Traces of India in Ancient Egypt
[From Manu and Herodotus]
Lucifer, September, 1889
“Who is the God to whom we shall offer worship?
He whose shadow is Immortality!”—Rig Veda.
“The Egyptians are the first of mankind who have taught the Immortality of the Soul!”—Herodotus.
Egypt has no Stone Age. Her civilization is as perfect at the dawn of her history as when she ceased to be a nation.
Like Athene, sprung full-armoured from the brow of Zeus, the old race of Egypt appear fully equipped in arts, religions, and sciences.
This ready-made perfection must be the flower of some older nation’s growth; and that older nation, says the author of Isis Unveiled, is Ancient India; and Menes is the Manu-Vina of Kalluka Bhatta, who was driven from his motherland, and colonized the Valley of the Nile.
Besides the evidence quoted to support this view, there is much in the history of Egypt, deciphered from the papyri and collected from the writers of Greece, that may lead to its demonstration.
We shall bring forward from one of these, Herodotus, such facts as may shew a connexion between the Egypt he described, and the laws, religions, and customs of the India of Manu’s Code.
The hierarchies of India and Egypt were alike dominant: in both, a hereditary caste, strong, learned, guardians of the sacred books, monuments, and sciences; hierophants of the divine mysteries.
Ceremony and ritual, the inheritance of a still greater antiquity, are all-important to the Brahman of Manu’s Code; and in Egypt, Herodotus tells us:
“It would be difficult to enumerate all their religious ceremonies, all of which they practise with superstitious exactness.”1
Many of these ceremonies are described by Herodotus, and many are identical with the Brahmanical ceremonies of the Mânava Code.
Both priesthoods are· appointed to sacrifice to the Gods; they both slay the sacred animals on certain specified days; and both use as food the flesh of the bulls they have sacrificed. Both study their sacred scriptures, and the lives of their Gods and divine ancestors, both have certain customs on the death of their relations, and for both a system of dress is prescribed.
The Brahman of Manu is to bathe at regular periods, to wear only clean linen, to cut his hair short, to abstain from certain foods, and to avoid impure contacts. He is to purify himself by washing if contaminated, to clean his brass bowl before eating, and to purify it by fire if polluted by an unholy touch.
From Herodotus we learn that:
“The priests of the gods in Egypt wear their hair short.”2
And, as in India:
“One of their customs is to drink out of a brazen goblet, which it is the universal practice among them to cleanse every day.”3
In Egypt, as in India, bathing was a religious rite, and the tank and the temple were equally sacred. Herodotus says:
“The priesthood of Egypt wash themselves with cold water twice a day, and as often in the night,”4 to enter clean into the service of the Gods.
Further, Herodotus tells us:
“The Egyptian priests are so regardful of cleanliness that they wear only one vesture of linen, and that newly washed.”5
The picture in these passages is a perfect counterpart of the Brahman of Manu:
“With hair and beard clipt, passions subdued, his mantle white, and his body pure.”6
The religion taught by these sacred castes was not less identical than their raiment. Setting aside their theology, and turning to the mysteies of human life, we find that both had reached the same great solutions.
The greatest and noblest doctrine in the world was common to both, and though Herodotus tells us that:
“The Egyptians were the first of mankind who taught the Immortality of the Soul.”7
We cannot doubt that this belief was as old, if not older, in India, for it appears in the earliest Veda.
To this doctrine of the Immortal Soul, both nations added a belief in its development through many lives. The Egyptians held that the Soul—
“After three thousand years, enters a second time into a human body.”8
And the doctrine in Manu, as in all the Hindu Shastras, is the same;9 and to complete the parallel, in both countries the pure doctrine of reincarnation was debased into transmigration through animals, in the popular religion.
In both countries there was a sacred succession of hierophants:
“Each was a Piromis, the son of a Piromis.”
As in India, at Aringiri,
“Each hierophant is a Sankarâcharya, the son of a Sankarâcharya.”
For the meaning, and Indian analogies of the Egyptian
“Twelve great Gods that ruled before Amasis, and the eight from whom they were produced,”10
Readers must refer to the Secret Doctrine.
The processions of Jaganath are identical with what Herodotus describes:
“The priests attendant upon the statue place it upon a four-wheeled car, and begin to draw it.”11
A curious triple parallel may be made out in the reverence paid to the cow, the sacrifice of bulls, and the meat eaten by the priests.
In both countries the cow was sacred and never sacrificed.12 In both countries the bull was sacred and used for sacrifice.13
And in both the flesh of the bull, though used in sacrifice, was eaten by the priests.14
And further, both priesthoods were forbidden to eat the flesh of the hog, and permitted to eat geese.
It is difficult to see how these parallels can be the result of independent growth, especially when taken together with the coincidences already given, and to be given.
The Egyptian who touches a hog is enjoined to plunge at once into the nearest water, and the Brahman whom the touch of any unclean thing has defiled, can only be purified by repeated bathing.
Here a slight digression must be permitted. Isis, says Herodotus, is represented as a woman with horns upon her head, because the cow was a sacred animal; but Isis more often bears a crescent moon on her brow. Further, certain sacrifices connected with generation were celebrated only on certain days of the moon.
This connexion between Isis, the moon, the sacred cow, and the phallic sacrifices, can only be understood, apparently, by using the triple key, “Diana in heaven, Lucina on earth, Proserpine in hell.”
Diana is the moon, whose crescent, the symbol of re-birth, appears on the brow of Isis, the Goddess of wisdom and spiritual re-birth. Lucina is the Goddess of birth, and of the process of gestation, measured by lunar periods. Proserpine, daughter of Ceres, Persephone, daughter of Demeter (Isis) is the Goddess of the under-world, and of the Eleusinian and other mysteries in which the under-world was represented. Demeter-Isis is the Goddess of spiritual birth, as Lucina is of natural birth.15 The sacred associations which bound together the ideas of birth and re-birth in spirit, re-appear in the question of Nicodemus,16 the representative of the learning of the Rabbis.
In the laws of Moses, who was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” there are many traces of the influence of the sojourn in Egypt. Amongst these are circumcision, and the classification of clean and unclean animals; and Herodotus tells a story of Hercules that has a close parallel in the history of the Hebrew Law-giver.17
“The God Ammon they say, was long averse to the solicitations of Herakles to see his person; but in consequence of his importunity, the God used the following plan: he cut the head off a ram, and clothing himself in its skin, shewed himself in that form to Herakles.”
The Hebrew and the Egyptian allegories have both doubtless several meanings, the chief being the manifestation of God in nature; another refers to the initiation of Moses and Hercules—a son of Jupiter—into the wisdom of the Logos—the Shechinah—the visible glory of the hidden God.
Another story of Hercules, who allowed himself to be bound with the sacred fillet, and on being led forth to be sacrificed,
“Exerted his strength and put his enemies to death,”18
is repeated in the history of Samson.
To return to the Egyptian and Indian parallels:
In both countries the crocodile was a sacred animal, and in both the lotus is a type of immortality.
Herodotus tells us that:
“The Egyptians first imagined what month or day was to be consecrated to each deity; they also, from observing the days of nativity, venture to predict the particular circumstances of a man’s life and death.”
The antiquity of Indian Moti-shastras, calendars, and astrology, can hardly be established with exactness, but cannot be less than 5,000 years, and is very likely much older, so that India may well be the source of the Egyptian sciences.
Having thus traced the similarities in the priesthoods and religions of these two sacred lands, we may turn to their common customs and social life.
“The men have two vestures, the women only one.”19 Herodotus tells us.
The Hindu women wear only one “vesture,” draped most gracefully around the whole form, and covering the head. The Hindu men wear two, the one fastened round the waist, the other over the shoulders.
The Hindu women have an uncleanly practice in collecting the habitual fuel of the country; the same practice in another race seems to have struck Herodotus, who says:
“The Egyptians do not scruple to use their hands in the removal——” of the substance in question. And yet both nations are religiously clean in other particulars.
“The Egyptians are so regardful of neatness that they wear only linen, and that newly washed,”20
As do the Hindus.
“Their laws compel them to cherish animals,” says Herodotus,
And Ahimsatâ, “indestructiveness,” or kindness to animals, is continually urged as a virtue in the Hindu shâstras.
“The Egyptians are attentive to the memory beyond the rest of mankind.”21
The Brahmans were also “attentive to the memory”; Brahmans learned the Vedas by heart, and the Sutras are a regular system of versus memorialis.
The high proficiency of both nations in surgery, and their skill in weaving can only be mentioned. Both nations used palm-wine, and planted palm-trees round their temples.
Herodotus heard a story about the sources of the Nile.
“I have only met with one person who pretended to know the sources of the Nile. This was a priest at Sais. He informed me that there were two steep mountains, Crophi and Mophi. He informed me that sources of the Nile, of unfathomable depth, flowed from the centres of these mountains; that one of these streams flowed through Egypt to the north, the other flowed south.”
It may be suggested that this story, from the temple of Sais, though not true of the Nile, may be true of another river, and may be a reminiscence of the motherland of the race that colonised Egypt.
For in this motherland, if it be India, there are two sacred mountains, lofty and steep, and from their centres rise two great rivers, the one flowing north, and the other flowing south, and the name of the one is Nila, the deep-blue Indus.
But more remarkable than all the coincidences we have cited, is the practical identity of the Caste systems of Chemi and Arya Varrtta22 an identity to which it is hardly possible to attach too great importance. In both we have pre-eminent a sacerdotal class, the possessors of all the wisdom, learning, and science, and the mysteries in both lands; two hierarchies the like of which no other land has seen; both hereditary, both holy, and identical in many of the details of their life and ritual.
In Chemi and Arya Varrtta a soldier class stood next to the priests, a hereditary class of nobles and warriors, the administrators and defenders of the State.
In both we have a mercantile and servile caste, or group of castes. And though Manu divides his people into only four classes:
“Priests, Warriors, Traders, Labourers,”23
While Herodotus mentions seven:
“Priests, Warriors, Traders, Interpreters, Pilots, Herdsmen and Swine-herds,”24
the two first (and probably the rest) being as strictly hereditary as in India. But, of these seven, the traders, interpreters, and pilots naturally fall under one Mercantile class, while the herdsmen and swineherds may well form a servile caste, if the latter be not outcasts.
But in connection with these seven castes it may well be pointed out that another Greek traveller, almost a contemporary of Herodotus, in describing the actual system of castes in India when he visited it, gives these also as seven instead of four:
“Priests, Warriors, Counsellors, Inspectors, Husbandmen, Shepherds, and Artisans.”25
When we note this and further perceive that in both lands “the priests and warriors were the only classes honourably distinguished,”26 the grants of public land given to both classes in India as in Egypt, the duty of warriors to serve in rotation as royal guards in both, and their strict heredity; we cannot fail to conclude that these two Greeks, Megasthenes and Herodotus, were observing and describing identical systems in the two countries, India and Egypt.
It is hard to leave the Father of History without touching on some of his wonderful stories of Egypt, his golden-winged crimson phœnix, his flying serpents, his “sacred reasons,” his “admirable Egyptians, the most ancient of mankind,” his measure of twelve months and 360 days, a measure used in the Puranas of India, his theories of deltas, of soundings, of raised beaches, and geology, of inundations, his oracles, the two black pigeons of Dodona, his sacred dynasties, his race of black pigmy magicians, his hints of the mysteries, and more, but space forbids.
Herodotus’ picture of Egypt and the evidence of customs, castes, and ritual to be drawn from his history, have far more weight than any modern reconstructions; for when the Historian visited Chemi twenty-four centuries ago, the old sacerdotal system was still full of life. Piromis still succeeded Piromis, as Hierophant and Priest; the Worship of Isis, and Ammon-Ra still lingered in their sacred temples; he saw the holy processions of Horus and Osiris, the midnight ceremony on the sacred island, in the Lake of the Dead. Herodotus had been initiated into those sacred mysteries whose echoes only reach us through Plato and Iamblichus; he had talked with the scribes of the hieroglyphics, and had listened to the history of their Celestial Rulers. Egypt was then alive, and not as now, only a sacred ruin.
1. Herodotus: Euterpe 37.
2. Her. Eu. 36.
3. Her. Eu. 37.
4. Her. Eu. 37.
5. Her. Eu. 37.
6. Manu, v. 35.
7. Her. Eu. 123.
8. Her. Eu. 123.
9. Manu, xii. 16-22.
10. Her. Eu. 43.
11. Her. Eu. 63.
12. Her. Eu. 41, and Manu, v. 30.
13. Her. Eu. 38, and Manu, v. 41.
14. Her. Eu. 37, and Manu, v. 41.
15. Her. Eu. 41 and 47.
16. St. John, chap. iii.
17. Exodus xxxiii, 20; and Her. Eu. 42.
18. Her. Eu. 45.
19. Her. Eu. 37.
20. Her. Eu. 64.
21. Her. Eu. 77.
22. We leave untouched the author’s spelling, as it more closely represents the phonetic value of the syllables than the commonly accepted one of our Western Orientalists.—[ED.]
23. Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra.
24. Her. Eu. 164.
25. Megasthenes Indika.
26. Her. Eu. 168.