AKITU – AN ANCIENT BABYLONIAN RATHAYATRA FESTIVAL
9 NOVEMBER · PUBLIC
Today, the land of Iraq is cloaked in anguish and fear. Reeling with endless strife, bloodshed, barbarous terrorism and relentless warfare, it seems an unlikely place to seek out high civilization. Yet, indeed, Iraq was once home to some of histories most vibrant, dynamic and influential cultures and civilizations. Known to the world as Mesopotamia, or the ‘Land Between the Two Rivers,‘ the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, it has long been celebrated as the ancient epicenter and cradle of the earliest known human civilizations.
Credited with the invention of writing some 5,000 years ago, along with many other crucial discoveries, integral to the advancement of all humankind, the ancient Mesopotamian cultures of Sumeria and Babylon represent tremendous legacies of beauty, artistry, science, learning and high culture. It is no surprise that Babylon’s famous Hanging Gardens were counted as one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Every ancient writer, excluding the references found in the Jewish Bible, described the City of Babylon in tones of awe and reverence.
When much of humanity was allegedly atrophied in an ape-like condition, Mesopotamian societies developed advanced languages, writing, mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, engineering, construction, economically prosperous cities, libraries, education, taxation, an equitable judiciary, complex religious systems, functioning governance, efficient law enforcement apparatuses, organized and effective military structures and capable diplomatic mechanisms. They are also credited with the development of competent management systems over the complex yet fundamental elements of civilization such as the socio-political structures of city, kingdom, and the nation-state. The influence and effectiveness of their organizational abilities allowed for the establishment of some of the world’s earliest known Empires. Their Kings were thus Emperors that maintained socio-political sway and economic dominion over numerous tributary vassal cities and states both near and far.
There can be no doubt as to the influential legacy of the ancient Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations. Yet none of these accomplishments were unique to the ancient world. They are just more well-known. Because of their direct links to the Bible of the Old Testament, 19th century European scholars chose them as the focus of their investigations. The dry desert conditions of Mesopotamia and Egypt also allowed for the preservation of their constructions, inscriptions and artifacts. Thus the abundance of Egyptian and Mesopotamian remains permits an easy access into their past. These considerations, however, do not diminish the obvious impacts of ancient Mesopotamia’s cultures and civilizations upon human history. In many ways the entire modern world is, directly and indirectly, a byproduct of their legacy.
HISTORY VERIFIED YET DENIED
At times political and religious bias have undermined the true historic record. For example, until very recently Mesopotamians were credited as having invented agriculture. Today we now know of 9,500 year old sites in Papua-New Guinea, 10,000 year old sites in Mexico and in China, 11,000 years old in Turkey, 9,000 years in Jordan and many other such sites. Yet established theories remain entrenched within mainstream academia.
Nearly 50 years ago incontrovertible evidence of a ploughed field, dated to early 2,400 BC, was discovered in Kalibangan, India. At nearly 5,000 years old, it is the most ancient ploughed agricultural filed found anywhere in the world. It was discovered by the Director-General of the Archeological Survey of India Prof. Braj Basi Lal. Dr. Lal began his archaeological career in 1943 as a trainee of the world renowned veteran British archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler. He spent many years working under Prof. Wheeler at multiple excavation sites in Taxila, Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Shishupalghar, Odisha.
Besides his position as the Government of India’s leading archaeologist, Dr. Lal is the recipient of the President of India’s Padma Bhushan medal of honor and he was also a member of several UNESCO committees. Dr. Lal”s academic credibility and scholarly acumen and expertise are beyond doubt. His book, The Rigvedic People: Invaders? Immigrants? or Indigenous? debunks the Aryan invasion/migration theories and confirms an ancient continuity of India’s indigenous Vedic civilization.
Yet world academia merely ignores his many discoveries verifying India’s Vedic based traditional records. Mainstream academia continues to maintain and promote unsubstantiated, erroneous ideological doctrine-like curricula that is often in direct conflict with the evidence. This peculiar phenomenon, whereby scientific minded academics disregard direct scientifically peer-reviewed research and evidential materials, explains the disconnect between the Indigenous tradition based testimonials and mainstream academic views on history.
The fact is ‘Recorded History‘ refers to the historical period between 5, 000 and 3,000 BC as ‘Ancient History‘. Yet this merely refers to the modern record of history thus the term ‘Recorded History‘. Yet this era labelled as ‘Ancient History‘ was by no means the beginning of or even an ancient phase in the actual history of advanced and organized human civilizations.
PREHISTORIC ICE AGE CIVILIZATIONS
12,000 years ago, the world was in the grip of an Ice Age. A majority of the globe was an inhospitable frozen wasteland not suited for life, what to speak of civilization. Sea levels were 360 feet lower exposing vast tracts of land. Massive land bridges connected Japan, Australia, the Indonesian Archipelago, the Philippines, Sri Lanka to the Asian landmass. Large land bridges connected Britain, Ireland and Morocco to Europe and Siberia with Alaska. Despite these large areas of land, areas suitable for agriculture and productivity during this Ice Age were at a minimum.
Glancing at a map of the world as it was 12,000 years ago reveals that India was a lush tropical region. Thus at the height of the Glacial Maximum period, India’s population was thriving, maintaining it’s cultural continuity unbroken. Its coastal outlines did not undergo any massive changes either. This is an important factor during the end of the Ice Age. It means a majority of its primary towns and cities were not built upon lands that were to disappear later as sea levels rapidly rose.
Turning to Mesopotamia, there’s evidence of potential ancient disaster. Until the end of the Ice Age, 11 to 10, 000 years ago, the current Persian Gulf region was mostly a large fertile river-fed land area. Intersecting Arabia and Persia, the seagoing and the overland trade routes, the location was undoubtedly the epicenter of prehistoric Mesopotamian commerce and civilization. Thus unlike India and Egypt, it is highly probable that the continuity of Mesopotamian civilization suffered a debilitating blow at the end of the Ice Age 11 to 10,000 years ago. As the glaciers melted, the seas rose up swallowing the vital and primary centers of Mesopotamian commerce, culture and civilization.
Perhaps the well-known Sumerian and Babylonian legends of Marduk battling and initially losing, yet ultimately defeating Tiamat, the primordial Goddess of the Ocean and his founding of the ‘First City of Eridu’ are a reflection of an ancient sea-borne cataclysm. Ancient Babylonian texts state that Marduk created Eridu as the first city, “the holy city, the dwelling of their delight.’ Interestingly, modern scholars identify Eridu as the earliest city built in southern Mesopotamia. Some scholars even postulate it to be the oldest city in the world. These conclusions, combined with ancient Babylonian legends, provide a plausible confirmation of an initial ‘defeat’ and loss to rising sea levels. Then their civilization was revived by Marduk’s founding a new city within the region north of today’s Persian gulf. If Eridu was the ‘first city‘ of the New Babylonian Kingdom built after the loss of their original territories, it would appear to be the first city built by the Babylonians.
This possible scenario represents a crucial consideration towards the development of an accurate perspective of the region’s history. Today scholarly conclusions regarding the region are based upon a later phase of history. What they identify as the beginnings of the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations may very well be a much later revival phase in the history of their civilizations.
ANCIENT MODERN HIGH CIVILIZATION
As noted earlier, regardless of the historical timelines involved, there can be absolutely no doubt regarding the significant and formative impact and influence that Sumerian and Babylonian culture have had upon the world. Featured prominently within the Judeo-Christian Bible, Babylonian history is an integral part of the Jewish historical and religious narrative. While later interpretations present a sharp distinction between the Judaic and Babylonian religions, it is obvious that the ancient Jews and Babylonians recognized El (Yahweh) and Marduk to be the one and same God. In my book ‘The Serpent, the Eagle, the Lion and the Disk’ I present many authoritative Judaic scriptural references in support of this conclusion.
The religious traditions of ancient Mesopotamia are recognized as one of humanity’s earliest known systems of religious practice. Yet clearly it is in India that religion has reached its zenith. Blossoming into myriad expressions of faith, ritual, art, literature, philosophies, diverse practices and a multiplicity of sects and doctrines rooted in a rare and impressive harmonious state of absolute inclusiveness, Indian religion is an all encompassing phenomenon. In fact the Vedic literatures identify religion as an eternal phenomenon, or Sanatana Dharma. Rather than an artificial creation or imposition developed from the minds of human beings, true religion is the very nature of the spirit and the Soul. Regardless of body type or location, religion is considered the impetus and very reason for existence. By involving every aspect of the human condition, Indian religion harnesses this metaphysical impulse in harmonious synchronicity with the creator and his creation.
Though more ancient than any other religious tradition in the history of humanity, Indian religion represents an enduring continuity stretching from prehistory up to the present day. Rather than a mere supposition, emotional belief or play on words, this identification of Indian religion as humanity’s most ancient, enduring religious phenomenon, rooted in actual history, is an obvious established historical fact. Based upon this premise, I and scholars like David Sherman, David Wachter, Neil Robinson and others have unearthed countless discoveries. Just as factual evidence is the vital component of competent detective work, Vedic based Indian cultural and anthropological testimonials provide the vital clues required for the establishment of an accurate record of human history.
The veracity of the Vedic conclusions are self-verifying. (The English words veracity, verify, verdict all refer to the facts of a matter and they are linguistic variations rooted in the Sanskrit word Veda = Knowledge.)
When applied to the field of historical research, the Vedic template unravels the riddles and confusion surrounding the identity of God, the Goddess, the Gods and Goddesses, the accurate meaning of the Holy Books of all religions, the history of religion itself, the origins of languages and the origins of the world’s many diverse spiritual traditions, cultures and civilizations. Vedic knowledge is a virtual Rosetta Stone that can decipher every mystery throughout history.
AKITU -CHARIOT PROCESSION OF the GODS
The religious rituals, ceremonies and festivals of ancient Sumeria and Babylon are widely recognized as humanity’s most ancient. Among them was a 12 day Festival known as Akitu or Akitum. Ancient inscriptions discovered in the regions of modern Iraq and Syria reveal details regarding this annual festival.
Akitu was a major religious event celebrated by the ancient Babylonians over 2,500 years ago. In fact, it was a celebration shared by diverse nationalities, ethnic and religious groups throughout West and Central Asia. For several millennia it was a central religious event within the societies and cultures throughout ancient Mesopotamia. The Akitu festival is widely recognized as one of the earliest recorded such celebrations known to history.
The Akitu festival commemorated an ancient reunion of the Supreme God Marduk. Marduk, the Supreme God of the Sumerian and Babylonian pantheon, was the primary divinity and focus of not only the Akitu Festival but of the entire ancient Babylonian Religion.
In the early phase of the annual religious event, the Priests bathed and then dressed the sacred icons or deities in new clothing and jewelry. Many ceremonies and rituals were conducted as the population waited for the grand procession. On the 5th day the King submitted himself to the Deities for the ritual “Humbling of the King‘. The festival reached its climax when all the deities were brought from their shrines and altars and displayed publicly. This allowed for the entire Babylonian populace, regardless of class or status, to be in the presence of Marduk and his companion Divinities.
An Icon of Nabu, the ‘son’ of Marduk, along with his associated Divinities were placed upon a small fleet of decorated boats and then proceeded in a river procession. (It is crucial to understand that the term ‘son’ and ‘avatar’ are interchangeable.) Then the fleet arrived to meet Marduk. Reunited, Marduk, Nabu and their associated Divinities then began their Victory Parade in a Procession of Chariots through the streets of the city.
Praised by the priests with sacred hymns , the Gods, surrounded by billows of incense smoke, sacred fire and fragrant flowers, rode through the streets of Babylon. The population celebrated and glorified Marduk, Nabu and their Divine Companions with songs, music and dancing as they followed along in the chariot procession. The Gods toured through the city till they reached the river. Here, they boarded a small fleet of boats and the celebration and worship continued as a River Procession.
During the entire procession, the King of Babylon served as the guide to the Supreme God Marduk both on chariot and boat. Just like Vishnu, Marduk holds a disk in his hand. He is depicted standing upon his constant companion the winged serpent Mushushu who rests upon the cosmic waters. Mushushu represents an amalgamated form of the Eagle Garuda and the Serpent Ananta Shesha Naga.
After arriving at the North end of the city of Babylon, the ships were placed on chariots. From there the chariots rode in the final leg of their journey in a grand procession until they reached the ‘House of the New Year’. On the night of 10th day of the festival, Marduk returns to the city to celebrate his marriage to Goddess Ishtar. Then on the 12th and final day of Akitu, Marduk and the associated Divinities return to their Temples.
The Akitu Festival of the ancient Babylonians continued for many centuries and it was also celebrated beyond Babylon, by the Assyrians and others as well. History records that it was also celebrated in Palmyra. The Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, (218-222) who was Syrian, worshiped Elagabal. To the delight of the population, he celebrated the Akitu Festival with Elagabal at the center, with massive festivities and food distribution throughout the streets of Rome. At the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Akitu was still being celebrated in Emessa, Syria in honor of Elagabal as well.
Elagabal is in fact another form and name of God. He was always worshiped with pomp and devotion, accompanied by music and dancing. Like Vishnu in his Shalagram Shila form, Elagabal was also worshiped and venerated as a Black Stone accompanied by his Eagle companion, Garuda. Ancient coins feature the Black Stone of Elagabal with his Eagle spreading its wings to shield his Lord.
EXPERIENCE BABYLON’S AKITU IN ODISHA’S RATHAYTRA?
Numerous archaeological discoveries have illuminated our collective understanding of history. Yet, rather than the artifacts themselves, it is the clues they provide during the investigation and study of these discoveries that allows for an accurate window into the past.
During India’s annual Jagannath Puri Rathayatra Festival, hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate and honor the Divine Sibling Trio, Lord Jagannath, Lady Subhadra and Lord Baladeva. The research of both Indian and European scholars reveals that this Indian Rathayatra Festival is astoundingly similar to ancient Babylon’s Akitu Festival. Several key features at the heart of both these festivals provide compelling indications linking the Akitu Festival of ancient Babylon with the annual Jagannath Rathayatra Festival of Puri Odisha, India. (Note: In 2011, the Parliament of the Indian State formerly known as Orissa officially restored the State’s name to the native and linguistically accurate Odisha. Odiya refers to the language and Odishi to the culture.)
The connections between Ancient Mesopotamian religion and India’s Jagannath Culture are obvious and have been verified by the world’s leading and established experts on ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Odiya histories, languages, cultures and religions. In my book ‘Orissa in the Crossfire – Kandhamal Burning’, I highlight (left image) some of the research of several Indian scholars and authors.
Western scholarship has also made a strong case postulating a Vedic Indian (Hindu) link, and possible foundation, for ancient Mesopotamian religion. Dr. Walter Sommerfeld of the University of Marburg, Germany is a leading scholar and expert on Ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cultures, history and religion. He has translated many ancient inscriptions from the region and has conducted numerous field excavations at sites in ancient Babylon and throughout Iraq.
His expertise and experience investigating ancient Babylonian festivals and religions brought him to an insightful and consequential conclusion. “Something of a similar religious sentiment can still be found today in India. We can’t take part in religious Babylonian festivals anymore but at least there are a many great parallels in India that enable us to capture something of the atmosphere of that time.”
In other words, according to Prof Sommerfeld, the world’s leading expert on ancient Babylonian religion, the best way to experience and accurately understand Ancient Babylonian religion and festivals, is to journey to Puri, Odisha, India during the annual Jagannath Rathayatra Festival. He concludes that either the Rathayatra festival originated in Babylon then spread to India or it is an ancient ongoing Indian Festival that was once an integral part of Sumerian and Babylonian religion. The Professor also lists many elemental parallels between Babylon’s Akitu Festival and India’s Rathayatra Festival.
Dr. Sommerfeld’s research and papers, are not readily available. His 1982 book, ‘Der Aufstieg Marduks: Die Stellung Marduks in der babylonischen Religion des zweiten Jahrtausends v. Chr (Alter Orient und Altes Testament)’ is in German and out of print.
Fortunately, the Professor’s conclusions are highlighted in a Discovery Channel documentary entitled ‘The Babylon Mystery.’
As noted by Prof. Sommerfeld, and highlighted in this documentary, India is indeed the last place where one can still experience the festivals and the rhythm of the ancient world.
THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE AND A HUMBLED KING
The role of the King is a key element shared by both the Akitu and Rathayatra Festivals. It involves the ritualized ‘Humbling of the King‘ in the presence of the Divinities at the center of both the Akitu and Rathayatra Festivals. Prior to the procession of the Supreme God of the Babylonian pantheon, Marduk, the ‘Humbling of the King’ ritual takes place. He is stripped of his jewellery and royal dress and then slapped repeatedly by the Chief Priest of Marduk. Then with tears in his eyes he offers prayers to the Lord.
This prayer by the ancient Kings of Babylon reveals another significant link between Akitu and Rathayatra. India’s Rathayatra Festival is dedicated to Krishna in his form known as Jagannath. Jagannath literally means ‘Lord of the Universe.‘ During the ritual Humbling Ceremony, the Babylonian Kings would address Marduk with the title of Jagannath, “I have not sinned, O Lord of the Universe, and I haven’t neglected your heavenly might..”
Based upon ancient Babylonian texts, Marduk is known to have at least 50 different names. He is also addressed by numerous other titles and appellations. It is remarkable that during the Humbling Ritual and Chariot phase of the annual Akitu Festival, out of the hundreds of possible names and titles used in reference to their God, the Babylonian Kings addresses the Supreme Deity Marduk with the same exact name as Jagannath ‘Lord of the Universe’. Both Akitu and Rathayatra are annual 12 day festivals that feature the ritual humbling of the King who personally cleans the chariot, and a chariot procession in which the entire population participates with music, singing and dancing in commemoration of an ancient reunion and involves a marriage between the Divine Couple. Marduk marries Goddess Ishtar and Jagannath reunites in loving union with his Consort Srimati Radharani.
In the Vedic Odishi Jagannath tradition the ritual ‘Humbling of the King’ is relatively identical in its function and symbolism. Though the ritual process involved is different, the basic premise remains the same. As with the Kings of ancient Babylon, the King of Puri forgoes his royal attire. Dressed in a simple manner he presents himself to Jagannath, the ‘Lord of the Universe,‘ and to the public, as a street-weeper. Street-sweepers belong to the Shudra caste and are considered to be at the lowest levels of society. Such a role for a King would be humbling indeed, especially in ancient times. Then with broom in hand, the King sweeps the street for each of the three Divinities, Baladeva, Subhadra and Jagannath, one by one, as they are carried to their individual chariots.
After the deity is placed in its chariot, the King then sweeps the chariot platform around the deity as well. He then concludes by offering humble prayers to their Lordships. In the same manner as his Mesopotamian counterparts, the King of Puri accompanies the ‘Lord of the Universe’ along the chariot procession through the streets of the city. Hundreds of thousands of people joyously participate with exuberant singing and dancing to the accompaniment of a tremendous and diverse multitude of music. Thousands of Drums, cymbals, conch-shells, trumpets and flutes resound simultaneously in a harmonious tumult of melodious sounds and vibrations.
UNIVERSAL LORD PRAISED UNIVERSALLY
The parallels between the Indic Vedic ‘Lord of the Universe Chariot Procession‘ Festival and the ancient Mesopotamian Akitu Chariot Procession tradition are stunningly obvious. It is yet another reminder of the dynamism that is India. Unlike the ancient eras of Babylon, Egypt, Peru, Greece or Mexico, India’s ancient civilization continues to pulse vibrantly to this very day. Thus Hindu India’s living yet ancient cultures and traditions allow us an accurate window into the past.
Truly, India’s religious traditions are authentic reflections of a culture that has been and remains in synchronicity with the metaphysical pulse of the universe and they represent the world as it once was and how it can be once again. In India’s vibrant religious traditions and cultures, the mystical and mysterious world of the ancients lives today. It is a truly wonderful phenomenon and a veritable time machine into our collective past! Thus to Know Vedic India is to Know the Ancient World in all its mysticism, beauty, joy, splendor, mystery and wonder.
LORD JAGANNATH’S PERSONAL INTERVENTION
PURI RATHAYTRA – July 12, 1972 Lord Jagannath and the Kings of Puri have an ancient and powerful mystical bond. At times the Lord has intervened in support of the King. One such incident took place in modern times. In 1972, the secular State of Government of Orissa had removed the current King of Puri, Gajapati Divyasingha Deva IV, from his traditional post as the direct managing authority over the Jagannath Temple, which is officially called Srimandir. The King did not complain.
Then during the Rathayatra Festival of July, 12, 1972, a miracle occurred. The festival was just beginning. Lord Baladeva and Lady Subhadra were carried to their respective carts. The King swept the road ahead of them and the area within the chariots as well.
Then when it was the turn of Lord Jagannath, “…it became impossible to bring him to the chariot. Because the more people that tried, the more they did not succeed in lifting Jagannatha. Those who tried to use force were physically injured. Finally the people there, including the State Govt ministers and the Orissa State Chief Minister felt overwhelmed and harassed. They saw no way out of their predicament.”
“At that very moment, King Divya Singh Dev was present there as he had to perform the cleaning ceremonies in the chariots. He finished his duties in the chariots of Lord Balabhadra and Maa Suvadra and then came towards the chariot of lord Jagannatha. Still none were able to lift lord Jagannatha upto his chariot. Seeing this, the King began weeping. The King, with tears in eyes and in a weeping voice prayed “Oh Lord this festival is yours and we all are just the facilitators. Please pardon on us. Please move to the chariot.”
And miraculously after these few words of the Gajapati King Divya Singh Dev, an astonishing thing happened. The Jagannatha Deity, which had been unimaginably heavy just before, suddenly became as light as a flower. Finally the Lord went to the chariot, probably smiling to himself mischievously. It was obvious to all that Lord Jagannatha was sending a clear message to the people and to the State Government of Orissa, “My servant is every thing for me. I will only listen to him and not to anyone else. I am not guided by any other. Rather all others of the world are guided by me, as I am the All Mighty, Lord of the Universe.”
BABYLON & DVARAKA
The City of Babylon was always a sacred city. It’s name ‘Babylon’ is the Greek version of the original name of ‘Babilli‘. The name is translated to mean ‘Gateway of God‘ and ‘State or Kingdom of God.‘ Bab -Gateway and ‘illi – of El or God’. As the research of David Sherman has revealed, El is the localized ancient Middle Eastern pronunciation of Hari.
The name of Krishna’s famous city of Dvaraka is translated as ‘Gateway to Heaven‘ or ‘Gateway of the Supreme.’ Dvaraka, as the City of Krishna who is God and known as Hari, truly was the ‘Gateway to God’. Throughout history, Dvaraka was known as the Kingdom or City of God on Earth.
According to the Vedic histories, shortly after Lord Krishna’s departure from this world, approximately 5,140 years ago, his city of Dvaraka was swallowed by the sea. Yet today, thousands of years later, the City of Dvaraka remains famous as the City of God.
The founders of Babylon basically lived 5,000 years ago. This is within the same historic time period of Lord Krishna. Mainstream scholars claim that originally the name Babylon, “…appears to be an adaption of an unknown original non-Semitic place-name.” So the origins of the name ‘Babylon’ had an unknown origin.
Were the founders of Babylon inspired by the legend of Krishna’s Dvaraka? Could it be that ancient Babylon the ‘City of God’ was directly named after Dvaraka in honor of Lord Krishna’s famous lost city?