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."