[Credits/source: Ranjiv Kurp]
There are no “gods” in Indian spiritual traditions, so you have that one wrong right off the bat!
Deities are “representations” of “higher human ideals”, with the highest ideal being the “absolute truth” or in other words, the “ultimate reality”.
Saptarishi (the seven seers) are a spiritual concept – the progenitors of the mind. Every manvantara (a period of time equivalent to 4.32 million years) gives humans a new set of deva (higher human qualities or faculties), a set of saptarishi, a devaraja (king of deva, which is mood/emotion (Indra) in this 7th manvantara). The sons of the saptarishi are the progenitors of personality (ten in this manvantara), which is a way of suggesting that broadly, humans in this age will have 10 different personalities types! Most famously, the story of a prince of one of these 10, the Iksvaku dynasty, is one of the two historical records that have been maintained, not for its historical significance, but for representing the epitome of right behavior for all those who take up significant leadership positions, especially in public life.
Dattatreya is also the name for Jagannatha, Narayana, Vasudeva, Vishnu or Krishna, the one “truth”, the many names for it, the many paths to it.
Where Dattatreya appears in Puranic texts and their mnemonic narratives, they are again personifications of higher ideals. For example, inthe Bhagavata Purana 4.1.15 Dattatreya is one of the sons of Atri and Anasuya. Atri as one of the Saptarishi in this cycle of Manvantara (spiritual cycles or cycles of the mind in the human context), is one of seven sources of spiritual knowledge, the source of a philosophy or knowledge tradition. Early schools, the gurukulas, teach one of several such knowledge traditions and this gives you a “spiritual lineage”, a new identity that is known as gotra, in addition to your “biological lineage”. As Atri’s son, thus Dattatreya represents the personification of the core concepts of that knowledge tradition.
In Hindu philosophy, even ideals have two aspects (represented as husband and wife). While the male represents merely a “potential” (usually spiritual), it is the divine feminine, or shakti that gives that potential its “expression” in the temporal universe. In other words, the divine feminine manifests the potential. Creative power is only with the divine feminine, and in this narrative of Dattatreya, the divine feminine is represented by Anasuya, personified as “his mother”. Everything in this narrative is either of the spiritual domain or the manner in which it finds expression in the mind, usually as a specific “quality”, or as composite “character”.
The deity at Vaishnodevi is a representation of the divine feminine, Shakti, in the three aspect form of Durga, namely Mahasaraswati (the source of all manifest knowledge), Mahalakshmi (the source of all manifest wealth and prosperity), and Mahakali (the destroyer of all manifest evil)! The deity is also referred to by various other names such as Mata Rani, Trikuta, Ambe, and Vaishnavi.
Gotra is “spiritual lineage”, meaning the knowledge tradition in which you are schooled. The most common gotra pravartaka, the ancient maharshis, are the Saptarishi, which in this 7th spiritual era (manvantara) are Vasistha, Kasyapa, Atri, Gautama, Jamadagni, Visvamitra and Bharadwaja.
Jati refers to our ancient tribal/regional/cultural association which best translates to our “origins”. Obviously, there are no tribes in our cities (okay, Lutyens and Bollywoodies aside). And even though we have lost out links to our ancient tribes, we still retain the culture, the language, the traditions and practices, the festivals, even food habits.
Varna is more difficult to understand as it is our “spiritual orientation”, our “inner compass”, one that orients our outlook on life. By itself, it merely represents an unmanifest potential.
All stories in our texts that refer to the trimurti, are really a historical record of one celestial event or the other. Bhrigu [Mag: 1.82] is the brightest of the Saptarishis (Great Bear or Ursa Major). Vishnu is one of the three functions of the organising principle, specifically the maintainer of the essence of all created entities. So Bhrigu “kicking Vishnu” could point to an “essence changing” event in the constellation of the Great Bear in the vicinity of Bhrigu (or Alkaid).
In fact, there are several bright galaxies in the Saptarishi constellation as well as the Owl Nebula (M97). Sn 2014J is an apparent Type 1a supernova, meaning it occurred in a binary star system, and while this is a very recent discovery, the binary pair could have caused numerous visible anomalies! The Kappa Ursae Majorids are meteor showers peaking between Nov 01 and Nov 10.
Most of ancient Vedic astronomy incidentally, went west via Persia, which had copied and translated all our ancient texts between the 11th and 15th centuries. It is why most of the stars today are attributed to Persia, Arabia or the Greeks
In folklore it refers to one of the ekadasa-rudra, that is, one of the eleven forms of Rudra. And according to the Visvakarma-silpa these are:
But the Veda is not folklore, it is eternal knowledge, an exploration into the spiritual roots of human behavior, one that expresses itself as our attitude, values and thoughts that in turn, is expressed as behavior.
tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sughandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam |
urvārukamivabandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt || RV 7.59.12 ||
We invoke Tryambaka, the bestower of prosperity to liberate us from the cycles of samsara.
[Note: Interesting analogy of the manner in which a raw cucumber (urvaruka) is attached to the vine so strongly that any attempt to pull it out rips out the vine itself, however, the ripe one comes away without any effort. Liberation, or “moksha”, involves a lot of effort, as you (your energy form) attempt to pull away from the influence of matter, the material world, samsara, the “raw stem” of the analogy, being the power of human perception].
PS: Incidentally, this is also the hugely popular Shaiva Mahamritunjay Mantra.
The sages modeled the universe within on the universe without, and it is mostly labels for forms of “spiritual energies” or “phenomena” that one experiences in deep states of meditation or contemplation on the nature of reality. So besides the Vedic view of the universe as composed of the ambiguous duality – energy and matter – there is one more concept, that of “dimensions” or “realms”, or “recursive universes” within universes of which our reality is but just one.
This is of course, difficult to rationalize using the precepts of science. However, it can be experienced. The reason why it can be experienced is again difficult to rationalize. It is because of the Vedic view that humans are multidimensional beings and exist in multiple recursive dimensions simultaneously.
We don’t know this due to the powerful influence of perception of the senses. Christianity, in fact, has modified this concept in the Old Testament as the falling away of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The Veda explains it as the falling away of Jiva from Atman due to knowledge acquired through “sense perception”.
Developing (that is, modern education) and using our primitive, though powerful sense perceptions (sight, sound, smell etc), masks our true nature! This is referred to as maya. Karma is the Jiva’s journey back to knowing the Atman. And Atman is the Veda is Agni, the divine source, the silent witness, that governs our lives (without our “knowledge”). The Atman or Agni is though whom we can communicate with source of our traits.
So then what is Rudra? So forms of energy have multiple levels of abstraction, both positive, generative and negative, destructive and are for most parts, cyclical. For example, anger or krodha! Humans can be angry one moment, happy the next. Cyclical. So negative, cyclical dualities are the forms of Rudra. Anger also can take various forms, eight to be precise (as per the texts). So Rudra is one of eight forms of Krodha. And Krodha is a form of Bhairava. Bhairava is a form of energy that exists in eight of the 14 dimensions or loka. And Bhairava is a composite acrostic (like sandhi) comprising bha + ra + va, the three function of Shiva, namely:
- bha – bharaṇa or maintenance of the universe;
- ra – ravaṇa or withdrawal of the universe;
- va – vamana or projection i.e., manifestation of the universe.
Shiva is the function that controls the cycles of transformation of energy to matter and back to energy, that is, the “cycle of samsara”. This is best understood by looking at the life cycle of stars (stellar evolution). And Shiva itself is one of three functions of the infinite “source” of all energy, including this tiny bubble universe we live in. The source has multiple names – Brahman is common, as is Krishna. Others include adiyajna, purusha, parabrahma.
So why triyambaka, the “three eyed one”? We are all three-eyed, two in the physical, material (matter) realm, one in the spiritual energy realm. The eye in the energy realm is sometimes wrongly referred to as the “mind’s eye”, or imagination, visualization. This is incorrect. Imagination is very much a function of “memory-intellect” of the physical realm. Now, eye is an “energy processor”. It converts light energy into electrical impulses which is then interpreted by a function of the brain. Because it is energy related, it is also a physical manifestation of agni. The Vedic “theory of evolution” is not the Darwinian “Origin of Species”, it is the evolution of human sensory subsystems, in other words, evolution of human perception.
See! Pedantic maybe, but it is really complex. You could have dismissed Triyambaka as just another word for Shiva or Rudra. The reality is a bit more complex. And advances in sciences have barely scratched the surface of this body of knowledge
The first Veda Vyasa was an amshavatara of Vishnu, Krishna Dwaipayana, son of Prashara and Satyavati of the Kuru court. Krishna Dwaipayana is the one who collected the sukta and rearranged the Veda in four parts, teaching each part to his four disciples, namely Paila (Rk for the Hotr), Vaisampayana (Yajus for the Adwaryu), Jaimini (Shun/Saman for the Udgatri) and Sumantu (Atharvan for the Brahman). These disciples in turn, further divided their portions in further. For example, Paila divided the Rk into two Samhita (collections) and gave it to Indrapramati and Baskali. Baskali divided his into four, which he gave to his disciples Baudhya, Agnimathara, Yajnawalka, and Parasara. Indrapramati gave his Samhita to his son Mandukeya. Vedamitra (Sakalya) who studied the same Samhita, divided it into five Samhitas and gave it to Mudgala, Goswalu, Vatsya, Saliya and Sisira. Sakapurni made a different division of the original Samhita into three portions and added a glossary, the Nirukta, thus constituting the fourth, three of which he gave to his pupils Krauncha, Vaitalaki and Valaka. Baskali composed three other Samhitas, which he taught to his disciples Kalayani, Gargya, and Kathajava and these are the three who created the principle divisions of the Rk.
Krishna Dwaipayana also re-arranged the Itihasa-Purana, composed the Bharata for Strisudra-dvijabandhus, composed the Bhagavata which he passed to his son Suka. Vyasa is also the author of the Chandas Shastra which deals with the prosody of the Veda.
What is interesting is that the texts record the Veda has been re-arranged 28 times just in the Vaivasvata Manvantara, each time at the end of the Dwapara Yuga, with Brahma being the first Vyasa, Prajapati being the second and so on.
Division of the Veda, and its subsequent handling by his disciples and their disciples is the subject of a whole book (Book 3) of the Vishnu Purana.
Firstly, there is not such thing as a Vedic civilization.
Second, the Veda were revealed over tens of thousands of years, they dont have a known author, and the traditions of the community in which a sukta originated is unknown.
Third, you haven’t understood that Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions are not ‘isms’, they are just approaches to understanding the Veda.
Fourth, that since both traditions are intricately linked to the concepts of the Veda, there is no way these philosophies could have predated the Veda.
Fifth, the Veda was never used to spread anything. In fact, just the opposite. They are compilations of practices of different Hindu traditions from across the length and breadth of the country, that it was necessary to compile them for two reasons (a) the war of the Mahabharata, which saw the most knowledgeable people in the most powerful kingdoms of the country lost to war and there was danger that this ancient knowledge would be lost in time and (2) to understand the common thread underlying the experiences of numerous sages over thousands of years since the time of the earliest settlements.
Sixth, that there are no “gods” in the Veda, nor in the two traditions being discussed. “Gods” are an Abrahamic concept. The Veda speak of the highest truth and the nature of all reality, the many names for it, and the many paths to it. No gods.
Seventh, Shiva is just a way of understanding the Vedic concept of the ultimate truth – the attributeless infinite, the nirguna brahman – using some reasonable, empirical attributes. Shiva is one of three abstract or high level functions of the organizing principle of the universe, that of maintenance of the cycles of birth, dissolution and rebirth. Just as Vishnu is the function of preservation of the essence, Dharma. And Brahma is the function of creation. Hence Shiva is just a method of going from Nirguna to Saguna to expand our understanding of the abstract brahman.
And then we have the motivating or driving force of the universe and all entities within, the triguna. The universe came into existence due to a disequilibrium of its triguna. When the triguna of the universe goes back into equilibrium, the universe will go back into dissolution. When the triguna of a star goes into equilibrium, the star goes supernova. When the triguna of humans moves into equilibrium, the human achieves liberation, moksha. And it is the tension created by the disequilibrium in the triguna that is prime driving force in the universe.
But not just that. Triguna is only an attribute of Prakriti, our material component. But we, like every star or galaxy, are only 25% Prakriti, matter. The balance 75% is pure energy, Purusha. That implies that we are more energy beings than physical, material beings. And we derive our innate character or potential or chaturvarna from this cosmic energy field Purusha. But the drive comes from the triguna of Prakriti.
And triguna means three attributes or qualities of Prakriti – sattva, rajas and tamas.
- Sattva is associated with man, mantra, Brahma, knowledge orientation, ie., priests, teachers and record keepers.
- Rajas is associated with yan, yantra, Vishnu, Vaishnava, power orientation, kings, counsellors and warriors
- Tamas is associated with tan, tantra, Shiva, Shaiva, achievement orientation around individual skills, musicians, artisans, craftsmen, painters, sportsmen, engineers, doctors et al., or general citizenry.
Potential of varna has to align with the drive of triguna in order to first identify, and then be true to, your Dharma. The chaturvarna and triguna in combination leads to 12 categories of dharma. For example, brahmin varna and sattvaguna combine to orient you towards Brahmin dharma. Kshatriya varna and rajoguna combine to orient you towards Kshatriya dharma.
Where is the contest? A shaiva and vaishnava exist in their own domains. And they are an inseparable part of the whole framework of the absolute truth. And how can a derivative, used to explain the abstract concepts in the Veda, even possibly predate the Veda?
But there is one escape hole for you. You are probably basing your question on the 5th millennium BCE period of compilation of the Veda, not their origination in the different communities around India at different periods of antiquity. Did Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions exist before the Veda were finally compiled into text? Of course they pre-dated the compilation. The interpretations began as soon as the knowledge was first revealed. And of course the sages attempted to explain the meaning of their revealed knowledge, the shruti. And these explanations form part of the compilations we know today as the Puranas. These were Puranas even in the 5th millennium BCE period of the Mahabharata era.
Shiva is not a vedic god only because the first attempts to explain the abstract concepts used ishvara, ie., terrestrial or near earth phenomena – Vayu, Indra, Mitra, Soma, Rudra and so on. The evolution of fields of astronomy and astrology alongside the Veda gave the sages the opportunity to explain the abstract concepts in terms of mahesvara, the cosmic phenomena.
To qualify as avatara, humans need to possess one or more of 16 divine qualities. All of us have at least one, which makes all of us avatara. If you have all 16, then you are a purnavatara. Rama and Krishna were purnavatara. Lakshmana was not a purnavatara, because his life was defined by his loyalty to his brother.
Spiritual evolution has multiple levels. At its most fundamental level, we have the Nitya avatara, which is all humans, the zero state, concerned with the mundane realities of our material lives, yet with a “strange feeling” of their being more to this world, a “higher power” that guides our destinies. And this usually happens only in the face of personal tragedy, like the death of a loved one.
Beyond that zero state, there are eight types of avatara, from single purpose or ansha avatar like Narasimha, avatara that helps life find a way like matsya, kurma, and varaha avatara, avatara that imparts knowledge beyond the temporal realm or jnana avatara and so on.
Of course, we are most familiar with avatara associated with the highest state of human spiritual evolution, the purna avatara like Rama and Krishna.
Vishnu is a personification of a function of the organizing principle of the universe, much like a car is a transport, and you don’t say a car is Lord Transport, do you?
Now what is Vishnu? And where did it come from? If you contemplate on the nature of the universe, the first thing that strikes you is that it appears to be a very ordered place. So there has to be an “organizing principle” at work. If you try to understand the organizing principle by analyzing it, you come up with three abstract functions – creation, preservation of the essence and maintenance of the cycles of time, birth, dissolution and rebirth – creation, preservation, dissolution. Or in personified forms – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
If Vishnu is the function that preserves the essence of all entities in the universe, and not just humans, then there are a lot of entities out there. So there are millions of Vishnu avatara. Even sugarcane has an essence – sweetness. Your question is specific to how Vishnu manifests in humans. And for that, you need to go back all the way to the birth of the universe. Cataclysmic events. Our essence must have somehow survived through all that. The way our sages described it was through the analogy of infinite space being an ocean and Vishnu being a “matsya”. Then there was the formation of our own galaxy, with the supermassive blackhole at its center, the formation of our own star, the sun, the churning caused by a ancient collision between two galaxies which flung our star (of a twin star system in a decaying orbit near the blackhole, close to extinction) outward to where it is today, a spur on one of the spiral arms. This is the “story” of the “Kurma” avatara, the churning of “the ocean of milk”. And then the formation of our planetary system from the debris field around our star, the lifting of the earth into its present orbit which made life on earth possible, the “kurma” avatara.
There are many avatara as Vishnu relates to humans. But 10 are significant and well known, except for the confusion about who or what is the 9th. The great scholars of the Baudha Mahayana sampradaya wanted to plug in Buddha as the 9th. But then, for that to happen, his life had to be significant in preserving our essence, our dharma. And while his life was significant, and most of his teachings are variation of the Vedanta philosophy, he rejected the core idea of the Brahman, the source of the organizing principle. So how can he be an avatara? Balarama is a better and more popular choice. Or Adi Shankara who told us why Buddha was wrong in the way he interpreted the Veda and reasserted its philosophy through Advaita, making it ascendant again. After some 12,000 years of deterioration, the “essence” is ascendant once again. The age of ignorance is over. Except for people who think that the Puranas are “myths”.
Kali is “not of human form”. But that avatara is supposed to destroy ignorance and re-establish dharma. And if you follow the events around the world, maybe that is precisely what is happening – a pralaya.
Shiva represents the duality of creation, energy and matter. Energy and matter is what composes every entity in the universe. So every entity or “manifestation” is Shiva. So too in humans. And just like every human is an avatara of Vishnu, every human is an avatara of Shiva. But what does this assertion imply?
The divine is “unknowable”, that is, beyond human comprehension. That’s a given. But we attempt to understand the divine through these “qualities” or “higher aspirational ideals” that humans display.
Therefore Vishnu represents one set of qualities or ideals, and Shiva represents another set of such qualities or ideals.
And like Vishnu avatara, there are significant Shiv avatara. And who are they?
Here’s a list:
- Krishna Darshana
And what are the qualities or ideals Shiva represents?
This is one of three avatara that is often misunderstood. Matsya is the first, at a time before the birth of the universe. Infinite space is likened to an ocean. And what lives in the ocean? Fish of course. Hence Matsya Avatara.
Now what is Vishnu? It is one of the three functions of the organizing principle of the universe.
Did the organizing principle exist before the birth of the universe? Of course it did, as the “organizing principle” of the universe is the attribute we assigned to the attributeless, a way of understanding the unknowable infinite field, the highest reality, the ultimate truth, which we refer to simply as, the Nirguna Brahman. Nirguna to Saguna.
Now every created entity within the universe has an essence, whether it is something as small as an atom of hydrogen, or as large as a galaxy. How did the ancients visualize the “preservation of the essence” through the cataclysmic events of the birth of the universe?
And what is the function that “preserves the essence” of all created entities called? Yes, Vishnu.
So while Matsya is a way of remembering the events around the birth of the universe, the Kurma reminds us of an ancient collision between the milky way and a dwarf galaxy, that swept the solar system out of the galactic disc close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the milky way, to the relatively safer Orion spur where it is located today. You can see why it was so easy to use the “churning of the ocean” metaphor for this cosmic event, that must have lasted thousands of years.
Can you guess what could possibly be the cosmic “Vasuki” the anantanaga that was used as a rope, who were the devas, and who were the asuras in the smriti?
Incidentally, Brahma Loka, the “abode of gods” if you must, is still located near the center, and close to the black hole. The entire story of the Kurma avatara is about how this world entered a decaying orbit (“sink into the ocean”), and was saved by some event, probably the same one that flung the solar system out.
And the Varaha, the event that lifted the Earth out of the debris field we know as the asteroid belt to its current stable orbit around the Sun at an ideal distance (the “goldilock zone”) that made life on earth possible.
The ancient collision also created a spin in the Milky Way, with the bulk of the rectangular dwarf galaxy captured at the centre. This spin set up huge gravitational tidal ways that spread out into space. Many of the star systems in the rim have settled into the troughs of these tidal wave to create the four overlapping spiral arms of the galaxy. It is also the cause of the precession of the earth’s axis, the 26000-year cycle that we refer to as the ascending Mahayuga and the descending Mahayuga, as the solar system surfs the tidal waves.
The Kurma is the second avatara of Vishnu. And Vishnu is one of three functions of the organizing principle – the preservation of the essence. And if you look at the representations, you will always find Mt Meru at the top centre. This is a fancy way to explain the structure of our galaxy.
Mt Meru is the location of Brahma Loka. And Mt Meru is the significant bulge in the center of our galaxy, the result of an ancient collision between two galaxies. Vasuki represents time, but in this construct, the milky way viewed edge-on. Space is represented as an ocean. So how do you explain how a mountain stays in place? Of course, the turtle Kurma, and the force of a few elephants (the eight lumps visible in the milky way).
Kurma avatara is associated with the collision between the milky way and a dwarf galaxy that collided with it sometime between the birth of the universe and the present time. It is this collision that lifted the earth from the denser middle areas of the galactic disk to where it is today, the Orion spur. The first, Matsya is pre-genesis. And Varaha avatar is associated with the lifting of the earth from the asteroid belt to its current orbit around the sun. From the fourth avatara of Vishnu, Narasimha, onward relates to events on planet Earth.
And what is the narrative mnemonic?
It is about “saving the earth”, of “lifting it” from the “waters”.
So its about the whole planet.
In most of these texts, and especially in this context, the waters is a reference to infinite space.
Why did the earth need to be lifted? From what?
Which leads to the question, how did the earth evolve? Was it a planet in orbit around the Sun right from the outset? Or was it the consequence of a series of cataclysmic events and a consolidation of stellar dust into asteroids and then into planets?
Is there any evidence in space of stellar clouds or an asteroid belt?
As it happens, there is an asteroid belt right in the vicinity of earth, and just beyond the orbit of Mars. In fact, there are several different belts of asteroids in orbit around the Sun, three of them through which the earth still passes. NASA Discovery missions were missions sent to probe the segment of an old asteroid belt known as the Trojans in Jupiter’s orbit.
If the Earth had continued to remain in what is known as the significant Mars asteroid belt, the chances of life on earth would have been minimum.
To increase the probability of life on earth, the primordial earth would have had to be “lifted out of” the Mars Belt into what is popularly referred to as the Goldilocks Zone around the Sun, where conditions are just right for life to evolve and sustain.
That is an interesting question as the mnemonic narrative around the deity of the Sabarimala shrine talks of a union between two cosmic mega functional abstracts – Mohini, the divine feminine version of Vishnu, the preserver of the essence, and Shiva, the maintainer of the cycles of time and of birth, dissolution and rebirth.
This combination of preserver and maintainer functions straightaway points to the possibility of a prominent “new star” or some “celestial light” or phenomena in the visible cosmos. The question is what are the prominent new stars that appeared in the night sky in the past, say 10,000 years.
We know that Christian traditions speak of a “new star” in the East at the birth of the Christ, which in their religion is referred to as the “Star of Bethlehem”? In fact, there is a lot of Christian research into the Star of Bethlehem, as well as an equal number of inconsistencies in that story.
In the Purana, the story of Shiva and Parvati’s first (Kartikeya) and second (Ganesha) child are inspired by events in the constellation of Krittika (Pleiades). But Purana stories are more than 10,000 years old and contemporary (at least the first 18 Mahapurana) with the Veda. It is what allowed Veda Vyasa to compile the Mahapuran along with the Veda and the Mahabharata.
The third child of Shiva (as the story goes) is not with Parvati, but with Mohini. So it cannot be a third event in the constellation of Krittika. It is something entirely “new”.
So what is it? Comet? Nebula, like the one that inspired the Nataraja? Unusual configuration of Shukra (planet Venus)? The heliacal rising (a special first reappearance of a planet)? In fact, the makaravilaku or makarajyoti ceremony held once a year today may hold a clue. Makara, as the name suggests is the constellation of Capricorn. Makara is significant even for the Kumbh festival, Makara Sankranti. The ruling planet of Makara is Shani (Saturn). And Jyoti and Vilaku literally implies a bright light.
To calculate, we know that the Makara Jyoti in 2019 was on Jan 14th. But the winter solstice it celebrates took place on 21 Dec 2018. That is a advance of 14+10 = 24 days. And we know that the solstice in the badly designed Gregorian calendar keeps falling back by one day each 72 years.
So what is 24*72 = 1728 years. So which year is that?
2018–1728+1 = 291 CE.
So Ayyappan was born on the day of winter solstice of 291 CE.
Let me hazard an attempt to explain the rationale (the real thinking behind the stories). You are aware of course, that the “smriti” are narrative interpretations of the abstract philosophy of the Veda. Now, Veda needs to be interpreted based on the “advancements in human knowledge”, in order to have a contemporary understanding of it. That implies that the “smriti” needs to be periodically updated as human knowledge evolves. You cannot take a “smriti” of Vyasa’s time and apply it to human conditions today.
Second, the reason why the “smriti” are so colorful is again part of our tradition when there were no texts, no scripts, no written word. Our tradition prior to script is the oral – teacher to student, father to son, mother to daughter – as is often the case even today. And for the abstract philosophy of the Veda to be be remembered, especially at the time these are introduced to kids, color helps. More colorful, the greater the chance the kids will remember it. And of course, it lends itself to other art forms like the natya shashtras.
Third, all trimurthi stories relate to celestial events (except Dasavatara, which relates to the milestones in the evolution of human consciousness, the Hindu theory of evolution, if you must). Vishnu is the sustainer function of the organizing principle. Shiva/Shakti the cycles of dissolution.
So when the logic needs to explain a cyclical event which pertains to some attribute of “essence” (of all living things, humans or other), it has to be a Vishnu avatara. The essence of Mohini is that of the “femme fatale, the seducer, the enchantress”. Why? Maybe such a character made sense in a narrative, like the samudra manthan, which needed a seductress to take steal the amrit and give it to the “devas” (they are not gods, incidentally and neither are asuras, demons). Sorry to bust your bubble, if such childhood story memories still persist!
Is it related to some celestial event? There is no nakshatra, rashi or other celestial event that bears the name Mohini. But it is a good play on Rohini – which is Aldebaran in the constellation of the twins, Gemini (or Vrishabha). Was there a significant event in or near the constellation of Vrishabha? Let’s check for one.
Well, it so happens, that it is a very happening neighbourhood. The Jellyfish Nebula is the remnant of a supernova that occurred 3000–30,000 years ago, a Type II supernova caused by the violent explosion of a massive progenitor star. Geminga is another candidate, a decaying core of an old massive star that ended its life in a supernova explosion about 300,000 years ago. And the Eskimo nebula is a bipolar double-shell planetary nebula. There is also one of the stars of the constellation itself, the U Geminorum which is today a dwarf nova, a binary composed of a white dwarf orbiting a red dwarf. And every 100 days, it has an outburst and this causes a dramatic increase in luminosity from about 14–15.1 to 9 magnitude, implying that it becomes 100 times brighter.
So the story could mark any one of these celestial “events”. See what a beautiful way the ancients found, not only to capture important events, but also to interpret the dry Veda philosophy that makes it easy even for kids to understand it.
There are many avatars of Vishnu, but 10 are considered significant. Here is a list:
- [contested] Balarama/Buddha/others
Vishnu as you know is known as the function that preserves the essence of all living things, whether humans, plants & animals or stars, galaxies and the universe itself. This attribute is known as dharma. Yes, it is a universal principle, not restricted to humans, just as everything else in hindu philosophy. It is why it is known as Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma is not a religion. Or you could say that Sanatana Dharma is as much a religion as is Gravity.
The first three avatara represent the manner in which “the essence” was preserved through the cataclysmic events at the birth of the universe (matsya), the birth and evolution of our galaxy (kurma) and the birth of our planet (varaha).
Fourth is a representation that signifies universality, the pervasiveness, the omnipresence of Vishnu in everything – whether energy or matter or both (the living).
Fifth extends the universality of the function of Vishnu to the three immediate dimensions of existence – the real world, swarga and naraka. Note that swarga and naraka are not to be translated as heaven and hell. They cannot even really be translated as “states of mind” though that’s how it is usually explained. It has something to do with our most subtle identity – consciousness – which is also a bad, though generally accepted translation. The five sheaths and seven planes of existence is close. More significantly, the sixth and seventh plane of existence are not in this three dimensional space (yes, this is quite mind blowing). The energy substrate that we refer to as brahman or the “ultimate truth” about the nature of all reality, is beyond the 7th plane. This energy substrate (which is called purusha in our tradition) is the source of all our varna, that is, our orientation or ideals. There is no rational scientific explanation for all of this yet, so that should be sufficient for now.
The sixth (Parashurama) highlights a clash between two human ideals – wisdom (brahmin) and nobility (kshatriya). Those in whom these two ideals is strong will often find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. And while both ideals are desirable to sustain mankind and society, only one prevails in any given situation.
The seventh (Rama) and eighth (Krishna) expound dharma as it manifests in humans – maryada (Rama) and dharma (Krishna).
Ninth is a mystery and gone a bit political as this was a period when bauddha dharma was ascendent and some buddhists wanted to make the Buddha an avatara. In fact, you will find some depictions of Buddha as an avatara. Those that did not agree with the bauddha interpretation gave precedence to Balarama, though it was Adi Shankara who proved that Vedanta when interpreted right is can be ascendent. We’ll leave it at that.
The tenth (Kalki) is symbolic of change (pralaya) at the end of an even Mahayuga (28th), and the start of the 29th Mahayuga of the Vaivasvata Manvantara. It is symbolic of the death of ignorance, the re-establishment of dharma.
Jatayu is not an incarnation at all. It is a personification of the “dawn” or “first light” of “dharma” in the Panchvati region, as Ram and Lakshman began their roll-up of the misery caused by adharma of Ravana’s rule.
In folklore, Jatayu is the son of Aruna and Grdhri. Aruna is the first flush of dawn, personified as one of horses drawing Surya’s chariot. Grdhri the daughter of Tamra, is Aruna’s wife, and mother to Sampati and Jatayu. Tamra is the son of Murasura, who in turn was the “finance minister” of Mahisasura.
Relationships give you how these concepts are structured within our “mind” and are usually cause-effect relationships.
This personification is particularly significant in that a “vulture” which thrives in the “land of death” is shown as the first devotee of Rama. Vultures feed off the dead carcasses, and when dharma is established, they are likely to be the most affected.
In bhakti traditions, the Skanda Purana describes the story of a battle between the Devi and Mahishasura, which is the typical story of the victory of good over evil. The real knowledge underlying such narratives is irrelevant, due to bhakti.
In the karma traditions, this story is irrelevant, as it is not associated with work or public service.
In the jnana traditions, you need to make sense of the knowledge underlying the mnemonic narrative. All texts of Hindu philosophy are layered texts, which implies that they have two or more layers of meaning, and such meaning will not be revealed on a simple reading of the narrative. It requires some study. And very often, there are more than one layer, so you need to probe deeper. This often happens when your understanding of one level creates a dichotomy, an ambiguity. And the story of Mahishasuramardini is one of them.
And often, some aspect of the story entails understanding the lineage of characters in the story, and the “story” of the lineage has underlying knowledge layers, so the quest for the truth becomes even more involved. It is why those who are not intellectually inclined, or don’t have the time for such pursuits go for karma or bhakti marg quests. Jnanamarg can get quite twisted and time-consuming.
We know that Mahisha is born of a daughter of Diti and Rambhasura. (We are already four concepts deep – mahisha, diti, rambha, asura). Under Mahisha’s leadership, the Asura’s head to Amaravati and rain hell on the Deva in a battle that lasts a 100 years. Finally, the Devendra and other deva rush to Brahma for help (how deep is this now – amaravati, deva, devendra, brahma – so 7 concepts, unless you’re also wondering how a battle can last a 100 years, but we will ignore that for now). And Brahma promptly takes them to Narayana and Siva (+2=9) and discuss the problem, that Mahisa had vanquished Indra, Agni, Surya, Soma, Kubera, Varuna and others and occupied their posts, among other things (+6=15), so much so the Devas had to flee their kingdom (+1=16, unless you think Amaravati is the only kingdom Devas have). Even in this narrative, the names of Vishnu and Shiva keep changing. First it is Narayana and Siva, then Sambhu and Krsna, then Ramesvara and Mahesvara (we could go into each, but lets keep it simple by asserting that all these qualities are just aspects of the one truth).
Then the description moves on to what is usually translated as the “refulgence of their anger”, from which the Devi manifests and a detailed descriptions of which deva gave rise to which part of the Devi – the head, the arms, the feet, even the eyebrows – the kind of silly metaphrase translation that has proven mischievous and easily misused on other occasions (Eg: Manusmriti). Devi has many forms, but essentially, Devi or Shakti in spiritual traditions is the “process by which some quality is expressed”, that is, it is the subtle “creative force” of the universe, an aspect of Purusha, the truth.
Side Note: It is therefore quite amusing to see other religions and the Commie/Marxists intellectuals attempting to pin the label of “patriarchy” on Hindu traditions when every story has the men running to a woman (shakti) for help, the divine feminine being the ultimate solution for all earthly problems!
Another interesting aside is that the Devi is the “process” through which all the Deva are manifested. Without the Devi, no Deva/Asura can exist. So propitiating a Devi is really going to the root of the problem, a kind of “nip in the bud” scenario. (But we can take up the mechanics of this in some other conversation).
And then the Devi wades into the Asura armies, cutting a wide swathe wherever she went, so much so that the Devas (men!), now enthused, joined battle (familiar? manthan? shirasagara?). Seeing this Mahisa drew his bow and began to target Indra, Yama, Varuna, Kubera, Chandra, Surya, Agni, Vayu, the Vasus, Asvins, and the others. Asura Danavas had their kinsmen, the Daityas , on their side. And thus a great battle ensued.
Mahisa had many boons, thanks to his mother’s tapas, one of which was that he was an amshavatara of Shiva. Where are we with the concept count? (+6=21).
And asuras have this strange ability to multiply. Crushed with this overwhelming force, the Devas fled in search of the Devi on the battlefield. And seeing their state, the Devi now summoned (manifested?) her own Ganas – the Bhutas, Vetalas and others (aren’t these supposed to be the bad guys?) and told them to take care of the Daitya-Danava armies while she went in search of Mahisa. However, her path was blocked by Mahisa’s commanders – Mahanada, Sucaksus, Mahahanu, Mahabhaksa, Mahodara, Mahotkata, Pancasya, Padacuda, Bahunetra, Prabhahuka, Ekaksa, Ekapada, Bahupada, Apadaka, among others (+14=35). Each of them had a large army. And the first to fall was Mahahanu. And then, one by one, all the others within a short time.
Then it was the turn of the chief ministers of Mahisa, starting with Chandakopa, to face the Devi. Then came Citrabhanu, then Karala. And finally Mahisa himself, transforming first into a bull, then into an elephant, then to his Asura form, then back to a bull. Then there is a chase, with Mahisa hiding in a lake, which the Devi drains and then, to cut a long story short, finally kills him.
Did this battle really happen? Of course it did. And it does. Everyday. In our mind! Devas and Asuras are different qualities of the mind. Swarga and Naraka are states of the mind. The Devi is the creative force of the mind, our “will”! Mahisa is particularly difficult to decipher, but then what is the most persistent and powerful kind of thought that can disrupt your life and capture the peace of Amaravati, your “peace of mind”?
Battle of ten kings RV
For example, one narrative built on what is often translated as the battle of ten kings, is shown to be evidence of periods of external invasions, like the Aryan invasion. In reality, the battle of ten kings is metaphysical and refers to the battle we do with the ten types of emotion – krodha, dvesha, moha, kama, lobha, mada, matsarya, dhambha, raga and ahankara – and transcend them in order to reach the Shiva state.
The shruti is entirely metaphysical/spiritual, apurusheya, revealed knowledge, expressions of rapture, analogies of the layers of the human mind and the underlying consciousness, a roadmap to the source of all creation, as the diagram below attempts to illustrate.