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The Gods Are Where We Are: Living Polytheism in the 21st Century/ Part 2

NOTE: This feature was originally published on April 13, 2021 by Aparna Sridhar in Soft Power Magazine

Indians pray to a pantheon of deities called devas. Are there similarities to Egyptian gods?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: There are definitely similarities between the devas of Sanātana Dharma and

A contemporary idol of the God Ptah with His staff

the goddesses and gods of Egypt. Firstly, one sees that iconographically the netjeru or Gods are visualized anthropomorphically, and that these forms remain consistent throughout Egyptian history. There are the cosmic Creators such as the God Ptah, Whose iconography in anthropomorphized form never changes over a period of four-thousand or more years. He is depicted with attributes that remain with Him- close-fitting skull cap, straight, squared beard, and hands protruding from form-fitting sheath carrying the ankh-djed-was (ankh=life+djed=stability+was=dominion) staff of creation. The God Ptah is always instantly recognizable because of His consistent iconography, which reminds one of Brahmā or Śiva, and in particular the triśūla-trident of Śiva representing His śakti-powers. The ankh-djed-was staff held by Ptah is a combination of three divine attributes associated almost exclusively with the God Ptah in His role of Creator of all life, material and spiritual. Likewise, the triśūla-trident of Śiva embodies His three powers of icçhā-will, kriyā-action, and jñāna-wisdom. Śiva's trident is so closely aligned with Him that the God's presence may be represented by the trident alone, just as the ankh-djed-was staff is recognizable as that instrument of Ptah's powers as Creator of the universe, Gods, and living creatures.

We find in taking a closer look at the forms of the devas that these correspond to the manner in which the Gods of Kemet- ancient Egypt- are depicted. Consider, for example, the bimorphic form assumed by Viṣṇu, Who transforms Himself into a boar in the Śiva Purāṇa, and of Gaṇeśa with His elephant head and plump, human child's body. Such combinations of human and animal are the well-known hallmark of the Egyptian netjeru, Who often appear in temple iconography as animal-headed and human-bodied. But we also have the strong presence of the vāhana-vehicle in the devas, which signify aspects of a deity's power, such as the lion of Durgā or bull of Śiva. The Kemetic- ancient Egyptian- netjeru have what are called uhemu, animal intermediaries like the Hap- or Apis- Bull of the God Ptah, and these animals are regarded as the living manifestations of a deity's sekhemu or powers. These animals or birds are believed to be the carriers of a deity's concentrated power, which becomes accessible to the material world through such a manifestation. Now, in the Kemetic tradition, the netjeru do not actually ride their uhemu as the devas ride Their vāhanas, but still, the Gods of Egypt are very closely tied to the manifold animal forms with which Their living powers are associated. In fact, the Kemetic Gods can also appear in completely zoomorphic guise, or be represented by the animal whose head They more often sport.

It is this reverence for the inherent sacredness - this inherent divinity- in the natural world that most closely ties the devas of Sanātana Dharma with the netjeru of Kemet. The Goddesses and Gods of Egypt demonstrate Their powers and qualities through the animal kingdom, and also in the plant kingdom, which exists prominently in the divine iconography of Sanātana Dharma. We also find the same type of iconographic determinations made in both cultures, such as the attitudes or postures/gestures of deities that act as identifying factors, specific regalia and weapons particular to both local and national deities that serves to embody how each deity's powers are demonstrated, and family units that form the core values presented in the sacred story cycles of each deity. In the Kemetic traditions, goddesses and gods are presented in tight-knit family groups often consisting of a male deity, his female consort, and a divine child or children, which become the specific focus of temple cultus. In Kemetic theology, for example, we have the divine family of the God Ausir (or Osiris), the Goddess Aset (or Isis), and Their son the God Heru (or Horus), Whose family tribulations and exploits became central to Egyptian religious thought and ritual. We might compare this with the family of Śiva Pārvatī, and Gaṇeśa.


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