Category Archives: Speculation

Fate and Human Endeavour

I recently read some posts which presented in ingenious ways their take on irrational and rational  faiths and beliefs. The term rational–faith seemed rather confronting, with the two contradictions placed face to face, as if one was challenging the other.  In that context, the fate and its inevitable part in human life were also mulled over. And, I found the posts interesting. I reckon there is a bit more to fate and its related issue: the human endeavor; hence this post.

What is fate?

1.1. It is common experience that most of the things that happen in one’s life result from one’s efforts or in the process of trying to do something. One is naturally gratified to see his endeavours crowned with success, either immediately or after a passage of time. And, the persons who succeed,deservedly ,  congratulate themselves over their efforts.  However, there are also occasions, though seldom, when things seem to just happen, almost on their own accord.  And at times , things seem to happen despite oneself. Such rare happenings could either be a delightful surprise or be a cause for  agonizing distress.

1.2. When a person is happy; when life is easy and pleasant; when things are flowing like milk and honey; or, when one is overwhelmed in joy from a windfall, then it is the good- fortune that smiles on him/her. When you or your dear one is suddenly cured of an ailment, it is then a miracle. When you just escaped an accident that could have grievously injured you or could even have killed you, it is then providence or divine intervention. You thank god profusely for his mercy.  You also come to accept providence as the divine will, the divine notion or plan that governs all events in the universe.

1.3. There also comes a time when ones effort does not bring forth fruits as expected; or, the things that started well begin to show signs of going weary. And it is worse when your project slides into an abject wreck, for no fault of yours. Nothing seems to reasonably explain your failures. The disappointments, sufferings and sorrow that follow are then blamed on fate.

2.1. Thus, a windfall or bright fortune is good luck. But, Fate  has come to  be understood as  one that is  inseparably linked to prolonged or acute suffering, undeserved punishment , reverses in life, unexpected losses , humiliation, poverty, disease , loss , death of near and dear ones etc. It is especially agonizing when the suffering is undeserved and unjust. What should one conclude when such acute loss or sorrow is brought about by no apparent fault of hers/ his; and, when failures are not rationally linked to any agent or any action?  It is his Fate, he laments.

2.2. Fate serves as a gap-filler to fill the vacuum in his understanding of the world around him when other visible or rational explanations fail. The concept is reinforced further, in a negative way, at the sight of an evil person enjoying happiness and good things in life, while a righteous one suffers eking out a miserable existence. Since neither the comfort nor the misery – undeserved in either case – can be explained in a rational way, they are routinely blamed on the inevitable play of the fate.

3.1. Having said that, what one calls Fate is not an objective reality. It cannot be perceived by human senses. Some call it a creation of human imagination ; or, at best is a default-inference. One could even say that man invented fate by re-ordering his moral world , so that he could ascribe to it whatever that did not fit into its paradigm. It may also have been born of man’s refusal to accept the idea that life is wholly irrational; and, out of his pet-belief that there is an unknown area beyond all that is known which would explain life and its mystique.

In a way of speaking, it might not be wrong to call fate a projection of man’s fears and helplessness in the face of strange, untoward, unexpected, undeserved occurrences for which he is wholly not-responsible and unprepared; and, for which he has no explanation. It is something towards which he feels is driven, going by his hard experiences in the world.

3. 2. Fate, by its very concept, is thus, irrational. One could lament that Fate is blind; it gives solace but not light; and, never  guidance. Yet, one cannot entirely deny the unknown and the unpredictable elements of life.  Man, therefore, calls fate : a capricious phantom.  And yet, he manfully challenges this caprice, unwilling to surrender to its whims, to deflect its moves through precaution, valour, and various other brave and crafty ways. That is the crux of life.

Fate in Indian ethos

4.1. Surprisingly, the concept and the belief in fate is a late entry into the Indian ethos. None of the four Samhitas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas or the Upanishads speaks of fate. In Rig Veda, particularly, prayers are addressed to benevolent gods who are gently or fervently persuaded to grant fertility in crops and cattle, to bless with plenty of sons and wealth. There is a joyous optimism looking forward with hope to be truly alive over a ‘span-of hundred – sharad ritus’, the best of the seasons. These texts do not have trace of fatalism. But, the concept of fate and fatalism gained prominence much later in the Epics and the Puranas. We shall talk a bit more of that in the paragraphs to follow.

4.2. The first philosopher to formally propound the theory of fatalism (Niyati-vada) was Makkhali Gosala, an early contemporary of the Buddha. Some say; he was called Gosala because he was born in a cow-shed. Panini the Grammarian (around 5th century BCE) described him as Maskarin (one who carries a bamboo staff).  Makkhali Gosala was a follower of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara,    in the Nigantha Nataputta Order of Jainism. Gosala too was a naked ascetic. Due to differences with the main Jaina Sangha, Makkhali Gosala left the Order ;and , founded his own sect: the Ajivika.

[ Dr. Benimadhab Barua (A History of pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy) says, Ajivikas cannot be entirely identified with naked recluse/ascetics. They were, in general, independent and self-respecting individuals who had following among the Jains as also Buddhists. The Ajivika thesis, in main, according to him, is that the universe is a purposive order where everything is assigned its place and function (niyati).The law of change is universal and all beings are capable of transformation; and most attain perfection in due time. The man’s life has to pass through eight stages of development at each of which physical growth proceeds along with the development of senses, moral and spiritual faculties. And, finally leading to purity of mind; purging it of all impurities that have stained it.

Thus Dr. Barua’s rendition varies from the popular versions of the Ajivika-beliefs.

Dr. Barua gives some biographic details of Gosala that are not mentioned by others: The Jain sources mention his name as Maskarin – one who carries a staff; also known as Ekadandin.  Maskarin preceded Mahavira by sixteen years. His actual name was Gosala Mankhaliputta – son of Mankhali and Bhaddha; and was born at Saravana near Savastthi. His father Mankhali derived his name from the profession he followed a dealer in pictures. Gosala followed his father’s profession until he turned a monk.]

4.3. Ajivika sect was perhaps the first to put forward fatalism as being absolute and final. It embraced the concept of fate rather too tightly ; and, affirmed fate as the ultimate reality in human life. It believed: ‘there is no such thing as human endeavour, human strength or determination; all things are pre-determined’. His parent body, the Jainas , did not however quite approve of Gosala’s theory; and , promptly labelled it ‘ajnana-vada’, the doctrine of ignorance.

4.4. Gosala seems to say you are free to take the first step; but as soon as you take it, you are bound by the outcome of your act and have lost your freedom of choice. For instance; let’s say you are about to plant a sapling. As long as you have not done it, almost all options are open to you. But, once you decide on your choice, its outcome is also determined.  If you plant a mango tree, then you reap only mangos; and , no other fruit. In other words, you can act, but its outcome is predestined.

[This sounds very similar to Prof. Cassius .J. Keyser’s concept of Logical Fate which essentially means that from premises consequences follow. Choices differ . . . and when we have made it, we are at once bound by a destiny of consequences   beyond our will to control or to modify (See his Mathematical Philosophy). ]

5.1. Makkhali Gosala had declared: “There is neither cause nor basis for sins of human beings. None of the deeds of man can affect his future births. All beings, all that have breath, all that are born, all that have life, are without power, strength, or virtue; but, are developed by destiny, chance and nature. All existence is unalterably fixed (niyata). Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect; but, are pre-determined by niyati (fate). And, niyati being adrsta is unseen and preordained . Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect ”.

5.2. The Buddha totally disliked the fatalistic theory ;  called its promoter Gosala as the most dangerous of the heretic teachers; and,  remarked  : “Just as the hair blanket is  the meanest of all woven garments , even so, of all the teachings of nagga-samanas (naked recluse) that of Makkhali is the meanest” (Majjhima  Nikaya :1:513).

5.3. The reason that the Buddha summarily dismissed the fatalism of Gosala was perhaps because, it rendered human life utterly irresponsible; robbing it of accountability for man’s evil or even good deeds. Gosala had said , man was not responsible for his deeds as he was under the control of fate.  Further, Gosala had discounted the role of Karman in life as also in life-after-life of all beings; but , had put faith in fate. Gosala had thus attacked the very foundation of the Buddha’s fundamental theory of the chain of cause-and- effect, where the effect is produced by a cause through modifications. The Buddhist law of causation – Pratītyasamutpāda – was the basis of every other doctrine in Buddhism including rebirth, karma, samsara, dukkha etc.

[But the later forms of Buddhism could not keep out the element of fate. For instance, a Jataka tale (No.257 Gamanichanda) makes out that chance predominates and takes over the course of human life as the agent of fate. And in another Jataka (No.538 Mugapakka)   a king chased by ill-luck for long period says “I know not where I go, the fate watching never sleeps”.]

Karman and rebirth

6.1. But what is Karman? Simply put, it is action, any action, good, bad or indifferent which involves a moral decision. But, occasionally, unwitting action – good or bad- also counts for Karman. It is the belief that ‘as a man decides, he acts; and, as he acts he gets the fruits of action  ‘.

6.2. It was much later that rebirth came to be associated with Karman: a man was born and lived according to what he did in his life on earth. This association had many facets. Initially, the rebirth had reference only to the future. But, with Karman , it became a two-ended proposition: a man’s past Karman determines his present station; and, his present station determines how he will fare in the future. It also meant that Karman took time to mature and to yield its results. This time gap (karma-pari-paka) was compared to the interval between sowing and harvesting; or between administering medicine and regaining health.

6.3. Karman in association with rebirth was , largely , an assumption (just as many of these concepts) ; and , was not proved by any of the valid means of knowledge or the methods of cognition (Pramana). But, Karman seemed to offer an explanation to the illogical inequalities and relative-injustices that one comes across in the world. That made it easy to explain the fact that certain persons occupy higher positions in the social hierarchy, enjoy the power and all the benefits that come with their status because of their Karman in their past births.

7. 1. But, these elucidations seemed to have a limited range, as they   did not adequately explain all events in human life. It was pointed out that similar actions do not always produce similar results. And, it did not explain the vast range of variations that occur even among the fortunate ones better placed in life. Further, it was argued,   how could an individuals’ Karman explain a natural calamity like famine, epidemic, accidents, disasters etc involving mass-deaths. Does it mean that all those victims had identical Karman which matured at precisely the same instant?

7.2. It was then put forward that   there had to be another factor which influenced human life , in tandem with Karman and rebirth. That unknown factor came to be accepted as the fate. It was brought in as a powerful agent to reinforce ; and, to strengthen the Karman-theory. The apparent injustices were ascribed to fate, whose mystiques could not be remedied or unveiled.

Thus, along with Karman and rebirth, fate became the third factor in controlling human existence, life and destiny.

Fate and religion

8.1. All religions, cultures and sects have element of fatalism, in some form or other. A faith in an unknown force which controls human destiny is at the base of most religions and mythologies. Elaborate tales are spun to drive home the conviction that a mystery surrounds human existence; and, it will never be fully revealed.

8.2. Most systems seek to see the God or  gods and fate as distinct powers. In some theologies, the God is seen playing with the fate , the grief and joys of his creatures; in some others , gods are subservient to fate; and , in few others, the gods and fate together exercise power over human destiny. In some cases, the fate , in one or other names, occupies a key position in the pantheon. For instance; Fate is also equated with Time, kaala: ‘if kaala is adverse and angry, how, then, shall we escape? ..!’. Time , in human life , runs along a single direction; and , it rushes towards death. Hence , Time becomes synonymous with death. And, death becomes an essential constituent of fate, which terminates the course of  life.

8.3. In the Vedic religion, which has a fluid pantheon, where new gods come and old gods fade away rather quietly, Karman, rebirth and fate continued to play a role. The fate , here, is both dependent and independent of Karman, as it was deemed possible for an individual to exercise his free-will in order to correct himself ; and , to improve his future prospects.

8.4. In monotheism where nothing can happen without the will of God, the God will necessarily have to assume the role of fate too. Otherwise, if its follower believes in destiny as determined by fate , then there would be no room for God, as the dispenser of destiny.

9.1. The things get bit more complicated when you put together the fate, the Karman, the grace of god and the human effort. If one strongly believes in fate and its role in determining human destiny, then Karman becomes redundant. If ,on the other hand, one subscribes to the faith  and belief  that it is the Law of  Karman , which governs human life and its future , then fate has no place in such a  scheme of things. And, if one has immense faith in God , who in his infinite grace, over rides Karman and fate, then either are rendered ineffective. In which case, total submission to god’s grace is the ultimate panacea for all worldly ills.

The diversity of the views regarding the relative merits of Karman, fate, divine favor and personal effort represent or depend upon the different anchors of human faith. Most theologies seek to reconcile these factors.

9.2. As regards human endeavour, one can never discount its efficacy in life. It is after all the man who decides the attitudes to adopt at varying times as he battles with life. It is also his decision to discard all or any of those approaches, or to relay on his own effort and judgment. Life has no meaning and is not worth living when human endeavour is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endower runs alongside some sort of faith.

Fate in Epics and Puranas

10.1. It is in the Epics and the Puranas that fate seems to take the centre stage.

In the Ramayana and Mahabharata Epics, several situations are so crafted as if to bring human endeavour face-to-face with fate. In the many incidents narrated in the epics, fate does not act directly;  but it takes subtler methods of clouding the victim’s wits. Sometimes, fate acts as a living human enemy, hurting the unsuspecting victims.

10.2. There are homilies that acknowledge the supremacy of fate as that which cannot be grasped by thought; and, as that which is not destroyed in creatures”(Ram: 2.20:20). There are also remarkably brave statements which applaud human effort (purusakara or purusha-prayatna) ; and , decry dependence on fate as ‘false-games that people play and delude themselves ‘ : “when he  cleaves to fate without conducting himself like a man, he  labours in vain like a woman with an impotent husband (Mbh: 8:6:20)”; and, that “Low men given to indulgence of the passions blame the fate for their own evil deeds ” (Mbh: 8:67:1).

11.1. The principle characters of the Epics – Sri Rama and Yudhistira – lament and blame their miseries on fate: Who can fight against fate?”(Ram -2:22:20); ”The man to whom fate allots defeat, it robs him of his intellect first and then he begins to see things in a reverse order. Fate robs him of vision, falling like an eye of fire on him” (Mbh: 2.73:8; 3:295:1).

But what is more important here is that the heroes of the Epics, despite their miseries and delusions, do not give up;  but , keep on fighting resolutely  till the end.

11.2. But, it is the relatively minor characters that stand up for human endeavour ; and, refuse to accept the verdict of fate. For instance; Lakshmana argues with his   dejected brother : “why an able bodied man with his faculties intact should accept unjust verdicts of fate without protest?”. His argument has a subtle point : when success is achieved by ones brave efforts, people tend to ascribe it to fate and destiny. That is unfair, according Lakshmana, as it robs the brave man of his well deserved glory. To Lakshmana, it is cowardly to submit to fate, to suffer injustice without protest, while it is possible to do so, and then blame the fate for his misery (Ram: Kishkinda Kanda).

11.3. Karna the tragic hero of Mahabharata though a Kshatriya by birth was not aware of his origin, because he grew up as a charioteer’s son. When others jeered him of his low extract, Karna retorted  : “A charioteer or a charioteer’s son, whoever I may be, my birth was decreed by fate; but, I am the master of my valour”. Here was an instance of a proud self-confident person , who undertakes tasks and performs with faith in Purushakara.

11.4. The great battle of Mahabharata was, in one sense, a battle between fate and human effort. The warriors on either side knew well that victory was essentially uncertain; and, their own life was highly threatened . Yet, heroic men fought with great courage. Every warrior, mighty and small,  had realized that meek acceptance of fate meant negating the glory of his manhood. Yet, each one was also prepared to conditionally accept his fate as a venture into an unknown zone riddled with startling events. And, regardless of the outcome each fighter , even the ordinary one, was determined to battle courageously, more manfully and to fight against the mightier odds, if only to redeem his  pride and that  of his clan.

11.5. Mahabharata has some great statements on fate and human endeavour : “Whatever the enterprising man ever does, he must do it fearlessly; and , the success however depends on fate (Mbh: 8:1.47)” ; “as a lamp grows weak as the oil runs out, so the fate grows weak when the fruits of action are exhausted” (Mbh: 8:6:44).

12.1. Puranas were written mainly to glorify the powers, the splendour and supremacy of their principal gods or goddesses. They urge the devotee to surrender to the will and mercy of gods and goddesses. But, at the same time, they call upon men not to give up their efforts: “Some wise men call fate as the false hope that feeble cling to. For the powerful men, no fate is ever noticed. The heroic and the feeble take recourse to effort and fate respectively “(Devibhagavata: 5:12:28-30); and, “the wise hold that prowess is the best. Even an adverse fate can be overcome by the prowess of those of good conduct who are ever active and dedicated” (Matsya Purana).

Here, the emphasis is laid on human effort, without which even fate is powerless to achieve anything. Here , cleaving of fate is not condemned; but, doing so and abandoning personal effort is.

12.2. The Puranas tried to reconcile fate and human effort. There are several statements that emphasize that one should always be active in ones prescribed field of activity. And , that only the people without prowess talk of fate;  many alas do not realize that it is primarily their effort (purusha-prayatna) that paves way for their salvation. They emphasize the importance of self-initiative. The Puranas and its legends assured that human effort (purushakara) blessed by fate would surely bear fruit, in due time.

Fate and Human endeavour

13.1. It can be seen that absolute dependence on fate and the absolute reliance on human endeavour are projected as two extreme positions. It would however be prudent to recognize the limits of both; which is to say, one is powerless without the other or that where the one ends the other begins. Human endeavour, for instance, is the very act of living ; and, life has no meaning when human endeavour is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endower runs alongside some sort of faith. But, one has also to recognize that even the most sophisticated of all human endeavours – let’s say launching of a space shuttle – involves and is subject to an element of unknown and unpredictable. You might assign that unpredictability in life whatever name you choose.

13.2. Shri DSamapath , elsewhere, remarked that in situations where one is faced with extremes there always are other possibilities open for resolving the conflicts. Those options might range from the middle path to the simultaneity of all possibilities. These, he calls as the metaphors of thought. Such multi-pointed approach would, naturally, take into account not merely the whole of a ‘metaphor’ but also its specific variations. It is in that context that the Vedic religion re-worked on the theory of Karman; and, rendered it more dynamic , by providing for the freedom of individual will, enabling him to correct the errors and to improve upon his good-performance. That was  meant to convince  that the outcome of one’s past action is not always beyond control or beyond modification,  provided there is a strong will to so.

13.3. Shri DSampath’s observation also implies that there could be as many approaches or attitudes to life as there are individuals. I agree with him. It appears to me that amidst all those options, what is important is to retain a  sense of balance in life recognizing the limits of each of the factors that play an effective role in the different contexts  of the varied spheres of human life. As Uddalaka Aruni counsels his son, one has to understand life through reason grasped in faith: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; Have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2). … What that faith is at the very core of each being.

To sum up:

Haman initiative and endeavour is highly essential in life; without that, life would collapse on itself. But, that does not say everything. At almost all levels , even at its most sophisticated and highest level , human effort involves and is subject to elements of unknown and unpredictable; you may assign them any name/s . Which suggests that human freedom is  just operational; but, it is not absolute freedom.

Roger Sperry (1913-1994) a psycho biologist (neuro-psychologist and neuro-biologist) who won the Nobel Prize for his split-brain research) explained free will as follows

What one wants of free will is not to be totally freed from causation, but rather, to have the kind of control that allows one to determine one’s own actions according to one’s own wishes, one’s own judgment, perspective, cognitive aims, emotional desires and other mental inclinations.

We are free to select our assumptions. But to exercise this freedom, man must first realize that he is thus free. There could be as many assumptions and beliefs as there are individuals. Fate, god or such others could also be one of those beliefs. If one has firm conviction in ones belief and strives towards that, then ‘That’ would become the reality for him , in due time.  And that is his faith, the very core of his being.

Leaving aside remarkable sages and saints, it appears to me, for the men and women of the world,  it is important to retain a sense of balance and to understand life through reason grasped in faith, as said.



Posted by on October 9, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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The other migrations


1.1. It is said; the Vedic region broadly comprised three areas:  Ila the western regions, Bharathi the tracts of the alluvial plains of the Ganga and Jamuna do-ab, and the third region being of course the Sindhu or Sarasvati.

1.2. There is a view which asserts that ’Ila’, in fact, refers to the Land’s End  of the Sothern India the parts of which were rescued from the Great Flood  of  the very distant past. It also mentions about the migration of people from the lands threatened by flood waters towards safe upper reaches and to regions in the North. The ancient texts such as Shatapatha Brahmana and the puranas as also the ancient Tamil texts seem to support that view. Let’s talk of Ila of the South.

Yayathi and sons

2.1. Yayathi the legendry king of the Vedic people is said to have had two wives: Devayani the daughter of Shukrachaya of the Bhrigu clan; and Sharmishta the daughter of Vrisha Parvan, the King of Asuras in the south west (Gujarat area) bordering the central region ruled by Yayathi. Vrisha Parvan too was a follower of the Bhrigus.

Devayani had earlier fallen in love, desperately, with Kaccha the son of Brihaspathi of the Angirasa clan. But her love was rejected.

2.2. Turvasha and Yadu were sons of Yayathi (an Angirasa) by Devayani of the Bhrigus; while Anu, Druhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta of the Asuras.

2.3. Yayathi’s story indicates that the five great lines of Vedic rulers were born of an alliance of Deva and Asura kings, the followers of Angirasa and Bhrigu seers. Yayathi’s marriage with the Bhrigu women was perhaps an attempt to bring together the two rival clans.

2.4. According to Vishnu Purana (4.10.17-18) the king Yayathi divided his kingdom among his five sons .To Turvasha he gave the south-east; to Druhayu the west; to Yadu the south and west in the Narmada –Godavari region; to Anu the north; and to Puru the centre. Purus ruled as the Supreme king of all earth.

2.5. In the lineage of the Puranas, the Purus and Yadus rule famously, for long years, as the prominent kings of Chandra-vamsha, the lunar dynasty. The descendents of Puru and Yadu branched into Pauravas and Yadavas, respectively. Dushyanata followed by his son Bharata was the pioneer of the Puru clan in which line descended the Kuru and Pandava princes. While, Krishna son of Yadava prince Vasudeva was the culmination of the Yadu clan.

The west and the south combine

3.1. Turvasha and Yadu, the two sons of Devayani of the Bhrigus were said to be twins; and were particularly close. The kings of the Dravida region were the descendents of Turvasha, while the kings of the island of Sri Lanka were Yadus. The regions ruled by the two clans stretched from the upper regions of the Narmada to the end of Southern land mass which perhaps extended   beyond the present-day Sri Lanka. The entire region was ruled practically as one kingdom, because the ruling families in the South had very friendly relations with the Yadus of the Narmada region in the west. All were in the line of the Bhrigus.

3.2. The later legends mention of the sizable presence of the Asuras- Yadus – Brighus in the Narmada and Godavari region. It is said that Lavana, a Yadu and a disciple of the Brighus controlled that region. Lavana was related to Ravana who was a Yadu; a militant Yadu just as Kamsa of Mathura in the much later era. The followers of Lavana (including Ravana’s sister) roamed freely in the region. It was from this area that Ravana abducted Sita.

The Deluge and after

4.1. The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1) describes the floods that swept the lands of the Vedic people, the rescue of the lands from the advancing floods; and of moving people and animals threatened by waters to the upper regions in the North. The other Vedic texts too carry similar legends of floods and the rescue. The later Puranas   and Srimad Bhagavatam turned the great event associated with the rescue from the floods into the legend of Matsya-Avatara of Vishnu, his emergence as a Fish, the first of his ten principal incarnations.

4.2. According to the legends, a little fish (a shaphari crap fish)  asked a  kingto save its life while he was performing his early morning- austerities  standing in the river : and it kept growing bigger and bigger. The fish also informed the King of a huge flood which would soon hit and sweep away his land. The King thereafter built a huge boat to rescue his people, nine types of seeds, and animals in order to repopulate the earth.

[H.S. Bellamy in his Moons, Myths and Men, estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as – China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia- each has its own version of a giant flood].

5.1. The common features of most (not all) of the Indian legends of the Great Flood are: The king who rescued the land and its people from the encroaching flood waters was Satyavrata of Bhrigu clan, perhaps a king in line of Yadu or Turvasha. He ruled in the Southern region — Dravida Desha. When the little fish jumped into his palms holding water as offering to gods, the king Satyavrata was standing in the waters of the river Kritamala flowing down from Malaya Hills .After he built the boat, Satyavrata sailed north, away from the floods, and he rescued humans, animals and plants by taking them to safety in the regions of north and west. Ila is the name of Satyavrata’s daughter; she is described as Maitra-Varuni (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 6. 4.28) suggesting she descended from the line of the Bhrigus.  Ila is also the name of the land the parts of which were rescued from the flood waters.

5.2. The Malaya hills mentioned in the legends refer to the ranges in the peninsular region of India stretching south from Sri Sailam to the southern end of the Western Ghats, which could be the border areas between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. An account of the pilgrimages undertaken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) mentions: “The Lord next visited the places known as Pandya-Desa, Tamraparni…, Panangudi, Carntapura, Sri Vaikuntha, Malaya-parvata and Kanya-kumari”.  As regards the Kritamala River, it is believed to be the Vaigai River or its tributary. The river Kritamala is mentioned in Mahabharata in the context of Balarama’s pilgrimage: “After the Setubandha (Ramesvaram) Lord Halayudha then visited the Krtamala and Tamraparni (of the Tirunelveli district) rivers and the great Malaya Mountains”. Kritamala is also mentioned in the travel accounts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Satyavrata might have therefore been a Yadu king of the Pandya country.

The king Satyavrata later became the progenitor of this eon: Vaivasvata Manu. He then was described as being in the line of the Vivasvan, an Aditya, a solar deity. Here too, Ila is his daughter.

5.3. All these suggest that king Satyavrata came from the South. And, the lands and people rescued from the deluge were part of a large landmass called Ila or Ilavar or Ilam named after the daughter of king Satyavrata who became Vaivasvata Manu. The people rescued from Southern waters were moved to north and west. And, the Vedas existed before and after the deluge.

The Land of Ila

6 . 1. That fuels the argument that ancient Ila – mandalam ‘The Land of Ila’ lay to the South, and its Vedic- tradition of the Aryans was rescued by the efforts its king and his people. And thereafter   , following a great migration, it rejoined the Vedic culture on the banks of the Saraswati River and flourished afresh. Since the rescue was by means of a huge boat that could sail over turbulent waters, the rescued population of the South could have reached the Saraswati basin by setting sail from a port situated along the west coast, nearer to the Pandya country. That possibility seems to give wings to the view that some of the early Vedic people in the Sindhu valley were migrants from Ila of the South; and that an early form of Dravidian language was one of the languages of the Indus people. Scholars assert that the Dravida influence was certainly present in north-western India by around the middle of the second millennium BC.

Shri Bhadriraju   Krishnamurti in his ‘The Dravidian Languages’ mentions that the Rig Vedic society consisted several different ethnic components who all participated in the same cultural life; and that the Rig Vedic Sanskrit had several borrowed-terms from the Dravidian e.g. ulukhala (mortar); kunda (pit); khala (threshing floor); kana (one eyed); and mayura (peacock).

6.2. A Russian Indologist, Nikita Gurov, claims that there were as many as eighty words of Dravidian origin in the Rig-Veda, ‘occurring in 146 hymns of the first, tenth and the other mandalas , e.g. RV 1.33.3, vaila (sthana-) -open space : wayal– open space , sunlight ; RV. 10.15, kiyambu –a water plant; RV 1.144, vril – finger: RV 1. 8.40, vilu- stronghold; witu – house, abode, camp; sira – plough; and kanuka –gift. Gurov also cites some proper names, namuci, kıkata, paramaganda; and suggests these could be of Dravidian origin.

6.3. The legends of Ila thus help to bind together the Vedic tales and the tales from the old Tamil texts.

The ancient Tamil legends

7.1. The ancient Tamil texts recall legends of a sunken kingdom that lay to the South-East of India. This land was known as Kumari Kandam ‘The Virgin Landmass’ or Ilam; and it included other parts of the now visible lands of Sri Lanka. That could be quite possible, since in the scale of geological time, the mountain ranges in the south-central Sri Lanka are regarded the oldest in the world. The geologists believe that these mountains existed while the Himalayan regions were still under water.

The Silappadhikaram, one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature   said to have been written in first few centuries BCE, states that the ‘cruel sea’ took the Pandiyan land that lay between the rivers Pahruli and the mountainous banks of the Kumari.

Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th-century commentator on the Silappadhikaram, explains that there was once a land to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari, which stretched for 700 kavatam from the Pahruli River in the north to the Kumari River in the south. the precise modern equivalent of a kavatam is not known. The speculations about the extent of the lands devoured by the ocean range from 6-7,000 square miles;  or  a smaller area .



7.2. The deluge and its consequences caused large movements of people towards the upper regions in the north and to west. Early Tamil texts  mention that the present-day Madurai came up as  the new capital in remembrance of the old  capital Ten-Madurai sunken underwater ( the ruins of Ten-Madurai are supposed to be lying under water in the region of the Great and Little Bases in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka).

7.3. Even several centuries after its  surrounding lands submerged under the sea , the author of The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (dated around the first century) names the island of Sri Lanka as  Palaisimoondus  , which actually meant Palaya –ila- mandalam, meaning the old-land – of Ilam.

(please see the map or  click here for an enlarged version).


Sage Agastya

8.1. The sage Agastya a revered seer of the South was the brother of sage Vasistha. The two are described as Bhrigus and carried the name Maitra-varuni; say like, Agastya Maithravaruni. The Puranas describe them as born out of water (children of Varuna), perhaps to suggest that the brothers escaped the flood waters and sailed out of it.

The brothers helped in controlling the floods and in rescuing the people. Thereafter Vasistha sailed back north along with the rescued people, while his brother Agastya stayed in the South. He then settled down at an ashram in the lower regions of   Western Ghats.

Vasistha seemed to have enjoyed his voyage back home and recalls the happy days on board the ship:

“Boarding the ship, when Varuna and I entered the mid-ocean and floated with other vessels on water we indeed very much enjoyed the delightful rocking of the ship “(RV 7. 88. 3-4).

8.2. Agastya seems to have been a remarkable sage. He is described as ‘born small, not more than a span in length”; nonetheless he travelled from north to south along with eighteen groups of disciples chartering a new land route to South; and for that feat, he was accorded the epithet Vindhya-kuta, the one who tamed the Vindhyas .Until then, people used mainly the rivers or the coast to move about within the sub-continent. There were of course no regular roads during those times; and travel by land routes was very hazardous. The position remained so until about late 19th century.

[The Sea route

I reckon even the people of Harappa used the river or canal transport wherever expedient. With Himalayas being a vast stretch of high mountains, horribly cold and inhospitable, India’s trade and contacts with other countries had to be mainly through the sea routes, particularly through the ports along its west coast. Even during the earliest periods, it is said, the Bhrigus who dwelt in the Indus and the lower Narmada valley were great navigators, expert mariners, and enterprising tradesmen who controlled the trade between India and the peoples to its west, such as the Assyrians.


The Archeologists state that based on terracotta tablets and a graffito on a potsherd secured from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappans were the builders of large ships and their maritime trade extended up to Mesopotamia during third millennium BCE. From the terracotta models and the engraved seals unearthed, five types of sailing vessels have been identified. It is also said; the Harappans had built tide-docks for berthing and servicing ships at the port town of Lothal.

There are also abundant references in ancient Indian literature, including Rig-Veda, Baudhayana Dharmasastram, Manava-dharma-sastra, Kautaliya’s Arthasastra, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka tales in Pali, and in the Sangam works of the ancient Tamils about the maritime activity of the Indian people in ancient times for domestic, trade and naval war.

The celebrated Grammarian Panini (about sixth century BCE) in his Astadhyayi refers to various types of river crafts and ships during his , such as  utsagna, udupa, udyata, utputa, pitaka etc. A large boat was called Udavahana or Udakavahana. He mentions about cargo transport (dvaipya) form a nearby island and about large (dvaipa or dvaipaka) vessels coming in from mid-ocean. Panini makes brief mention of the ferry changes, cargoes, marine trade etc of his days.

A  Sanskrit work of the post-Gupta period Yukti-Kalpa-Tatru, a compilation ascribed to one Bhoja Narapati (King Bhoja ?) provides amazing details about the Indian shipping and ship-building of the ancient period. Under three broad categories, Bhoja mentions the details of about twenty-seven types of vessels. The River-going ships are treated as Samanya (general) and ocean going ships are treated as Visesa (special).   The three classes of ships described by Bhoja were: Sarva-mandira, a peace-time , large cargo  vessel meant for goods , animals and common people ; Madhya- mandira with a covered deck or living quarters in the middle to provide shelter from sun and rain; and, Agra-mandira  , a large vessel with the living room located in front or at the top of the vessel, meant   for distant voyages and carrying up to   about seven hundred passengers. The commentators mention that the largest vessel measured about 276 ft. X 36 ft. X 27 ft. weighing roughly 2,300 tons.

 ( _)


Further, because of the established trade route in the western sea, the Yadu people used the Harappan port cities such as Lothal or Dholavira in Gujarat and Kutch to trade with Sri Lanka. That trade went back to the third millennium BC. Therefore, migration of large number of people from Pandya Desha in south India to the Sind – Gujarat region, after the great deluge, does not seem improbable.

Tamil ship

During the times of the recorded history, the Indian direct trade in textiles, minerals, gems, perfumes and spices   with Egypt and Rome could flourish because the sea routes from Maziris (Pattanam?)  along the Malabar Coast as also the monsoon trade (Hippalus) winds helped avoiding the middlemen, the Arabs. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West several centuries prior to Christian era.

 Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history, mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast. The researchers said the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

The trade on the eastern side somehow came about much later; and was confined to the islands of near east . But   Japan being mostly insular having a culture of its own remained a distant proposition; India had very limited direct contact with Japan.]

8.3. Agastya too had a role in controlling the flood waters. That was turned into a legend of his drinking up the ocean (Pitabdhi . He also perhaps devised ways to divert the Cauvery River to Chola-mandalam. or Samudra-chuluka)

Bali – Vamana legend

9.1. There is also a talk of another migration at a later era. It relates to the migration of the Brighus – the Yadus from the Saraswathi and Narmada regions to far south and to Sri Lanka. And, that has to do with the Bali – Vamana legend.

9.2. The Mahabali – Vamana episode is at times explained in the context of Brighu- Angirasa rivalry. Maha-Bali (aka Indrasena) the son of Virochana and the grandson of the legendry devote-prince Prahlada, was an Asura. Shukra the son of Brighu was his preceptor. The king Mahabali, whose preceptors were the Brighus, ruled and controlled vast area called Brighu Desha or Brighu Kakshya – the domain of the Brighu (Brighu kaccha – Baruch) that covered the west, the north-west and the south west of the Indus. He performed a sacrifice on the southern banks of the Narmada situated in Brighu Kakshya.

9.3. Vamana represents the arrival of Angirasas into the kingdom of Mahabali. Vamana the son of sage Kashyapa, in the linage of the Angirasa, initially asked the king for a small piece of land for their settlement; and the king consented to his request despite warning from his priest (Shukra).  The Bhargava Shukra seemed to be aware of the designs of the Angirasas. The Kashyapas, starting from their small settlement, spread throughout the kingdom of Mahabali and eventually overthrew him from his kingship. The story of Vamana, perhaps, signifies the transfer of power from the Asura kings and their Brighu priests to the Devas and their Angirasa priests.

9.4. The Brighus and Yadus who earlier formed the majority in the Bhrigu country were now overwhelmed by the fresh immigrants. They were thereafter resettled – through sea route – by Bhargava Rama (in the linage of the Brighus) along the western coast and in what is now Kerala. The resettled Brighus carried to their lands the legend of their beloved King Mahabali and also the Krishna cult.

[Some of these are views; may not necessarily be verifiable facts. Chronology and ordering the events in sequences is the other issue.]

References and Sources

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 8, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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Yama, the Dharma Raja

This article is about Yama the Dharma raja, the dispenser of justice, the guardian of the ancestors and the lord of death. Yama is one of the Loka-pala or Dikpala, the Regents of the directions. He presides over the South.

Before we return to Yama, let’s briefly talk about the Dikpalas.


1.1. Space the substratum of the cosmos is the abode, the source of all forms. The directions, the determinants of space, therefore, have a special significance. In the Indian traditions which include Buddhism and Jainism, the deities are connected with the directions which symbolically reveal and express their powers.

1.2. Orientation is an essential aspect of the yajna. Elaborate care is taken to ensure location of the yajna altar exactly along the East-West axis, the prachee. The East where the sun rises; West where the sun sets; the North and South towards which Sun’s path tilts during the cycle of seasons, were all of much significance to the Vedic people. That was because; those directions complimented the attributes associated with the gods invoked in the yajna.

2.1. Each direction is governed by a deity, a Dikpala. These Regents of the directions are deemed the protectors of the world, Loka-pala. They are the rulers of the spheres; and therefore are depicted with royal attributes.

2.2. Dikpalas are usually said to be eight in number; each governing a direction in space. In the Upanishads, the Dikpalas or Lokapalas are mentioned as four and at times as five; in the puranas and epics their number is eight; but, the Tantra traditions which adopt a three-dimensional view of the cosmos regard the Lokapalas as ten, by including zenith and nadir.

3.1. The orientation and architecture of the yajna vedi, the yajna altar, the towns, cities, the temples and buildings are all related to the division of the sphere that corresponds to the attributes of its deity. In the context of the yajna, the Southern gate is reckoned as the way of the ancestors the pitris; and, the offerings to the departed ancestors are always submitted facing South.

3.2. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mentions Surya the Sun as the Regent of the East; Varuna of the West; Yama of the South; Soma of the North; and Agni in the zenith. But, the Chandogya Upanishad presents a slightly different arrangement of the Dikpalas. It is this spatial allocation of the Dikpalas that is commonly mentioned in the puranas, epics etc; and followed in the Tantra texts as also in astrology, architectures and Vastu. The classification is briefly:

Indra the king of Devas, the Lord of the heavens dwells in the East, which represents power and courage.

Dikpaka Indra Dikpala Yama

Yama the protector of the Law (Dharma raja), guardian of the ancestors and the king of the Dead dwells in the South, which represents justice and the care of the ancestors.

Varuna the protector of rta the cosmic law; guardian of rites; lord of destiny and the lord of water element dwells in the West, which represents knowledge.

Dikpala VarunaDikpala Kubera

And, Kubera the king of Yakshas and the lord of riches dwells in the North, which represents an upper position and wealth.


The Regents of the half-directions are mentioned as:

North-East is the region of Soma (the moon or the offering made to Agni); Ishana the purifier, an aspect of Shiva; and, Prithvi the Earth that nourishes all.

Dikpala Isana Dikpala Agni

South-East is the region of Agni the fire in all its forms and the yajna.


South-West is the region of   Surya the sun; or Nirtti the misery.

Dikpala nrtthi Dikpala Vayu

And, North-West is the region of Vayu or Marut the lord of winds, and of breath and life.

The two additional Regents mentioned in the Tantra are: Brahma representing knowledge at the zenith (Urdhva); and, Anantha, the endless or the boundless at the nadir (Patala), representing the potential powers of Vishnu.


3.3. The Dikpalas are the prominent Vedic deities. But, with the advent and rise of the puranic gods they have now receded to the background.

3.4. Before we discuss Yama   let me briefly mention of an interesting analysis made by Dr. Sukumari Bhattacharji in her classic ‘The Indian Theogony’ (Cambridge University Press, 1970) wherein she views the space as interplay of the benevolent , not so benevolent and the malevolent forces in nature. The point is that the universe is not all milk and honey, but is continual frictions, on gong challenges; strive for ascendency; as also the mutual tolerance and existence between  sets of forces opposing each other in varying degrees .

Shatapatha Brahmana (1:2:5:17) mentions the East is the region of gods, the North is the region of men; and South is the region of Pitris the departed ancestors. Indra the solar deity who represents light rules over only one quarter- the east, while the seven other quarters are ruled by the opposing deities. The west, diametrically opposite to east, is ruled by Varuna who somehow was included among the Adityas, the solar deities.

But, Varuna symbolizes the setting sun; and, thus is more closely associated with gods and powers of darkness than with those of light.

Agni who rules south –east is at once both beneficent and sinister. It is said; as Havya-vahana, the carrier of oblations to gods he is with the solar gods; but, as Kavya-vahana and Kavyad, the messenger of the Pitris, he is with the gods of darkness.

[Kavya-vahana or Kavyad is described as a fire invoked with Yama, as an offering to Pitris, on the New-moon day at the conclusion of the four-monthly offering.]

Similarly, Isana who rules north-east too has both divine and sinister bearings. He is the intermediary between gods and other powers.

Rudra who rules north is a Vedic god; but later he assumes darker hues and associations’.

And, Kubera is sub-divine, a Yaksha, with links to Rudra. Between Rudra and Varuna is Vayu who rules north-west; and, he too leans more towards the dark gods than towards the solar gods in the east.

In the South is Yama the Lord of Pitris and his followers, the Pitris. Yama too, like Rudra, is a Vedic god. But since the age of Brahmanas he is identified as the Lord of death and is almost a malevolent figure.

Finally, Between Yama and Varuna is the Nairratta kona the south west corner where the Nirriti and Nairrattas (monsters) rule.

It is even said; the Dikpalas are associated not merely with the directions but with the seasons as well. The spring, summer and rainy seasons belong to and represent the gods; while autumn, winter and dewy seasons belong to the Pitris. The fortnight during which the moon waxes is associated with gods; while the darker half of the month when the moon wanes is associated with Pitris. The day belongs to the gods and the night to the Pitris. The morning belongs to gods and the afternoon to the Pitris (SBII: 1:3:1).

As you see, Indra and Adityas, the solar deities, rule one quarter, while seven other quarters are ruled by forces that are either intermediary or in opposition the solar forces .What associates the gods of seven other quarters is the nature of death, decay and destruction. And, their distinct association with Pitris, the departed ancestors, binds the seven together; but, they do co exist with the solar gods. This complex interplay of light and shadow is a peculiar character of the Indian pantheon.

Yama the Dharma Raja


4.1. Yama is depicted as the sovereign of the infernal; the lord of death and the dispenser of justice; and the governor of eternal law that ensures rejuvenation of life and a sense of balance between the old and the new in all existence.  Yama , the son of Vivaswan  is Vaivaswata ; and, just as Sri Dakshinamurti , Yama is also associated with Udumbara ( fig tree).  He is the embodiment of righteousness, the Dharma;   and he is the king of justice, the Dharma raja. He judges the dead; but, he is amenable to pity and reason, as in the case of Savitri and Pramadvara* in the Mahabharata.

[ *


Pramadvara (pramadaam varaa, the best among the most beautiful) was the daughter of Menaka, the Apsara (celestial nymph) and Viswavasu, the king of Gandharvas. Since Pramadvara was abandoned by her parents, Rishi Sthulakesa raised the most delightful little girl with great care and love. Later in her life, just on the eve of her wedding with her beloved Ruru (son of hermit Pramati and damsel Ghritachi) Pramadvara  died suddenly , bitten by a snake. Ruru, the heartbroken bridegroom,  in deep sorrow and bewailing appeals to gods (Devas) to restore his Love Pramadvara  to life. Yama, the Dharmaraja, moved by pity and sympathizing with the plight of Ruru agrees to bring Pramadvara back to life; but, on condition that Ruru should  gift half of his remaining lifespan (Ayu) to her.  Ruru readily agrees to Yama’s rider with alacrity; Pramadvara comes back to life; and, immediately marries Ruru without losing time. The happy parents later beget a son Sunaka. And, his son   Saunaka, later,  as the chief of the Rshis,  performed a very long Yajna in the Naimisha forest (Naimisaranya). Saunaka is the one who heard the recitations of Mahabharata and   Srimad Bhagavata   from Suta and his son Ugrashravas. Saunaka, in turn, narrated these epics.  Saunaka is credited with monumental works, such as the Anukramanis ( a sort of Vedic Index) , Brhaddevata (which narrates  the legends of the Vedic gods ) and Rg Vidhana  (which explains each rk in the context  of the Srauta and Gruhya Sutras)]

At times, a distinction is made between Yama and Mrutyu. The both have a sort of working relationship. Mruthyu the death snatches the life on earth; and transfers it to Yama the lord of ancestors for dealing with it further.

Mrutyu the death, is the reality of life on the planet Earth (prithvi).The term Mrutyu is derived from the root mru which stands for earth (as in mrun the earth; mrutya the mortal being rooted to earth); and, Mrutyu literally is returning to the bowels of the earth.

Mrutyu is death personified; hymns are addressed to Mrutyu in Rig Veda (10.18) praying him not to harm children and men. The lifeless body is laid into earth the mother with the prayer –O mother Earth, oppress him not; be gracious unto him; shelter him kindly; cover him as mother covers her infant with her garment.

While the physical body returns to the elements, the subtle body is handed over by Mrutyu to Yama the lord of the ancestors. A prayer is submitted to Yama to prepare a dwelling place , in his world, for the dead one.


4.2. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the tenth book of Rig Veda are addressed to Yama.

In the Rig Veda, Yama is a minor god; and he is benign like any of its gods. He is described as “the first of men that died, and the first that departed to the (celestial) world.” He was the one who found the way to the home which cannot be taken away: Yama is ‘a gatherer of men’; and as one who looks after the well-being of the dead, to whom he provides food and shelter. He is invoked along with the Pitris (the departed ones) and Angirasa, and invited reverentially to sit on the grass-seat (kusha) and taste the oblation (RV 10.14.4-5). 

Dr. Muir says:  “Yama is nowhere represented in the Rig-Veda as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked. . So far as is yet known, the hymns of that Veda contain no prominent mention of any such penal retribution”

Atharva Veda (18.3.13) sings “Worship the son of Vivasvat, the gatherer of men with oblations, he who was the first of the mortals to die, he who first entered   this world”). It appears that Yama was initially a mortal but was the first to die and enter the ‘other world’ and gain the status of the gatherer of  people (departed souls) . He was eventually elevated to divine status and assigned a portion of the oblation at the Yajna.  Yama is thus the first ancestor and the king of ancestors (pitr raja; Preta-adipati ) as also the god of ceremonies, Sraddha deva. He is also the king of ghosts (preta raja).He is entitled to a full share of Soma offered to gods in the yajna.

4.3. The term Yama means one who restrains (yam to control) or one who binds. He binds, decides on the action of men . He controls (yacchati) all beings without distinction and restrains all beings.

Yama with BuffaloYama3

4.4. Prayers are offered to Yama for longevity and deliverance from recurring deaths. As for the dead, he is requested to offer them proper food and shelter. Yama is also sought to grant release from asanaya (hunger). In the Grhya-sutras, many rituals are prescribed for worship of ancestors, offering them oblations with prayers to Yama for averting recurring deaths. In these passages Yama is revered as any other god whose abode is beyond death .a kindly god who is more revered than feared. He is god of the dead but not a god of death. He is the god of righteousness (Dharmaraja) and a restrainer (niyamaytir)

5.1. From Yajur Veda onwards, especially after the purusha-medha sacrifice, where oblations are prescribed for each aspect of Yama, his personality undergoes a radical change. From then on, the benevolent god of justice becomes the dreaded god of death. He gets associated with the destructive aspects of Shiva as Kaala, Antaka etc.

5.2. Yama the Dakshinadhipathi   the lord of the southern quarter is himself called death Mrityu, the end, the finisher Antaka, and one who takes away all lives Sarva-pranahara. He is the finisher kratanta; the equitable one samana; and, one who hands out punishments danda.  He is also Danda-dhara , one who wiellds the  fearous  weapon Danda He is also Pasi, the one who holds the noose . He is respected and feared because he ensures that his orders are executed ruthlessly : Danda sashana  or  Bhima-shasana .

Yama is kaala, both time and death; ‘the cook of the creatures ‘ripening them with time; ‘he who ever knows day and night and the seasons; and the good and evil works of man’ . As kala he is dark with red eyes and holding a staff.

Yama and family

Yama - God of Death

6.1. Yama is the son of the resplendent Visvasvat; hence his last-name is Vaivasvata (Rig Veda 10.14.5). His mother is Sanjnya or Saranyu (meaning the cloud) the daughter of Tvastra Visvakarman the divine architect. Yama is the brother of Vaivasvata Manu the progenitor of this eon; and of Asvins the gods of health. Yama’s twin sister Yami loves him passionately. She is of the nature of night (yamini); and, it is said, the dark flowing river the Yamuna is named after Yami.

6.2. The Bhrigus and Varuna are his associates. Yama has close relations with Rudra, Soma, Kala, and Nirrti, and a closer one with Agni who conveys to him the dead.


6.3. Mahabharata mentions that Yama married the ten daughters of Daksha the progenitor. Elsewhere it is mentioned that Hema mala; Sushila and Vijaya are his three wives. At other places, Dhumorna (shroud of smoke that rises from the funeral pyre) and Sri (the fortune) are mentioned as his wives.

6.4. In the Rig-Veda, Amrta is Yama’s son, but in the Atharva Veda, Duḥsvapna (bad dream) is his son by Varunani.

Yama, his residence and his entourage


7.1. As regards his residence, it is said, Yama resides in his mansion Yamalaya at the South. His city is Samyamini (city of bondage). His abode in the city and its environment are described as pleasant and comfortable. His city has four gates and seven arches, as also two rivers the Pushpodaka (stream of flowers) and the Vivasvati (the roaring) that flow through the city.

7.2. Yama sits upon the Vichara-bhu the throne of deliberation, placed in the centre of the judgment hall named kaalaci (hall of destiny). The janitor at the entrance to the judgment hall is Vaidhyata (meaning the legal process).   Yama’s scribe and secretary is the ever efficient Chitra-gupta, person privy to many secrets.  His ministers are Chanda (wrath) and Mahachanda (terror). There is also the kala-purusha who keeps eternal vigil. Apart from demons, many sages and kings are also said to assemble in his court, to pay their respects. The messengers of death (yama duta) are his attendants and foot soldiers. They are dressed in black, have red eyes and bristling hair. Their legs, body and nose are like those of crows.

7.3. Two insatiable dogs having four-eyes and  wide nostrils accompany Yama. They are Syama (the black) and Sabala (the powerful) who were born to Surama (the swift) the dog of Indra, the king of gods. Yama’s dogs watch the path of the dead.  They guard the road to his abode, and which the departed are advised to hurry past . These dogs are said to wander about among men as his messengers, for summoning them to their master, who is described as ’ sending a bird as the herald of doom’.

7.4. Yama rides a chariot named Roga (sickness); and is followed by demons that are the different diseases.

Yama, his court

8.1. Of the two paths of the dead mentioned  in the  later Vedic doctrines of death and after-death, Devayana (the path of the gods) and Pitryana (the path of ancestors) , the latter is that of the humans and of spirits doomed to take rebirth. Such souls proceed through Soma, the moon, and eventually are judged by Yama.

8.2. As regards the procedures involved in procuring the dead and judging them, it is said; when it is time for a jiva to depart from its body the messengers of death secure it with a noose and drag it through barren territories without shade or water, on its way to Yama’s court. At the judgment hall the Dead one presents himself before Yama, all alone unaccompanied by friends or relatives; accompanied only by his past deeds. After the record-keeper Chitragupta reads out from his main record (agra – samdhani) the list and summary of the good and bad deeds committed by the dead one, the judgment is pronounced by Yama who appears gracious to the good-doer and fearful to the evildoer. The unfortunate dead ones condemned to naraka the hell, are made to pass through red-hot iron gates and wade through the stinking and boiling river the Vaitarini (abandonment) littered with filth, blood, hair and bones.


Yama iconography

9.1. Coming to Yama’s appearance, it is said, the virtuous and the sinners see him differently. To the virtuous , Yama looks like Vishnu “with charming smiling face, four arms, eyes like lotus in blossom; holding the conch, discus, mace and lotus; and riding Garuda”.

Yama 4

9.2. To the not-so-fortunate, Yama is of grim and fearful appearance. His body of dark or green complexion is huge and ill shaped with glowing red eyes. His eyes are deep wells, his lips are thin the color of smoke, his teeth and nails are long, and his breath from his wide nostrils is hurricane like. His reed-like hair is tied on the top over which sits a glittering crown. He has on his chest garlands made of weird beads; and yellow and red wild flowers. He rides a huge black buffalo named Ugra the terrible, wielding in his claw like hands a sword, mace or a long staff (danda) and a noose. He roars like the ocean of destruction.


10. Having said all that, Yama is otherwise regarded as Dharma Raja the lord of justice dedicated to maintain order and adherence to rule of law with a view to preserving the harmony in existence.

Yama is also associated with the legend of Markandeya the devote boy , an icon of innocence and absolute faith.

Markandeya is embracing a linga

Yama is respected as one of the wisest of the Devas and a very good teacher. He is also an adept in Atma-vidya, the knowledge of Self. In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, as death personified, he holds a long discourse with the boy Nachiketas, whom he initiates into the mysteries of life, death, and immortality. Yama, explains to boy Nachiketa: “that knowing which, everything else becomes known?”

Yama nachiketa2

Yama in other traditions

200px-Yama_tibet  Buddhist Yama of Tibet

11. Lord Yama traveled to other traditions too. The Vedic yama is Yima Kshaeta in the Avesta of Zoroaster (the latter part of this name derived from the root kshimeans “to rule”. The name Yima Kshaeta,is thus  “Yima, the King”).  Yima, whose region is south, is the first mortal and a great king of men. In Buddhist lore, Yama is identified with Kama the desire and Mara the death. He judges the dead and presides over the Buddhist hells. The Buddhist Yama is also a part of the Chinese and Japanese mythologies. The legends of YamaorYima, the son of the Sun transformed in the Japanese mythology to Jimmu the first mortal as well as the first Emperor of Japan, born of the Sun-goddess.

Concept of Death

2.1. One of the meanings assigned to the term Yama is the ‘twin’, as in ‘yamala the twins’. The moment a being is born, death too is born along with him as his twin. Both travel the journey of life together, the death always shadowing his twin; that is only until death overtakes the twin. Thus, life and death are never apart, they are ever together. Of the two, death   is a certainty, while its twin comes with no guarantees. Death is also the only reality and the only experience one cannot escape.

12.2. In the Indian traditions, death is not a punishment but is a part of the sequence of life. Death is not the final end; but is a passage or a doorway to other possibilities that might exist thereafter. It is like getting into a new dress, discarding the old and worn out, and going about fresh business. And, as my mother used to put it, death is like” being shifted from one breast to other breast of the mother. The baby feels lost for a short instant, but not for long.”

12.3. If it is so why do Hindus and Buddhists have to fear death? It is explained, the fear is because of the horrid process of dying, the pain and the agony; and the physical suffering as also psychological trauma it involves. The fear or helplessness for not being in control of the time and circumstances of one’s death exacerbates the scare. The dying person is inundated with anxiety, fear and sorrow of parting forever from his attachments, his near and dear ones and all that he loved and valued during those years of his life. The experience of death is the helplessness, the grievous sense of loss and betrayal; and the sheer fright of ceasing to be and staring into the unknown. These fears and anxieties are universal.

12.4. Acharya Vinoba Bhave in one of his talks explained, there is no way one can avoid death; it is inevitable. He said, one may not be able to control the happening of the event, but one can surely try framing ones approach to it. We came into this world without a choice, but can try leaving it on our terms. That might not succeed in all cases, but it can help influence our attitude to death.

Everyone dies, he said, there is nothing unique about it; but one can make his mark by trying to leave behind a better world than the one he inherited. One way of doing that is to work and live on the basis that death is just round the corner; that somehow seems to spur a person to do his best in his endowers. Acharya said, life is in a way a skilful preparation to face death with equanimity, without fear or anxiety.

Anayasena maranam, vina dainyena jivanam”,

A life without humiliation and death without pain was his prayer to Krishna.


Rehearse death; rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is beyond the reach of all political powers.

–  Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Letters from a Stoic

References and sources

The myths and Gods of India by Alain Danielou

Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G Gnanananda for the line drawings of Yama.

Shilpii Shri Thippajappa (1780-1856)  For the drawing of the eight Dikpalas

Other pictures are from internet


Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation, Yama


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Agni And Soma Interplay: Life Thrives On Life

1.1. The whole of universe is viewed as a perpetual yajna. At each moment of its existence one form or the other of its energies is being transformed into another form of energy; one form of life is transformed into another form of life; one form of life or its derivatives is consumed by another form of life. This ceaseless activity of transformation and devouring of the one by another seems to be the very nature of universe.

1.2. It is said, the universe has a triple aspect: the devourer, the devoured and their relationship, which is the yajna. It is through this relationship that the universe exists and endures; thus yajna is identified with Vishnu, the all pervading preserver. “The yajna is Vishnu” (‘yajno vai Vishnuhuh’: Taittereya Brahmana 2.1.83)

1.3. The texts mention that all of universe could be broadly classified into two factors anna (the food) and annada (the one who eats or consumes). Every creature is the devourer of another and the food of some other. “I am food, I am food, I am food; I am the eater, I am the eater, I am the eater….the first born “(Taittereya Upanishad:3.10.06)- aham-annam-aham-annam-aham-annam;aham-annādo aham -annādo’-aham-annāda;aham-asmi prathamajā ṛtā sya , pūrvaṃ devebhyo amṛtasya nā bhāi

Similar statements occur in other texts:”The whole world is verily the food and the eater of food “(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 1.4.6) – etāvad vā idaṃ sarvam annaṃ caivānnādaś ca | soma evānnam agnir annādaḥ |

2.1. Existence involves devouring and being devoured. In other words, life thrives on life (jivo jeevasya jeevanam).The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive states of everything. The processes of life and death are entwined, each giving rise to the other.

2.2. In this process the ‘Agni-principle’ represents the ‘eater’, while the ‘Soma-principle’ represents the ’food’, which feeds the Agni. “All this universe of conscious and unconscious is made up of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering)” (Mahabharata –Shanthi parva- 338.52). The process during which Agni the fire devours Soma the fuel is in the nature of yajna.

2.3. The evolving universe is propelled by the interaction between these two forces of nature. Agni represents the ‘metabolism ‘of the universe. It is the agent for causing change. Soma, which stands for all that nourishes, is the fuel that sustains Agni. The pair, Agni and Soma, each need the other; and the two in tandem create, sustain and recycle the substances in the universe, ensuring continuity and evolution of life. This is the yajna.

3.1. There are many forms of yajna whether cosmic or human. Every form of creation human or otherwise has the character of yajna.”Any action of man which may promote betterment of man has the nature of yajna” (yogatrayananda – Shiva ratri)

3.2. It is explained that existence implies action. One can hardly remain for a moment without breathing, thinking or dreaming. Something or other is happening all the while to keep the body and mind alive. Action can be neutral having no moral value; or it can be positive; or negative. Even inaction is a form of action. We, all the while, take part in the yajna of life   either as instruments or its feed. The main activity of one’s existence is to take part in the ongoing ritual, yajna.

Let’s come back to the interaction between Agni and Soma,  a little later.


4.1. Agni is one of the most important deities of the Rig Veda. He is one of the Regents of space (Dikpala). He rules over the South-East (Agneya) and is called the first or the forward light (puro jyotishu). Agni the son of the heavens (gagana atmaja) is pictured as a priestly sage, beneficial to gods and men. He is the friendly mediator between men and gods. It is through Agni that man communicates with gods and dwellers of celestial spheres.

4.2. Agni is the purifier of all; and, all that purifies is yajna (Chandogya Upanishad: 4.16.1) – eṣa ha vai yajño yo’yaṃ pavate eṣa ha yannida sarvaṃ punāti. And, all that has been purified is worthy of being offered to gods; “He feeds gods through the mouths of Agni, the first among the gods “ (Aittareya Brahmana: 1.9.2).Agni is oblation eater Hutasa or Hutabhuj, the oblation carrier Havya vahana and the conveyer Vahi.

4.4. Agni had been controlled and domesticated and brought into the home, kept alive through careful tending; and is propitiated with offering. Agni is the friend and the center of household in the ritual sense or otherwise.   Agni is the protector of men and their homes; he presides over all sacraments. He is the witness to all the significant events and commitments that men and women make in their lives. Agni validates their life events on all solemn occasions.

 5.1. Agni is represented as all that burns and devours or digests. Agni is Vaisvanara the all pervader; the one who spreads, takes over and consumes. Agni is the Sun, heat, stomach, lust, passion and speech. Digestive acids are considered forms of Agni;   food is the offering. The fire of anger, the fire of lust, and all that destroys opens possibilities of other forms of yajna. War is one of the other forms of yajna –maarana homa. Human life and its efforts to exist amidst adversities; and to survive is an ongoing yajna.

5.2. The nature of the Agni is the nature of existence, as well as its source and symbol. At each moment some form of Agni is busy devouring some form of life, of fuel. Even the Sun, a form of Agni, burns devouring its own substance and puts out energy. All aspects of combustion, of digestion, of processing and of creation are forms of Agni.

5.3. The splendors or the shining quality in anything is a subtle form of Agni; he is the power of the inner as well the outer illumination, the power of knowledge as well as of perception. He is the Lord of knowledge. Understanding the science of fire in all its forms is the key to all knowledge.

 [ To take Agni as the name of the ritual fire only is to mistake the signifier for the signified. He is many things: a flame, a stream, a bird, a tree, a boat, a lion, a horse, a chariot, a craftsman, a thinker, a warrior, a sage and a knower, a seer and a will, often the seer-will (kavikratu), and he fulfills many functions: messenger, guest, priest of the call, bringer of the oblation, knower of all things born, friend and leader of the human people, fosterer, purifier, and none of these exhaust his reality, for he is said to have many names and to be manifold in his forms. But he is always connected with the truth , satyam, ritam, possessing the truth, ritavân.

Similarities between Sumerian Anki and Vedic Agni by Jean-Yves Lung [


6.1. Soma is personified as a deity and is one of the most important Vedic gods. All of the 114 hymns of the ninth book of the Rig Veda, known as the Soma Mandala, are addressed to Soma Pavamana(purified Soma). The hymns are in celebration of Soma represented as the most powerful god, healer of diseases, bestower of riches, and lord of all other gods. Soma is referred to in the Rig-Veda as the soul of the Yajna (atmayajnasya).

6.2. The oblation, the ritual offering in the yajna; that is, the food of the Agni is Soma. Every substance thrown into the sacramental fire is a form of Soma. At the same time, Soma is the elixir of life which stimulates fire and intoxicates the beings.

6.3. It mixes freely with water and is responsible for sweetness (madhurya) in food. And, as food it nourishes all forms of life.  It enters the herbs and supports beings with long and healthy life.  All the food, all the offering, all fuel, the cold, the moist, the moon, the sperm, and the wine etc in the universe are Soma.

7.1. Soma is a rather difficult concept. I am aware that Soma is variously described as the moon, themanas, the elixir, the drink, the creeper, the cold, the wet etc. A particular version even presents Soma as electrum (gold-silver metallic compound).  Here, I restrict myself; I prefer to treat Soma as a wonderful concept of the Vedic people employed to suggest an essential functionary that, in combination with Agni the fire of life, brings into existence any good object. It is that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat somah).

7.2. Soma the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit. Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food’.” Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “. (Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)

Agni – Soma interplay

8.1. It is not possible to say whether food is more important than the eater; fuel more important than the fire; substance more important than action. Both fire and offering are important to one another. Both arise from the same root and both are the essential aspects of yajna, and of all life. Agni and Soma, each compliment the other wonderfully well; and that is the essence of all existence.

8.2. The life begins with yajna and ends in a yajna. Semen is Soma, yoni the yajna-vedi the altar and passion is the fire. Agni is the desire, the thirst, the intentional will; and Soma is that which aids to fructify that desire. They together bring forth a new life. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.3) classifies the act of procreation under ‘Vajpayee yajna’. The Agni- Soma pair participates in all creative processes.

sa yāvān ha vai vājapeyena yajamanasya loko bhavati tāvān asya loko bhavati |
ya evaṃ vidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsāṃ strīṇāṃ sukṛtaṃ vṛṅkte | atha ya idam avidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsya striyaḥ sukṛtaṃ vṛñjate || BrhUp_6,4.3 ||

At the end, man’s body is thrown into the funeral fire as his last offering.

9.1. It is the interplay between food and the eater, of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering or fuel), which marks the yajna of all our lives. The nature of Agni is to spread and take over; and that of Soma is to contract, consolidate and vanish. Agni takes over; Soma is devoured. These aspects occur in every phase of human life.

9.2. Agni is the warm outward breath; Soma is the cool inward breath. Agni (fire) is life, Soma is activity; Agni is the enjoyer, Soma is that which is enjoyed. Soma is the food that feeds Agni, the hunger, in man’s belly. Soma and Agni together sustain and carry forward the life.

9.3. All substances that are hot, fiery, dry or parched are in the nature of Agni; Substances that are moist, cooling, soothing and nourishing are in the nature of Soma. Agni is red, Soma is the color of night (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.4).Anger, aggression is Agni; that which restrains is Soma. To grab, to take over is Agni; that which consolidates and preserves is Soma. Combustion is Agni; the fluidity in all aspects of life is Soma.

10. At times Agni becomes its own Soma, just as the Sun burns itself to radiate energy. When a substance has spread to its maximum size, it has to contract. Hence, Agni becomes Soma at each stage of its contraction. Soma falling into Agni itself is transformed into Agni. The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive stages of everything. The alternation of Agni and Soma provides the impetus for growth; for all beings which procreate, grow and perish in the yajna, the ritual of life.


11.1. It is likely that the Agni and Soma was initially a bi-polar, a two humor fire- water medical theory. But that relation blossomed into the classical three humor (tri-dosha) doctrine of Ayurveda. The interplay of Agni and Soma is of vital importance in Ayurveda both at the physical and the subtle levels, as also in the Yoga of Ayurveda.

11.2. According to Ayurveda, a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three biological humors – vata, pitta and kapha. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayurveda   is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha.

11.3. These three humours correspond to the active elements of air, fire and water, which in turn are regarded the aspects of the Vedic deities Indra, Agni and Soma. Indra is equated with vata which is in the nature of Vayu (air); Agni is equated with pitta which is fire, combustion and transformation at all levels; while Soma as fundamental liquid of life is equated with kapha the biological water humour. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body.

Samanagni  is the state when the three doshasvatapitta and kapha are well balanced.

12.1. At the subtle level, Indra represents prana the life-force; Agni represents tejas the fire or the sharpness of mind or intellect; while Soma represents ojas the essential body fluids. It is said, whenvata is purified or refined it rises to prana, a higher state of life-force; when pitta is purified it enhances the intensity of perception; and, when kapha is purified the essential body fluids are harmonized, then the mind is transformed. This is the Yoga in Ayurveda; and, it relates to balancing the three humors in their subtle essence as pranatejas and ojas. That is achieved through use of various substances and methods including herbs, medicines, rituals, mantras and meditation.

12.2. Agni and Soma, thus, together are of vital importance; and play complimenting roles in all stages of human development and evolution.





(i) Rig Veda (4.58.3) describes Agni as:“A great god with four horns, three feet, two heads, and seven hands. He has the form of a Bull bound in places, whose bellowing descends among the mortals ‘.

(ii) Various Agama and Shilpa texts carry his iconographic descriptions. Among such texts, the Shilpa text Isvara samhita (Nrusimha kalpa: 7.14-20) contains an elaborate description of the Agni’s form.

 “Strongly built, with a large belly, Agni is red, with golden brown mustache and red matted hair. He is endowed with two heads sprouting from a single neck. He has four horns (representing four Vedas), two on each head. His each head has three eyes. His two heads together have seven tongues of golden hue (three in the right head and four in the left head) emitting seven colors of fires. Agni should be shown with seven hands, four on the right (holding the ladles sruk and sruva; as also a rosary and a sphere) and three on the left (holding a sphere (shakthi), a fan and a jug holding ghee).  He is dressed in smoke-colored garments, surrounded by flames; and his countenance is placid. He is seated on a ram; and has three feet representing the three ablutions in morning, midday and evening.With these three feet he stands in three worlds.  ”.

(iii) There are other descriptions of Agni with four arms. Agni is described as being red in color; having yellow eyes and two heads. He carries to gods the offerings of the yajna (havya vahana).   His four hands carry an ax, a torch, a fan and a ladle and sometimes a rosary and a flaming spear (shakthi). He is also described as tomara-dhara (one who wields the javelin); Abja-hasta (one with a lotus in hand); Sukasa (bright one) and Suchi (pure), He is the giver of wealth (dravino dasa).


Adorned with flames he is dressed in black. His standard is smoke (dhumaketu).He is accompanied by a ram and he sometimes rides it (chagaratha). At times he sits in a chariot drawn by seven red horses (Rohitashva), representing seven meters used in the hymns.. The seven winds are the wheels of his chariot and Vata the air is his charioteer. Agni has also seven tongues of fire (sapta jihva), each of which has a name.

(iv) Agni is commonly depicted as riding a ram or a chariot or in standing position (sthanaka) ever ready to receive the offerings submitted to him. He is not shown either as relaxing (sukhasana) or reclining (sayana).


(i) There is no specific iconographic representation of Soma. The stanzas addressed to Soma in thesoma-suktha of Rig Veda urge Soma to manifest; but do not refer to his form. The theme of the hymns addressed to Soma generally runs as: “Oh Soma, Pavamana, the overwhelming power in the battles, manifest thyself for the good of our cattle, our people, our horses and useful plants. Protect us from the miser whoever he may be, protect us even from his voice .Open a way for us, carry us beyond difficulties” (RV 10.13.4-10)

(ii) The iconography of Soma has got mixed up with that of Chandra the Moon, also addressed as Soma. The ancient text Vishnudharmottara (part three, ch.72, verses 1-8) mentions that “Soma should be given the form of the moon”. The text in its earlier passages (ch.68, verses 1-14) had described the form of Lord Chandra the master of the abode of the ancestors. It said:

“The Lord Moon (Chandra) should be made with lustrous white body because he is composed of the essence of water; with four hands, and white garments. He should be adorned with all ornaments. His two hands hold two white lotuses representing beauty and grace. His chariot with two wheels should have Ambara (horizon) as the charioteer and driven by ten horses representing ten directions; and they are named (from left to right of the Moon) Sarja, Trimanasa, Vrsa, Vadi, Nara, Vach, Saptadhatu, Hamsa, Vyoma and Mrga. The insignia in the left corner of the chariot should bear the mark of lion representing Dharma.

His twenty-eight wives called Nakshatra (stars) should be depicted bright and beautiful. The Moon should be depicted with luster (kanthi), enchanting beauty (shobha) and as the delight of the whole world.




References and sources:

The Myths and Gods of India  By Alain Danielou.
Most of the substance is from this book.
Pictures are from internet

Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


Tags: , , , , ,

Ganapathi, the lord of the ganas

1.1. Everything that our senses can perceive and our mind can apprehend can be expressed in terms of categories. These might include our desires, our treasures, and all that we care for or try to avoid.  Hence categories, the Ganas, could be considered inevitable to our existence. The texts mention, all that can be counted and comprehended is Gana.

[ It is said; such categorization or analytical  investigation and examination (Anveshiki) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. The Arthasástra of Kautilya (Chapter II- Determination of the place of Anvikshaki) speaks of Anvikshaki – metaphysical speculation involving keen introspectionas being the most beneficial to the world – ‘leading to all kinds of knowledge, reliable means to accomplish all kinds of acts and receptacle of all kinds of virtues’.]

1.2. The term Gana means a collection of things or the horde. The fundamental principle of classification through which the relation between different orders of things; and between macro and micro forms of existence can be understood is called Ganesha the ruler over all categories.

2. Ganapathi the ruler of all categories is identified with Divinity in its perceptible manifestation. For the followers of the Ganapathya sect he is the Supreme Divinity. He is placed above the Trinity (Tri murti).

3. Ganapathi stands for one of the basic symbolisms in the Indian thought, the identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm; or, in religious terms, man is in the image of God. That relation can be best expressed in terms of number (gana). Hence, number is seen as the common element of all forms.

4. 1. Ganapathi’s elephant head over man’s body symbolizes unity of the small being (micro) and the Great Being (macro). The term Gaja that normally means elephant is at times taken to signify “the origin as also the goal” (ga = goal; ja =origin). The Gaja is thus a symbol of the stage where the “un-manifest ends “and where “existence begins”. The man part of Ganapathi image is the manifest principle; and the un-manifest is that which is above.

4.2. In the world of appearances where opposites do not often coexist, man cannot be “Gaja”; but it can happen symbolically. Ganapathi Upanishad states “thou art That (tat tvam asi) ”.The text says the living being is the visible form of That, the supreme essence. Human existence, according to that Upanishad, is the coordination of the absolute and the relative; of That and Thou. True knowledge is the realization of unity.

The image of Ganapathi is the symbol that constantly reminds us of this apparently impossible identity. One should bow to Ganesha before one begins anything.

5.1. The Ganesha principle (tattva) transcends intellect. Yet, as in the case of other Indian deities, Ganesha too is represented through various symbols; mantras the sound representations; yantras the graphic representations; and the murtis icons or images.

5.2. The monosyllable AUM uttered at the beginning of every rite is said to be the sound image or the mantra representing Ganapathi. Its import “Thou art That” is symbolized by the unity in Ganesha image of the small and the Big.

5.3. The Swastika is also said to be the graphic image of Ganesha. Its multiple arms all emanate from the common central point, Bindu. But, each arm is bent away and does not aim towards the centre. It is perhaps meant to suggest that we cannot reach the Bindu, the basic unity, directly through outward manifestations.

There is also a diagram called Ganesha yantra, used mainly for ritual worship.Ganapathi is regarded the synthesis of all the five elements. The earth element is represented by a square; the water by circle; fire by triangle; air by half-moon; and space by Bindu (point). It is said all these features can be found in the form of Ganapathi.

There is a close relation between Yoga and Tantra; and Ganapathi figures prominently in both the streams. It is said, his tusk is Om-kara; his belly the great space; the serpent around his belly the Kundalini enclosing all; his rat the Rajo-guna; which Ganapathi controls riding on it.

5.4. It is said, Ganesha is obese to suggest that all manifestation is contained in him; and he is not contained. His ears are like winnowing trays, throwing away the dust of the vice and virtue, retaining only the Reality that is beyond qualities. Ganesha has one tusk, the word One is said to be the symbol of illusion (maya) from which all duality springs forth. The broken tusk is the impeller of illusion. The goad (ankusha) in his hand is for taming ignorance, while the noose (pasha) is caution against bondage.

His ride, the mouse is essentially a stealer, one who takes away things to which people are attached .The greatest attachment one can have is “I-ness”. The ride works at the behest of its master, the remover of illusions.

6. Ganesha is the lord of wisdom; the patron of letters and of schools; he is the king of the elders (Jyesta raja); and he is the first among the greats and presides over the assembly of gods. He is Vinayaka,  the great leader. He is the lord (Vigneshwara) and the destroyer of obstacles. He is Gananatha the lord of all categories. He rules over the universal intellect (maha tattva) and the elements (tattva) derived from it.

 Siddhi the attainment and Ruddhi the prosperity are his consorts.

Ganapathi the ruler of all categories, I bow to you; you alone are the visible form of the principle. You are the creator; you alone are the sustainer; you alone are the destroyer; and you alone are unmistakably the Brahma, the essence of everything that exists, the true Self.

– Ganapathi Upanishad-

[Please also check Origins of Ganesha worship ]

The pictures are from internet

[ Note on significance 21 associated with Ganapathi

The association of number twenty-one with Ganapathi has many interpretations. The most common of such explanations is  that  twenty-one is the sum of five gross elements(bhuta) + five subtle existential  principles or vital airs (pancha prana) + 5 subtle organs of perception (jnanendriya) + 5 sense-organs of action (karmendriya) + mind; suggesting that Ganesha is the Lord presiding over all the elements of existence.

The other suggestions are from Tantra, as Ganesha is basically a Tantric deity. According to Tantra, Ganesha’s ‘true-name’ (nija –naama) that is the effective name by which he is invoked is the Bija ’Gam’; his other names being the popular ones by which the people of the world love to call him (laukika). The Tantra Schools rely on an ancient system of notation which assigns numerical value to each consonant of the Sanskrit alphabet , for the purposes of inscribing on and designing various yantras as also for offering interpretations on the structures of the chakras and other graphical presentations. Of those systems, the Katapayadi which took strong roots in Kerala is considered the most authentic.  That system is also in use in the South Indian classical music.

The  Katapayadi, in a way, anticipated the hashing technique of Computer Science which derives a number from a non-numeric key for indexing into a table. For more on that, please check the following link; and, if possible, refer to the fourth section of a scholarly book: The Eastern mysteries, an encyclopedic guide to the sacred languages by David Allen Hulse.

According to Katapayadi, the Bija “Gam” has a numeric value of three (Ga =3; the Anusvara the dot and Anunasika  the dot within a crescent placed over the letter having no numeric value). Ganesha is thus associated with the number three , which sometimes is expressed as :2+1.

After having invoked Ganesha with his Bija Gam, the worshipper salutes his Lord with the chant: Ganapathaye namaha. The numerical value of that chant , according to Katapayadi  is twenty-one : ( ga =   3; Na=  5; pa =1;ta =6; ye=1; na=0; and mha =5).Please check the table  posted below.

Thus, it appears ,  is Ganesha’s  association  with numbers three and twenty-one.

This is , as I understand it; I could be wrong.]

Katapayadi Tables




Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


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On reading DMRSekhar’s ‘Genopsych’

 My friend Dr. DMR Sekhar, sometime back, wrote a learned paper on genopsych. It was a term coined by him (I presume). Genopsych, as I understand, is a hypothetical property that causes disturbance, propels evolution and directs variations in the genome. It has its roots in second law of thermodynamics. It is a rather an unusual interpretation as it involves physics, genetics and philosophy. It is a very daring exploration. Let me admit, I don’t pretend to understand all that has been said in his paper. My academic background is, to say the least, is wafer-thin. Yet I admire it.

What I have written under is neither a comment nor a direct response to the concept of genopsych. It is just a short note of my thoughts on reading Dr.  Sekhar’s article. It is based in my understanding of the concept, as I read the paper. I could be wrong in my understanding.

I am not sure if my note serves any purpose. Yet, I hope it might spur Shri Sekhar to look at the other dimensions of the issue.

A. I read with great interest the article crowded with ideas and concepts. I tried to be focused on Genopsych.

Genopsych, as I understand from Shri Sekhar’s article is that:

  • Genopsych is not physical
  • Genopsych may directly control/operate our behaviour.
  • Our behaviour and many things we do may be attributed to genopsych.
  • Genopsych of all individuals is similar.
  • All living things at genetic level are same.
  • Genopsych undergoes updating and development due to evolutionary reasons.
  • Soul is described to exist without physical body whereas genopsych may not exist unattached to genes.
  • Meditation, it appears , is the advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

 As he says, genopsych is not the soul, in the sense it is not the absolute, immutable pure consciousness; nor is it the individual soul jiva either, because the concept of genopsych probably may not allow reincarnation. Yet Genopsych is not dying. There is no death to genopsych along with the body because Genopsych is not physical .And, it continues to survive along the gene flow firmly attached to it; and it controls/operates our behavioural patterns in the next phase of existence too.

Genopsych is not mind, either. What is called as mind is a bunch of thoughts; and has no independent existence. The mind always exists in relation to something gross; it cannot stay alone. When the mind becomes quiet, the world disappears. Sri Ramana says when one persistently inquires into the nature of the mind; the mind will end leaving the Self (as the residue).


B. That reminds me of a much discussed concept in Indian thought – both Hindu and Buddhist.

Vasanas are subconscious inclinations, likes and dislikes, which drive habit-patterns or direct ones attitudes. It emanates from every thought, every feeling or every deed that one has done or does. The Vasanas are ego-centric in the sense they are centred on “I”.

In a way of speaking, vasanas are ‘fragrance’ of past experiences, lingering memories.(It is just as a waft of air that  flows over a flower-bed carries along it  the delicate fragrances).  They are the subtle impressions; and their effects are long lasting. When Vasanas manifest as desires, they cause agitations in the mind, and the mind becomes restless until those desires are fulfilled. It is thus the other-side of entropy; it causes disturbance and propels evolution.

It is explained that when the individual jiva departs it takes with it the casual body that is the accumulated vasanas, and gravitate towards a field that is conducive to ones experiences and inclinations (vasanas).

The Buddhist texts say that vasanas are stored in a latent form in “Alaya”, a sort of storehouse, ready to be set in motion. Alaya, impressions stored as a kind of seed, is sometimes known as Bija (memory/sowing seeds). Lankavatara sutra, a renowned Buddhist text, says the world starts from seed-memory retained in the Alaya universal mind. The text asks one to be rid of false memories that impede true perception.

It appears Vasanas are not merely individual memories; they are also collective, experienced by all conscious beings. (I am not quite clear on this)

C. Sri Sankara in his most erudite introduction to Brahma- sutra–bhashya also talks about memories that impede the understanding of the true nature of things. He examines the nature of error that prevents us from experiencing things as they really are; and explains it through the concept of Adhyasa, which means superimposing ones memory previously gained in another place and another time. We tend to recognize or interpret our experiences, sometimes incorrectly, by superimposing our past memories.

At another level, it is said; those memories or impressions, formed are the subtle traces or vasanas of events- not only of the present life but also of events of multiple past lives. They condition our sense and experiences.

Another explanation is that Vasanas are born out of samskaras, the accumulated experiential impressions formed out of our actions. The vasanas (tendencies) in turn, give rise to thought patterns which again lead to attitudes and mental dispositions. These inherent inclinations of the mind are called vritti. The vrittis in their turn influence our actions.

That is, we act as directed by our mind (chitta vritti) to satisfy our desires or inclinations (vasanas) which arose out of the impressions (samskaras) gained out of previous experiences or acts (karma). It is a cycle.

Karma (action) — samskara (impressions)— vasana (tendencies)— chitta vritti (thought patterns) — karma (action)

D. The concept of vasana is also of importance in Yoga psychology. In Patanjali’s text, the term appears to have the meaning ‘Specific subconscious sensations.’ Mircea Eliade in his book Yoga: immortality and freedom interprets the term as ‘states of consciousnesses.

Yoga is the restriction or control of the ‘citta vrittis’, Yogah chittavritti nirodhaha. The chitta vritti perhaps refers to the various modifications or thought-forms. The methods prescribed for evading the grip of the vasanas and to be thought-free, is complex.

E. As I understand, genopsych is a property (vastu-vishesha) and its attributes can be auspicious or otherwise; while Soul is said to be beyond all attributes.  It, therefore, seems to me, the concept of genopsych is closer to that of the casual body (karana-sarira) the carrier of vasanas the accumulated subconscious inclinations, tendencies, rather than to the immutable Soul.

[Please read: Yoga, Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade; Translated by Willard R. Trask; published by Princeton University Press. And, please also check ]


F. Dr. Sekhar also talked about meditation and control of mind; and said meditation appears to be an advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

The texts believe that breath is the gross form of mind. And, the exercise of breath-control is regarded an aid to render the mind quiet (mano-nigraha).The practice of breath control or watching over the breath therefore somehow became a part of meditation.

When the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiet; and when the mind becomes quiet the breath is controlled. But mind will be quiet only so long as the breath remains controlled; otherwise, the mind will wander as impelled by residual impressions (vasanas).

That is because the mind is influenced by residual impressions (vasanas).Mind could , therefore, be better directed or controlled by moving away from vasanas – attachments, eschewing  desire and hatred. The real freedom is being free from vasanas the self-centred desires; and, when that happens one could be free from thoughts. That is reversing the trend of vasanas towards low entropy.

One has to move away from vasanas – attachments; and realize ones true nature.

Sri Ramana said, Self is the residue when there is no ego, no attachments (vasanas) and no mind. That is when there is no “I” thought. That is “Silence”.


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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Meditation and Entropy

Just the other day, I was reading an interesting blog Meditation and medication -2 strands of a DNA helix of LIFE  posted by  Shri Santhemant. He said, among other things, when the mind is palliated , the body gets its benefit too. Meditation is also the medication of the mind.

I was wondering if the state of meditation could also be interpreted in terms of entropy- one of the favorite subjects of my friend Shri DMR Sekhar.

Entropy in physics is a measure of disorder. I believe we all have mental entropy.

Before we get to meditation, let’s get familiar with entropy.


When we boil water, the temperature of its molecules increases. As the water molecules get energized, they tend to be excited ; , the system gets more chaotic; and, with that, their disorder too increases. On the other hand,  if the entropy of a system decreases, the system becomes more ordered or structured. For example ; when we cool water to its freezing point, it becomes ice. The normal ice has tetrahedral structure.

Now coming to the human situation, the human brain, it is said, is an overcrowded network of billions of neurons, each of which is perpetually trying to assert its presence, in one manner or other. There is , therefore , a ceaseless chaos running in our waking state , side by side with our structured thinking process [programmed psychological behavior]. The activities of these neurons (thoughts) influence various biological changes through complex mechanisms. The impulses and interactions spread to the human organism through its intricate network of nervous system.

The level of psychological chaos in certain individuals might be higher (that is, higher entropy levels). They are “distracted” easily; are restless ; and,   find it hard to concentrate. They , therefore, need to control and reduce the inputs that tend to excite the system. Perhaps, closing the eyes might help them to concentrate better (reduce entropy levels by cutting down inputs). A good-sleep also helps greatly in minimizing excitatory impulses. Otherwise, lack of adequate sleep leads to fatigue the nervous system – that is, it exacerbates disorder or pushes up the entropy levels.

Therefore, when you put away or ignore distractions, there is less disorder within. The tendency to waver and scatter also decreases. In other words, in an ordered mind , free from distractions, the entropy level is very low.

In the waking-state, when the entropy of the mind is consciously brought down, there is less disorder; the mind becomes calm and clear.

If you extend the logic further, you might say that when the entropy approaches near-zero level ,the mind tends to be thought-free. A thought- free mind is free from distractions and conflicts; and, a state of calm and quiet envelops you


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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