How the Mayas incorporated the Aztec rain god Tlaloc during a period of drought

This article describes how the Maya incorporated the Aztec rain god Tlaloc during a period of drought, which occurred more than a thousand years ago.

How the Mayas incorporated the Aztec rain god Tlaloc during a period of drought
Mayas worshipped Tlaloc. Vessel with Tlaloc's mask: This representation of the rain god made in polychrome ceramic, shows the most outstanding and characteristic iconographic features of the Mexica deity. You can appreciate it in the Templo Mayor Museum. Image by INAH

An intense and prolonged drought and famine registered more than a millennium ago in the region of Uxmal, Yucatan, caused the ancient Maya, besides worshipping Chaac, god of rain, also resorted to the equivalent Aztec deity, Tlaloc, to request him to obtain the vital liquid, as revealed by several sculptural representations of the Mexica divinity in two of the main temples of this pre-Hispanic site.

The representations of Tlaloc are observed in structures such as the Tower of the Masks, of the building known as Las Monjas, and in some reliefs of the top of the cornice of the Temple of the Soothsayer.

These two examples of the adoption of external customs by the Mayan people have been dated between the years 906-950 A.D., a period in which a strong drought was registered in the region that caused famine. Although the veneration of Tlaloc could be considered as a "lack of faith" in their god of rain, Chaac, the reality is that it was a "request for support" for their governing deity, without this meaning his displacement.

There are decorated friezes dating from 950 A.D., which talk about the drought in the region and coincide with data that appear in a stratigraphic column of a cenote near Uxmal, where there is an inscription describing the same period of aridity and problems of the fertility of the land.

The practice of resorting to a "foreign or alien" deity, on the part of the ancient Maya, was not common, however, the constant interaction at the commercial level with the Mesoamerican towns, especially with the center of Mexico, could have induced the adoption of another type of cultural customs.

At a certain moment, in the face of a strong crisis in their cities, such as prolonged drought, the contact with successful models foreign to the Maya culture could have motivated the "use" of them by their own will, without this representing an imposition.

In the pre-Hispanic site of Uxmal, the face of Tlaloc was represented with two intertwined serpents, whose bodies form their eyes surrounded by rings and a twisted nose, when joined, the jaws of the reptiles figure the mouth with the distinctive six hooks or fangs. In effigies of the Toltec and Teotihuacan civilizations, the Mexica rain god appears more stylized with elements such as blinkers or rings around the eyes.

His Mayan equivalent, Chaac, was a more enigmatic sacred entity due to his multiple anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, or phytomorphic manifestations, loaded with symbolism, many of them venerated to this day in some Mayan communities.

Other examples of the incorporation of foreign cultural elements that were shared throughout Mesoamerica were found in architecture, such as the ball game or the Chac Mool -a sculpture representing a reclining man holding a vessel in his belly-, which different cultures adopted throughout the current national territory.

The insufficiency of water in the region could explain the complex and ancient hydraulic network that the site possesses. Its works include a set of watering places 250 meters long, multiple storage systems for rainwater collection of between 70 and 120 centimeters, and about 150 chultunes, bottle-shaped deposits, excavated in limestone rock and covered with stucco.

Source INAH