Friday, 16 August 2013

Soma - The Energy Drink of Ancient India

No separate introduction is needed for Soma. A drink, a booster of energy, a giver of energy,wealth and health, a God. There are many dimensions to a single name. Owing to it's ample references in the Rigveda and all other post-Vedic scriptures, we can conclude that Soma surely was an important constituent of Yagyas and for pleasing Gods.

An entire 9th Mandala of the Rigveda is dedicated to Soma. Soma is the third-most mentioned noun in the Rigveda with nearly 1500 mentions.  Almost in every Yagya, an oblation is offered to Soma. Apart from that, there are separate Soma-Yagyas. The Soma was either consumed by the people, believed to be consumed by Gods like Indra,Varuna,Mitra or offered to the fire, Agni. It depended on the usage of the plant.

Soma Characteristics 

It becomes important to discuss characteristics of Soma.

  • Soma is a plant found on mountains. That is why Soma has adjectives like Parvatavrudha and Giristha. Rigveda (RV) 9.18.1 clearly mentions that Soma was found on mountains. So does Atharvaveda (3.21.10). 
  • A proper description is given by well-known Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta in his Sushruta Samhita saying that Soma is found growing on mountains like Himalayas, Sahyadri, Mahendra, Malya, Arbuda, Devgiri, Vindhyas,etc. It also mentions that Soma grows in aquatic habitats like Sindhu (Indus) river, Manas Sarovar, etc. This just proves that there were many varieties of Soma whihc were used.
  • Since the varieties existed, the color also varied. Colors like brown,green, ornage and bright red existed.
  • The confirmation also comes from Avesta, in both Yasna and Vendidad, where Haoma ( i.e Soma) is said to be growing on mountains. The Avestan and Vedic rituals were quite common in those days like fire worship, sun worship and Soma consumption. 
  • There is a lot of debate among modern day scholars regarding the actual Soma herb. Various species like Euphedra, Sarcostemma, etc
  • The description of Soma plant comes in the commentary of Dhurtaswamin. It says Soma is dark,sour, without leaves, milky and fleshy, produces phlegm and vomiting and is a food for goats.  

Preparation of Soma

The preparation of Soma also finds mention in the Rigveda. It is mentioned throughout that the Soma plant is pressed and the juice is obtained. The stalk of the Soma is pressed as mentioned in RV (9.67.28) and RV  (9.74.2). The Sanskrit name for stalk is Amsu. The stalk is said to be pressed with stones RV (10.94.1). The stones are 4 in number and the Rigveda mentions that the Soma flows like a 'flood' after being pressed. 

Now the juice is not consumed just like that. Proper purification is required for making it consumable. RV (9.3.9) mentions that the Soma is passed through woolen straining cloth for purifying it. At other places, a fleece or a sieve is also used. The Soma that is thus purified is called Pavamana or pure Soma. This pure Soma is given to Indra. The Soma is mixed with water or milk and consumed by others. Oblations to other Gods are offered by mixed Soma. 

The Soma is collected in Darbhas or pots and it's oblation is offered in Grahas or vessels. The Soma is either directly fed to fire RV (1.94.14) and RV (8.42.11) or is drank like that by the priests and the Yajamana. An instance mentioned in the Bhagvata Purana where king Marutta of Vaishali dynasty had conducted a never-like-before Yagya. The priests and Indra himself were given infinite Soma and they got intoxicated by it.  Ashwini Kumaras had no right to drink Soma but rishi Chyavana gave them Soma to drink in return of them granting him youth. Other kings like Dasharath, Nimi, Sharyati,etc have also performed Somyagyas.

Vaivasvata and Trita Aptya, both composers of Rigveda, are said to have excelled in the preparation of Soma. 

Eulogies and Allegories of Soma

Pertaining to it's important position in the rituals, certain eulogies were created in the name of Soma. 
  • Soma bestows supreme energy. Indra is said to drink Soma and under it's intoxication, goes on a war with Vritrasura and defeat him.
  • The person who drinks Soma becomes pure at heart as it washes away the sins.
  • Soma drives away all the enemies and prevents it's drinkers from coming in contact with any unwanted tribe. Besides, it bestows the best of health.
  • Treasures like cows, wealth,etc are received. 
  • Soma is said to be brought on the Earth from the heavens and thus it pleases the Gods the most. Soma is said to be like a smell that spreads everywhere and attracts the Gods towards it, thus inviting the Gods to bless the Yagya being performed. 
  • Being the best of all the herbs, Soma is also said to be the king of all herbs (Vanaspati). He is also called the king of people. 
  • Soma is also considered to be the moon or Chandra with the 27 Nakshatras as his wives. 
  • Soma also is equated to trees, birds, cows, mind,etc at different places in the Rigveda. 

Lord Soma or Chandra with his chariot driven by an antelope

Soma-Yagyas or Somyaga

Since Soma has such an important position in Yagyas, let's talk something about Somyagas. Every Yagya is not a Somyaga. Soma is offered only in specific Yagyas to Gods like Indra,Mitra,Varuna,etc. We find that Somyagas have continued from the Vedic period right till the Brahmana-Sutra period. 

There are 3 types of Ygyas mainly - Pakayagya, Haviryagya and Somyagya. Each has 7 types. The 7 types of Somyaga is mentioned by different rishis like Gautama, Satyavrata Samashrami and Dhurtaswamin. They are -
  • Agnishtoma
  • Atyagnishtoma
  • Ukthyah
  • Shodashi
  • Vajapeya
  • Atiratra
  • Aptoryamah
Different scriptures like Yajurveda, Ashvalayana and other Grihya Sutras deal with Somyagas and the rituals and verses to be recited there. Let's not go deep in the rituals of Somyaga. But one thing to note is that in almost every ritual you have one Soma hymn from Rigveda being recited to please Soma. 
For example - In the Sankhyayana Grihya Sutra (1.26.3), depending upon the star in which the child is born, oblations are given. Oblation to Soma in a Yagya is given if the child is born in the Mrugashirsha star.

Apart from this, we also find in the Grihya Sutras an option to using Soma like Kusha needles,etc. It could be because of the decline in the use of Soma as also it becoming less available. 

The rituals might show slight variance, but the concept of using Soma in Yagyas has lasted for centuries and continues even today. The Yagyas are done for the betterment of general public or for specific purposes. 
For more reading - Yagya - A ritual or culture

Thursday, 30 May 2013

64 Kalā - The 64 types of arts

We often hear in the descriptions of Lord Ganesha or Lord Krishna that they were well versed in 64 art forms or ChatuhShashthi Kala. These are 64 different art forms that are listed which are taught to all as a part of learning. A person knowing all of these along with the 14 Vidyas was known to be near perfection.

This list appears in the Kamasutra under the heading Bahya Kala or external art forms. Here is a list of these art forms.

  • गीतं - Singing
  • वाद्यं - Playing instruments
  • नृत्यं - Dancing
  • नाट्यं - Acting
  • आलेख्यं - Painting and writing
  • विशेषच्छेद्यं - Aiming at a point
  • तन्दुलकुसुमबलिविकारः - Making offerings of rice and flowers 
  • पुष्पस्तरणं - Covering with flowers
  • दशनवसनाङ्गरागाः - Cleansing teeth,clothes,etc
  • मणिभुमिकाकर्म - Arranging jewels
  • शयनरचनं - Arranging bed
  • उदकवाद्यं - Playing instruments in pots or bowls like Jalataranga
  • चित्रयोगः - Drawing using soil
  • माल्यग्रन्थानविकल्पाः - Preparing garlands of flowers
  • शेखरापीडयोजनं - Decorating crowns,etc
  • कर्णपत्रभङ्गाः - Decorating ears with flowers
  • नेपथ्ययोगाः - Dressing up for acting
  • सुगन्धयुक्तिः - Preparing aromatic perfumes
  • भूषणयोजनं - Making ornaments
  • ऐन्द्राजालं - Magic tricks
  • कौतुमारयोगः - Applying various ointments and pastes on one's body
  • हस्तलाघव - Tricks of hands ( हाथचालाखी )
  • चित्रशाकापूपभक्ष्यविकारयोगः - Preparing vegetables and sweets
  • पानकरसरागासवयोजनं - Preparing various juices
  • सूचिवयकर्म - Stitching with needles
  • सूत्रक्रीडा - Puppetry 
  • वीणाडमरुवाद्यानि - Playing Veena, Damru,etc
  • प्रहेलिका - Cracking riddles
  • प्रतिमाला - Preparing utensils
  • दुर्वाचकयोगः - Speaking in languages that others don't understand
  • वाचनं - Reading
  • नाटकाख्ययिकादर्शनं - Telling stories and acts 
  • काव्यसमस्यापूरणं - Completing incomplete poems
  • पट्टिकावेत्रबाणविकल्पः - Using arrows,etc
  • तर्ककर्माणि  - Debating
  • तक्षणम् - Carpentry
  • वास्तुविद्या - Knowledge of construction
  • रौप्यरत्नपरिक्षा - Testing jewels
  • धातुवादः - Purifying impure metals
  • मणिरागज्ञानं - Seeing the colour of precious stones
  • आकारज्ञानं - Finding quarries of minerals
  • वृक्षायुर्योगवेदः - Calculating the age of trees
  • मेषकुक्कुटलावकयुद्धविधिः - Making lambs,goats,etc fight
  • शुकसारिकप्रलापनं - Teaching parrots to speak
  • उत्सादनं - Flying kites
  • केशमार्जनकौशलं - Art of cutting hair
  • अक्षरमुष्टिकाकथनं - Guessing the words in other's mind
  • म्लेच्छितकुतर्कविकल्पः - Making arguments for deceiving someone
  • देशभाषाज्ञानं - Knowing the other languages 
  • पुष्पशकटिकानिर्मितिज्ञानं - Gardening
  • धारणमातृका - Preparing load bearing objects
  • संवाद्यं - Elocution
  • मानसीकाव्यक्रिया - Composing poems in mind
  • अभिधानकोशः - Knowing lexicography
  • छन्दोज्ञानं - Knowledge of metres of singing
  • क्रियाविकल्पः - Art of writing a treatise
  • चलितकयोगः - Building shrines
  • वस्त्रगोपनानि - Concealing clothes
  • द्युतविशेषः - Gambling 
  • आकर्षक्रीडा - Kusti or Malla Yuddha
  • बालक्रीडानकादि - Preparing toys for kids
  • वैनायकीविद्याज्ञानं - Art of vanishing problems
  • वैजयकीविद्याज्ञानं - Art of winning
  • वैतालकीविद्याज्ञानं-  Knowledge of Tantras

It thus appears from the list that these art forms cover almost all of the aspects of human life from dressing, art and craft, sports, learning and general chores. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marriages between Vedic and Non-Vedic tribes

I have already discussed some Exotic Tribes of India like Rakshas , Gandharva and Apsara , Yaksha, etc. We see that these tribes exactly cannot be termed non-Vedic since their origins can also be traced to Vedic rishis but their way of living, their culture and rituals are quite different from the actual Vedic people.
We see that Rakshas are non-Vedic people but in case of Ravana, he is a devotee of Shiva. Daityas are non-Vedic but in case of Bali, he is said to have performed 99 Yagyas with his Purohit Shukracharya.  The Yakshas are non-Vedic but in case of Kubera, he is worshipped as a lord of wealth.The Gandharvas and Apsaras are also seen to be in close relation with the Vedic people. The Kirata, Kimpurusha, Kinnara lived adjacent to Vedic kingdoms and in the Himalayas but not much is mentioned about them.
The Danavas and Daityas ,although belonging to the Asura group, we find that martial relations were established signifying intermixing to some extent.

The style of marriages also seem to be influenced by different communities. Let's see the 8 types of marriages in Hindu customs-

  • Brahma Vivaha - Where the parents of the bride and groom decide the marriage and with the consent of all.
  • Prajapatya Vivaha - Where the bride and the groom are married off at a young age. The responsibility of the bride lies on the groom's father and not on the groom himself till both of them attain the right age. Prajapati directly means one who takes care, Possibly that's why this type is called Prajapatya since the father takes are of the bride.
  • Daiva Vivaha - Where the bride is poor and her marriage is performed as a charity by rich people.
  • Arsha Vivaha - This type is applicable for those communities where the groom has to pay an oblation to the bride to get her. 
  • Asura Vivaha - Where the bride is not suitable for the groom but still they marry. Asura communities seem to have such type of marriages. 
  • Gandharva Vivaha - This is proper love marriage where the consent of parents is not necessary. Gandharvas and Apsaras used to marry the person of their choice. 
  • Rakshas Vivaha -  This type involves abduction of the bride if she is ready for marriage. The Rakshas tribes used to marry in this way. 
  • Paishacha Vivaha - The bride is intoxicated and is not in her senses while marrying. That's why it was called Paishacha vivaha on the name of Pishacha. 
( The tribe names are given to marriage styles but they being given due to peculiar behaviour of those tribe is just my view. )

As I mentioned earlier, the intermixing of these tribes with Vedic people has happened. The Puranas provide valuable information about the kings and rishis who married brides from other tribes. Most of the marriages are from Apsaras and Naga. This seems credible when it comes to geography. The Nagas have lived in the Indian subcontinent but others have lived either far in Himalayas ( Yakshas, Kinnara, Kimpurusha,etc) or far south ( Rakshas) or far east ( Kirata). Less information is available about the martial relations of other exotic tribes like Vidyadhara, Charana, Siddha, Pishacha, Vanara, Pannaga, etc. So a natural interaction would be between people who live next to the Vedic people. Let's view them - 

  • Pururavas Aila and Urvashi - Pururavas was a Chandravanshi king. Urvashi bore 6 sons from him.
  • Prachetas and Pramlocha - Soma was the son of Atri. His adoptive daughter was Pramlocha who was married to Prachetas, a descendant of Dhruva.
  • Trinavindu and Alambusha - Trinavindu was the king of Vaishali kingdom and a Chakravarti Samrat
  • Agnidhra and Purvachitti - Agnidhra was the grandson of Swayambhuva Manu.
  • Raudrashva and Ghrutachi - Raudrashva was a king in the Puru dynasty of Hastinapur.
  • Vishwamitra and Menaka - Although they didn't marry, they bore a daughter Shakuntala who married Dushyanta. Their marriage took place by Gandharva Vivaha.
  • Ruru and Pramadvara - He was a rishi. Pramadvara was daughter of Vishvavasu Gandharva and was brought up by Sthulakesha rishi.
  • Vatsaka and Mishrakeshi - Vatsaka was a Yadava prince.
  • Rucheyu and Jwala - Rucheyu was the son of Raudrashva, the Puru king. Jwala belonged to the Takshaka tribe of Nagas.
  • Arjuna and Ulupi - This couple is quite well known from Mahabharata.
  • Shantanu and Satyavati - Shantanu was the great grandfather of Pandavas and Satyavati was Vyasa's mother.
  • Yadu and Dhumavarna's daughters - Yadu was the son of Yayati and Dhumavarna was one of the Nagas who married his 5 daughters to Yadu.
  • Purukutsa and Narmada - Purukutsa was an Ikshavku king. Son of Mandhata.
  • Kusha and Kumudvati - Kusha was Rama's son. 
  • Somashrava - He was a disciple of rishi Yajnavalkya. His mother was Naga princess and father was Shrutashrava rishi. 
  • Yayati and Sharmishtha - Sharmishtha was the daughter of Vrishaparva Daitya. 
  • Yayati and Devayani- Devayani was the daughter of Shukracharya, the priest of Danavas and Daityas
  • Vishrava and Kaikesi - Vishrava was a descendant of Pulastya and father of Ravana. Kaikesi was daughter of Sumali Rakshas.
  • Bhima and Hidimba - Hidimba was a Rakshasi who met the Pandavas after they fled the Lakshagriha in Varnavati. Ghatotkacha was their son.
Apart from this, there were many inter- marriages between the non-Vedic tribes too. For example, Ravana's maternal grandfather Sunali married an Apsara, Daitya Hiranyakashapu married an Asura princess, daughter of Hiranyakashapu called Sinhika was married to a Danava, Shachi, Indra's wife was the daughter of Danava Puloman., etc.
But strangely, we don't find any Vedic princess being married to a non-Vedic groom.

From this, we can conclude that the ancient people were not that averse in marrying with non-Vedic tribes. Although the names given above are less, at least we can establish that Vedic kingdoms had alliances with these non-Vedic tribes and kingdoms which had the capacity of influencing the politics of the land. In the case of Arjuna and Ulupi, the Naga kingdom to which she belonged supported the Pandavas during the Mahabharata war. Similar was the case with the Rakshas tribes who supported the Pandavas because of Hidimba and Ghatotkacha. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Ratha - The Indian Chariot

Ratha, or the chariot is considered to be the best mode of transport in ancient India, especially during wars. It symbolizes energy and the zeal to move forward. But do we know everything about what is a Ratha ?

We only have a faint imagination of seeing Arjuna or Duryodhana fighting the Mahabharata war on Rathas in the B.R Chopra Mahabharata serial.  Although the chariots used in those serials were made up of low quality wood, the actual Rathas were quite powerful and could carry heavy loads.

The development of Ratha can be imagined. First man used to walk and travel. Later on, he started to ride the back of animals which was quite tedious but faster than walking. But some brilliant mind got the idea of a wheel and thus constructed a chariot moving on wheel which would be pulled by muscle power of animals while man can comfortably sit in the chariot.
Thus began the science of building a Ratha. Further developments took place.

  • The material which was used to build a Ratha was light.
  • The number of wheels, animals attached were varied.
  • The concept of Sarathi who drives the Ratha was consequently developed.

Lord Surya, with his chariot of 7 horses.

The concept of building a Ratha has not been properly described in scriptures, but we have scattered references mostly from Rigveda to describe the Ratha. 
  • The Ratha is said to be constructed of wood. The specific trees used were Khadir ( Khair in today's terms which is also used in Hom-Havan) and Shimshapa ( or Sheesham in today's terms). This information is given in RV ( 3.53.17-19)
  • The wheels used to have spokes for higher speeds and for being light in weight.
  • Different animals were used to pull the Ratha. Horses were most preferred during wars. But apart from horses, bulls, mules and wild ass was also used. RV (6.75.7) clearly tells that horses pull a Ratha faster than a bull. RV (3.53.17) tells us that bulls were indeed used to pull chariots. Use of wild ass in the Ratha of Ashwini Kumars is stated in RV (1.116.2) 
  • Almost every God had a Ratha. Hymns from Rigveda talk of Rathas of Indra, Agni, Ashwini Kumars, Usha,etc. Almost every king at war had a Ratha. 
  • Mahabharata and Ramayana wars have ample references to kings fighting on Rathas. Why others ? Our very own Krishna spoke the verses of Bhagvad Geeta on a chariot. 
  • We have an extra special hymn in Rigveda. It is 6.75. It is composed by Payu Bharadvaja. King Prastoka Sarnjaya had sought help from Payu to win a war. So Payu created this hymn in praise of all war-related things including bow, arrow, Sarathi, Ratha, different parts of Ratha,etc. It contains information about different parts of Ratha. 
Apart from this, horses having 34 ribs were used in wars and to draw Rathas. 
Now, a Ratha should have specific dimensions to bring the best out of it. For that, we have different Shulba Sutras which describe how a Ratha should be constructed. 

It is said that the Ratha of king Priyavrata, the son of Swayambhuva Manu, was so powerful, that it created seven big ditches in Earth ,when he was circumambulating the Meru mountain, which became the seven seas. The land that got separated from the seas is the seven continents or Sapta Mahadweep. 

Arjuna's peculiar chariot with his favourite 4 white horses

The Ratha had become such an integral part of people's life, that it seeped into Sanskrit language.
The most ace warrior was thus called " Maha-Rathi". 
The unit for measuring distance "Rathanya" came from Ratha travelling a decided distance.
The names of kings ended with Ratha. For eg- Dasharatha, Ashtiratha, Bhagiratha,etc.

The Ratha also inspired construction of temples. The best example is of Konark temple in Udisha. 
The wheels on the temple of Konark. They are 12 in number signifying the months of a year.
Each wheel has 8 spokes signifying the 8 Prahar of a day.

Now another question- Were Rathas being used only in wars ? Was there any other use ?
Let's look at the different types of Rathas- 
  • Sangramik Ratha- For wars.
  • Deva Ratha- For Gods.
  • Karni Ratha- Special Ratha for women, particularly queens.
  • Vainayik Ratha- For giving training of driving a Ratha.
  • Pushya Ratha- For processions of kings.
  • Kreeda Ratha- For competitions and races.
To add, the Kreeda Ratha was used extensively. Chariot racing is a famous game, even today. 
Even rituals needed Rathas. A Vajpeya Yagya needs a special Ratha "constructed from wood and having wheels with 17 spokes. ".

Rathas are used even today. The processions of different Gods are conducted on Rathas and are called Rathotsav. The most famous is the Ratha Yatra of Jagannath Puri. 

Off lately, there has been a lot of farce created due to the false Aryan Invasion Theory over excavation of Rathas in different parts of world. Wherever the Rathas are explored, countries go in a frenzy claiming that theirs is the original homeland of the so-called "Aryans". Varying Rathas made of wood, heavy, non-spoked have been found which date back to 3000 BC in Europe. Similar excavations have been made in the Mesopotamian and Hittite- Mittani civilizations in central Asia. In India, a toy in the form of a Ratha has been found in Daimabad, Maharashtra which dates to 2200 BC.

What ever may be the archaeological excavations, one thing is for sure, Rathas had a very dear place in the hearts of our ancestors, just like horses. !!!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Puranas - The History Manuals of Ancient India

यो विद्याच्चतुरो वेदान्ताङ्गोपनिषदो द्विजः | न चेत्पुराणं संविद्यान्नैव स स्याद्विचक्षणः ||

"The Dvija who knows the Vedas with it's Angas and Upanishads cannot be called a proficient person unless he has thoroughly studied the Puranas. "

Perhaps the above verse tells why the Puranas are so important for knowing the Indian History. The descriptive information of our ancient world with it's kings,sages, kingdoms and all the important events occur in the Puranas. The additive thing is, all this was transmitted orally. 
Perhaps this is the reason why Puranas hold such a special position in our scriptures. 

The Matsya Purana describes the following 5 characteristics or Pancha- Lakshana of Puranas- 
  1. Sarga - Regarding the creation of universe from the Virat Purush.
  2. Pratisarga- The other creations of the divine.
  3. Vansha- Regarding the genealogies of sages.
  4. Manvantara- Description of various Manus and Manvantara.
  5. Vanshanucharita- The description of Surya and Chandra Vansha.
For history students, the last 3 Lakshanas matter the most. These are the proper historical descriptions from where we get the info about the different sages, kings and their stories. 

Just think about this, how much of the above information is given properly in the Vedas ? Very few. Perhaps without Itihasa and Puranas, we wouldn't have known to which vansh did Ram or Krishna belong, or where were their kingdoms situated. Imagine the darkness around us if we didn't know even the basic info about our own Gods.
That is why it is said - इतिहासपुराणंच पञ्चमो वेद उच्यते | or Itihasa and Puranas are rightfully called the 5th Veda. 

Many a times questions are asked, Puranas have proven antiquity but what about authenticity ? So can we furnish any proof saying that the contents of Puranas are original and not or have just been shuffled ?
The answer lies in the genuine tradition of Puranas. Puranas are composed majorly by Ved Vyasa during the Mahabharata era around 3000 BC. But the information of kings and sages can go as back as 8000 BC. So technically, Vyasa was describing about the events and people in his Puranas who lived 5000 years before him..! But from where did he get this information ?
The answer is, the Suta,Magadha and Stutipathak tradition. These were bards in the court of every king who used to record every event and pass it through generations. The earliest evidence of the existence of Suta, Magadha and Stutipathak goes to the era of king Prithu, almost 110 generations before Vyasa. From that time, we have these bards collecting information and passing on through generations. 
In the Mahabharata era, we have this information split into various bards in different kingdoms. This information was collected together by Vyasa and compiled in the Puranas. Thus the Puranas became a full fledged books which contained the names, genealogies and stories of different kings and sages. That is why, it is mere waste of time doubting the authenticity of Puranas.
Also go through my 1 yr old post of Credibility of Puranas

As for a formality, the general information on Puranas is thus- 
There are 18 Maha Puranas namely Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Agni, Garuda, Narada, Linga, Matsya, Bhagvata, Vishnu, Kurna, Varaha, Bhavishya, Vamana,Markandeya, Padma, Shiva and Skanda.
There are 18 Upa Puranas too.
The combined verses of the 18 Maha Puranas totals upto 4000000 i.e 4 Lakhs ..!!!
The Skanda Purana is the largest with 81000 verses thus making it the third largest scripture in Hinduism after Mahabharata and Yoga Vasishtha.

For a reader, we shouldn't take only 1 Purana. Consider the 18 Puranas as one book. The reason for this is, the information is scattered into various Puranas. Thus only the name of X king appears in one, his story in other and his genealogy in the third. For a complete view. we need to look in all the Puranas.

Technically, Puranas also have incomplete information. But we should be grateful that we have at least the present information. Some of the stories are intangible. But still, the crux and the central ideas are to be taken. Through these years of propagation, there is some corruption in names or contexts. But that is an obvious effect after almost 5000 years of propagation from 3000 BC till now. 
But sitting here, using the Puranas, I am able to tell who was my ancestor some 250 generations back. It was Swayambhuva Manu..!!

Puranas also contain some religious stuff like information on different pilgrimage sites, stories of Gods and their description and above all, brilliant philosophy that parallels with that of Bhagvad Geeta. The dialogues of Krishna with his colleagues, speeches of kings,etc are filled with deep philosophical thought. Bhagvata Purana is considered the best among the Puranas.
Plus, the Puranas are classified after the sects they belong to i.e Shaiv, Vaishnava and Brahma. We get brilliant knowledge and spiritual guidance.

At last, the Puranas complement the Vedas and make them complete. As Narada rishi says,

वेदाःप्रतिष्ठितादेवि पुराणैर्नात्नसंशयः |
"Without any doubt, the Puranas increase the reputation of the Vedas."

Monday, 18 February 2013

River Saraswati, as described in scriptures.

River Saraswati has been the biggest issue of discussion with regards to it's existence. There is a confusion whether it was a river or a Hindu goddess. The answer is, perhaps both. But most importantly, it was the biggest and widest river in the Indian subcontinent.

The Aryan Invasion theorists say that river Saraswati is a myth and she was just a goddess of knowledge. Well, I would counter that by one single logic- There is a goddess called Kali and also a river called Kali in Karnataka. So does that river become mythical ?
It has been a common practice to name objects, whether rivers, mountains or lakes, on the names of popular gods and goddesses. The sole reason why our planets got their names as Venus or Mars from the Greek and Roman gods. Plus, the satellite images of Saraswati are quite clearly showing the existence of a huge channel of an extinct river which flows through the heart of Rajasthan.

The course of Saraswati photographed by satellites.
A huge course in the heart of a desert... !!!!

 We will discuss the geography and logic behind the existence of Saraswati later on. For now, we are concerned with different references to Saraswati in ancient scriptures.
We will traverse through scriptures in their chronological existence through history viz Rigveda and Atharvaveda ---> Yajurveda ---> Ramayana --->Mahabharata and Puranas ---> Brahmanas

Saraswati in Rigveda- 

एकाचेतत्सरस्वती नदीनां शुचिर्यती गिरिभ्य आ समुद्रात्। रायश्चेतन्ती भुवनस्य भूरेर्घृतं पयो दुदुहे नाहुषाय॥ - 
RV 7.95.2
Pure in her course from the mountains to the oceans, Saraswati river bestows milk and butter to Nahusha.

अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति। अप्रशस्ता इव स्मसि प्रशस्तिमम्ब नस्कृधि ||

RV 2.41.16
Best of mothers, best of rivers, best of goddesses Sarsawati, we are untrained and ignorant. Give us knowledge and wisdom.

इयं शुष्मेभिर्बिसखा इवारुजत्सानु गिरीणां तविषेभिरूर्मिभिः।
पारावतघ्नीमवसे सुवृक्तिभिः सरस्वतीमा विवासेम धीतिभिः॥
RV 6.61.2
O Saraswati, your mighty currents break the mountains as easily as lotus stems. Let us invite with holy hymns and songs.

यस्या अनन्तो अह्रुतस्त्वेषश्चरिष्णुरर्णवः।अमश्चरति रोरुवत्॥
RV 6.61.8
Whose limitless, unbroken flow, swift moving with rapid rush comes forward with a roar. 

आ यत्साकं यशसो वावशानाः सरस्वती सप्तथी सिन्धुमाता।
याः सुष्वयन्त सुदुघाः सुधारा अभि स्वेन पयसा पीप्यानाः॥
RV 7.36.6
May the glorious seventh stream Saraswati, mother of Sindhu charged with large volume of water flow vigorously and give milk and water.

This was a short description of Saraswati in the Rigveda. In totality, Saraswati has been mentioned 71 times throughout the Rigveda.

Saraswati in Atharvaveda- 

देवा इमं मधूनां संयुतं यवं सरस्वत्या मधि मनावकर्क्रियुः| इन्द्र आसित सिरपतिः शतक्रतुः किनश आसन मरुतः सुदानवः ||
AV 6.30.1
God bestowed the people living on the banks of Saraswati with sweet and juicy barley, where the Maruts become the farmers and Indra, the lord of agriculture.

Saraswati is mentioned almost 35 times throughout Atharvaveda, sometimes as a river and sometimes as a goddess.
Yajurveda ans Samaveda also mention Saraswati river.

Saraswati in Ramayana- 

सरस्वतीम् च गङ्गाम् च उग्मेन प्रतिपद्य च |
उत्तरम् वीरमत्स्यानाम् भारुण्डम् प्राविशद्वनम् ||
Valmiki Ramayana 2.71.2
Arriving at the confluence of Saraswati and Ganga rivers, Bharata entered the woods of Bharmuda, the north of Viramatsaya region.

Saraswati is mentioned almost 6 times in Valmiki Ramayana. The above reference shows that the river did exist during Ram's times.

Saraswati in Mahabharata- 

Balrama had gone on a 42 day pilgrimage which is properly described in the Mahabharata. Right from the origin of Saraswati to it's disappearance is properly mentioned.

परभवं च सरस्वत्याः पलक्षप्रस्रवणं बलः |
     संप्राप्तः कारपचनं तीर्थप्रवरम उत्तमम ||

Mbh 9.53.11
While ascending the Himalaya, Balrama came to Plaksha Prashravana, the origin of Saraswati from where he went to Karpachanam ( Origin of Yamuna). 

सरस्वती पुण्यवहा हरदिनी वनमालिनी |
      समुद्रगा महावेगा यमुना यत्र पाण्डव ||

Mbh 3.88.2
The holy flow of Saraswati [ ...] meets the sea with rapid flow. 

ततॊ विनशनं गच्छेन नियतॊ नियताशनः गच्छत्य अन्तर्हिता यत्र मरु पृष्ठे 
सरस्वती चमसे च शिवॊद्भेदे नागॊद्भेदे च दृश्यते ||
Mbh 3.80.118
The Saraswati disappears in the desert at Vinshana and reappears at Chamasa, Shivodbheda ans Nagodbheda. 

Mahabharata (3.83) mentions the location of Kurukshetra as lying to the south of Saraswati and north of Drishadvati, clearly indicating the geography of Haryana. Similar thing is mentioned about Brahmavarta, the kingdom of Swayambhuva Manu in Bhagvata Purana and Manusmriti (3.17)
Mahabharata also mentions a number of lakes like Bindusar, Brahmasar, Jyotisar, etc which the Saraswati occupies. A clear cut indication that Saraswati had become a small river then and was only occupying lakes.
Since the geography of Mahabharata revolves around the Krur kingdom from where the Saraswati flowed, Saraswati is mentioned 235 times in Mahabharata. 

Saraswati in Puranas- 
 Vamana Purana (32. 1-4) describes the origin of Saraswati, as told by rishi Markandeya. It tells about the Plaksha (Pipal) tree from where the Saraswati originates from where it flows westward and occupies a lake called Sannihita. 
Apart from these, Saraswati and it's origin at Plaksha and vanishing at Vinshana has been mentioned in Bhagvata, Vishnu, Skanda, Vayu Puranas.

The flow of Saraswati, photographed from Bheem Pul in the Himalayas.
This river today is called Ghaggar- Hakra  known to be the remnant of the mighty Saraswati.

Saraswati in Brahmanas- 

Tandya Brahmana is the most useful for this prupose. (25.10.11) mentions Saraswati to be sluggish (शिथीलभूत ) and following a meandering course ( वक्रोपेतभूत ).
(25.10.12) mentions Saraswati to be drifting westward ( प्रत्यन्मुखी )
The same info of Saraswati originating at Plaksha and vanishing at Vinshana is mentioned and the distance between the two is said to be 44 Ashvins. From the info I gathered from the article of D.S Chauhan, this distance is about 2600 KMs. So if Vinshana has to be in Gujarat, Plaksha has to be in the Himalayas.

From the above verses quoted, any keen observer will come to know the trend of Saraswati's references from a huge river with a rapid flow to a small river which was vanishing in desert.
The chronological order of scriptures Rigveda and Atharvaveda ---> Yajurveda --->; Ramayana -->;Mahabharata and Puranas --->; Brahmanas tells us the diminishing nature of the Saraswati from a mighty river in Rigvedic times to a small river about to vanish during the Puranic times. 

Saraswati was NOT a myth. It was an actual river on whose banks majority of the Harappan sites have been found. She is also a goddess of knowledge and also an extinct river. Only if secular historians understood that...........

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Women seers of Ancient India- Rishika

The women in ancient times used to have an active part in every thing including agriculture, education and household tasks. Primarily, we don't find any reference which talks of not educating women or constraining them to their homes. In fact,we have plenty of evidence which tells us the respectful place that women enjoyed. For eg-

 यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यते रमन्ते तत्र देवता - Manusmriti
Woman respected where, Gods roam there."

or when Kanva rishi talks in the 8th Mandala of the Rigveda saying-

"Lord, You are greater than my father but just equal to my mother!"

Often, the most famous figures of ancient times were always men, whether rishis or kings. But our history also reserves special praises for women seers who excelled equally and became famous and filled with knowledge. Some of the names are heard and some unheard.
These women were benefited by the company of a knowledgeable seer who taught them the basic principles of Indian philosophy.

Let me start one by one.

  • Gargi Vachaknavi - Perhaps the most famous woman seer of ancient India. She represents spiritual knowledge which was of a tough competition to Yajnavalkya, her contemporary. Her father was Vachaknu rishi. Her dialogue with Yajnavalkya in the Madhu Kanda of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.6) is quite interesting. She asks Yajnavalkya in what is the whole world woven? To which finally the debate reaches to the absolute Brahman. Gargi and Yajnavalkya dialogue is also found in the Yogayajnavalkya Samhita. 
Gargi asking questions to Yajnavalkya. ( From the series Upanishad Ganga)

  • Maitreyee Yajnavalkya- This is another name heard mostly in our history texts. Maitreyee was the wife of Yajnavalkya along with Katyayani. The story is that when Yajnavalkya decided to renounce the world and go the forest, he asked his wives what they wanted. Maitreyee demanded anything that would make her eternal. Thus Yajnavalkya gave her the Doctrine of Immortality. Their dialogue is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4). 

These two were the main non-Rigvedic Rishikas. The Sarvanukramani of the Rigveda has names of almost 10-15 women composers of Rigveda. They include- 
  • Lopamudra Vaidarbhi- This name is very much popular. She was the daughter of the king of Vidarbha and a Kshatrani. But she married Agastya rishi. The legend of how Agastya rishi procured Lopamudra is found in many Puranas. Agastya's penance and austerity was upsetting Lopamudra. Thus she demanded love and attention from him. Agastya too realized his duties as a husband. Their conversation is preserved in Rigveda ( 1.179 ). This hymn gives a lot of information on how the relations between a husband and wife should be. 
  • Ghosha Kakshivati - She was the daughter of Kakshivan Dairghatamas. She was affected by leprosy since birth and hence was not getting married. The Ashvini Kumars cured her and taught her Madhu Vidya. She is the composer of Rigveda (10.39-41)
  • Apala Atreyi- She was the daughter of Atri rishi. She was affected by a skin disease. But still she was a knowledgeable woman. Her hymns occur in Rigveda ( 8.91)
  • Yami Vaivasvati- She was the sister of Yama. She accidentally fell in love with Yama. Her hymns are a dialogue between her and Yama where he explains Yami of how wrong her intentions are. Her hymns are present in Rigveda (10.10)
  • Shashvati Angiras- She was the wife of Yadava king Asanga Playogi. Her hymns are present in Rigveda ( 8.2)
  • Ratri Bharadvaji- She is the daughter of Bharadvaja. She has composed Rigveda ( 10.127 ) jointly with Kushika Saubhari. Incidentally, there is one more female composer in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajurveda (4.2) with the name Kashipa Bharadvaji. The deity of this hymn is Ratri or night. So possibly, the original name could have been Kashipa Bharadvaji. 
  • Vishvavara Atreyi-  She is the composer of Rigveda ( 5.28)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Chakravarti Samrat of Ancient India

Till date we have heard only of Chandragupta or Ashoka when it come to talking of monarchs of ancient India. But there have been Samrat of very ancient India too i.e the pre-Mahabharata era.
Today, I am going to list the Chakravartin Samrat of pre-Mahabharata era. But first, let us see who qualifies to be called the 'Samrat' of India.
According to the titles given to the rulers, there are three distinct categories-

  • Raja ( King )
  • Maharaja ( Emperor)
  • Chakravartin Samrat ( Monarch )
A Raja or king is like a ruler of a small kingdom, generally chieftain of a tribe or community. A Maharaja or an emperor is the ruler of a large kingdom, significant enough to influence the politics of the area. And finally, a Samrat is the one who rules the entire or major part of Bharatvarsh and has others under his sway.

A typical way of going up the ladder was either by performing Ashwamedha or Rajasuya Yagyas or physically capturing the territories. Ashwamedha was a famous practice in ancient India. Rajasuya Yagya isn't heard of much.

( For interesting read, Vayu Puran 57.68-80 gives the qualities of a Samrat )
A Samrat is an ideal ruler who is considered to be the epitome of justice and power. He has a specific term given to him- Sarvabhauma or who has all land (Bhumi) under his sway or Bahuvruhi or whose chariot has no obstruction of moving anywhere.

Without further delay, let's get to the point. The information of the monarchs is given by Mahabharata. When the Rajasuya Yagya was conducted by Yudhishthira, rishi Vaishampayana described to him a list of 16 Samrats who had lived before the Mahabharata era. The list occurs in Mbh (12.29) and is called Shodasha Rajika or a list of 16 kings. They are- ( Brackets contain the lineage and kingdom they belong to)
  • Marutta Avikshita ( Suryavanshi and Vaishali kingdom)
  • Suhotra Atithina    ( Chandravanshi, Puru (Bharatvansh) and Kurujangala kingdom)
  • Brihadratha Anga  ( Chandravanshi and Anga kingdom)
  • Shivi Aushinara     ( Chandravanshi, Anu and Shivi kingdom)
  • Bharata Daushyanti ( Chandravanshi, Puru and Kurujangala kingdom)
  • Ram Dasharathi     ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Bhagiratha Dileepa (Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Dileepa Khatvanga ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Mandhata Yauvanashva ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Yayati Nahusha      ( Chandravanshi and ruled Puru+Anu+Yadava+Turvasu+Druhyu kingdom)
  • Ambarisha Nabhagi  ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Shashabindu Chaitrarathi ( Chandravanshi, Yadava and Yadava kingdom)
  • Gaya Amurtarayas  ( Chandravanshi and Kanyakubja kingdom)
  • Rantideva Sankruti  ( Chandravanshi and Charmanvati (Chambal) kingdom)
  • Sagara Aikshvaku   ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Prithu Vainya          ( Older than the formation of Suryavansha and Chandravansha)
And to add to this list, we have Yudhishthira Pandava, again a Chandravanshi Puru and Kurujangala kingdom.
Harivansha (1.13.25) mentions king Harishchandra of Ayodhya as a Samrat.

A map of ancient India is given which will make it easy to visualize the geography of the kingdoms.
The list varies a bit in other sources but more or less, this is the actual list. 
A few extra kings that could have been Samrats are Ajamidha Vaikuntha of Purus, Kartavirya Arjun of Haiheyas (Yadavas).

Now I am tempted to write something about those Samrats mentioned above-
  • Bharata Daushyanti is the person on whom this land is called Bharat varsh. In absolute terms, his is the 32nd generation after Vaivasvata Manu from whom majority of the kingdoms descended. While I talk of other kings, I will tell their place with respect to Bharata. His kingdom is Kurujangala (Haryana)
  • Marutta Avikshita had conducted a historical Yagya of magnificent size where Samvarta Angiras had conducted the Yagya. He was about 2 generations prior to king Bharata. His kingdom is Vaishali (north Bihar)
  • Suhotra Atithina is also a composer in Rigveda and belongs to the Bharadvaja group of composers. Atithina is a corruption of Vidathina, another name of Bharadvaja Barhaspatya. He is almost 5 generations after Bharata. His kingdom is same as Bharata.
  • Brihadratha Anga belongs to the Anga kingdom and is 3-4 generations after Bharata. His kingdom is Anga (Bengal)
  • Shivi Aushinara belongs to the Anu group who ruled the 5 rivers of Punjab in today's Pakistan. 
  • Yayati Nahusha is almost 27 generations before Bharata. He was the guy who ruled almost all of north India. Puru, Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu were his 5 sons from whom the major kingdoms of north India sprung. So you can imagine the area he ruled.
  • Shashabindu Chaitrarathi is a Yadava whose daughter Bindumati was the wife of Mandhata Yuvanashva, another Samrat from Ayodhya. Shashabindu's kingdom was around Gujarat and Rajasthan. He is almost 11 generations before Bharata.
  • Gaya Amurtarayas belonged to the Kanyakubja kingdom (of whose Vishwamitra was the king before becoming a rishi). This kingdom is near Kannauj.
  • Rantideva Sankruti ruled around the Chambal river in Rajasthan and MP,called Charmanvati then. He was famous for his ability to share his belongings. Sankruti is an Angiras gotra among brahmins. 
  • Prithu Vainya is a very ancient king, even before Vaivasvata Manu, almost 44 generations before Bharata. He was the one who captured the Earth and made it productive. His father Vena was one of the cruelest king of India and was the composer of the Nasadiya Sukta in Rigveda. Because Prithu was the first ever king of the whole Earth, the Earth got her Sanskrit name from him, Prithu ---> Prithvi 
  • Now talking of all Suryavanshi kings from Ayodhya. First let's arrange them chronologically.
    Ambarisha Nabhagi , Mandhata Yauvanashva, Sagara Aikshvaku, Bhagiratha Dileepa, Dileepa Khatvanga and Ram Dasharathi. All these ruled at Ayodhya in UP. This family line itself has maximum Samrats. Ambarisha Nabhagi is son of Nabhag who is the son of Vaivasvata Manu and not of Nabhaga who was another king of Ayodhya. Out of these, Mandhata and Ambarisha are composers in Rigveda.