Thursday, August 21, 2014

Maya God Profiles: The “Principal Bird Deity”

The Maya “Principal Bird Deity” (a.k.a. PBD) is depicted often sitting perched atop celestial “sky bands” and the branches of  world trees in Maya iconography as seen on Palenque’s Temple of the Cross (Bardawil 1976; Cortez 1986) where it stands atop a stylised Ceiba Tree.
Palenque Temple of the Cross, Central Sanctuary Panel. Drawing by Linda Schele courtesy of David Schele and FAMSI.

The bird is very much the avian counterpart of Itzamnaj (God D) and often wears the same diadems and necklace of this God (Boot 2008; Stone and Zender 2011:47). The bird is seen morphing into God D on a codex style vase published by Hellmuth (1987:268, figs. 578 and 579). At Tonina (Monument p48) a glyphic portrait of the PBD is rendered with the head of Itzamnaj.
Tonina Monument p48, a Portrait of the Principle Bird Deity with the head of Itzamnaaj. Drawing By Simon Martin.

So fused are these two gods that their combined portraits glyphs serve as a theonym for God D on the “Yax Wayib” Mask (blocks C4-D4) as well as on Xcalumkin, Column 5 (A2) and Column 3 (A5) and Kerr Vessel No. 7727 (Boot 2008:18).
God D title on the “Yax Wayib” Mask (blocks C4-D4). Drawing by Carl Callaway. 

There is little doubt that when God D is present the “Principal Bird Deity” is somewhere close at hand and vice versa. The new God D Court Vessel analyzed by Erik Boot (2008) depicts the bird standing atop the head of the “CHAN bird head” (with an axe in its eye) that is the substitute for the T561 “CHAN” sky glyph. As Boot (2008:24-25) astutely points out that this small axe is the diagnostic element in the head variant of the number six and it identifies the bird head with an axe infix to be a representation for the 6-SKY location WAK CHAN. This being the case, the “Principal Bird Deity” literally stands aloft the celestial realm of the WAK CHAN, a place where not only resides the court of God D but by proxy the WAK CHAN AJAW gods who oversee era day events on  4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u (as noted on block D5 of the “Yax Wayib” Mask and Quirigua Stela C east, block B26).

Works Cited
Bardawil, Lawrence W.
1976 The Principal Bird Deity in Maya Art: An Iconographic Study of Form and Meaning. In: Proceedings of the Second Palenque Round Table, M. G. Robertson, ed., vol. III, pp. 195–209. Robert Louis Stevenson School, Pebble Beach: Pre–Columbian Art Research Institute.

Boot, Erik 
2008 At the Court of Itzam Nah Yax Kokaj Mut: Preliminary Iconographic and Epigraphic Analysis of a Late Classic Vessel. On-line at:

Cortez, Constance
1986 The Principal Bird Deity in Preclassic and Early Classic Maya Art. M.A. Thesis, Department of Art and Art History, Austin: University of Texas at Austin.

Hellmuth, Nicholas M.
1987 Monsters and Men in Maya Art. Verlagsanstalt Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck.

Stone, Andrea, and Mark Zender
2011 Reading Maya Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.