By Anand Sharma
The archaeological remains of ancient Maya civilization of Mexico are lying scattered in the parts of Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco and eastern half of Chiapas as well as in the territory of Quintana Roo of the republic of Mexico. Covering an area of about 125,000 square miles, its traces are to be found in the western section of Honduras Republic, Peten and adjacent highlands of Guatemala and practically in the whole of Honduras.
Admiral Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the New World
inhabitants as Indians. Although he corrected himself subsequently, the natives of Americas continued to be called 'Indians'. During the course of his third journey, Columbus came into contact with 'Maya' people.
Many theories have been advanced by scholars to explain the origins of these American Indians and if there were any links between the ancient civilizations of the Old World and the New World. There are historians who believe that the American civilizations were purely native in origin and also those who maintain
the theory of Asians crossing over through Bering Strait via Alaska and reaching the American continent some 12,000 - 15,000 years ago. However, the antiquity of American Indians remains shrouded in the veil of mystery. In spite of a great deal of investigations, explorations and deep study by scholars and innumerable historians during the last many centuries, what we know about pre-Columbus Americas is very little in comparison to what we do not know. To quote Glyn Daniel from his book 'The First Civilizations', "within 15 years, between 1519 to 1533, the Western world discovered and brutally destroyed three civilizations - the
Aztecs of Mexico, Maya of Yuacatan and Guatemala and Inca of Peru."
The unique elaboration of the Mayan civilization has been a challenge to the imagination of explorers and students of history. The Mayans had attained the highest maturity in art, craft, sculpture and hieroglyphs. Innumerable theories exist about these ancient people. Their magnificent achievements in social, economic, political and religious fields, their calendar and hieroglyphic
writings, reasons of the sudden collapse of their classic culture everywhere in Mesoamerica, the reality of 'Kulkulkan Quetzal-Coatl' myth are some of the riddles of Mexican history challenging modern research. The 'Maya' Indians spent thousands of years in building their magnificent monuments and Mayapan, Palenque, Copan, Tikal, Kaminalijuyu and Piedras Negras were the centres where Mayan culture flourished in splendour. How and why these places were deserted in the past is still a mystery. Although modern scientists have achieved significant success in deciphering Maya calendar system, none has been able to decipher their
hieroglyphic system of writing.
The possibility of links of these people with Old World civilizations and particularly with ancient India is not acceptable to many historians. However, there are those who hold a different view. Eminent scholar-writers like Mackenzie, Hewitt, Tod, Pococke and Mrs. Nuttal have collected plenty of data to show that ancient American civilizations were influenced by Old World civilizations. We have
to remember that the post-Columbus history of America for 300 years was the story of ruthless destruction and fanatics like Bishop Diego da Landa burnt a huge
bonfire of valuable documents and nothing but the three codices of 'Chilam Balam'
could survive the holocaust.
There are two specific archaeological discoveries pertaining to 761 AD, about which
most Mexican historians are silent, that attract our attention as possible links of Maya civilization to ancient India. The first one is a wall panel (Panel No. 3 of Temple 0-13, at Piedras Negras, Guatemala; reproduced as Plate 69, page 343 of 'The Ancient Maya' by S.G. Morley) belonging to the Later Classic Stage of Mexican history, associated with the peaking of Maya architecture and sculpture. Mexican
historians have not given any interpretation of this panel. It appears that the scene depicted in the panel relates to the great Indian epic 'Ramayana'. It shows a king sitting on the throne and one maidservant with two children standing on the right side of the throne. A guard stands behind the three. On the other side of the king,
three important personages are standing whereas the vassal chiefs and important feudatories are sitting in front of the throne. The king on the throne is believed to be Suryavanshi Ram with his three illustrious brothers standing by his side. The two little children are his two sons with a maid and a guard behind them. Amongst the three persons on the right, two are engaged in a discussion whereas the
third one, apparently Lakshman, is standing with a bold, brave and confident demeanour which was characteristic of him. The above panel is a beautiful piece of sculpture and an evidence of great Mayan heritage, their artistic taste and superior creative ability and, above all, an archaeological evidence to prove India's link with Mexico in the 8th century at least.
The artistic design and postures of the figures carved can be compared to those found at Ajanta and Ellora caves in India. This interpretation, however, remains only a plausible one till the hieroglyphics and frescoes surrounding the wall panel are deciphered.
Another archaeological discovery at the same place i.e. Piedras Negras, Guatemala, is a stone stela (No. 12, Plate No. 18, page 61 of 'The Ancient Maya' by S.G. Morley). A mythological scene has been carved in this stela, depicting the architectural and artistic maturity of the Maya people of the Classic Stage (594 - 889 AD).
There is a beautiful image of a deity with eight hands (ashtabhuja). The art style is discernibly Indian as in no other religion of the world deities of this type were worshipped. It may be mentioned that the ruling dynasty of Mexico at the time of the conquest by Spaniards was 'Aztec' or Ashtak (Eight). The evidence in the form of such images leaves little doubt about the presence of Indian culture amongst the ancient Mexicans. The stela pertains to the period of more than eight centuries before Columbus set foot on the soil of the so-called New World.
The place where these pieces have been discovered - Piedras Negras - appears to
be a distorted form of 'Priyadarsh Nagraj' in Sanskrit, as has been the case with so
many words distorted by European pronunciation.
These stone sculptures are adornments of a Mayan temple and depict some popular mythology prevalent amongst the people of the time. Both human sacrifice
and idolatry were much in practice amongst Maya people. Morley has given a
detailed and vivid account of Maya culture and society in his book 'The Ancient
Maya', profusely quoting Bishop Diego de Landa.
Bishop Landa states that Maya people "…had a very great number of idols and
temples which were magnificent in their own fashion and besides the community
temples, the lords, priests and leading men also had oratories and idols in their houses where they made their prayers and offerings in private". Not only of gods but idols of even animals and insects were prepared by Maya people, who believed in immortality of soul and afterlife. This definitely smacks of an Indian connection.
More serious efforts to connect the ancient American civilizations with those of ancient India have to be made. The Trans-Pacific contacts of the people of south-east Asia with the people of ancient America have been established beyond doubt. It is also a well-proven fact of history that Indians of ancient times were great sea-farers. In pre-Mahabharata era as well as in the subsequent period,
the kings of southern India possessed large fleets used for trade with the Arabian and European countries where Indian merchandise was much in demand. India's links with south-east Asia and other far-off islands of the Pacific Ocean are an established fact of history. The conquest of Malaya by Rajendra Chola, the story of
Buddhagupta the Great Sailor (Mahanavik), the religious expeditions of Indians to preach the gospel of Buddhism in the distant lands of Cambodia, Annam, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and China are proofs of the impact
of Indian culture.
A remarkable feature of the Indian culture has been that colonial domination was never identified with economic exploitation. The Buddhist Jatakas (folk tales) narrate many stories relating to maritime adventures and daring sea journeys which establish that such activities were an essential part of Indian life at that time.
The author is a historian settled in Vienna.