Saturday, November 1, 2014


Why Hindus resort to Enigmatic 108 and 1008 Names of the Deity for worship?
(Ashtottara sata and Sahasra)
(Compilation for a Discourse   by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, November 2014)
Hindus worship their chosen deity chanting 108 names called Ashtottara Sata or popularly   Ashtottara or 1008 names called Sahasranaama Ashtottra or popularly known as Sahasranaama. Temples often conduct Lakshaarchana Worship in which Sahasranaama is repeated 100 times   (in reality1008x100=100800 times). Homas are often resorted to offering even foodstuff like Modakam 108 or 1008 times for Ganesha. Hanuman is garlanded with many food items of count 108 (vadamaalai or fruits). All the popular deities have their own individual Ashtottaras and often their own Sahasranaamas too. Many a times Vishnu Sahasranaama is employed for all Vaishnava male deities (for example Venkateshwara).  Nobody has attempted to go beyond 1008 names of the Lord. It is true humans have their limitations and even Bheeshma stopped at 1031 names of Vishnu in VSN. In VSN there are exactly 1031 single names though called Sahasranaama.

Since the devotees have different forms to contemplate upon according to the deity of their choice, we have different Sahasranamas available to us today: Siva Sahasranama, Lalita Sahasranama, Sri Rama Sahasranama etc., to mention a few. These thousand names provide us with   thousand clear arrow-marks rising from the known, indicating unknown. Contemplation upon   these can deepen our faith, broaden our devotion to and heighten our understanding of the All-Pervading Reality. These Ashtottaras and Sahasranamas owe their origin to Sata Rudram contained in Krishnayajur Veda and later to Vishnu Sahasranama sung by Bheeshma in glorification of Lord Krishna while lying on the bed of the arrows overpowered by the Viswaroopa (Cosmic Form) of the Lord.

The number 108 and 1008 stand foremost amongst all   sacred numbers and appear as the true or enigmatic cardinal numbers of all   manners for philosophical reasoning and religious  conviction in the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and other Asiatic Cultures. All countries of the world recognize that Hinduism gave birth to Arabic numbers 0 to 9 though wrongly called Arabic, specially the integer 0, but for whose discovery the modern scientific advancement in the field of science and computers would not have been possible. Arabs being the earliest traders who traded with India learnt these numbers as well as mathematics from Hindus and Westerners seeing their popularity with Arabs called them Arabic numbers. Signs of Numbers counting up to very huge quantities like praraardha (10 raised to the power of 14), the decimal and duo-decimal systems, the concept of zero and infinity, quadratic equations, surds and indeterminate analysis were all familiar subjects in ancient India as described in my discourse “Ancient and medieval Hindus contribution to Science and Technology”.   

Hindus are familiar with the Mantra: Poornamadah poornamidam poornaat poornamduchyate | poornasya poornamaadaaya poornameva avasishyate”—that is Whole, this is whole, the whole becomes manifest. From the Whole, when the Whole negated, what remains is again the Whole. In Hinduism Brahman is considered as Poornam represented by integer zero or soonya. In this mantra whole represents un-manifest Brahman who becomes manifest.  If we just consider   Whole in the Mantra as Zero the statement of the mantra  holds good too because anything you do with 0 mathematically remains zero (0+0=0; , 0X0=0; 0/0=0; 0 raised to any power is 0 etc.).  Thus ideally integer “0”represents Nirguna Brahman. In 108, “1” represents Sadguna Brahman (Tadekam glorified in Vedas). He is supported by 8 Dikpalaks taking care of all 8 directions.  So 9 of them together form the visible Brahman in the manifested world (8+1=9).  So, Integer “9” ideally represents manifested Brahman. So in 108 or 1008 if you add all integers it comes to 9 while 0 Nirguna Brahman is the silent spectator.
Why do temple traditions resort to Sahasranaama Ashtottara (1008 names of the Lord) or Satanaama Ashtottara (108 names of the Lord) often referred simply as Ashtottara.  Ashtottara means accompanying eight. Therefore Sahasranama Ashtottara means 1000 accompanied by eight or simply 1008 names.
Why do we have to resort to 108 or 1008 names of the Lord? God’s name is indescribable and limitless. Yet we stop at these feeling human limitations based on Satarudram of Krishna Yajurveda and VSN by Bheeshma.  Does not mere 100 or 1000 chants or counts enough? Why additional eight? After reciting 100 mantras or 1000 mantras addressed to Supreme Being eight extra mantras are added for any commission or omission. This is an inborn nature of Hindus who always like to add one more to any donation. They always donate 101 rupees and not 100.  For some, more than the birthday celebration the day after birthday celebration is considered more important.  Probably 100 mantras are meant for Brahman and extra eight are meant for his Eight Bodyguards Ashta Dikpalakas who maintain orderliness in the world in all eight directions to whom they pay equal respect without any partiality. This additional eight has also crept into Buddhist practice in meditation of 100 or 1000 mantras.
“Why are there 108 beads on a Japamala?” The mala represents the ecliptic, the path of the sun and moon across the sky. Astrologers divide the ecliptic into 27 equal sections called Nakshatras, and each of these into four equal sectors called Paadas, or “Steps”, marking 27X4= 108 steps that the sun and moon take through heaven.  We count 108 beads in the Japamala or rosary of beads during prayer to represent these 108 steps.   Each is associated with a particular blessing force, with which we align ourselves as we turn the beads.  Also 54 letters of Sanskrit are supposed to be divine and are represented by the Japamaala. Each letter is supposed contain Purusha(Siva) and Prakriti (Sakti) part.  Japamaala contains often 54 beads or occasionally 108   but worn short practically in two rounds of 54   which are held together with a central bead called Meru bead.  In Pradosham worship   circumambulation is done by going forward and backward in a semicircle as in 54 beads Japamala to count 108 and so going forth and backward is permitted. Traditionally, we stop at the   “Meru Bead”, flip the mala around in our hand and continue reciting the mantra as we move backward through the beads.  We are spiritually interconnected with all of nature. Using a mala in prayer is a symbolic way of connecting ourselves with the cosmic cycles governing our universe.      
Also, the distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 108 times the sun’s diameter. The diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth’s diameter. And the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon’s diameter. This could be the reason why our scripture consider 108 to be sacred.
The microcosm representing humans essentially reflects the macrocosm of the universe as explained in several of Vedanta discourses.  We could say that there are 108 steps between the ordinary human awareness and the divine light at the center of our being. Each time we chant another mantra as our mala beads slip through our fingers, we are taking one more step towards our own inner light called Aatman. 
In Kundalini Power concept chakras are the intersections of energy lines. It is said that there are   108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, Sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
On the Sri chakra there are what are called marmas or sacred intersections where three lines intersect. There are 54 such intersections. Each intersection is represented by Siva as Purusha or masculine component and Sakti as Prakriti   or feminine component coming together.    54 times 2 equal 108 divine powers.  Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri chakra as well   as the human body. Marmas or marmasthanas are like energy intersections called chakras,   having fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.     
In astrological concept there are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. Here again 9 X12 =108. Chandra is moon, and Kalas are the divisions within a whole.  
Since the mantras are used for self-purification it can be described as followings based on Buddhist philosophy. Every human being has 5 cognitive senses (Jnanendriyas) and Manas totaling 6. Essentially through these one commits sins.  These can have positive negative or indifferent approach. Therefore 6X3=18.  We pray for their attachment or detachment. Some seek liberation but majority seek favor from God (Phalasrutis). Therefore it becomes 18X2=36. This could have happened in the past or can happen now or might happen in the future. That is 36X3=108. Therefore mantras are repeated 108 times. This is the Buddhist way of thinking. As you all know Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism only difference being   Buddhism is silent on Brahman but does not negate it as they have of late elevated Buddha to that position and there are many Buddha Avatars. Probably 8 Dikpaalakas are replaced by 8 paths of Dharma (the eight spokes).   These are the eight spokes of Dharma chakra of Buddhism found in Indian National Flag. Japanese Bell rings 108 times on New Year’s Day. There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals, 108 lies that humans tell and 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance in Hindu belief.
In one minute, we breathe in approximately 15 times and in 1 hour 900 times. In 12 hours we breathe in 10800 times. So in a full day one breathes 10800 X 2=21600 times.  It is interesting to note Chidambaram temple’s roof is made up of 21600 gold sheets representing 21600 breaths taken by humans every day.  Chidambaram Temple contains many secrets called Chidambara Rahasyam and this is one of them. We often hear a Hindu temple represents human body and Garbha-griha represents Aatman or Self within us. A day consists of 24 hours, and if we set aside half the day for our day to day routines, then one can spend 12 hours for recitation or meditation of one's chosen deity or Ishta devata. Therefore, the maximum numbers of times   that one can recite "mantra", or meditate are 10800. It is not practical to go through 10800 times each day.  108 or 1+8=9 represents Brahman. If each bead is considered as 108 that is 1 % of the total benefit (10800/108). When one goes through 108 beads he would have arrived at 100% performance (108X100=10800). That is why Japamalas have 108 beads as some people think
In Hindu religion, number 9 is very important. Keeping the importance of number 9, Vedavyaasa created 18 Puranas, 108 Upanishads.  (However, later many scriptures were fashioned after Upanishads and were called Upanishads which are not attributed to Vedavyasa). Mahabharata has 18 chapters, Geeta has 18 chapters, Bhagavata has 108000 Slokas (verses). In all these if you add all integers in the number it adds up to 9.  For   e.g.  in 18,  1+8=9 and in 108 1+0+8=18.  Chamakam asks a spiritual seeker to meditate upon 33 odd and 48 even numbers. If you add all the integers in these it comes to 18 (3+3+4+8=18). By a strange coincidence Sage Vedavyaasa is the author of all these scriptures. Did he postulate the mystery and myth of 9, 18 and 108?  9 is Saguna Brahman with 8 Dikpalaka. 9X12=108 where 12 is the 12 names of the Omnipresent (Vishnu) we chant in our daily prayers (Dwaadasanaama)—Achyuta, Ananta, Govinda, Madhava, Vishnu, Madhusoodhana, Trivikrama, Vaamana, Sridhara, Hrishikesa, Damodara and Padmanabha. It is believed that Atman, the human soul goes through 108 stages on its journey.  
In Chidambaram, a holy city in Tamil Nadu, Siva is worshiped as Akaasa Linga or space known for its Chidmabara Rahasyam (sercret). Here everybody’s focus is on the Yantra (geometrical symbol of the deity) adorned with golden necklaces to the right of Nataraja. This is the place of the Aakaasa Linga and is known as Chidambara Rahasya, the secret of Chidambaram. It is kept covered by a screen which is pushed aside twice a day for facilitating the devotees to view it.  People often do not pay attention to several other mysteries that abound in this temple.  This temple has 9 Kalasas (9 saktis of Parasakti) and 9 gates (as in human body), 9 being the enigmatic sacred number. Our body consists of Nava Dwaaras or nine exits. They are: Nose (2); Eyes (2); Ear (2); Mouth (1); and   Excretory organs (2)--One each for human refusals. It has 18 pillars in one of its Mantapams (Hall next to Artha Mantapam) which again represents 18 Puranas where 1+8=9. It has 21600 gold sheets fixed with 72000 gold nails. Here again if you add all integers it comes to mysterious number 9: 2+1+6+0+0=9; 7+2+0+0+0=9. Its boundary wall is 9 meter high.  I am not sure whether the architect had the sacred number 9 in mind when constructing this temple? Tamils may even claim this temple is built by Viswakarma. Local tradition says it is 2000 years old. History tells it was built in stages by several kings (Chola, Pandya, Krishnadevaraya etc.) maintaining the architectural harmony and sacredness. All the 108 modes of dancing known to the treatises of dancing have come from Siva. Only 9 (1+8) modes of dancing are described of which the Nataraja aspect (that of Saguna Brahman) is the most well-known. It is said he dances every evening in order to relieve the sufferings of creatures and entertain the divines who gather in Kailasa in full strength. Hence he is called Sabhapati, The Lord of the congregation.
Hindus in their daily ritual of Thrikaala (3 twilight periods of morning, mid-day and evening) Sandhyavandana concentrate on 9 aspects of Brahman--3 Trinities in Purusha aspect of Vishnu (morning), Brahma (noon) and Siva (evening); also three aspects of Savitri, Gaayatri and Saraswathi (Prakriti) aspect or as Jnaanasakti, Kriyasakti and Icchha sakti); and Trigunas  Sattva (morning), Rajas (mid-day)  and Tamas (evening). These 9 aspects are directed to 12 Adityas (Vyhritis of Brahman). Here again 9x12=108 (Please refer to my discourse on “Prologue to Sandhyavandana Rituals of Hindus, October 2014”)
One of the special features of Sabarimalai, the pilgrimage center in Kerala is the Pathinettupadi, a flight of 18 steps. So also Puri Jagannath Temple has 18 steps. These steps represent eighteen principles   (5 sense organs+8 internal enemies like lust greed etc., +3 Gunas +vidya and Avidya) which have to be transcended to reach God. This could also be interpreted somewhat differently. We have eighteen steps to climb and at each step we have to overcome Shadripus (6 enemies or egos)—Kaama(Passion), Krodha (Anger), Moha (Lust), Lobha (greed), Mada (haughtiness), Maatsarya (enemity). That makes 18X6= 108 times these enemies that we have to overcome as we climb 18 steps.  
There is yet another way of looking at it with positive thinking. Ashtottara is the divine act praising the glory of the Lord 108 times as is generally understood.  Supreme Being is addressed as Bhagavan as you learn from Geetaa. BHAGAVAAN possesses six unique qualities--Power to command everything( AISWARYA); To defeat the enemies ( VEERYA) ; Unobstructed knowledge of everything (JNANA); Unlimited wealth and prosperity (SRI) ; Non- attachment to Prakruthi and material objects (VAIRAAGYA) ; Fame (YASAS). [Utpattim pralayam chiava bhootaanaamagatim gatim |vetti vidyaam avidyaam cha sa vaachyo bhagavaaniti|| (Wealth; Power; Dharma; Fame; Character: Knowledge; and Dispassion—Bhagavatam)] One has to climb 18 steps to reach the Supreme as we learn from Sabarimalai. You climb each step   praising his six glories as Bhagawan.  That makes 18X6= 108 or Ashtottara Sata.

Vedas proclaim Sun as Brahman (Vyaahriti) and Sun has 12 signs (Zodiac signs).   Also there are   9 planets or Navagrahas--12X9=108.  Therefore Hindus pray 108 times seeking favorable disposition from the nine planets.
Chandogya Upanishad says all Vedas declare Om as the goal in life. Here reference to Vedas is to the 108 

Upanishads in a circle which all point towards that center OM.  OM  is  not  found in Rig Veda or Atharva 

Veda. Just like these arrows that do not run parallel but point towards one center, they all uni-vocally declare 

OM is Brahman in his Nirguna and Saguna form, both manifest and un-manifest. It stands for the Absolute. 

108 represents OM  repeated in 108 Upanishads.

In Hindu Puranas we hear of 4 Yugas. Kaliyuga consists of 432000 human years, 4+3+2=9. Dwaparayuga consists of 864000 human years. 8+6+4=18,  while 1+8=9.  Tretayuga consists of 1296000 human years, where 1+2+9+6=18 while 1+8=9. Kritayuga consists of 1728000 human years, where 1+7+2+ 8=18 while 1+8=9. Brahman is Time as each   Yuga ends up with the mystic number 9.

Hindu philosophy motivated by Poornam (0) and the odd and even numbers in Chamakam on which people devote thinks 108 and 1008 are divine. This has made Ashottara Satanamavali and Ashtottara Sahasra Namavali Archana (with Tulsi, Bilva,  Kumkuma, flower etc.) very popular in physical worship of the deity. Even Hanuman is decorated with a garland of 108 Vadas (cereal donuts, a South Indian delicacy).

108 is a mystic number for Hindus and so is 1008.  In both 0 represents Nirguna Brahman and 1 represents Saguna Brahaman as explained in the discourse “What do Odd and Even Numbers in Chamakam signify?” and “Thinking of Divinity of Numbers”. Figure 8 represents the 8   Dikpalaks with whose assistance Saguna Brahman rules the world of 8 quarters or directions. There is something mystical about 108 if we mathematically extend our thoughts to spirituality. If we add all the individual numbers in 108 it becomes Nine, 1+0+8=9. This nine is indestructible are Akshara. That is how Navaaksharee is considered as sacred. If we multiply 1X9 it is nine. (1X9=9); 2x9=18 and 1+8=9; 3X9=27 and 2+7=9; 4X9=36 and 3+6=9; 4X9=36 and 3+6=9; 5X9=45 and 4+5=9; 6X9 =54 and 5+4=9; 7X9=63 and 6+3=9; 8X9=72 and 7+2=9; 9X9=81 and 8+1=9.
108X2=216 and 2+1+6=9; 108X3=324 and 3+2+4=9; 108X4=432 and 4+3+2=9; 108X5=540 and 5+4=9; 108X6=648 and 6+4+8=18 while 1+8=9; 108X7=756 and 7+5+6=18 while 1+8=9; 108X8=864 and 8+6+4=18 while 1+8=9; 108X9=972 and 9+7+2=18 while 1+8=9.
1008 also behaves similarly. 1+0+0+8=9. 9 is a sacred number with Saguna Brahman and 8 Dikpalakas. 0+0=0 and is always Poornam as in the mantra “Pooranamadah  Poornamidam” Now 1008X2=2016 and 2+1+6=9; 1008X3=3024 and 3+2+4=9; 1008X4=4032 and 4+3+2=9; 1008X5=5040 and 5+4=9;  1008X6=6048  and 6+4+8=18 while 1+8=9; 1008X7=7056 and 7+5+6=18 while 1+8=9; 1008X8=8064 and 8+6+4=18 while 1+8=9; 1009X9=9081 and 9+8+1=18 while 1+8=9.

Usually Sahasranama and Ashtottara are in verse form and have words in Nominative case only.  The naamasankeertana (naamasmarana or recollecting the glory of God through a standardized list of names) is different from Japa while the latter is repetition of a single name over and over again the former is recitation of large number of names for articulation. When the text is recited as a chant (Path or patha) the verses are read or sung as they actually are. Bur when the names are used for ritualistic worship the names are taken out individually   and pronounced along with  a prefix Om and suffix namah which are added to each names.  In rituals like offering of flowers, Tulasi or Bel leaves or Kumkuma (vermilion powder) offering unto the altar of the deity the word namah is added to every name, converted to the dative case.   

While reciting the name continuously care must be taken to introduce a slight pause after each namah so that the next name starts distinctly with an Om. The expression namah (meaning paying obeisance) is the proper termination of each name as a mantra, just as Om is the proper commencement. The name articulated without an Om at the beginning would fail to be a mantra and thus would be ineffective.

Brihat Parasara Smriti says:  “The expression Om is not only a mystic ejaculation, the mere utterance of which will heighten the power and enrich the meaning of the mantra, but it is a composite of three alphabets A,  U and Ma which represent several triads: The three Gods-Braham, Vishnu and Siva; The three Vedas—Rig, Yajur and Saama; the three worlds—Bhooh, Bhuvaha and Suvaha; the three Vedic Gods—Soorya, Agni and Soma; the three states of existence—wakefulness, dream and deep sleep; the three conditions of Consciousness—Antah- prajnya, Bahirprajnaya and Ghanaprajnya corresponding to the three states of Consciousness; the three phases of time—past, present and future; The three genders(linga)—Pum, stree and nishkalaa. All things in the universe are pervaded by Om.  Without Om no sound can be uttered and nothing can be communicated while offering worship or meditating.  “Yadvedaadau svaraprokto vedaantecha pratishtitah”—it is obligatory to pronounce the Pranava Om at the commencement of any Vedanta study as well as at the end (MNU).

Also Hindus go out of the way to find out the significance of 108 though that logic may not hold good for 1008 sometimes.  When a Hindu goes to temple for ashtottara worship or recites ashtottara he means only 108.  The literal meaning of Ashtottara is additional eight. One such example is in astrology: the metal silver is said to represent the moon (Chaand in Hindi).  Its atomic weight by a strange coincidence is 108.

Thinking Mathematically Hindus affirm: Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in Mathematics: 1 raised to the first power  =1; 2  raised to 2nd power=4 (2x2); 3  raised  3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108. 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad) in Sanskrit means "great joy"), The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon equals 108 degrees, circumscribe a pentagon in a circle and measure the intersecting apex angles.

1, 0, and 8: Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice (Gunaateeta), and 8 stands for infinity or eternity. “Ashrtaiswaryam avaapnoti” is a saying in Sanskrit meaning one attains eight kinds of wealth which again means limitless or infinite.

108 in other religions: In Islam the number 108 is used to refer to God. In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively. In   the Sikh tradition a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads is used for meditation.  Some Buddhists carve 108 small Buddhas on a walnut for good luck. Some ring a bell 108 times to celebrate the New Year. There are said to be 108 virtues to cultivate and 108 defilements to avoid. The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called su-chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each. Chinese astrology says that there are 108 sacred stars.

In Jainism number 108 is very auspicious. Inner passions (4)--Anger, Pride, Deceit and Greed. This awakens the (3) Guptis--Mind, Speech and Body (Thought, Word and Deed), to Plan, Prepare and Perpetrate (3), that is to: bad act by himself, have someone else do the bad act  or encourage someone who is doing the bad act (3).  Now 4 multiplied by 3 =12 and that multiplied by 3=36. This 36 multiplied by 3=108 (sins committed in three times of the day). These are the 108 ways of committing sin in a day.That is why the  Jain   recite these mantras 108 times to repent their sins and ask for forgiveness.

Hindus attach great importance to Ganges as the most sacred heavenly river.  River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees and a latitude of 9 degrees.  Here again 12 times 9 = 108.

Gauda Vaishanva Tradition (Sampradaya) of Chaitnya Mahaprabhu glorifies 108 Gopis as inseparable jeevatmas attached to Supreme Brahman or Krishna (Krishnena satabahuna in MNU)
Surprisingly Yuri Gregarin  spent 108 minutes in space during his first flight to space on April12, 1964. Was he meditating too for 108 minutes?  Did he believe too in the sacredness of 108? This may not be a surprise as Russia is one among the top ten countries that regularly visit my website Hindu Reflections: <>

NOTE: The most fascinating scientific knowledge our ancients had is that Sun diameter is 108 times bigger than earth diameter. This knowledge at that time may not be the most accurate but very close to accurate (109.1251) and how in the world the knowledgeable ancient civilization discovered this fact is itself a topic of in-depth discussion. BTW the sun diameter   is 1,392,000 KM and earth diameter is 12,756 Km which calculates to be 109.1251 times. This difference in the numbers attribute to the ancient way of calculations vs modern day scientific expertise and calculations.
Similarly the distance from earth to moon is approx. 108 times the diameter of moon. The distance is 238,900 miles (384,400 KM) and the diameter of moon is 2,159 miles (3,474 KM) which calculates to be 110.6505. Again this error attributes to the ancient way of calculations vs modern day scientific expertise and calculations.

1) Ramachandra Rao S.K., Srividya Kosa, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, India.
2) Lalita Sahasranaama and Sri Rudram
3)  Yoga Life Journey, Explore.Live.Love
4) Swami Chinmayananda,   Vishnu Sahasranama, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
5) Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals Customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, India.
6) Swami Harshanada, Introduction to Hindu Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
7) Swami Chinmayananda, Isavasyopanishad, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India. 
8) Swami Harshananda Hind Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrihna Mat, Chennai, India.
9) Swami Harshananda,  Hindu Pilgrim Centers, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.

[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above    as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other  discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further.  These  lectures are  posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]


It is amazing how much Western science has taught us. Today, for example, kids in grammar school learn that the sun is 93 million miles from the earth and that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. Yoga may teach us about our Higher Self, but it can't supply this kind of information about physics or astronomy.
Or can it? Professor Subhash Kak of Louisiana State University recently called my attention to a remarkable statement by Sayana, a fourteenth century Indian scholar. In his commentary on a hymn in the Rig Veda, the oldest and perhaps most mystical text ever composed in India, Sayana has this to say: "With deep respect, I bow to the sun, who travels 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha."
A yojana is about nine American miles; a nimesha is 16/75 of a second. Mathematically challenged readers, get out your calculators! 2,202 yojanas x 9 miles x 75/8 nimeshas = 185,794 m. p. s.

Basically, Sayana is saying that sunlight travels at 186,000 miles per second! How could a Vedic scholar who died in 1387 A. D. have known the correct figure for the speed of light? If this was just a wild guess it's the most amazing coincidence in the history of science!

The yoga tradition is full of such coincidences. Take for instance the mala many yoga students wear around their neck. Since these rosaries are used to keep track of the number of mantras a person is repeating, students often ask why they have 108 beads instead of 100. Part of the reason is that the mala represent the ecliptic, the path of the sun and moon across the sky. Yogis divide the ecliptic into 27 equal sections called nakshatras, and each of these into four equal sectors called paadas, or "steps," marking the 108 steps that the sun and moon take through heaven.
Each is associated with a particular blessing force, with which you align yourself as you turn the beads. Traditionally, yoga students stop at the 109th "guru bead," flip the mala around in their hand, and continue reciting their mantra as they move backward through the beads. The guru bead represents the summer and winter solstices, when the sun appears to stop in its course and reverse directions. In the yoga tradition we learn that we're deeply interconnected with all of nature. Using a mala is a symbolic way of connecting ourselves with the cosmic cycles governing our universe.

But Professor Kak points out yet another coincidence: The distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 108 times the sun's diameter. The diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth's diameter. And the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon's diameter.

Could this be the reason the ancient sages considered 108 such a sacred number? If the microcosm (us) mirrors the macrocosm (the solar system), then maybe you could say there are 108 steps between our ordinary human awareness and the divine light at the center of our being. Each time we chant another mantra as our mala beads slip through our fingers, we are taking another step toward our own inner sun.

 As we read through ancient Indian texts, we find so much the sages of antiquity could not possibly have known-but did. While our European and Middle Eastern ancestors claimed that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago, the yogis have always maintained that our present cosmos is billions of years old, and that it's just one of many such universes which have arisen and dissolved in the vastness of eternity.
 In fact the Puranas, encyclopedias of yogic lore thousands of years old, describe the birth of our solar system out of a "milk ocean," the Milky Way. Through the will of the Creator, they tell us, a vortex shaped like a lotus arose from the navel of eternity. It was called Hiranya Garbha, the shining womb. It gradually coalesced into our world, but will perish some day billions of years hence when the sun expands to many times it present size, swallowing all life on earth. In the end, the Puranas say, the ashes of the earth will be blown into space by the cosmic wind. Today we known this is a scientifically accurate, if poetic, description of the fate of our planet.

The Surya Siddhanta is the oldest surviving astronomical text in the Indian tradition. Some Western scholars date it to perhaps the fifth or sixth centuries A. D., though the text itself claims to represent a tradition much, much older. It explains that the earth is shaped like a ball, and states that at the very opposite side of the planet from India is a great city where the sun is rising at the same time it sets in India. In this city, the Surya Siddhanta claims, lives a race of siddhas, or advanced spiritual adepts. If you trace the globe of the earth around to the exact opposite side of India, you'll find Mexico. Is it possible that the ancient Indians were well aware of the great sages/astronomers of Central America many centuries before Columbus discovered America?- the Mayans or Inca-s!!!

Knowing the unknowable: To us today it seems impossible that the speed of light or the fate of our solar system could be determined without advanced astronomical instruments--as Sanjee argues!!

How could the writers of old Sanskrit texts have known the unknowable? In searching for an explanation we first need to understand that these ancient scientists were not just intellectuals, they were practicing yogis. The very first lines of the Surya Siddhanta, for of the Golden Age a great astronomer named Maya desired to learn the secrets of the heavens, so he first performed rigorous yogic practices. Then the answers to his questions appeared in his mind in an intuitive flash.

Does this sound unlikely? Yoga Sutra 3:26-28 states that through, samyama (concentration, meditation, and unbroken mental absorption) on the sun, moon, and pole star, we can gain knowledge of the planets and stars. Sutra 3:33 clarifies, saying: "Through keenly developed intuition, everything can be known." Highly developed intuition is called pratibha in yoga. It is accessible only to those who have completely stilled their mind, focusing their attention on one object with laser-like intensity. Those who have limited their mind are no longer limited to the fragments of knowledge supplied by the five senses. All knowledge becomes accessible to them.
"There are [those] who would say that consciousness, acting on itself, can find universal knowledge," Professor Kak admits. "In fact this is the traditional Indian view."

 Perhaps the ancient sages didn't need advanced astronomical instruments. After all, they had yoga.

Significance of the Number 108 in Hinduism
Posted by Soumya Joshi | Sep 15, 2015 | IndiaDivine.Org
When we see number of beads in vara mala/vrata mala, number of names of God and Goddess, I always wondered there should be some prominence for 108 which I do not know. Why do we give so much importance to 108 in Hinduism? Why 108 is so sacred for Hindus?
Here is a Brief Explanation of the Use and Importance of This Number:
The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. In Ayurveda, there are 108 “Marma” points that are vital for giving life to living beings. The powerful Sri Chakra Yantra intersects in 54 points each with a masculine and feminine quality, totaling to 108
In Indian astrology we have 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals to 108. In Tantra, it is estimated that every day we breathe 21,600 times out of which 10,800 are solar energy and 10, 800 are lunar energy. Multiplying 108 X 100 is 10,800.
The famous saint Bharata wrote “The Natya Shastra” which has 108 karanas (Movement of hand and feet) .There are 54 letters in Sanskrit each can be mentioned as masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) aspect, totaling to 108.
There are 108 Puranas and 108 Upanishads.
9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9; That 9 times 12 equals 108.  Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2×2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108
Harshad Number
108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”)
There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals.
There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell.
There are said to be 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance.
Heart Chakra
The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
If one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
Sri Yantra

On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersection has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti qualities. 54 times 2 equal 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon equals 108 degrees.
Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equal 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
River Ganga
The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equal 108.
Gopis of Krishna
There were said to be 108 gopis or maid servants of Krishna.
1, 0, and 8:
Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
Silver and the Moon
In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108.
Numerical Scale
The 1 of 108, and the 8 of 108, when added together equals 9, which is the number of the numerical scale, i.e. 1, 2, 3 … 10, etc., where 0 is not a number.
Some say there are 108 styles of meditation.
Paths to God
Some suggest that there are 108 paths to God.
In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively.
The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads.
Some Buddhists carve 108 small Buddhas on a walnut for good luck. Some ring a bell 108 times to celebrate a new year. There are said to be 108 virtues to cultivate and 108 defilements to avoid.
The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called su-chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each. Chinese astrology says that there are 108 sacred stars.
Stages of the Soul
Said that Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey.
This is a larger bead, not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is the guiding bead, the one that marks the beginning and end of the mala.
Praiseworthy Souls
There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls.
  At the end of the year in Japan,   a bell is chimed 108 times to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.
108 signifies the wholeness of the divinity, perfect totality. So, let us follow what our ancestors told us to do.