From Janus to Brahma: The Indo-European Guardians of Beginnings and Endings

Janus, a primordial deity in ancient Roman religion, embodies the concept of beginnings, transitions, and duality. Known for his unique depiction with two faces, Janus is a multifaceted god whose influence streched over various aspects of Roman life and mythology. 

Janus: The God of Duality and Transitions

Janus is often represented with two faces. He presides over beginnings and endings, gates and doorways, and even time itself. His role as the overseer of transitions extends to both physical spaces and abstract concepts such as war and peace.

The month of January, named after Janus (Ianuarius), signifies new beginnings and reflects his integral role in marking the start of the year.

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Iconography and Symbolism

In Roman culture, Janus was invoked at the start of any new venture, be it a journey, a new year, or the commencement of a conflict. His presence at the gates of Rome, an enclosure with gates rather than a temple, underscores his role as the guardian of thresholds.

Statues and artistic representations of Janus, such as the Janus Bifrons in the Vatican Museums, highlight this dual-faced iconography. However, in some depictions, Just like Vedic Brahma, Janus is shown with four faces (Ianus Quadrifrons).

Janus in Roman Religion and Mythology

Janus holds a unique position among the Di selecti, the gods considered especially important in Roman state religion. Unlike many deities, Janus has no Greek counterpart, emphasizing his distinct role in Roman culture.

Mythologically, he is often associated with Saturn, whom he welcomed and with whom he shared his kingdom in return for the knowledge of agriculture.

Janus was integral to Roman religious practices, particularly those involving beginnings. He presided over the start of any significant endeavor, from military campaigns to agricultural cycles. The gates of his namesake structure in Rome were opened during times of war and closed in peace, symbolizing his control over conflict and resolution. In later times, he was often portrayed with the big key in his hand – a symbolism that was transfered to St. Peter – the keeper of the gates of heaven.

Etymology and Linguistic Connections

Janus’ name itself is rooted in the Latin word “ianua,” meaning “door,” which also gives us the modern English term “janitor” (ianitor). This etymology underscores his association with doorways and transitions.

And while the above etymology is clear, some scholars go even deeper, finding the root of this word in the Sanskrit yāti (‘to go, travel’). I strongly disagree with this idea.

I believe that another Sanskrit word explains the name Janus better. That word is literally the same – Janus, and it means “birth, birthplace, creation”. I also find this word sounding close to the Sanskrit word yoni – meaning “vulva, vagina”, through which the notion of “gateway, passage” is better understood. This is just my theory.

Etruscan Influence: The Deity Culsans

The Romans inherited the cult of Janus from the Etruscans, who worshipped a similar deity named Culsans. Like Janus, Culsans is depicted with two faces and served as a protector of gateways. The close association of Culsans with city gates and his two-faced representation suggest a parallel function to Janus in overseeing transitions and passages.

Culsans’ name derives from the Etruscan word from culs* meaning “gate.”

Astrological Significance of Janus and Culsans

In ancient astrology, while there were still only seven original planets, January and December, the first and last months of the year, were ruled by Saturn. In my opinion, this is the main idea behind the dual faces of Janus. January is depicted as a young man, symbolizing new beginnings and the future, while December is shown as an old man, representing the past and the closing of cycles. 

The mythological narrative in which Janus is a host of Saturn only reinforces my theory.

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Eastward Origins and Linguistic Parallels

While the ultimate origins of the Etruscan god Culsans remain obscure, some scholars have suggested influences from the east, as the Greeks did not have a similar deity.

Intriguingly, the Slavic word “brama,” meaning “gate” is found in Polish, Czech, and Ukrainian. The pronunciation of this word is similar to that of the Vedic god Brahma, the creator deity in Hinduism.

This linguistic connection points to a broader, cultural interplay that shaped the development of deities like Janus and Culsans. Who does the four-faced Janus really represent, and who really brought it to Italy?

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