Chaac Mask - Kabah, Yucatan

Photo by: Emmanuel H (Flickr)

In the Yucatán, a limestone landscape with no surface rivers, where cenotes or sinkholes and a labyrinth of underground waterways are the only source of fresh water, and tropical heat bakes the vegetation, it comes as no surprise that the Mayan rain god Chaac or Chac was especially revered in ancient times. Indeed, the distant rumble of thunder, dark clouds on the horizon and the coming of the life-giving rains in May is still a reason to celebrate and for farmers to breathe a sigh of relief after the long dry season.

Chaac is associated with precious life-giving water, fertility, birth, growth and plenty. Creatures believed to be creatures of Chaac included frogs, toads and turtles. Throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, priests worshipped the god in the depths of caves and on the banks of cenotes, and offerings to Chaac and ceramic effigies of the god have been recovered in Balancanche Cave near Chichén Itzá and at other sites in the area.

Chaac Mask at Chichen Itza, Yucatan

Photo by: Bernard D (Flickr)

There was a Chaac god for the cardinal points, each with a different color: Sac Xib Chac, White Chac of the North, Chac Xib Chac, Red Chac of the East, Kan Xib Chac, Yellow Chac of the South and Ek Xib Chac, Black Chac of

the West, all of which were heralded by lightning and thunder.

Elaborate friezes featuring curl snouted masks of Chaac with fangs and reptilian eyes adorn the facades of temples in Chichén Itzá and ancient cities along the Puuc Route in southwest Yucatán. Water was scarce in the Puuc Hills and unlike the plain there are no cenotes to tide communities over the dry season, so understandably the benevolence of Chaac was even more important. Chaac masks and the carved likenesses of frogs and turtles crop up at sites throughout the area. At Uxmal, Sayil and Labná, the Maya also built chultunes or reservoirs to store the precious rainfall during the dry season.

Another Puuc Route site, Kabah is famous for the Codz Pop, or the Palace of the Masks, a name that does justice to its magnificent façade consisting of 250 Chaac masks.

Chaac masks at the Codz Pop Temple, Kabah, Yucatan

Photo by: M Rondana (Flickr)

To this day, Mayan hmen or priests perform the Cha Chaac ceremony, a plea to the ancient god to send rainfall to the milpas or cornfields.