The oldest surviving planetary ritual of the Hindus

Certain white Indologists and their Japanese imitators have often held the dishonest view that Hindus were unaware of planets until the yavana-s informed them of their existence in the sky. This view was demolished by the great patriot of the Hindu nation Lokamanya Tilak about a century ago. In fact he showed that the proto-Indo-Europeans (leaving out the Hittites) certainly knew of the brightest planet in the sky. Of course this is encoded in the form the venas recitation with the shukra and manthin graha-s. But a question still remains: Does any relatively early vedic rite specifically directed at the planets exist and survive. One example of this graheShTi of the kaTha yajurvedin-s:

graheShTi brAhmaNa

devAsh cha vA asurAsh cha samAvad eva yaj~ne ’kurvata yad eva devA akurvata tad asurA akurvata te devA etAni grahahaviMShy apashyaM s tair indram ayAjayaMs tad asurA nAnvavAyaMs tato devA abhavan parAsurA abhavan ya evaM vidvAn etAni grahahavIMsi yajate bhrAtR^ivyasy AnanvavAyAya bhavaty AtmanA parAsya bhrAtR^ivyo bhavaty AdityAya ghR^ite charuM nirvapet tejas tena parikrINAti shaukraM charuM brahmavarchasaM tena parikrINAti bR^ihaspataye naivAraM payasi charuM vAkpatyaM tena parikrINAti budhAya navakapAlaM buddhiM tena parikrINAti bhaumAyaikakapAlaM yashas tena parikrINAti saurAya palalamishraM ghR^ite charuM surabhiM tena parikrINAti chandramase pa~nchadasha kapAlaM Ayus tena parikrINAti rAhave charum abhayaM tena parikrINAti ketave charum anaparodhaM tena parikrINAty etAny eva sarvANi bhavati ya evaM vidvAn etayA yajeta|
AjyenopahomA~n juhoty AshiSh Am avaruddhyA etayA yajeta yaH kAmayeta tejasvI bhrAjasvI vAkpatir buddhimAn yashasvI surabhir AyuShmAn abhayyanaparodhI syAm ity ekachakram udayAd bhrAjamAnam ity aShTAdasha yAjyAnuvAkyA bhavanti sarUpatvAyAgnir hiraNyaM somo hiraNyam ity AjyabhAgau preddho agna imo agna iti saM yAjye uchchair yajaty eShA vai vAchAm uttamA yochchair uttamaH samAnAnAM bhavaty Adityas tejasvIty upahoma~n juhoti sarvasyAptyai sarvasyAvaruddhyai ya evaM vidvAn etayA yajeta||

graheShTi mantra-s

adityas tejasvIty upahomA~n juhoti|
Adityas tejasvI tejo asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||1||
shukro bhrAjasvI bhrAjo asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||2||
bR^ihaspatir vAkpatir vAcho asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||3||
budho buddhimAn buddhim asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||4||
arko yashasvI yasho asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||5||
sauraH surabhiH surabhim asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||6||
chandramA AyuShmAn Ayur asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||7||
rAhur abhayam abhayam asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||8||
ketur anaparodhy anaparodham asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||9||
dhruvo dhairyavAn dhairyam asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||10||
agastyo vIryavAn vIryam asmin yaj~ne yajamAne dadhAtu||11||
preddho agne dIdihi puro no yatra devAH pUrve purANAH ||
yatrAsau vaishvAnaraH stokAtithis tatremaM yaj~naM yajamAnaM cha dhehi||1||
imo agne vItatamAni havyA predaM haviH prAShTremAn stokAn|
stokAtithiH stokajUtiH patatry athA hy agne amR^itatvaM cha dhehi||2||

The above ritual is of interest because it provides an important link in the evolution of planet related rituals in the vedic system. To understand this we have to look a little more into the worship of astronomical entities in vedic rites. In the R^igveda we do not have any sUkta dedicated to the nakShatra-s. However, in the taittirIya brAhmaNa we have a long new sUkta composed for the purpose of the nakShatreShTi. Comparable sUkta-s were composed in the atharvanic tradition, whereas the kaTha-s merely culled mantra-s from the saMhitA to create the liturgical recitations for their nakShatreShTi ritual (as we have seen before on these pages). An important point to note is that these nakShatra rituals begin with kR^ittikA at the spring equinox. However, from Tilak’s studies, and from other related lines of evidence, we can see that the core of the RV was not associated with the kR^ittikA-s, but with earlier asterisms of rohiNI or mR^igashIrSha. Hence, it does appear that the nakShatra liturgy was an innovation of the kR^ittikA period. However, the structure of the soma ritual suggests that there was an earlier nakShatra recitation in the consecration of the pebbles of the asterisms in laying the fifth layer of brick of the chiti. Since the recitations for this act are found in the YV and again begin with kR^ittikA one could argue that this and perhaps a good part of the chiti recitations were post-RV compositions of the adhvaryava tradition of the YV. None of this indicates that the nakShatra system came into being de novo in the core YV period. We do have the Iranian list of 28 nakShatra-s that was originally used, before being supplanted by the zodiacal system, probably after the Iranians moved into the Middle East. While the complete Iranian nakShatra list only survives in the Pahlavi bundahishn, we have some avestan names supporting their old origins. Further we can reconstruct that at least some of the names of asterisms probably predated the Indo-Iranian split. Thus, based on this we can infer the following: 1) There was a nakShatra list predating the Indo-Iranian divergence. 2) Both in the core RV and Avesta period there was no dedicated ritual to the nakShatra-s. However, they were collectively or by specific names referred to within recitations in this period. 3) In the beginnings of the elaborate shrauta ritual of the agni chiti-s they were incorporated into the ritual of laying of pebbles. 4) In the core YV/later AV period full-fledged rituals dedicated to the deities in conjunction with their associated nakShatra-s emerged. 5) In parallel, the Iranians developed later liturgy for specific asterisms (perhaps as euphemisms for the deities associated with them, because the deities themselves were demonized by zarathuShTra). We see these developments as internal to the Indo-Iranian world. At least in the Indo-Aryan world the development was largely a consequence of the increasing calenderical emphasis in the shrauta ritual.

Understanding this evolution of the nakShatra rituals is important because the case of the planets in Indo-Aryan rituals is similar in many ways though the details might differ. Firstly, unlike the nakShatra-s at least two planets had dedicated sUkta-s to them in the older saMhitA collections. The most well-known of these are the sUkta-s to vena in the RV (10.123) and AV (vulgate 2.1) and that to both vena and bR^ihaspati in AV (vulgate 4.1). While bR^ihaspati has additional non-planetary dimensions and is a central deity in several rituals, vena appears to be a purely invoked in specific ritual actions. For example the primary use of the vena sUkta from the RV was in the deployment of the shukra and manthin soma cups in the somayAga. As per AV tradition vena is invoked in the upavastha rite, the gharma recitation in the atharvanic pravargya, and the laying down of the gold biscuit in the agnichayana ritual. In the longer gharma recitation given in the AV-paippalAda saMhitA (AV-P 16.150) we take the word graha to mean planet as it occurs with terms like shukra and pa~nchAre chakra in the same sUkta. Two sAman-s to shukra/vena are deployed during the piling of the altar during the agnichayana. In a royal atharvavedic ritual of leading the king to his palace a recitation is deployed which invokes the planets as a group along with rAhu and the ketu-s (AV-vulgate 19.9). Even though there might have been early sUkta-s dedicated to at least two planets, it should be noted that their primary original role was, as with the nakShatra-s, in special actions in the shrauta rituals. Thus, neither nakShatra-s nor planets had a dedicated ritual in the earliest layers, but they were certainly known and referred to in ritual contexts.

However, in the case of graha-s we see a profusion of rituals appearing the late vedic period as a part of the terminal sections of the gR^ihya texts. Examples of these include the jaiminIya gR^ihyasUtra 2.9; vaikhAnasa gR^ihyasUtra grahashAnti of 1.4.13; and the shanti-kalpa of the atharvan-s; graha homa of the kaTha-s usually appended after the graheShTi as a gR^ihya rite; the bodhAyanIya gR^ihya-sheSha sUtra 1.6. Their late character is established by the nature of the ritual, which often has elements of the smArta sarvopachAra pUja and use of images made of wood or metal or drawings of the planetary archons. They sudden appearance across the gR^ihya texts as late sections lent fuel to the indological assertion that they were Babylonian or Greek imports that were brought into the Indic world along with Greek/Babylonian astrology and weekdays. However, the kaTha brAhmaNa and mantra-s with distinct names of the planets and also older ritual structure suggests that what ever the role of the Middle Eastern influence, the graha rituals certainly had an endogenous element.Importantly, it shows that just as in the case of the nakShatra-s the dedicated shrauta ritual to the planets arose as a part of the new set of shrauta performances that were instituted during the compilation of the yajur collections. Thus the planetary and nakShatra rites follow the same pattern – their mantra-s had an early role as accessories rather than as deities in the early shrauta ritual, but the in the late shrauta ritual they might receive full-fledged rites.

Finally, we must note that the names of the planets are some what atypical in the kaTha ritual and appear to represent the older form of their names. The name arka for Mars is intriguing. It should be noted that this name is often used for the sun, but clearly in this case it means Mars and not the sun. The word arka is also used for Mars in the bodhAyanIya gR^ihyasheSha sUtra-s. This raises the possibility that indeed other usages of arka in the shruti could also signify Mars rather than the sun. Indeed, I suspect that this is the case in certain RV mantra-s. Most likely candidates are the references found in the sUkta-s to bR^ihaspati in the maNDala 10 by the R^iShi ayAsya A~ngirasa. In RV10.67.5 we encounter:
vibhidyA puraM shayAthem apAchIM nis trINi sAkam udadher akR^intat |
bR^ihaspatir uShasaM sUryaM gAm arkaM viveda stanayann iva dyauH ||

Here bR^ihapati is described as splitting the fort and the “sleeping places” in the west (of vala) as he cut off three joints of the “water holder”. Doing this and roaring like dyaus bR^ihaspati “discovered” (viveda) the uShA-s, sUrya, the cows and arka. While this R^ik is extremely obscure in terms of its cryptic allusions there are several motifs that clearly indicate it as concealing an astronomical picture. Further, the bR^ihaspati of this sUkta does have a strong astronomical dimension as the planetary deity. In any case the point of importance to us in this context is that it clearly distinguish arka from sUrya, thus indicating that arka is not the sun, but could be Mars, who is named thus in the graheShTi. This gets further support in a R^ik in the subsequent sUkta also to bR^ihaspati:
ApruShAyan madhuna R^itasya yonim avakShipann arka ulkAm iva dyoH |
bR^ihaspatir uddharann ashmano gA bhUmyA udneva vitvachaM bibheda ||

While there are obscure elements in this R^ik too, it is said that bR^ihaspati drew out the cows from the rock and split the earth like the skin of a cloud even as arka hurled down a meteor and showered the source of the R^ita with honey. This meteor fall refers to the night sky and not the day sky of the sun supporting the identification of arka in this context as Mars.

~ by mAnasa-taraMgiNI on February 18, 2010.

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