Mayan culture refers to the culture that thrived in the Mayan civilisation over the course of several thousand years. The foundations of this culture were laid down during the Pre-Classic Period of the Mayans but actual developments were made during the Classic Period from 250AD to 900AD. During this period, Mayan culture emerged as a fully developed artistic, literary, political, and social culture. The civilisation consisted of various small states which were often at war with each other. These small states also developed sub-cultures of their own.
The basics of Mayan Culture can be traced back to the Pre-Classic Period which extended from 2000BC to 250AD. During this period, they developed various agricultural methods and small urban centres in addition to developing a religious philosophy and preliminary artistic traditions. However, the culture fully blossomed during the Classic Period which extended from 250AD to 900AD. During this period, they produced rich art and architecture and wrote a variety of hieroglyphs which provide important information about their culture.
The daily life in Mayan culture depended on the social status of the individuals. The nobles led easy lives since their needs were taken care of by commoners and slaves. They attended the councils where important affairs of the city-states were decided. Daily life of a peasant, on the other hand, involved agricultural work. Women indulged in the household activities such as cooking and sewing. Religious festivals and games like ballgame were also important part of the lives of the Mayans.
Religion was quite important for Mayans and a central part of their culture. Even Mayan art and architecture has connections to religious concepts. The temple-pyramids of the Mayans were painted with mural paintings and are the best examples of Mayan architecture. Everyone took part in the religious ceremonies and festivals which were led by the priests. Everyone also offered food and material possessions as their offering to the gods. Offerings also included animal sacrifice and in rare cases, human sacrifice. Various kinds of prayers and incantations were prevalent among the Mayans which have been recorded in different codices.
The Polytheistic religion of the Mayans was part of Mayan culture and their pantheon included more than 150 gods and goddesses. Some of these gods were more powerful than the others and had temples reserved for them. Mayan gods also had rich mythology associated with them in which they interacted with each other just like humans. Priests acted as intermediaries between humans and gods and presided over the religious ceremonies and festivals. It was thought that gods sacrificed their body parts in order to create the world and thus in return humans should offer different kinds of sacrifice for the gods.
The concept of sacrifice was widespread in Mayan culture and religion, just like other civilisations of Mesoamerica. They had a large number of religious festivals and ceremonies throughout the year and a lot of them involved animal sacrifice. Human sacrifice was relatively rare and was generally offered on some important occasion such as the death of a king, drought, or ascension of a new king to throne. The ritual of bloodletting, however, seems to be very common and was involved in almost all religious ceremonies. Sacrifice was performed by priests, usually in the temples on the top of the pyramids. Religious ceremonies and sacrifices were often also accompanied with dancing and music.
Kings in the Mayan culture were considered to have descended from the gods and possessing sacred blood. Thus they regularly indulged in the practice of bloodletting during religious ceremonies. The rulers held hereditary positions and this could only change with war which made wars common place. The nobility enjoyed extensive privileges and did not have to pay any taxes, they held important positions of military and political leadership and assisted rulers in running the affairs of state. Priests also enjoyed very important status in Mayan culture.
Peasants and slaves, as would be expected, had hard lives in Mayan culture. Peasants formed the bulk of the society and lived outside the cities, near their fields. They toiled all day long in the fields and some of them worked on the fields of their noble masters. Slaves did not have any rights or privileges but they were generally treated in a generous manner. Slaves could be the captured people of the enemy state or people who became slaves as a result of some crime. A lot of victims for human sacrifice were selected from this class of Mayan People.
Mayan tradesmen indulged in a variety of professions including craftsmanship, sculpting, and running a business. Since there was no middle class, nobles and commoners alike could become tradesmen in Mayan culture. However, while the financial status of these merchants was better than common peasants, they could not dress like nobles nor could they display their wealth like the nobles. Non-compliance with these laws would result in serious punishments which could even include death. Traders exchanged goods and information between different cities.
There was not much emphasis on formal education in Mayan culture. Children were often educated by their families and elders in religion, mythology, and the general art of life. Peasants taught their children tricks of agriculture and so on. Formal education was generally reserved for people of high authority such as priests, warriors, and chiefs. Medicine could also be practised only by a select few, known as Shamans, and they were given excellent educations.
Mayan culture flourished in the Yucatán Peninsula, particularly during their Classic Period which extended from 250AD to 900AD. The Mayan culture had polytheistic religion with rich mythology and offerings of sacrifices, including human sacrifice. Their society was hierarchical with the nobles enjoying considerable privileges while peasants doing most of the work. Priests also enjoyed a very high status in Mayan culture because of the central importance of their religion. They led religious ceremonies and festivals and performed sacrifices. Kings were considered descendants of gods and their blood was considered sacred.