The Egyptian Goddess Isis, Found in India

The Egyptian Goddess Isis, Found in India

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One of the great, largely untold adventure stories of late antiquity is the journey to the East, from Egypt’s Red Sea ports, across the open ocean for 40 days and 40 nights, to the legendary entrepôt of Musiris, on India’s southwestern or Malabar coast, in what is now modern state of Kerala. This was a great feat of navigation, a technological leap forward comparable to the discovery of the Americas or Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe.

Mysterious Musiris

This maritime trade reached a peak during the time of Jesus, necessitating the construction of a small Greco-Roman merchant colony to manage the extensive trade between India and the Roman Empire. This colony was sufficiently large to justify the building of a Roman temple, which is clearly shown on ancient maps. The precise location of Musiris has hitherto been one of the secrets of the classical world.

Detail from Tabula Peutingeriana, source: Annalina Levi and Mario Levi.

Detail from Tabula Peutingeriana, source: Annalina Levi and Mario Levi. Itineraria picta: Contributo allo studio della Tabula Peutingeriana (Rome: Bretschneider) 1967. Schematic representation of India with Roman temple shown.

Inset of map Tabula Peutingeriana showing Roman temple.

Inset of map Tabula Peutingeriana showing Roman temple.

Religion is the strange cargo of maritime trade. This area of India is very cosmopolitan. It was the port of disembarkation for Christians, Jews, Muslims and other Near Eastern peoples, who still have a significant presence in India. The Egyptian goddess Isis is famously the patroness of the sea, the protector of mariners. The Greek captains of the Roman trade galleons undoubtedly worshiped her.

Image of Isis Pelagia “Isis of the Sea” on a Roman coin. Forchner G (1988) Die Münzen der Römischen Kaiser in Alexandrien, Frankfurt.

Image of Isis Pelagia “Isis of the Sea” on a Roman coin. Forchner G (1988) Die Münzen der Römischen Kaiser in Alexandrien, Frankfurt. (

Roman Isis holding a sistrum and oinochoe and wearing a garment tied with a characteristic knot, from the time of Hadrian (117–138 AD).

Roman Isis holding a sistrum and oinochoe and wearing a garment tied with a characteristic knot, from the time of Hadrian (117–138 AD). ( Public Domain )

The revealing of the goddess Isis in Indian culture is the combined work of several eminent scholars. Initially it was the identification of Pattini as a veiled goddess, the only one in Hindu mythology, that led scholars such as Dr Richard Fynes to hypothesize a Near Eastern connection. Actually Isis was not veiled throughout most of her history but she was when her cult was transferred to India.

The late Professor Kamil Zvelebil also revealed much about the maritime trade between the ancient Near East and South India. My research for Isis, Goddess of Egypt & India , further exposed the similarities between the classical mystery cult and the mythology of the Buddhist/Jaina goddess Pattini.

Distinguished Princeton anthropologist Gunanath Obeyesekere undertook extensive fieldwork, recording the folk songs and myths of the region. Almost immediately he recognized how they almost all contained a mythology, unique in India, in which a dead god is resurrected by the magical power of his veiled goddess wife.

Isis, and the Resurrection of Osiris

The Egyptian version of this myth concerns the internecine struggle for power within its most prominent divine family. These are the five famous children of Sky-mother Nuit and Earth-father Geb viz: Isis, Osiris, Seth, Nephthys and Horus.  Like Biblical Cain and Abel, Seth kills his brother Osiris in a jealous rage then dismembers and hides his body. Because Osiris has no adult successor, his brother Seth can take his throne. In the drama, Isis searches for and eventually finds the decayed body of her dead husband. She revives Osiris, which gives us the archetypal and earliest version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting god.

Isis depicted in Egypt with outstretched wings (wall painting, c. 1360 BC)

Isis depicted in Egypt with outstretched wings (wall painting, c. 1360 BC) ( Public Domain )

But the reward of her work does not last, the Resurrection of Osiris is a temporary respite, just enough time for the couple to engender a magical son who will eventually grow, protected by his mother, to avenge his father and take his rightful role on the throne of Egypt.

Isis nursing Horus (Louvre).

Isis nursing Horus (Louvre). ( CC BY-SA 1.0 )

Now consider this traditional song, recorded by Obeyesekere. It is derived from Tamil Nadu’s national epic poem, the Shilappattikaram: the tale of the Anklet:

“She created an ambrosia pond,
Wetted the [veil] with its water,
Placed a hand on Palanga’s head,
And told him to get up.
As if lying in a bed,
Deep in cool sleep,
By the influence of Pattini,
The Prince rose joyous.”

Kannagi is the central figure of the epic Silapathikaram and is worshiped as goddess Pattini in Sri Lanka. Statue in Marina Beach, Chennai.

Kannagi is the central figure of the epic  Silapathikaram and is worshiped as goddess Pattini in Sri Lanka. Statue in Marina Beach, Chennai. ( CC BY 2.0 )


Sir Francis Drake did NOT walk around the world. Circumambulation is WALKING. The word you failed so epically to find, is circumnavigate.

Chris Morgan's picture

Well spotted, I think I must have had the word in my head because of the accounts in the book about circumambulating the temple in India and indeed in Egypt! Editing that now. I plan to write a new piece for Ancient Origins on the sea journey, which is quite a story in its own right. Indian diplomats turned up in Rome prompting curiosity as to how they did it..

Of course you all have heard the word Isis before!
It is such a shame that this name became associated with the most radical and terrorist group in the human history.
In today’s post, we will show you the real Isis, one of the most amazing goddesses in the ancient Egyptian history.
Isis is the goddess of magic, motherhood, and love in ancient Egypt.
Isis was the mother of God Horus and the wife of God Osiris.
The ancient Egyptians fall in love with Goddess Isis and built for her one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt, Philae temple.
Philae/Goddess Isis temple is located in Aswan, about 560 miles south of the Great Pyramids and 140 miles south of King Tut tomb.
The temple of Goddess Isis or Philae is considered to be a hidden gem in Upper Egypt; the history of the temple goes back to the 7th century BC.In 1971, The United Nations with UNESCO helped Egypt to save the temple after the Egyptians built the High Dam.

Chris Morgan's picture

Yes indeed – I discuss some of the Isis Hymns from Philae in my book, as well as the new opened shrine of Isis & Monthu just outside Luxor – part of group which seems to be related to the classical mystery cult.

I have always been fascinated about myths, which have their own interpretations about the origin of life and religions, and history, especially the history of civilizations written by historians who have their own visions about the ascend and descent of civilizations like Toynbee and Spengler. But I am also a man looking into the future.

Did you read the master work of Prof Mircea Eliade !!??

Chris Morgan's picture

“there is no more absorbing story than the discovery and interpretation of India by Western consciousness”; 

I am fascinated by all things of the Ancient cultures. As mentioned, ISIS the vandals are a horrifying perversion of the beautiful Magical and loving Godess. That the world continues to allow the destruction of history is a mystery to me. It can be stopped! Excellent article. Keep up the good work!

Chris Morgan's picture

Couldn’t agree more, I prefer to call them Daesh (Oppressors) or just IS

Gavin Menzies discussed Greco-Roman contact with India on their west coast and located some potential areas for excavation. While I don't agree with some is conclusions (e.g., China discovered Europe and started Renaissance), he did identify some interesting potential places for further investigation, and the Indian sites likely would pan out better than some others. Do you know if there are any archaeological expeditions looking for Egyptian or Greco-Roman ruins in India?

Chris Morgan's picture

The main Roman archaeological finds thus far are on the east coast of Southern India, about two miles south of the former French enclave of Pondicherry, is a tract on the east known locally as Arikamedu, near the village of Virampattanam.

Recent work is Bekal Fort … it would be interesting to see the secret chamber reopened and examined...

Chris Morgan's picture

Google for excavations at Pattanam, 8km north of Kodungallur, separated by a new channel of the Periyar river. 

Chris Morgan's picture

He is the “father” of India archaeology – and the great discovery was the presence of the Romans in South India, where many discoveries made. The excavation of Musiris is complex because of the very active Periyar river system that has changed course with catastropic results and is assumed to have destroyed any remaining archaeology. .. so mostly its the domain of other kinds of research other than dirt and trowels. But new digs are occuring all the time and I hope this will give it a push – 

The author is making a mistake of looking through a colored glass. He is basically seeing what he wants to see with his limited knowledge. His superimposition of Egyptian beliefs on ancient South Indian culture and beliefs is laughable. The Dravidian civilization is as old as the Egyptian civilization. It had written rules of grammar (Tolkappiam, Nanool), plethora of Sangam just quote a few. The Sangam literature has survived even to this day. Though the script has changed, the Tamil language is still spoken by many and its ancient compositions can be understood even today. The Dravidian kingdoms (Pandiyas, Cheras, Cholas) conducted trade by sea routes both in the West (Roman empire) and in the East (Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma). There are both archaeological as well as literary evidences to it. Where do you think the Arab numerals came from? So, there is nothing surprising about finding trade settlements in Musiris.

The term "Pattini" is a Tamil term for "faithful wife." The epic "Silapadikaram" written by Illango Adigal speaks about one such dutiful wife called "Kanagi", who was married to a tradesman named "Kovalan." Because of his misdeeds, he looses the family fortunes and ultimately, looses his life after being accused of stealing queens anklets. Kanagi stood by her husband through all his travails. When she learns that her husband was wrongly put to death, she burns the city of Madurai by throwing her anklet (kart silambu) down and breaking it to reveal manikka kartkal (precious stones). The queens anklets were made up of semi-precious of inferior quality. You can see her statue holding her anklet in the picture shown above. Kovalan is not brought back to life. It is rather, Kanagi, who leaves this world and joins her husband in the spirtual realm. The literature tells us that the purity and faithfulness of Kanagi gave her the godly power to destroy the whole city. Thus, she became venerated in the eyes of all women. They built temples for her, extolling her values. This tradition has got nothing to do with Isis.

If the author is sincere in his attempt to learn ancient South Indian religious practises and customs, he may do well to start with fresh eyes and speak with knowledgeable historians of Southern India.

Chris Morgan's picture

You’re actually agreeing and disagreeing with me at the same time! From your own account there was trade between South India and the West; this conduit flows both ways, hence the Roman and other archaeological finds in the area. It is true that Pattini might be derived from “Patni” meaning loyal wife, but this offers no contradiction to the parallels with the Isis myth, where she is also the archetypal loyal wife and mater dolorosa. A fairly non contentious example of western ideas present in Indian culture, consider astrology, which is pretty much the Greek version transcribed into Sanskrit. I discuss all this and more in the book. Interestingly Gunanath Obeyesekere, whose accounts of local folklore i used a lot in my research, also thought that it was used in a special sense as a supernatural being called “a Pattini”.

The woman referred in Tholkaappiyam is Kannagi. She was titled Pathini after she burned down the capital city of the Pandyas. She became powerful because of the love she had for husband that is why she was titled Pathini. More importantly she was born in the Chera kingdom and travelled to Chola and Pandya kingdom. The Pandya king ordered the soldiers to bring him (kondu vaa) but the soldiers misunderstood the word as (kondru vaa) and killed her husband. That was accidental. She is also worshipped in Srilanka.

I heard somewhere that a queen from Egypt came with men in search of the home of their Gods where animals and plants only seen in India is available.
The region was called as punt or something ​by the Egyptians . Only after that trade was taken place through seas. Before that trade took place with Mesopotamia or something as a medium.
( Ancient India-Mesopatomia-Egypt). After the Egyptians knew about a country that has plants and animals similar to that of the lands of their Gods the Queen decided to go on an adventure to the mysterious land of Gods.
The Egyptians were actually Indian family who were thrown out from the land for killing some important man(might be a king) . According to south Indian tradition If they marry a princess to a prince they will present a village for the prince as gift (that was the base for dowry system) . So when they were thrown out the people of the village should follow them. (That might be the reason for similarities in caste system in Indan and Egyptian land). As their people moved out the Gods followed them (similarities in animal headed gods and winged Gods).

The one statue pictured looks eerily similar to an alleged dead alien woman referred to as, "Mona Lisa", that was believed to have been found in an ancient crashed space ship on the moon during a covert U.S. space mission to explore the vessel. This was allegedly the rumored, "Apollo 20" Mission from 1972. The video and pics are on the internet and are part of the would be "conspiracy theories" that many believe. The fact that this one statue seems so close in appearance to the one in the video is eerie and remarkable. Was this statue or another image like it known about back in 1972 or is it just a coincidence that an alleged film shows a person apparently of the same race and characteristics as this statue??

Ravisadana's picture

Talk is cheap. That’s what science has become. Results of 90 % of studies reported are irreproducible. Controls are nonexistent. Who can challenge the onslaught of the avalanche science has become. A superficial club of the elitists. Always hiding behind Mathematics, Time and Money.

Retired research scientist from the pre-molecule era, when research was  still valid.

Ravi Sadana

The find is no surprise considering the Amber Trade Route, which existed already 4000-3000 years BCE connecting North-Eastern Africa (from Red Sea) and Dravida India (in the south of Indian peninsula).

As Prof. Dr. Cyril A Hromnik, from the University of Cape Town, South Africa has put it eloquently: "Because they [the caravan with amber] had to cross the Danube they had to get to the Aegean Sea they had to get to the Nile, up the Nile, across the Wadi Hammamat to the east...Across the Eastern Desert, get to the top of the Red Sea. For the ships to be able to sail out through Bab el Mandeb strait...It's quite a mouthful.... "
The caravans had to go [...] through Poland, through Slovakia and so on to the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea, then you had to go up to Nile to the point where Nile makes a big turn eastwards, it's called Quena – Red Place, place of the Red God, and Red God is Shiva. And if they crossed the desert 140Km in time there were Dravidian ships waiting there; and if those ships didn't make it out by the end of July they would stuck. Because then it is not possible to sail out."

The above description of the Amber Trade Route gives a detailed route map how the statuettes of Isis used to come from Egypt to India.
To check it out yourself, see and listen 5 minutes into Dr. Hromnik's narrative and on.

Chris Morgan's picture

Very interesting comment which I shall certainly check out – there is another piece here on deals with some of this & even the possibility of an earlier connection evidenced by the megalithic monuments in the area, but what you say is yet another important line of inquiry. I am planning another article in next few weeks. .. thank you for such interesting feedback

Isis is Ishtar who came first. Without Hinduism, no religion would ever have found its way around the world. Rather than pretend that India was the beneficiary of other lands' and cultures' ingenuity and religions, it's time to admit that without India and Hinduism that were borrowed extensively or the fact Indians traveled extensively postdiluvian events, nothing in Egypt would have risen as quickly as it did after the last great flood without acknowledging that Egyptians were from India and that the pyramids were constructed by Indian architects with vast knowledge and understanding. Both Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana studied in India, but it is truly Apollonius whose life is given in the New Testament, not Jesus'. Isis is Ishtar, and she's always been Ishtar.

Chris Morgan's picture

Thanks for your comment – very interesting. My article and book is really only about progress of Isis cult in classical period of Romans and Greek world. There were of course other points of contact between India and the Near East at various times before this – for example the Indus Valley Culture traded with – the flow of ideas is two ways for sure. Not forgetting the common ground instanced in what one might call the Aryan “invasion” It is a particular interest of mine to document some of the similarities between Indian religion/philosophy and the Egyptian. The goddess Ishtar is Syrian & was indeed worshipped in Egypt after the Syrian conquest of Egypt but Isis was a native deity with far longer history – imo 

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