Egypt is a nation that is famous for its excessive practice of rituals. Egyptians observed and performed peculiar and intricate forms of rites and more so as funeral rites. Canopic jars are one of the numerous things they utilized to perform rites. Throughout the mummification process, these jars were utilized for the purpose of preserving the ‘viscera’ to enable life after death.
Starting from the period of the ancient Egyptian Kingdom till the end of the Egyptian era, these Canopic jars were in use. Throughout their use during this era, they were used in numerous ways. The Egyptians used manifold forms of the Canopic jars to put each internal organ, and in fact, every organ was ascribed to a specific Canopic jar with dedication.
It is a common opinion among the people that Canopic jars are related to the Greek legendary tales belonging to Canopus. But Egyptian historians have made it obvious that they are two entirely different ideologies not related in any way.
According to tradition the deceased individual might have four Canopic jars. Each of these jars was intended to safeguard a particular organ. The most important organs in the sight of the Egyptians were the lungs, liver, the stomach and the intestines. The design sense employed in creating Canopic jars went through a series of changes with time.
The Canopic jars of the age-old Kingdom of Egypt were not intricately designed. They had simplistic appearance covered with plainly designed lids. Arriving at the first intermediary period, the Canopic jars were designed to portray human heads. They particularly designed thus to symbolically stand for the dead.
Human head designed Canopic jars were widespread until the arrival of the new Egyptian Kingdom. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, the symbol of human heads was no more in use. Instead, the four sons of Horus were symbolized on the lids.
The Egyptian people perceived the four sons of Hours in a symbolic manner as ‘the gods of cardinal compass points’. Every son was divinely employed to safeguard one of the four primary organs taken from the body. In case of dangerous attacks from the outside world, the four sons were to defend one another.
Of the four sons of Horus symbolized on the Canopic jars, the Damutef was a jackal-headed deity appointed to safeguard the stomach. He was also symbolic of the East; he was to be protected by goddess Neith, another deity. Secondly, Qebehsenuef was a falcon-headed deity appointed to safeguard the intestines. This deity was protected by Selket.
The Egyptian deity Hapi was appointed to safeguard the lungs put in the third jar. Hapi was symbolic of the North; he was to be protected by Nephthys. Imseti, the fourth son of Horus was appointed to protect the liver. He was symbolic of North; he was to be protected by the goddess Isis.
The pantheon of the Egyptians contained numerous deities, but Bastet was given the chief position. She was portrayed to have a cat-head, due to which Egyptians placed cats in a place of reverence. As decades passed by, her clothing underwent a constant change so that its portrayal also kept changing.
Initially, this goddess was portrayed as a dreadful lioness. But later on, as cats became likable animals and people began taming them, her portrayal changed to a woman having a cat-head, rather than the dreaded lioness.
Bubastis, a temple of Bastet was constructed by the Egyptians. There were scores of idols within the temple showing this cat-headed goddess. An in depth observation of these idols has helped historians to find out the manner in which the god was usually attired.
An idol with a cat’s head over the body of a young lady is the label of the deity. Most of these idols show her as a cat-headed goddess, with the exception of some idols, wherein a leopard or a lion is shown.
This god was always made to wear highly ornate clothing. She had a multitude of fashion accessories that complimented her ornate attire. These included a small bag which she would be made to carry. In other statues she is shown as carrying a little basket delicately worn over one of her arms. She would also have a musical instrument that was known as Sistrum in her other hand.
The center of her clothing contained a breastplate. A mythological belief revealed that she had a liking for dancing and music; she was also wealthy and generous. The tiny basket worn on her arm was supposed to portray a plentiful harvest.
The reverence related to cats caused many living cats to adorn the temple dedicated to this goddess. Lots of cat-bodies that have undergone mummification formed a major part of the archaeological discoveries in the temple of Bubastis. Tamed cats of Egyptian households were buried in Bubastis.
A bronze sculpture clothed in the typical style was supposed to be empowered to bring luck, and so a lot of Egyptians took possession of them. Many people offered these bronze sculptures within the temple. Hence, many of them reaching to thousands have been discovered by archaeologists in the temple.
The identity of Bastet as a deity rendered a distinctive position for cats amidst the Egyptians. Certain laws were enforced to safeguard cats. If anyone happened to purposely impose danger to a cat, punishment was compulsory. Likewise, the Egyptians practiced detailed funeral rites to bury a cat that lived in domesticity.
Canopic jar chests were among the most important ritualistic items utilized in the elaborate burial customs that the Egyptians practiced. Prior to the mummification process many organs were taken out of the dead body and placed inside Canopic jars which would in turn be placed inside a Canopic chest. The chest containing the organs would be placed adjacent to the tomb in a dedicated space called the Canopic shrine.
According to ancient Egyptian belief the deceased had the ability to return to its body if it willed. This is why they considered it imperative to preserve the various organs. The entire mummification process where the organs would be removed and stored in these jars to be kept in the chest was quite elaborate and could take numerous days.
It was in the second Dynasty that using Canopic chests originated. Over the days the Canopic jar chests were modified every now and then depicting various kinds of designs. They were in use until the beginning of the Ptolemaic period.
The tomb of Queen Meresankh III discovered at Giza is an evidence to indicate that it is among the oldest Canopic burials of the fourth Dynasty under the Menkaure rule. Similarly some other Canopic burials have been found in the tombs from the Sneferu rule.
In the very first Canopic jars, the organs which were removed from the corpse were secured in wooden boxes. In some other instances, these were kept in stone jars or in pottery and closed with flat or dome-shaped lids. The chests were either designed by cutting out from soft stone, or were cut appropriately into the wall or ground of the specified tomb.
By the sixth Dynasty the Canopic jar chests were being made from granite. By the 1700s a wide variety of materials were used to create the chests including wood, cartonnage, limestone and calcite.
The Canopic jars that contained the organs of the dead body also went through a series of modifications with time. They started out as simple stone jars with flat lids. The very first modification came in the form of domed lids.
Following this the Egyptians experimented with several different materials which they used to create the jars. These jars contained four organs that were the liver, the stomach, the lungs and the intestines. Each of these organs was associated with specific deities.
Over time, many modifications of the Canopic jars were conceptualized, but some were applied to them. In some jars the lids were sculpted to portray jackal heads. This was supposed to portray the four sons of Horus. Every organ was related to a son, and they were given protection by another Egyptian deity possessing more power.
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