THEOSOPHY, Vol. 47, No. 5, March, 1959
(Pages 218-227; Size: 28K)

ANCIENT TEMPLES(1)

It is a stupendous and appealing thought ... to build a tiny central chamber as God's abode, a place so small that he must be alone, and then to surround it with squares, ever descending, ever enlarging, until a space has been enclosed that would hold enough of priests, of guards, of worshippers....
ALL the religious monuments of old, in whatever land or under whatever climate, are the expression of the same identical thoughts, the key to which is in the esoteric doctrine. It would be vain, without studying the latter, to seek to unriddle the mysteries enshrouded for centuries in the temples and ruins of Egypt and Assyria, or those of Central America, British Columbia, and the Nagkon-Wat of Cambodia. If each of these was built by a different nation, and not one nation had had intercourse with the others for ages, it is also certain that all were planned and built under the direct supervision of the priests. And the clergy of every nation, though practicing rites and ceremonies which may have differed externally, had evidently been initiated into the same traditional mysteries which were taught all over the world.

In order to institute a better comparison between the specimens of prehistoric architecture to be found at the most opposite points of the globe, we have but to point to the grandiose Hindu ruins of Ellora in the Dekkan, the Mexican Chichen-Itza, in Yucatan, and the still grander ruins of Copan, in Guatemala. They present such features of resemblance that it seems impossible to escape the conviction that they were built by peoples moved by the same religious ideas, who had reached an equal level of highest civilization in arts and sciences. What architect will dare assert that the same hand which planned the Pyramids of Egypt, Karnak, and the thousand ruins now crumbling to oblivion on the sandy banks of the Nile, did not erect the monumental Nagkon Wat, or trace the hieroglyphics on the obelisks and doors of the deserted Indian village, newly discovered in British Columbia by Lord Dufferin, or those on the ruins of Palenque and Uxmal, of Central America? The Egyptian Karnak is twin-brother to the Carnac Bretagné, the latter Carnac meaning the serpent's mount. The Dracontia once covered the surface of the globe, and these temples were sacred to the dragon only because it was the symbol of the sun, which, in its turn, was the symbol of the highest god -- the Phoenician Elion.

The keys to the Biblical mysteries of old, the problems of psychology, physiology and the many "missing links" are all in the hands of the secret fraternities. They may be found in the time-worn granite pages of cave-temples. Except the initiates, no one has understood the mystic writing. And so stand these monuments like mute forgotten sentinels on the threshold of that unseen world, whose gates are thrown open but to a few elect. Stephens, indulging in the anticipation "that a surer key than that of the Rosetta-stone will be discovered," by which the American hieroglyphics may be read, says that the descendants of the Caciques and the Aztec subjects are believed to survive still in the inaccessible fastnesses of the Cordilleras -- "wildernesses, which have never yet been penetrated by a white man -- living as their fathers did, erecting the same buildings ... with ornaments of sculpture, large courts, and lofty towers with high ranges of steps, and still carving on stone tablets the same mysterious hieroglyphics."

H. P. Blavatsky tells of "an island (in Central Asia), which for its unparalleled beauty had no rival in the world, which was inhabited by the last remnant of the race which preceded ours. The hierophants of all the Sacerdotal Colleges were aware of the existence of this island; there were many such colleges, and the old classic authors speak of them. There was no communication with the fair island by sea, but subterranean passages known only to the chiefs communicated with it in all directions. Tradition points to many of the majestic ruins of India -- Ellora, Elephanta, and the caverns of Ajunta (Chandor Range) -- which belonged once to these colleges, and which were connected by such subterranean ways." There is not a cave-temple in the country but has its subterranean passages running in every direction, and those underground caves and endless corridors have in their turn their caves and corridors. Why then could not Ellora, Elephanta, Karli and Ajunta have been built on the subterranean labyrinths? The ruins which cover both Americas, and are found on many West Indian islands, are all attributed to the submerged Atlanteans. As well as the hierophants of the old world, which in the days of Atlantis was almost connected with the new one by land, the magicians of the now submerged country had a network of subterranean passages running in all directions. Egypt had the "celestial labyrinth" whereinto the souls of the departed plunged, and also its type on earth, the famous Labyrinth, a subterranean series of halls and passages with the most extraordinary windings. Herodotus describes it as consisting of 3,000 chambers, half below and half above ground. Even in his day strangers were not allowed into the subterranean portions of it as they contained the sepulchers of the kings who built it and other mysteries. The "Father of History" found the Labyrinth already almost in ruins, yet regarded it even in its state of dilapidation as far more marvellous than the pyramids.

It is very remarkable that all the cave-temples of India are to be found inside conical rocks and mountains. It is as though the ancient builders looked for such natural pyramids purposely. Is it a mere coincidence, or is it one of the rules of the religious architecture of the remote past? Everything seems to be calculated with geometrical exactitude. In neither the case of pyramids or caves are the entrances ever at the bottom, but always at a certain distance from the ground. But the construction of all the cave temples of India, whose history is lost in the darkness of time, is ascribed by the European archeologists to the Buddhists, and by the native tradition to the Pandu brothers. The theory which declares that all the cave temples of India are of Buddhist origin is wrong. If, among hundreds of Brahmanical gods, we find one statue of Buddha, it only shows that the masses of half-converts to Buddhism added this new god to the ancient Brahmanical temple. Druidical circles, Dolmens, the temples of India, Egypt and Greece, the Towers and 127 towns in Europe which were found "Cyclopean in origin" by the French Institute, are all the work of initiated Priest-Architects, the descendants of those primarily taught by the "Sons of God" justly called the "Builders."

The caverns of Ajunta, which are but 200 miles from Bombay, in the Chandor range, and the ruins of the ancient city of Aurungabad, whose crumbling palaces and curious tombs have lain in desolate solitude for many centuries, have attracted attention but very recently. Mementos of long by-gone civilization, they were allowed to become the shelter of wild beasts for ages before they were found worthy of a scientific exploration, and it is only recently that the Observer gave an enthusiastic description of these archaic ancestors of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The Observer says: "In a deep glen away up the mountain there is a group of cave-temples which are the most wonderful caverns on the earth. It is not known at the present age how many of these exist in the deep recesses of the mountains; but 27 have been explored, surveyed, and to some extent cleared of rubbish. There are, doubtless, many others. It is hard to realize with what indefatigable toil these wonderful caves have been hewn from the solid rock of amygdaloid. ... They rank very high as works of art. They extend over 500 feet along a high cliff, and are carved in the most curious manner, exhibiting, in a wonderful degree, the taste, talent, and persevering industry of the Hindu sculptors. These cave-temples are beautifully cut and carved on the outside, but inside they were finished most elaborately, and decorated with a vast profusion of sculptures and paintings. These long-deserted temples have suffered from dampness and neglect, and the paintings and frescoes are not what they were hundreds of years ago. But the colors are still brilliant, and scenes gay and festive still appear upon the walls. Some of the figures cut into the rock are taken for marriage-processions and scenes in domestic life that are represented as joyful. The female figures are beautiful, delicate, and fair as Europeans. Every one of these representations is artistic, and all of them are unpolluted by any grossness or obscenity generally so prominent in Brahmanical representations of a similar character."

Some writer has employed a most felicitous expression in describing the majesty of the Hindu archaic monuments, and the exquisite finish of their sculpture: "They built," says he, "like giants, and finished like jewelers."

Like all the cave-temples of India, the Bagh caverns are dug out in the middle of a vertical rock. Seventy-two steps mark the ascent. On reaching the top, one finds a whole enfilade of dark caves, through regular square openings, six feet wide. The first hall, or temple, is eighty-four feet square, and nineteen high. Twenty-four massive pillars form a square, six pillars at each side, and four in the middle to prop up the center of the ceiling, as the mass of the mountain which presses on it from the top is much greater than in Karli or Elephanta. There are at least three different styles in the architecture of these pillars. Some are grooved in spirals, gradually and imperceptibly changing from round to sixteen-sided, then octagonal and square. Others, plain for the first third of their height, gradually finish under the ceiling by a most elaborate display of ornamentation, which reminds one of the Corinthian style; the third, with a square plinth and semi-circular friezes. Straight before the entrance a door leads to another hall, which is oblong, with hexagonal pillars and niches, containing statues -- goddesses ten feet and gods nine feet high. After this hall there is a room with an altar, which is a regular hexagon, having sides each three feet long, and protected by a cupola cut in the rock. Nobody was admitted here except the initiates of the mysteries of the adytum. Similar rooms, one on top of the other, go up to the summit of the mountain. Then they take a sudden turn, and descend gradually to a whole underground palace, which is sometimes temporarily inhabited. Wishing to leave the world for a while and to spend a few days in isolation, the Raja-Yogis find perfect solitude in this underground abode.

On the opposite side of Khandala is situated Karli, which, according to the unanimous opinion of archeologists, is the most ancient and best preserved of Indian cave-temples. Khandala is nothing but a big village, surrounded by isolated peaks. One of them, on the opposite side of the abyss, resembles a long, one-storied building with a flat roof and a battlemented parapet. The Hindus assert that, somewhere about this hillock there exists a secret entrance leading into vast interior halls, in fact a whole subterranean palace, and that there still exist people who possess the secret of this abode. The majestic entrance, resting on four massive pillars which form a quadrangle, is fifty-three feet wide and is covered with ancient moss and carvings. Before it stands a "lion column." Over the principal entrance, its side covered with colossal male and female figures, is a huge arch, in front of which three gigantic elephants are sculptured in relief. The shape of the temple is oval. The central space is separated on each side from the aisles by forty-two pillars, which sustain the cupola-shaped ceiling. Further on is an altar, which divides the first dome from a second one which rises over a small chamber, formerly used by the ancient Aryan priests for an inner, secret altar. Two side passages leading towards it come to a sudden end, which suggests that, at one time, either doors or walls were there which exist no longer. To the eyes of a spectator standing at the entrance, the whole dagoba shines with light, and behind it is the impenetrable darkness where no profane footsteps were permitted to tread. Above the temple are two stories of caves, in which are wide open galleries, which come to an abrupt termination at solid walls. The guardians of the temple have either lost the secret of further caves, or conceal them jealously from Europeans. There are secret libraries and subterranean passages at Karli.

Gharipura (Elephanta) translated means "the town of caves" according to the Orientalists, and "the town of purification" according to the native Sanskrit scholars. This temple, cut out by an unknown hand in the very heart of a rock resembling porphyry, is a true apple of discord among the archeologists, of whom none can as yet fix, even approximately, its antiquity. How many generations of Hindus, how many races, have knelt in the dust before the Trimurti, your three-fold deity, O Elephanta? How many centuries were spent by weak men in digging out in your stone bosom this town of temples and carving your gigantic idols? Thanks to the fanaticism of the Portuguese soldiers, the chronology of the Indian cave temples must remain forever an enigma to the archeological world, beginning with the Brahmans, who say Elephanta is 374,000 years old, and ending with Fergusson, who tried to prove that it was carved only in the twelfth century of our era. Whenever one turns one's eyes to history, there is nothing to be found but hypotheses and darkness. And yet Gharipura is mentioned in the Mahabharata. In another legend it is said that Elephanta was built by the sons of Pandu. Centuries have passed, and will pass, and the ancient secret will die in the rocky bosom of the cave still unrecorded.

It is not necessary to be either a specialist, an architect, or an eminent archeologist, in order to be convinced that such temples as Elephanta are the work of Cyclops, requiring centuries and not years for their construction. In Elephanta it seems as if thousands of different hands had wrought at different times, each following its own ideas and fashioning after its own device. Why then should we not pay some attention to the explanations of the Brahmans? They say that this temple was begun by the sons of Pandu, after the great Mahabharata, and that after their death every true believer was bidden to continue the work according to his own notions. Thus the temple was gradually built during three centuries. Every one who wished would bring his chisel and set to work. Many were the members of royal families, and even kings, who took part in these labors. All three caves are dug out of hard porphyry rock. The first temple is practically a square, 130 feet six inches long and 130 feet wide. It contains 26 thick pillars and 16 pilasters. On the right hand side of the temple there is a corner stone, a lingam of Shiva in his character of Fructifying Force, which is sheltered by a small square chapel with four doors. Round this chapel are many colossal figures. According to the Brahmans, these are statues of the royal sculptors themselves, they being door-keepers to the holy of holies. Each of the larger figures leans upon a dwarf, representative of the lower castes, which have been promoted by popular fancy to the rank of demons....

To this day Science is ignorant on the subject of the Cyclops. They are supposed to have built all the so-called Cyclopean works whose erection necessitated several regiments of giants. They are called "Builders" and Occultism calls them the INITIATORS, who initiating some Pelasgians thus laid the foundation for true Masonry. Herodotus associates the Cyclops with Perseus. Raoul Rochette found that Palemonius, the Cyclops, to whom a sanctuary was raised, was the Tyrian Hercules. Anyhow, he was the builder of the sacred columns of Gadir, covered with mysterious characters to which Apollonius of Tyana was the only one in his age to possess the key; and with figures which may still be found on the walls of Ellora, the gigantic ruins of the temple of Viswakarman, "the builder and artificer of the Gods." It is easy to see that the excavators of Ellora, the builders of the old Pagodas, the architects of Copan and of the ruins of South America, those of Nagkon-Wat, and those of the Egyptians, were, if not of the same race, at least of the same religion -- the one taught in the oldest Mysteries.

There is not, perhaps, on the face of the whole globe, a more imposing mass of ruins than Nagkon-Wat, the wonder and puzzle of archeologists. And when we say ruins, the expression is hardly correct; for nowhere are there buildings of such tremendous antiquity to be found in a better state of preservation than Nagkon-Wat, and the ruins of Angkorthom, the great temple. Hidden far away in the province of Siamrap -- eastern Siam -- in the midst of a most luxurious tropical vegetation, surrounded by almost impenetrable forests of palms, cocoa-trees and betel-nut, "the general appearance of the wonderful temple is beautiful and romantic," says Vincent. "We whose good fortune it is to live in the 19th century, are accustomed to boast of the perfection and preeminence of our modern civilization; of the grandeur of our attainments in science, art, literature and what not, as compared with those whom we call ancients; but still we are compelled to admit that they have far excelled our recent endeavours in many things, and notably in the fine arts of painting, architecture and sculpture. We were but just looking upon a wonderful example of the two latter, for in style and beauty of architecture, solidity of construction, and magnificent and elaborate carving and sculpture, the great Nagkon-Wat has no superior, certainly no rival standing at the present day. The first view of the ruins is overwhelming." Thus the opinion of another traveller is added to that of many preceding ones, including archeologists and other competent critics, who have believed that the ruins of the past Egyptian splendour deserve no higher eulogium than Nagkon-Wat.

"We entered upon an immense causeway, the stairs of which were flanked with six huge griffins, each carved from a single block of stone. The causeway is 725 feet in length, and is paved with stones, each of which measures four feet in length by two in breadth. On either side of it are artificial lakes fed by springs, and each covering about five acres of ground. The outer wall of Nagkon-Wat (the city of monasteries) is half a mile square, with gateways which are handsomely carved with figures of gods and dragons. The foundations are ten feet in height. The entire edifice, including the roof, is of stone, but without cement, and so closely fitting are the joints as even now to be scarcely discernible. The shape of the building is oblong, being 796 feet in length, and 588 in width, while the central pagoda rises some 250-odd feet above the ground, and four others, at the angles of the court, are each about 150 feet in height."

The above underscored lines are suggestive to travelers who have remarked and admired the same wonderful mason-work in the Egyptian remains. If the same workmen did not lay the courses in both countries, we must at least think that the secret of this matchless wall-building was equally known to the architects of every land. Compare for example with what Champollion wrote of Karnak in ancient Thebes: "The ground covered by the mass of remaining buildings is square, and each side measured 1,800 feet. One is astounded and overcome by the grandeur of the sublime remnants, the prodigality and magnificence of workmanship to be seen everywhere. The imagination, which in Europe soars far above our porticos, arrests itself and falls powerless at the foot of the hundred and forty columns of the hypostyle of Karnak! In one of its halls, the Cathedral of Notre Dame might stand and not touch the ceiling, but be considered as a small ornament in the centre of the hall."

Vincent's description of Nagkon-Wat in Cambodia continues: "Passing, we ascend a platform and enter the temple itself, through a columned portico, the façade of which is beautifully carved in basso-relievo with ancient mythological subjects. From this doorway, on either side, runs a corridor with a double row of columns, cut -- base and capital -- from single blocks, with a double, oval-shaped roof, covered with carving and consecutive sculptures upon the outer wall. This gallery of sculptures, which forms the exterior of the temple, consists of over half a mile of continuous pictures, cut in basso-relievo upon sandstone slabs six feet in width, and represents subjects taken from Hindu mythology, from the Ramayana --the Sanskrit epic poem of India, with its 25,000 verses describing the exploits of the god Rama and the son of the King of Oude. The contests of the King of Ceylon, and Hanouman, the monkey-god, are graphically represented. There is no keystone used in the arch of this corridor. On the walls are sculptured the immense number of 100,000 separate figures. One picture from the Ramayana occupies 240 feet of the wall. In the Nagkon-Wat as many as 1,532 solid columns have been counted, and among the entire ruins of Angkor, the immense number of 6,000; almost all of them hewn from single rocks and artistically carved."

"But who built Nagkon-Wat? And when was it built? Learned men have attempted to form opinions from studies of its construction, and especially ornamentation" -- and have failed. "Native Cambodian historians," adds Vincent, "reckon 2,400 years from the building of the temple. I asked one of them how long Nagkon-Wat had been built. 'None can tell when ... I do not know; it must have either sprung up from the ground or been built by giants, or perhaps by the angels,' was the answer."

But there are perhaps many circumstances, trifling for archeologists unacquainted with the "idle and fanciful" legends of old, hence overlooked; otherwise the discovery might have sent them on a new train of thought. One is the invariable presence on the Egyptian, Mexican and Siamese ruined temples, of the monkey. And the date (2,000 years ago) is the more incredible because the pictures on the walls may be proved to belong to those archaic ages when Poseidon and the Kabeiri were worshipped throughout the continent. For our part, we may add that there are on the walls several repetitions of Dagon, the man-fish of the Babylonians, and of the Kabeirian gods of Samothrace. This may have escaped the notice of the archeologists who examined the place; but upon stricter inspection they will be found there, as well as the reputed father of the Kabeiri -- Vulcan, with his bolts and implements, having near him a king with a scepter in his hand, which is the counterpart of the "scepter of Agamemnon," so called. In another place we find Vulcan, recognizable by his hammer and pincers, but under the shape of a monkey, as usually represented by the Egyptians.

Now, if the Nagkon-Wat is essentially a Buddhist temple, as some think, how comes it to have on its walls basso-relievos of completely an Assyrian character; and Kabeirian gods which, although universally worshipped as the most ancient of the Asiatic mystery gods, had already been abandoned 200 B.C. and the Samothracian mysteries completely altered? Whence the popular tradition concerning the Prince of Roma among the Cambodians, a personage mentioned by all the native historians, who attribute to him the founding of the temple? Is it not barely possible that even the Ramayana itself is but the original of Homer's Iliad? In such a case, even Hanouman, the monkey-god, would be but Vulcan in disguise; the more so as the Cambodian tradition makes the founder of Angkor to come from Roma, which they place at the western end of the world, and that the Hindu Roma also apportions the west to the descendants of Hanouman. To conclude, the assertions of certain archeologists who find no resemblance between the temples of Central America and those of Egypt and Siam leave the symbologist, acquainted with the secret language of picture-writing, perfectly unconcerned. He sees and reads their history and affiliation in signs imperceptible to the uninitiated scientist.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

THE TEMPLE IDEA

I am not one of those who thinks that temples are only the expression of certain vested interests. I am more concerned with the temple-idea. If thought is a reality, several minds and hearts tuned to a particular attitude of aspiration and devotion are bound to produce tremendous results. Certain great centres have been chosen by Great Seers as most effective for the purpose of achieving certain definite results in the common life of a community. These centres of great occult power became channels for certain types of influences from on high to flow through, not only to the people gathered there, but to all the surrounding locality. 


--R. SRINIVASAN, Bhavan's Journal

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