Astronomy Yoga!...

One of the five essential components in a Hindu calendar is the mysterious Nitya (daily). The other associated four are Nakshatra (lunar mansion), Vara (Weekday), Ththi (Lunar phase) and Karana (Half a Thithi). The word Yoga in Sanskrit refers to Harmony, Unison or Synchronicity. Panchang makers are clear of the mathematics behind the rotational speed of the Yoga point. We don't however get any clue from them on what objects in sky come into harmony at the Yoga point. Let us look at the astronomy behind the combined movements of the moon and the earth around the sun for a clue.

The mysterious Yoga point rotates faster than the moon. Moon takes 27.3 days to rotate around the earth with reference to fixed stars. Astronomers call this as the sidereal rotation of the moon. Moon however returns to the same point with reference to the Sun once every 29.5 days. Astronomers call this as the synodic rotation of the moon. Astronomy books illustrate the synodic movement of earth as a circle around the Sun and the movement of Moon as a circle around the earth for ease of explanation. The sidereal rotation of the moon is difficult to ilustrate because Moon's path around the earth which is on the move is a lot more complex. Sidereal and the Synodic rotations are destined to be out of sync. 

The elusive point of harmony between the two rotatons of the moon is an ingeneous abstration of Rishis.It is like a second moon of the Earth which rotates at the rate of 25 days. Yoga point moves at the combined rate of the moon around the Earth and the Earth around the sun. Panchang makers assume it to be at 91° and 20' from a new moon which can occur exactly at the first point of Aries. It creates a different Yoga effects in every one of the twenty seven Nakshatras or divisions of the sky. Rishis attribute the Yoga point to be an indicator of the influence of air element (Vayu Tattva) on the quality of Time. Yoga point afterall is the fastest moving entity in the sky with an elusive nature like air. Hindu astrologers consider the effect of the Yoga point in studying the harmony/disharmony aspects in one's life. 

Sixteen Kalas/Phases of the Moon

The lunation cycle of the moon is 29.5 days long. Ancient mathematicians preferred to deal with whole number and abstracted the lunation cycle to 30 Kalaa units. The duration of each kalaa (phase) of the moon is a little less than 24 hours. Masters of the Vedic tradition found the waxing and waning phenomenon to be an ideal representation of the mind with its ups and downs. The bright and dark halves of a lunar month have served as metaphors for a pair of Tattvas or abstract principles in Vedic texts, namely, Cosmic energy (Shakti Tattva) and Cosmic consciousness (Shiva Tattva). Sixteen Kalaas of the moon from its new moon to its full moon phase represent unique powers of Shakti.

Tattva classification is fundamental to understanding Vedic sciences. It was taught to students in ancient universities such as Nalanda all over India. Educated Indians were familiar wit
h Tattva classification tables until two generations ago. Kalaa is an element of the Tattva classification table. Kalaa distinguishes beings based on the power of the psyche of their respective genus. Nature or cosmic energy endowed humans with eight kalaas, animals with seven and plants with six Kalaas or units of consciousness. (Based on SriSri's talk Feb 25,2014) Cosmologists agree that energy is the premordial cause of the universe. Energy filled the universe after the cosmic big bang. It condensed into subatomic particles and then into atoms to form the material creation as the universe expanded. Time and Space did not exist before the big bang. Time or Kaala is another principle per Tattva classification table. Kaala and Kalaa exist in space. Space is another prnciple in a Tattva classification table. Agastya in his tamil text, "Agastiyar Tattvam 300", compared classification tables per different traditions in ancient India.

It is easy to see the scientific rational behind Tattva classification scheme. Confusion arises about Tattva terms because of difference in their use in devotional literature. Shiva or the cosmic formless consciousness is a Tattva. Devotional literature too states this fact. Devotional literature however attributes a form to Shiva for worship. Every aspect of that form is a reminder of some Tattva in creation.The thing cresent moon on the head of Shiva is an example. The fourteenth phase of the waning moon was selected to celebrate Shiva Ratri. Moon gets ready to culminate into invisibility on that day. This is a metaphor for the Mind merging back into the unknowlable consciousness, its source.

A Halloween Episode from Ramayana

Kabanda episode is an important one in the Ramayana. Kabanada, a Rakshasa captured Rama and Lakshama while they search for Sita in Dandaka forest. Kambanda grabbed them with his really long arms. The two brothers were deparate for a clue about Sita when they encountered Kabanda. They found Kabanda without legs with his face in his torso. Kabanda had survived for ages only because of a divine blessing. The blessing allowed his arms to stretch for miles. Rama and Lakshama decided to chop off Kabanda's arms to free themselves from the monster. Kabanda told the brothers that as a Rakshasa his life can end only if his body was buried. He promised to provide a hint about Sita! There is a bit of hidden facts about rebirth in this story.

How does a Torso of a Rakshasa speak in human language? We encounter other examples of lower order beings communicating with humans in Puranas. Patanjali covers the topic of the ability of lower order beings to communicate with humans in his treatise called Patanjala Darshana. Patanjala Darsana discusses the question of a soul migrating from a human or higher form human to a lower form. A soul carries Samskaras from one birth to the next. Samskaras include linguistic impressions. A being's intelligence may be either partly or wholly lapsed per the strength of Samskaras from its earlier life. Its audiable language (Dhvanyātmaka) can be a partly veiled human language (Varṇātmaka). Texts such as this will fascinate even those who don't believe in rebirth. Indians researched on the topic of consciousness with scientific rigor.

Kabamda story is a study on this. Kabanda was a Gandharva in his earlier life. He took the body of Rakshasa because of a curse. Kabanda did not have the ability to communicate the hint about Sita because his intelligence was muted. Gandharva intelligence in him recognized that Rama was in search of his wife. Kabanda got his original body when Rama and Lakshama buried his Rakshasa body. He then asked Rama and Lakshmana to go meet Sugriva and other monkeys.

The 24 Minute Hour

Coventional ideas of an Hour arises by splitting Earth's 360 degrees rotation around its own axis into 15 degree segments. Ancient Indians split the 360 degree rotation into 6 degree units instead which corresponds to a time measure of 24 minutes. A 24 minute unit is a Naazigai (நாழிகை) in Tamil language. The use of Naazigai dates centuries before the start of the common era. Measuring instruments to track time in Naazigai units were often made of copper. A very old Sangam text mentions a Kannal (கன்னல்) instrument and qualifies it with the phrase "of narrow water passage" (குறுநீர்). Using these instruments and announcing the passage of time in units of Naazigai was a profession in itself (Naazigai Kanakkar நாழிகை கணக்கர்). Those who measured the movement of stars and planets in the sky took the tile "the one who observes" (பார்ப்பனர்) an astronomer.

Full and Half size Naazigai pots
Temple builders were familiar with the Naazigai units and may have also been experts in assembling special stones to serve as a clock. They set two special stones in the inner ceiling of the Shiva temple in the town of Thittai in Tamil Nadu. Water vapor condenses on the carved surface of one of them during the night. It condenses on the surface of the other during day time. These two stones gather enough water to create a drop of water every 24 minutes. A drop of water falls on the Lingam in this temple every one Naazigai. The knowledge of condensation and the use of it as a time measure may have originated in temples in moist caves.

Half Naazigai is 3 degrees of rotation of the earth around its own axis. Was this the smallest convenient measure of time in ancient times? Tamil folk are still familiar with a time measure which is called a Jaamam (ஜாமம்). Seven and a half Naazigais make one Jaamam. Eight Jaamam Pujas are offered daily in old Shiva temples to this day. Astronomy texts in Sanskrit also convert Naazigais into the Hora or Hour units. A Hora contains two and half Naazigais. The Vinaadi unit is smaller than the Naazigai unit. There are 60 Vinaadis in a Naazigai. It is too small a unit to be measured with instruments. Traditionally the smaller units were based on phenomenon such as a blink or the time taken to pronounce a syllable.

What goes, comes around, in Puranas

Emotions recochet in  a human society. One's anger creates a ripple in mass psyche. Negative emotions eventually boomerang to its source per ancient belief system. The story of Jalandhar in the Puranas loses its complexity when understood against this boomerang effect. Jalandhar was a demon born of Shiva's anger against Indra. Events in Jalandhar's life eventually bring him in conflict with Shiva. The narrator of the story weaves several smaller boomerangs into the main plot. Lakshmi's sisterly attachment to Jalandhar brings a predicament for her own husband. Despondency lands in Vishnus lap in return for his stealing the identity of Jalandhar. The story concludes with the birth of the divine plant Tulasi.

Sri Sri Ravishankar explains that the ancients created the Puranas to convey certain Tattvas or principles. One can understand Tattvas in the Puranas by intellectual analysis. Those who like Puranas for their story value should be cautious in drawing factual conclusions from them. Vedas praise Indra as the thousand eyed. Indra is thus a metaphor for collective mind. It is a fact that a million chinese strived to create the forbidden city in Beijing. The palaces in forbidden city are the achievment of mass mind, the principle of Indra. Collective mind however can behave like a mob without proper direction.

Shiva's anger was against unrefined collective mind, in the story of Jalandhar. The story hints of unrefined consciousness through the inability of Indra to recognize Shiva in disguise. Brihaspati, of refined wisdom, immediately recognized Shiva. The other instances in the story can also be studied similarly. The idea for this blog is from Sri Sri Ravishankar's explanation on the metaphor nature of stories.

Strange Astronomy of the Three Nights of Devi

There has been a tradition of honoring Devi, the divine feminie, on three special nights annually since time immemorial (Watch embedded Video below). These celebrations have survived with some modifications over the centuries. The first of these three is Moha Ratri (the night of Delusion principle). It is a full moon night in spring (Lunar month of Phalgun). Kala ratri (the night of Time principle) falls at the mid point in the bright fortnight at the beginning of fall (Lunar month of Ashwina). The third of these is Maha Ratri (Great Night). It is a moon night at the end of fall (Lunar month of Karthik).

  • Individual Ego exists because of the Maya or Moha of Devi. Maya is the power of delusion. A recognition Devi's power to delude can wake up an individual to reality. Holi full moon is a reminder of the power of Delusion in cosmos. 
  • Kala Ratri is the utmost fearsome form of Devi. Time or Kala is a fundamental idea behind existence. Devi's powers stretch beyond concepts in the human mind. Devi, as Kala Ratri guides spiritual aspirants beyond pedantary entaglements. The worship of Kala Ratri falls on the 7th day of the Navaratri festival.
  • Maha Ratri celebration coincides with the festival of lights (Deepavali). Light dispels darkness all around. Maha Ratri form of the Devi dispels darkness in existence. A lamp if a representation of the power of knowledge in the universe.

There is a distinct astronomical coincidence among the three nights. A lunar month is approximately 29 days long. Lunar fortnights are 14-15 days long. The half point of a lunar fortnight falls between its 7th day and its 8th day. Kala Ratri is celebrated at the half way point in the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwina. There is a new moon at the beginning point of this fortnight. A full moon occurs around this same point, in the month of Phalguna. The new moon phase of Ashwina fortnight is shifted by one unit on Maha Ratri night.     

The reality of Shadow Planets

The Sanskrit word for planet is Graha. The english equivalent of the word Graha is however inadequate. European translators who wanted to understand Indian astronomical texts, two centuries ago, made the hurried assumption that the word Graha means Planet. They did not understand the nuances of the word Graha. The widespread use of the word planet in place of Graha by educated Indians today in the context of astronomy creates confusion. The best example of this is a reference to Chhaya Graha (Shadow planet). How can a shadow be a planet or how can a planet be shadowy?

An overview of a few Sanskrit words Agraha, Parigraha, Nigraha, Anugraha and Vigraha gives us a clue that the word Graha refers to the principle of holding something in place. According to Sri Sri Ravishankar, an expert on the terminology in Vedic texts, the whole universe is moving fast and whatever is holding this universe is called Graha (QNA Nov 2015). Planets are Grahas by this definition but so are Sun and Moon. The well known set of Nine (Nava) Grahas includes Sun and Moon. But this set also includes two Chhaya (Shadow) Grahas. Rudimentary comparison of Vedic and modern astronomy texts is enough to conclude that the Chhaya Grahas are a reference to the moon's north and south nodes. Astronomers today use the idea of Moon's north and south nodes to predict eclipses. Is Rahu then the north node and Ketu the South node?

Vedic texts do assign a more prominent personality to Rahu than to Ketu. Rahu is half bodied as per Vedic metaphor but so is Ketu. Sculptors made the lower half of Rahu's body the tail of a snake in temple carvings. They gave Ketu the face of a Snake. The human half of Rahu and Ketu are the tangible halves of Rahu and Ketu. Let us seek clues from the eclipse phenomenon and the role of the shadows of the Earth and the Moon. Earth's shadow is larger of the two. It originates on earth which supplies a physical body to creatures living on it. Moon's shadow terminates on earth during an eclipse. It occupies a width of a mere 270 km on the Earth and fans out towards the sky.

Nineteenth century Researchers concluded that Hindu astronomy borrowed substantially from the Greeks as they did not find an explicit referenc to Rahu and Ketu in Jyotish astronomy texts. They did not try to explain why Dasa period assignment for Rahu in Jyotish astrology texts accuratey matched the rotational period of lunar nodes. The Dasa period idea is unique to Vedic sciences and predates Greek civilization. Vedic seers conveyed a part of knowledge about any phenomenon as stories. They conveyed the remaining part as abstractions which a modern scientist accepts as scientific. Vedic seers relied on intuitive insights from meditation as the seed for new theories. They then verified them by careful obervations of physical phenomenon. Appreciating the richness of Vedic scientific methodology begins with an openess to look past the commonly accepted English equivalents for Sanskrit words. The word Graha is a good example of this.