Roman & Greek Gods: Vedic Counterparts in Polytheistic Religion, Janus vs. Ganesha

“The Romans never claimed to be original. They borrowed nearly everything from others and amalgamated their borrowings into their system.” (Gilbert Highet, Sword and Spirit, pg. xi of Ancient Rome by Robert Payne)

When it comes to Roman Gods (and Goddesses), many of the primary ones can be traced back to ancient Vedic Gods and Goddesses, including Janus-Ganesha, Neptune-Shiva, Jupiter-Indra, Fortuna-Lakshmi, and many other intriguing deities such as Mithra.

Before Jupiter superseded him, Janus appears to have been their first major God, and he was closely associated with the entrance door of a Roman house (pg. 43, Ancient Rome):

“Doorways were invested with magical or numinous significance; Janus, present in every household, exerted great power over the household’s undertakings… the god was invoked before any other god, even before Jupiter, at the beginning of any important undertaking.” (pg. 44, Ancient Rome)

Two-Faced Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome

Janus, governor of all beginnings and entrances, seems to be related to Ganesha, which is a Sanskrit compound. “Gana” means group or multitude, and “Isha” connotes a lord or master; so Ganesha is the Lord with many faces. Janus is the Roman God with two faces, as depicted in the Vatican Museum, while often times Ganesh is also depicted in two-in-one polar face images in temples (Dwimukha Ganapati) and ancient monuments, even ones that are supposedly Muslim in character (see pictures below):

Dwimukha Ganapati, Thiruvanantapuram, India
Twofold Elephant Trunks, Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort, Delhi, India
Dual Stone Elephant Faces, Jama Masjid, Old Delhi, India
Elephant Imagery, Marble Exteriors of Palace, Red Fort, Agra, India

“portals, doors, and gates” and derives this definition from Latin Ianus, literally signifying an arched passageway. Since ‘I’ and ‘J’ are often interchangeable in English transliteration of Latin words (e.g. the month of Ianuarius or Januarius), Ganesh may be connected to both Janus and Ianus. The same dictionary curiously adds that Sanskrit ‘yanah‘, meaning journey or path, is cognate to Ianus, but these words by themselves are not enlightening. It could indeed be the case that Janus first originated from Sanskrit yanah, and later came to be associated with the demigod Ganesha, which would explain the attached suffix -us corresponding to ‘Isha’ or God. Then the word must have evolved from ‘Yanah’ or ‘Ianah’ to ‘Ianus’ and finally ‘Janus’, with ‘Ja’ cognate to ‘Ga’ in Sanskrit or Hindi. Another possible explanation is that the prefix sound in Sanskrit “janma” (birth in English) got transmuted with Ganesha to form Janus. This would reconcile the ‘Ja’ and ‘Ga’ sounds in Janus and Ganesh and also account for the role of Janus at the beginning or birth of all religious ceremonies.

Multi-Headed Lord Ganesha Standing Beside the Entrance to a Hindu Temple

Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome after the legendary founder Romulus, is “credited with laying out the basic structure of Roman religion by instituting public cults, rituals, priesthoods, and a sacred calendar” (UPenn Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Philadelphia). The cult of Janus worship and the installation of the last two months (Januarius and Februarius) into the Roman calendar (which began in March, or the spring, much like the Vedic calendar) are among his contributions. Historians are unsure exactly why and when the transition from March to January, a backward shift of two months, was made to celebrate the new year. The likelihood is that it occurred around the time of Julius Caesar, with his introduction of the Julian calendar, the forerunner of the modern western calendar. 

Controversial historian P.N. Oak puts forward a persuasive argument for Lord Ganesha’s impact on the Julian, and today’s Gregorian, calendar:

“The name Januarius is the original name, of which January is an abbreviation. Here it may be recalled that in Latin the name of God Ganesh came to be spelled as Janus. That God used to be worshipped in Rome on January 9. And since Lord Ganesh is traditionally offered worship at the opening of every ritual or the commencement of any period or task, the Romans ordained that the month of the festival of Lord Ganesh be reckoned as the first. Consequently they amended the traditional start of the year and reckoned it as beginning from January 1st.” (World Vedic Heritage, pg. 349)

Ganesh and Janus perform comparable functions in Hindu and Roman theologies, and each one holds the honor of being the first god in prayers and rituals. Ganesha is arguably the most popular Hindu God, found in the homes of numerous Indian families. Janus was “present in every Roman household,” according to Robert Payne. Both deities are associated with entrance doors and gates, which are easily noticeable in Rajasthan, India where palaces in Jaipur and Udaipur are adorned with attractive paintings and figures of Ganesh. Toran Pol, one of the main entry gates to Moti Chowk (large courtyard) in the world-famous City Palace of Udaipur, has a striking Ganesh in a sitting pose at its triangular peak, along with swastikas and an OM symbol below him. Perhaps better known is the Ganesh Pol at Amer Palace in Jaipur where Ganesh is painted in the front-center of the gateway, seated on a platform in yoga style. It is a hoary Vedic custom to present Ganesha and/or a pair of stone elephants at the entrance of all major buildings, including temples and palaces. Thus, it is not surprising that Janus came to be recognized as the guardian of gateways in Italy.

Ganesh Pol, Amer Palace & Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Toran Pol with Ganesh Sitting at Triangular Apex
 City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan
In conclusion, there is enough evidence to state unequivocally that Janus is Rome's less-developed version (artistically and literarily) of India's Ganesha. One final observation, courtesy of Wikipedia: "Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange." Since Lord Ganesha is revered as the "remover of obstacles" in Hinduism, his Roman temple was open for worship in times of war or turmoil, and closed during periods of tranquility. In other words, the Romans believed that the temple of Janus only needed to be open when there were serious obstacles, i.e. war or conflict. Wikipedia adds, "Janus had a ubiquitous presence in religious ceremonies throughout the year, and was ritually invoked at the beginning of each one, regardless of the main deity honored on any particular occasion." Compare this quote with Lord Ganesha's Wikipedia entry: "Ganesha is a non-sectarian deity, and Hindus of all denominations invoke him at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings, and religious ceremonies." This summarizes my thesis, that Janus and Ganesha are equivalent gods. European scholars never even consider this connection, because they cannot imagine how Italy and India, two distant countries culturally and geographically, could realistically share so much in common. But truth is stranger than fiction, my friends.

Har Har Mahadev..!!

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