Fig 3: The Pashupati Seal discovered in Mohenjo-Daro, dated to c.2300 BCE. It depicts the Hindu deity Shiva seated in a yogic posture called Mulabandhasana. Source: Wikipedia

The Olmec Yogis

A few years back, in course of a long trip through Mexico, I visited the La Venta Museum in Villahermosa. The open-air museum has an enticing collection of Olmec sculptures, including three colossal Olmec stone heads. The artifacts had been moved here from the Olmec settlement of La Venta in western Tabasco, where petroleum exploration threatened the safety of these rare archaeological specimens.

While the giant Olmec stone heads are certainly the most eye-catching objects on display, what caught my attention was a stone sculpture of an Olmec man seated in cross-legged posture. His hands were resting on his thighs, with the tip of the thumb touching the index finger. This is a simple yogic posture called Sukhasana, which is primarily meant for meditation.

Fig 1: An Olmec stone statue seated in a cross-legged yogic position called Sukhasana. ©Bibhu Dev Misra Fig 2: The Sukhasana posture. © Joseph Renger CC BY-SA 3.0

 

I was intrigued by the depiction of yoga in Olmec culture. It is well-known that yoga had been developed in India thousands of years ago. The earliest archaeological evidence for yoga is the Pashupati seal dated to c.2300 BCE, found at the archaeological site of Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley. The seal shows a male deity (identified by Sir John Marshall as an early prototype of the Hindu deity Shiva) with three faces, a horned head-dress with plumes, seated on a throne in a very difficult yogic asana called Mulabandhasana, in which the legs are bent below the body such that the heels are pressed together below the groin, with the toes pointing downwards.

Fig 3: The Pashupati Seal discovered in Mohenjo-Daro, dated to c.2300 BCE. It depicts the Hindu deity Shiva seated in a yogic posture called Mulabandhasana. Public Domain.

The depiction of Shiva in a yogic posture on an Indus seal is quite appropriate, for it is Lord Shiva – also called Yogeshwara (The Lord of Yoga) – who is credited with revealing the 84 classic asanas of hatha yoga. Each asana has many variations, which significantly increases the total number of possible postures. In 2008, with the intention of demonstrating that all asanas are public knowledge and therefore not patentable, a team of experts brought together by the Government of India published a database of 900 asanas from 35 ancient texts.1

I wondered from where the Olmecs could have learnt about yogic asanas. Did they have some kind of contact with the ancient Indians? It is well-known that the Olmecs were the first major civilization of Mesoamerica, flourishing between c.1500 BCE – 400 BCE in the tropical lowlands of the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, with their primary city-temple complexes at San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes. They are often called the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica, for they laid many of the foundations for the subsequent civilizations of the region. Intriguingly, they sprang up as a fully developed, sophisticated civilization, sometime around 1500 BCE, with no sign of a period of cultural evolution anywhere in Mexico.2 This raises the very pertinent question of whether the Olmecs were migrants.

After my initial curiosity about the statue seated in the Sukhasana posture at La Venta, I did not give much thought to this matter for a long time, until recently, when I was looking at some images of Olmec clay figurines and stone statues and realized that many of them depict yogic asanas. Going by the large number of figurines depicted in yogic asanas, it appears that the Olmecs were very serious yoga practitioners! Academics tend to interpret these Olmec figurines as “shamans taking postures reflecting the agility of jaguars.”3 But that is not the case at all. The figurines depict well-defined yoga poses, as shown in the following images.

Fig 4: Olmecs in seated yogic asanas.

Fig 5: Olmecs in seated yogic asanas.

Fig 6: Olmecs in reclining yogic asanas.

Fig 7: Olmecs in advanced yogic asanas.

I could identify 12 asanas practiced by the Olmecs by looking at some online collections of clay figurines and stone statues. By no means does this represent the complete list of asanas known to the Olmecs. I do not have access to a complete inventory of Olmec artifacts, and even amongst the ones that I saw, I may not have recognized some postures due to my lack of familiarity with the humungous number of asanas and their variations – close to a thousand – that have now been documented.4 If a team of yoga gurus were to take a look at a comprehensive catalog of Olmec figurines and sculptures they would, without a doubt, come up with a much longer list.

Nevertheless, there is sufficient information to conclude that the Olmecs were familiar with yogic asanas, and practiced it zealously. Going by their apparent mastery of the discipline, it seems that the Olmec culture was seeded by yogis! The figurines have been found in large numbers, which suggests that they may have served as visual aids for their yoga regimen.

Another culture in Western Mexico, generally termed as the “shaft tomb culture,” flourished between 300 BCE – 400 CE, soon after the Olmec civilization had collapsed.5 Even though the shaft tomb culture does not show any obvious signs of Olmec influence in its art, the people of this culture were also advanced yogis. A number of ceramic figurines recovered from the Mexican state of Colima depict people in complex yoga poses.

Fig 8: People of Colima in advanced yogic asanas.

And so we really need to ask: from where did the Olmecs, or the shaft-tomb culture of Western Mexico that came soon after, acquire their extensive knowledge of yoga? As I mulled over a possible contact between India and Mesoamerica during the time of the Olmecs, I noticed a few more connections between the Olmec and Hindu-Buddhist culture that took me by surprise.

Olmec Shiva

A few hundred miles from the Olmec heartland is the cave and archaeological site of Juxtlahuaca, which contains the earliest sophisticated cave art in Mesoamerica. The most well-known of the cave art is Painting 1, which has been dated by archaeologist Michael Coe to the Olmec period (c.1200 – 900 BCE) and contains Olmec motifs.6 The painting shows a tall bearded person, holding a long snake or snake-like object in one hand, and a trident in the other, intimidating a small figure crouched in front of him. The man has long black hair reaching up to his ankles, and his arms and legs are covered with jaguar fur. He is wearing an elaborate headpiece, with wavy lines coming out of it.

I was amazed to note the extent to which this painting corresponds to the Hindu depiction of Shiva. Shiva has elaborate matted locks and long hair. A stream of water comes out of his matted locks, which depicts the mythological narrative wherein Shiva captured the celestial river Ganges in his locks, as she came down from heaven at a terrific speed, and allowed her to flow down to earth gently. Snakes coil around Shiva’s neck (he is sometimes shown holding a snake in his hand), and he carries the trident (trishula), which is the symbol of his power over the three worlds. He is clothed in leopard skin.

Fig 9: Shiva in Olmec iconography.

The association with Shiva is further strengthened by the fact that this painting was found in a cave. Caves are important places of Shiva worship. Naturally formed stalactites inside caves are often worshipped as manifestations of Shiva. Caves were sacred to the Olmecs and their successors in Mesoamerica as well. Olmec sculptures show deities seated at a cave entrance. The Mayans believed that caves contained a pathway to the underworld. This is why caves acted as places of burial, religious ceremonies, and ancestor worship. The Juxtlahuaca cave was also used for burial purposes; a dozen skeletons have been unearthed here. Incidentally, Shiva is also the “Lord of the Cremation Ground” (Shmashana Adhipati), where he roams in his fiery Bhairava form. As Bhairava, Shiva is a protector of the eight cardinal directions, and keeps intruders out of sacred places (Kshetra Palaka). In this Olmec painting, Shiva appears to be performing his Bhairava role, threatening an intruder with his trident and serpent.

There are far too many correlations, both iconographical and contextual, between this cave painting and the traditional iconography of Shiva – the trident, snake, jaguar skin, long hair, headdress with wavy lines, cave, burial ground – to assign this to mere coincidence. Besides, as we have already discussed, the Olmecs were clearly serious yoga practitioners, and yogic asanas were revealed by Lord Shiva. One would expect that a culture so into yoga would have been aware of the deity who is credited with founding the discipline.

Olmec Ganesha

Let us turn our attention to a curious Olmec clay figurine, which Zecharia Sitchin described as a “toy elephant”. It was spotted by Sitchin when visiting the Anthropology Museum in Jalapa, Veracruz.7 However, when he returned to the museum in 1999, the toy elephant was nowhere to be seen. Apparently they had been removed for an “overseas exhibit” never to be seen again. An elephant figurine in Mesoamerica raises uncomfortable questions, since elephants had disappeared from the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age at around 10,000 BCE.8 How would the Olmecs, who flourished between c.1500 – 400 BCE, model a figure in its likeness?

Although Sitchin describes the artifact as a “toy elephant,” it is unusual for an elephant to stand upright comfortably on its hind legs. The artifact looks surprisingly similar to the portly, elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha. Ganesha is a pan-Asian deity, and one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. As the remover of obstacles and the patron of arts and sciences, he is honored at the beginning of any religious ceremony. Ganesha is also the son of Shiva. If the Olmecs were aware of Shiva, they could have been acquainted with Ganesha as well.

Fig 10: Ganesha in Olmec iconography

The presence of Ganesha in Mesoamerica is borne out by yet another figurine which was found in Campeche, Mexico, dated to c.600 – 900 CE.9 It is that of a portly, elephant-headed person, dressed in ornaments and a crown, with his left hand raised in blessing, and holding a mace in his right hand. The figurine is surely of Ganesha, implying that the Mesoamericans were familiar with the deity by 600 – 900 CE, thus making it more likely that the Olmec figurine of the elephant-headed person is of Ganesha.

Fig 11: Ganesha figurine found in Campeche, Mexico, c.600-900 CE. Source: http://el-libertario.webnode.es

The Ganas

Another Olmec sculpture suggestive of Hindu influence in Olmec culture is on display at the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa, Mexico. It is an Olmec altar supported by a pair of dwarves with upraised hands. Scholars speculate that the altar may have been used for religious ceremonies, or it could have been a throne on which the ruler sat.

Exactly the same type of dwarf figures called “ganas” are often depicted below the cornices in Hindu-Buddhist temples! They are a portly bunch of merrymaking dwarves, who hold up and protect the temple. They are depicted with upraised hands supporting the temple, as well as in a variety of poses – singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, clapping etc. The ganas are dressed in loincloths, ornaments, and sometimes head-dresses too. It is astonishing to see how much they resemble the dwarves on the Olmec altar. There is little doubt that the same concept was executed by both cultures.

Fig 12: Ganas in Olmec and Hindu iconography.

Interestingly, the ganas are regarded as attendants of Shiva and the leader of the ganas is Ganesha (who is called ganapati i.e. “Lord of the Ganas”). Thus, a set of closely linked religious constructs of Hinduism – Shiva (the Lord of Yoga), Ganesha (the son of Shiva), and the ganas, who are the attendants of Shiva and the followers of Ganesha – appear to have been known to the Olmecs.

The ancient Egyptians also worshipped a dwarf deity called Bes, who was the protector of the household and of childbirth. He is depicted below a cornice at the Denderah Temple complex, which suggests that he played a similar function of supporting the temple in Egypt. However, stylistically the dwarf figures in the Olmec altar most closely resemble those seen in Hindu-Buddhist temples.

Fig 13: The dwarf deity Bes depicted below a cornice in the Denderah Temple complex. ©Olaf Tausch CC BY 3.0

Kalamukha: The Face of Time

One of the most significant pieces of monumental Olmec sculpture is the Altar 4 at La Venta. The altar shows a figure seated at the entrance of a central niche, which symbolizes a cave. The Olmecs and other Mesoamerican cultures regarded caves as sacred places. Human beings were fashioned inside a cave at the center of the world from where they emerged to serve their patron deities. Caves also provided a pathway to the underworld – the land of the ancestors. Given the sacred connotations associated with a cave, it appears that the figure seated at the entrance is that of a deity or a revered ancestor (although some scholars think of it as a ruler).

On the cornice above the deity is a depiction of a fearsome face with sharp fangs. The deity appears to be seated in the mouth of this monster. All around the cave entrance there is a serpentine foliage pattern terminating in what appear to be “flower buds”. The same design motif can be seen carved on the lintel stone above the entrance to many Hindu-Buddhist temples of India and South-east Asia, where it is called Kalamukha (Face of Time) or Kirtimukha (Face of Glory).

Fig 14: Kalamukha (the Face of Time) in Olmec and Hindu-Buddhist architecture.

The Kalamukha is a fearsome monster face, with large bulging eyes, and a gaping mouth with huge fangs. From its mouth it spews forth a serpent body, wreathed in foliage, which runs downward to frame the entrance on either side. Generally, the lower jaw of the monster is absent, which creates the impression of being devoured by the Kalamukha as one enters the temple. The Kalamukha is also used as a decorative motif above niches on the temple walls.10

In the Indian tradition, Time is synonymous with Death, so the Face of Time is also the Face of Death or the Face of Yama – the God of Death and the Lord of the Underworld. The jaws reject what is toxic and undesirable, and allow only the pure soul to come in the presence of the Great Spirit. It controls the passage from the multiform world of senses to the state of primordial unity, from the cycle of birth and death to the realm beyond time and death. In Buddhist art, the Kalamukha represents Shinje (the Tibetan equivalent of Yama), who holds the Wheel of Life in his mouth and devours all beings figured there, signaling his control over the cycles of birth and death.

It is likely that the symbol carried an analogous meaning amongst the Olmecs. The face above the La Venta altar resembles the Kalamukha, and even the “foliage pattern with flower buds” depicted on either side of the seated deity looks similar to that seen in Hindu-Buddhist temples. So, not only is there an overlap of a complex religious concept, but even the stylistic execution is similar. The subsequent cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Mayans, adopted the Kalamukha motif, which was depicted above the entrances to their temples and cave sanctuaries.

Fig 15: Kalamukha in Mayan and Hindu-Buddhist Temples and cave sanctuaries.

The Lion Guardians

While the Kalamukha protects the temple entrance, a pair of “lion guardian” statues flank the temple gates of most Hindu-Buddhist temples. Sometimes multiple lion statues are positioned along the access road or stairway leading to the temple entrance, and all around the temple walls. The lions are typically in a seated position, having bulging eyes and a gaping mouth exposing sharp fangs. In Olmec art, and that of the subsequent cultures of Mesoamerica, it was the jaguar that was depicted in a very similar pose.

Fig 16: Olmec Jaguars and Lion Guardians of Hindu-Buddhist Temples

At San Lorenzo, a pair of jaguar statues was found at the entrance to the southern plateau, which suggests that they may have served a protective function. The two felines (at San Lorenzo) are of different sizes but fairly similar in shape. They sit so that their front and rear legs are nearly on the same plane…The cats display their upper fangs and central front teeth but without any tension that would convincingly indicate a threatening movement.11

Like the lion of Asia, the jaguar was revered by the Mesoamericans. Mayan deities such as God L who is “the primary lord of the underworld” is often shown with a jaguar ear or jaguar attire, and atop a jaguar throne.12 Maya kings also donned jaguar pelts, and adopted the jaguar as part of their ruling name. One such ruling family is known as Jaguar Paw, who ruled the Maya city of Tikal in the fourth century.13

Similarly, all over the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of South Asia, we find deities such as Buddha, Ganesha and others depicted seated on lion thrones. “The lion as the king of the beasts has long been the symbol of royalty; the throne on which Indian kings sat was called simhasan, “the seat of a lion” (or “lion-throne”), and had representations of lions on the base of the throne.”14 The surname “Singh” (meaning “lion”) was used by a long line of Rajput kings such as Jai Singh, Uday Singh etc.

Fig 17: Mayan Jaguar throne and Hindu Lion throne

The concept of lion guardians was prevalent all over the Near East, Greece and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, lions were the symbol of kingship. The Processional Way from the Ishtar Gate (in Babylon) to the temple of Marduk, was adorned with lion reliefs. In Assyria, Persia, and Anatolia, winged lions with the head of a man called lamassu (meaning “protective spirit”) were placed at the entrances to palaces and cities. A set of twelve squatting, snarling “guardian lions” were placed along the Sacred Way in Delos, Greece, reminiscent of the Avenue of Sphinxes in Egypt. Interestingly, in Egypt, the pharaoh sometimes sat on a “lion throne”, having images of lions sculpted into the throne. The Egyptian god Aker, who guarded the gates to the netherworld through which the sun entered the underworld at sunset and again emerged at dawn, was depicted in the form of two lions sitting back to back, supporting the horizon containing the sun-disk. Twin lion statues representing Aker were placed at the doors of palaces and tombs to protect against evil spirits.

Therefore, the ideas associated with the jaguar in Mesoamerica were not unique or unusual, but were widely prevalent in many Old World cultures. Stylistically, however, the Mesoamerican jaguars are most similar to those found in the Hindu-Buddhist temples.

Fig 18: Guardian Lions in West Asia and Greece

Fig 19: Egypt – Lion Throne and Aker

The Olmecs, therefore, were not only earnest practitioners of yoga, but they appear to have been acquainted with the Hindu deities Shiva and Ganesha, and had adopted many elements of Hindu temple architecture such as the ganas, Kalamukha and the lion guardians. Their sudden appearance in Mesoamerica sometime around 1500 BCE, with all the evolved elements of their culture, can be most easily explained by a migration from the other side of the Pacific.

When we look at the various Olmec figurines in yogic poses, it becomes obvious that the Olmecs had distinct mongoloid features. Interestingly, some of the ceramic figurines of the yoga-practicing Western Mexico shaft tomb culture were named “Chinesco” by art dealers due to their Chinese-like appearance. For quite some time there have been talks of a Chinese presence in the Americas. In 1882, thirty ancient Chinese coins were discovered by a miner in British Columbia, in the auriferous sand twenty five feet below the surface.15 The coins depicted the Chinese chronological cycle of sixty years, invented by the Emperor Huungti in 2637 BCE. In 1975, large numbers of Chinese stone anchors were discovered in 12 to 25 feet of water off the Palos Verdes peninsula south of Los Angeles. In an article titled Stone Anchors: Asiatic Shipwrecks Off the California Coast published in the Anthropological Journal of Canada, Prof. Moriarity and Prof. Pearson said that geological studies showed the stone anchors were not of Californian origin and cited this as evidence that Asiatic vessels reached the New World in pre-Columbian times.16

Further fuel was added to the trans-pacific diffusion theory in 1996, when Dr. Michael Xu of the Texas Christian University put forward the hypothesis that the Olmecs may have emigrated from the Shang dynasty of ancient China.17

Migrations from Asia

Michael Xu had spent many years analyzing the inscriptions on a large number of Olmec jade, stone, and pottery artifacts, in particular the inscriptions on the six jade celts in Offering No.4 at La Venta. He was struck by how closely the symbols on these artifacts resembled Chinese bone inscriptions from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 – 1046 BCE) who ruled in the Yellow River valley. “When I first brought my artifacts from the Americas to China, scholars there thought that I just had more samples of Shang writing” Xu says, “…The similarities are that striking.”18

An emerging view amongst researchers is that the migration from China may have taken place during the Xia dynasty (c.2070 – 1600 BCE), which preceded the Shang dynasty.19 The Olmecs called themselves “Xi” which could be derived from “Xia”. In addition, since the Olmecs did not have knowledge of metallurgy, the emigration should have taken place prior to the emergence of bronze metallurgy in China at around 1800 BCE during the Xia dynasty.

In 1975, Betty Meggers, a research archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, proposed a Shang dynasty influence in the Olmec culture. She thinks that Asian contact goes back even further, to around 3000 BCE. In 1965, she had observed striking similarities in the techniques and decoration motifs of the Jomon pottery of Japan and those excavated in Valdivia, Equador, and proposed a migration from Japan’s Jomon culture to Equador – an idea which was roundly criticized by archaeologists at that time – but has now found genetic corroboration.20

Both Betty Meggers and Mike Xu believe that natural Pacific water flows, such as the Kuroshio Current from Japan and the Black Current from China, transported boats to the New World.21 From the 1600s to the mid 1800s, several dozen Japanese ships were carried from Asia to North America along the powerful Kuroshio Currents.22 It is improbable that such contact would have started only after the Europeans landed in America.

Mike Xu has pointed out that the Olmecs, like the Chinese, viewed jade as a precious and pure stone, which they carved into a variety of artifacts, including jade masks. A particular design called “Taotie” appears on Chinese jade artifacts and bronze vessels from the Shang dynasty. It is a gluttonous ogre mask, with large eyes, sharp fangs, and sometimes with no lower jaw. Scholars of religious symbolism regard it as the Chinese version of the “Kalamukha” depicted above the entrances to Hindu-Buddhist temples. The same design is depicted on the Olmec altar 4 at La Venta.

Fig 20: Jade Masks – Chinese and Olmec

Fig 21: Taotie and Spiral motifs in China and Mesoamerica

The presence of the Kalamukha motif in Shang dynasty China is not surprising since there had always been a great deal of overlap between Chinese and Hindu religion, culture, philosophy, astronomy, and architecture. The Taoist philosophy is barely different from that of the Upanishads; the concept of energy meridians and chakras was known to both cultures; the Chinese concept of 28 lunar asterisms is same as the Indian Nakshatra system; and the Chinese calendric system, with its 12 year and 60 year cycles, is also prevalent in India.

Mike Xu mentions that both the Chinese and the Olmecs used a red pigment called cinnabar to decorate ceremonial objects.23 I want to add that the custom of anointing ceremonial objects with red vermillion powder (which is obtained from cinnabar) continues to this day in India. Mike Xu also writes that the Olmecs and the Chinese have the practice of placing a few jade beads inside the mouth of the deceased.24 An analogous practice in India is to place a few gold pieces on or inside the mouth (for gold carries the same sense of preciousness and purity in Indian culture as jade does in China). Throughout Mesoamerica, right since the time of the Olmecs, conch-shell trumpets were used in a ritual context to announce the presence of the gods25 – a practice that is still followed in Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies. Aztec kings signaled their troops to attack with conch shell trumpets26, reminiscent of the Hindu mythological heroes in the epics such as the Mahabharata, who blew their conch-shells at the beginning of the battle.

Fig 22: Conch shell trumpets were used extensively on either side of the Pacific for ritualistic purposes and announcing the beginning of battles.

It occurred to me that because of the immense cultural overlaps between India and China, the Hindu-Buddhist influence in Olmec culture can be effectively explained by a migration from the Xia or Shang dynasty of China. Even yogic asanas, which the Olmecs practiced ardently, appear to have been known to the Chinese in the pre-Buddhist period. A number of jade statues from the Shang dynasty show people seated in the “Vajrasana” posture.

Fig 23: Shang Dynasty jade statue seated in the “Vajrasana” posture. ©Zcm11 CC BY-SA 3.0 Fig 24: Stone statue of a guardian lion at Mount Emei in China. ©Chris Feser CC BY 2.0

 

A pair of protective guardian lions stood outside Chinese temples, imperial palaces, and tombs from the Han dynasty onwards (206 BCE – CE 220), predating the arrival of Buddhist influence in China. The pair would consist of a male, leaning his paw upon an embroidered ball, possibly representing supremacy over the world, and a female with a cub under its paw, representing the cycle of life.27 The stylistic representation is similar to that seen in the Hindu-Buddhist temples of India and Southeast Asia, and the jaguar statues of the Olmecs and other Mesoamerican cultures.

I could not find any Chinese version of the ganas – the dwarf figures that support the Hindu-Buddhist temple. But, what I did find is that both Shiva and Ganesha were a part of the Chinese religious tradition as early as the 4th century CE. A painting of the elephant-headed Ganesha, seated next to a four-armed, trishula-wielding Shiva, is found in Cave 285 at Dunhuang’s Mogao caves. The chamber was excavated in the Northern Wei dynasty (c.386-534 CE).28 Thus, the knowledge of Ganesha and Shiva could have also passed on to the Olmecs through a migration from ancient China.

Fig 25: Ganesha and Shiva in Cave 285 at Duanhuang Mogao caves. Source: http://aasilkroad.blogspot.in/

The remarkable similarity between stepped pyramids on either side of the Pacific – which has already been pointed out by many researchers – is also very important indication of ancient contact between Asia and the Americas. The Olmec pyramid at La Venta, made of earth-fill, presently has a conical shape due to 2500 years of erosion. Originally, however, it was a rectangular pyramid with stepped sides.29 It resembles the stepped pyramids of China, which were built as tombs for the elite, and the temple pyramids dedicated to Hindu gods in South-east Asia.

Fig 26: Stepped Pyramids on either side of the Pacific.

Undeniably, there is significant evidence suggesting that the Olmec civilization, which appeared in a fully formed state in Mexico sometime around 1500 BCE, adopted many elements of Hindu temple architecture, yogic practices and deities, as well as Chinese artistic styles, traditions, and the Shang script. These striking correlations can be effectively explained by migrations from Asia, most likely from the Xia or Shang dynasty of China. This was by no means the first wave of migration from Asia, or the last. Research archaeologist Betty Meggers theorizes that Asians have traveled to and from the Americas for thousands of years. According to her, “Ancient man saw the ocean as a superhighway and not as a barrier”.30

Although trans-pacific diffusion theories were widely discussed in academic circles in the first half of the 20th century, since the 1970s American archaeologists have treated the subject with disdain, which has brought about a virtual moratorium on contact studies. “While European and Pacific archaeologists were still willing to consider diffusion, American archaeologists tended to see necessity as the mother of all inventions…With a few key exceptions, there was no serious discussion of transoceanic influences on the Americas between 1980 and 2005 in mainstream American journals.”31

The volume of evidence in support of transoceanic contact between Asia and the Americas has been steadily growing, however, and the nature of the connections is so complex and precise that it cannot be explained away as an in-situ development. One can only hope that a new generation of historians and archaeologists will shake off the rigid dogmas that seem to guide the mainstream version of history, and take due account of the plethora of archaeological and cultural evidence that indicates deep connections between the ancient civilizations of Asia and the Americas.


End Notes

1 “India Documents 900 Yoga Poses to Block Patents”, Voice of America News 11 Jun 2010 <http://www.tkdl.res.in/tkdl/PressCoverage/important_news/VOANews_11-06-2010.pdf>

2 Nigel Davies, The Ancient Civilizations of Mexico (Penguin Books, 1982) 55.

3 Andrei A. Znamensk, The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2007)182.

4 Refer Note 1

5 Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition, Wikipedia.

6 Michael D.Coe,”Image of an Olmec ruler at Juxtlahuaca, Mexico”, Antiquity Vol. 79 No. 305, September 2005.

7 “THE CASE OF THE MISSING ELEPHANT”, The Official Website of Zecharia Sitchin 2000 <http://www.sitchin.com/elephant.htm>

8 <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2328374/A-giant-meteor–overhunting–wiped-woolly-mammoth-struggled-cope-rapid-climate-change-followed.html>

9 Strange Figurines < http://el-libertario.webnode.es/en/estatuillas-extranas/>

10 Adrian Snodgrass, The Symbolism of the Stupa (Motilal Banarsidass, 1992) 306.

11 Carolyn E. Tate, Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (University of Texas Press, 2012)126.

12 Benson 1998: 64-65 taken from Wikipedia (Jaguars in Mesoamerican cultures)

13 Coe 1999: 90 taken from Wikipedia (Jaguars in Mesoamerican cultures)

14 Sehdev Kumar, A Thousand Petalled Lotus: Jain Temples of Rajasthan : Architecture & Iconography (Abhinav Publications, 2001)155.

15 James Dean, “Anthropology”, The American Naturalist, University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists, January 1884, 18 (1): 98–99 taken from Wikipedia (Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories)

16 Larry J.Pierson and James R. Moriarty, “Stone Anchors: Asiatic Shipwrecks off the California Coast,” Anthropological Journal of Canada, 18:17, 1980

17 Jennifer Viegas, “Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First ” ABCNEWS.com <https://web.archive.org/web/20010815211144/http://www.abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000science/newworld991019.html>

18 ibid.

19 Christian Lemoy, Across the Pacific: From Ancient Asia to Precolombian America (2011) 45

20 Brad Lepper, “JAPANESE FISHERMEN DISCOVER AMERICA 5,000 YEARS AGO?” Ohio History Connection 19 May. 2013 <http://apps.ohiohistory.org/ohioarchaeology/did-japanese-fishermen-discover-america-5000-years-ago/>

21 Jennifer Viegas, “Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First ” ABCNEWS.com <https://web.archive.org/web/20010815211144/http://www.abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000science/newworld991019.html>

22 James Wickersham, “Origin of the Indians–The Polynesian Route” American Antiquarian(1892)16:323-335 taken from Wikipedia (Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories)

23 Jocelyn Selim, “Chinatown, 1000 B.C.” DISCOVER Vol. 21 No. 2 (February 2000) <https://web.archive.org/web/20010807034244/http://www.discover.com/feb_00/breakchinatown.html>

24 Ibid

25 Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (University of Utah Press, 1950-1982)I:29

26 Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988) 96

27 Wikipedia (Chinese Guardian Lions)

28 Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God, ed. Robert L. Brown, (SUNY Press, 1991)271.

29 Walter Robert Thurmond Witschey, Clifford T. Brown, Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica (Scarecrow Press, 2012)180.

30 Jennifer Viegas, “Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First ” ABCNEWS.com <https://web.archive.org/web/20010815211144/http://www.abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000science/newworld991019.html>

31 Terry L. Jones, Alice A. Storey, Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith, José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga

Rowman Altamira, Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World (2011) 63

19 thoughts on “Olmec Yogis with Hindu Beliefs: Did they migrate from ancient China?”

  1. marc gould says:

    these culture may have all been influenced by an earlier civilization … MU/ lemurian who knows?? i’m only a jade carver. marc go to marcgould.com altered stones gallery THX p.s. a lot of central americans look more asian than indian

  2. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

    In case of the Olmecs we find that they appear as a fully-developed civilization at around 1500 BCE, with strong cultural affinities to India and China, having Asian(mongoloid) physical features. So, there is a good basis to theorize that they might have migrated from Asia.

    China or India, in turn probably derived their culture from some earlier civilization, leading all the way back to a Golden Age culture like Atlantis/Kumari Kandam/Mu etc. Humans did not stop evolving, or being creative, after the Golden Age ended. So, not all cultural artifacts or symbols can be traced back to the Golden Age; many could have developed later. Many civilizations have come and gone, many mass migrations of humans have taken place over the past 12,000 years, which have played a part in the affinities that we observe today across widely dispersed cultures.

  3. Michael seabrook says:

    There are temples around Earth aligned like chakra points, I’ve a chakra trail

  4. Ramakrishna Rachakonda says:

    I’m an Indian and I’d like to give some timeline for the birth of yoga according to the Indian sanskrit scriptures and teachings.

    Adiyogi – The Source of Yoga

    Over 15,000 years ago, at a time predating all religion, Adiyogi, the first yogi, appeared in the Himalayas.

    He alternated between dancing in ecstasy and sitting in utter stillness where the only sign of life were his tears of bliss trickling down his cheeks. It was obvious he was experiencing something no one could fathom. People gathered around him in interest, but he was oblivious of their presence and eventually they all left. Except for seven intense seekers. They begged him, “Please, we want to know what you know.” Seeing their perseverance, Adiyogi gave them some preparatory sadhana. They did the sadhana with single-minded focus for 84 years, while Adiyogi ignored them. Then, on the day of the summer solstice, the start of Dakshinayana, Adiyogi noticed them to be shining receptacles of knowing. After closely observing them for the next 28 days, on the next full moon day, today known as Guru Pournami, he transformed into the first Guru, Adi Guru. On the banks of Kanti Sarovar, Adiyogi began a systematic exposition of the science of yoga to his first seven disciples, who today are celebrated as the Saptarishis.

    He expounded 112 ways through which human beings can transcend their limitations and reach their ultimate potential. Adiyogi’s offerings are tools for individual transformation, as individual transformation is the only way to transform the world. His fundamental message is that “in is the only way out” for human wellbeing and liberation. It is time that we addressed human wellbeing in a scientific way through subjective technologies.

  5. Vlad Nicolescu says:

    Excellent article!! As usual.
    Perhaps some genetic studies would help.
    Thank you.

    1. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

      Thanks Vlad. From a genetic perspective, there is an agreement that the Americas was largely populated by people from Asia who migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge around 13,000 years ago. However, scientists / archaeologists are reluctant to admit that migrations also took place across the Pacific in ocean-going ships for thousands of years, which seeded multiple cultures in the Americas. If we look at the genetic maps (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_history_of_indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas), especially the R1 haplogroup (Y chromosome) and X haplogroup (mtDNA), it becomes rather obvious that some migrations must have also taken place from Europe, across the Atlantic. Recent studies show many indigenous Americans have genetic linkages with people from Australia, New Guinea, Andamans etc. which could have only been possible if the migrations took place by boats. So, the genetic evidence is there, the disagreement is about when, from where, in how many waves, and how (land/sea) the migrations took place.

  6. Arulanandam says:

    Many thanks Graham for highlighting Asia’s contributions in ancient times.

    1. Arulanandam says:

      ..and to Bibhu Dev Misra on your research and articles..

      1. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

        Thanks Arulanandam

  7. rob purday says:

    I am wondering if the postures served the same purpose in different cultural settings; they have the same basic foundation, ‘energetically’, and can offer the same health benefits, to the point of optimising human health beyond ‘the norm’. Is there, however, a set of applications behind the Olmec postures, for instance, that is specific to them….what prompted this thought was the work of Felicitas Goodman of the Cyamungue Institute who has shown that posture can not only enhance visionary journeying ability but is remarkably directive, giving rise to posture specific ‘initiatic’ experience (with their own ‘health’ benefits), as well as directing the practitioner to reasonably well defined territory within the spirit/visionary realms…..the natural question is, did the same apply to the meso-american use of the postures? A more ‘shamanic’ culture, if the Olmecs were ostensibly such, might indeed use them to this end.

    Thanks for a very well put together article Bibhu.

    1. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

      Thanks Rob. A posture specific initiatic experience is an interesting and novel suggestion, and could have been one of the ways in which the Olmecs used them, in addition to the obvious health benefits. I noticed that the majority of the Olmec figurines were in sitting postures, which could have been used for both meditation and shamanic experiences. I could not identify a few postures (which looked like yogic asanas), which was probably in part due to my lack of familiarity with all the asana variations, but may also be because the Olmecs were inventing some of their own variations. In either case, it would be interesting if some yoga experts got together a created a complete catalogue of Olmec asanas. It would reveal what kind of health benefits they were striving for, and may also tell us if meditation and shamanic experiences guided their practices.

  8. Elizabeth Stuart says:

    Michel Seabrook are you out of your mind? Temples lined around the world like Chakra? Do you realize that you can draw a direct line from point A to point B anywhere on this Earth? And as for the one who wrote this article, he should be slapped upside the head. The Olmac specifically state why and on what they base their poses on and the smart ass that wrote this tripe dimiss them. Instead, he expects us to believe his alternate delusion.

    1. rob purday says:

      Care to share what the Olmec specifically stated about their poses….

  9. Donan says:

    Graham,

    You’ve probably seen this by now, but if not you’ll find it interesting… stuff just keeps on getting older, doesn’t it?

    Love you work, keep it up!

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38967924

  10. Thelma Follett says:

    There are many examples of shared flora in “Biological Evidence for Transoceanic voyages,” John L. Sorenson and Carl L. Johannessen, in “Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World,” edited by Victor H. Mair.
    For example, “utterly decisive evidence for the presence of American maize in the Old World has been found in Asian art and archeology. Johannessen andcolleagues (Johannessen and Wang 1998; Johannessen and Parker 1989) first thoroughly documented sculptures of ears of corn – hundreds of them- on temples in southern India. This art often dates from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, but some representations are as early as the first century CE.” And, also in this chapter, another example is the sunflower, “an American native has been discovered by Johannessen and Wang in sacred sculptural art of India…. “Both in art and in texts- some perhaps going back over two millennia- we see a strong association of this plant and its flower with the sun.”

    1. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

      Thanks for sharing some of the botanical evidences for trans-pacific contacts. A large number of correlations were identified by archaeologists in the early part of the 20th century, but generally ignored. Some of the well-known ones include the Stela B at Copan which show Indian elephants ridden by turbaned mahouts; the resemblances between the Hindu game of Pachisi and the Mexican game of Patolli; the similarities in the representations of dragons and serpent balustrades etc. Overall, there is certainly a strong case for ongoing contacts between Asia and America, long before Columbus.

  11. Alan Abramowitz says:

    Everyone seems to have forgotten their role as Africans whether they are from Nigeria or the Sudan. Olmec statutes found in Mexico are all wearing a type of classical Egyptian helmet. They have connections to the Hyksos as well.
    Were they descendants of the far older Negev culture??

  12. Maciej says:

    I don’t get it … The case of missing elephant figurine – Jalapa Museum. Can’t you just ask about it? Sitchin as ususal is absolutly untrustworthy!!! Jaw-dropping material anyway…

    1. Bibhu Dev Misra says:

      Thanks. I did not visit the Jalapa Museum, and in any case, I became aware of this elephant figurine much later. The question regarding its whereabouts certainly needs to be raised. But it can be done by someone who lives close by, or by researchers / enthusiasts who visit the Museum frequently.

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