Krishna worship and Rathayatra Festival in Ancient Egypt

An interesting piece of  information caught my attention during my journey across the sacred sites of  Egypt during early 2010. During the light and sound show in the magnificent  temple complex of Karnak, I heard a voice booming over the loudspeakers: “I am Amon-Ra...The waters of the Nile sprout from my sandals.” This immediately  reminded me the Vedic Creator God Vishnu. In the typical depiction of Vishnu in  Hindu iconography, the sacred river Ganges is always shown emerging from the toe of the Vishnu, while in Egypt, we  find a very similar imagery associated with Amun. But who was Amun?

I knew that Amun was the  presiding diety of Karnak, and he was worshipped there as the Creator God,  along with his wife Mut, and his son Khonsu. The next day, while discussing  about the light and sound show with my tour guide, he suddenly gave me another  piece of information that I was not aware of, and that took me completely by  surprise: “Amun was always depicted in funerary art and temple inscriptions  with a ‘blue skin colour’ and having  two feathers in his headdress.”

Now, if anyone ever travels to  India, and he talks to the people there about a god having a blue skin colour, with a couple of feathers in his headdress, and from  whose sandals or toes a ‘sacred river’ emerges, he will get a single answer:  Vishnu, or more Krishna, for it is Krishna who was always depicted with two  ‘peacock’ feathers in his headdress. This realization has significant  implications. Krishna is an exclusively Indian diety, whose demise in 3102 BC  signified the start of the present Kali Yuga in the Vedic Yuga system. Amun on  the other hand, was not worshipped in Egypt prior to the establishment of the  Temple complex at Thebes. He is mentioned in the creation myth of Hermopolis as  one of the four pairs of divinities who were present in the Primeval Waters of  Nun. As Amun-Amaunet, he represented the ‘hidden’ properties of the Primordial  Ocean. However, he was not a part of the Egyptian Ennead, the Divine Company of  Gods, who were the primary deities of worship. But suddenly at Karnak, sometime  during the Middle Kingdom, Amun usurped the position of Atum, as the head of  the state patheon. He became the self-engendered Creator God; an early  Twelfth-Dynasty inscription in the jubilee chapel of King Senusret I (c.1965 –  c.1920 BC) at Karnak describes Amun as ‘the king of the gods’.

Current evidence indicates that  the construction of the temple complex at Luxor and Karnak may have started as  early as the Middle Kingdom (c.2055 – c.1650 BC), although the buildings  visible today date from the reign of Amenhotep III (c.1390 – c.1352 BC), the  great temple builder of the Eighteenth Dynasty. What could have trigerred his precipitous rise to the head of the Egyptian  pantheon from relative obscurity as a diety of the Primeval Ocean? And how did  a whole new patheon of deities, along with associated symbolisms, rites and  rituals, with gigantic temple complexes dedicated to them, suddenly spring up  in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom?



Fig 1: The blue colored Amun

Fig 2: The blue colored Krishna

I was also taken aback by the  descriptions of the annual Opet festival that used to be celebrated in Karnak, during the season of the flooding of the  Nile. In this grand festival, the idols of Amun, Mut and Khonsu were placed on  sacred boats, which were carried in a splendid, joyous procession down the  Avenue of the Sphinxes, along the 2 mile road that connects the temples of  Karnak and Luxor. The celebrations have been depicted in detail on the walls of  the Great Colonnade at Luxor. At Karnak, the idols of the Thebian triad were first  ceremoniously washed and magnificently dressed with colorful linen and precious  jewellery and placed on sacred boats. The pharaoh then offered his obeisance to  the boats, which were then carried by the priests, accompanied by musicians,  and soldiers carrying standards decorated with brilliant plumes and streamers. Elegantly  decorated horse drawn chariots, would also accompany the procession.

Huge crowds of people gathered  along the road, blowing trumpets, dancing and singing, clapping, offering  prayers, burning incense sticks and generally raising a tremendous din. Nubian  musicians and female acrobats entertained the crowd. The barques rested along  the way at six way-stations that were built by Queen Hatshepsut. Once the idols  reached Luxor Temple, the coronation rites of the king were repeated in a  sacred ritual, which effectively transferred the power of divine ruleship from  Amun to the pharaoh. The idols rested in Luxor for a period of time and  subsequently came back to Karnak, in another procession along the river Nile.

Although the Opet festival was  initially celebrated over only 11 days, later it was extended to nearly 24 to  27 days. The festival not only symbolized a restoration of the divine right of  the king to rule, but also signified a rejuvenation of the creative forces of  the cosmos, through the sacred rituals and boisterous celebrations.



Fig    3: An Opet Festival scene showing the barque of    Amun carried by the priests.

Amazingly enough, an exactly  similar festival is still celebrated every year in the tiny coastal town of  Puri, in the state of Orissa in eastern India, after the onset of monsoon in  the month of July. Here, in the yearly Rathayatra festival, the idols of Krishna (or Jagannath), his brother Balaram and his  sister Subhadra are carried in three magnificent chariots pulled by thousands  of devotees along the 2 km (1.5 mile) road that connects the Jagannath Temple  to the Gundicha Temple. I had the good fortune of being able to witness this  grand spectacle last year. An immense collection of humanity had descended on  Puri on this day from all over India. The actual festival, of course, had  started nearly two weeks earlier when the idols of Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra  were given a ritual bath and redecorated.

On the day of the Rathayatra, the  idols were installed on the three massive chariots, nearly 45 feet high, which  had been constructed for the three deities. The chariots were kept outside the  Jagannath Temple walls and the endless stream of devotees blew conch-shells and  played trumpets as soon as the idols were brought out of the temple and placed  in the chariots. Then the King of Puri paid his obeisance to each of the  chariots. He sprinkled sacred water on the chariots, and swept the chariots  clean with his golden broom. The chariots then started making their way along  the Grand Avenue one by one, pulled by ropes by the thousands of devotees.

Needless to say a considerable  din ensured. There was loud chanting and singing, beating of drums and blaring  of trumpets, as the procession slowly made its way to the Gundicha Temple. The  chariots stopped at many points along the way, in order to provide an  opportunity to the devotees to catch a glimpse of the idols inside the chariot  and offer their prayers. It is said that one who observes the face of Jagannath  during the Rathyatra festival gets absolved of all past sins. I did not  accompany the procession the entire way to the Gundicha Temple. But what  happens is that, after the procession reaches the Gundicha Temple, the idols rest  there for a period of 7 days. After this they return back to the Temple of  Jagannath, in another joyous, noisy procession known as the Ulta-Rath. The  entire celebration, starting from day of Jagannath’s bathing ceremony, till his  return from the Gundicha Temple, lasts for 25-26 days, nearly the same as the  Opet festival of Karnak and Luxor.


Fig    4: The chariot of Subhadra being pulled along the    Grand Road by the devotees at the Rathayatra Festival, Puri. Image Credit:    Bibhu Dev Misra

The similarities between these two  ancient festivals are obvious and striking. There was no doubt in my mind that the  Opet festival of Karnak is identical in form and spirit to the Rathayatra  festival of Puri.

As per Vedic accounts, the  festival of Rathayatra has been celebrated in India for thousands of years,  although the current Temple of Jagannath only dates from the 12th  century CE. The festival has been mentioned in multiple Puranas, which are Vedic historical documents of unknown antiquity.  The Skanda Purana states that the  first Jagannath Temple was established in Puri in the Krita Yuga, which, as per  the currently accepted Yuga Cycle doctrines, began at around 10,900 BC. Since  Jagannath refers to Vishnu i.e. the Lord of the Universe, he was worshipped in  different forms in the different Yugas. In the Kali Yuga he is worshipped in  the form of Krishna. The Skanda Purana also specifies the date of the Rathyatra  festival. In many other Vedic documents such as the Narada Purana, Padma Purana  and the Ramayana, the virtues of worshipping Jagannath have been extolled. The  festival is, therefore, indubitably Vedic in origin.

That  would imply that this ancient festival, along with the cult of Krishna, Balaram  and Subhadra was transferred from India to Egypt, sometime prior to 2000 BC!




Fig    5: Amun, Mut and Khonsu - The Thebian Triad

Fig    6: Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra - The 'Puri'    Triad

That is a phenomenal idea.  Although we know that Indian traders had extensive trade relations with the  first Pharaohs of dynastic Egypt in 3000 BC, and sold them cotton, muslin,  spices, gold and ivory, such a major influence of India on Egyptian religious  systems has not been explicitly identified by historians till now.

Some scholars have, however,  pointed out the similarity between the culture of Egypt and Eastern India.  Peter Von Bohlen, a German Indologist, mentioned that there are elements of  folk art, language, place names and rural culture of Bengal (the state adjacent  to Orissa and included in it in ancient times) which have an affinity with  their Egyptian counterparts. However, when you consider the fact that an entire  patheon along with associated ceremonies and rituals seems to have been  exported to Egypt from India, it appears that the Pharaohs of Egypt and the  Emperors of India must have maintained very close relations since ancient times.  This ‘pantheon’ transfer would have been possible only through express royal  patronage. But when and why did this happen?   Who all were involved? History provides us with no answers.

We know that when the Hyskos  invaders of Egypt were finally evicted from the country after 200 years of  occupation, the pharaohs Kames and Ahmes had fought under the banner of  their new-found god - Amun. This event which took place in 1580 BC signified  the beginning of the 18th dynasty, which is acknowledged as the greatest  royal families of Egypt. Amun became the supreme protector god of the  monarchy and the state and his priesthood gained immense power. Magnificent  temple complexes dedicated to Amun were established in Thebes. 

Is it possible, therefore, that  this 'pantheon transfer' from India to Egypt was also accompanied by a  transfer of armed forces which resulted in the defeat of the Hyskos  invaders and the reunification of entire Egypt under the  Pharaohs?  

Interestingly, the people of  Egypt themselves claimed to have come from a land called ‘Puanit’ (corrupted to  ‘Punt’) located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Punt was referred to as the  'Gods land' or the 'land of gods and ancestors'. Punt can be reached leading  off the Red Sea, in a south-east direction, and is described by the  scholar Dr. Adolf Erman as ‘a distant country washed by the great seas, full of  valleys, incense, balsum, precious metals and stones; rich in animals, cheetahs,  panthers, dog-headed apes and long tailed monkeys, winged creatures with  strange feathers to fly up to the boughs of wonderful trees, especially the  incense tree and the coconut trees.’ These descriptions strongly suggest  that Punt may be a reference to India. The ancient maritime trade routes,  popularly known as the Silk Route, led from Egypt in a south-east  direction, to the flourishing ports on the western and eastern  coasts of India. Along these ancient routes, Egyptian and Indian ships plied  back and forth since unknown antiquity, carrying precious objects of trade such  as gold, ivory, myrrh, incense etc.


Fig    7: The Silk Road

Col. Henry Steel Olcott, a former  president of the Theosophical Society, explained in the March, 1881 edition of  The Theosophist that, “by the pictorial hieroglyphic inscription found on the  walls of the temple of the Queen Haslitop (Hatshepsut) at Der-el-babri, we see  that this Punt can be no other than India. For many ages the Egyptians traded  with their old homes, and the reference here made by them to the names of the  Princes of Punt (King Parahu and Queen Ati) and its fauna and flora,  especially the nomenclature of various precious woods to be found but in India,  leave us scarcely room for the smallest doubt that the old civilization of  Egypt is the direct outcome of that the older India." The expedition of  Hatshepsut to the land of Punt was done primarily with the objective of  acquiring incense and a number of exotic goods, which she dedicated to Amun,  the presiding diety of Thebes. Does that not indicate that ‘Punt’ and ‘Amun’  may somehow be connected? Is it possible that Hatshepsut felt that by bringing  these items from the land of her forefathers, and from the place where Amun  himself had originated, she would be performing a great service to her  ‘father’, Amun, and thereby acquire his divine blessings.

It is now widely accepted that Hindu  traders colonized Ethiopia. The earliest Ethiopian tradition says that they  came from a land situated near the mouth of the Indus, and this has been  confirmed by the testimony of Eusebius and Philostratus. In the seventh  century, St. Isidore made a summary in his Encyclopedia of knowledge derived  from ancient Greek and Latin authors, many of whose works have now disappeared.  Regarding 'Ethiopians' he says in his Etymologiarium (IX.2.128): “They  came in ancient times from the River Indus, established themselves in Egypt  between the Nile and the sea, towards the south, in the equatorial regions.  Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren (1760-1842) an Egyptologist has  observed (Historical Researches - Heeran p. 309): "It is perfectly  agreeable to Hindu manners that colonies from India, i.e., Banian families  should have passed over Africa, and carried with them their industry, and  perhaps also their religious worship." "Whatever weight may be  attached to Indian tradition and the express testimony of Eusebius confirming  the report of migrations from the banks of the Indus into Egypt, there is  certainly nothing improbable in the event itself, as a desire of gain would  have formed a sufficient inducement."

Many questions are raised here.  If Punt is India, then when did the ancient Egyptians migrate to the shores of  the Nile from Punt? If we assume that the migration took place sometime around  3000 BC, at the beginning of the ‘Kali Yuga’, then who built the Giza Pyamids? Since the Pyramid complex at Giza  has now been dated to around 10,500 BC (Hancock and Bauval), and since this  magnificent pyramid complex is entirely devoid of any hieroglyphic engravings  or inscriptions, which is very unlike the Egyptian pysche, it raises the  question whether the Giza Pyramid complex was built by the ancient Egyptians or  by others before them. Is it possible that was it built by a ‘race of giants’  who built similar megalithic structures around the world, including many of  them in Mesoamerica? Maybe the arrival of the ancient Egyptians to the shores  of the Nile from the distant Punt displaced this ‘race of giants’ and a new civilization  was initiated? Whatever be the truth about ancient Egypt, it is clear that we  are barely scratching the surface of it in the present times.

Lorna Oakes & Lucia Gahlin, Ancient Egypt, London: Hermes House,  2002,2007, p 280


Lorna Oakes & Lucia Gahlin, Ancient Egypt, London: Hermes House,  2002,2007, p 152


About  the author: Bibhu  Dev Misra is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian  Institute of Management and has been working as an Information Technology  consultant for more than 12 years, for various organizations across the world.  He is also an independent researcher and writer on topics related to ancient  civilizations, myths, symbols, religion and spirituality and has travelled to  various places of historical, religious and architectural importance. His  personal blog:

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