Egypt Moblog #8 – Temples of Karnak, Luxor Temple and Luxor MUseum

Sorry I couldn’t write since I wasn’t feeling too well the past 3 days.

Day before yesterday, we went to the Temples at Karnak. Our guide Ikram has 27 years experience as a tour guide. She was amazing.

Temples of Karnak, one could say, was the spiritual extravaganza of the ancient egyptians. It is so huge that one has now way of perceiving its size either by reading or by seeing pictures.

These temples were built over a 1500 year period started in the middle kingdom. Most of the work was done in the new kingdom.

At the entrance to the complex is a series of ram headed sphinxes on both sides of the entrance. Apparently, this sphinx studded road all the way to the Nile.

You see the massive pilon (this is the name given to the 2 walls at the front of these temples). This one was done in the 30th dynasty by Nectanebo I.

Once you inside you reach the world’s largest hypostyle hall with 134 columns representing a papyrus forest. The roof has fallen but some are still there including the hieroglyphic inscriptions. Then we saw a temple with a series of Amenhotep III statues standing on either side of the temple corridor. We also a similar set of statues of who else Rameses II. Then we saw one special standing Rameses II which had a smaller statue standing before him – our guide said it is Nefertari his fav queen but another guide said it is his daughter who was also his wife!
But the woman’s statue is still beautiful making us wonder how beautiful the person would have been in real life.

Then we saw the Amun temple – or the Temple of the Theban Triad – Amun, Mut (amun’s wife) and Khonsu (moon god).

We also saw 2 obelisks built by Hathepshut one of which is still very well preserved.

Interestingly the Amun Temple has a big sacred pond (equivalent of a Hindu temple tank). Our guide told us that they also had the tradition of dedicating young girls to the temple.

Cartouche – a signature in hieroglyphic script specifies the name of the king, queen etc. Rameses II’s cartouche is the most seen one because he had the habit of stamping his cartouche everywhere even those that he didn’t build!

Then we reached the Luxor temple. Here in front of the 2 pilons there were 2 obelisks – only one is still standing and the other one is in Paris, France.

In front of the Luxor temple is the avenue of sphinxes – this time with human head. The Luxor Temple was connected to the Karnak complex via a long road a few kilometers long and the entire avenue was lined with these sphinxes.

The pilons I observed for the first time (blame my poor observation) resemble a inverted trapezoid shape with the entrance in the center. It is somewhat like if you just looked at the Gopuram of Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore with an entrance carved to the center of it without the structure below the Gopuram. Our guide said this pilon concept is to symbolize the mountains and the rising sun as the entrance in between.

We then entered the temple and there is a mosque inside but it is at an altitude. It turns out that at the time the mosque was built the temple below had not been excavated.

Inside we have a hypostyle hall with 14 columns. The chapel has a special enclosure built by Alexander the Great – we could actually see Alexander’s cartouche. The temple itself was built by Amenhotep III (the king who is represented by the Colossi of Memnon we covered earlier) from the 18th dynasty.

In the hypostyle hall’s walls you can see reliefs showing the Opet Festival – during this time every year, Amun, Mut and Khonsu (the theban triad) travel to the Luxor temple marked by festivities and dances.

In this temple, we see what is called the Birthing room – the queen is in front of Amun Ra and is touched by Amun Ra and becomes pregnant.
Then she gives birth to the pharoah – god Khnum creates a baby and its shadow on the potter’s wheel. When the boy attains a certain age, a relief shows purification rites being done (a la Baptism rites).

After this we went back to our hotel and took some rest. Then we headed back into the town to see the Luxor Museum.

Lots of artifacts including some well preserved mummies. We saw some artefacts from the Middle Kingdom – in fact Akhenaten’s strikingly different facial features are fascinating. Incidentally, Akhenaten (father of Tutankhamun) tried to move the people to a monotheistic religion with the god Atum. It is still the same Sun God but he wanted only one god. But this religion didn’t last very long because as soon as Tutankhamun ascended the throne he switched it back to the old pantheistic religion.

The museum was pretty good overall.

Yesterday we flew back to Cairo and spent the afternoon in the Coptic Cairo area.

More to come…


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    Another beautiful post. The birthing room story sounds like Kunti & Karna, doesn’t it? I heard that the Oblix is pretty much like out dwaja sthambam.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 5:08 am:

    Thanks Archana. Yes it reminds you of the Kunti Karna story and in general the concept of immaculate conception which is there in Christianity as well.

    As for the obelisk, it is more like the poor man’s version of the pyramid. It is a long pillar with a pyramidal shape at the top of it. Pyramid building was an expensive affair and it was stopped after the old kingdom. Obelisks seem to have taken the place of pyramids.

    As for Dwajastamb, isn’t it a flag post? Also typically these are inside the temple right? Obelisks were found outside as well.

    Did you not get reminded of the devadasi concept from the temple dancers ?

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    Yes, I was reminded. Its startlingly similar.

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    I too got reminded of devadaasi system.. another interesting fact is that the same practice is still in christianity, where the nuns were married to jesus. (Not sure, if its there everywhere of christianity).

    When i was searching for photos, you have described, i came across this link.

    Surprised, that pyramids were present even in Mexico.. (Is there any contacts with americas by the earlier egypts? )

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 1, 2007, 5:08 am:

    Thanks Senthil. I don’t think the christian practice is similar. I am sure you know the real objectives of the devadaasi system.

    Mayas built their pyramids much later. I am sure they would have been inspired by the Egyptians ones. I do want to see the pyramid at Chichen Itza one day. it is on my to do list.

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    I dont know what you meant by “real objectives of devadaasi system”. I would like to quote the following links on the real history of devadaasi system.

    Many attribute Devadaasi system to institutionalised prostitution. Although, in the last few centuries, it could have been so deteriorated, but, the original purpose was not that.

    I feel, “Bharatanatyam, a sophisticated classical dance, with minute perfection, could not have been professioned by the prostitutes. Not just this.. but, if we take other arts like Karnatic sangeet etc, all were full of minute scientific perfection. These arts were performed mainly for the Gods, and hence, it were practiced with total devotion. “

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 1, 2007, 6:33 am:

    Thanks for the links. To me the original intent doesn’t matter. This is the same problem I have with the caste system also. When a system deteriorates, responsible leadership steps in cleans it up. That didn’t happen either in the devadaasi system or the caste system. I am of the view that both these systems didn’t start with noble intentions but I’m willing to overlook that. What were our ancestors thinking? Donate young girls to the temple for dance and music and that’s all that will take place?

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    Btw, i would like to mention one important point. In our community, the marriage usuaully have non-brahminical rituals. A person called “Arumaikaarar” would conduct the marriage, and the one person from the barber community will singh the tamil “Mangala Vaazhthu” song. This song is written by Kambar, as a tribute to Sadayappa vallal, who helped him for compiling Kamba ramaayanam.

    In that mangala vaazthu, there is a mention about devadaasi,.. I dont know the full text, but the line in middle of the song starts with “Nalla devadaasi….” . So, they could have been also important part of the marriage rituals in our community. (I need to explore it more).

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 1, 2007, 8:13 am:

    That is interesting Senthil. Maybe the Devadaasis had other roles as well. please post what you find.

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    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 5:44 am:

    Devadasi were infact Court Entertainers or Temple Entertainers who dedicated themselves to art…..
    Some of them infact were models based on whom the temple sculptures were made …
    I really dont think they were not intended to prostitution til 16 century …..
    Sukumar did u manage to get any extra info on Imphoytep I …Will be awesome if u can post something on architects too ..

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 6:59 am:

    Thanks karthik. You are right, that was the ostensible reason for the devadaasis but then “other” ideas started developing. To me the original intent is not relevant. What it degenerated into and why no one tried to prevent untill recently (even the other day i read that someone donated his daughter to a temple for devadaasi stuff), is the main problem.

    I don’t have any more info on Imhotep than what i posted. Sorry.

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