When it comes to Mesoamerican and South American civilizations, nothing is much known about their gods and mythologies. While there are sufficient scriptures written about the ancient eastern civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Greece, India and Egypt, there doesn't seem to be much light thrown on the pre-Columbian American civilizations such as Incas, Mayans and Aztecs. This article is an attempt to throw more light about their mythologies.
This is the first article in the series dealing with the Incas and their mythologies. Most South American concede that their gods came from distant lands beyond oceans. While mainstream archaeologists and skeptics dismiss this, “ancient alien” theorists claim that these gods were aliens who came down to earth, similar to those who came down to India, Sumer, Egypt and Israel. But, could there be more plausible theories to prove that these mythologies may not just be myths? Here is an attempt to do so.
Incas: Who were they?
The Inca civilization was the largest of the pre-Columbian civilizations. With the political, military and administrative centres as Cuzco in modern day Peru, it had assimilated regions such as the Andean mountain ranges, parts of Modern Ecuador, south central Bolivia, north and central Chile, northwest Argentina and a part of southern Colombia.
Documented history says that the empire was at its peak between 1438 -1533 before it was decimated by the Spanish conquistadors. However, an important part of the civilization and the pre-Inca civilization centred around the Andes region has existed for at least a couple of thousand years.
Inca mythology and Viracochas
The pre-Inca and the Incan pantheon of gods places a huge emphasis on their gods called the Viracochas. In fact, the leader of the pre-Incan pantheon of gods was called 'Viracocha' though he was also known by different names such as Con-Tici and Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra. According to the Incan mythology, Viracochas came in long boats from distant lands beyond oceans.
Incas consider Viracocha the creator of the heaven and earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. He was also the creator of humans. He created the first form of humans who were brainless giants. Displeased with his work, he destroyed them with floods and then created the modern day humans with smaller stones. Viracochas were the gods who taught Incas art, culture, science, reincarnation and the basics of human civilization. They eventually disappeared across the Pacific Ocean by walking on water.
Incas describe the physical feature of Viracocha as follows: he was known to be of medium height (about 6-7 ft tall according to some narrations), white in complexion and wore a white robe (like an alb). He also wields the thunderbolt (similar to Indra's vajrayudha, Thor's hammer and Zeus's thunderbolt). All Viracochas shared similar physical features. Each were also called the rulers of earth, water, air etc.
What does Indian mythology say
While at the outset, it may seem that the Incan people were describing the Biblical god and quoting from the Bibilcal texts, a closer look gives a different story. One must understand that there were older eastern civilizations that had similar mythologies thousands of years ago. The Incan mythology may in reality have a closer resemblance with what has been written in the Indian sacred texts. Let us see why.
According to Hindu mythology, a demon king (asura) [Note: the word demon/asura is not to be confused with 'evil'. They were just another race] known as Virochana and few of his people set out to spread the divine knowledge to distant lands. To give a brief background, Virochana was the son of Prahlada (an ardent disciple of god Vishnu and son of the evil demon Hiranyakashipu) and father of Mahabali, another ardent disciple of Vishnu. Both demon kings are famous in Indian mythology (in Vishnu's 4th and 5th incarnation respectively) as Vishnu's favorite disciples.
According to Hindu texts, it is said that both Indra and Virochana learnt the Upanishads and Vedas from the divine teacher Prajapati. It is said that while Indra learnt the teachings properly, Virochana did a mistake in interpreting some teachings. While Indra focused on higher consciousness and achieving the supreme being through that, Virochana taught the asuras ('danao' in Greek and 'ahuras' in Persian) about worshiping the physical body.
According to a festival called Onam celebrated in India, the festival is celebrated in veneration of King Mahabali who was a benevolent king and a worshiper of Vishnu. Vishnu was forced to send Mahabali to Patala and Rasatala (Africa and South America) to rule there upon request from Indra as Indra was afraid that Bali would overthrow him taking control of the heavens. Mahabali was granted the wish of visiting his people once a year (on the day of Onam). The same mythology also talks about his father Virochana along with few of his followers leaving for far away lands via long snake boats (one of the key sports during Onam celebrations is the long boat race).
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Note: Interestingly, the Egyptian god Osiris came from distant lands via eastern seas from the south eastern direction. Long boats were actually found during excavations in Egypt. One narration says that the word "Osiris" may have come from the word "Asura". Incas too talk about people coming on ships from distant lands from eastern oceans (one of the main reasons why they confused the Spanish conquistadors as their gods).
Similarities in Etymology
'Vira' in Sanskrit means 'brave/powerful man' or 'hero'. 'Cocha' in Latin or the Andean 'cochlia/cochlea' means 'sea snail' that resides in the sea foam. Hence 'Viracocha' essentially translates to "he of the sea foam". This could mean that Virochana and his gods either came on boats (ships) or some other sea craft. This may be easily dismissed as nonsense. However, considering phoneicians traveled to North America at least two thousand years ago using boats, this may have been indeed possible.
Alternately, 'Cocha' may have come from the Sanskrit word 'Kosha' meaning 'something which consists of' or 'body of' (for example, a dictionary is called "shabda-kosha", a body which consists of words and their meanings). Hence, "Viracocha" may also have meant 'a hero filled with knowledge'. While one may argue that 'Quechua' was the official language of Incas, linguists have found that the language of the pre-Incan civilization may have indeed either come from archaic Sanskrit/Persian and Greek or may have been influenced by these languages.
"Virochana" in Sanskrit means 'the bright one', 'the illuminating one' or 'the shining one' which is also the term used to denote sun-god. Virochana was supposed to be fifth in the descent of Brahman (the creator of the universe).
There are few other connections found in the Indian mythology relating to this.
'Guatemala' is referred to as 'Ketumala' and an important western geographical region in Indian texts (in the epic of Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana). It is also mentioned as one of the four continental regions known to ancient Indians apart from Persia, Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia. Guatemala belonged to the Mayan civilization (this is one of the Mayan connections with India).
'Uruguay' is interpreted to have been derived from the Sanskrit word 'Uruga' or snake worshipers. Indian mythology again talks extensively about the Naga-loka (the geographical region of snake worshipers) often easily interchanged with Patala (southern hemisphere). This particular tribe of Urugas were known to be sea-faring tribe. On the same lines Paraguay may have come from the word 'Apara Gaya', 'Gaya' being a tribe ruled by the Asura king Gayasura.
While definite connections between the two civilizations have not yet been found, there are several anomalies (such as the supposed Viracocha's trident in Paracas Candelabra, Peru similar to Shiva's trishool) which may point to a possible connection between these two ancient civilizations.
Questions & Answers
Question: While going through some hymns of Ecuadoria accidentally, I clearly heard Sanskrit in the form "Namastosai, Namastosai, Namastosai, Namo, Namoho" beside the word "Sundara"! I was so surprised and amazed to hear such similarity. My question is was there any exodus of Vedic culture from India to a far land like Ecuador? Is there any authenticity or is it a mere wild guess!
Answer: Very interesting observation and thanks for this question.
There may be quite a few possibilities. One could be that Yes, there may have been a migration of Indic (from the Indian subcontinent) people thousands of years ago (at least according to Vedic mythologies and puranas). Who these people were, how they reached the other end of the world, etc; there has been no proof such as ships or ship routes/land routes found. Even if there has been any evidence, it may be under the oceans now as deluges over thousands of years may have sunken the land mass (look at the land mass between Australia and India, which has proven the movement of some Indian and Australian tribes between these two countries).
Ancient flight paths? Seems a little far stretched. However, it may not be, if we believe in the 'Ancient Alien Theory'. Again, it may sound ridiculous but not so much after piling evidence over years.
The second possibility is that there may have been a central civilization (call it Atlantis or whatever) which must have been the root of all these major civilizations (almost proven according to Archaeology. Look at Gobekli Tepe, Turkey) After the last major ice age about 12,000 years ago, when the central civilization got destroyed, the remnants may have moved to the neighboring land masses and must have started all over while still retaining the culture. So, the 'Vedic' culture as well as the Andes culture could have common roots.
A third and a very practical possibility is that there has been significant movement of Indians to the Americas in modern times. In fact, almost 43% of Guyana's population is Indian. And South America indeed has a measurable Indian population in many countries. So, it could be quite possible that you may have heard Vedic hymns.
Arrow on November 19, 2017:
Its called convergent cultural evolution through shared climatic conditions. Although im not discounting the possibility of trans oceanic contact in the remote past by Polynesians, Chinese an Japanese sailors from the Pacific and the Phoenicians and Malians over the Atlantic. But all parallels drawn in this essay are not supported by sound evidence. There is not much proof of Andean crops like potatoes, tomatoes and peanuts in Indian sub continent prior to Portuguese Colonial introduction via their trade with Hispanic colonies in newly conquered MesoAmerica. The only enigma remains the 12-13 century depictions of 'Corn' in Hoysala temples - though they could have been carved in by later Vijayanagara scuptors between 1505 ( after Pedro Alvarez Cabral's landing in Brazil and subsequent landfall in Goa and 1565 ( Collapse of Vijayanagara empire) . The Tuluva dynasty persisted much later an was in trade with portuguese along west coast , but its still a big cultural gap for an Hindu temple to depict 'unholy' and exotic new world crops
Bhargav on November 16, 2017:
Amit, Chili peppers weren't cultivated in the Americas until 3500 BC or so. The timeline of the events in this article according to mythology goes far beyond 3500 BC, likely around beyond 10,000 BC or so, meaning that there's no way that ancient vedic society would've brought chilli peppers from the americas.
Amit Seth on May 16, 2017:
If India had contact with Meso America from distant times, how is it that the highly popular chili pepper was unknown in India until the Portuguese introduced it in the 16th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_pepper). This is wishful thinking. When you compare two great cultures there will be parallels. No modern historian will say there was contact. I'm Indian but I find the amount of made-up history in India quite staggering. It's because we confuse mythology with history, so anything goes.
Karthik Kashyap (author) from India on June 07, 2015:
Thanks Deepak. Will try to find out more :)
Deepak on June 04, 2015:
Wow!!! Great!! Waiting to here something more about Inca civilization!!
SALVAONEGIANNAOLCOM from south and west of canada,north of ohio on September 13, 2013:
Politics, Science and Religion make for strange bedfellows that's for sure!
Karthik Kashyap (author) from India on September 13, 2013:
Thanks a lot Christine :) Yes, it is absolutely fascinating to see how ancient cultures are connected. It is sad that much research hasn't been conducted in this regard. Mainstream science is completely closed to this alternate theory calling it junk. If only it opens up, most of what is called as myth may actually be proven fact. Who knows, myths such as Atlantis or "intelligent design" theory may also be proven right some day :)
Christin Sander from Midwest on September 13, 2013:
What an interesting hub. I've always found it fascinating how so many ancient cultures seem to have so many similarities. Voted up