Palenque: Temple of the Sun

Images of war and death sacrifice adorn the panel in the pib na of the Temple of the Sun. A Sun Jaguar shield and crossed spears dominate the central icon. These images are sustained aloft by a throne with bleeding jaguar heads emerging from one axis, and bleeding dragons from the other.

The throne and its burden of war rest on the shoulders of God L and another aged god from the Otherworld. Both are bent over like captives under the feet of victorious warrior kings. This scene recalls the defeat of the Lords of Death at the beginning of time by the Hero Twins. Captive sacrifice was the source of life through the reenactment of the magical rebirth of these heroic ancestors of the Maya people. God L, who received the greetings of the new king in the Temple of the Cross, now hold up the burden of war and sacrifice. In both cases, ritual performance by the king involved Otherworld denizens in the human community.

Here in the Temple of the Sun, the power object is not actually passed from the inside scene to the outside, as in the other temples; but the intent of the composition is still the same. On the inner panel, Pacal holds a full-bodied eccentric flint and a shield made of a flayed human face: symbols of war among the nobility of Palenque and other Maya kingdoms.

If we move to the outer panels, on one we see Chan-Bahlum holding a bleeding jaguar on a small throne as the symbol of sacrificial death. On the opposite panel, he wears cotton battle armor with a rolled flexible shield hanging down his back. The tall staff he wields is probably a battle spear typical of the kind carried by warrior kings at other sites. The parallelism here is nicely rendered. On the one side, he is emerging from the pib na as a warrior prepared to capture the enemies of his kingdom; on the other, he comes forth as the giver of sacrifice, the result of victory.

Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the ANcient Maya, p. 243