An analysis of history of Tamil religion/Part:16

The Epic of Gilgamesh,a literary of Mesopotamian people,shows us several important pieces of information such as their views on death,and their description of the after life.Also the Mesopotamian people had gods for death.Ereshkigal (pronounced ay-RESH-kee-gal),sister of Inanna,is the Sumerian Goddess of death and Queen of the Underworld.Though,the gods created humans by mixing clay with the blood of a rebellious deity named Illu-we or We-ilu, Though, Humans automatically contained both an earthly and a divine component due to this action,Yet we find from the Mesopotamian mythology that the divine element did not mean that humans were immortal.The Mesopotamians had no concept of either physical resurrection or metempsychosis.Rather,Enki (Akkadian Ea), the Sumerian deity of wisdom and magic,ordained death for humans from their very inception.The most common
euphemism for dying in Mesopotamian texts is “to go to one’s fate”The Epic of Gilgamesh also suggests that the quest for physical immortality,was futile.For example,In one stage,Enkidu expresses his concerns about death,which Gilgamesh laughs off,telling Enkidu that no one lives forever and that life is short. However, when Enkidu dies,Gilgamesh is so distraught that he seeks out Utnapishtim to learn the secret of immortality.Despite his hopes,Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the story of the flood.He explains to Gilgamesh that the quest for immortality is a futile one,as creation itself also contains the seed of death,making it inescapable.The Gods,he explains,intentionally did this.Gilgamesh went on his journey to find out the secret of immortality,and now's he found it:that he will die like other humans.Every one must die in one day,whether he is rich or poor,whether he is man or woman,or whether he is
handsome or ugly.It is the rule of the nature.Though no one wants to die,They can't escape from the very jaws of the death.So he realises that human accomplishments on earth are all we've got.Therefore,The Epic of Gilgamesh ,tells us that the best humans could strive for was enduring fame through their deeds and accomplishments on earth.So,Immortality means in the Mesopotamian religion ,was actualised in the memory of future generations.

Also,Dead body[or empty cadavers,Akkadian equivalent,pagaru] is compared to deep sleep in Mesopotamian literature and,upon burial in the ground,they believe the body fashioned from clay “returned to clay”.The Mesopotamians did not view physical death as the ultimate end of life.The dead continued an animated existence in the form of a spirit or ghostSumerian term gidim and its Akkadian equivalent,eṭemmu].It also unclear whether the eṭemmu existed within the living body prior to death,or whether it only came into existence at the moment of physical death.Death was therefore a transitionary stage during which humans were transformed from one state of existence to another,Hence,Like most of other
civilisations. such as the Egyptians & Indians,We can assume that the Sumerians also believed,in an afterlife.But in contrast to others, Sumerians believed that when they died,they were descended into a grim underworld from which there was no release.The Mesopotamians saw the afterlife as a resting place where they would sit in all eternity doing nothing and forgetting about the work and the wars that pervaded their everyday life.Further,they believe that the eṭemmu retained corporeal needs such as hunger and thirst.So,the Sumerians believed that in this awful place the spirits of men ate dust and crawled on their bellies.This hellish place was known as the "house of dust".After a years time of ghostly existence,the soul of the deceased would fade away into oblivion.They mainly buried their dead instead of cremating.Some treasured belongings of them might go in the grave.Vessels filled with food and drink were place near the body so the spirit wouldn't be hungry and return for food.sometimes in monthly memorials thereafter in order to influence the gods to deal kindly with the departed.Also,the
offerings to the dead could be understand from the myth called "The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld". Here,  the fertility goddess decides to visit kur-nu-gi-a ("the land of no return"), where the dead "live in darkness,eat clay,and are clothed like birds with wings".When she got to the first gate of the Underworld, Ishtar[inanna] called out to the watchman: “Yo watchman, please open this gate and let me enter!”The watchman’s faced peered at her from over the gate. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t open the gate either. So She threatens the doorkeeper:  “Watchman, if you don’t open this gate for me I will force it open,I will break it down,and I will set free all the dead that reside in this dreadful dark place.I will set them free from their gloom and the rule of your
merciless mistress and take them to the land of the living! The dead will be so plentiful on earth that they may eat the living". Given this background, it is not surprising that offerings to the dead were made in a spirit of fear; if not propitiated they would return and cause all kinds of damage. So,proper burial and mourning of the corpse was essential for the eṭemmu's transition to the next world and preventing them to return to the living world, earth. Further, providing food and drink was seen to give temporal blessings to the giver while he was alive.The twelfth tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic,which unfortunately is preserved only in fragments, as well as certain other texts,contains hints that the well-being of the dead
person in the hereafter was thought to depend on the way he died,whether his body received a decent burial,and whether his surviving relatives continued to offer the prescribed mortuary sacrifices for him.Whether the fate of the righteous dead was considered to be the same as that of a criminal is never clearly stated. Just as social hierarchies existed within living communities, so too did a hierarchy between ghosts exist in the “great city” of the dead. The status of an eṭemmu in the netherworld was determined by two factors:the social status of the deceased while alive,and the post-mortem care its body and grave.For Example,As the Death of Urnamma articulates,  “The food of the netherworld is bitter and the water is brackish” The ghost was therefore dependent on the living for subsistence,which was provided through offerings of food and beverage. Absence of offerings reduced the eṭemmu to a beggar’s existence in the netherworld.The primary responsibility for performing these offerings fell to the eldest son of the deceased. As long as offerings continued regularly,the eṭemmu remained at peace in the netherworld.Pacified ghosts were friendly and could be induced to aid the living,or at least were prevented from harming them.A person who did not receive proper burial rites or cultic offerings,however, became a restless ghost or vicious demon. Some cases where this could occur included people who were left unburied, suffered a violent death or other unnatural end,or died unmarried. Vicious ghosts pursued,seized,bound,or even physically abused their victims,and could also possess victims by entering into them via their ears.They could also haunt the dreams of the living. Sickness, both physical and psychological,and misfortune were often believed to be caused by the anger of a restless eṭemmu.For example, the suffering servant of the Babylonian poem Ludlul bēl nēmeqi ,also sometimes known in English as The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,deplores his fat e:

Debilitating Disease is let loose upon me:
An Evil Wind has blown [from the] horizon,
Headache has sprung up from the surface of the underworld….
The irresistible [Ghost] left Ekur          
[The Lamastu-demon came] down from the mountain. (Lines 50-55, Poem of the Righteous Sufferer)

One of the mysteries and controversies about Sumerian religion is the question of human sacrifice.When the tombs of several kings and queens of Ur were excavated in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Woolley,the British archaeologist Besides gold,Jewellery,and various art objects,He uncovered a grim secret; whenever a king or queen died in Ur, dozens of servants followed the royal person into the grave and drank poison so they could serve in the next life as well.However,Scholars believe that human sacrifice in Sumeria was rare.This seem to tell us that the Sumerians definitely believed in life after death.The servants may very well have taken their own life to join and serve the Sumerian royalty in the afterlife.Even everyday people were probably buried with some of their belongings to use in the afterlife.For instance,a metal smith might be buried with some of his tools,or a soldier with his weapons and Armour. 

The Sumerians believed that crops grew because of a male god mating with his goddess wife.They saw the hot and dry months of summer when their meadows and fields turned brown as a time of death of these gods.When their fields bloomed again,they believed their gods were resurrected.They marked this as the beginning of their year, which they celebrated at their temples with music and singing.Believing that the gods had given them all they had,the Sumerians saw the intentions of their gods as good. Believing that their gods had great powers and controlled their world, they needed an explanation for their hardships and misfortunes.They concluded that these were the result of human deeds that displeased the gods – in a word, sin.They believed that when someone displeased their gods,these gods let demons punish the offender with sickness, disease or environmental disasters.Demons were viewed as being either good or evil.Evil demons were thought to be agents of the gods sent to carry out divine orders,often as punishment for sins.For example,Lamastu-demons were associated with the death of newborn babies; gala-demons could enter one’s dreams. Therefore, Sumerian  wrote that, when one suffered it was best not to curse the gods but to glorify them,to appeal to them,and to wait patiently for their deliverance.Numerous prayers, hymns, and texts of admonition have come to light during the last century and a half among literally thousands of cuneiform tablets written by the ancient people of the Mesopotamian valley.These religious texts give us a rather comprehensive insight into their feelings,hopes,and fears. They tried to find answers to such universal questions as why some men suffer more than others from misfortunes or calamities, considered by them to be divine punishments.In one such Babylonian text the following questions are raised:

"Has he committed a sin against a god or against a goddess?
"Has he done violence to one older than himself?
"Has he said yes for no, or no for yes?
"Has he used false scales?
"Has he accepted a wrong account?
"Has he set up a false landmark?
"Has he broken into his neighbor's house?
"Has he come near his neighbor's wife?
"Has he shed his neighbor's blood?"-[ Leonard W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology (London, 1899), pp. 218, 219.]

These questions indicate that the ancient Babylonians considered not only that sins committed against gods produced punishment in this life,but also that sins against society called for divine retribution.This text shows clearly that the ancient Babylonians knew what was morally right and wrong.In fact,the ancient people of Mesopotamia were so conscious of their sinful nature and the need for forgiveness that they frequently included in their prayers Urgent requests for pardon. An old Sumerian prayer, for example, includes even pleas for forgiveness of sins committed in ignorance:

"O god whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
"O goddess whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins. "The transgressions which I have committed, indeed I do not know; "The sins which I have done, indeed I do not know. . . .
"The transgressions which I have committed, let the wind carry away;
"My many misdeeds strip off like a garment.
"O my god, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgress ions;
"O my goddess, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgress ions."-[Ferris J. Stephens in J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, 1950), pp. 391, 392.]

[By:Kandiah Thillaivinayagalingam]
Part 17 Will follow .......


Part/பகுதி 17 Will follow /தொடரும் 

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