San Agustin - A South American Tantric Culture

Guillermo Zamora "Venkatesh", Bogotá, Colombia (a tour guide to San Agustin)

Long before the Spaniards came to South America, there nourished all over the continent a great many civilisations full of beauty and wisdom. Among those found in Colombia, the most important one is the San Agustin culture. Five hundred and fifty kilometres south of Bogotá, there is a small Indian village called San Agustin. It could be any of the thousands of Andean villages in Colombia except that the remains of a mysterious civilisation are found there. More than 500 monolithic statues and different works of art have been discovered since the Colombian National Institute of Anthropology began serious research in the area. Since there are no written records of the culture, and when the Spaniards came the San Agustin people had already disappeared, it is a culture surrounded by mystery.

In a way reminiscent of Hindu tradition, the San Agustinians chose to locate their civilisations near the place where the Andes mountains branch into three new cordilleras (eastern, central and western) and where the three most important rivers in Colombia (Magdelena, Cauca and Patia) begin. San Agustin is flanked by the Magdelena river which runs all the way to the Northwest Caribbean sea of Colombia, and could be compared with the Ganges in India. The other two could be compared with the Yamuna and Saraswati. Legend has it that the place where these rivers begin and the Andes divide is a sacred place where the forces of life gather to be dispersed to the four cardinal points. The Magdelena river was named by the Spanish, but its original Indian name was 'The River of the Burials'.

Upon arriving in San Agustin one is confronted by huge and very heavy stone statues full of symbolism which is very difficult to understand. There are eagles, snakes, men with clenched teeth and fists, monkeys, salamanders, women giving birth and men worshipping the sun. However, the most mysterious of all are tombs placed on top of hills, naturally higher than the rest of the area, protected by guardian deities and extremely peaceful in their surroundings. Death and the art of dying was obviously one of the most important concepts for the San Agustinians since representations of death and the changing of planes of existence are everywhere to be seen.

Where the San Agustinians came from and how their culture was developed is something impossible to determine, but it may well have been a famous city of pilgrimage of the Hopi Indians of North America. For example, the San Agustin statues are very similar to the Olmeca statues found in Mexico, and the Olmeca Indians of Mexico are closely related to the Hopi Indians. Furthermore, according to Frank Waters in his Book of the Hopi:

"Far in the tropical south, no one knows where, lay the mysterious red city of the south, Palatkwapi (Red House). Perhaps it was in Mexico, perhaps in Central or South America. Wherever it was, it is still an important landmark in the geography of Hopi legend. It was the Kachinas who built Palatkwapi. Upon their emergence a number of clans chose to go south and were accompanied by a number of Kachina people. These Kachina people were spirits sent to help and guide the clans, taking the form of ordinary people.

Having reached the Southern Paso and left their signatures, the clans returned North until they reached the red earth place where the Kachinas instructed them to settle and build. From a small village it grew into a large city, a great cultural and religious centre, the mysterious red city of the south."

This description of Palatkwapi was given by the late chief Tawakwaptiwa several years before his death in 1960.

If one can relate the Hopis to San Agustin, it will follow that as the Hopis, the San Agustins also had knowledge of the chakras or psychic centres. Again quoting Frank Waters in his Book of the Hopi:

"The living body of man and the living body of earth were constructed in the same way. Through each run an axis, man's axis being the backbone, the vertebral column which controlled the equilibrium of his movements and functions. Along this axis were several vibratory centres which echoed the primordial sound of life throughout the universe or sounded a warning if anything went wrong.

The first of these in man lay at the top of the head. Here when he was born was a soft spot, kopavi, the 'open door' through which he received his life and communicated with his creator. For with every breath the soft spot moved up and down with a gentle vibration that was communicated to the creator. At the time of the red light, talawva, the last phase of his creation, the soft spot was hardened and the door was closed. It remained closed until his death, opening for his life to depart as it had come.

Just below it lay the second centre, the organ that man learned to think with by himself, the thinking organ called the brain. Its earthly functions enabled man to think about his actions and work in this life. But the more he understood that his actions and work should conform to the plan of the creator, the more clearly he understood that the real function of the thinking organ called the brain was to carry out the plan of the creator.

The third centre lay in the throat. It tied together those openings in his nose and mouth through which he received his breath of life, and the vibratory organs that enabled him to give back his breath in sound. This primordial sound, as that coming from the vibratory centres of the body of earth, was attuned to the universal vibration of all creation. New diverse sounds were given forth by these vocal organs in the form of speech and song, their secondary function for man on this earth. But as he came to understand its primary function, he used this centre to speak and sing the praises of the creator.

The fourth centre was the heart. It too was a vibrating organ pulsating with the vibration of life itself. In his heart man felt the good of life, its sincere purpose. He was of one heart. But there were those who permitted evil feelings to enter. They were said to be of two hearts.

The last of man's important centres lay under his navel, the organ some people call the solar plexus. As this name signifies, it was the throne in man of the creator himself. From it he directed all the functions in man."

From this description it is certainly very clear that the Indians had deep knowledge of the psychic centres. To further illustrate this, on the front cover we have given a photograph of one of the more important statues found in San Agustin. This clearly shows the universal nature of tantric symbolism in the inverted triangle of mooladhara chakra from which arises the three main nadis, ida, pingala, and sushumna, crowned by sahasrara.