– Mr.Jeffrey Armstrong (Kavindra Rishi), Founder of VASA – Vedic Academy of Sciences & Arts, Canada, USA
Mr. Jeffrey is a relationship expert, philosopher, practitioner and teacher of the Vedas for over 40 years. He is an International Speaker, Award-winning poet and best-selling author of numerous books. He is a sought after guest expert on TV and radio talk. For 15 years, he was a corporate executive in Silicon Valley. He is Media and Communications Director for both the Vedic Friends Association (VFA) and the Hindu Collective Initiative for North America (HCI-NA).
During the months of December and January, much of the world observes the transition from one year to another. It is no accident that Christmas and the New Year Holiday celebration takes place in the last days of December and on the first day of January. In our modern times, many of the original reasons for these seasonal observations have become lost or obscured by the historical changes in our world. This article aims to excavate some of the older and deeper meanings of Christmas and the January 1st celebration. Our digging into the history of these days will take us back to ancient Rome and finally back to even more ancient India.
Our story begins with the imagery we are most familiar with, a Winter Solstice on December 21st or 22nd followed by Christmas, a historically more recent celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th. It is now widely accepted by scholars of the Bible that Jesus was not born on December 25th and was probably born four or five years earlier than is currently observed and more likely in springtime rather than winter. But his birth was and is celebrated within a few days of the much older Winter Solstice celebration, the longest night of the year. Following that night, each day is a little longer until six months later we reach mid-summer night’s eve, the Summer Solstice and longest day of the year. Since the Winter Solstice is the return of the Sun, it appears that the birth of the “Son” was scheduled to coincide with the much more ancient celebration of that important solar day.
Returning to New Years Eve, the word January is derived from the Latin word Janus, who was known in Rome as the God of beginnings. Janus was also known as the God of gates and doors. He was also referred to as the God of change, transition and progress. He often represented the transition from rural to urban civilization. He was known to have introduced money, laws and agriculture. He was thought of as the guardian or custodian of the universe and specifically the protector of Rome. He was worshipped at the beginning of all things, planting time, harvest, marriages, births, the first hour of each day and the morning’s first prayer were dedicated to him. His name comes from the word “janua” meaning gate or portal.
The temple of Janus in Rome had two gates, one facing East and one facing West. Janus was depicted as having two heads, one looking toward the future and one toward the past. In the later Roman Empire, the face of Janus often appeared on coins depicted as a two-headed man facing in opposite directions. Because Janus was considered the protector of Rome, he was worshipped for success in war. It is said that when Rome was fighting a war the gates to the temple of Janus were left open and only during peace were they closed. The gates were said to be closed only once in the history of Rome.
But the two heads of Janus were not originally those of a man. His previous form consisted of a man and a woman facing in opposite directions. They were known as Janus Geminus (twin Janus) or Janus Bifrons. Prior to that he was depicted with four heads and was called Janus Quadrifons or the four-faced form of Janus. The two-faced Janus depicted a male and female head, who shared a single crown. The man held a scepter in his hand, the woman a key. There is also a legend regarding Janus, that he once gave shelter to Saturn who was being pursued by Jupiter.
Janus is also supposedly related to the earlier Etruscan deity named Ani, from which our English word annual is derived, as well as the word anus. Like our own body, the year has a beginning and an end, the mouth and the anus are the two gates pointing in different directions, just as January and December are the beginning and end of a year cycle which itself is a kind of circle or gate in time through which we are passing. Obviously Janus has a relation to Ani and annual.
The next step in understanding Janus requires a little linguistic understanding. It is a well-known historical fact that much of the wealth of the Roman Empire was spent in buying luxurious items from India, which at that time was the wealthiest culture in the world. What many modern people don’t know is that both Latin and Greek as well of course as most European languages including English, are based upon the most ancient classical language of India known as Sanskrit. The final form of the Sanskrit grammar was published in India during the year 800 BCE. Many of the key root words in the European languages, Latin and Greek can be traced back to their roots in Sanskrit. Modern scholars have obscured this fact by referring to a nonexistent and theoretical language they refer to as Indo-Aryan. This only distracts us from understanding how much was borrowed from India and Sanskrit in the forming of Greek and Roman culture.
By this point in the article, anyone with knowledge of Indian culture has probably guessed the obvious connection between Janus and Ganesha, the elephant headed deity who is known as the “isha” or lord of “ganas” or guardians. Ganesh is the historical source of Janus, which the Romans learned of in their many visits to India. This also is why there is no mention of Janus in the Greek culture, which preceded and was the source of much of Roman culture and religion.
The many similarities between Janus and Ganesh are worth mentioning. First, Ganesh was created by his mother Parvati or Mother Nature from Her own body, in order to guard the gate or door to her bath house. One of the benedictions that was eventually given to Ganesh was that he would always be worshipped first before any of the other gods. As the Lord of the Guardians, he is considered the head of all the protectors or guardian angels. Many Asian cultures believe that every house has a Gana or guardian spirit which is often depicted as a face on the front door. Ganesha is viewed as the master of all those guardian angels.
As for the notion of change, transition and progress, this usually proceeds through the removal of some impediment or obstruction, or through solving of some problem. Ganesh is, of course, also known as the remover of obstacles. In this way he is popular with everyone, for who does not wish for their obstacles to be removed. He also leads us from unsophisticated thinking to subtler thoughts by challenging our imagination. He also represents the present as compared to the past or future. Just as Janus was said to have invented money, the word “gan” is the root of “ganita”, the Sanskrit for mathematics or the art of counting. For this, Ganesh is known as the Lord of “hosts” or the mass of people and the Lord of success, related to counting and money.
By trying to understand his having the body of a human and the head of an elephant, our imagination is challenged to develop from gross to subtle, from the known to the unknown. In the words of the scientist Albert Einstein, “Imagination is better than knowledge.” And so as we make the transition from rural and rough to urban and civilized, we progress in our sophistication. As for Ganesh (Janus) introducing money, he is also worshipped in India as the God of mercantile success or financial betterment and is often depicted in the company of Lady Luck or Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and wife of the maintainer Lord Vishnu.