Our Thoughts on Mayan Culture

The Mayans are one of the greatest and most advanced civilizations in antiquity. They had reached a level of knowledge in culture, mathematics, architecture, engineering, and astronomy that baffles modern scholars even today. You can't be in the Yucatan long before noticing how important and alive the Mayan culture still is here. Ancient Mayan culture can be seen in every aspect of modern Mexican life in the Yucatan.

From the Mayan place names, such as Lake Bacalar “surrounded by reeds”, to the ruins scattered throughout, Mayan culture is present all over the Yucatan. There are hundreds of Mayan ruins in the peninsula, south-western Mexico and Central America. And there are probably as many, if not more, jewels left undiscovered in the lush jungle. Scholars argue that two of the three greatest Mayan cities, rumored to have had hundreds of thousands of habitants, are located in Mexico. Most major cities include administrative complexes, elaborated temples and ball courts. Moreover, everything about daily life was kneaded with symbolism, and everything about social life was imbued with ritualism. For example, the ball games were an important part of Mayan life, consisting of sacred rites full of symbolism that were linked to and reenacted the genesis and the cycles of the cosmos. These rites were performed in a highly elaborate manner that archaeologists are still trying to understand.

By its culture, heart, religious development and science (mathematics), the Mayan culture has most certainly reached the highest states of civilization in the ancient world. We can see this in the level of political power and social continuity accomplished, the complex religious practices surrounding all important Mayan and astrological events, and the sophisticated calendar system that was able to predict solar and lunar eclipses hundreds of years in the future. The Mayan calendar system was the most advanced calculation of time; western man didn't reach this level of computation and precision until the Renaissance. All of this reveals how much the awareness of time and cycles were essential to and at the center of ancient Mayan consciousness. Their desire was to be able to dominate time, seen as the main universal force of the cosmos. If time is mastered, eternity is possible because the Mayans believed as Plato said, “time is a moving image of eternity.”

The precision of mathematics and the sophisticated understanding of astronomy are showcased in the architectural and engineering exploits of the ancient Mayans. For example, every year thousands of tourists flock to Chichén Itzá, which is one of the finest archeological sites in Mexico and Meso-America. We are blessed enough to live quite close to this ancient wonder of the world. El Castillo is an equinox temple constructed as a game of shadows on the sunset side of the northern staircase of the pyramid, showing the god of rain Kukulcan, depicted as a large serpent, coming down from the sky to bring fecundity and fertility to the earth. Twice a year, as the sun sets, the shadow creates a snake crawling down from the temple to the ground. Sunset on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the descending snake of light draws spiritually-minded people seeking communion with the universe, celebrating time and meaning in their lives, just as the ancient Mayans did.

| Know more about the history, culture and relics of the ancient Mayans with our Cultural Immersion activities |

The Mayans here are proud of their heritage and keep on innovating their ways of integrating their past identity with modern Mexico, participating actively in tourism and contributing an important commerce to the country. Ancient sites, pictographic art, and a hieroglyphic language capture what life must have been like a thousand years ago. And the people and culture today still embody many ancient traditions and knowledge of the past. We live in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the Mayan cultural capital of the Yucatan. Here, Mayan life and culture are vibrant. It is a remarkable merging of the old and new. History is ever present here in the numerous ruins, Mayan place names and living language still spoken. In fact, the Mayan language is one of the only languages on earth that offers such variations. Mayan spoken in the Yucatan have specificities different from the Guatemalan Maya, but both groups can understand one another although their languages are dialectically disparate. It is amazing, in the 21st century, to be able to have a glimpse of what was one of the greatest ancient civilizations still alive covered by ruins and ashes of time. And, here, at Kumankaya, as Mayan masons built nearly every single structure, their imprint is a part of our lives as well.

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