For those who don't know, the Maya civilization is one of the civilizations flourished in America before the Spanish arrived. In fact, it is one of the three major Mesoamerican civilizations, the other two were the Aztec and the Inca.
Geographically, the Mayan civilization covered what is now Belize,Guatemala, Honduras,El Salvador, and part of Mexico.
By far the greatest civilization in Central America before the Spanish Conquest was the Maya. They were outstanding in many different ways. For example, they built magnificent cities with huge stone temples and pyramids. Yet they had no knowledge of metal tools, but they had knowledge of the wheel. The great Mayans developed an advanced system of writing,mathematics and astronomy, which they used to calculate an accurate calendar. The ancient Maya lived in a society where religion was part of their daily life. The cosmological beliefs of the Maya are not fully known, for the only direct source of knowledge comes from the sculptured, and painted representations from their ceremonie sites. However, it is known that they worshipped hundreds of different gods. According to Benson, the Maya people can be described as short and sturdily built, with broad heads and receding jaws. The ancient Mayans can be long remembered for their remarkable advances of the arts, science, and religion.
The art of the Maya has been called the richest of the New World because of the great complexity of patterns and variety of media expressions. Maya buildings were adorned with carved friezes and roof combs in stone and stucco. With large quantities of limestone and flint available, plaster and cement were easily produced. This allowed the Mayans to build impressive temples, with stepped pyramids. On the summits were thatched- roof temples. Evidence show that the early Maya architects were using the corbel vault principle, which is arch like structures with sides that extend inward until they meet at the top. Another matchless feature of the Mayans was the use of colorful murals. It is also noted that most of the Maya cities were built by being divided into quaters by two avenues which cross-cut each other at right angles. Roofs were flat and made with cedar beams overlaid with mortar. The walls were plastered and painted with great gods and other mythological features.
The Mayans also expressed themselves artistically. Their ceramics were made in a large variety of forms and decorated with complex scenes. The Mayans also designed works of art from flint, bone and shell, along with making decorated cotton textiles. Even metal was used for ceremonial purposes. Items made with metal include necklaces, bracelets and headresses. It is evident that all of the structures built by the ancient Mayans were built in honor of the gods. Compounds were built with large open areas, from which all the citizens could view the religious ceremonies taking place on the platforms elevated above the city. On the other hand, the construction of the Castillo, seems to relate to the ancient Maya's obsession with the calendar. For example, each stairway in the temple has 91 steps, making a total of 364 steps in the four staircases, which, counting the platform at the top of the pyramid, equals the total number of days in the solar year. Even more so, each side of the pyramid has nine stepped terraces divided by a stairway, for a total of eighteen sections on each side, consequently, the number of months in the Maya calendar. Although the Mayans excelled at architecture, other accomplishments of the Mayas must not be overlooked.
The Mayans concept of the cosmos is more complex than the western religion. Benson reminds us that the only evidence of the Maya religion is the ruins left to tell the stories. The Maya religion seems to have been made up of thirteen heavens and nine underworlds ruled by the nine lords of the nights, whose names are not known. Apparently, there was warfare between the sky gods and those of the underworld. As their society grew more complex, their religious pantheon also grew more complicated with new gods being added and old gods taking on new functions. Their ceremonies grew more complicated too. Not only could the Maya gods change their appearance, but they could also change their goodness or evil. Benson explains that the sky god was the most important at all periods because he is frequently noticed in the art. The Maya worshipped hundreds of different gods. It is apparent that religion was an important part of all Mayan life, and confirmation proves that religion and the Mayan calendar were so inter-woven because of the ceremonies that were held regularly in connection with the Mayans advanced calendar.
The Mayans were an advanced group of people who made many advancements in math and astronomy, which they used to calculate an accurate calendar. The Maya came up with an advanced calendric system. First, they came up with a calendar that consisted of 260 days each with a specific name and symbol. The days were numbered 1 to 13 and since there are 20 day names, after the 13 day count the next day is numbered 1 again. Secondly, the Maya also had a calendar that tracked a solar year of 365 days. This calendar contained months that are given names, and these names also had symbols. There were 18 months that were given names, and these months were composed of 20 days as their previous calendar. In each year was a special five day month called Wayet. These five days had no names and were considered unlucky. The Maya used special glyphs to indicate time periods.
The Mayans were the only people in the Americas who had a developed form of writing, thus some of their inscriptions cannot be entirely deciphered. Part of the problem is the limited number of texts; only three pre-Spanish Maya books, or codices, are known to exist. One of the few native text that survived from the Spanish colonial period is the Popol Vuh. Many of their text like the Popul Vuh consist of legends or rituals that come down by word of mouth. So the Popol Vuh is a book of chronological happenings that explain the Mayans belief of creation. In the essence, it was a book of guidelines and moral lessons. The Mayans believed that the Popol Vuh was created before man and that it was to be used to answer questions of creation and the earth. According to the Mayans, the concept of time was a neverending process. Their civilization had the most correct understandings of the concept of time. The first known contact with this book for the Mayans was in Quiche. Quiche is an area in the Guatamalan highlands. The Popol Vuh has had many names before it was the Popol Vuh. These names ranged from "The Light That Came from Across the Sea," "Our Place in the Shadows," and "The Dawn of Life." The last and final name that stuck with the book is Popol Vuh or translated means Council Book. The authors of the alphabetic Popol Vuh were members of the three lordly lineages that had once ruled the Quiche kingdom: the Cauecs, the Greathouses, and the Lord Quiches. These founding groups were thought to have existed in the middle sixteenth century. In 1701, a friar named Francisco Ximenez made the only surviving copy of the Popol Vuh and added a Spanish translation.
The Mayans were polytheistic and their gods had many different names. The most commanding of the gods were the Maker, Begetter, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, and Maker of the Blue-Green Plate. All these gods played different roles in the creation of the earth. The Maker was the mother-father of life. The Begetter and Soveriegn Plumed Serpent were in the water and were believed to be a glittering light or reflection. The Maker of the Blue-Green Plate stood for the maker of the sky and earth. The Popol Vuh and the Judeo Christian bible have a large similarity, and that is the story of creation. The Popol Vuh describes the creations of each section of the sky, land, and water. With the moments in creation there is no element of time, it just happens the way the gods want them to occur. After the gods have created all the animals and areas of the earth they decide to create guardians. These guardians are to protect this lavish land and to respect all creatures that share the earth with them. At first, the gods tried to produce a human out of earth and mud. The problem with this idea was that the humans were disintergrating and dissolving, and the body had many imperfections. Later, the gods tried again to construct a human, this time out of wood. These manikins multiplied, having sons and daughters. The problem with the manikins was that they had no feelings, heart, blood, and no recognition of events. The gods were angered by their mistake, so they created a flood and killed all the manikins. Then the gods ground their bodies up and crushed their mouths and faces. Afterward, the gods ate them. " It has been said that the monkeys were left as a sign because wood alone was used for their flesh by the gods. So this is why monkeys look like people: they are a sign of a previous human work, human design-mere manikins, mere woodcarvings." In conclusion the Popop Vuh is an example of how a book of a civilization can be lost, and reopened in a new age.