With the other pakSha

•June 18, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The third hero advanced with a large force to defend his turf. His men watched with mixed feelings– some where excited, others were confused, yet others were sad because their own people were dying. We were roaming like a khaDga in the grasslands of yore (we were reminded of the statement made by R1’s father that in our proverbial last janma we were a khadga), when our clansman called on us to bring the march of the third hero to our attention. We also heard from him that he was marching with his own detachment having scored a direct hit on the bhrAtR^ivya and asked us to join his march. We however pointed out the mistakes in his mantra prayoga and warned him of its consequence. We expressed our inability to do so due to lack of troops at this point as we were mired in the khANDavan war that sat on us like the vetAla on vikrama in the mahAshmashAna. We then continued our wanderings — we saw the descendant of Fourier of maNgala-grAma lying prone on the battle field struck by a shara of the third vIra. That person called to us — and we stopped to talk in that field. That field reminded me of the days when the third vIra and I were in a shmashAna surrounded by skeletal remains from long gone pretas.

The fallen descendant of Fourier spoke of the battle in which they were arrayed against the 3rd vIra to settle the scores ensuing from the hostilities that occurred after he came face to face with the wall of the crane. The third vIra’s horse and ratha had been smashed by the Fouriers and their chera magician allies. By the Fourier’s he had been bound in a cave and atop a hill where the muni had saved him. But he was a surly warrior who had fought many more battles than any of us. He received from his large network of spies the intelligence that he will be aided by the suparNa at the opportune moment, just as the shAktya in the quest for his girl. In a diplomatic manipulation he aligned the virile taittirIyaka and his party against the Fouriers. He attacked the Fouriers as they forded a pass in the madhya-yuga. They deployed the action of brahma and kShatra and a fierce battle followed. But the 3rd hero over came them because the suparNa came to his aid, like gAyatrI bearing the soma for the gods. The Fouriers were routed and the descendant of Fourier of maNgala-grama lay pierced. That person said: “With that the third hero has settled the past issues. With our destruction the chapter of the war initiated by Fourier of mangala-grAma has be closed. The third hero and the virile taittirIyaka are the victors and with that the kR^ityA powers of Fourier have all dried up like a pond in summer. If we remain in this loka we will take sannyasa from all this, if we join the pitR^is we will be remembered as a brave warrior who died on the field.”

We continuing to wander like a vrAtya; we felt like Zarathushtra reciting the Gayam Urvan, or more aptly like atharvan approaching father varuNa inquiring about the 4th foot that lies in the parorajasaH. We looked to the unblinking asura who gazes with his numerous eyes to be released from the pAsha-s. The mantra “yA vAM indrAvaruNa … came to mind”

The asura

•June 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

R was telling me how she was reviving her saMskR^ita by reading the harivaMsha that I had given. R being like the proverbial hidden Rustam of the Iranians, can show a sharp eye. She was struck by a name of varuNa, i.e. prachetas, in the harivaMsha and was discussing its provenance with me. amarasiMha gives a name of varuNa as prachetas. kAlidAsa following paurANic tradition in the shakuntalA (if I recall right) calls him prachetas and this name is mentioned by all major vedic commentators like UvaTa, sAyaNa and mahIdhara of mantra-mahodadhi fame. prachetas might have two meanings: wise or ever-alert. Both of which are applicable to varuNa as he is described in the R^igveda. This reminded me of the R^igvedic mantra of shunaHshepa Ajigarti: “kShyan-nasaMbhyaM asura prachetAH” (RV1.24.14); here he is called the asura prachetas- which captures the semantics of his Iranian cognate exactly: ahura mazdhA (the wise ahura). This phrase also occurs again in RV 8.90.6 which seems to refer to varuNa as the asura who is prachetasa. This suggests that just as mAzdhA (cognate of medhira in Vedic, an adjective applied to varuNa) was used in the Iranian world, prachetas was the preferred cognate of this form of the name in the Indo-Aryan world.

We also encounter a similar term in RV 8.42.1 “astabhnAd dyAm asuro vishvavedA”, where varuNa is called asuro vishvavedas- the all knowing asura.

The orbits of beauty

•June 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

shAstA in the drAviDa country

•June 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Unlike khaNDobA, mallaNNa or mallAri of the upper peninsular India and Maharashtra, in the drAviDa country the homologous equestrian deity does not get identified with mArtANDa-bhairava. Instead he remains pretty distinct and is known as shAstA (dramiDa: chAttAn) or Arya (dramiDA: ayyan or ayyanAr). He has a tremendously popular cult atop the shabari hill in the chera country (just like khaNDoba in Jejuri), but as it exists this cult is far removed from his pristine form, more commonly seen amongst the drAviDa-s of the modern TN. Some smArta-s ignorantly call him a large peyy (dravidian word for bhUta or ghost), but my clan, like any proper polytheist, have great regard for him as a major parivAra-devata of kumAra. Several shrIvaiShNava-s also look down upon a band of tenkalai vaiShNavas from Tirunelveli, who worship ayyan as their primary deity and refer to him in disparaging terms.

Two common tales exist about ayyan: one which is widely known but probably of later provenance is that he is harihara-putra born from mohini and shiva. This is seen in some temples in both the drAviDa and the chera desha-s. In this context, in some ayyan shrines rudra may be depicted as a muni gazing at viShNu, depicted as a bewitching mahAnagnikA, with a cobra covering her yoni. As per the other tale indra generated a new god, or brought up sUrya-s son, who was ayyan. When the villagers, often described as being of the kullAlar guild, asked indra for a deity to protect their grAma-s he send ayyan along with two agents respectively generated by rudra and viShNu: changali karrupu chuvami and muttu karrupu chuvami. The deva-s also gave ayyan two wives: pUrNA and puShakalA (just as with khaNDobA). In protecting the people ayyan along with his host of warriors (see below) killed many demons. They also thrashed errant villagers and maintained law and order.

There are several old shrines of ayyan in the tamil country and their antiquity is supported by the mention of such shrines in the shilappadhikAraM. One of the oldest shrines of shAstA is seen in a site just outside the village of Karivalamvandanallur (32 kilometers northwest of the village of Kazhugumalai). Here there is an ancient grave yard of Dravidians buried in urns. Beside it is a stream and a rocky hill suddenly rises next to it. On top of this hill is the archaic shrine of kari-chAttAn (shAstA on the elephant) from the sangam period. Outside it one can see numerous pitchers with ancient offerings to the god and old votive horses of a bygone era. There Arya sits in silence flanked by his two wives. There one feels the primal presence of shAstA — none of the melodramatic outbursts of bhakti that the travelers to shabari mention. It is also a different experience from Jejuri amidst the throngs of rustic mahArATTa and dhangars. Here there is only silence, but for the occasional bird, yet all around you feel the god and his wives.

In later temples ayyan is typically accompanied by several other sub-shrines usually to other deities, always counting to 21 though they may differ from shrine to shrine. pUrNA and puShkalA may be located inside the shrine of shAstA himself beside him or occasionally have their own shrines. The commonly found ones are:
piLLaiyAr (vinAyaka); murugan (kumAra); agni-virabhadran (agni-vIrabhadra); different kinds of karrupu chuvami-s (e.g. muttu-karrupu-chuvAmi, changali-karrupu-chuvAmi, kazhuvaDi karrupu); karrupAyI amman (a sister or wife of the karrupu-s) mU-amman or pEchI-amman (dhUmAvatI or rakta-jyeShTha, usually shown with a winnowing basket); bhadrakALI amman (bhadra-kAlI); rAkkAyi-amman (rAkA); meyyANDI amman; muniyANDI (a muni-formed deity); paitya irrulappan or suDalai [suDukAT] madan; irulAyI amman (wife of paitya irulappan); nAgappan; sonai chuvAmi (he is the deity associated with the urn burials. Some drAviDa-s inform me that he is actually a variety of karrupu and might be called sonai karrupu.); mAchi-chuvAmi (he rides a tiger like Arya in the chera country); sapta-kanya-s (the deified Pleiades open cluster). There is also a shrine for the first pUjArI of the shAstA cult (the Adi-pUjArI) and, on occasions, a sannayAsI.

Zeros of the Zeta function and such metaphysical wanderings

•June 15, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The spectrum formed by the first 200 zeros on the critical line of the Riemann zeta function: The Re(s)=.5 while the lines of the spectrum above are the values of Im(s) producing the zeros. These values were obtained from Odlyzko’s table of zeroes.

Many years ago when we were still not seized by the grAhI, we sat beside a pond in which the then arrogant sachiva of the third hero was raging like an untamed bull. Since he was a mathematician had held placed some books on the shore, which he lent to me to glance at. I was far from being a mathematician but it introduced me to few 1-dimensional distributions or spectra that greatly fascinated me:
1) the prime distribution; 2) the distributions of zeros on the critical line of the Riemann Zeta function; 3) the distribution of eigenvalues of a random Hermitian matrix.

There was something primal about these spectra–some thing hidden that fascinates a layman and mathematician alike. All this suddenly struck a new chord again, when ekanetra told me of Wigner’s conjecture that the distribution of real spectral lines in the nuclear orbitals could be explained as the eigenvalue of a Hermitian matrix.

It brought up the fundamental question: Is the hidden Hermitian matrix or operator behind all these something profound, or semi-trivial like the normal distribution or the power-law in the nature of things.

Endless diversity of cyclical waves

•June 14, 2007 • Leave a Comment

mArtANDa bhairava: mallAri

•June 14, 2007 • Leave a Comment

After visiting the shrine of the fiery ulka, accompanied by his two shaktI-s, we were filled with the urge to pay a visit to the shrine atop the massif of Jejuri. It houses khaNDobA, a pastoral deity, an evolute of the ancient revanta, in Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra. A Sanskrit tale is narrated in association with this shrine:
-The brAhmaNa-s inform rudra that the world was being tormented by the demons maNi and malla.
-They go to rudra to ask him to save them from the demons. From his locks he produces a fierce shakti named ghR^itamArI
-He himself manifests as mArtANDa bhairava. He is described as having golden flaming robes, with teeth like flashing rubies and he was surrounded by a troop of fierce dogs.
-mArtANDa bhairava appointed kumAra as the commander of his forces with a horde of skandagraha-s mounted on peacocks.
-kumAra further partitioned his division under indra, agni, yama, nirR^iti, varuNa, kubera, brahmA and viShNu. There was also a horde of vinAyakas mounted on rodent-faced horses led by the fiery ulka.
-The forces of mArtANDa bhairava and those of maNi and malla fought a fierce battle.
-In the final fierce battle the horse-faced maNi fought mArtANDa bhairava riding a white horse. Finally, he was struck by an arrow of the bhairava and thrown into a lake termed maNichal along with his horse. mArtANDa bhairava then stamps him underfoot, when he pleased the god with a hymn, and asks for a boon to be stationed at the door-step of his temple. He also gives his white horse as a vAhana to the bhairava.
-Then malla attacked the deva army with his own personal force by uttering so loud a roar that it caused pArvatI-s crown to fall in kailAsha. mArtANDa bhairava dispatched ghR^itamArI to attack his hordes.
-ghR^itamArI swooping down on them like a kR^ityA swallowed all of them and ground them the dust.
-Then ghR^itamArI and malla fought a terrible battle. He pierced her head with 100 arrows, her breasts with 27 arrows each and another 100 to immobilize her shoulders and neck.
-Then mArtANDa bhairava entered the field riding his white horse. With a cresent-headed arrow he cut off the demon’s bow, but the demon retaliated by hurling his axe to cut the bow of the bhairava. The then two joined a hand-to-hand fight with swords.
-Finally the bhairava struck him down and placed his foot on him. Before he was beheaded, he asked the flaming bhairava that his head should be placed outside the temple of the god and that he should be given sacrifices of goats or sheep. He also asked that his name be mentioned before that of his conqueror. mArtANDa bhairava conferred these boons and dispatched him — he took the name mallAri to satisfy the point of the the asura’s name coming first.


This is the canonized Sanskrit work. However, the shUdra-s of maharAShTra and Andhra also narrate a colloquial version. Several shUdra-s I have spoken to were well aware of the connection between mArtANDa bhairava and khaNDobA, and also generally know the Sanskrit version of the story. The colloquial version is usually narrated by a pious shUdra bard called a vAghyA or in the midst of the shepherds by a sooth-sayer termed the “devarShi”. The Andhra and marAThA version differ in minor points, mainly place names. Some Andhras seem to have located the tale to Mallikarjuna or shrIshailam; in the kaNNaDa country I have noticed some say that it was malleshvaraM, now within Bangalore city. Clearly these places were there in the marAThA mind too, because shivAjI bhosle and his clan, great worshipers of khaNDobA, associated him with shrIshailaM and malleshvaraM. shivAjI even wanted to renounce the world and become a mendicant at shrIshailaM, but his men reminded him of his great role to play for svarAjya. This grandson emperor shAhu himself, like a vAghyA came to his court along with his dog on which he placed the royal crown thinking of khaNDoba. But I supply below the story as narrated in the frame of the marAThA country, for that is where I have explored the many shrines of the deity:

The brAhmaNa-s asked shiva to help the people from the depredations of the two demons on earth. shiva told umA that he was leaving kailasa to deal with two asuras.
umA:” You are always taking avatara-s leaving me alone here. I want to come along this time.”
shiva: “Alright, after I kill the asuras you can come along. We will settle there and live for a while. You incarnate as mhALsA the daughter of a tima-sheTTi, a li~NgAyata shopkeeper. After killing the asura-s I will come marry you and take you to my palace atop the hill of jejuri.”
ga~NgA who saw all this, held in the coils of rudra’s hair said: “This time I want to come too”.
shiva: “OK- you take the incarnation of a shepherd girl bAnU among the shUdra-s known as the dhangar (cattle herders). I will come to your hamlet and bring you over to my palace.”
umA: “Alright, but why can’t we come now? You may need us for battle.”
ga~NgA: “You will need us! see when the time comes, you will need us.”
shiva: “OK ladies go and take your incarnations, I really need to be doing this man’s work of fighting asura-s.”
rudra took some haridra and sprinkled it on his snake — it became a metal chain that he wore around his neck. In due course rudra incarnated as mallaNNa or khaNDobA starts a war on maNi and malla. viShNu also incarnates as IThobA or hegaDi pradhAn as bAnU’s brother.

In the fight maNi on being wounded starts spawning new maNi-s from his blood- like raktabIja or andhaka. khaNDobA seeing the trouble sends for the ladies mhALsA and bAnU to come an join him in the battle. mhAlsa taking up a sword and spear rushed to the field. bAnU picked up a magic bow and arrows and ran to the field. Behind bAnU came their dog. First the two ladies try to drink up the blood. But seeing it to be too much they used skulls of beheaded asuras to catch the blood. When even that did not suffice they ran around shouting in consternation and were hit by the arrows of the asuras. Then their dog seeing the predicament came and lapped up all the blood. With his blood drying up maNi was losing strength. Then IThobA also came to the field and gave khaNDobA a chakra, with which he killed maNi.

bAnU and IThobhA killed many demons in malla’s army. Then khaNDobA attacked malla, with mhAlsA mounting his horse and wielding a spear. After a prolonged fight, malla finally rushed on khaNDobA and seized his horse’s reins. But the horse reared and allowed mhALsA to spike him on his flank, even as khaNDobA struck off his head with his sword. The day of victory was a bright ShaShThI day in mArgashIrSha. Then khaNDobA married mhALsA and also brought bAnU along, and settled down with the two ladies in his hill-top palace at jejuri [kaNNaDa-s explicitly call bAnU a concubine].
In jejurI, the shrine of viShNu as IThobA or hegaDI pradhan is half-way up the hill. In front of his shrine goat sacrifices are made- he is suppose to convey the goat sacrifices to the recipients. khaNDoba himself only takes vegetarian offerings in the main shrine on the top of the hill. There, on one side in the courtyard, there is a large image of maNi and one of the steps has the image of the head of malla. mhALsA has her own shrine, while bAnU has a little platform on which her image is placed. In the smaller, but venerated, dhamankeL shrine in Junnar near Pune, khaNDobA is seated on a muNDa mancha with the two demons’ heads as the foot-rests. mhALsA is seated next to him, while bAnU is peeping from behind his shoulder. In his hands he has a sword, trident and shield. Besides the 3-peaked tryaMbaka li~Nga, IThobA or viShNu stands with a sword and shield.


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