Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Bride of the Nile

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

A long long time ago, some three or four thousand years before our epoch, around the same time every year, the rise in the water on earth was herald by a sign in the heavens. The brightest of all the fixed stars appears at dawn in the east just before sunrise about the time of the summer solstice, indicating the beginning of the sacred Egyptian year. The brilliant star of Sirius or as the Egyptians called it Sothis, marked the time of the inundation of the Nile. Sothis was deemed by the Egyptians as the star of Isis, the goddess of life and love. They called it so because it was believed that as Isis came to mourn her departed husband, Osiris, to wake him up from the dead; her tears caused the rise in the levels of the Nile water.


The flooding of the Nile was the most important event in the lives of the Egyptians. It was a matter of their very existence and welfare. For a year with little or no flood meant famine in the Kingdom, but too large a flood would mean a disaster for it would over flow into the villages destroying them. A flood had to be just right to determine a good season. The Egyptian flood cycle starts during the second week of August and is divided into 3 stages. The time of the Nile flood, Akhet (the inundation) was the first season of the year. The sowing time Peret marked the time when crops grew in the fields and was considered the Egyptian Autumn from October to mid-February. The last and third season, the time of harvest Shemu, ran from mid-February until the end of May and was the spring season of the Egyptian calendar. This cycle was so predictable that the ancient Egyptians based their calendar on it.



As the Nile flow from the south to the north, the flood brought the silt-laden waters into Egypt, and as the water receded later the silt would stay behind, fertilizing the land. The flood was seen as the yearly coming of the god Hapi, bringing fertility to the land. . He was worshipped even above Ra as he brought the fertile inundation; he was a very important deity to any one living in the Nile valley. He was depicted as a blue or green bearded man with female breasts, indicating his powers of nourishment. At the time of the inundation the Egyptians would throw offerings, amulets and other sacrifices into the Nile at certain places, sacred to Hapi.



Today's celebration takes on a different meaning and form. Yes it is still celebrated at the same time of the year but there is no longer flooding of the Nile, which stopped when the Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the flow of water year round. Now this time of the year is called "Wafaa el-neel Festival" or literally "Fidelity of the Nile". It was said that the Pharaohs sacrificed a beautiful virgin girl to the river in return for a good harvest. The ancient legend has survived into an ongoing tradition where a wooden doll dressed as a bride is thrown into the Nile instead.


The modern-day celebration is now more contemporary with art competitions for children, poetry reading, concerts and scientific discussions. This year there festival will include flower parades and a Pharaonic procession portraying the ancient legend of the Nile Festival. The events included aqua sports like rowing, water skiing, windsurfing and swimming. The celebrations well accommodate floating hotels, restaurants and other places over looking the Nile. This year's concept is to promote the awareness to protect this vital source of life and a main attraction to Egypt's ecotourism.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem
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