmose III to gain credit for some of the successes Hatshepsut experienced during her rule. “By removing all obvious references to his co-ruler Tuthmosis could incorporate her reign into his own. He would then become Egypt’s greatest pharaoh.”

Hatshepsut’s mummy
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In 2007, researchers announced that Hatshepsut’s mummy had been identified in tomb KV 60 in the Valley of the Kings. A “CT scan of a single tooth in a box with Hatshepsut’s name on it perfectly matched a tooth socket in the mummy’s jaw,” writes Cornell University anthropologist Meredith Small in a LiveScience article. She notes that she was around 50 when she died, balding, suffering from diabetes and wearing black and red nail polish. She also had a desire for perfume.

Small writes that despite her health problems, and the post-mortem destruction of some of her images, history still remembers her as a successful ancient Egyptian ruler. “Hatshepsut’s image couldn’t be erased because even with the weight, the beard, and the nail polish, she was a ruler, and a grand one,” she writes. “In ancient Egypt, just like today, you simply can’t keep a good woman down.”

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Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

For all ancient people, the world was filled with mystery. Much of what they experienced in the world around them was unknowable and frightening. The ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses represented aspects of the Egyptians’ natural and “supernatural” surroundings and helped them understand its many aspects.

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Ammut

Demons
Demons were more powerful than human beings but not as powerful as gods. They were usually immortal, could be in more than one place at a time, and could affect the world as well as people in supernatural ways. But there were certain limits to their powers and they were neither all-powerful nor all knowing. Among demons the most important figure was Ammut – the Devourer of the Dead – part crocodile, part lioness, and part hippopotamus. She was often shown near the scales on which the hearts of the dead were weighed against the feather of Truth. She devoured the hearts of those whose wicked deeds in life made them unfit to enter the afterlife. Apepi, another important demon, (sometimes called Apophis) was the enemy of the sun god in his daily cycle through the cosmos, and is depicted as a colossal snake.

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Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

Most Egyptian gods represented one principle aspect of the world: Ra was the sun god, for example, and Nut was goddess of the sky. The characters of the gods were not clearly defined. Most were generally benevolent but their favor could not be counted on. Some gods were spiteful and had to be placated. Some, such as Neith, Sekhmet, and Mut, had changeable characters. The god Seth, who murdered his brother Osiris, embodied the malevolent and disordered aspects of the world.
The physical form taken on by the various Egyptian gods was usually a combination of human and animal, and many were associated with one or more animal species. And an animal could express a deity’s mood. When a god was angry, she might be portrayed as a ferocious lioness; when gentle, a cat. The convention was to depict the animal gods with a human body and an animal head. The opposite convention was sometimes used for representations of a king, who might be portrayed with a human head and a lion’s body, as in the case of the Sphinx. Sphinxes might also appear with other heads, particularly those of rams or falcons.
Many deities were represented only in human form. Among these were such very ancient figures as the cosmic gods Shu of the air, Geb of the earth, the fertility god Min, and the craftsman Ptah. There were a number of minor gods that took on grotesque forms, including Bes, a dwarf with a mask-like face, and Taurt, a goddess whose physical form combined the features of a hippopotamus and a crocodile.

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Nut, Shu and Geb

Nut, Shu and Geb
Nut was the mother of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephythys, Nut is usually shown in human form; her elongated body symbolizing the sky. Each limb represents a cardinal point as her body stretches over the earth. Nut swallowed the setting sun (Ra) each evening and gave birth to him each morning. She is often depicted on the ceilings of tombs, on the inside lid of coffins, and on the ceilings of temples.
Shu was the husband of Tefnut and the father of Nut and Geb. He and his wife were the first gods created by Atum. Shu was the god of the air and sunlight or, more precisely, dry air and his wife represented moisture. He was normally depicted as a man wearing a headdress in the form of a plume, which is also the hieroglyph for his name.
Shu’s function was to hold up the body of the goddess Nun and separate the sky from the earth. He was not a solar deity but his role in providing sunlight connected him to Ra. Indeed, he was one of the few gods who escaped persecution under the heretic king Akhenaten.
Geb was the father of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephythys, and was a god without a cult. As an Earth god he was associated with fertility and it was believed that earthquakes were the laughter of Geb. He is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as imprisoning the buried dead within his body.

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Amun

Also Known as Amen, Amun, Ammon
Amun was the chief Theban deity whose power grew as the city of Thebes grew from an unimportant village, in the old Kingdom, to a powerful metropolis in the Middle and New Kingdoms. He rose to become the patron of the Theban pharaohs and was eventually combined with sun god, Ra who had been the dominant deity of the Old Kingdom to become Amun-Ra, King of the Gods and ruler of the Great Ennead.
Amun’s name means “Hidden One, Mysterious of Form,” and although he is most often represented as a human wearing a double plumed crown, he is sometimes depicted as a ram or a goose. The implication is that his true identity can never be revealed.
Karnak was Amun’s chief temple, but his fame extended well beyond the boundaries of Egypt. His cult spread to Ethiopia, Nubia, Libya, and through much of Palestine. The Greeks thought he was an Egyptian manifestation of their god Zeus. Even Alexander the Great thought it worthwhile consulting the oracle of Amun.

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Anubis

Protector of the Dead
Anubis is shown as a jackal-headed man, or as a jackal. His father was Seth and his mother Nephythys. His cult center was Cynopolis, now known as El Kes. He was closely associated with mummification and as protector of the dead. It was Anubis who conducted the deceased to the hall of judgment.

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Bastet

Bastet is depicted as a woman with a cat’s head or simply as a cat. Originally an avenging lioness deity, she evolved into a goddess of pleasure.
Her cult center was in the town of Bubastis in the Western delta. Many cats lived at her temple and were mummified when they died. An immense cemetery of mummified cats has been discovered in the area.

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Bes

Unlike the other gods, Bes is represented full face rather than in profile, as a grotesque, bandy-legged, dwarf with his tongue sticking out. He was associated with good times and entertainment, but was also considered a
guardian god of childbirth. Bes chased away demons of the night and guarded people from dangerous animals.

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Hapi

Hapi was not the god of the river Nile but of its inundation. He is represented as a pot-bellied man with breasts and a headdress made of aquatic plants. He was thought to live in the caves of the first cataract, and his cult center was at Aswan.

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Hathor

Hathor was the daughter of Ra and the patron goddess of women, love, beauty, pleasure, and music. She is depicted in three forms; as a cow, as a woman with the ears of a cow, and as a woman wearing the headdress of a cow’s horns. In this last manifestation, she holds the solar disc between her horns. She was the consort of Horus, and her name actually means “House of Horus.” She had many temples the most famous of which is at Dendara.
There was a dark side to Hathor. It was believed that Ra sent her to punish the human race for its wickedness, but Hathor wreaked such bloody havoc on earth that Ra was horrified and determined to bring her back. He tricked her by preparing vast quantities of beer mixed with mandrake and the blood of the slain. Murdering mankind was thirsty work, and when Hathor drank the beer she became so intoxicated that she could not continue her slaughter.

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Horus

Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis and the enemy of the wicked God Seth. He is depicted as a hawk or as a man with the head of a hawk. Sometimes he is shown as a youth with a side lock, seated on his mother’s lap. He was the god of the sky and the divine protector of kings.
Horus was worshipped throughout Egypt and was particularly associated with Edfu, the site of the ancient city of Mesen, where his temple can still be seen.
There are many stories of his wars against his uncle Seth, who murdered his father and usurped the throne. Eventually Horus defeated Seth and became the king of Egypt.

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Isis

A very important figure in the ancient world, Isis was the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She was associated with funeral rites and said to have made the first mummy from the dismembered parts of Osiris. As the enchantress who resurrected Osiris and gave birth to Horus, she was also the giver of life, a healer and protector of kings.
Isis is represented with a throne on her head and sometimes shown breastfeeding the infant Horus. In this manifestation she was known as “Mother of God.” To the Egyptians she represented the ideal wife and mother; loving, devoted, and caring.
Her most famous temple is at Philae though her cult spread throughout the Medi-terranean world and, during the Roman period, extended as far as northern Europe. There was even a temple dedicated to her in London.

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Khepre

Also known as, Khepri, Khepra, Khepera, Khepre was a creator god depicted as a Scarab beetle or as a man with a scarab for a head. The Egyptians observed young scarab beetles emerging spontaneously from balls of dung and associated them with the process of creation. Khepre was one of the first gods, self-created, and his name means “he who has come into being,” Atum took his form as he rose out of the chaotic waters of the Nun in a creation myth. It was thought that Khepre rolled the sun across the sky in the same way a dung beetle rolls balls of dung across the ground.

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Khnum

Khnum, was depicted as a ram-headed man. He was a god of the cataracts, a potter, and a creator god who guarded the source of the Nile,. His sanctuary was on Elephantine Island but his best-preserved temple is at Esna. The “Famine Stele”, which is a carved stone tablet, contains appeals to Khnum during a famine caused by a low inundation of the Nile.

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Khonsu

Also known as Khons Khensu, Khuns
Khonsu was the son of Amun and Mut, with whom he formed the Theban triad. He was a moon god depicted as a man with a falcon-head wearing a crescent moon headdress surmounted by the full lunar disc. Like Thoth, who was also a lunar deity, he is sometimes represented as a baboon. Khonsu was believed to have the ability to drive out evil spirits. Rameses II sent a statue of Khonsu to a friendly Syrian king in order to cure his daughter of an illness.
His temple was within the precincts of Karnak.

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Ma’at

Ma’at was the goddess of truth and justice, embodying the essential harmony of the universe. She was depicted as a seated woman wearing an ostrich feather, or sometimes just as the feather itself. Her power regulated the seasons and the movement of the stars. Ma’at was the patron of justice and the symbol of ancient Egyptian ethics, so the Vizier who was in charge of the Law Courts went by the title Priest of Maat.
Ma’at was the ultimate judge in the afterlife, and the heart of the newly deceased was weighed against her feather in the Hall of Two Truths. Ammut, devourer of the dead, ate those who failed her test.

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Montu

Montu was a warrior god who rose to become the state god during the 11th dynasty. He was associated with king Montuhotep I (“Montu is satisfied”), who reunited Upper and Lower Egypt after the chaos of the First Intermediate Period.
During the Twelfth Dynasty Montu was displaced by the rise of Amun, but he took on the true attributes of a war god when warrior kings such as Thutmose III and Rameses II identified themselves with him.

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Mut

Mut formed part of the Theban Triad. She was one of the daughters of Ra, the wife of Amun, and mother of Khonsu. She was the Vulture goddess and is often depicted as a woman with a long, brightly colored dress and a vulture headdress surmounted by the double crown. In her more aggressive aspect she is shown as a lion-headed goddess.
Like Isis and Hathor, Mut played the role of divine mother to the king. Her amulets, which depict her as a seated woman suckling a child, are sometime confused with those of Isis.

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Nephythys

Daughter of Geb and Nut, sister of Isis, wife of Seth and mother of Anubis, Nephythys is depicted as a woman with the hieroglyphs for a palace and ‘Neb’ (a basket) on her head. She is thus known as “Lady of the Mansions” or “Palace.” Nephythys was disgusted by Seth’s murder of Osiris and helped her sister, Isis, against her husband, Seth. Together with Isis she was a protector of the dead, and they are often shown together on coffin cases, with winged arms. She seems to have had no temple or cult center of her own.

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Osiris

Osiris was originally a vegetation god linked with the growth of crops. He was the mythological first king of Egypt and one of the most important of the gods. It was thought that he brought civilization to the race of mankind. He was murdered by his brother Seth, brought back to life by his wife Isis, and went on to become the ruler of the underworld and judge of the dead.
He is usually depicted as a mummy holding the crook and flail of kingship. On his head he wears the white crown of Upper Egypt flanked by two plumes of feathers. Sometimes he is shown with the horns of a ram. His skin is depicted as blue, the color of the dead; black, the color of the fertile earth; or green, representing resurrection.
Osiris’s head was thought to have been buried at Abydos, his main cult center. Each year, during his festival, there was a procession and a reenactment of his story in the form of a mystery play.

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Ptah

Ptah was a creator god, said to have made the world from the thoughts in his heart and his words. He was depicted as a mummy with his hands protruding from the wrappings and holding a staff. His head was shaven and he wore a scull cap. Ptah was associated with craftsmen, and the High Priest of his temple at Memphis held the title Great Leader of Craftsmen.

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Ra

Also known as Re
The supreme sun god was represented as a man with the head of a hawk, crowned with a solar disk and the sacred serpent. However, in the underworld through which he passes each night, he is depicted as ram-headed.
Each day Ra traveled across the sky in the form of the sun, riding in his solar boat, and each night he journeyed through the underworld where he defeated the allies of chaos. He was reborn each morning in the form of the sunrise. His influence on the other gods was so strong that he subsumed many of their identities. Thus Amun became Amun-Ra, Montu became Montu-Ra and Horus became Ra-Horakhty. Pharoah Akenaten’s god, the Aten, was another form of Ra, the solar disk.
The Egyptian kings claimed to be descended from Ra, and called themselves “The Son of Ra.” His cult was very powerful during the period of the Old Kingdom,when Sun Temples were built in his honor. His cult center was at Heliopolis, which nowadays is covered by the northern suburbs of Cairo.

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Sobek

Sobek was a crocodile god, depicted as a crocodile on an altar or as a man with a crocodile head wearing a headdress in the form of the sun disk with upright feathers and horns. Sobek’s main cult centers were at Medinet el Fayum and at the temple of Kom Ombo, which he shared with Horus and which still exists today. There was a pool at Kom Ombo containing sacred crocodiles and it is still possible to see original mummified crocodiles at the temple.

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Seth

Also known as Set, Setekh, Suty and Sutekh
Seth was the son of Geb and Nut, and the evil brother of Osiris. He was the god of darkness, chaos, and confusion, and is represented as a man with an unknown animal head, often described as a Typhonian by the Greeks who associated him with the god Typhon. He is sometimes depicted as a hippopotamus, a pig, or a donkey. Seth murdered his brother and usurped the throne of Egypt and most of the other gods despised him.
Horus eventually defeated Seth, but it was thought that their battle was an eternal struggle between good and evil. Although Seth failed to keep the throne of Egypt he continued to be a companion of Ra. He sometimes accompanied Ra across the sky in his solar boat, causing storms and bad weather.
Seth was venerated by some, and his main cult center was at Naqada. Some kings would liken themselves to Seth in battle, but for the most part the people loathed him and his defeat by Horus was regularly celebrated.

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Tefnut

Tefnut was the wife of Shu and mother of Nut and Geb. She and her husband were the first gods created by Atum. She was the goddess of moisture or damp, corrosive air, and was depicted either as a lioness or as a woman with a lioness’s head.

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Thoth

Thoth was the god of writing and knowledge, and was depicted as a man with the head of an ibis holding a scribe’s pen and palette, or as a baboon. The Greeks associated him with Hermes and ascribed to him the invention of all the sciences as well as the invention of writing. He is often portrayed writing or making calculations.
Thoth stands apart from most of the other gods. He was as old as the oldest gods and often acted as an intermediately between gods. He was associated with the moon, and is sometimes shown wearing a moon disk and crescent headdress. One of his most important roles was to record the deeds of the dead at the day of their judgment and is often seen doing this in the Book of the Dead. His main temple was at Hermopolis in Middle Egypt.

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The Dilmun Burial Mounds- Bahrain

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Map showing the locations of the ancient burial mounds.

 
Burial mounds in A’ali

The Dilmun Burial Mounds are a number of necropolis areas on the main island of Bahrain dating back to the Dilmun, the Umm an-Nar Culture and later eras. Known since ancient times as an island with a very large number of burials, the (originally) quite a number of square kilometres of mounds were said to be one of the largest cemeteries in the ancient world. The cemeteries are concentrated in the north of the island, on the hard stony areas slightly above the arable farming soils – the south of the island is mainly sandy and desert-like. Recent studies have shown that the estimated/approximately 350,000 ancient grave mounds could have been solely produced by the local population over a number of thousands of years. The graves are not all of the same era, or of exactly the same styles, and can vary considerably in size in different areas of the moundfield. Research, under the auspices of the Bahrain National Museum (with the Bahrain Historical and Archaeological Society taking a keen interest), is still continuing, to establish a firm timeline for all these variations and continuations, as well as considering the implications for the society or societies that produced them.

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Burial mounds in A’ali

A Danish group in the 1950s was excavating at Qal’at al-Bahrain, the capital city of the Bronze Age, when they opened some tumuli and discovered items dating to around 4100–3700 BP of the same culture. Many others began to excavate more of the graves, providing a view of the construction and content on these graves.
Each of the tumuli is composed of a central stone chamber that is enclosed by a low ring-wall and covered by earth and gravel. The size of the mounds varies, but the majority of them measure 15 by 30 ft (4.5 by 9 m) in diameter and are 3–6 ft (1–2 m) high. The smaller mounds usually contain only one chamber. The chambers are usually rectangular with one or two alcoves at the northeast end. Occasionally there are additional pairs of alcoves along the middle of the larger chambers.
Although the chambers usually contained one burial each, some contain several people and the secondary chambers often contain none. The deceased were generally laid with their heads in the alcove end of the chamber and lying on their right sides. The bodies were accompanied by few items. There were a few pieces of pottery and occasionally shell or stone stamp seals, baskets sealed with asphalt, ivory objects, stone jars, and copper weapons. The skeletons are representative of both sexes with a life expectancy of approximately 40 years. Babies were generally buried at and outside the ring-wall. The average number of children per family was 1.6 persons.
Attempts to protect the burial mounds have run into opposition by religious fundamentalists who consider them unIslamic and have called for them to be concreted over for housing. During a parliamentary debate on 17 July 2005, the leader of the salafist Asalah party, Sheikh Adel Mouwdah, said “Housing for the living is better than the graves for the dead. We must have pride in our Islamic roots and not some ancient civilization from another place and time, which has only given us a jar here and a bone there……………………………. Dilmun Burial Mounds.

Source:

Internet

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Untouched Heritage Sites of India &Unexplored Heritage Sites

Matter taken from Internet and being posted here for the interest of heritage enthusiasts…………………..

Beyond the pages of Indian history there are many untold stories that are no less remarkable than the ones jotted down by the historians. Walking through the past, through the ancient ruins, pilgrimage, rock arts and palaces, you can’t miss the nauseating effect they have on you. Some of these stories have been unearthed by the wary traveler, while others are bidding their time. Let us glance through some of the unexplored heritage tour in India and discover what story they have to tell.

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Lost and Found… Petroglyphs from Iron Age, Domkhar, Ladakh
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Domkhar, Ladakh

Recent studies by scholars have revealed some of the lost culture of our forefathers carved on the rocks that forms a vast museum, secluded and untouched up in the undulated highland of Domkhar, in Ladakh. These rock arts embody the lifestyle of the pre-historic era that dates back to the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC. These ancient art forms dating back to the Iron Age showcases a narrative form with scenes depicting hunting, wars and festivals. It also has images of various animal species as well as stylish human figures. The petroglyphs in Domkhar, surely a gateway to the lost era, were first noticed by The Moravian Missionary A.H. Francke in 1902. These rock arts thave striking resemblance to those unearthed in the Central Asian steppes. The Domkhar rock art sanctuary falls on the Khaltse-Batalik route, approximately 120 kilometers away from Leh, and houses some of the finest engravings on display. Other places that house such unexplored heritage in Ladakh are the sites of Takmachik, Shara and Ledo.

The Chhattishgarh You Didn’t Know…

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The Laxman Temple- Sirpur

Hewed out from the state of Madhya Pradesh, the history of Chhattishgarh dates back to the early 10thcentury and has been dominated by several dynasties over the years, namely the Sarabhpurias, Panduavanshi, Somvanshi, Kalachuri and Nagvanshi. Engraved inscription further reveals that Sirpur, a town that is approximately 80 kilometers from Raipur, further dates back to the 5th century and hosts one of the finest brick temples, the Laxman Temple, with a stone doorframe and intrinsic cravings. Set in the midst of a lush green landscape, the Laxman Temple, which is still one of the unexplored heritage sites in India, was first discovered by Lord Cunningham in the year 1872. Further excavations in and around the site unfolded 12 Buddh Viharas, 1 Jain Vihara, monolithic statues of Buddha and Mahavira, 22 Shiv temples and 5 Vishnu temples. Some other attractions of Sirpur are the Gandheshwar Mahadev Temple, ruins of Swastik Vihar, ruins of ancient market and Surang Tila.

Ruins of Devrani and Jethani Temples, Bilaspur

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Ruins of Jethani Temple

Once part of the Kalchuri dynasty of Ratanpur, Bilaspur today is the second largest city in Chhattishgarh that exhibits the ruins of a vast temple complex holding intrinsic sculptures conforming Shilpa Sastra and various mythological beliefs. Approximately 30 kilometers from Bilaspur, the ruins of Devrani and Jethani Temples in Talagaon are still the riddles of an iconic era. Portraying the artistic works from the Guptan style, the temple complex is said to date back to the 6th century AD. Nonetheless, several attempts have failed to establish similarities between the art style of the Devrani and Jethani Temples with that of Gandhara and Mathura. The closest match could be the ruins at Sisdevri of Baloda Bazaar Tahsil in Raipur District of Chhattisgarh. The detailed work carved on the walls still demonstrates images and sculptures of reptiles, mammals, humans, insects as well as daemons. Most of the temple complex is in ruins with fragmented sculptures lying scattered all around.

Rock Cuts and Brick works from the Tale of two religions from Unakoti Hills and Boxanagar respectively, Tripura

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Rock Arts from Unakoti Hills

Far into the North East of India, steer to the Unakoti Hills, that lies approximately 180 kilometers away from Agartala. In the midst of vast natural diversity, there is an ancient pilgrimage site with huge rock-cut images and stone sculpture of Lord Shiva that dates back to the 7th – 9th centuries. Other than the rock-cut sculpture of Lord Shiva, it also hosts images and carves artifacts of various Hindu deities like Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga.

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Ancient Buddhist remains. Brick Works from Boxanagar

Approximately 200 kilometers south-west from Unakoti and 40 kilometers from Agartala, Boxanagar hosts the remains of an ancient brick structure delving into the footsteps of Buddhism in North-East India. The site exhibits a sprawling gallery, in the midst of a lush green landscape, of Buddhist stupa, chaityagriha, a monastery and other associated burnt brick structures. Moreover Boxanagar, hitherto an unknown era… has exhibited several remnants that leavens the museum of ancient Tripura.

The Deccan Edge, Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh

 

Asirgad Fort, Burhanpur

Named after Sheikh Burhan-ud-Din, Burhanpur is one of the historical sites that recently came into the eyes of travellers and is the grandeur of Madhya Pradesh Tourism. It hosts several monuments reflecting the Mughal Era. The Sarai and Ahukhana weretwo sites that were Royal leisure pavilions during the Mughal time and is believed that the body of Mumtaj Mahal was buried at this place for six months before she was shifted to Taj Mahal in Agra. Further Burhanpur also hosts a mosque, the Jama Masjid; Raja ki Chatri, which was built by Emperor Aurangazed in the memory of Raja Jai Singh; Dargah-E- Hakimi that is an Islamic pilgrimage site; Asirgad Fort that secludes a temple dedicated to Hindu Goddess Asha-devi; Shahi Qila and a Gurudwara.

Relics from the Mughal Era that is close to New Delhi, Farrukhnagar, in the border of Gurgaon and Jhajjar districts

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Ruins of Sheesh Mahal, Farrukhnagar Fort

Farrukhnagar is a medieval gallery exhibiting the imperial era of the Mughals. The historical town was founded by Faujdar Khan, the first Nawab of Farrukhnagar and a governor of Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar in 1732. The town exhibits several monuments like Sheesh Mahal, Baoli and Jama Masjid that was built by Faujdar Khan. The town also hosts many memorials. The architectural works display an unique combination of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.

Bengal over Clay… Bishnupur, Joypur, Kotulpur and Gokulnagar

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Rasmancha Temple, Bishnupur

Approximately 140 kilometers away from the cultural capital of India, Kolkata, Bishnupur is a popular weekend destination for the Bongs, and is still a less explored part for global travellers. Bishnupur hosts some of the finest examples of terracotta temples built during the reign of Malla Rulers of Bengal,dating back to the mid 7th century. Most of the terracotta works flourished in the late 17th century and today Bishnupur is dotted with 21 terracotta temples that mark an essential part of unexplored heritage tour in India. These temples, depicting various themes from ancient epics, are dedicated to various Hindu deities and one can enjoy the impressive art works hanging on the walls of Rasmancha Temple, Jor-Bangla Temple, Pancha Ratna Temple.

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Madanmohan Temple, Lalji Temple and Radha Madhava Temple

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Giri Gobardhan Mandir and Sridhar Temple- Kotulpur

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Gokulnagar’s Gokulchand Temple

En route the unique terracotta temple works of Depara and Dattapara at Joypur, the heritage of Bengal drives further to the terracotta works of Giri Gobardhan Mandir and Sridhar Temple, which is located in Kotulpur. Further heading… the five-pinnacled Gokulchand Temple at Gokulnagar is yet another impressive terracotta work.

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Shah Alam’s Tomb and Bridge over Sahibi River-Wazirabad Delhi

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Shah Alam was a famous saint who rose to prominence during the rule of Feroze Shah Tughlaq in 14th century. History says Shah Alam’s Tomb was erected by Feroze Shah Tughlaq himself after Shah Alam’s death.

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This tomb is located at the crossing of Outer Ring Road and Loni Road in the locale of Wazirabad near the banks of Yamuna River. Adjoining the tomb of Shah Alam, there is a mosque with three domes.

Architecture of Shah Alam’s Tomb:

Shah Alam’s Tomb in Delhi stands as a symbol of homage to the famous saint of 14th century. The attraction of Shah Alam’s Tomb is the architectural splendor and intricate designs of the tomb.
• Besides the tomb of Shah Alam, there exists a mosque with three domes that rest on 12 pillars.

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• There is a chamber for prayer which is sliced by five arches and is two-bay deep.
• A tiny chamber in the mosque, which was built for the use by women. (Previously I was informed by the priest there that the chamber was made by the Imam). The delicate and elaborate screens of the chamber are testimony to the structural perfection of the tomb and architectural beauty of the site.

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• The square-shaped tomb of the saint was built in the courtyard of the mosque
• There is also a bridge with nine arches that was built over a nullah. The oldest bridge of Delhi, it was built of rubble so that it could resist Yamuna River’s water from entering the drain.The bridge Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388) built on the Yamuna at Wazirabad has been in use for over six centuries. The Yamuna no longer flows below it. Instead, filth and overgrown shrubs lie below. But the bridge still looks sturdy. With its arches, colonnades and screened windows, the bridge was an engineering marvel when it was built in the 14th century. With the Delhi Government building an ambitious overpass at Wazirabad—and that too a bit too close to the heritage structure—it’s not only the bridge but also the adjoining tomb of Sufi saint Shah Alam, a medieval mosque and a gallery for women devotees that are under threat.

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I had several hand clicked photos Shah Alam’s Tomb, intricately carved stone lattices of Women’s chamber in mosque and the bridge but lost them during formatting my computer. Hence all the photos are from Internet.

Source:
Internet

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Afsarwala (?) Mosque and Tomb Complex

Afsarwala Mosque & Tomb Complex.

Afsarwala_tomb_and_mosque,_near_Humayun's_Tomb,_1803_painting
Afsarwala Mosque and Tomb Complex
1803 Painting

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Mosque of Afsarwala

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Tomb of Afsarwala

Internet

The mosque sits on a raised platform, to the southwest of Humayun’s Tomb. The tomb adjacent to the mosque is better preserved.
Though the identity of the person buried in the tomb is not known, it is popularly believed that he was some noble or military officer during the time of Mughal emperor Akbar.
But who knows it may be a name given in a later period and not the original name.
The interior of both mosque & tomb were once beautifully decorated, with the carved medallions still visible. However most of the decorations are now lost with time & even the plaster is now flaking away from the walls & roof.

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A reminder of the past

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A well decorated grave in the tomb of Afsarwala

The tomb is cruciform in plan and contains 6 graves, one of them inscribed with verses from the Koran & the number 974, which probably refers to the date in the Hijra era corresponding to AD 1566-67. Out of the 6 graves in the tomb- 1is principal the principal grave and 5 others. [1 is a females grave]).
The Afsarwala Tomb has a grave with the date 974 marked on it, that corresponds to 1566-67. (Akbars Period – 1542, to1605). The tomb and mosque were built sometime before 1566, based on the date is inscribed on one of the graves inside.
The building is of local quartzite with red sandstones.. The domes are topped by inverted-lotus filials. At one time perhaps their domes were covered with plaster & tiles, but now they have lost all artwork,
S.A.A.Naqvi’s writing in 1947 mentions unidentified graves in the courtyard of the mosque, but these must have been done away with and are no longer to be seen.

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A solitary grave is a grim reminder of unidentified graves in the courtyard of the mosque

Source:

Book: Delhi Travel Guide
By Bluworlds, Joydip Das
Internet
Trip Advisor
Delhi Information (Explore Indian Capitol)
Pixelated Memories
Afsarwala Tomb and Mosque-India Picks
File: Afsarwala Tomb and mosque, near Humayun’s tomb. 1803 Painting.

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Madhi Masjid and Baagh e Naazir-Delhi

I chanced upon Madhi Mansjid whils I was looking for Baagh e Naazir.

Little did I know that the area has now been taken over by Ashoka Mission, a Buddhist organization.

Baagh e Naazir (“Garden of Nazir”) was built by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila’s Khwaja Sara (chief eunuch) Nazir in 1748 (1161 A.H.).

It is located in Mehrauli, near Jamali Kamali and Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
This garden contained a number of pavilions, the most notable among which was made of red sandstone. Others were made of stone and plaster. The garden was surrounded by a stone wall, large sections of which still exist.

800px-Buddhist_shrine_that_used_be_a_dalan(_pavilion)_,_Baagh_e_Naazir,_Mehrauli,_New_DelhiBuddhist shrine that used to be a dalan( pavilion), Baagh e Naazir, Mehrauli, New Delhi

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Detailed view of the sandstone facade,Baagh e Naazir, Mehrauli, New Delhi67px-Late_mughal_sandstone_facade_at_the_back_of_the_buddhist_shrine,Baagh_e_Naazir,_Mehrauli,_New_DelhiLate mughal sandstone facade at the back of the buddhist shrine,Baagh e Naazir, Mehrauli, New Delhi

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s seminal work on the monuments of Delhi, Aasar us Sanadeed , contains a description and a sketch of the monument as it appeared in 1854.

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Sketch of Baagh e Naazir. sketched by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1854 for Aasar us Sanadeed

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Inscription on the gateway of Bagh e Naazir, as recorded in Aasar us Sanadeed

Madhi Masjid (The Forgotten)

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Massive gateway to the Madhi Masjid (Old Photo)

Madhi Masjid
Its prayer hall combines the features of an open wall-mosque and a covered mosque. It is profusely ornamented with colored tiles. Based on the massive proportions of its square gateway like the gateway of Bara Gumbad, this mosque can be assigned to Lodi or early Mughal period.

Looking for BaghiNazir I stopped on the road at a signboard that reads “Jain Mandir Dadabadi”.

I thought of going to Jain Mandir, hence took a left turn, and suddenly chanced to see Fort-like boundary walls and an ancient well!

The Builder or period when Madhi Masjid was built is unknown, but the architecture is similar to the Lodi Garden tombs hence presumably it may belong to the same period- late Lodi or early Mughal.

The mosque is an unusual combination of a covered mosque and a wall mosque. It retains some remnants of colorful tiles used for decoration. Its Central Mihrab, faces west in the direction of Medina.

Its small serrated star-shaped depressions, slender elegant minarets, exquisite plasterwork medallions inscribed with Quranic calligraphy and geometric patterns, finely-described “kangura” patterns (battlement-like leaf motif ornamentation) and a line of slightly slanting eaves (“chajja”) supported upon seemingly heavy stone brackets. Each rectangular chamber is pierced by three arched entrances and their roofs, though externally perfectly flat, are marked corresponding each squat entrance by three concave domes along their interiors which are supported on rudimentarily simplistic honeycomb brackets. Towards the rear, the corners are fortified with immensely thick conical towers. Exquisite plasterwork medallions inscribed with calligraphy, finely-described “kangura” patterns and overhanging windows (“jharokha”) surmounted by melon-like fluted domes.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done a remarkably commendable job in conserving the monument, restoring its numerous ornamental features and maintaining the tiny grass-covered space abutting its gateway.

Madhi Masjid is one of Delhi’s exquisitely carved medieval monuments but was forgotten amidst wilderness with supreme cultural indifference.

Source:

Translation of Aasar Us Sanaadeed, 2nd edition. By Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, published by Delhi Urdu Academy, Delhi.

Internet

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Tales of Lost Pride

Article taken in toto from Internet

Living a `lost’ legacy

Of the many descendants of the Moghuls living in Hyderabad are Begum Laila Umhani and her sister Husn Jahanara Begum and their families. Shorn of any royal or political patronage, the sons of Laila Umhani have adapted themselves to survive in today’s world.

The reclusive Begum Laila Umhani

THE KUTCHA road in the suburb of Asman gadh of Hyderabad goes up like a memory lane to the house of the descendants of the Moghuls. These surroundings are hardly the kind their ancestors would have dreamt of for their scions. The fourth and fifth generation of the dynasty, which spanned more than 300 years of Indian history, lives today in conditions hardly befitting their grand lineage. Bereft of her royal legacy, Begum Laila Umhani, the great, great granddaughter of the last Moghul emperor of the country, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his wife Begum Ashraf Mahal, leads a quiet unpretentious life with her two sons and their families.

The unobtrusive, cloistered world of Begum Laila, an octogenarian, was thrown open with the making of a documentary The Living Moghuls produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and financed by Prasar Bharti and directed by Arijeet Gupta. Screened on the national network on television and at special screenings in New Delhi, this documentary unravels the story of their survival down the decades.

As one enters the home of Ziauddin Tucy, the eldest son of the Begum (his brother Masihuddin Tucy is also present) one is struck by the stark middle-class ambience. Except for a few photographic portraits of some of the erstwhile Moghul emperors, the house looks like any ordinary home shorn of any grandeur or ostentation that their forefathers lived in. The documentary traces the history of this family of Bahadur Shah Zafar after his arrest and exile to Rangoon during the Revolt of 1857 till 2002. It records the statement of Ziauddin on how one of the sons of Bahadur Shah Mirza Quwaish fled from India to Kathmandu, Udaipur before landing in Aurangabad. His son Mirza Abdullah came to Hyderabad around 1895 in search of shelter. Abdullah’s son Mirza Pyare (the father of Begum Laila Umhani and her sister, another octogenarian) married one of the close granddaughters of Khan Bahadur Tipu Khan, a close associate of the Nizam.
History is rather silent on the period after the Revolt. But memory is a gift mankind possesses by which many things are passed on to posterity.

Memory Lane:

The Begum leads a quiet, unpretentious life with her two sons and their families.
Begum Laila Umhani recounts her younger days when her father spoke glowingly about the magnificent royal court and the times of crisis – tales that he had heard from his father and grandfather to his friends. “I have very faint memories of my grandmother but I used to find my father’s descriptions interesting,” she says with a smiling face. And through this she imbibed details of her royal genealogy.

Even now when she does remember snatches of incidents, she acquaints the grandchildren of their family tree.

What is surprising is the family’s anonymity. The nonchalant approach of other people is intriguing. Very few know of their presence and their ancestry. “While some who know respect us, there are others who even doubt our lineage. Who are we today? What is left of the past? There is nobody to listen to our fariyad. So it is better to remain anonymous. This is life – full of ups and downs,” says a stoic Begum. “We are leading this life as we have unfortunately, not reaped any benefits of any sort. With great persuasion, my mother consented to speak to Arijeet Gupta who made many trips to Hyderabad. The documentary was made and we are still what we are. Nobody from the government (Central or State) has come forward to take notice of us or help us,” rules Ziauddin Tucy.
The family has seen rough times indeed – during the Nizam’s rule, police action and post-independence.

Their late father’s property (quite a few hundred acres) was confiscated under the Jagirdari Act and Inam Abolition Act. “The cases are pending in the Revenue courts,” inform the brothers. Their father “hailed from the family of Nizam-ul-Mulk Tucy who was prime minister to the kingdom of Baghdad,” they add.

Such circumstances forced the sons (the Begum has four sons, one died some years ago and three daughters) to look for avenues for employment.

After all one cannot live merely under a lost glory. Ziauddin joined government service, but retains the interest in poetry like Bahadur Shah Zafar himself. Masihuddin, on his return from the Middle East, took up a job as a food consultant with the ITC Welcome Group of Hotels. Masihuddin is trying to revive and popularise the lashkari cuisine of the Moghuls. The third brother is in the Middle East. The brothers have brought up their cause for upliftment but so far their pleas have gone unheard. “For the last forty years we have made representations for jobs and shelter but nothing has happened,” says a bitter Ziauddin. It is surprising to know that both live in rented houses quite close to each other and are yet to possess a house of their own. “We want justice to be done so that our children’s welfare would be ensured,” chips in Masihuddin.

What about the other members of the family? The family has established the Moghul Family Society (a Trust) for the welfare of its members and has publicised it in the media. When asked about the presence of another contender, Pakeeza Begum, who also belongs to the fourth generation of Bahadur Shah, the brothers reply “despite the media coverage, nobody has come forward so far. When we were in Delhi for the screening of the documentary (a special screening was arranged at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi on August 10 which was attended by diplomats, historians and many cultural personalities) we heard about this. We will welcome any such member to the Trust. Since the family of Bahadur Shah (after his exile to Rangoon) got scattered (as some of the sons fled) it is difficult to keep track of the family. We know one line is in Burma (now Myanmar) as one of Bahadur Shah’s sons married a Burmese and settled down there and another one at Kolkata. Our aunt (mother’s sister Husn Jahanara Begum – named after emperor Jahangir’s daughter) is feeble and bedridden while our maternal uncle is no more.

While the governments in the country have not helped the family, the brothers were invited to Uzbekistan to attend the 510th birth anniversary of Babur.
Begum Laila reminds everyone in the family about the heritage and keeps the genealogical tree alive besides the cuisine of the emperors. “She is my professor in cuisine matters,” says Masihuddin, who is engaged in research on lashkari cuisine.

She has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren who still do not know of their glorious past. Perhaps even if they know, their footprints will be lost in the sands of time like those of the rest if nothing is done. They will go into the annals of history as unsung members of a great dynasty.

But for the time being, every minute of life is being lived against historical and biological clocks which tick away.

The last lines of the documentary end aptly with the lines from the Baburnama which concludes “Like us many have spoken over `history’ but they were gone in the twinkling of an eye. We conquered the world with bravery and might, but we did not take it with us to the grave.”

The last Mughal

Pakeezah Begum is the last direct descendant of the Mughal emperors, the great-great granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Pakeezah Begum‘s great grandfather was Mirza Fakhru,
the last official claimant to the Mughal throne.

Lagta nahin hai dil meraa ujde dayaar mein
(My heart has no repose in this despoiled land)
Kis ki bani hai a’alam-e-napaayedaar mein
(Who has ever felt fulfilled in this futile world)

When Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor to have ruled India, wrote these lines, he would have scarce believed that one day, they would best describe the situation his last surviving relative would face. Zafar died in exile in Burma’s Rangoon, present day Yangon, sent there by the British to spend his last days in solitude. It was a punishment inflicted on the ageing king for having challenged the authority of the colonial masters during the 1857 war of independence, also termed as the sepoy mutiny. Pakeezah Begum, who describes herself as the last surviving direct descendant of the great Mughals, who once ruled this subcontinent for centuries, is also in exile, in a sense.

A few years ago, Pakeezah Begum told William Dalrymple, India based British author that Delhi was built by her ancestors, a claim with certain historical merit. Dalrymple put that in his book, City of Djinns. When reminded of her pronouncement, she chuckles. “Well, of course, not just Delhi but all of India belongs to the Mughals,” she says, sitting in her Noida home. It has been three to four years since she has shifted here, to live with the family of one of her relatives. “I came here after my husband expired. My in-laws wanted a division of the house we shared in Neeti Bagh. I sold off my share and shifted here,” she says. Her husband, Danial Latifi, was a famous jurist who represented Shah Bano in the case regarding alimony post-divorce for Muslim women in the late 1980s. They married late. “My mother was paralysed and I had to tend to her. That is why my marriage was delayed and I could not have any children,” she adds.  

One of the very first things she says is that she does not like living in Noida, which is in Uttar Pradesh, just across the Delhi-UP border. “I feel unhappy that I left Delhi. I don’t like the aab-o-hawa (environment) here. My friends are there. So are the clubs I am a member of, like the Gymkhana club, and the India International Centre. I miss the company I kept. It is disgusting.”

While there are several claimants to the Mughal ancestry, Pakeezah Begum asserts that she is the last surviving direct descendant of the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. “I am the great-great granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the great granddaughter of the last Wali Ahd (successor) to the throne and the granddaughter of his only surviving son,” she explains, insisting that this complicated bit of lineage is grasped properly by this correspondent.

Pakeezah Begum told William Dalrymple that Delhi was built by her ancestors. Dalrymple put this in his book, City of Djinns.

According to historical records, Mirza Fakhru, alias Mirza Fateh-ul-Mulk Wali Ahd Bahadur, was the last official claimant to the Mughal throne. However, he was killed along with almost everyone of the royal family by the British, post the 1857 war. His son, Mirza Farkhunda Jamal, was saved by his wet nurse, who stealthily smuggled him out of the capital and kept him away for five years before returning after general amnesty was assured by the British, narrates Pakeezah Begum. “She kept his identity concealed during those years to protect him,” she says.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Mirza Fakhru was married to the niece of Mirza Ilahi Bux. At the latter’s name, the Begum’s eyes shine with unconcealed contempt. “He was a traitor. He was in cahoots with the British and got everyone from the royal family killed,” she says. However, Ilahi Bux saved his niece from being killed and kept her with him following the mutiny. It was to this house that Mirza Jamal was brought back to and where he grew up. Later on, he married one of Bux’s daughters. 

Pakeezah Begum spent her childhood in Old Delhi, like everyone else in her family. Her father, Mirza Jamal’s son, died when she was still a child. “I can recognise him only through his remaining photographs,” she says.

Her father was appointed as the panch of the area near Jama Masjid, Daryagunj and Kucha Chelan by the British. “He considered the populace of Delhi as his subjects in his mind,” says the Begum. “People would come to him and tell him that they had a marriage at their home and needed to feed a few hundred people. He was a very good hunter, like the others men in the house. He would go hunting and shoot down deer which he would later give away to the needy,” she says. During monsoons, the family would go to Qutub Sahib, near Qutb Minar, rent a house and have night-long revelries. “They really used to live it up,” adds the Begum.

The British granted her father a pension, which was inherited by her mother after the former passed away. However, the pension stopped with her demise.

Pakeezah Begum was sent to the Aligarh Muslim University for her studies as the situation after Independence was still not considered safe in Delhi. After completing her studies, she came back, at the insistence of her mother. She got a job at the Lady Shri Ram College, but since she was not fond of teaching, she quit and took up a librarian’s job at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, under the Ministry of External Affairs. Later, she served on the Africa desk at the ministry and became the director of Foreign Cultural Centres in the capital.

She is not the only living descendant of the Mughals. There are others, in Hyderabad and Kolkata, who claim the legacy. However, the Begum reiterates that unlike them, she is descended directly from the emperor and this gives her the “superiority” over their claims.
The claim of her family was recognised by the Indian government when her mother was invited to a function to commemorate the failed mutiny or the war for independence, after India won its freedom. “They carried my mother on a takht (throne) to the venue. Panditji (Nehru) asked her if she had any problems. But we never asked the government for anything,” she says.

Pakeezah Begum is now in her 70s. She is a heart patient and finds it difficult to move around without aid. Her trips to Old Delhi have completely stopped. “No one lives in our old house now,” she laments. She visits Delhi sometimes for her health check-ups, a city she now finds hard to identify with. “It is completely changed from our times. It is so congested, with flats coming on top of each-other,” she rues. All one hopes is that at the end of her days, she would not be reminded of another couplet written by her ancestor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Kitnaa hai badnaseeb zafar dafan ke liye
(How unfortunate is Zafar, that for his burial)
Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku’h-e-yaar mein
(Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.)

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Article taken in toto from Internet

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