Question – 53
What is a ‘nimitta’? Why should we give importance to the nimitta-s asked by King Janamejaya?
Nimitta-s (omens) are often mentioned in the Mahabharata. They are also mentioned along with astronomy features which make us take a serious look at them. They are part of astrological predictions on whether a good or bad thing will happen. Nimitta is mentioned in the Upanishads, Manu Smriti, and Brihat Samihita with meanings such as cause, motive, ground, reason etc. The Vyakarana meaning is ‘unstable first cause from which a stable effect is formed’. The ‘adhruva’ (not fixed, non-permanent) nature of the first cause makes nimitta a temporary occurrence!
Therefore, we can say that an unstable cause giving rise to a stable effect is a nimitta. The temporary appearance of a feature is a nimitta. The related effects of the nimitta-s are documented in texts such as Brihat Samhita. Mahabharata is replete with many nimitta-s.
The knowledge of nimitta-s as a science reached its peak during the Mahabharata times. Drona is described as nimittajñaḥ (निमित्तज्ञः) as one knowledgeable in nimitta-s. Another character, namely Shakuni must be a knower of omens, for his name Shakuni is the name of a bird of omen. His son was known as Uluka – the owl which is also observed for omens. It sounds strange that these persons of the Mahabharata were named after ominous birds. The only probable explanation could be that they must have mastered the omens of Shakuni and Uluka birds respectively.
The text called ‘Nimitta Choodamani’ begins with the description of the ‘dice’ and how to make it. After describing the making of the dice and the markings on it, the text says that “Previously Lord Sri Krishna, Dharmaraja, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva were said to have used this to know Shakuna (omen) and gained a lot out of it. It is also called Mahabharata Shuddhi Shakuna”.
Due to its utility to know the kind of things to come, king Janamejaya was curious to know whether any nimitta-s were seen on the way of Krishna.