Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses had a vast, elaborately connected network and their mythological stories had rivaled our own Indian ones in their larger than life quality. Incidentally both the civilizations had worshiped deities who had been half human – half animals (or had animal incarnations) and Mother Goddesses had been of supreme importance. Among all the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, Isis had been the most powerful and she had been worshiped as the Great Mother of All Gods and Nature. Wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, Isis had been an enchantress and she had civilized the world by instituting marriage and teaching women domestic skills. A very feminine deity, she had been the perfect consort of Osiris, until he was murdered and dismembered by his own brother Seth, in a fit of jealousy. A grief stricken Isis had literally wept floods of tears and she had painstakingly collected all the parts to revive Osiris briefly with her magical powers.
Their union had produced a son, Horus and Osiris had returned to become god of the underworld. Meanwhile, Isis had given birth to Horus alone and protected the young god until he had become old enough to avenge the death of his father. Horus had defeated Seth in combat and Isis had gone down history as healer, giver of life and protector of kings. Since Pharaohs had identified themselves as Horus, they had believed Isis to be their divine mother and she had been worshiped as the Goddess of Ten Thousand Names, of women, purity and sexuality. The cult of Isis had been the longest running faith in Egypt and its followers had been found far and wide. Symbolized by a throne on her head, the Goddess Mother had reached the peak of her popularity during the Roman period when she had been devoutly worshiped throughout Greece and the Roman Empire.
Her iconic temple on Philae island had been constructed by Ptolemic and Roman rulers and the complex had been architecturally exquisite. It had reflected the perfect blend of Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman styles and the temple’s setting too had been extremely photogenic. The entire combination of golden granite pillars, pylons, black rocky Nilotic island and jewel blue lake had been magical and this aura had lured pilgrims for thousands of years. Philae’s popularity had dated back to the time when, the neighbouring island of Biga had been identified as one of the burial places of Osiris. However, since access to Biga had been restricted to all except the priests, Philae had been selected for holding public festivities. The earliest temple on Philae had been a small Isis shrine built by a ruler in 370 BC and the present complex had been completed over a period of 800 years by rulers who had followed the Osirian cult.
Created in an exquisite fusion style of Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman architecture, the temple complex had been breathtaking ans the grand place of worship had attracted pilgrims throughout centuries. However, with the arrival of Christianity, Philae’s religious importance had slowly diminished and it had been one of the last operating pagan temples in Egypt. Early Christians had turned the main hall of temple into a chapel and they had defaced the pagan reliefs. Much of the inscriptions had later been vandalized by early Muslims and the beautiful temple had slowly fallen from its pedestal. The final nail in the coffin had been construction of the Aswan Dam in 1902, when the temple would remain flooded for 6 months a year. The partial sinking had been a great hit among Egypt’s tourists and travelers at that time had explored the submerged ruins on boats.
The sinking however had started taking a toll and Philae had begun to lose its charm. Till today, the lower part of the temple had showed off dull gray colour, an effect caused by its annual immersion during that time. Finally, a huge restoration project undertaken by UNESCO and Egyptian authorities had saved the temple from destruction and they had recreated the complex on the island of Agilka, where it stands today. The operation had included disassembling of the entire complex stone by stone, only to be later putting it back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It had taken 10 years to reconstruct Philae and to me, it had seemed interesting, that the temple (just like Isis’s husband, Osiris) had undergone an after death revival.
In my eyes, the Philae Temple had been a most befitting dedication to the powerful goddess and hailed as one Egypt’s most mesmerizing sights, the complex had been truly bewitching. It had been my favourite spot in Aswan too and despite the hot desert sun, I had loved exploring the temple. We had reached the Agilka Island by boat from the main landing jetty and the pretty boulevard had been teeming with overzealous vendors. They had sold beaded ornaments, lacy skull caps, souvenirs and touristy t shirts from sheets spread on ground and beyond them boats had bobbed merrily on the mirror like lake. It had been early evening, when we had headed for Agilka and in the soft light, the water had resembled molten sapphire. I have never seen a lake of such intense blue colour in my life and the combination of it with black Nilotic rocky outcrops and a huge cloudless sky had been jaw dropping. The island had been even more stunning and the yellow granite columns of Isis temple had glowed golden in the sun.
The landing jetty had been at the base of Kiost of Nectanebo and it had been the oldest part of the complex. Old stones, roughened by thousands of footsteps over time had wobbled under pressure and emerald green shrubs had created colour blocks. It had been said, that during the reconstruction, the landscaping of Agilka had been done to recreate Philae’s natural environment and the whole island had completely resembled the original site. Needless to say, it had been very beautiful, in a wild, overgrown kind of way and even the sunlit air had smelled of green sap. Bright magenta bougainvilleas had splashed colours wildly and large butterflies had flown in and out of them fearlessly. A short walk had lead to the outer temple court of Philae temple and stunning rows of golden columns had run along on both sides. They had stood proud and erect like ripe corn rows and on the western side, windows had shown glimpses of blue sky, bluer water and pink flowers. The entrance to the temple of Isis had stood at the end of the courtyard and the space had dwarfed out everything except for the larger than life reliefs.
Officially called the First Pylon, 2 towers and a huge central doorway had marked its front and larger than life reliefs of patron Pharaoh, Isis, Horus etc had decorated the surface. Two old granite lions too had flanked the portal and inside, Napoleon’s troops had left scribbles commemorating their victory over the Mamluks in 1799. The huge portal had opened up into a cavernous Forecourt, Second Pylon, Birth House, the Hypostyle Hall, vestibules and sanctuary before finally exiting through the Hadrian’s Gate. The entire complex had seemed to me like a Russian matryoshka doll, where each segment had given deeper access into its folds. The reliefs had been mind boggling and keeping in mind, that it had been my first experience of coming face to face with ancient Egyptian glory, I had followed our guide along like a mesmerized puppy. Isis, Horus and their mortal royal descendants had made their presence felt everywhere and they had birthed, warred, worshiped and celebrated from every corner.
Many other animal headed ancient Egyptian gods had stared back at us with frozen eyes and life of Horus had spilled out from stone. From his birth among the marshy swamps, as a suckling baby, as a naked toddler running around to coming to adulthood as a young god, Horus had grown up virtually all around the temple and musicians, soldiers, naughty Roman graffiti, Christian defacing and Islamic scribbles had left historical marks on its interiors (as well as exteriors). The temple had been like a mix of mythological epic and history book put together in a powerful combination and I had never realized how time had flown underneath its golden shadow. Softening of the blazing sky and whispers of cool wind blowing in across the lake had ended our Aswan day and we had happily boarded our cruise boat with blue gold memories of Philae.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE.