Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Monumentality and Utilitarianism–of Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and Early Philippines

Great Sphinx of Giza and Khafre’s Pyramid, Giz...

Image via Wikipedia

The first Ancient Civilization that we learn in class is on Ancient Egypt. I think that the journey should start from there, where we can see monumentality and attempt at permanence in the grandest sense. We watched the BBC Documentary Egypt: Rediscovering a Lost World. Here is a summary from About.com:

This BBC DVD set (three discs in the British version, which includes the special bonus disc Pyramid) is possibly the best introduction to Egyptology you can get. Telling the tales of three leading figures over six episodes: the adventures and discoveries of Howard Carter (discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb), Giovanni Battista Belzoni (collected antiquities and discovered the tomb of Seti I), and Jean François Champollion (deciphered hieroglyphs) are brought into stunning life.

It is probably every budding Egyptologist’s dream to travel to Egypt and visit the sites of the pyramids, temples, and tombs. For most of us it will remain a dream. The second best thing you can do is treat yourself to this BBC series about the discoveries which lay the foundations for today’s knowledge about Africa’s oldest recorded civilization.

The first two episodes cover Howard Carter’s quest to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun, and is a shining example to all of us not to give up on one’s dreams. Having divided the Valley of the Kings into sections, he scoured each part for Tutankhamun’s resting place, only discovering it when he reached the final section!

The middle two episodes follow the adventures of Giovanni Belzoni, engineer and one-time circus strongman, who had an unerring ‘nose’ for discovering antiquities and lost tombs. Belzoni cleared the entrance to Abu Simbel and rediscovered the tomb of Seti I (Sethos I), the father of Ramesses II (‘the Great’). Much of what he collected now lies in the British Museum.

The final two episodes cover the French linguist Jean François Champollion’s determination to be the first to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (and beat the British hopeful Thomas Young). Despite being handicapped in his endeavor in working with error-prone copies of hieroglyphic inscriptions, Champollion became the first person for almost two thousand years to be able to read the ancient language.

The series was filmed on location, with panoramic views of ancient temples, pyramids, and tombs as they are now, and reconstructions of their creation. The whole series is tied together in the stories of these three men and the ancient Egyptians they longed to understand – particularly Tutankhamun and Ramesess II. You get a real sense of being there, whether it is the early 1800s or 1900s, or back in Pharaonic Egypt.

Here is a Power Point presentation that I prepared for the lesson on Ancient Egypt. It is clickable and downloadable. Here is the same presentation that I uploaded on 4shared.

Next that we watched is on a civilization earlier than Egypt, that of India. Again, BBC provides a good documentary of this. The Story of India shows the roots of their ancient civilizations, from their written texts to their monumental architecture. Here is an episode summary from PBS.org:

The world’s largest democracy and a rising economic giant, India is now as well known across the globe for its mastery of computer technology as it is for its many-armed gods and its famous spiritual traditions. But India is also the world’s most ancient surviving civilization, with unbroken continuity back into prehistory.

Like other great civilizations—Greece or Egypt, for example—over the millennia it has enjoyed not just one but several brilliant golden ages in art and culture. Its great thinkers and religious leaders have permanently changed the face of the globe. But while the glories of Rome, Egypt, and Greece, have all been the subject of TV portraits, as yet there has been no television story of India on our screens. This series sets out for the first time to do that: to show a world audience the wonders of India; the incredible richness and diversity of its peoples, cultures and landscapes; and the intense drama of its past, including some of the most momentous, exciting and moving events in world history.

Read the rest here.

I only focused on the first part entitled Beginnings and the fourth part entitled Ages of Gold. Here is the summary for Beginnings, again from PBS.org:

The first episode looks at identity and the roots of India’s famous “unity in diversity”. Using all the tools available to the historical detective—from DNA to climate science, oral survivals, ancient manuscripts, archaeology, and exploration of the living cultures of the subcontinent—Michael Wood takes us from the tropical heat of South India to the Ganges plain and from Pakistan and the Khyber Pass out to Turkmenistan where dramatic new archaeological discoveries are changing our view of the migrations that have helped make up Indian identity.

We begin long before recorded history with the first human journey out of Africa. In extraordinary scenes in the tropical backwaters of Kerala, Wood finds survivals of human sounds and rituals from before language.

In Tamil Nadu the latest DNA research takes him to a village where everyone still bears the genetic imprint of those first “beachcombing incomers”—the “first Indians” who went on to populate the rest of the world excluding Africa.

Then on to the modern discovery of India’s “first civilization”—the lost cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in today’s Pakistan and the mystery of their collapse, which Wood discovers may have been due to massive and far-reaching climate change.

Forward again to the Ganges plain and the “Age of Heroes” in time of the great Indian epic the Mahabharata.

Throughout, this colorful and exciting film is full of the sights, sounds and people of today’s India. Wood ends the film in a vast crowd of pilgrims at the great festival of Holi in Mathura in north India, covered from head to foot in colored powder and telling us, “this is just the beginning!”

Meanwhile, here is a summary of Ages of Gold from PBS.org:

Episode Four is the story of India in the Middle Ages. At the time of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, and the European Dark Ages, India had a series of great flowerings of culture, both in the north and the south. In this episode Michael Wood shows us some of the amazing achievements of medieval India: In astronomy they discovered the heliocentric universe, zero and the circumference of the earth.

They mastered the world’s first large scale wrought iron technology—the Delhi iron pillar, and their courtly culture was the setting the world’s first sex manual, the Kama Sutra.

Meanwhile in the south the rising power of the Cholan empire spread Indian arms and culture to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Andamans, and to Java and the Malay peninsula, where the Tamil diaspora is still powerful today.

Wood visits the Cholan capital at Tanjore, and with extraordinarily privileged access takes us right inside the greatest temple of that time (founded in 1010), to see the ancient rituals still being performed.

In a fascinating sequence we see traditional bronze casters, making religious images for the temples, just as their ancestors did 1500 years ago.

We visit a traditional Tamil family in the temple city of Chidambaram, go with them on pilgrimage and witness the ancient mountain top festival of fire that was already famous in 700AD!

The story ends in Multan in Pakistan in the early eleventh century with a shadow on the horizon—the first invasions by Turks and Afghans bearing the Muslim faith that will change the story of India and turn the subcontinent into the biggest Muslim civilization in the world.

Here is the Power Point presentation I prepared on Story of India. Here is the same presentation available on 4shared.

Yet, let us go back to the Philippines, especially after watching Dreamweavers, the T’nalak weaving of the T’boli. How can we compare the Ancient civilizations of Egypt and India compare to that of the Philippines? Their art and architecture are monumental while ours are mostly utilitarian. What does this say about our art and culture?

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