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. ( www.coinproject.com)

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 )

Comments

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 

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

Very interesting comment which I shall certainly check out – there is another piece here on http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/hippalos-early-naviga... 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

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 www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsNgDWPWH9M and listen 5 minutes into Dr. Hromnik's narrative and on.

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
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