The parallel between the arts and culture of India and those of the Americas are so numerous and close that it is not possible to attribute them to independent growth.
In 1949, two scholars, Gordon Ekholm and Chaman Lal, systematically compared the Maya, Aztec, Inca, and the North American indigenous civilizations with India and the Hindu-Buddhist oriented countries of South-East Asia. They found signs of Hindu civilization throughout the Americas in art architecture, calendars, astronomy, religious symbols, etc. The zenith of Maya civilization was reached at a time when ancient India had attained an unparalleled cultural peak during the Gupta Period in 320 AD.
Buddhism which originated in India from Hindu philosophical ideas not only spread across to the Far East but also to Mexico. Hence, the cultural influences of South-East Asia in Mexico are very strong. In Cambodia, at the ancient capital Angkor Wat, stories from the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata have been carved on the walls of temples and palaces. Angkor Wat is a living testimony to the contribution of Indian culture towards the Cambodian Khmer heritage. Similar bas reliefs are found at Borobudur in Indonesia.
Sir Stamford Raffles the British historian, and founder of Singapore as a British colony, expressed a similar view when he wrote: “the great temple of Borobudur in Java might readily be mistaken for a Central American temple.”
It is worth mentioning that the eminent scholar, Miles Poindexter, a former ambassador of the United States to Mexico, in his two-volume 1930s treatise “The Ayar-Incas” called the Maya civilization “unquestionably Hindu.”
There are so many cultural similarities between the Hindu and the Maya civilizations that it makes it very easy to point out towards a common relation. In 1849, the United States Charge d’affaires to Central America, Ephraim George Squier wrote: “A proper examination of these monuments would disclose the fact that in their interior as well as their exterior form and obvious purposes, these buildings (temples in Palenque, Mexico) correspond with great exactness to those of Hindustan (India)…”
Another scholar, Ramon Mena, author of Synthesis of Mexican archaeology for the summer school of the National University, (1924) called the Nahuatl, Zapoteca, and Mayan languages “of Hindu origin.” He went to say, “A deep mystery enfolds the tribes that inhabited the state of Chiapas in the district named Palenque….their writing, and the anthropological type, as well as their personal adornments…their system and style of construction clearly indicate the remotest antiquity…(they) all speak of India and the Orient.” Striking similarity is found between certain Maya and the Hindu mythologies, and their related astronomical interpretation.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu is represented as resting on the serpent, Ananta or Sheshnaga. The eagle, Garuda is his carrier or vehicle. In the Hindu temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu, both Sheshnaga and Garuda are shown alongside. Sheshnaga represents the water deities while Garuda represents the Vedas and the solar deities. The serpent is of great significance in all the Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya culture too. The Maya Kukulkán or the Aztec Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent god is the combination of Sheshnaga and Garuda.
Both the Hindus and the Maya used similar items in their worship rituals. Royal insignias, systems of government, and practice of religious dance and temple worship all showed remarkable similarities. The Hindu caste system was prevalent in the Maya culture too and in both cultures, the priest class was the retainer of knowledge on religion, astronomy, science, mathematics, etc.
Maya temples and idols were lavishly decorated with gold and precious stones, just like those in India and their divine images were painted in blue. The Maya of Yucatan offered animal sacrifices to the gods in the same way as is done in North India, at the same seasons and determined by the same stars. Maya “scorpion stars” were the same as the constellation Scorpio on Hindu charts. At the Maya site of Uxmal in Yucatan, some phallic structures were discovered which were later removed by the authorities in the late nineteenth century. In Hindu culture, phallic structures are worshipped in the form of Shiva Lingams representing Lord Shiva.
In 1911, William Niven, a renowned mineralogist and archaeologist, discovered ancient ruins buried beneath volcanic ash near Azcapotzalco in the Federal District, just north of Mexico City. Among the many stone tablets recovered from the “Buried City”, there were few which bore pictographs of the sacred Hindu Swastika, the symbol of cyclic time.
Like in India, the umbrella was used as a sign of royalty which is clearly depicted in the Maya art. The game of Pachisi which originated in India somewhere around 500 BC was played even in Mexico by the name of Patolli. Chewing of betel and coca leaves is a common daily habit in both the countries. Maya women pierced their left nostril for inserting jewelled nose rings like Indian women. The practice of astrology and mental telepathy is common among both cultures. The Maya were of peace-loving disposition like the Hindus which allowed both of them to be ruled by Europeans. Last but not the least of the similarities is the cultivation of cotton, practiced since early times in Asia.
When South American cotton was studied, scholars and scientists were thoroughly baffled. After a series of painstaking experiments to determine genetic origin, experts agreed that one parent of the American cotton undoubtedly came from Asia: in other words, from the Indus Valley – the most advanced ancient civilizations which grew in the present-day Pakistan and the north-western parts of India from 3300 BC before suddenly disappearing in 1400 BC.
It has been claimed that even maize, the most Mesoamerican crop, was in use in Asia before Columbus brought it from the Americas. Eleventh century temples in Southern India, where maize was supposedly unknown at the time, house many stone figures which, according to cultural geographers, are shown offering ears of maize to the Gods. Another common custom is the offering of food to God before eating as an expression of gratitude for the meal provided. Mexican food displays unusual similarities to Indian food. Like the Hindus, the Maya too were primarily vegetarians. The Indian rotis or chappatis and the Mexican tortillas are totally similar in preparation, size and shape.
Maya paintings depict their men folk dressed in white loin cloth wrapped around their waist extending till knee level. Both these styles with the white loin cloth are till today the customary daily wear of the people of South India. Prior to the colonial invention of the wooden whisk called molinillo, hot chocolate was frothed up by pouring it from one cup to another. In South India, the ancient custom of pouring coffee from one cup to another to create foam before it is served, is widely in existence even today and is the essence of South Indian filter coffee.