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

It is extremely improbable that two ancient cities located on the Silk Route, and worshipping deities that are culturally related, would happen to build some of the finest rock-cut temples of the world at around the same time, without having any cultural contact between them. Petra and Ajanta must be connected; and since the rock-cut architecture of India represents the highest achievements of engineering and aesthetics of that period, it can be supposed that the Silk Route acted as a conduit for the westward transfer of the Shiva-Shakti cult and rock-cut architectural skills, across the Arabian Peninsula, during the 3rd – 2nd centuries BC. However, since Petra stood at the crossroads of the trade route between the east and the west, there has been an amalgamation of various influences in its architecture. The Greco-Roman influence is apparent in the facades of many structures, which strengthened even further after the Roman occupation of Petra. Egyptian influences are also evident due to the presence of obelisks and funerary tombs throughout the city.

The Nabateans built a few other cities in the desert, one of which is the archaeological site of ‘Shivta’ built in the 1st century BC on the 'Perfume Road' between Petra to Gaza. Like Petra, Shivta too was abandoned by the 8th – 9th century CE, after the ascendancy of Islam. A few kilometers from Shivta is located the ancient, biblical city of ‘Tel Sheva’, an archaeological site in southern Israel, which derives its name from a nearby ‘well’ or ‘water source’. The phonetic and symbolic similarities between these cities and ‘Shiva’ are obvious. In fact, the cult of Shiva-Shakti was widespread across the entire Middle East and West Asia, and penetrated deep into the farthest corners of Europe in the centuries before Christ. The biblical kingdom of ‘Sheba’ (Hebrew: Sh’va) believed to be in present day Yemen, as well as the archaeological site of ‘Shibham’ (Sanskrit: Shivam) located in Yemen, hint at the fact that entire kingdoms and cities were named after this deity.

It is unfortunate that these symbolisms and associations have been either overlooked or ignored by historians till now. What is even more regrettable is the fact that the Shiva Linga, and, in fact, any Pillar or Dolmen cult, has been uniformly interpreted as a form of phallic worship, when the information from the ancient sources clearly specify that the ‘pillar’ represents the ‘Cosmic Mountain’, the symbolic axis-mundi of the cosmos, around which the heavens revolve. It is a powerful cosmic symbol, fusing the divine masculine and feminine principles, whose meaning was universally understood by the ancient cultures, but whose real import has been lost to us now. Unless we begin to acknowledge the widespread presence of the Shiva-Shakti cult in large parts of the ancient world, and make a sincere attempt to understand the vast array of symbolisms associated with this ancient faith, we will continue to concoct a version of history that is illusory, fragmentary, and ultimately meaningless.

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