On the vedic sacrificial ritual and its Babylonian parallels

•January 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The mlechCha orientalists Dumont and Albright pointed to certain similarities between the Vedic sacrificial ritual and that found in Babylon. We revisit this to investigate if flow of memes between Eurasian civilizations can throw any light on the date and time of cultural interactions. The great ashvamedha, the high point of vedic ritual, definitely goes back to the early Indo-European past. In some form or the other it seen amongst different branches of Indo-Europeans, like the Celts, Romans, Germans Greeks, Iranians and Indo-Aryans. But as every other Indo-European tradition its pristine version with all the meaning-laden archaisms is found only in the vedic world and it continued to remain the symbol of the victorious Hindu kings (like pushyamitra shunga performing it after destroying the yavana-s in a great battle on the sindhu or vIra hammira performing it after destroying “1ooos of turuShkas”). The shukla-yajurvedic tradition quotes two ancient vipra-s, bhAllaveya and sAtyayaj~ni on the specifications of the sacrificial horse. Both of whom, despite their different opinions, state that the forehead of the ashvamedha horse should have markings resembling the kR^ittka (the Pleiades) on it: “kR^ittikA~njiH purastAt” (SB kAtyAyana the inheritor of this shukla yajurvedic tradition describes the horse specifications in the kAtyAyana shrauta sUtra, and he also states that the horse should have a kR^ittikA mark (kR^ittikA~njiM vA). Now, the shukla yajurvedic mImAmsakas like karka, yAj~nikadeva and vidyAdhara who analyze the shrauta texts explain the sUtra of kAtyAyana “kR^ittikA~njiM vA” as shakaTa iva. This clearly shows they were meaning a mark like the Pleiades because their can described as shaped like a cart.
Coming to the Babylonian situation we find the mention of the horse sacrifice in a fragmentary cuneiform tablet from Assur. Middle-Eastern archaeologists generally believe that this tablet might approximately belong to a period around 1600 BCE. However a more detailed version of the Babylonian sacrificial ritual emerged from the tablets describing the bull-sacrifice that come from Erech, Nineveh and Assur from 300-800 BCE. The former text mentions the deities Shamash, Adad and Marduk and the latter Bal, Ningizzida, Lumha and twelve gods for whom offerings are laid out. In these sacrificial ritual texts some parallels between the Mesopotamian animal-sacrifices and the ashvamedha can be found. The Babylonian ritual experts describe that the bull should not be injured due to whipping or lashing and should be complete and whole and colored black. It is examination is much like that of the horse in the ashvamedha. Interestingly on its forehead its either recommended to have or not have (depending on the interpretation offered by Dumont and Albright) a mark like the Pleiades. The original recommendation was likely to have been to have such a mark, because negation of such a precise mark seems to be unusual, unless there was originally a precedence for this. This is also supported by the tablet on the horse sacrifice that describes a horse sacrifice and mentions the Pleiades-like marking on the forehead of the sacrificial horse. The commonality of the mark associated with the sacrificed animal is not the only shared feature. There are few other elements that might be considered similar:
In the vedic ritual the following account is given: The adhvaryu starts making 3 offerings of puroDAsha-s to savitar on 12 kapAlas each. While these offerings are being made a brAhmaNa sits on the southern side of the vedi and starts sing gAtha-s describing the dAna-s and yAga-s performed by the rAjan. Then the dhR^iti oblations of 4 ladles of ghee are made by the adhvaryu with the mantras beginning with”iha dhR^itir svAhA…”. At his point a kShatriya sings gAtha-s describing the martial victories of the rajan against his foes that have led him to the path of the ashvamedha. The adhvaryu then mutters into the right ear of the horse along with the yajamAna the mantra “vibhUr mAtrA…” :Strong by your mother, powerful by your father, you are a horse, you are a steed, you are a runner, you are a male, you are a strong horse, you are a racer, you are powerful, you are a stallion, you are heroic; ‘goer’ is your name; follow the course of the Aditya-s.

Then in the vedic setting the horse is purified by sprinkling water with with the mantra “adbhyastva…” given oblations from the night sacrifice to eat and given water to drink with the mantra “apAM peruH…”. Horse is made to stand on a large piece of cloth and the agnIdhra goes around it with a fire brand and finally it is smothered.

In the Mesopotamian ritual the following account is given (From the Nineveh and Assur tablets):
Twelve linen cloths are laid on 12 bricks for the 12 gods. On them are offered meat of sacrificed sheep, libations of beer, wine and milk, and grains are strewn. Then a brick is laid for the deity Lumha and on that meat of sheep, beer, wine and milk libations are made. Then through a reed pipe the priest whispers an incantation into the right ear of the bull [in the Nineveh and Erech tablets] or the horse [Assur]: “O great bull, who roams on the holy pasture, increasing fertility, who tills the grain, who makes the field happy, with my pure hands I offer and oblation before you”. A similar incantation is then recited into the left ear in the Babylonian case: O bull are the offspring of Zuu, you are you are for ritual and litany, you are for Ningizzida for ever, the ordinance of heaven and earth are fixed, you go to Lumha, you go to Bal. In the Assur tablet the statement is made to the horse to go to draw the chariot of Marduk [even in the vedic rite at one point the hotar recites a mantra "yu~njanti bradhnam aruSham..." which implies the horse is assigned to the chariot of indra].

In the Mesopotamian rite to the animal has a mouth washing rite with water being given to it, it is sprinkled with scented water, with incense and a fire they circle it, make it stand on a mat and then kill it with an axe while the incantation “dilmun nigin-na…” is recited.

While the fine points are different, there are similarities in the broad details of the sacrificial ritual: The marking of Pleiades on the animal, the style of laying of offering to the gods, the fertility element with respect to the sacrificed animal, the recitation in the ear addressing the animal, the acts surrounding the ritual slaughter. These elements suggest that they might indeed have developed due to contact or at least inspired by observation of ritual. Now the horse sacrifice was very early ancient amongst the Indo-Europeans and it is likely that it came with the Indo-Iranians to the Middle East. The Pleiades mark has great significance amongst Indo-Aryans of the yajur vedic period. When the horse is said to have a Pleiades mark on the forehead and is said to “AdityAnAm patvAnv ihi” (follow the path of the Aditya-s), it ties in with the fact that in the yajur vedic period the nakShatra-cycle began with kR^ittika-s. The horse roamed for an year, thus simulating the path of the sun (the solar divinities Aditya-s) that is an year. Its head bearing kR^ittika-s on it possible made it stand for the year, who is also prajapati with which the sacrifice is identified, with the kR^ittika-s at the head. Given that the old Babylonian calender also had the kR^ittika-s, i.e their equivalent “harrAn Sin” as the first constellation of their proto-Zodiac, it is not unlikely that in their early days were able to appreciate the kR^ittikA mark on the sacrificial animal.

This ritual similarity adds to the well-know similarity in terms of archaeological motifs between coeval Indian and Mesopotamian sites, as well as evidence for trade between India and Mesopotamia (The karpAsa word).

Raised by bAlA and dattAtreya-II

•January 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

A great nAtha yogi who worshiped dattAtreya was eating curds and saw a boy roaming on the field. He offered the boy the curds but he refused, and it fell on his feet. He told him: “if you had eaten the curds you would have lived long and become the king of the world but now in your relatively short life where ever you set foot you will conquer. This curds is imbued with the might of dattAtreya.” The boy’s parents nara-bhUpAla and kaushalyavatI initiated him into the 3-syllabled bAlA mantra and asked him perform its japa. His father had already attained mantra siddhi of the hallowed ShoDaShI. For 24 years he performed its japa and he finally attained siddhi of it. He was given the signal by the ever youthful nityAShoDaShikA, the mistress of the 3-syllabled mantra, that he was destined for greatness. Prior to that, as a young man, he went to Bhaktapur, where he began his intense sAdhana after his nine fold krama dIkSha. This led him to attain the grace of the queen of kubjIshAna, the mistress of the the paschimAmnAya. Then he also attained the grace of our goddess, the dreadful mother of the uttarAmnAya. The devI worshiped in the kumArI gave him the prasAda instead of the rAjan. It immediately became clear that pR^ithivI nArAyaNa shAha deva was to be the rAjan. He traveled to vArANasI and there performed a rite to uttarAmnAyeshvarI as siddha-lakShmI and pratya~NgirA. As a result he was able to mysteriously raise money and use to purchase first-class modern weapons from India and also obtain first hand intelligence on the designs of the East India Company and the subversive role of Catholic missionaries. He then arranged a variety of alliances with the neighboring Indian rulers and prepared on a large-scale for the unification of Nepal.

-In his first strike pR^ithivI nArAyaNa conquered Nuwankot and attacked Kirtipur. In the battle with teja narasimha the king of Patan who controlled the town he was almost killed. But his mantra prayoga came to his aid and saw him through.
-After two failures to take Kirtipur he sacked Lamji in a fierce battle, where the power of the war machine of pR^ithivI nArAyaNa became first apparent.
-He then sacked Kirtipur after a six month siege and surged towards Patan. But a British army attacked him from the rear.
-He cornered the Britons in the Tarai, where they were put to flight by a sudden strike.
-King jayaprakasha malla of Kathmandu sought the help of captain Kinloch who marched with the British army into Nepal. In the battle of Sindhuli, pR^ithivI nArAyaNa smashed the Britons and beheaded the captain.
-He then entered Kathmandu during the indra-dhvaja festival took the throne of the rAjan. He received the prasAda from the devI invoked into the kumArI, and was declared rAjan. The king of kAThmaNDu jayaprakAsha malla fled in terror.
-Then he moved on Makawanpur, whose ruler digbandhan sena sought the aid of the Jihadi adventurer Gurgin Khan to repulse pR^ithivI nArAyaNa. However, Moslems were put to sword and Makawanpur was taken. In the battle pR^ithivI nArAyaNa captured a rich haul of ammunition.
-He then conquered Bhadgaon from rAjA raNajit and Patan from teja narasimha and put them to flight .
-By 1773 he overran the whole of Eastern Nepal driving and defeating the Kiratas.
-Thus, did pR^ithivI nArAyaNa unify the kingdom of Nepal. Realizing the danger of Christian subversionists he drove out all Jesuit missionaries and British agents from his kingdom and upheld the Hindu dharma. In his court was a noted tantric bhagavantanAtha, who was a master of haTha yoga, and performed many notable tantric prayoga-s.

He initiated his eldest son pratApa siMha into the tantric lore. pratApa siMha compiled all this knowledge into the great tantric digest the purashcharyArNava.
R1’s ancestor had associated with pR^ithivI nArAyaNa during his visit to vArANasi and went to Nepal along with him. They thus obtained access to an inner circle with the rAjan with a krama dIkSha of the derived form uttarAmnAya worship . This krama involves the worship of : 1) siddha-lakShmI 2) guhyakAlI 3) mahAbhIma-sarasvatI, 4) dhUmrA, 5) kAmakalAkAlI, 6) mahAkAlI, 7) kapAlinI, 8) mahAsmashAnakAlI, 9) kAlasaMkarShiNI, 10) pratya~NgirA, 11) kAlarAtrI, 12) yogeshI, 13) siddhabhairavI, 14) dakShiNA, 15) ChinnamastA, 16) rAjarAjeshvarI 17) saptakoTeshvarI.

Raised by bAlA and dattAtreya-I

•January 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

In the hot plain to the north of the Wardha river, in the village of Dhamangaon, a band of Moslems led by their Kazi were chasing a young Hindu maid. Nothing unusual for the times, it was one more of the Moslem women-skimming raids. She ran into a shop of the local tailor, but he terrified by the charging Moslems with their upraised scimitars started running as fast as he could towards the house of the local headman Mankoji. All of a sudden the woman vanished and the Moslems, were unable to find her. Mankoji, who had just emerged from his daily worship of dattAtreya saw the tailor panting and telling him of the incident that had just occurred. He asked the tailor to calmly return and call the women’s clansmen to take her back. He did so and to his surprise he saw the Moslem ruffians lying beaten up with limbs broken staggering back on their horses and beating a hasty retreat. The Kazi was furious and sought the help of the commandant of the Yeotmal garrison. A band of 120 Mohammedan horsemen came charging down on the hamlet of Dhamangaon raising clouds of dust beneath the thundering hoofs of their horses. The Hindus started fleeing in terror. The head man Mankoji asked them to take cover behind the fortifications and he stood at the gate that lead into the fortifications mounting his horse and taking up his spear, sword and shield. He saw Moslem band charging fierce down the alley leading the gate. He stood on their path and he felt dattAtreya appear before him as he did to lead the hordes of kArtavIryArjuna to war. He felt the trident of dattAtreya enter his spear, the sword of viShNu enter his own and on his forehead he felt the presence of the one who had single handed slaughtered the 30 sons of bhaNDa even as shachiveshI and daNDanAthA had looked on. He fell upon the turuShkas, who had not even noticed him. So great was his fury that day that the 120 turuShka-s attained yamAlaya at the edge of his sword before a muhurta was over.

Microraptor as a biplane

•January 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

When the chInAchArya Xu announced his dramatic find Microraptor gui in the British tabloid something struck me as odd. One of the best preserved skeletons, the holotype, was in a very typically bird-like pose with the femur, tibia and tarso-metatarsus in Z-shaped disposition much like eagles when they are zoning in on their prey. In spite of this pose of the fossil, the chIna-s reconstructed Microraptor like “tetrapteryx” of Beebe and Gerhard Heilmann who pictured the ancestor of birds to be a 4-winged animal with splayed-out legs bearing wings. To me this was patently un-anatomical. The femoral head of a typical theropod dinosaur simply cannot splay out like that to get into the “tetrapteryx” pose picture by Xu following the old Beebe. The funny thing was that the chIna-s did this despite their fossil showing that it was not the case. Then they piled on declaring Microraptor was strictly arboreal and could not really walk on ground without damaging its feathers. In a sense, Xu and his chIna-s cannot be entirely blamed for their mistake, because reconstructing functional behavior from a skeleton, especially one preserved in 2D, without an equivalent modern analog can be difficult.

Now paleontologist Chatterjee and aeronaut Templin have claimed that dinosaur indeed glided in a pose comparable to how it was fossilized with the hind-limb feathers forming a lower aerofoil thus making it a biplane, as opposed to the monoplane morphology of Archaeopteryx and the modern birds. This is an unusual and interesting reconstruction – it is definitely far more likely than Xu’s reconstruction, but who knows if it was really so. I do think C and T are however correct when they state that the tibial feathers, which are comparable to the “trouser” like leg feathers of attacking eagles, help in streamlining the air flow around the tibial shaft. Given the presence of similar feathers in an earlier enigmatic deinonychosaur from China, Pedopenna one wonders if such a strategy of gliding using hind-limb feathers was prevalent in the earlier phase of dinosaurian flight. Of course this now needs to be reconciled with Dial’s theory of wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) as the precursor of dinosaurian flight, for which there is support from living dinosaurs like the chukar partridge. WAIR is attractive because it might explain the strategies of other terrestrial deinonychosaurs and oviraptorsaurs with asymmetric feathers on their forelimbs alone.

Our complex speculation goes thus: In the ancestor of the coelurosaur clade including the deinonychosaurs, scansoriopterygids, oviraptorosaurs and therizinosaurs (in the least) WAIR was adopted as a strategy to help running up inclines both for hunting prey or fleeing from predators up into trees. But this did not lead to flight immediately. It only favored the emergence of some arboreal theropods as a result of the tree niche being opened up due to the ability to run into them as a result of WAIR. Once in the trees the first phase appears to have involved gliding with both hand and leg features (perhaps in the biplane mode). In this phase the long tail with flight feathers was very important as a control of flight or as a pitch damper in gliding. Then came the phase like Archaeopteryx and Jinfengopteryx, where more efficient flight emerged with loss of the leg feathers but retention of the long tail as a control device. This was followed by loss of the long tail and the pygostyle-borne tail feathers as seen in some early forms like Confuciusornis.

devarAja stava or the devadeveshvara stava

•January 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The R^iShi of the most glorious of stava-s is puShkara; the Chandas in anuShTup and the god of gods, indra is the devatA.

varastvindra-jitAmitra- vR^itrahan-pAkashAsana | deva-deva mahAbhAga tvaM hi vardhiShNutAM gataH ||
ananta-tejo virajo yasho-vijaya vardhana | aprabhus-tvaM prabhur-nityam-uttiShTha surapUjita ||
brahmA svayumbhUr-bhagvAn-sarva-loka-pitAmahaH | rudraH pinAka-bhR^id -dR^iptash-chatasR^idvaya saMstutaH||
yogasya netA kartA cha tathA viShNururukramaH | tejaste vardhayan-tvete nityam-eva mahAbalAH ||
anAdi-nidhano devo brahmA sraShTA sanAtanaH | agnis-tejomayo bhAgo rudrAtmA pArvatI-sutaH ||
kArtikeyaH shakti-dharaH ShaD-vaktrash-cha gadAdharaH | shataM vareNyo varadas-tejo vardhayatAM vibhuH ||
devaH senApatiH skandaH sura-pravara-pUjitaH | AdityA vasavo rudrAH sAdhyA devAs-tathaashvinau ||
bhR^igur-A~Ngirasash-chaiva vishvedevA marudgaNAH | lokapAlAs-trayash-chaiva chandraH sUryo.analo.anilaH ||
devAsh-cha R^iShayash-chaiva yakSha gandharva rAkShasAH || samudrA girayash-chaiva nadyo bhUtAni yAni cha ||
tejas-tapAMsi satyaM cha lakShmIH shrIH kIrtir-eva cha | pravardhayatu tat-tejo jaya shakra shachIpate ||
tava chApi jayAn-nityaM tviha saMpadyate shubhaM | prasIda rAj~nAM viprANAM prAnAmapi sarvashaH ||
tava prasAdAt-pR^ithivI nityaM sasyavatI bhavet | shivaM bhavatu nirvighnaM shamyaM-tAmItayo bhR^ishaM ||
namaste deva-devesha namaste valasUdana | namuchighna namaste.astu sahasrAkSha shachIpate ||
sarveShAM-eva lokAnAM tvam-ekA paramA gatiH | tvam-eva pramaH prANaH sarvasyAsya jagat-pate ||
pAsho hyasi pathaH sraShTuM tvaM analpaM purandara | tvam-eva meghas-tvaM vAyus-tvaM agnir-vaidyuto.ambare ||
tvamatra medhAvi-kShiptA tvam me bAhuH pratardanaM | vajram-atulaM ghoraM ghoShavAMs-tvaM balAhakaH ||
sraShTA tvam-eva lokAnAM saMhartA chaaparajitaH | tvaM jyotiH sarvalokAnAM tvam-Adityo vibhAvasuH ||
tvaM mahad-bhUtam-AshcharyaM tvaM rAjA tvaM surottamaH | tvaM viShNus-tvaM sahasrAkShas-tvaM parAyaNaM ||
tvam-eva chaamR^itaM devas-tvaM mokShaH paramArchitaH | tvaM muhUrtaH sthitistvaM cha lavas-tvaM cha punaH kShaNaH | shuklas-tvaM bahulash-chaiva kalA kAShThA truTi-stathA ||
saMvatsarartavo mAsA rajanyash-cha dinAni cha | tvam-uttamA sa-giricharA vasuMdharA sa-bhAskaraM timiraMbaraM tathA ||
sahodadhiH sa-timi~Ngilas-tathA sahormivAn bahumakaro jhaShA-kulaH |
mahad-dashAs-tvamiha sadA cha pUjyase maharShibhir-mudita-manA maharShibhiH ||
abhiSTutaH pibasi cha somam-adhvare hutAnyapi cha havImShi bhUtaye |
tvaM vipraIH satataM ihejyase phalArthaM bhedArtheShvaShtasu balaugha gIyase tvaM ||
tvadh-detor-yajana-pArAyaNA dvijendrA-vedA~NgAnyadhi-gamayanti sarva-vedaiH |
vajrasya bhartA bhuvanasya goptA vR^itrasya hartA namucher-nihantA ||
kR^iShNe vasAno vasane mahAtmA satyAnR^ite yo vivinakti loke |
yaM vAjinaM garbhaM-apAm-surANAM vaishvAnaraM vAhanam-abhyupaiti ||
namaH sadA.asmai tridiveshvarAya lokatrayeshAya purandarAya |
ajo.avyayaH shAshvata eka-rUpo viShNur-varAhaH puruShaH purANaH ||
tvam-anatakaH sarva-haraH kR^ishAnuH sahasrashIrShA shatamanyurIDyaH |
kaviM sapta-jihvaM trAtAram-indraM savitAraM sureshaM ||
hR^idyAbhi-shakraM vR^itra-haNaM suSheNam-asmAkaM vIrA uttare bhavantu |
trAtAram-indrenriya-kAraNAtma~n-jagat-pradhAnaM cha hiraNyagarbhaM ||
lokeshvaraM deva-varaM vareNyaM chaananda-rUpaM praNatosmi nityaM |

On the samarA~NgaNa sUtradhAra: yantra-s

•January 21, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The vimAna has been noticed by many since the publication of the samarA~NgaNa sUtradhAra (SS) of the great rAja bhoja-deva paramAra. The description is certainly obscure in parts (especially given the corrupt manuscripts), but what can be made sense of in the account definitely describes a flying machine. Many years ago when we had talked about this and both Mis-creant and dvipakSha-kesha expressed their skepticism that anything like this could have ever been really mentioned in the Hindu texts. After all, they chimed, there is enough reason to believe that the vaimAnika shAstra was a hoax of a text. While I was skeptic of the vaimAnika, I did know that bhoja-deva’s work was real and so also the mention of the vimAna in it. So, I took these two to the library of Samskrit texts where I had a special inner access and showed them the text. Now many years later while planning new scripts for nATaka-s we ended up talking of it again- of course starting with the famous topic: did Hindus have an airplane?

The SS 31 clearly mentions a ambarchAri-vimAna in addition to several other mysterious yantras which apparently include “robots” like dvArapAla yantra, yodhA yantra and gaja-yantra. In describing the vimAna the SS states the following SS 31.95-98:

laghu-dAru-mayaM mahAviha~NgaM dR^iDha-sushliShTa-tanuM vidhAya tasya |
udare rasa-yantraM-AdhIta jvalAdhAram-adho.asya chAgni-pUrNaM ||
tatrArUDhaH pUruShas-tasya pakSha-dvandvoch-chAla-proj-jhitenAnilena |
supta-svAntaH pAradasyAsya shaktyA chitraM kurvan-nambare yAti dUraM ||
itthmeva suramandira-tulyaM sa~nchalatya-laghu dAru vimAnam |
AdadhIta vidhinA chaturo.antas-tasya pArada-bhR^itAn dR^iDha-kumbhAn ||
ayaH kapAlAhita-mandavahni-pratapta-tat-kumbha-bhuvA guNena |
vyomno jhagityAbharaNa tvameti santatapta-garjad-rasa-rAja-shaktyA ||

From the description its fairly clear, even factoring in the mention of rasa, that it is not a vimAna flying by mantra prayoga, but a real mechanical yantra. Amongst the scholars the learned VRR Dikshitar in his book on war in ancient India, and the great V. Raghavan in his essay on Hindu machines, are inclined to believe that vimAna was a real flying machine. But the other erudite scholar Vasudevasharan Agarwala who re-edited the SS with a new manuscript believes it is imaginary. While I fully admit that the description given by the king can hardly be used to make a vimAna today, one can glean some prominent features of it:
1) It was made of light wood- at least conceptually it was something light so as to fly. 2) It had a mercury-containing device in its “belly” and fire and at the rear end. 3) Its body was well-welded (or firmly joined) and had two wings and resembled a large bird. 4) Repeatedly the king says it runs by the “power” of mercury, which is described as contained in four firm pots/vessels. These are heated by a slow fire from an iron heating vessel. “Powered by mercury it roars into the sky”.

Now the SS is fairly serious about this mercury power business: Immediately after the vimAna, king bhoja mentions a yantra powered by heated mercury again, which is used for duShTa-gajochchATana (over-throwing of enemy elephants). It is supposed to create a roar like nR^isimha. The possibility of engine using mercury comes to mind – between the 1930-1950 there were experimental engine designs (The William Emmet engines) using Hg as the working fluid used in power plants. While they were more efficient than the steam turbines, cost and hazards of mercury put an end to the endeavors. It should be remarked that one of the early models of James Watt’s rotary engines also used Hg as a working fluid. However, the possibility of such devices powering flight is considered remote by engineers.

Having reached the end of this line of inquiry, we looked at comparative evidence from other texts and civilization. In the west the invention of the engine is normally attributed to a yavana sage Hero of Alexandria who composed on mechanics around 50-100 CE. One of his devices is the aeolipile, which literally means the door of wind (Aeolus and his 11 sons the Aeolii being wind deities). Interestingly, many of the machines of Hero are parallel to that of bhoja’s yantra-s. His collections include water machines (Pneumatica), machines for creating wonders in temples like opening temple doors, statues that pour libations etc. (Automata), figures the move and perform drama (automata theater), directions for architects, including means of lifting heavy objects (Mechanica) and siege and war machines (Belopoeica). Likewise amongst bhoja-s yantra-s we have: 1) the vAri-yantra running on water flow, 2) yantra-s for creating adbhuta-s (wonders) like showing fire in water 3) “Robotic” parrot, elephant and men and women act together, automatic beating of drums. 4) A remote controlled door-keeper for the night who blocks thieves. 5) uchChraya-yantra: a mechanical lift for raising objects. 6) Siege machines for defending forts and robotic door guards.

These parallels are reminiscent of such other similarities between the Greek and Hindu worlds. In particular the use of wonders in temples, which appears to be very important for Hero of Alexandria, is a critical aspect of the Neo-Platonic religious thought (theurgy), along with temple construction and image-veneration. This cultural element has so much in parallel with India that it is not surprising to find yantra-s in a Hindu work that otherwise deals with religious architecture in large measure. Another point to note in this context is the parallel between Hero’s formula for the area of a triangle and brahmagupta’s generalization for the the cyclic quadrilateral. Thus, irrespective of their place of origin, we may surmise that ideas for mechanical devices, along with many other scientific, pagan religious, cultural and mathematical ideas, were very much a part of the shared ancient thought system that encompassed bhArata and Greece. Given the aeolipile, it is not impossible that Hindu-s devised some version of an engine (perhaps rotary) with Hg as the working fluid (the howls of the skeptics and the toxicity of mercury notwithstanding). While I am personally skeptical about how such a device might have powered flight, we should at least credit bhoja with a rather prescient bit of thinking: using an engine to power an aircraft.

Finally, one yantra mentioned by king bhoja caught my attention — the sUryAdi-graha-gati-pradarshana-paraM gola-bhramaNaM.
The king says (SS 31.61-62): golash-cha sUchi-vihitaH sUryAdInAM pradakShiNaM |
pari-bhrAmyaty-ahorAtraM grahANAM darshayan gatiM |
[Images of] The sun and the planets are made to revolve without any connection and these revolutions show the occurrence of day and night and the motions of planets. Thus, bhoja-deva describes a yantra that simulates the solar system. This immediately brings to mind the recently described analysis of an ancient artifact that was discovered in a ship-wreck over 100 years ago- the Antikythera mechanism from Greece. It is interpreted as a mechanical device to simulate the sun, moon and probably planets and successfully compute eclipses. That, such devices were used in the yavana world, is confirmed by a statement by the Roman author Cicero who saw the device captured from Archimedes by the Roman general Marcellus. In his de Natura Deorum Cicero mentions that his friend Posidonius had made a machine in which “each one of the revolutions of which brings about the same movement in the sun and moon and five wandering stars as is brought about each day and night in the heavens.” This last statement is indeed reminiscent of the record of bhoja-deva.

All things taken together, Neo-Platonic Western Eurasia and bhArata at the time of bhoja-deva’s era were “technologically” rather developed (also note the remarkable description of the cranial surgery performed on bhoja-deva himself). But in both places the violent visitations of the Abrahamistic madness obliterated or defaced these old worlds. This is a point often overlooked by many, especially in the West.

The silent return

•January 20, 2007 • Leave a Comment

On the path of nothingness we returned;
before us stood the bright prajApati,
with rudra’s bright dart pinning him to the welkin.

In one hand we held an iron trident,
in the other we held a skull.
Beyond the carcass of prajapati
shone his wain, with the ruddy gem in it struck.

Further ahead shone the six mothers,
of our patron god with the spear.
Around us stood the city’s denizens.

We were reminded of the bygone days.
that strangely to us seemed so near.
The prodigious one did aim,
a kite in the firmament to place.

The muni batted an eyelid not,
and like the wise vainaemoinen
pronounced in the inner mind:
“this contraption is ain’t flying”.

This wisdom struck us not then.
We unheedingly declared then
that we seek not to get
worthless basalt home
in place of metal that we sought.

Chasing phantasms and black shadows,
we wandered on the plains of khANDava,
thrilled fleetingly by the merriment
of our blithe fellow-farers,
verily like the Lankan prince
in the pleasure house in bhArata.

Chasing that dark shade,
down the dark alley we coursed.
At the bend in the path
concealing the grim unknown,
the shade was unmasked!

Out came the rAkShasi,
indeed laughing hideously
even as jarA in a magadhan midden.

Our reverie broke.
The wayfarers of uncontrolled gaiety
receded into the chaos,
even as the sUtaputra and suyodhana
were seen vanishing
into the gape of vishvarUpa.

Alone on the path of sorrow,
we stood staring–
the slow changing heavens
in the daily circuits.
The bleak shriek of vAta and
the rAkShasi beyond.


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