Nearly all the modern civilizations of the world can trace back their origins to the world’s four earliest civilizations emerged in four different parts of the world in roughly the same time. These four civilizations were the ancient Chinese, Indus Valley, Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian Civilizations. The emergence of these civilizations is the hallmark of a new age. Though it is not yet proved that there was any interaction between these four civilizations and probably all four have been developed indigenously in their own unique circumstances, but they posses remarkable similar characteristics.
One of the most prominent similarities is the geographic location where they developed i. e. river valleys. Despite these similarities they have their own unique characteristics not found in the others. Religion is another interesting phenomenon regarding these civilizations. In the early stages of human history religion has played a pivotal role in developing the daily life characteristics of any culture.
This paper will compare and contrast the two eastern civilizations i. e. the Chinese and Indus Valley with their western counterparts i. e. the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian civilizations regarding the influence of the religion in the development of the daily life culture. Chinese and Indus Valley Civilization: The Chinese civilization developed in the Yellow river valley. The earliest of the Chinese cultures according to the Chinese tradition are the Xia and Shang dynasties. Though there are no archeological findings and records of the former, the latter has left a remarkable amount of archeological remains through which we can know much better about their culture and religion. The Shang culture worshipped a supreme deity called “Shang Ti” meaning “Lord o the High”.
This supreme god other deputies each control a natural force like sun, moon, wind and rain etc. Because Shang Ti not only control human affairs and also the Universe the god was termed by the later “Chou” culture as heaven. This remained the official religion of all the Chinese dynasties until the 20th century. In order to please the supreme god human sacrifices were made. The sacrifices were usually involved slaves and prisoners of war. The Chou kings further elevated themselves and proclaimed to act as an intermediary between the heaven and the earth. They were given the mandate of taking care of the welfare of the people of the earth.
This phenomenon had the greatest influence on the later social and philosophical developments in the Chinese culture like Confucianism and Taoism. The Indus Valley Civilization is though as remarkable as the ancient Chinese one but without the interpretation of its scripts and writings, which is yet to be done, there are very little archeological findings providing sound and unambiguous details about their religion. The mostly found religious artifacts are the seals and statues of a female deity and a bull. Fortunately both these are widespread and well known in the Mediterranean and Western Asian region.
The female cult is the deity of fertility while the bull is the commonly worshiped since the Neolithic period in various regions. Though there are no temples excavated from the entire Indus valley area the Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro was certainly used for religious purposes. Cleanliness and bathing was an important practice not only because of health reasons but also because of religious importance. Many seals of different natural sources like trees especially the pipal tree suggest that worshipping nature was also a common practice, which is still found and practiced in modern Hinduism.
The major influence of religion on the Indus Valley people is apparent in the form of covered drains and Great Bath and proper planning of their cities. Mesopotamian and Egyptian Civilization: The Mesopotamian religion was also polytheist in nature and their were several gods and deities, like Utu (The Sun god), An (god of the heavens) and Enlil (the god of air) etc. In Mesopotamia each city has its own god or goddess, which takes care the welfare of its inhabitants. Each city has a temple which has a tower called Ziggurat. This tower is believed to act as a connection between the earth and the heavens.
The god’s duty was to keep the city safe from invaders and every evil. On the other hand it was the peoples’ duty to fulfill the material needs of their gods. That’s why there was a tradition of preparing and serving meals for the gods and goddesses. The most powerful and supreme god was Enlil (the god of air). The inhabitants were also expected to offer praise, hymns, and sacrifices for the local temples of the gods. The people believed that keeping the god pleased will make them prosper while if the god is angry or annoyed it will make their life miserable. That’s why the priest of the temple has the central role in the city’s community.
Most of the priests of the early Mesopotamian cities were their respective priests. The Egyptian religion is also polytheist in nature and has several gods. The kings role is the most important as he was believed as the son of the god “Re” (The sun god). Like the Mesopotamian religion every city has its own god and deity which controlled and regulated the affairs of the city. These gods and deities were represented in the forms of animals. The people of the respective cities make offerings and sacrifices to these deities in order to please them and attain their blessings.
These offerings were made in temples situated in every city. Soon these gods and deities were given human attributes and qualities and forms. Later during the time of the “New Kingdom” a triad of great gods “Osiris, Iris and Horus” was developed. But the Sun god remained supreme and the king as his son acted on his behalf as an intermediary between the god and his people. Comparison: There are several remarkable similarities in the both the western and the eastern civilizations. The mandate of the Chinese “Chou” dynasty can be compared with the intermediary role of the Egyptian king as the god of the son.
All four cultures have polytheist faith and religion. The bull and fertility goddess found in the Indus Valley is also worshiped in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions. Many Egyptian and Mesopotamian deities have similar characteristics. The most astounding similarity is the worship of forces of nature. This is the most common phenomenon in the four civilizations. This shows that the early phases of religious development in the four regions were magical and mythical. Urbanization is also another great common characteristic of all these civilizations. In fact these are the first urbanized societies of recorded human history.
Writing was invented independently in all four civilizations, thus leaving written records of their time. On the other hand there are some remarkably exclusive characteristics of each civilization. The Indus valley people have given great emphasis on cleaning and bathing. The self responsibility of the Chinese rulers the welfare of their subjects later developed the philosophies which emphasized on need of creating a welfare state. This is not found any where else. The temples and ziggurats of the Mesopotamia though are not that unique but the ziggurat’s use as a link between the earth and heaven is unique.
Conclusion: All the four civilizations have left profound impacts on the religions and cultures of their successors. These impacts can still be observed among the modern inhabitants of these regions. Most of these inhabitants are the descendants of these ancient people thus they still bear many characteristics of their remote past. The differences in the eastern and western cultures are due to the differences between their parent earlier civilizations. The Greeks adopted so much from the Egyptians as while the other Middle Eastern nations were influenced by the Mesopotamian civilization.
The South and South-East Asia has been influenced by the Indian and Chinese civilizations. Work Cited “Egyptian Religion” Encyclop? dia Britannica. 2007. Reference Suite DVD 21 June, 2007. “Religion of Indus Valley Civilization”, Encyclop? dia Britannica. 2007. Reference Suite DVD 21 June, 2007. “Religion of Mesopotamian Civilization” Encyclop? dia Britannica. 2007. Reference Suite DVD 21 June, 2007. Sullivan, Herbert P. “A Re-Examination of the religion of the Indus Civilization” History of Religions (1964), Vol. 4, pp. 115-125.