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Petra, Jordan Is it an ancient Shiva Temple complex? (cont.)
By Bibhu Dev Misra (IIT, IIM)

It is unclear to historians whether all the representations of the female goddess found in Petra refer to Al-Uzza or to the Nabataean goddess triad of Al-Uzza, Al-lat and Manat. Although it is has been supposed that the consort of Dushara may be Al-Uzza, the depictions of Al-Uzza in other places of Arabia do not support such an association. Al-Uzza (the ‘Strong One’) was the goddess of the morning and evening star. Isaac of Antioch referred to her as Kaukabta, ‘the Star’. She was sometimes depicted riding a ‘dolphin’ and showing the way to sea-farers. She is, thus, the counterpart of the Indo-European goddess of dawn, Ostara, and the Vedic ‘Usas’. In the Rig Veda, there are around 20 hymns dedicated to the Usas, the goddess of dawn, who appears in the east every morning, resplendent in her golden light, riding a chariot drawn by glorious horses, dispelling the darkness, awakening men to action, and bestowing her bounty and riches on all and sundry. The phonetic and symbolic associations between ‘Uzza’ and ‘Usa’ indicate that they are derived from the same source. Al-lat, on the other hand, was widely regarded as ‘the Mother of the Gods’, or ‘Greatest of All’. She was the goddess of fertility and prosperity and was known from Arabia to Iran. It is more likely, therefore, that the consort of Dushara at Petra, symbolized by the lion, was Al-lat and not Al-Uzza. However, it has been observed by historians that Al-Uzza and Al-lat were used quite interchangeably by the Arabs, and sometimes one gained prominence over the other. It is worth mentioning in this context, that the Hindu goddess of death and destruction – Kali - bears stark resemblances to the third goddess of the Nabataean triad – Manat – who is generally represented as the terrible, black goddess of death.

Certain rituals associated with Shiva-Durga worship can also be found reflected in the religious practices of the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans ritually made animal sacrifices to Dushara and Al-Uzza, at the ‘High Place of Sacrifice’ in Petra. The Suda Lexicon, which was compiled at the end of the 10th century, refers to older sources which have since been lost. It states: ‘Theus Ares (Dushrara); this is the god Ares in Arabic Petra. They worship the god Ares and venerate him above all. His statue is an unworked square black stone. It is four foot high and two feet wide. It rests on a golden base. They make sacrifices to him and before him they anoint the blood of the sacrifice that is their anointment.’ The practice of anointing the Shiva Linga with red vermilion powder (Kumkum) continues to this date in India. It has also been noticed that most of the Djin blocks at Petra are located close to sources of running water, a fact which has left historians in a dilemma. However, such a peculiar alignment of Djin blocks can be easily explained once we remember that one of the most common practices of Shiva worship is to pour a kettle of water (or milk, curd, ghee, honey etc.) over the Shiva-Linga. This act is symbolic of the sacred river Ganges, which, after emanating from the toe of Vishnu, flows down the matted locks of Shiva. This is the reason why nearly every Shiva temple is also associated with a natural well or spring or a source of running water.

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