A ka statue is a type of ancient Egyptian statue intended to provide a resting place for the ka, or spirit, of the person after death. The ancient Egyptians believed the ka (or life-force), along with the physical body, the name, the ba (personality or soul), and the šwt (shadow), made up the five aspects of a person.
After death, the ethereal aspects of the soul were believed to be released from the body, free to roam the earth, but required the physical body or a surrogate, such as the ka statue, to return to as a permanent home. The hieroglyph representing the ka is composed of a pair of upraised arms, and is sometimes depicted on top of the head of the statue to reinforce its intended purpose. Ka statues could also be set up as a type of memorial for the deceased in absentia; for example in Abydos hundreds were set up to allow the dead to participate in the yearly festivals commemorating the resurrection of Osiris.
Ka statues were usually carved from wood or stone and sometimes painted in the likeness of the owner to reinforce the spiritual connection and preserve the person's memory for eternity. Many ka statues were placed in a purpose-built mortuary chapel or niche, which could be covered with appropriate inscriptions. Like most ancient Egyptian statuary, Ka statues display a rigid frontalism in which the body faces squarely forward in a formal way. Whether seated or standing, their posture reflects the need for the statue to "see" the real world in front of them and conform to an ideal standard of beauty and perfection.
Because the ancient Egyptians believed statues could magically perceive the world, they were ceremonially brought to life by priests in a special ritual called the Opening of the mouth ceremony. In the full version of this ceremony, the mouth, eyes, nose, and ears could be touched with ritual implements to give the statue the power of breath, sight, smell, and hearing.
Notes and references
- Oakes (2003) p. 162
- Stierlin (1995) p. 98
- Robins (1998) pp. 19, 145
- Oakes (2003) p. 419
- Oakes, Lorna (2003). Ancient Egypt:: An Illustrated Reference to the Myths, Religions, Pyramids and Temples of the Land of the Pharaohs. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0-7607-4943-4.
- Robins, Gay (2000). The Art of Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00376-4.
- Stierlin, Anne; Stierlin, Henri (1995). The Pharaohs Master-Builders. Vilo International. ISBN 2-87939-020-6.