|Mummies of Egypt
Combining the joys of travel with those of writing Dayaminie de Silva recounts here the two weeks she spent in Egypt last December with her husband, Anura and daughers, Venya and Shayari. We previously carried her impression of a family tour of India.
Our minds dizzy with the huge scale of everything we had seen and awe at how they were built, we returned to the boat. The rest of the day was to be spent at leisure. Refreshing ourselves with some fruit juice, the four of us headed to the Mummification Museum situated on the corniche only a short distance from the boat. A five-minute walk took us there. This museum is very small but worth a visit if the time can be spared. At the entrance is a beautiful sculpture of Anubis in the form of a jackal. More often, this god of mummification is represented as a jackal headed human being. A pictorial explanation of the process of mummification is given to the visitor before he encounters the mummies.
The ancient Egyptians reason for mummification of dead bodies is linked to their belief about the connection between present and after life. They believed that everyone had a Ba (soul), and a Ka (an invisible twin person) which would be released from the body on death. The Ba would keep in touch with the living world and the Ka with other world. For the Ba and Ka to be able to return to the body, it had to be kept recognizeable and hence the need for mummification.
Before the elaborate mummification rituals came into practice, the corpses buried under ground were naturally dried out and preserved by the hot, dry desert sand. During the mummification process, the organs inside the body were taken out through the nostrils and a slit on the left side of the body. These organs were embalmed in a chemical called natron and put in canopic jars. The body too was covered in natron, which had a drying effect on it. Then, the corpse was placed on an embalming bed for forty days in order to drain the body fluids. The dried and shrunken body was sponged clean and brushed with oils and resins. Thereafter, the body was carefully wrapped in twenty layers of long, narrow strips of linen. Fingers, toes, arms and legs were wrapped individually. Magical amulets were placed between the layers of linen, for the protection of the mummy. Then, the bound head was covered in a portrait mask, after which the whole body was shrouded in linen and covered in resin. The finished mummy was put in a coffin or a nest of coffins. The coffins of pharaohs portrayed the pharaoh as Osiris, the god of the dead. These were placed inside a stone coffins called a sarcophagus. Amidst great ritual, the sarcophagus and the canopic jars were buried along with things to be used in after life.
In the well known legend of Osiris and Isis that most of us learnt as young children, Osiris is the king of Thebes and Isis his queen. They are beloved by their subjects. However, Osiris jealous brother Seth who wants to become the ruler, tricks Osiris into a wooden box, closes the lid and throws it into the river. After a long search, the distraught Isis finds her husbands body. With the power of her love, she brings him back to life. They dc not go back to Thebes but live happily farming the land. They have a son Horus. One day, when Osiris goes hunting, Seth finds him and kills him. This time, he cuts the body into pieces and scatters them all over Egypt. Isis leaves Horus in the care of Hathor on the advice of her sister Nephthis. Then together with Nephthis, she goes in search of the pieces of her husbands body. At last, she finds them all. For the second time, with the power of her love and the aid of gods who had been guiding her, she puts him together. Osiris leaves this world to join the gods. Horus grows up and avenges his fathers death.
The origin of mummification is linked to the story of Osiris and Isis. It is thought that the dead body of Osiris which was brought to life by Isis, was the first ever to be made into a mummy. Osiris came to be considered the god of the dead and the under world. Isis and Nephthis are looked upon as the protectors of the dead. They would accompany the deceased on his way to the underworld to meet Osiris. Anubis, son of Nephthis became the god of mummification. Horus is known as the son of Ra.
In the story of Osiris and Isis, every instance they succeed over Seth is seen as a symbol of good overcoming evil. The final victory is the destruction of Seth, the evil force, by Horus. Why Osiris is considered the fertilzing force of the world and Isis the generating power, can be traced back to this legend. It also explains how Isis, the compassionate queen, the faithful wife, and loving mother came to be regarded as the goddess of divine love.
Among the exhibits at the Mummification Museum is the mummy of a court official (circa 1000 BC.), mummies of a crocodile and a cat. Small and delicate tools used for removing the organs of the dead body, objects that were buried with the dead to be used in his after life and some beautiful painted coffins can also be seen at the museum.
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