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The Opet Festival of Ancient Egypt: Has it been derived from the Jagannatha Rathyatra of Puri, India? (cont.)
By Bibhu Dev Misra (IIT, IIM)

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 barques, 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 barques (boats). The pharaoh then offered his obeisances to the barques, 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 1: An Opet Festival scene showing the barque of Amun carried by the priests. Open air museum, Karnak.
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