Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Sharad Purnima traced to Krishna’s times in the worship of Ashvins

Earlier published in Ind Samachar

Sharad Purnima celebrated on the Full Moon day in the month of Ashvin is generally believed to be a harvest festival or autumn festival and better known for Krishna’s Rasaleela. Though Lakshmi is worshiped on this day, the celebration of this festival mainly in Gujarat and places closely associated with Krishna shows a connection with the life of Krishna. A closer look at the religious austerities and rituals done on this day reveals unexplored events connected with Krishna’s life but found hidden in a couple of verses in Rig Veda. This also shatters the popular belief of the Indologists that there is no reference to Krishna in the Rig Veda.

To understand this better let us start from how Sharad Purnima is celebrated. People observe fasting from the morning of the day of Full Moon till the next morning. A peculiar feature of the festival is the food offered at the time of this festival. It is simply a bowl of milk kept in the open under the moonlight such that that the rays of the Moon enter the milk. People stay awake throughout the night and break the fast at sunrise next morning (setting of moon) by partaking the milk kept under the moon. Nowadays milk with rice flakes and milk sweets are offered in the place of plain milk. But the rationale of the day suggests that only plain milk must be offered.

The rationale of the day is such that Moon joins the star Ashvini on this day. In other words, if you are looking at the moon in this day, you will be actually looking at the part of the sky where Ashvini-star is located. Ashvini signifies the Ashvini twins, the Vedic Gods. Moon is known as Soma and it signifies milk. Soma is an offering made in Vedic yajnas. With the earth coming in line with the Moon (Soma) and the Ashvin star on the day of Sharad Purnima, it looks as though Soma is offered to Ashvins, the Vedic Gods. 

This once-in- a- year event is the most opportune time to worship Ashvins through the medium of Moon. This is done by capturing the image of Moon in milk kept in a vessel as an offering to Ashvins.

When the image of the moon is reflected on the milk with Ashvini star in the backdrop, it is as though the worshiper is able to offer ‘soma’ – literally meaning ‘extract’ – here the essence of Soma, the moon in the milk.  This looks like the most basic way of offering Soma to Ashvins in the absence of Yajnas these days! This tradition found in vogue in regions connected with Krishna is indicative of an olden practice of offering soma to Ashvins by Krishna and those in the lineage of Krishna.

Two verses in Rig Veda (8 -74.3 &4) do make a mention of Krishna invoking and calling Ashvins to accept the soma juice offered by Krishna. Sceptics may say that this is not the Krishna of Dwaraka, but one must know that Krishna was known to have stopped the Indra festival and therefore could not have offered soma to Indra in the yajnas he performed. Then whom else he could have offered soma?

Generally Indra was the one receiving soma juice in the yajnas. Other deities also had taken their share in the Soma, but never were the Ashvins allowed to take soma. Scriptures say that Indra had always forbidden them from taking the soma in the yajnas. Sage Chyavana was the first one to have offered soma to Ashvins in a yajna and after him the Kanvas were associated with the offer of soma to Ashvins. The Ashvins are invoked in many verses in the Rig Veda but in two verses, Krishna is mentioned as calling them to accept the Soma juice.

Krishna was known to have stopped the worship of Indra and ushered in the worship of cows and the hills as they were giving wealth to him and his fellow beings, the Vrishnis. It seems that Indra was replaced by Ashvins in the yajnas of Krishna and his clan from then onwards. Even earlier, Yadu, the progenitor of Krishna’s race is mentioned as having offered soma to Ashvins. (Atharva Veda 20-141-4). This establishes the fact the Yadavas had patronised Ashvins and Krishna had revived the tradition after abandoning Indra in the Yajnas.

There is nothing mythical about Ashvins replacing Indra if we look at the celestial combinations on the days of relevance to these two deities. One is Indra festival and the other is Ashvin festival - to name Sharad Purnima as a comparison for our discussion here. Indra was not in good terms with Ashvins according to scriptures. Both of them were capable of giving wealth, Indra by means of rainfall and Ashvins by giving health in their capacity as physicians.

The timing of Indra festival is very much available - of all the places, in Tamil lands of yore. Reference to this is found in olden Tamil texts such as Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai. There were also references to failure of rainfall in the years when Indra festival was not conducted. So rainfall was always connected with Indra, not like how western Indologists look at Indra as an Indo-Aryan God comimg in aid of Aryans in their wars. In the Chola land of Pumpukar, in the southern most part of India, Indra festival was a 28-day celebration that started after the Kaama festival (Holi festival of today) and ended on Chaitra Purnima – the Full Moon of Chaitra month. Chaitra Purnima marks the crux of Indra festival.

This timing (Chaitra Purnima) has an amazing link with Sharad Purnima, the day Ashvins receive soma. This occurs exactly at the opposite side of Sharad Purnima! The following illustration shows both the occasions which are the reversal of each other.

On the day of Indra festival, i.e., Chaitra Purnima, Full moon forms a coupling with the star Chitra whose lord Tvashta was the celestial builder for Indra’s Vajrayudha (rainfall). Tvashta also happens to be the guardian of Soma. A festival for Indra on this day is like offering Soma to Indra. Propitiated well in this way, Indra ensures rainfall in the next six months that ends up once Ashvin month starts.

Indra’s benefaction is no longer required now. But the world must go on with other types of benefits. 

It is here Krishna’s utterances are self-revealing. According to Harivamsa Purana, Krishna says ‘let the Gods worship Indra and let us worship the hills.’ Krishna lived in a place of plenty of water from rivers (Yamuna) and therefore was not really dependant on rainfall (Indra’s favour). The green covered hills and cows were the real wealth for him and his people. So he preferred to offer Soma to Ashvins, the healers of every kind of illness, particularly blindness, on the day Soma clasps with Ashvini star. That was the day of Sharad Purnima.  With northward swing (Uttarayana) occurring in that phase, Krishna had found Ashvins to be the ideal Gods to lead mankind from darkness to Light.
What he did by way of Vedic Yajna seems to have been transformed into mundane festival capable of performance by ordinary folks. Though variations have occurred with the passage of time, Krishna is still being remembered on this day for Union with Him through Liberation (Moksha) enacted by Rasaleela.

Before concluding, it would be appropriate to highlight two issues vitiating the understanding of our past. One is that it is wrong to say that Rig Veda does not mention about Krishna. Apart from the 2 verses in the context of soma to Ashvins, there are four more verses on Krishna and his offspring in Rig Veda that establish beyond doubt that Krishna was a reality and that he was praised by the Rig Veda (to be discussed in another context). Another issue is about who Indra is. Aryan Invasion / Migration thoerists interpret Indra as a friend of Aryas and enemy of Dasas. 

Interestingly there exists a Rig Vedic hymn in praise of Ashvins as those who accept the offerings of Dasas (8.5.31). Here lies the hint on why Indra and Ashvins were always hostile to each other. The hostility is because they lie on opposite ends. When Indra is in full form, the dasas suffer – the dasas being ordinary folks whose habitat gets flooded and destroyed by rains. It is for this reason Krishna had done away with the worship of Indra. In regions where rainfall causes havoc but can be replaced by other options for livelihood and wealth creation, Ashvins were favoured. The worship of Asvins by Dasas seems to have evolved into much simpler ways of worship in the name of Sharad Purnima as it happens now in the regions of Krishna’s connection. This year’s Sharad Purnima is on 23rd October 2018 with Full Moon occurring for most part of the night of 23rd

Friday, October 19, 2018

Peeping into Deep Galaxy in Pitru Paksha.

Published in Ind samachar on 8th October 2018.

It is everyone’s knowledge that the timing of the Hindu festivals and religious austerities (Vrat) are always guided by the location of the sun and the moon, which can be called as the time keepers. For example Diwali and Holi are celebrated at the time of conjunction and opposition of these two respectively on specific months. All the festivals and religious works are also similarly timed on the basis of these two time keepers. But once in year we look beyond these two and take a look at a distant galactic cluster known as ‘Virgo Super cluster’.  From the name of it one can know that it has something to do with Virgo constellation and the month of Virgo (Bhadrapada). That month is the time our departed ancestors are supposed to arrive at us to take the oblations from us. In common parlance this time is known as Pirtu paksha that ends on Mahalaya Amavasya.

The uniqueness of this constellation is that our galaxy along with other galaxies in our neighbourhood is moving around the Super cluster in the direction of Virgo constellation. Is there anything special about this? Yes, if one looks at the way our earth is moving in the sky.

One can say that the earth is the child of the sun as it was born of a system (supernova) that gave rise to the sun as the pivotal point of our existence. The earth along with other co-borns (planets) is moving around the Sun. The Sun along with the local clusters is moving around the centre of our galaxy (Milky Way). The Milky Way along with other galaxies is moving around the Virgo Super cluster. This can be interpreted to mean that Virgo Super cluster is the basis of our existence.

What becomes central to our existence also becomes the home for our return! It seems this idea had made our ancestors locate the Virgo region as ‘Pitruyāna’ where one departs after death. Or else why should they recommend oblations to them at a time when the sun crosses that part of the sky where Virgo is located? On the day of Mahalaya Amavasya a perfect alignment happens with the earth, the moon, the sun and the Virgo Super cluster in that order as if it is a high point of direct contact with the centre of our evolution that enabled our existence. This can be understood from the geocentric perspective in the diagram given below which is nothing but the way we see the universe around us.

In the month of Bhadrapada / Kanya / Virgo, the sun is traversing that part of the sky just in front of the Virgo cluster.  The departed ones are supposed to reside in southern realms. In a fine corollary the sun crosses Virgo during its southward movement. And the Virgo super cluster can be said to be in the south. There are directions in space too, with reference to the earth. Anything below the plane of the existence of the earth is said to be south and above the plane is north.

Similar alignment happens again exactly opposite to this in the month of Phalgun or Pisces (Meena). Sun’s transit across that part of the sky is reckoned as Devayāna, the path of Devas that is supposed to lead us to the realm of Devas or Eternity from where we never return. Thus we see two opposite ends with Virgo at one end where we are supposed to go if we are to be reborn into this earth and Pisces at the other end from where we will never return to earth to be re-born if we manage to catch up that route!

One may say that these are spiritual ideas and therefore not correct to equate them with the visible universe. But the views assigned to the other two ends reveal that the physical Universe has a parallel with spiritual ideas developed by the Vedic sages.

To explain this look at the two other ends in the diagram above. They are Gemini and Sagittarius. They form the two ends of the ecliptic, in which the sun is seen to move from a geocentric perception. Of them Sagittarius is in the centre our galaxy where the star Mula is located indicating the region to be the basis for our galaxy. Sagittarius is indeed the centre of our galaxy. Gemini lies on the outer edge of the galaxy. New stars are formed in this outer edge.

According to science new stars are formed mostly in pairs. Gemini is known as Mithuna, meaning pair. According to UC Berkeley reseachers “the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years.” So what we now see as distant stars had a pair in the initial time of formation. With the region of Gemini found in star forming areas having many binaries, it is really surprising how our ancients correctly named it Mithuna, the pair. But today with our limited knowledge we think that they named it based on the two stars Castor and Pollux which are not close twins. With more revelations coming from science we realise that our sages have known the presence of many twins in that region of the galaxy.

Another surprise from the stable of sages is that they have identified twin deities Savita and Sāvitri as guarding the region of Gemini in Vastu Mandala. These two deities are supposed to generate growth. In a related application, Sāvitri Upanishad gives a final revelation that the twin forces of Balai – Ati Balai give abundance of food. Balai and Atibalai are the two mantras
that Vishvamitra taught Rama and Lakshmana when he took them to the forest to guard the yajnas. These two mantras enabled them to be free of hunger and free of sleepiness. The twins, Balai and Atibalai kept them nourished even without food. In other words, these twins have kept them growing – like the energy present in Gemini region giving birth to new stars.

Be it Gemini or Virgo, what our sages had said and devised are in sync with what modern science says. The amazing connection with the past - both people and the place at Virgo cluster in the current month is undeniably a unique invention.  So what to say about us in today’s world – have we excelled in science or nescience?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ayyappa constitutes a separate religious denomination

Published in Vjayavaani.com

In a 4:1 ruling of the Constitution Bench that struck down an age old tradition at Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa, the judges held that Ayyappa devotees do not constitute a separate religious denomination. The only dissenting judge Justice Indu Malhotra held that Ayyappa devotees do form a separate denomination.

This contradictory stance on religious denomination and the interpretation of the same having become vital in deciding the fate of this case, one is at a loss to understand why no thought or debate had gone into knowing what constitutes a religious denomination in the Hindu religion. During the hearing stage the judges asked how Ayyappa devotees constituted a denomination when there is no specific Ayyappa sect. This question seemed to have been guided by the opinion that Hindu faith has only pre-established denominations with zero scope to have developed new denominations over a period of time.

Even in the US 35 denominations were found to be present among the followers of Christianity when a survey was taken as recently as in 2001 by The Graduate Center of City University of New York. This was a great surprise to many but this shows the internally evolving denominations within a religion even in a modern society. Mr Sai Deepak appearing for one of the respondents rightly pointed out that the denomination must come from within the community, implying that courts cannot decide a denomination.

Evolving Hindu denominations.

A popular classification of the denominations within the Hindu community was last established by Adi Sankara which he collectively called as ‘Shanmatha’ – based on six deities namely Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya and Skanda. If this basis is any indication, Ayyappa followers rightfully form a denomination of their own, for, their worship methods are uniquely centred on the deity, Ayyappa.  

If we further analyse the Shanmatha concept, we find that two among the six were the children of another two of the six deities. As per Hindu tradition Ganesha and Skanda were the children of Shiva and Shakti! Though all the four can be clubbed together as a single family and are found installed together in most temples belonging to any of one of them as the main deity, Sankara had treated them as different denominations for the reason that worship methods and  religious austerities are different from each other and distinct for each of them. On the same basis one can say that Ayyappa constitutes a separate denomination

Before Shanmatha denomination came into being there were eleven denominations in the very country of Kerala, then known as Chera land where Adi Sankara was born. These eleven denominations are explained in a full chapter in an old Tamil text called “Manimekalai”, that was about a real life story centred around a young girl Manimekalai who went on to become a Buddhist monk after listening to the preceptors of the other ten sects. These eleven sects were,
1.     Parinaama
2.     Shaiva
3.     Vaishnava
4.     Brahma
5.     Veda
6.     Ajeevika
7.     Nikanta
8.     Sankhya
9.     Vaisheshika
10.  Bhuta (Charvaka)
11.  Bauddha

After going through the precepts of these sects, Manimekalai embraced Buddhism finding it more suitable for her. (Article 25 -1 was present at that time, it seems!) Of the eleven, only two (Shaiva and Vaishnava) have continued to exist till today and are part of Shanmatha. Two (Ajivika and Buddhism) were rejected by Hinduism later when they started distancing their doctrines from Vedic Thought. Parinaama, Brahma and Veda were absorbed by Shanmatha in various degrees. Sankhya and Vaisheshika are no longer in existence as separate paths. Charvakas always existed. This shows that denominations owe their existence to the followers. Some of them become redundant with time or are absorbed into others. There is also scope for newer denominations being born! What brings all these denominations under the Hindu Faith is their adherence to Vedas as the basis of their precepts and worship methods.

One must take note that four deities of the Shanmatha (Shakti, Surya, Ganesha and Skanda) were not treated as separate sects or denominations 2000 years ago in the Tamil lands. When they came to be followed by more people with exclusive worship methods, Sankara found it reasonable to accord a separate identity.

Further back in time, six Darshanas were the only denominations in existence. 
Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta were popular then of which Sankhya and Vaisheshika continued in Manimekalai period.  They are no longer in vogue today.  The concept of religious denomination is thus a continuously evolving feature testifying the vibrancy of a religion.

Is Ayyappa worship of recent origin?

This question is heard on the basis of recent origin of Pandalam dynasty in which was born Ayyappa, now worshiped at Sabarimala.  It is true that Ayyappa of Sabarimala was very much a real person who walked on this earth, like Rama or Krishna or Skanda who were also real entities. Hinduism recognises the elevation of real persons as Gods under one condition. There is a written record of this condition in the biography of Alexander by the Greek historian Plutarch.

To a question by Alexander, “How may a man become God?”, the Hindu sage Kalanos (Kalyan) replied, “By doing that which is almost impossible for a man to do.” When a person does things that no other man can do or which are beyond normal human limits, then such a person comes to be regarded as a God. Such persons have been celebrated as Gods by sages with mythical events woven around them. In course of time they come to be recognised as incarnations of the Ultimate God Himself.

It is in this way Manikantha born in the Pandalam family was recognised as “Shasta”, the child of Shiva and Vishnu (in Mohini form). This is like how Skanda born to Meenakshi of the Pandyan dynasty was deified by the sages with a celestial birth and nursing by 6 star mothers of Krittika thereby getting him the name Kartikeya. Similar deification found in the legend of Ayyappa born as Manikantha is proof enough that his deification at Sabarimala was a well formed cult devised by some sages of the past for the benefit of people. With worship methods unique for Himself, He does constitute a separate denomination and can be regarded as the 7th matha of the Hindu religion.

In the light of the fact that Manikantha alias Ayyappa was a real figure having given instructions for worship, the Supreme Court’s ruling is certainly a violation of the promise given to him and his oath of celibacy. The tradition set with regard to the entry by women of the post-partum period for the first feeding of their children in five days every month is proof of non-discrimination against them, and at the same time without violating the oath. Without appreciating the finer aspects of maintaining the oath, Justice Nariman commented “What happens to the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa in those 5 days? Is it that the idol vanishes on those days?”

Shasta is an old concept.

Ayyappa is known as “Dharma Shasta” – one who delivers Justice or who is an embodiment of Justice. A deity by this name in Tamilised form (Arap peyar Saatthan) is mentioned in verse 395 of Purananuru, an old Tamil text. The name Shasta (Saatthan) was common among the masses in Sangam texts. Worship of Shasta in many places was in existence from Sangam times.

A special feature of Shasta is found in two inscriptions and written by the Historian K.A.Nilakanta Sastri. Shasta is identified as a God of the Cheris (rural region) mentioned along with Surya and Seven Mother Goddesses (inscription no 335 of 1917 and 131 of 1892). The association with seven mothers was not indigenous to Tamil lands but had spread from Indus civilization (there is an Indus seal of seven women) with its later prevalence found in Chalukyan and Hoysala regions 1000 years ago. Shasta of Sangam texts was not accompanied with the seven mothers or any associate. This establishes the olden Shasta concept as a single - with additions coming later.  

The location in rural region is repeated in “Mayamatam” a Vaastu text containing the Vaastu principles purportedly given by Maya. After explaining the iconography of Shasta, the text describes the features of Shasta, the offspring of Mohini (female form of Vishnu) as a celibate and as a married man with two wives. Then it goes on to say that those who seek what is good, must install Shasta in villages. It also says that “Shasta, beloved of the gods, is to be installed in the haunts of lower castes, in the house of courtesans and in forts”.

The association with the downtrodden is a feature found in the astrological text “Prasna Marga” written in 1649 by a Kerala Nambhoothri. It says that those afflicted by Saturn must propitiate Shasta. Saturn also represents undeveloped and dirty regions. As such Saturn identifies Shasta as a village deity. It is a deity of all villagers. Those who have no idea of the village deity worshiped by their ancestors and those who were not initiated into any path of worship in Hinduism are also advised to worship Shasta – particularly of Sabarimala.

Even today scores of devotees going to Sabarimala are disadvantaged classes with no regular practice of religious austerities. The Vrata period is a kind of boon for them to commit themselves to religious austerities which otherwise they may not follow. The devotee is not expected to be well versed in scriptures. What is expected of him is to follow the rules of behaviour. There are other hill-deities too such as Venkateswara, Narasimha and Skanda. The first two come under one denomination and Skanda is another denomination due to varying practices in worship methods. But Sabarimala pilgrimage is different from them.

The Chief Justice refused to accept separate denomination for Ayyappa worshippers on the pretext that people of other faith also worship him. It is true that Ayyappa is worshiped by people from across all the other sects. The worshiper could come from any background, from other Hindu sects such as Shaivism or Vaishnavism or from any other religion. But every one of them must follow the rules of Vrata as applicable to Sabarimala! And that Vrata follows certain tradition of do’s and dont’s. That makes Ayyappa worship unique by itself. This in effect is a valid reason to treat Ayyappa worship a unique religious denomination. We don’t need an Adi Sankara to be born again to tell us this!

Some salient features written by me in response to comments to my article in Vijayavaani .

Issue 1: The restriction on women is as though women are by nature seducers. It is also as an insult to the deity as though he cannot withstand temptation.

My reply: 

Certainly no Hindu book of Dharma says that women are seducers, but modern science says.  Dr. Louann Brizendine of the University of California and author of "The Female Brain” has said “About 10 days after the onset of menstruation, right before ovulation, women often feel sassier. Unconsciously, they dress sexier as surges in estrogen and testosterone prompt them to look for sexual opportunities during this particularly fertile period.” You can read the rest of the story in Live Science here: https://www.livescience.com/14421-human-brain-gender-differences.html

None of the Hindu Dharma Sastras that deal with menstruation speaks as above but only from the point of view of how the Smarta karmas can be carried out without any depletion in different situations like the woman in menses and persons whose close relatives have died. Yes, restrictions are there for death also.

With only Tamilnadu and Kerala still continuing to be the retainers of the original tradition of the Vedic society, please be informed, that even a road side temple of recent origin in a city like Chennai would close its doors if someone living in the close proximity of the temple dies. The temple would not be opened until the dead is taken out and the purifying rituals are done. Not only that, any person whose close relative had died cannot and would not enter a temple for a stipulated time period.

This is not an ‘insult’ on the deity and does not mean that the deity is not powerful enough to withstand the ‘impurity’. After all, the dead person is believed to reach His lotus feet. But what the person has left behind in this physical world in the destruction of his body of many sheaths is what causes these ‘impurities’. None of them can touch the deity, but we the ordinary mortals cannot draw the benefits from the deity if we allow these ‘impurities’ vitiate the consecrated energy in the temple. It is all because of this kind of strict adherence, the olden temples of South India are still able to retain their sanctity. 

Same with women’s menses period. If the wife has the period, the husband cannot participate or officiate a Vedic Yajna. This is still being strictly followed in South India. The reasons are quite scientific but what science has not found out. 

Issue 2: Custom and tradition can and in some cases, should be changed. They are Shastra, not the Veda, which is immutable and cannot be changed

My reply:

No one here has the right and the capacity to do the change. To quote Taittriya Upanishad "When in doubt on dharma please consult Brahmanas well versed in the Vedas, impartial and having a Dharmic bent of mind, and take their word as the word of the Vedas" In Sabarimala issue, the word of the temple priests and the acharyas is final. Just point out any one acharya who supports the change proposed by the SC. 

Issue 3: The tantri may object, but that is because that has become the established tradition over some time. 

My reply:

The ‘established tradition’ is known from Mahabharata times to say the latest. Drupadi was in her periods when she was brought to the royal court after the Pandavas lost the dice game. From what she spoke in the court, it is known that she was supposed to be secluded and not to be seen by the king and others who were her close relatives. The seclusion at that time was part of the Vedic life style, whose remnants are lost in all spheres today except in traditional temples. Let us not be party to the decadence setting in temples. 

Issue 4: There is nothing dharmic about excluding menstruating women from worship. The Veda does not call for that.. The criteria of purity, since when does menstruation qualify as 'impurity' ? It is the all important signal of creativity, the question of birth.

My reply:

Menstruation is not a signal of creativity. If it is signal of creativity, a new life would be growing inside the woman. I can pull out quotes from Tamil Sangam text to show that pregnant women till her time of delivery used to spend lot of time in temples in those days. But menstruation is the time of shedding of the dead ova along with dead material that would have gone into creating a new life otherwise. It is almost akin to the dead being removed. As I already wrote, no temple opens its doors until the dead is completely removed in its vicinity. So it is better to keep off from temple during that time.

Veda does not call for these. Quoting an authority (as what Taittriya Upanishad says), Paramacharya of Kanchi (Chandrasekaraendra Saraswati Swami), Rig Veda are mantras whose practical application are the Yajur Veda. They are about how to worship the deities praised by the Rig Veda. In the course of practical application done as Yajnas, there are Grihya sutras stipulating what to do and what not to do for the householder and his dharma patni. 

When the dharma patni has her periods, the husband cannot sit as the kartha in any vedic yajna. The beginning of the so-called ban starts here. With the yajna being a worship of the deity in energy form, the dead energy at the time of menses upsets the very purpose of yajna. The temples close their doors whenever a dead and decaying energy is emanating in its surroundings. The temples can be spared of that if the women keep themselves away to a distance of three- arrow shoots in olden times – so that their physical condition would not cause any hindrance to any Vedic rituals. 

Issue 4: People of other faiths also worship Ayyappa. More importantly, the Ayappa worshippers also worship other deities.

My reply:

So what? We must ask what determines a denomination and who worships. I have explained the criteria in the article and also the need to recognise it as a religious denomination with increase in importance for this deity with increase in devotees. Sankara had done that under similar circumstances.

To a question:  What does the sentence that all the extant Hindu sects follow the basic Vedic principles mean?

My reply:

It means that only those sects that swear by Vedas and adhere to the Vedic version of Brahman are considered Vedic / Hindu sects. In the reference to 11 sects I quoted from Manimekalai, Buddhism and Jainism were initially Vedic at that time. When they delinked from Vedic Thought they were rejected by the Vedic society.

For example Mamimekalai’s father Kovalan was married to Kannagi in Vedic marriage. But his father took to asceticism of AjIvika because it was an off-shoot of Vedic Thought at that time. But later Jainism was rejected by the Vedic society as known from Sambandar’s role in banishing it from the kingdom of Koon Pandya. Similarly Buddhism which was originally an off shoot of Vedic Thought was rejected when started deviating from that.  I suggest a reading of the 2nd section of the  2nd chapter of Brahma surtas with the commentary by Adi Sankara or Ramanuja. The entire section is about how a Path that does not stand by Vedic concept of Brahman as the First Cause must be rejected. The Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Buddha, Jaina and Pashipata sects are rejected in this section for the precise reason that they did not adhere to Vedic Thought. 

Finally on the restriction to women in Sabarimala: I believe the above explanation gives the rationale – that woman cannot undertake 41 day vrata in their menstruating age. I have seen women in the houses of men in the vrata period, not even staying at home when the men are doing puja at home. I have seen them staying away from their house at that time. Such was the care taken by women that vrata should not impaired. Today Sabarimala is the ONLY temple exacting such commitment from the people. Would anyone in the know of these things accept the support for violations? 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ramanuja is a history – 12 (Removal of Lord Govindaraja at Chidambaram)

Ramanuja returned to Srirangam after a long gap of 32 years, in CE 1111. He was escorted by Velaikkara men of Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana on his return journey. An inscription revealing the visit of this Velaikkara man in Srirangam temple stands as a strong evidence for the return of Ramanuja in the year 1111. It was in this year Vikrama Chola was given co-ruler-ship, indicating that his father had ceased to be the co-ruler and had become the main ruler. This implies that Krimikantha Chola had died in that year. These developments created a congenial atmosphere for the return of Ramanuja.

On hearing that Ramanuja had reached Srirangam, Kulottunga went to Srirangam and paid obeisance to Ramanuja. He had handed over the administration of the temple to Ramanuja through a written agreement.[i] This shows that Srirangam was in the direct control of Kulottunga during the absence of Ramanuja. One may be tempted to cite this as proof of Kulottunga as the king all along. 

This is refuted on the basis of Kulottunga’s earlier intervention in his 11th year in rehabilitating Rajamahendra Chaturvedi Mangalam that was destroyed in Idangai – Valangai conflict. The presence of the inscription on rehabilitation appearing in Srirangam shows that Kulottunga seemed to have taken charge of Srirangam at that time – which was a couple of years after Ramanuja had left.
The most plausible reason for this could be that Srirangam was considered as the ‘Kula Dhanam’ of Cholas. Dr Nagaswmay highlights this in his book that denounces Ramanuja’s works. He cites an inscription of Kulottunga III to say that Cholas considered Srirangam as their Kula Dhanam while Chidambaram Nataraja was their Kula Nayakam.[ii]

The reason for the claim on Srirangam temple can be traced to Valmiki Ramayana. Sriranganatha was the Kula Dhanam of Rama of Ayodhya. Rama had gifted that deity to Vibhishana from whom the deity had come to stay at Srirangam. Valmiki Ramayana makes a mention of Kula Dhanam in that context.

लब्ध्वा कुलधनं राजा लङ्कां प्रायान् महायशाः |[iii]

The Kanyakumari inscription of Virarajendra shows that the Cholas claimed their descent from Rama.[iv] This affiliation could have caused the Cholas – particularly of the period around Vīrarajendra to treat Srirangam as dear to them.  Virarajendra’s brother Rajamahendra’s devotion for this God is well made out from the gift he made for the snake bed of Lord Ranganatha. In the next generation, Kulottunga had picked up interest in the temple while Adhirajendra had not. In all likelihood Kulottunga could have unilaterally opted to get the control of the temple in the wake of Ramanuja’s exit from the country to keep the temple away from the preying of Kāpālikas who seemed to be enjoying the patronage of Adhirajendra. Only in such a situation, a reference as has been found in Koyil Ozhugu could be made. Once after Ramanuja had returned, Kulottunga lost no time in transferring the administration to Ramanuja.

Kulottunga’s son Vikrama Chola also seemed to have followed his father’s footsteps. From Koyil Ozhugu it is known that he built the 5th Prakara of the Srirangam temple and also the shrine of Rama. But somehow his affiliation with Srirangam seemed to be on the decline after the death of his father.

Death of Kulottunga I

Kulottunga must have died in CE 1120. Pithapuram inscription of Mallappadeva assigns 50 years of rule to him besides saying that he “ruled the Andhra-vishaya together with the glorious five Draviḍas” (Pancha Dravida).[v] A small explanation is given on this before proceeding further.
The term Pancha Dravida was in vogue in the period under discussion. From the Sanskrit work Raja Tarangini written closely after the end of Kulottunga, we come to know the identity of the five Dravida countries as Karnataka, Tailanga (Andhra region), Maharashtra, Gurjara (Kujarat region) and Dravida where Dravida referred to Kanchi and its surrounding regions and not Tamil lands of Chola, Chera and Pandyas. Earlier in Part 5 we have shown from Cunningham’s book how Kanchi was known as the capital of Dravida country that included the regions around Kanchi. 

Pithapuram inscription also stands as evidence that Kulottunga’s main area of influence was in these regions and that he was perhaps the only king to have held sway in some parts of all the regions of 5 Dravida. His inscriptions in those regions bear his Chalukyan titles only. His influence over larger Chola domains was ignored mainly because for most part of his reign, it was under the control of Adhirajendra.

Vikrama Chola’s rise.

With Kulottunga’s end coming in 1120, Vikrama Chola had assumed the rule of the Chola country in his 9th regnal year. In the 10th year he opted for a new venture. From the tributes he received in his 10th year, he started to build gold covering for the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. [vi]

The inscription continues to state the purpose of making the gold covering – it was to seek the grace of Nataraja to confer long life on the delighted people.

And this was made in the 10th year of his rule when he brought the whole earth under a single parasol! This conveys that he had formally taken up charge of the entire chola country in his 10th year – in 1121-22. This suggests the death of Kulottunga anytime before July 1021, that is in 1120-1121 making that to be his 50th year.

A cross-check of the Panchanga features given on the day he assumed the crown and made the grant gave the following sky map.

All the features tallied except the tithi which happened to be the 14th tithi at sunrise. No other year before and after this date had all the Panchanga features aligned together. This year being his 10th year (1121), we are taking this as valid date giving scope for mild discrepancy in the computation of tithi at that time.

Attention on Nataraja temple by Vikrama Chola

Vikrama has started his tenure as the supreme king by starting the work of gold plating the Shva temple at Chidambaram. He has initiated a Big Festival (Perum Peyar Vizha) at Chidambram on this occasion. The cause stated by him was to confer long life on the people. One may not like to read too much into this statement, but looking at what followed this – the removal of Lord Govindaraja from Chidambaram by his son – one is made to look for the causes for this step from Vikrama Chola who was also known to have developed Srirangam temple earlier. 

Looking at the previous years of his regime, there was serious distress and scarcity caused by a big flood in his 6th year in North and South Arcot districts. The destruction of crops caused heavy damage such that the people were forced to sell their land to pay taxes.[vii] Did incidents like this make him think that his family deity at Chidambaram was not well taken care of? Those were the times people attributed calamities to the wrath of the deity. Did such thoughts make him begin his tenure by focusing on developing and beautifying Chidambaram Nataraja shrine?

Soon after his take over in his 11th year another tragedy was reported from Koviladi in Tanjore district that people of that region deserted their habitat due to a calamity.[viii]  It is possible to assume that these events made him steadfast in his resolve to develop Nataraja temple to the highest possible level. No wonder such thoughts could have been picked up by his family members too - particularly his son Kulottunga II.

Vikrama Chola had lived for only six more years after this. His last regnal year is supposed to be 16th year as per Sevveli Medu inscription. Some historians think he lived till his 17th year. Taking up maximum number we arrive at the year CE 1128 as his last year. By then his son Kulottunga II must have got his co-rulership.

Kulottunga II’s rise.

Since most of the inscriptions of Kulottunga II do not give proper Panchanga features that tally well with each other and with his regnal year we take up the Bapatla inscription[ix] that gives two features, Ashada Amavasya on a Wednesday in his 11th year for calculation.

Three dates tally with these two features in the decades around Vikrama Chola’s reign. The running year being 11th year, the first year must have occurred within the end of Vikrama Chola’s tenure.

Ashada Amavasya + Wednesday

11th year of Kulottunga II

1st year
July 24, 1129

July 8, 1136

July 21, 1143


Of the three probable years derived in the above table 1118 occurred before the death of Kulottunga I. It is unlikely that a 3rd in line was installed at that time. The year 1132 is also unlikely as Vikrama died by 1128. The only likely date is 1125 which falls within the end date of Vikrama Chola. It means Kulottunga II was given co-ruler-ship 3 years before the end of Vikrama Chola.

Kulottunga II’s first regnal year = 1125

Kulottunga II’s accession to the main throne as the supreme king = 1128 (it could be 1127-28 or 1128-29)

Renovation of Nataraja temple.

The major event associated with Kulottunga II was the renovation of Nataraja temple at Chidambaram which involved the removal of Govindaraja murthy from the same temple!
He completed the work started by his father of gold plating the Nataraja shrine. It was around the time of renovation, followed by Kumbhabhisheka he must have removed the shrine of Lord Govindaraja. There is no inscriptional evidence for the removal of Govindaraja but there are literary references coming from the contemporary period. Two such evidences were from the compositions written in praise of him and his son Rajaraja I. Those compositions were ‘Kulottunga Cholan Ula’ and ‘Rajaraja Cholan Ula’ (Foot note on Ula *).

Literary evidence on removal of Govindaraja.

These compositions were contemporaneous and panegyric in nature. The poet Ottakkutthar had composed this type of poetry called Ula in praise of both Kulottunga II and his son Rajaraja II. Earlier he composed a similar poetry for Vikrama Chola too. The same poet was there in the court of all the three kings coming in succession. It is important to note that Ottakkutthar was a Kaikkola, an Idangai sect! The word ‘Otta’ in his name is Tamilised form of Odda, a reference to Odissha people. It must be recalled here that “Ottar Kalagam” (Rebellion by Ottas / Oddas) was reported on a couple of occasions in Srirangam before Ramanuja’s times.[x]

From Kulottungan Ula[xi]

In the course of praising the different acts of Kulottunga II, the poet says that Kulottunga threw out the ‘little God’ travelling on Garuda (eagle) giving trouble from antiquity by staying in the precincts of Tillai Dancing Hall (of Shiva).

From Rajaraja Cholan Ula[xii].

The same poet while describing the birth of the king Rajaraja Chola II, refers to the event of throwing out the deity by one to whom this king was born. He says Rajaraja was born to one (Kulottunga II) who covered with Gold (the Nataraja shrine) and caused the trouble giving God (Govindaraja) to be drowned into the sea.

Three other texts repeating the same incident are reproduced below. Of them one is a Vaishnavite text.

These texts are Thirukkovaiyar, Takkayaga Bharani and Ramanuja Divya Charitai. All these maintain that the Murthy of Vishnu housed at Chidambaram temple was dumped into the sea! This was done by Kulottunga II on the pretext of renovation of the temple.

Historians maintain that there were no riots or violence on account of this. In the absence of inscriptional evidence they are not even ready to accept the event mentioned in contemporary texts praising the king for this act. Nilakanta Sastri thinks that Kullottunga II’s reign was peaceful.[xiii]

Yes, his reign was peaceful – known from the two titles that adorned him. He was known as “Edirili Chola” meaning ‘having no enemies’. Another title was “Kali-kadintha Chola”, meaning ‘one who reprimanded Kali’. There is no mention of any war fought by him in his prashasti. So the title ‘Edirili Chola’ is meaningless. In his entire tenure he seemed to have worked on the Chidambaram temple gloating on covering the dome with gold and removing the murthy of Govindaraja – a deity sung by Alwars and celebrated as a Divya Desam deity.

Who among the people could have had the guts to oppose him? Even if someone had opposed, could they have been spared of their life? There is no surprise that the king was without opposition. Perhaps that was the basis for his title ‘Edirili Cholan’. His court poet being an Idangai, it leaves much to one’s imagination the kind of oppression that valangai Vaishnavites must have been undergoing.
All they could do was to safeguard the Utsava murthy! And they did safeguard the Utsavar and secretly had taken the deity to Tirupati. Fortunately Ramanuja happened to be present at Tirupati at that time!

Yatiraja Vaibhavam, the primary text on the life of Ramanuja says in clear terms that the idol of Govindaraja was secretly brought to Tirupati from its place (Chidambaram). Ramanuja installed the deity in the slopes of Venkadadri. 

Ramanuja consecrated the deity within an already existing temple of Lord Parthasarathy. The date of this consecration, if known would prove the historicity of all the three – Ramanuja at Tirupati at that time,  Kulottunga II causing the removal of Govindaraja at Chidambaram and the date of Kulottunga II which the historians are pegging at a later date such that it goes well past Ramanuja’s times.
The foremost hint for the date of consecration of Govindaraja at Tirupati comes from the mantras used in daily worship of this deity. It reads as follows:[xiv]

It says Lord Govindaraja (of that shrine) was manifested in the month of Panguni, in Pournami tithi on a Monday when Moon was in Uttra Phalguni (Uttram).

When checked the years of the corresponding period of Kulottunga II we get a perfect alignment of all these Panchanga features in Sawmya Varusham. The date was March 3rd, 1130, which happens to be the 5th regnal year of Kulottunga II.

In a further cross check we do come across an inscription in the Tirumala temple that Ramanuja happened to be at Tirumala / Tirupati in Saumya Varusham!!

The inscription is fragmented and is attributed to a later date. However the information it contains links Ramanuja to Saumya Varusham.[xv]

Ramanuja visited Tirupati three times in his life according to traditional accounts.

·       1st time to learn Ramayana from his maternal uncle Thirumalai Nambi

·       2nd time he won the dispute over the identity of Lord Venkateswara as a form of Vishnu. He initiated some reforms too.

·       3rd time he went to set up administration of the temple but happened to receive Lord Govindaraja from Chidambaram. In this third trip he must have been past 100 years. (We proved earlier that he was 94 when he returned from Melkote).

Ramanuja crossed Saumya Varusham twice in his life span, the first time in 1069-70 (the 7th regnal year of Virarajendra).

The second time in 1129-30 – the same year when Govindraja was brought to Tirupati. He had completed 112 years then and was running his 113th year. In such a ripe age Ramanuja had to undergo the pain of seeing deities thrown by the Kings who were supposed to be the guardians of the people and their Faiths.

The date of Govindaraja – consecration at Tirupati must be close to the date of Kulottuga II removing the deity from Chidambaram.

Kulottunga II accession as co-ruler = 1125- 26

Kulottunga II accession as Ruler = 1127-28 / 1128-29.

Kulottunga II removing Govindaraja = 1129-30 (as the year begins at Chittirai, the consecration of Utsava murthy of Govindaraja happening in Panguni shows that he caused the dislocation in 1129-30, his 3rd or 4th regnal year.

Nilakanta Sastri has written that Kulottunga II had the title for renovation of Chidambaram temple in his 3rd regnal year.[xvi]

This shows that soon after he took up the complete control of his country, he had launched on full-fledged renovation by removing Govindaraja. One must remember that the first ever fillip to the renovations started at the time Vikrama Chola assumed complete control over the country. Kulottunga II went a step further when he assumed full control. This trend shows that the Chola King in the supreme position – which he attained after the death of his predecessor, could wield unquestionable power and get things in his way.

This observation, if true is of importance, because this offers a justification to why Kulottunga I did not and could not do anything to stop Adhirajendra in his ways of dealing with Vaishnavites and why he could not bring back Ramanuja as long as Adhirajendra was alive.

Ramanuja did not live long after this incident. His entire life was a series of struggles against diverse kinds of obstacles that included two powerful Chola kings – Adhirajendra and Kulottunga II. His life was undoubtedly a mission to safeguard Vaishnavism at a time it was under attack from heretics and kings.

Historians have conveniently buried the misdeeds of these two kings, but the king who succeeded Kulottunga II made their misdeeds well publicised. Rajaraja II, the son of Kulottunga II had mentioned in his prashasti that he ‘restored the fallen Hari-samayam’. [xvii]

The Hari-samayam was Vaishnavism which was under attack for nearly 50 years starting from Adhirajendra to Kulottunga II. Adhirajendra started the crusade in the 8th decade on the 11th century. He was well alive for 3 decades after that. After he was gone the aging Kulottunga I was in power for less than a decade. By the time he died his son Vikrama Chola started sowing seeds of fanaticism which grew full blown once Kulottunga II had taken over. It is perhaps in view of the two kings who worked hard against Hari samayam, Rajaraja II was said to have thundered why his father behaved in such a way!

In his commentary to Tiruvaimozhi, Nampillai who lived closely after the time of Ramanuja, had remarked that this was the response of the king to “Avyapadesyanukku anantaratthil avan thamappan seythathaik kettu

Avyapadesyan refers to Krimikantha Chola (Adhirajendra) whose name is not fit to be uttered. By the word ‘Thamappan’ (my father) appearing in this phrase, many writers had opined that Avyapadesyan referred to Kulottunga II. No. In view of the two kings acting against Vaishnavism, the king had referred to both of them by saying that “after avyapadeayan, my father (Kulottunga II) had also behaved” the same way – in which anantaram was the word to signify afterwards or following. To put it exact sequence, the king Rajaraja II had said that ‘following Avyapadesyan, my father also had behaved in the same way’.

The sad fact is that the evidence that historians are looking for are not found in inscriptions. Neither the act of harassment that led Ramanuja to leave the country nor the unimaginable act of dumping the main deity of Govindaraja into the sea and making the devotees run away with the utsava murthy looking for safe places have found place in the inscriptions.

But history cannot be so easily erased. There does exist an inscription that boasts of the act of Kulottunga II in throwing the deity into the sea. This was mentioned by none other than the esteemed historian Nilakanta Sastri.

The fact mentioned by him above refers to the removal of the deity at Chidambaram. The exact part mentioning that act of throwing out Govindaraja was found to be damaged deliberately with the rest of the inscriptions in good condition.

Did anyone in posterity voluntarily remove every trace of that objectionable act?

This inscription is proof enough to say that every inscription of Adhirajendra in the 32 long years he lived after his father’s death was deliberately removed or destroyed by someone of the later age. He was an avyapadeayan – one whose name is not fit to be uttered. In view of that did someone want to make sure that his name was never found in stone for posterity to utter his name?

This looks plausible given the fact that the Cholas never recognised King Ellara, popularly known as Manu Neeti Chola for the great act of compassion. No Chola king ever mentioned his name. For the kings of those times, war deeds were supreme – not dying in war in a foreign land and getting a monument from the enemy which was what happened to Manu Neeti Chola.

For the Cholas, getting a name as a just ruler was the best they could ask for. When Adhirajendra could not live up to that standard, naturally he became an avyapadesya for his own descendants in his dynasty. This is revealed in the above quoted passage of Rajaraja II calling Adhirajendra as Avyapadeya. In all likelihood all the traces of Adhirajendra could have been erased by the later kings – kings only because ordinary people could not have done that and gone unharmed.

As if to prove this, we come across a reference to a stone inscribed in the reign of Adhirajendra found built in the wall of Srirangam temple![xviii]

It is not known whether this stone with inscription was deliberately hidden from sight, but the absence of any inscription of Adhirajendra barring a very few that perhaps escaped attention, and two more in Ceylon which could have been beyond the reach of the destroyers, smacks of a planned attempt to make his name forgotten in history. He became nameless as he destroyed the name of the dynasty.

People didn’t even want to mention his name. Modern historians unwittingly went a step further and didn’t even recognise his presence. They killed him before he could commit the shameful act. A fitting destiny for an Avayapadesya, perhaps!

* Ula is a type of poetry among 96 types known as Prabhandam. It means ‘procession’. The king takes out a procession on specific occasions during which the people come out in the streets and admire him. The Ula has two distinct parts, the first part in praise of the king that includes his great lineage. The second part is in the form of the reactions of women of all ages on seeing the king. When the king has assumed the crown, or was new to the people or was the one getting married to the princess, he took out an Ula – a procession. The first Ula of the Cholan dynasty composed for Vikrama Chola goes to prove that he was totally new to the people of Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Even the procession of Kulottunga I reported in Kalingatthu Bharani on reaching Kanchi was an Ula, though not specifically mentioned so.


This series of 12 parts could not have come through but for the tireless support given to me by a band of volunteers whom I acquainted with in twitter. Each of us knew nothing about each other, but only knew that we must erase the bad name cast by an Internet historian of the copy-paste type who abused Ramanuja and other acharyas under the quotes of the famous historian of our times Dr Nagaswamy. What started as a reaction to that abuse some three months ago snow balled into serious research with support coming from other tweeples by means of getting me the books, archived sources of inscriptions, traditional accounts of acharyas and lively debates. I thank them all at this moment.

I am also aware that this work is not possible without the blessings of Srimad Ramanujacharya and all our acharyas. Ramanuja was in my mind throughout the time I was searching and writing. He didn’t allow me to proceed until I got the valid point, such was the thought I had in my mind. May he guide all of us in our endeavour to establish his name and erase the ill-words whatever.

sarvadEsa dasAkAle shvavyAhata parAkramA /
rAmAnujArya divyAnjnjA vardhatAm abhivardhatAm//

[i] Koyil Ozhugu, cited in ‘Ramanuja A Reality Not a Myth’ by Garudaswamy, Page F-48.

[ii] Dr R.Nagaswamy (2008) “Ramanuja Myth and Reality – a critical study of Ramanuja’s Life and Works”, Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai. Page 46.

[iii] Valmiki Ramayana 6-128-90

[iv]  Travancore Archaeological series Vol III Part 1, page 152.

[v] Epigraphia Indica, Volume 4 (1896 – 97), No 33.

[vi] KA Nilakanta Sastri, 1955, “The Colas”, University of Madras, 2nd edition, page 344-345.

[vii] Ibid., Page 344.

[viii] Ibid., Page 344.

[ix] N.Sethuraman, “The regnal year”, article published in the “Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India”, (1978) Volume V, page 108.

[x] Garudaswamy, “Ramanuja A Reality Not a Myth”  Page 195.

[xi] Kulottunga Cholan Ula, lines 76-78.

[xii] Rajaraja Cholan Ula, Lines 65-67.

[xiii] KA Nilakanta Sastri, 1955, “The Colas”, University of Madras, 2nd edition, page 349.

[xiv][xiv] Smt Sarojini Jagannathan (1994) “Impact of Ramanujacharya on temple worship”, page 131.

[xv] T.K.T. Viraraghavacharya (1953), “History of Tirupati” Volume I, page 363.

[xvi] KA Nilakanta Sastri, 1955, “The Colas”, University of Madras, 2nd edition, page 348.

[xvii] Garudaswamy, “Ramanuja A Reality Not a Myth”  Page 105.

[xviii] S.I.I., Volume 24. No 25.  A.R. No 181 of 1951-52