Ancient World

The Mayan Civilisation

With temple-pyramids that were perfectly aligned with the sun and the stars, observatories, astronomy, mathematics and a calendar system, thrived the ancient Mayan civilization for over 3000 years.

By Priya Narayan

In Central America’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador rest the remains of an ancient civilization which had raised moments of doomsday anxiety in the modern world with a calendar that ended on 21st December 2012.

It emerged in 2600 BC, evolving into many independent states before declining around 900 AD. The perfect geometrical temples, palaces and observatories that the Mayans left behind are all the more impressive for having been built without metal tools and implements.

Known for their art, mathematics, astronomy and complex religious beliefs, the Mayans were one of the ancient civilizations with a deciphered hieroglyphic script, giving us a glimpse into their life and beliefs. They were skilled farmers who had cleared vast tracts of the tropical forest, built underground reservoirs to store rainwater, and were skilled weavers and potters with extensive trade networks.

The Mayan cities were densely populated and were generally the administrative and religious capitals. Unlike the neat perpendicular grids

of other ancient civilizations, these cities were unplanned with temples and palaces being torn down and rebuilt over time. This left the Mayans with city boundaries that were not well-defined, although a few had moats or defensive earthworks around them. City walls were rare, and the few that were found, dated to the collapse of the civilization, pointing towards cities under siege at this stage.

Tikal in Guatemala is home to many of the magnificent structures, including the Temple of the Giant Jaguar, Temple of the Masks, the North Acropolis, among others.


The towering temple pyramids were built from hand cut limestone blocks, often with paintings on them and images carved. Some housed tombs of high priests with personal items buried with them.

While temples were the imposing structures, palaces made up the bulk of Mayan construction. Single-storeyed in general and built on platforms lower than those of temples, palaces had multiple rooms and one or more courtyards. Yet, the narrow and spartan rooms raise doubts which do not have answers – did the rulers and the elite actually live in them? Or as a few other archeologists conjecture, did priests, nuns or religious figures occupy them?

Reservoirs, steam baths and ball courts were common too. The cities often had pillars or stelae, built sometimes on platforms, and facing important


temples and palaces, usually with an altar in front. Religion was central to the Mayans who worshipped hundreds of Gods and compounds were built for citizens to view the frequent religious ceremonies performed on platforms above the cities.


People continue to gather each year at the temple pyramid, El Castillo in Chichen Itza, the principle Mayan city in the Yucatan peninsula during the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes. The Sun gradually illuminates the stairs of the pyramid and the serpent head at the base, creating the image of a snake slithering down the sacred mountain.

This is just one example of the Mayans aligning their ceremonial buildings with precision with the Sun and the stars and they did this to venerate the Gods. Visit the Tomb of Pacal, the Mayan Emperor, in the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque and you’ll find that it’s aligned with the Sun. At winter solstice, the Sun enters a temple doorway as it crosses the sky, falls on the back wall, and when the Sun sets, it is in line with the centre of the temple roof, seeming to descend the temple stairway into the tomb, thus equating Pacal’s death and entry into the underworld with that of the Sun.


Mayan art is known for its intricate designs and paintings, decorations on ceramics, flint, bone and shell, in addition to decorated cotton textiles. What little metal they used was for ceremonial purposes and in necklaces, bracelets and headdresses. Carvings in wood, stone and clay were found in Mayan sites, so were terracotta figurines.

Much of the art, inscriptions and architecture were commissioned by kings to be remembered over the centuries. Copan’s hieroglyphic stairway with statues, figures, ramps and the central stairway depicts the history of the royal descent.

The Fall

Out of the many theories that try to solve the mystery of the Mayan decline, the more popular ones refer to drought and climate change. Sediment samples from Belize’s Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole, showed fewer tropical cyclones and longer droughts during the period of the Mayan decline. This in turn could have led to famine and war and the eventual disintegration of a once great civilization.

Doomsday Prophecy

21st December 2012 has come and gone, and the earth lives on. When the date was still some months away, doomsday theories ran rife based on the fact that the ancient Mayan calendar ended on that day. The Mayans with their advanced astronomy, mathematics and calendar, it was argued, had foreseen the world’s end.

Saner voices said that it simply was the end of the 13th Bak’tun, an approximately 400-year period in the Mayan long count calendar and with the end of the day, the new cycle begins.

Indus Valley Civilisation

Indus Valley’s relics tell us the story of this ancient civilisation, its yet-to-be deciphered script leaving us with only theories about why this well-planned, peaceful civilisation disappeared.

By Priya Narayan

Indus Valley or the Harappan Civilisation was one of the first civilisations and continues to be one of the most intriguing ones. Not only was it spread across a vast area covering many present day countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India – it was also ahead of its time in its technology. One’s interest is piqued when one sees the undeciphered script; the craftsmanship of jewellery, pottery, sculptures, figurines, seals; their practical knowledge of mathematics and early dentistry.

Flourishing almost 5,000 years ago along the Indus river, the civilisation’s most famous sites are Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Archaeological evidence of terracotta toys, pots, vessels and urns show that the civilisation thrived on trade and agriculture. The presence of Indus seals in Mesopotamia goes to prove the trading history of the civilisation. The granaries – massive structures constructed with air ducts and platforms, allowing safe storage of large quantities of grains – point towards its reliance on agriculture.


Part of the Bronze Age, the inhabitants knew metallurgy – they had used copper, bronze, lead and tin. Mud bricks or baked bricks, uniform in dimension were used in construction. It is believed that wood was used in structures like the warehouse, although there is no concrete evidence, since wood does not last as stone does across millennia.

Sites in Gujarat

Dholavira, Lothal and Surkatada stand as the civilisation’s reminders in Gujarat. Evidence suggests that Harappans probably moved here when the civilisation was on decline.

Dholavira, one of the largest Indus Valley sites in India, lies in the Rann of Kutch. It is known for its large stadium and its unique underground reservoir which may have been used for rainwater harvesting.

Lothal, translating to ‘Place of the Dead’, is a couple of hours drive from Ahmedabad. It is famous for its shipping dock for trade and the warehouse for storage of trading goods.

Surkatada, known for its painted pottery, is located near Bhuj. It is characterised by the burial of utensils with the dead which was common during the mummification of pharaohs in Egypt.

Why did the Indus Valley Civilisation disappear?

Lack of evidence of weaponry of any kind indicates a peaceful lifestyle with little conflict. Many theories exist for the decline and disappearance of the Indus Valley civilisation. Some point towards disease, others towards shifting of the river Indus, yet others point towards a natural decline. Perhaps, the most interesting theory is that of Aryan invasions aided by natural decline, leading to the end of the civilisation.

City Planning

The Citadel, prominent in Mohenjodaro is one of the largest and most important structures in the Indus Valley civilisation. Rising above other structures of the city, often as high as 12 metres, they were constructed on mounds of bricks. The Citadel is believed to have been used for administrative or religious purposes. It is also possible that the ruling class lived in this area. While the Citadel was considered the higher and the upper portion of the city, walled outside this structure was the lower portion which consisted of houses, larger buildings and public baths.

The town was so well-planned that broad streets intersected at right angles along which houses were built. These lanes were lined with drains which led sewage out of the city. It is believed that the lanes and drainage system were constructed ahead of the houses. Water and drainage from the houses, kitchens, roofs and latrines was collected in separate pits which were regularly cleaned.

Houses differed by social class. The rich had baked brick houses with large courtyards that led to multiple rooms. These houses were constructed on plinths and must have stood slightly above street level as stairs were used at the entrance, opening into lanes rather than onto the main street. The entrance generally led to the courtyard of the house which often had a private well that could be accessed by outsiders though a separate opening. Toilets within the building were directly connected to the drains outside. Often, these structures were two-storeyed with open roofs and spaces for windows.

One of the first of its kind, The Great Bath was a large 12m x 7m brick water tank made water-tight using gypsum and bitumen (natural tar) with a ledge around it. Stairs descended into the pool from the north and south ends. Two large doors served as the main entrance in the south and rooms were lined parallel to each other on the eastern side. A drain pipe collected water from the main bath with smaller pipes connected to the rooms on the east. These pipes led to the main drainage lines on the streets. The baths may have been used not just as public baths but also for religious rituals or by the clergy.


The Assembly Hall was another large building made of kiln-baked bricks with multiple pillars within the structure. It was probably used as the ruler’s court and as the municipal office in charge of town planning and sanitation.
The Indus Valley sites also had interesting structures like public toilets, water tanks, step wells and dockyards. Despite the presence of these well-planned structures, no major architectural work was found that could represent power and wealth. Cities were organised for comfort and convenience, not something one can find easily even today.

As much of this civilisation remains a mystery, the sites continue to fascinate archaeologists, tourists and students from around the world.

When in Rome…

From amphitheatres to basilicas, from aqueducts to baths, Roman architecture survives to this day, if not in the structures themselves, then in modern construction, through its principles of firmness, function and beauty.

By Priya Narayan

ROMAN architecture surpasses most architectural styles in terms of utility and beauty, and even today the monuments attract over 10 million tourists annually. The principles for this were laid down thousands of years ago by Vitruvius who is also known as the father of architectural acoustics.

He brought about 3 major concepts:

1. Firmitas (firmness) – well-constructed buildings having structure
2. Utilitas (commodity) – creating designs which serve a function
3. Venustas (beauty) – order and arrangement of the structure and its components

Rome has now become a travel destination for most people and is the third most visited city in the European Union. These structures have not only stood the test of time but have also greatly influenced Western architecture. Ask anyone about Rome and they could talk about the Colosseum, the Pantheon or the Trevi Fountains without having even visited the place.

In addition to these monuments, there are thousands of aqueducts, theatres, amphitheatres, basilicas, and baths in and around Rome that not only add to the grandeur of the city but have also come to define it over the years.


Concrete played an important role in building these structures as opposed to fired clay bricks and marble that was previously used in construction. This was because concrete was a strong material that could hold a lot of weight, enabling larger structures and more flexible architectural designs. Moreover, this material was cheap and durable.


An aqueduct is a kind of bridge that enables passage of water over ravines or valleys. They are characterised by huge arches that go up to three tiers at times and add to the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes of Rome. Their main purpose was to provide water to the urban centres in ancient Rome. Pont du Gard near Nimes is one of the famous aqueducts to have survived. These highly impressive structures serve as a perfect example of Vitruvius’ principles that combine utility and beauty.



There are also numerous Roman temples that held significant religious value in Ancient Rome. Enormous columns structured around a single rectangular structure in the centre forms a Roman temple. The interior consists of a large hall that holds the image of the deity. There were religious ceremonies that were held outside the main building and were open to public. The image of the deity would then be brought from inside and an animal would be sacrificed at an open air altar. Maison Carree in Nimes is a famous temple that has survived over the centuries.



Roman baths were scenic with their elegant arches and brilliantly crafted domes and vaults. Public baths were huge complexes that included pools, fountains, libraries and heating facilities. In addition to this, impressive columns and statues made of marble and intricate mosaic designs gave this structure a palatial feel. Such a bath would surely be welcome after a stressful day at work. The Caracalla is one of the best examples of such a bath.


The basilicas were originally public court buildings located adjacent to the Roman market place. They were used for transactions of building or legal matters. Over time, they became associated with Christian buildings and came to be regarded as important churches with ceremonial rights given by the pope. These buildings were usually named after the person who funded the construction of the basilica.

A vast circular dome on top of a square formed out of four arches was the basic architectural formation of a basilica. They are known for their magnificent dome-shaped roofs that are supported by long pillars and comprise large halls and high arches in addition to their elegant structures and intricate details.

The clerestories denoted an upper level of a Roman basilica or of the nave of a Romanesque or Gothic church, the walls of which rise above the roof lines of the lower aisles and are pierced with windows, which allowed light from above to illuminate the nave.

One of the most visited basilicas in Rome is St Peter’s Basilica, which serves as the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Two of Constantine’s churches in Rome, the basilicas of St Peter’s and that of St Paul’s have new architectural features.


The Romans were known for their grandeur and this is best depicted in their theatres – a semi-circular structure with a roofed stage in the centre, which often had columns for support and multiple stories, decorated with exquisite sculptures of gods, deities or heroes. The stage faced a massive seating arrangement which was in the form of a slope with steps for sitting. Very few Roman theatres have survived owing to the fact that most theatres were built out of wood initially and were destroyed once the festival for which they were erected ended.

The amphitheatre, however, is a spectacle with its oval or circular-shaped open roof structure with a seating structure similar to that of the Roman theatre. Amphitheatres were famously used for gladiatorial combats that were held during the death of an eminent personality or during state-sponsored festivals. Amphitheaters and the combats represented the power and authority of the rulers and emperors.

The most famous amphitheatre that has been depicted hundreds of times in present day media and art forms is the Colosseum. One can picture the Colosseum with hundreds of thousands of Romans sitting there cheering the gladiators while the emperor sits in an exclusive section of the theatre with his family.


Lastly, the residential houses had well-decorated interiors. Private residences often had an atrium, gardens and fountains, which displayed their wealth and power while the less well-off citizens lived in large apartment blocks, called Insula, often with shops lined on the ground floor of such buildings.

The magnificence and grandeur of Ancient Roman architecture lay not only in the major structures or the materials or the intricate designs, but also in the culmination of all these aspects. Symmetry was of utmost importance in these structures and is evident if one takes a stroll around Rome.

Each building is not only beautiful and elegant but also serves a distinct function. Vitruvius’ principles echo in Roman architecture and the constructions stand as a symbol of power, beauty and a rich historical culture.


Jesus Christ in India

Did Jesus spend 16 years of his youth in India? Did he survive crucifixion to live the rest of his life here?

Main stream scholars do not agree that Jesus spent time in india – neither during his early years, nor after crucifixion. Yet, many believe that he did. nicolas notovitch, a Russian war correspondent, claimed in The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ that he found records in a Tibetan monastery that issa, as Jesus was called, had been in india.

“The name issa is very much respected among the Buddhists,” he quotes the chief lama of the Himis monastery.


The Lost Years

Jesus’ familiarity with india goes back to the time when he was a baby. When King Herod ordered every child under the age of two years to be killed, Joseph escaped to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. it was here, says Holger Kersten in Jesus Lived in India, that Jesus could have come in touch with the Buddhists who had their viharas in alexandria.

aras in alexandria. When Jesus was 13 years old, he was to be married off as was the custom. This wasn’t part of Jesus’ plans. Travelling with a caravan of merchants, he left Jerusalem towards Sindh. He travelled through Rajputana to the holy cities of Jagannath and Benaras where he learnt the vedic scriptures from the priests.

Living with people of all castes, he taught them the holy scriptures and said, “God has made no difference between his children, who are all alike dear to him.”

This wasn’t acceptable to the upper castes. When they planned to kill him, issa is warned and he left during the night, going north to the Himalayas and settled in Gautamides, where Gautama came to the world, according to notovitch. Here, he learnt Pali and studied the sacred scrolls of the Buddhist Sutras for six years. Leaving india when he was 26, he reached israel when he was 29.

Swoon Hypothesis

Many hold the theory that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but that he simply swooned, feigning death and escaped later. according to a second theory, his disciples, hearing him groan in the tomb, rescued him. Yet another theory says that Jesus fell into a temporary coma and revived without help in the tomb, which his disciples believed was the resurrection.

Whichever theory we choose to believe, the question arises, where did Jesus Christ go after his revival?

it is believed that Christ travelled to Turkey, Persia, Western Europe and possibly to England too, before he arrived near Kashmir with his mother Mary, according to Kersten. Here, he was known alternately as Yuz asaf and as issa.

Locations like the meadow, Yuz Marg (Meadow of Yuz asaf), 40 kilometres south of Srinagar, between the villages of naugam and nilmge indicate his presence.

The sacred building aish Mugam lies 60 kilometres south-east of Srinagar and 12 kms from Brij Bahara. aish is derived from issa and Mugam is a place of rest. Within the aish Mugam is the sacred relic – the Moses Rod or the Jesus Rod. according to legend, it belongs to Moses himself. Christ is said to have held it.

near the small town of Mari (Murree), now in Pakistan, is an old tomb called Mai Mari da Asthan (Final resting place of Mary) and is venerated as that of issa’s mother.


Throne of Solomon

The Takhat-i-Suleiman or, the Throne of Solomon is a temple atop what is now, the Shankaracharya Hill near Dal Lake in Srinagar. King Gopadatta had it restored about the same time of Christ’s arrival.

The Persian architect who restored the temple left behind four inscriptions on the monument which read, “The mason of this pillar is the suppliant Bahishti Zargar, year fifty and four. Khwahaja, son of Murjan, erected this pillar. At this time, Yuz Asaf proclaimed his prophet hood, year fifty and four. He is Jesus, Prophet of the Children of Israel.”

The year fifty and four is believed to correspond to 78 AD.

Source: Jesus Lived in India, by Holger Kersten

King Shalivahana and Issa

King Shalivahana of the Sakyas was in the Himalayas when he saw a man of fair skin, dressed in white, sitting on a rock. The King asked him who he was.

“I am called a Son of God, born of a virgin,” the man replied. “I am the promoter of the religion of Mlecchas* and hold fast to the principles of absolute truth. When the principles of virtue were downgraded and the Mlecchas were becoming barbarians, I took upon myself the responsibility of turning to be a masiha and assumed prophet hood.”

“What are the principles?” asked the king

“O king, Beings are subject to good and bad feelings. Hence, the body and the heart must be purified; then the deity whom you have in mind be meditated upon. Truth has to be uttered and practised, justice needs to be observed, the mind needs to be trained to concentrate and targeted on the Eternal Soul. And the blissful image of Isa, the giver of happiness, will remain forever in the heart. And I was called Isa Masih.”

This was a reference to Isa and King Shalivahana (ruled between 78-102 CE) in the Bhavishya Purana which is said to be written by Rishi Vyasa.

* Mleccha means non-vedic or non-aryan.


Rozabal – Tomb of Christ

in Srinagar’s old town is a building called Rozabal, an abbreviation of Rauza Bal (Tomb of a Prophet). The inscription at the entrance explains that Yuz asaf is buried here along with another Muslim saint. although the gravestones are oriented in the north-south direction followed by Muslims, a small opening in the burial chamber reveals that the sarcophagus of Yuz asaf rests in the Jewish East-West direction.

Yuz asaf’s carved footprints show what look like scars, their position consistent with the left foot being nailed over the right as was done during Christ’s crucifixion. ancient records acknowledge the tomb is as old as 112 aD.

according to Kersten, Christ may have travelled to the South of india too, returning to Kashmir to die at around 80 years of age.