The Mayan Religion


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This is a presentation I made on Mayan Religion.This one goes out to all the CBSE class XII students who are suffering. I nearly killed myself making this ppt along with a project file, and I really don't want anyone else going through the pain. Who in gods name asks 16 year old's to make a ruddy 50 paged project on a dead religion? That too without the use of wikipedia? If any one is in need of the entire 42 paged project file on Mayan religion, please email me and i'll send it to you.

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The Mayan Religion

  2. 2. So who are the Mayans? The Maya are an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America who have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. Geographically, the Mayan civilization covered what is now Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and part of Mexico Outline of Mayan Borders
  3. 3. In its ancient days, the Mayan civilization spread all over Southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, and had influences in many other South American countries. The Maya never disappeared, even with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. Conquistadores
  4. 4. Today, the Maya and their Descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs. the descendants of the people who built the great cities of Chichen Itza, Bonampak, Uxmal and Altun Ha still exist on the same lands their ancestors did and continue to practice, sometimes in a modified form, the same rituals which would be recognized by a native of the land one thousand years ago
  5. 5. To begin with, religion to Mayans had been extremely important. Their centers of dense population were not cities, but the sites of temple-crowned pyramids, where sacred rites were performed. Their chief deities were spirits of the forest and sky, and the rain god whom were all vital to the securing of crops. The Maya believed deeply in the cyclical nature of life – nothing was ever `born’ and nothing ever `died’ – and this belief inspired their view of the gods and the cosmos. Their cosmological views, in turn, encouraged their imaginative efforts in architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. It was because of this cyclical view that the Maya did not believe there was anything wrong with human sacrifice (the most recognizable form of Mayans in pop culture) Those people who were offered to the gods did not `die' but simply moved on. This cosmological belief influenced every aspect of the Mayan civilization and rituals were performed regularly.
  6. 6. The Mayans believes that beneath the earth was the dark realm of Xibalba (pronounced `shee-Bal-ba’ and translated as `place of fear’) from whence grew the great Tree of Life which came up through the earth and towered into the heavens, through thirteen levels, to reach the paradise of “Tamoanchan” (`place of the misty sky’) . In Mayan belief, one did not die and go to a `heaven’ or a `hell’ but, rather, embarked on a journey toward Tamoanchan. This journey began in the underworld of Xibalba where the Xibalbans who lived there were more apt to trick and destroy a soul than help one. In Mayan creation myths thirteen gods were involved in creating human beings from corn. The gods struggled to create human beings just as humans struggle with their own attempts at creation and survival and, also, that life comes from the earth (here, in the form of corn, the staple of the Mayan diet) and so the earth must be honored and respected.
  7. 7. The people of ancient Maya believed in the concept of 'afterlife'. They considered it to be a dangerous journey of the soul through the Underworld, the most unpredictable place in the universe. It was believed that everybody who died, went to the Underworld, except the individuals who were sacrificed, and the women who died during childbirth. The Mayan rulers enjoyed a semi-divine status, and were considered to be venerable after the gods themselves. This seems to have been the very reason why they were buried under the colossal Mayan pyramids after their deaths, just like the gods had their shrines built on top of these edifices
  8. 8. For the Mayans, religion and science were one and the same. The famous Maya calendar, through which they attempted to predict the cycles of time, was based on this same belief. They also believed that the world was created five times, and destroyed four times. The principal reason behind their practice of ritual sacrifices was to bring fertility to the land. They believed that if the ritual was discontinued, the entire universe would in chaos. One of the important beliefs of the ancient Mayans pertains to the human soul. They believed that within every individual, there exists more than one soul. Moreover, when a person falls ill, one or more of his souls are lost
  9. 9. In ancient Maya, the landscape that was given sacred connotations, played a crucial role. The entire topography of the earth was considered to be alive and animate. The topographic features, especially the caves, the mountains, and the water bodies were believed to be living entities participating in the day-to-day affairs of the human beings. The people of ancient Maya assigned the various topographical features of their landscape with specific functions. They regarded physical features such as mountains, valleys, caves, water bodies, etc. as divine entities and sometimes, also as their ancestors. Human skeletal remains One such sacred cenote is located at the Mayan pilgrimage site of Chichén Itzá, where solid evidences have been found of ritualistic human sacrifices in the form of skeletal remains. Chichén Itzá
  10. 10. Sacrifices, both animal and human, were central to the ancient Mayan religion. This does not mean that the religion was completely sacrificial in nature, but sacrifices seem to have been made in large numbers, in order to please the gods and to get a good harvest. Sacrifices, in the Mayan religion, were special rituals that were presided over by the Mayan priests. While the instances of animal sacrifices seem to have been more common than those of human sacrifices, there are clear evidences of the practice of ritualistic blood-letting by the humans. Blood meant life to the ancient Mayans and so, it was the most precious thing that they could offer to their gods. Generally, whenever the humans had to be sacrificed, it was the prisoners of war, children or devoted volunteers, who would be chosen. A recent study by the University of Yucatán shows that, contrary to popular belief, the sacrificed individuals were mostly young boys, and not virgin girls.
  11. 11. According to ancient sources such as the Popul Vuh and the Mayan Pantheon, a stone altar was prepared with a black polish applied to it. The person to be sacrificed, would be covered in blue paint and then, made to lie on his back on the altar. His ankles and wrists would be tightly clasped, so that he would not be able to move. In the sound of drums covered with deerskin, the high priest, dressed in a black robe, would strike the chest of the victim with a sharp, obsidian knife. The heart of the sacrificed individual, which would be still beating immediately after his death, would then be pulled out of his chest, and gifted to the gods
  12. 12. Bloodletting was the ritualized selfcutting or piercing of an individual's body that served a number of ideological and cultural functions within ancient Mesoamerican societies, in particular the Maya. When performed by ruling elites, the act of bloodletting was crucial to the maintenance of sociocultural and political structure. Mayan Kings themselves were expected to participate in bloodletting. Their tongues were pierced with cords barbed with thorns. Their blood was offered to the god, who were thought to have yndergone ritualistic sacrifices themselves in order to sustain the human race. Bloodletting Ritual of Lady Yok – British Museum
  13. 13. The traditional Maya have their own religious functionaries, often hierarchically organized, and charged with the duties of praying and sacrificing on behalf of lineages, local groups, or the entire community. They not only performed sacrifices and other sacred rituals, but they were also well-versed in the science of astrology, and made prophecies. Their main function was to keep and preserve detailed knowledge and records about the various gods and their cults. They were also required to be extremely wellacquainted with ancient historiography and lineages, especially of the ruling class. Mayan priests were usually male, except some rare instances of female priesthood, where the chief would be a princess from the royal bloodline. While the position of the high priest was governed strictly by heredity, the lower orders were not, and would be appointed by the high priest himself.
  14. 14. Mayan Deities were those natural entities on whom they most depended upon. For instance, they worshiped Itzamna, the God of bountiful harvest. He was considered as the 'creator' in the Mayan mythology, and was associated with corn, their major crop. At the same time, the ancient Mayans also had personifications of sun, rain, moon, lightening, medicine, death and so on. Huracan - God of wind, storm, fire Ixchel – Goddess of Medicine and Midwifery A – God of Death Buluc Chabtan – God of War Kinich Au – God of the Sun Chicchan – God of Rain Itzamna – God of Harvest
  15. 15. Ancestor worship was widely prevalent in ancient Maya. They believed in the eternal existence of ancestors, whose descendants they considered themselves to be. These ancestors were usually unknown individuals, having continuous residences in mountains and caves. Hence, not only the ancestors, but the topographic features were also venerated. The surviving lineage members would often revisit the houses of their ancestors in order to deposit offerings and communicate with their ancestors. Mortal heroes, who were considered their ancestors were worshipped as well.
  16. 16. Within the group of the ancestors, a special category is constituted by the heroes, best known through the sixteenth-century Quichean epic of the Maya hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. In the Classic period, the adventures of these two heroes were known all over the Mayan area. Specific ancestral heroes occur among various traditional Maya groups, such as the dwarfish Ez among the Yucatec Mayas, Juan K'anil among the Jacaltecs of the northwestern highlands, Ohoroxtotil, the jaguar slayer, among the Tzotziles of Chiapas and Kumix among the Ch'orti' Mayas. The heroes' actions can belong to a relatively recent past, and be semi-historical, or have occurred in the deep past, and be primeval; but in principle, the heroes can be addressed in prayer, and receive some form of worship. Sometimes, they are merged with specific military saints
  17. 17. The animal persons were the various 'sacred' animals, birds, and insects, who were represented with human attributes. They performed various humanly tasks. For instance, the Owl was the Messenger of the Lord of the Underworld, the Howler Monkey was a writer and a sculptor, the Jaguar was depicted as a high priest, etc.
  18. 18. The goblins and the dwarfs, were often portrayed alongside the deities. These lesser beings, were both, benevolent as well as malevolent. However, in order to achieve their benevolence, they needed to be appeased. According to belief, the indigenous priests can create goblins who, if properly attended, will assist the farmer in his work by protecting his field, having the rain deities visit it, and thus making the maize grow. In the same area, dwarfs, and also hunchbacks, perished in the flood when their stone boats sank. The childlike dwarfs and hunchbacks of Classic iconography often accompany the king and the Tonsured Maize God. They repeatedly show aquatic features . Tzotzil and the Tzeltal
  19. 19. The sacred spaces of the ancient Mayans are characterized by three peculiar kinds of architecture. These include, ceremonial platforms, pyramids, and temples. Chichen Itza - Mexico The ceremonial platforms were specifically designed for public rituals. They were low, square-shaped platforms, constructed out of limestone. Often, they had altars on them, and were embellished with beautifully sculpted figures. The mighty Mayan pyramids are famous the world over. These are colossal, towering structures, some over 200 feet high. Some of them are tombs of the Mayan kings, while the others bear temples on top of them. Tikal - Guatemala Pilgrimage played a very important part in Mayan religion. Some of the major Mayan pilgrimage centers included Caracol (Belize), Tikal (Guatemala), Uxmal (Yucatán, Mexico), Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico), Chichén Itzá (Yucatán, Mexico), and Coba (Yucatán, Mexico). Ceremonial Platform in Chichen Itza - Mexico
  20. 20. Mayan observatories also occupy a prominent place as far as the Mayan sacred spaces are concerned. Sometimes, circular shrines, dedicated to the Mayan deity, Kukulcan, are described as observatories. But again, there is no solid evidence to prove this. What we do know, however, is the fact that many features of the Mayan temples have been placed in such a way that they align with major celestial events. This also sheds light on their astronomical expertise. A ritual ballgame was played by the ancient Mayans during festivals and other religious events. Several ballcourts, where this game was played, have been found along the ancient Mayan landscape. These comprise narrow playing alleys located amidst two long, sloping walls, running parallelly. The usual custom was to sacrifice the individuals, who lost the game. Apart from the ones mentioned above, topographic features such as mountains, valleys, caves, wells, etc. also comprised Mayan sacred spaces. In the recent past, attempts have been made to revive the ancient Mayan religion through a movement known as the Pan-Mayan movement, wherein they sought to reinvent the ancient Mayan traditions. Today, the mighty civilization that thrived in the rainforest of North America, still remains with us despite its downfall. Their awe-inspiring structures and other remnants continue to stand testimony for their unparalleled knowledge and prowess. Kukulcan Observatory
  21. 21. The Mayan calendar, connected to networks of sacrificial shrines, is fundamental for ritual life. Among the highland Maya, the calendrical rites of the community as a whole relate to the succession of the 365-day years, and to the so-called 'Year Bearers' in particular, the four named days that can serve as new year days. Conceived as divine lords, these Year Bearers were welcomed on the mountain (one of four) which was to be their seat of power, and worshipped at each recurrence of their day in the course of the year. The calendrical rites include the five-day marginal period at the end of the year. Through annually shifting procession routes, the calendrical model of the four 'Year Bearers' (New Year days) was projected onto the four quarters of the town. Landa, a Spanish Conquistadores detailed treatment of the New Year rites - the most important description of a preHispanic Maya ritual complex to have come down to us - corresponds on essential points to the schematic depiction of these rites in the much earlier Dresden Codex. Like the Year Bearers, the thirteen twenty-year periods (Katuns) of the Short Count were viewed as divine lords in their own right and worshipped accordingly. The katuns had specific divine patrons (as mentioned in the Chilam Balam books) and their own priests.
  22. 22. One of the most interesting aspects of the Maya civilization was the religion that they practiced. The sources that tell us about the ancient Mayan religion are diverse and varied. Some of the sources include: • The three Maya codices that have managed to withstand the ravages of times. These are nothing but hieroglyphic texts, which were written by the Mayans themselves. • Early colonial Mayan treatises such as Popol Vuh and the Ritual of the Bacabs, which provide us with historical accounts and mythological narratives, with respect to the various religious practices of the ancient Mayans. The Dresden Codex Popol Vuh • The large number of scattered archaeological remnants of the mighty civilization, which include, not only their magnificent edifices, but also their epigraphs, their sculptures, and small artifacts such as pottery and terracotta figurines. Terracotta figures
  23. 23.  Marc Zender, A Study of Classic Maya Priesthood.  Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia  Joshua J. Mark – Co-Writer of Ancient History Encyclopedia  Encyclopedia of World History  World Book – M  World Civilizations Encyclopedia  J.E.S. Thompson - Maya History and Religion, Commentary on the Dresden Codex  Edwin L. Barnhart - Palenque: Recent Investigations at the Classic Maya Center  spirits-and-pyramids/   tor%20Worship_Barnhart1999.pdf 