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POT-POURRI: Enigmatic Mayan Civilization

POT-POURRI: Enigmatic Mayan Civilization

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  9 May 2019 11:58 AM GMT

Parag Phukan

There are many hidden, or rather still buried-under mysteries and secrets of many ancient world civilizations, yet to be fully discovered and analyzed. But the mystery of Mayan civilization is probably at the epitome of all these. If we consider the origin of Mayan civilization as an enigma, its sudden disappearance is even more enigmatic. Around 5,000 years ago a brilliant and classical civilization with surprising knowledge and culture arose in Mesoamerica (central America) in the present day southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras and northern Belize, but disappeared from the globe rather suddenly as it appeared. Apart from Mayans’ astounding knowledge of architecture, time, calendar, astronomy, mathematics, hieroglyphics (an ancient style of writing system) etc., the still-not-explained sudden appearance and disappearance of the civilization makes it the most mysterious. Most of the ancient civilizations, like the Indus Valley, Egyptian, Greek, etc. are the cultural, religious and linguistic foundations of many races and nations of the world today. But it was not to be with the Mayans.

Incidentally, till about two centuries ago the world was unaware of the lost civilization. Its discovery started only after 1835 when an American John Liyod Stephen found a 1566 book written by Bishop Diego de Lama that described about a lost civilization in the forests and mountains of Mesoamerica. He organized an expedition and discovered the lost Mayan city of Copan amidst thick vegetations in 1939. That opened the floodgate and after Copan many well laid Mayan cities like, Tikal, Uxmal, Chichen, Itza, Labna etc were discovered. Amidst the ruins of imposing magnificent structures, the researchers also found well elaborated calendars, complex hieroglyphic scriptures and a particular type of mathematical system. The Mayan sages described their creations in a manuscript written on leather named ‘Popol Vol’. The sacred text was lost during Spanish conquest of Central America or may have been destroyed by the Catholic priests who accompanied the invaders.

It is believed that Mayans first used rudimentary arithmetic with basic number 20 instead of 10. The system was used to make complex astronomical calculations of positioning of celestial bodies and calendars. Planet Venus was the basis of their cosmology. Discovery of ‘zero’ is credited to the great Indian mathematician Aryabhatt. But many scientists now believe that Mayans were the first people to use the digit ‘zero’ without numerical value, independently. However, zero was also used by ancient Indians and Babylonians which later was exported to the Arabs and then to Europe in early thirteenth century. It is amazing how the Mayans could achieve such a high level of knowledge in mathematics by themselves without the exposure to the other great contemporary civilizations. Or is it possible that they received mysterious help from ‘somebody” from the outer space?

Research construe that the Mayans lived in a primitive type of society consisting of farmers, artisans and warriors ruled by a group of priests and aristocrats. Along with these basic duties, they also had an intense spiritual and religious life based on idolatry, magic and astronomy controlled and guided by the priests. Incidentally, the priest class always wielded great power in other ancient civilizations too. Mayan worship cult included meteorological phenomena and natural objects with rituals of ceremonies and sacrifices including human sacrifices, occasionally. The deified hero of the Mayans, “Itzamna”, considered to be the incarnation of sun-god, believed to have led the Mayans from far east through the oceans. Later a miraculous priest and teacher Kukulcan divided Mayans into four tribes and established the nation’s capital at Mayanspan.

Massive Mayan constructions and architecture defies all logical explanations. They built vast cities, sky high pyramids and astronomical observatories. The constructions were without drills. It is anybody’s guess how those huge stone blocks were transported, even to the high hills, without suitable machineries. There are innumerable Mayan cities, temples and settlements still to be discovered. The source of their secret wisdom still remains unknown prompting many like Erich von Daniken to attribute these to some extraterrestrial visitors who helped them to develop the enigmatic Mayan civilization.

One of the most incredible creations of the Mayans was three near perfect calendars. The Mayans themselves dated the origin of their culture with unique precision as 11 August of 3114 BC. No other contemporary civilization could establish such dates in absolute precision. Incidentally, Mayans seem to know about the first dynasty of ancient Egyptian civilization under Pharaoh Narmer, established in 3100 BC. But how the Mayans could know about similar cultures in such distant locations remains unexplainable. Mayans developed three different types of calendars, namely, Haab, Tzolkin and The Long Count. The first and second calendars were like a rotating wheel in constant motion unlike our concept of time being linear like an arrow. These two were used for day to day life and to organize religious life, respectively. But the last was linear with 360 days in a year and was divided into five sections of 5126 Mayan years corresponding to five “Suns” of their cosmology.

The Mayan “Suns” correspond to the process of evolution of living beings and natural calamities or catastrophes occurred during those sun-periods. The concept can loosely be compared with different “yuga”s as per Hindu philosophy, like “Satya Yuga”, “Treta Yuga” etc. As per Mayans, the civilized humans live in the Fifth Sun period. Mayan cosmology prophesized that after the fifth sun, Sixth Sun period will come when there will be a major change in the world that will deeply affect the human destiny and a ‘golden age’ will usher in. There will be peace and harmony and mankind will live in a spiritual and united world in a global community, ruled by the wisest persons on earth. Let us sincerely hope that the sixth sun comes during our lifetime. May world peace and harmony prevail!

(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at

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