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Kan Bahlam II was a Renaissance Man centuries before that term was invented.
He left an archeological legacy that is unsurpassed among Maya kings. His brilliant mind conceived a new calendar, the 819-day count and invented a secret code language called Zuyua. His command of mathematics and numerology led to a web of interconnections between his family history and cosmological cycles. He was an accomplished astronomer and created complex connections between mythological, historical, and family events. He also may be the earliest “cosmopolitan” Mayan, a sophisticate who traveled widely to the edges of the Maya world. K’inich Kan Bahlam II, eldest son of famous ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal of Palenque, left a vast archeological legacy of this accomplishments. He did all this in the mid-late 7th Century.
Kan Bahlam II had to wait an agonizingly long time to bring his genius to full expression. His father Pakal was one of the longest-lived Maya rulers, who died at age 80. Kan Bahlam assumed the throne of Palenque in 684 CE when he was 48 years old. He quickly went to work on several projects to make his own mark on the already great city. First he completed his father’s funerary structure, Temple of the Inscriptions, including the stunning burial chamber and sarcophagus of Pakal, and the three magnificent panels covered by carved hieroglyphs giving this temple its name. In the midst of this project, he contended with hostilities from nearby Tonina, defeating it soundly in 687 CE and capturing its ruler. He extended his influence eastward to dominate two other enemy cities around 690 CE.
Kan Bahlam’s archeological apex was constructing the three temples of The Cross Group, called the “three jewels of Maya architecture.”
This triad complex still stands as perhaps the most powerful expression of ancient Mayan religion. Each temple of The Cross Group features one of the Triad Gods, widely honored by Mayas but special protectors of the Palenque dynasty. Every facet of these temples expresses symbolism of Maya cosmology and belief systems, from the stairways and platforms to the temple doorways and chambers on top the pyramid structures. Inside the chambers, each temple held a large panel, intricately carved with images and hieroglyphs. These panels contain the only lengthy written narrative of Classic Maya mythology, the legend told in the famous Popol Vuh epic written centuries later by K’iche Mayas. In his telling of this Maya creation myth, Kan Bahlam inserted himself as
the embodiment of each Triad God, portraying his youthful and mature images. In each temple, his image assumed characteristics of its God and he enacted the powers they brought to rulers.
But Kan Bahlam went beyond conflating himself with the Triad Gods. He inserted the fruits of his many years of intellectual endeavor, using cosmology and numerology to make links with his family and personal history. Layer upon layer of meaning was embedded in these images and glyphs. As an example, he took a “mythical” date many thousands of years in the past (related to Creation Mythology), linked it mathematically to the date when he assumed the throne, linked it using various calendars (including the 819-day count) to a cosmological event such as Venus rising as Morningstar, and linked it historically to an important event in the life of an ancestor. Ceremonies were performed at dedication and over many years, following a ritual cycle according to calendar dates, such as the great Katun ending in 692 CE (126.96.36.199.0). The temples symbolized the basic spaces of creation: sky (Upperworld), surface of water (Middleworld), and caves (Underworld).
Using his knowledge of astronomy, Kan Bahlam constructed angles and spacial orientation of the triad temples to display solar and lunar phenomena, such as solstice and equinox sunset or sunrise, and lunar elongations. See blogpost Solstice, Equinox, and the Mayan Calendar.
K’inich Kan Bahlam II, 12th Dynastic ruler of Palenque (B’aakal) is a major character in my historical fiction The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque. He had no surviving heir; the son of his younger brother assumed the throne. This next ruler, K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nab III, was the son of K’inuuw Mat–and possibly of Kan Bahlam in my story. A short excerpt:
K’innuw Mat’s heart burst with joy as she watched her husband (Kan Bahlam) conduct the elaborate rituals, starting at daybreak and continuing until sunset. Tall incense burners with two-tiered deity heads wearing elaborate headdresses…lined either side of the Temple stairway…Nearly fifty incense burners released curls of pungent smoke into the still forming air as the ruler, elite nobles, and priesthood climbed the stairway to perform “creation and activation” rites for the effigy of the God of the temple. The group dedicated the pib nah to the God and placed precious offerings inside the shrine. Musicians and dancers enacted themes related to the Triad Gods in front of crowds filling the plaza. After completing the dedication, Kan Bahlam stood at the top platform and retold that portion of the B’aakal Creation Story to the people.
Kan Bahlam effectively constructed an “astronumerology canoe” that, akin to the Celestial Canoe in which the Paddler Gods convey deceased to the Underworld, would carry forth into rebirth the religious charter of B’aakal.
Mists of Palenque Series, Book 4
Palenque’s Creation Myth Recited by Yohl Ik’nal.
In her transformation to adulthood ceremony, Yohl Ik’nal recited the creation myth of B’aakal, her people and land. She correctly recited from memory, and was acknowledged as “bearer of the sacred royal blood” by the ruler of Lakam Ha. She became the first woman ruler of Palenque, ruling successfully for 22 years.
From The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque. Book 1, Mists of Palenque Series.
“It was before the Fourth Creation, in times long ago
Ix Muwaan Mat was born.
Of her birth it is said, she entered the sky
On the Day of Lord (Ahau), Month of Conjuring (Tzek),
For she was to bring the new creation.
Seven tuns after her birth came the new Creation,
When all counts of the long calendar returned to zero.
The Gods of the sky, of the earth, of the underworld
Knew what they must do.
They did three stone-bindings in the sky:
The Jaguar Throne Stone at the 5 Sky House;
The Water Lily Throne Stone at the Heart of the Sky;
The Serpent Throne Stone at the 13 Sky Earth-Cave.
These three stones formed the First Hearth Place,
Patterned the stars so homes on earth would have hearthstones.