Linda Schele

Mayan king Chan-Bahlum (center panel, right figure) ascends the throne. The new king’s father, Pacal, left, participates in the ceremony, although on this date, January 10, 684 A.D., he had been dead for 132 days. The rich details of the figures and their regalia, as well as hieroglyphics recording the names and dates of the people and events pictured, were carved on a stone panel in the Temple of the Cross in Palenque in the Yucatan. This drawing is an artist’s rendering of the panel.

Between Chan-Bahlum and Pacal stands an ornate cross shaped object surmounted by a large supernatural bird, a Mayan deity. Some have suggested that the cross symbolizes the crucihxion of Jesus. In fact, the cross is one of the world trees that, according to Mayan religious beliefs, stood at each of the four corners and in the center of the universe. The world tree seems to grow out of a monster, which represents the underworld.

The left-hand panel shows Chan-Bahlum in full regal dress after his accession to the throne. In the middle panel, he has not yet become king, and he stands barefoot and more simply clad.

In the right-hand panel, the chief underworld god of the Maya, God L, smokes his customary cigar (see photograph of original stone panel). He is probably portrayed in the accession scene because the Maya believed that when the sun set, it “died” and entered the underworld. The king, Chan-Bahlum, apparently helped the sun to be “reborn” each morning as it emerged from the underworld. The Maya feared that one day the sun might not have the strength to rise, and people had to help provide that strength by performing appropriate rituals. According to the author, the cigar-smoking God L seems very different from the Hebrew God Yahweh, and the rituals and beliefs represented on this panel are quite unlike Old Testament beliefs.