Why Navagraha Altars are absent in Vishnu Temples?
(Compiled by N.R. Srinivasan for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN, USA)
Our sages had realized that the manifested Universe called Jagat has sprung out of the Supreme Spirit and that each of the Universe is influenced by the rest of the Universe and vice versa. Through their keen observation of the sky above, empowered by their yogic power, they perceived perfect harmony and order in the movements of the astral bodies. Closely watching the solar system to which the earth belongs, our sages observed that the apparent path covered by the Sun in relation to earth recurred periodically and with rhythmic precision. Based on these observed phenomena, they established units of time such as day, month, year etc., and gained the knowledge to precisely forecast the timing of the celestial events. They also felt such events in macrocosm also have an effect on the microcosm, the human body. Thus they gave mankind a system of time measurement, by which the correct times for observance of religious rites that can be ascertained in accordance with the celestial happenings. This was the origin of Jyotisha Sastra a well-established science which was in conflation with astronomy. Panchangam was its bye-product. In recent past this sound scientific knowledge at the hands of ritualistic and greed oriented pundits got exploited moving farther and farther way from astronomy. Thus there is a clear landmark between Vedic Astrology and Modern Hindu Astrology! Today it remains mainly belief based, loaded with all kinds of rituals and Shantis (appeasement). In the past few hundred years Navagaraha altars have been established in almost in all Siva and his Parivara temples. Siva temples were the earliest and most popular. Navagraha worship was inspired by the prevalent Aditya Meditation as Parabrahaman glorified in Vedas and Upanishads. In the past few hundred years eight altars were created around Sun altar of Vedic culture simulating eight dik-palakas of Saguna Brahman. But unlike dik-palakas who were only subordinate deities to Brahman these eight deities were made independent and looking outwards not inwards towards the center altar of Sun, like Garuda or Hanuman or Vishwaksena, thus not facing Sun Star. Sun associated with five planets in his solar system after which the days are named was reinforced with Moon a satellite, Rahu and Ketu the north and south nodal points of Moon calling them all Grahas which are often promoted as planets or Graha devatas by modern astrologers. Later built Vishnu Temples, realizing this departure from Vedic wisdom avoided building altars for Navagrahas in Vishnu Temples. Upanishads mention even Adityas (12 in Vedic culture), Stars, Agni and other luminescent bodies shine because Brahman only (Tasya bhaasaa sarvamidam vibhaati) as you hear in Shoedasa Upachaara Pooja (16-steps worship).
Most Ancient temples for Navagrahas based on mythology are found only in Tamil Nadu where Navagraha worship is very popular by Saivites. Saivism became very powerful during Sangam Period. It would be worth recalling here the mythological anecdote of Navagraha worship graced by Lord Siva which was earlier condemned by Brahma. Of course Siva was at one time had cut one of the heads of Brahma with Brahmahatya Dosham and also responsible for denial of worship for him in Temples as glorified in Siva Purana. Their relationships were not cordial according to Mythology. Of course their functions are also poles apart—death and birth, the opposites. Here is the citation from Wikipedia:
“The Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu are a cluster of Navagraha Temples dating from the Chola dynasty near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. As per Hindu legend, Sage Kalava was suffering from serious ailments along with leprosy. He prayed to the Navagrahas, the nine planet deities. The planets were pleased by his devotion and offered cure to the sage. Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, was angered as he felt that the planets have no powers to provide boons to humans. He cursed the nine planets to suffer from leprosy and they were sent down to earth in Vellurukku Vanam, the white wild flower jungle - the modern time Suryanar Kovil. The planets prayed to Shiva to relieve them off the curse. Shiva appeared to them and said that the place belonged to them and they would have to grace the devotees worshiping them from the place. Each temple is located in a different village, and is considered an abode of one of the Navagrahas. However, the majority of these temples are dedicated to Shiva. The Surya temple is the only one associated with Grahas. In fact, it is dedicated entirely to the worship of the Sun-God and the other Navagrahas, the former being the object of worship as the principal deity and the latter as attendant deities. It was built around the 11th or 12th century C.E. The other temples were built earlier, ranging back to 7th-9th century”.
My attention was drawn to an interesting news column that was published by IndiaDivine.Org from an author who believes strongly in Navagraha worship, about Devipattinam near Rameswaram where Sri Rama is believed to have installed Nine Navagrahha Deities as mere stone pillars on the sea shore. Such pilgrim centers come up with their own Sthala Puranas (local myths) in addition to the 18 Puranas believed to have been edited by Vedavyasa coming from different authors. He left many myths and exaggerations untouched in order not to hurt the feelings of the individual authors. It is believed that Lord Rama prayed to Navagrahas at Devipattinam before embarking on his journey to Lanka. Lord Rama placed nine stones as symbols of the nine planets, Navagrahas, at Devipattanam and therefore the place is also known as Navapashanam or Navabashana. It is a popular place visited by pilgrims on the way to Rameshwaram Dhaam. Since these are simple stone pillars religious archeologists can easily manipulate as to the age of stone pillars and proclaim them as ancient as Ramalinga by carbon studies!
The nine stones placed upright by Lord Rama can be still seen in the water close to the beach near a bathing Ghat of the Thilakeshwar Temple, also known as Navagraha Temple. The nine stones symbolize the nine planets or Navagrahas. Lord Rama performed the ritual so that the nine planets would shed their auspicious light on him in the battle with Ravana to rescue Sita.
The Thilakeshwar Temple is dedicated to Shiva and Parvathi (Durga). Shiva here is known as Tilakeswarar and the Goddess is known as Soundaryanayaki. The shrine has a beautiful image of an eight-armed Durga with weapons. As you know Rama is also believed to have worshiped Durga before launching on his rescue mission with the help of monkeys and bears. The deity in the temple is worshiped with tila or sesame seeds. People come from different parts of India and from around the world to Devipattinam to perform Tarpan (water-sesame oblation) for the ancestors. Devipattinam is around 14 km northeast of Ramanathapuram. I believe Siva here should be better called Tileswar than Tilakeswar.
Let me first discuss about the myth of these Nine Grahas often focused as Planets in which Rahu Ketu and Moon are included as they seem to have same astrological spell on human beings like other real planets after whom the other five days are named and adding the satellite Moon for Induvasara. It is worth going through my detailed discourse on Navagrahas which elaborates on all these deities as worshiped in temples by followers of Siva and by Vaishnavites privately at home mesmerized by astrologers. Poor Brahma is out of the picture as he is totally denied any worship in Temples though he is found in a niche on the Northern wall of all Siva temples to make us believe that Siva sometimes visits us on normal place leaving his permanent abode of Smashaana (burial and Cremation Grounds). Siva is supposed to visit us during Pradosham Time on specific days in Temples. Here I would like to repeat the comments I received from a very religious Hindu physics professor in USA some time back:
“For all the people of the world (except Indian Astrologers), our Sun never moves like all other stars in our milky way. Only the planets and satellites move.
The speed of our Earth is as follows: Its radius is 6.37 million meters. That means 6.37 times tenth power of six meters. The circumference of our Earth is 2piR = 2(22/7)6.37(1000000) M. When we divide this by 24 hours and 1609 m, we get 1036.876 miles per hour. Because one mile equals 1609 m, we divided by 1609 m in order to get in miles. THE SPEED OF OUR EARTH IS 1036.876 MILES PER HOUR. It rotates by itself with this speed and moves on constantly on the elliptical orbit while our Sun is in one of the focal points of the ellipse. Remember, no circular orbit, but elliptical orbit (egg shaped orbit). Our Earth is also constantly wobbling from 0 to 23.5 degrees above Equator (middle line of our Earth) for six months and below Equator for six months. When we sit on the Earth, while Earth is doing all these, we apparently feel as if Our Sun is moving north of Equator or south of Equator. In reality, Our Sun never moves but our Earth moves. When we sit near the window of our moving train, we see as if all the trees and mountains are moving. In reality, they are not moving, but we are moving. When we do circumambulation, we rotate out body and move around the Praakaaram (enclosed walled space to walk around in temples) at the same time. Our Earth also does the same thing.
When we come shortest distance to our Sun, we have summer. When we go longest distance from our Sun, we have winter. Between summer and winter, we have autumn. Between winter and summer, we have spring.
In the early days, people worshipped Sun as God. They thought that the Earth was the center of the universe, and the Sun was moving around the Earth. This was called as GEOCENTRIC THEORY by Ptolemy. GEO means Earth. Then Galileo proposed HELIOCENTRIC THEORY. The Sun was the center of the universe while all the planets were moving around the Sun. He also discovered many things, like the actual value of the gravity of the Earth, telescopes, and conducted many experiments. He was charged by Catholic Churches that he was corrupting the minds of the people, and put him in prison until his death. Then Copernicus discovered the ELLIPTICAL THEORY which is true even today. All the planets are moving on elliptical orbit while the Sun is at one of the focal points of the ellipse. All these are taught in all the high schools, colleges and universities in India and all the countries of the world.
Only in India, the astrologers make the Hindus believe in the center of the universe, the planet Sun, planet Moon, planet Ragu, and planet Kethu, planet Budha, planet Sukra, planet Kuja, planet Guru, and planet Shani are moving around the Earth. This has been going on for generation after generation, just because the Hindus do jot question our astrologers or Scriptures:
1. “He who fixed firm the earth that staggered, and set at rest the agitated mountains, who measured out the air's wide middle region and gave the heaven support, he men is Indra"
Rig Veda 2: 12: 2.
We all now know today that the earth rotates itself and orbits on the elliptical path with sun at one of the focal points of the ellipse. The earth is not at all fixed and the sun is not at all going around the earth.
2. "In the beginning rose Hiranyagarbha, born only Lord of all created beings. He fixed and holds up the earth and the heaven".
Rig Veda 10: 121: 1
We all know now today that the earth rotates itself with a speed of 1037 miles per hour and moves on the elliptical path while the sun rests on one of the two focal points of the ellipse. The earth moves, the sun rests but not the other way.
3. "Firm is the sky and firm is the earth and steadfast are all this living world".
Rig Veda 10: 173: 4
4. "The Bull has supported the sky"
Yajur Veda 4: 30 5
5. "God has firmly fixed the earth with pegs around it".
Yajur Veda 5: 16 6
This is wrong. Where is the proof? We are sitting on the earth which rotates by itself with a speed of 1037 miles per hour and orbits on the path of the ellipse with sun at one of the two focal points of the ellipse.
6. "North West of the Heavens".
Yajur Veda 13: 56, 57 7
7. "The Bull has supported the sky".
Yajur Veda 14: 5 8
Both Rig Veda and Yajur Veda conflict with science today because the earth rotates by itself with a speed of 1037 miles per hour and orbits on the elliptical path of the ellipse with sun rests on one of the two focal points of the ellipse.
[A simple translation of Grahas as Catchers who influence our lives) and heavenly bodies or points in solar system would be more appropriate though most authors translate them as Planetary Deities.]”
The concept of Navagrahas is based on fraud, deception and cheating. The astrologers for thousands of years made fool of Hindus, and still continuing. As long as the people are fools, crook astrologers will continue to exploit the fools. The sons and daughters of these astrologers have become doctors and engineers by studying the present day sciences and technologies in colleges and universities. Just because Rama worshiped Navagrahas, or killed Vali from behind his back, or deserted his pregnant wife, all the Vaishnavas need not follow Rama. Even Saint Thyagaraja Swamy asked Rama in his song as "Sri Rangaraju Vibeeshananiki Banga Naamamu Itina Reethi........" Vaishnavas pray only Vishnu and his cosort. They never pray Shiva or enter Shiva Temple. They even tell their children as "Yaanai Thuratthinaalum sivan koil ulle pokaathe." The meaning is "Even if an elephant is chasing you, never enter a Sivan temple for saving your life". Be prepared to die but never enter a Sivan temple. In some of the Vaishnava temples, they name Vishwaksena as Thumbikkai Aazhvaar who is often confused with one tusked Ganesha” [Vaishnavas don’t worship Ganesha as he has an imperfect limb of one tusk and the other broken making it unfit as Archana Murti. A defective or mutilated icon is not worship worthy as per Agamas. Siva Purana glorifies this broken tusk! There Tumbikkai Azhwar is Vishwaksena with two tusks. Anything other than that is a concoction.]”
“There were no Navagraha Prathishta (consecration) in earlier days. This system came into practice probably during the last few hundred years or so. Only Primary deities were worshipped and not the upa-devatas (subordinate or secondary deities) like Navagraham, Sastha etc. Ganesha is an exception based on archeology and Puranic beliefs of Hinduism. Some people do two reverse circumambulation (typical Saivite tradition) to Navagrahas in order to please Rahu and Kethu who travel in the reverse direction from the Navagrahas. Even the above two are not there in the earlier astrological treaties. Everything is going the wrong by wrong practices” says a reputed Saivite astrologer and a prominent member of an important astrological association in Bengaluru.
It is also worth going through a modern composition of Venkatesa Suprabhatam where a reference is made to Navagrahas:
Suryendu Bhouma Budha Vaakpati Kaavya souri | Svarbhaanu ketu dvishat parishat pradhaanaah|tvaddaasa daasa charamaavati daasa daasaah | Sri Venkataachalapate! tava Suprabhaatam (Meaning):" Lord of Venkata Hills ! May this dawn be an auspicious one for You! The Sun, the son of Sun (Saneeswara or Saturn ), Moon, Kuja, Ketu, Budha and other Grahas (life-catchers) of the sky are actually your servants' ( like his servants Garuda, Vishwaksena, Sudarsana). They are all here." Venkateswara is believed to be Subrahmanya by some and Devi by some others. Probably to please Saivites this Hymn was introduced referring to Navagrahas!) Yet in this temple at no time there was any special sanctum or worship for Navagrahas even when he was worshiped as Subhramanya. Ramanuja finally established the icon to be that of Vishnu only since Narayana as Parabrahman can also be Parasakti in his Saguna form and also Brahma, Vishnu and Siva at the same time. You know Lord Venkateswara is occasionally clad in Saris and worshiped with Bilva leaves! Also the above Suprabhata hymn reflects the Upanishadic thought of the Mantra "Tasya bhaasaa sarvmidam Vibhaati" - All the luminaries stated in the hymn shine because of Narayana only showing their subservience to Venkateswara. I have previously described elaborately Jagannath! The forms of worship in Puri Jagannath Temple as well as Tirupati Venkateswara Temple, baffles all devotees as to what these icons really represent or symbolize?
Puranas claim that Rama installed and worshiped Sivalinga in Rameswaram and Navagrahas in the nearby town of Devipattinam. It seems according to Puranas Lord Rama is the inspiration/Promoter for Temple Traditions (Rameshavram/ Devipattinam) and Mass Festival Celebrations (Dipavali). As you all know the whole city of Ayodhya was lit on Dipavali Day to welcome Srirama returning from his exile.
First of all Navagrahas can’t draw support from astronomy today as this is a concoction by modern astrologers, may be based on some Puranas, as I had explained earlier. Also modern astrology is not truly based astronomy but like Puranas have been-made-to-believe by astrologers. Jyotisha in Vedic culture was true science and existed focused on astronomy. Over thousands of years this has been corrupted, concocted and falsified and has become a myth called modern astrology. To draw additional support even a Navagrahasookta has been written by some Sanskrit scholar later with no reference to Vedas or Upanishads and a Rishi. Based on the glorification of Aditya as Vyahriti of Brahman someone may even connect this Sookta to Rigveda. It is strange that Ramakrishna Math has included this Sookta in its Mantra Pushpa but has not given any reference to any Veda or Samhita as other famous Sooktas. [If you are unable to obtain this Sookta with English translation for your own knowledge please contact me]. This Upanishad is sketchy, lacks the depth of Veda sooktas, for example Purushasookta, and leans more towards modern sloka composition. One strong argument as to why we cannot depend on astrology (no relevance to astronomy) is the festival of Makara Sankranti which we are made to believe as Uttarayana Punyakala by astrologers. We all know that Winter Solstice day falls on December 22 and celebrated in many faiths. So is Dakshinayana Punyakala observed as special religious day on a wrong day! No astrologer or Panchangam (almanac) ever tried to correct the situation as it affects the fraudulent business and ritualism focused on Hindu Worship.
Vaishnava Tradition is focused on single God (Eko Devah) worship on Lord Maha Vishnu as Sriman Narayana and worship only Vishnu and the Vishnu's Parivara and accompaniments. Worship of Garuda, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Sudarsana and Vishwaksena are very common in Vishnu Temples. Generally there are no separate sanctums for subordinate deities like Garuda, Sudarsana and Hanuman etc. Garuda is often found outside near the flag post. Of late there are individual temples for Hanuman. This is based on the Puranic faith that Hanuman was born form the same Amrita drop that fell into the hands of Anjana while doing penance, which she consumed, and Hanuman is considered same Vishnu amsa (portion) like Rama and his brothers. So he is their cousin! Vaishnavas believe praying only to Lord Narayana or Krishna (Krishnaarpanamastu; Narayaneti samarpayami) and so do not feel the need to go through various sub-deities. Vaishnavas treat all other deities as limited power Devatas. No Aazhwar sang in praise of any Navagraha so there is no place for Navagrahas in Hindu Temples. Vishnu temples are constructed based on Vaikhanasa and Panchaaratra Agamas. Navagraha shrine inside a Vishnu temple is not provided in these Agamas. Among 108 Divya Desam Temples only one temple has a separate sanctum for Navagrahas--Sri Koodal Azhagar Perumal Temple, Madurai (probably influenced by local strong Saivism later) is an exception. These 107 temples serve as guide lines for Vaishnava followers. While Rama is believed to have worshiped Siva and Navagrahas together in Rameshwaram, he is found worshiping Aditya (Surya-Narayana) by meditation only in Ramayana with sole focus as described in Ramayana. There is no Navagraha sanctum or worship in Kali (worshiped as Durga) Temple in Kolkata also. It is strange both Saivas and Vaishnavas are believers in Astrology however faulty they may be, based on wrong astronomy exploited by astrologers.
Kolaru Pathigam composed by Thirujnaana Sambandhar praises Navagrahas and thus Siva temples have Navagraha Sanctums influenmced by Upa-Puranas. Siva followers attach too much importance to sub-deities than others. They believe Siva is CEO with many sub-ordinates and feels sub-ordinates should be pleased first to approach CEO and get his blessings! Unless you please Ganesha (Prathama Vandita) you can’t please Siva! It goes with Hindu culture to please or bribe the subordinates first to get the favor of the boss! Rama worshiped Surya as Parabrahman exclusively. If he had worshiped Siva and Navagrahas together in Rameswaram area why such mention is not made anywhere in Valmiki Ramayana which is so detailed and elaborate? Valmiki was quite aware of Lord Kartikeya for whom he has devoted a chapter but there is no mention of Ganesha either. I believe Rama worshiping Durga or Siva in Linga form is later concoction by Saiva puranas. If at all Rama worshiping Durga or Siva is found in Ramayanas it should be in later versions of Ramayana from different authors. Only Valmiki Ramayana is Adikavya and authentic historic version if Ramayana can be justified as History and not Myth. Even Lanka celebrated in Ramayana is disputed as to be the modern Sri Lanka known for long as Ceylon. Vishnu’s dealing is direct with His devotees unlike Siva. Even according to Puranas, Vishnu came out of privacy when the sages were stopped at the gate by Jaya and Vijaya to give direct audience to Rishis.
Nobody in my house ever visited a Siva temple nor worshiped Navagrahas. But they all believed in horoscopes whether right or wrong; that was the main criterion for marriage negotiations. My marriage was also based on one such consideration. My birth star was Visakha as per my original horoscope which I kept hidden from my parents. But after many years I found the horoscope-exchanged by elders showed my star was Swathi. I do not know whether my father was in league with astrologers to change my birth star to make our horoscopes compatible or my original horoscope itself was wrong? Astrologers will do anything for money! Any how I have spent more than 55 years of happy married life thanks to Karma unaffected by manipulated or wrong horoscope! Similarly I found my sister-in law’s birth star was also manipulated to make my brother’s wedding possible. I wonder whether horoscopes have any significance in our life and affect us though we often resort to Navagraha Santi? Navagraha altars are ever busy targeting our Janma Nakshatra and Rasi (Birth star). The horoscope exchange business for fixing marriages will soon vanish in Hindu American lifestyle. Most of them do not have any horoscopes, I believe, which may disappoint astrologers who want to continue their business in USA! But yet they can make one for the occasion for a price! Any Hindu ritual needs a Sankalpa (religious resolution) in which we are forced to announce our birth star. I wonder how the worship influences the same! Does that connect to Karma balance sheet? Sankalpas do help to connect to our lineage and time elapsed till date from beginning of times, a sort of family historic record. This is an ingenious ancient system to keep track of our past record and family background!
I am not against astrology. The trouble with us is we are not able to distinguish between Scientific Vedic Astrology and highly commercialized Modern Hindu Astrology. For those conservative and orthodox Hindus disturbed by all kinds of Inter-Marriages here is a consoling piece of message from an expert. One good thing about inter-marriages is it is a powerful marketing strategy for Inter-Faith promotion so badly needed in these days of so many killings happening in the name of religion: “To my knowledge astrological matching boy’s and girl’s horoscope for holy matrimony was very rare back around 100 years or so! Only the Purohit (Priest) who conducted the marriage used to see the star and the Gotra. If both parties had doubt they used to go to a temple and place a white flower and a red flower in betel leaves separately. After placing the same before the presiding deity an innocent boy or girl would be asked pick one of the closed leaves. If they picked white flower they agreed for the marriage. If they picked the leaf with red flower they agreed to cancel that marriage proposal. This was the system prevailing then. I also do not feel astrological matching is a must for marriage. Manu Smriti says if the parents of the girl do not find a match for the girl before three years after the girl’s attaining puberty, she has every right to choose her partner. In Hindu marriage Panigrahanam and Kanyaka Daanam are to be performed during the Muhurtam. Muhurtam time is fixed to overcome all ill effects in the horoscope. During Mangalya Dhaaranam only a Sanskrit Sloka is chanted and not a sacred Vedic Mantra and therefore this is not the most sacred step as it is made out today. (Once three knots are tied the girl is bound to husband life-time and nothing can save the situation is the blind belief). In earlier days only a Kantha sootram was tied around the neck of the bridegroom for the occasion like the holy thread tied to the hand. You may also note that this sloka is also used during Shashthi-abdi-poorti celebrations (60th birthday of husband if wife is alive when the marriage ceremony is reenacted) Srimad Bhagavatam predicts Sangara Vargam (people marrying out of caste) would increase and gradually all caste system would fail in Chapter 12 while elaborating on Kaliyuga Lakshana” says our astrology expert. [Here is a justification for love marriage as well as inter-caste marriage too in Hinduism.]
I was quite upset with my orthodox Grand-father who was furious with me for visiting Ganesha temple and circumambulating Navagrahas as a Vaishnava, with his orthodox and sectarian outlook. After seeing the comments from my religious Saivite friend I am now forced to believe my grand-father was right. We do not have temples for Brahma for he has nothing to do with practicalities of life after having pushed us to this world. In fact he is the cause for all our struggles for existence as we had nowhere else to go out of acquired Karma! Therefore only the Vishnu aspect of Brahman is meaningful to us as he is the care-taker till we die. Siva-aspect of Brahman does not come to the picture like Brahma-aspect in life-time. In GOD Vaishnavas focus only on “O” which stands for Operation! Siva is repeatedly praised as Smasaanavaasa or Kailasavasa by his followers. So his rightful place can’t be temples. If Brahma can’t have temple there is ample justification why Siva should also be not worshiped in temple traditions? However he is the future planner of life who needs to be kept in good humors and meditated upon. The overemphasized Siva’s and his subordinates’ worship and rituals in temples seem to be exaggerated in the light of the Vedas which insists only on meditation on Brahman. From Vaishnava point of view Rudra in Rudra Prasna refers to Brahman (rutaat traayate iti Rudrah) and Ganapati (ganaanatvaa ganapatigam havaamahe) to Indra who is a Vyahriti of Brahman! It is superfluous to approach many devatas and is essential to focus on One Deva and his practical role in our life as Narayana or Brahman in temple rituals and worship.
As composite Trimurti icon (Brahman in his three functional aspects) both Jagannatha and Venkateswara seem to be ideal for iconic worship or Murthi Upasana in Hindu American Temples to suit all traditions fulfilling Puranic and Sectarian thirst and desire of many today and at the same time go by the wisdom of Vedas (tvam rudrastvam, vishustvam brahmastvam) inclined towards spirituality in the passing phase before switching over to Vedanta Religion from the most confused and complicated Hinduism as is practiced today guided by Puranas and astrologers. This approach suits all tradition and present beliefs too for a gradual change over.
In these days we hear of killings, accidental deaths and deaths due to natural calamities more often than before! So Lord Siva has no time to hear our prayers in temples staying all the time but too busy, running between cremation and burial grounds (smashaana) and Kailasa. We daily sing in our Bhajans --Smashaanavaasa, Kailasavaasa in temples and wants him to redress our routine and trivial grievances, to fulfill all our desires from remote places. It is worth recalling here the enlightening article “Why Siva chooses to live in Smashaanas rather than temples?” by Sadguru Jaggi Vasudeva of ISHA Foundation.
“Why Does Shiva Sit in the Smashana or Cremation Ground?
The moment of death or the possibility of death is the most intense experience in most human beings’ lives. Most of them would have never touched that level of intensity throughout their lives. In their love, in their laughter, in their joy, in their ecstasy, in their misery – nowhere else do they touch that level of intensity – only in death!
Because of that, Shiva went and sat in the cremation ground or kaayaanta, waiting. Kaya means “body,” anta means “ending.” Kayanta means “where the body ends” – not “where life ends.” It is a kayanta, not a jeevanta. All that you picked up on the planet, you have to leave behind. If you have lived in such a way that your body is all you know, then the moment when you have to shed it becomes the most intense moment of your life. If you know something beyond the body, it is not of great significance.
Immortality is a natural state for everybody. Mortality is a mistake that you have made. It is a wrong perception of life. As for the physical body, kayanta, the end of the body, will definitely come. But if instead of being just a kaya, you become a jeeva, if you are not just a living body but a living being, then immortality is a natural state for you. Whether you are mortal or immortal is only a question of perception – no existential change is needed.
That is why enlightenment is referred to as realization, not as an accomplishment or achievement. If you see it, it is there for you. If you do not see it, it is not there for you. It is only a question of perception – no fundamental, existential change.
So, Shiva shifted his residence to kayanta or smashan. Shma refers to shava or corpse, shan refers to shanya or bed. Where the dead bodies lie, that is where he resides, because he realized working with living people is a waste of time. You cannot get them to the pitch of intensity that is needed. You have to do so many tricks to make people a little intense.
Shiva sits at the Smashan, bored with you and your play, bored because the whole drama all over town is absolutely stupid. The only real thing happens at the cremation ground. Maybe at the moment of birth and the moment of death, something is happening. Maternity homes and cremation grounds are the only two sensible places, though maternity is happening a little too much.
Shiva is sitting at a place where life makes utmost sense. But if you are fearful, if you are on survival or self-preservation mode, this will not make sense to you. Only if you are longing to expand and touch the ultimate, it will make sense to you. He is not interested in those who want to survive.
He is referred to as the destroyer not because he wants to destroy you. He is waiting at the cremation ground so that the body is destroyed, because until the body is destroyed, even people around do not realize what death is. You may have seen that when someone dear to them dies, people will fall all over the dead body, hug it, kiss it, try to bring it back to life – many things. But once you set fire to the body, no one ever goes and hugs the flames. Their instinct of self-preservation tells them this is not it.
If we put you in the cold theertha-kund (Holy tank) you cry “Shiva! Shiva!” The moment there is difficulty Shiva comes to your mind. When life is going the way you want it, you will think of all kinds of people and all kinds of things. If someone puts a gun to your head and you cry “Shiva! Shiva!” he is the wrong guy to call. He is waiting for you at the cremation ground. If someone puts a gun to your head, and you call Shiva to save you – he will not. (Source: isha.sadhguru.org)”
From Vaishnava spiritual perspective here is how these Nine Grahas are understood-- The sun represents the soul, the heart, the father, authority, heat, power and ambition. The moon is the mind, mother, water, coolness, emotions, memory and common sense. Mars is courage, bravery, sports, competition, maleness, passion, action, war, cuts and burns. Mercury is intelligence, learning, teaching, speech, expression, communication and writing. Jupiter is fortune, expansion, wealth, children, religion, philosophy and wisdom. Venus is marriage, love, romance, luxuries, prosperity, femininity, artistic expression, grace, and beauty. Saturn is slowness, struggle, discipline, dryness, labor, asceticism, accidents, and chronic disease. Rahu is material desire, dullness, ignorance, laziness, sleep and addictions and ancestral karma. Ketu is asceticism, spirituality, psychic ability, ghosts, eccentricity and occultism. As Over-Lord and Antaryamin these are controlled or delegated by Paramatman only according to our Karma.
his Vaishnava perspective is based on the Navagraha Devataapraararthana which is directed to their ishtadevatas for their grace and benefaction and not to the Navagraha sub-devatas. This is the only sloka that has been included in the Mantrapushpa of Ramakrishna Math:
his Vaishnava perspective is based on the Navagraha Devataapraararthana which is directed to their ishtadevatas for their grace and benefaction and not to the Navagraha sub-devatas. This is the only sloka that has been included in the Mantrapushpa of Ramakrishna Math:
Sooryah sauryam atha Induh ucchapadaveem sanmangalam Mangalah |
sadbuddhih cha budho Guruscha gurutaam Sukrah sukaham cha Sanih |
Raahur bahurbalam karotu vipulam Ketuh kulasyonnatim |
Nityam preetikara bhavantu bhavataam sarve prasanna grahah ||
Obviously all these benefits can’t be granted except by Paramaatman alone who is present in his role as Vishnu responsible for all our sustenance (O for operation in GOD) during life-span (Sthiti).
Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research on ribosomes. While many Hindus consider astrology to be an important Vedic science and schedule life events around the movements of the stars, Ramakrishnan has spoken out against this practice. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he said: "There is no scientific basis for how movement of planets and stars can influence our fate. There is no reason for time of birth to influence events years later. The predictions made are either obvious or shown to be random ... A culture based on superstitions will do worse than one based on scientific knowledge and rational thoughts.”
Before concluding my discourse I should really appreciate the clever marketing techniques of Hindu astrologers with the blessings of Saiva Acharyas (Gurus) in making the worship of lower Navagraha deities so essential and popular which cannot be shaken even from the beliefs of highly educated Hindu American crowd. Navagraha pavilion is always busy particularly on Saturdays even bringing Vaishanavas into their belief and pagan practices like Navadhanya and chosen gems, color, sesame seed oil wicks etc. Some ingenious Sanskrit scholars have even successfully brought out Navagraha Sookta though they could not trace its origin to Vedas like Nakshatra Sookta giving an impression they too have their origin in Vedas. They are still in search of a Rishi and Veda for it. It is strange that no one came up with a Sookta for Lord Kartikeya so celebrated in Ramayana. His worship got stuck in Tamil Nadu and there is only Thiruppugazh in Tamil glorifying Kartikeya worshiped as Murugan by Tamils! I generally do not dwell on a Sukta unless I am satisfied it has authenticity by way of an ancient rishi and reference to Vedas. Sooktas establish their identity with Veda Samhitas. Upanishads are of a much later origin. Ishtadevata worship is strongly promoted both by Saivism and Vaishnavism by bringing out Upanishads modelled after Ten Cardinal sacred Upanishads belonging to three earlier Vedas—Rig, Yajur and Sama. Saivism has successfully popularized Ganesha and Skanda Upanishads while Vaishnvas have come out with Narayanopanishat. How can Narayana Upanishad talk about “devakiputram Madhsoodanam” of 5000 years past only while Vedas are older than Krita Yuga? Generally later Upanishads are ascribed to Atharva Veda. There strong influence by Pursanas can be seen by their over-indulgence in lengthy phalasrutis (benefits from chanting leading even to Moksha) unlike the basic 10 or 12 Upanishads. An Upanishad has been cleverly inserted into Atharvaveda and is titled Ganesha Atharvaseershopanishat directed to the most popular upa-devata Ganesha equating him with Brahman. It has been inspired probably by the Vedic Mantra “Ganaanatvaa Ganapatigam havaamahe” from Srirudram which priests invariably chant in Ganesha Temples. Here Ganapati refers to Indra who is the Vyahriti of Brahman. Even though Veda mentions 11 Rudras here Rudra reference is to Brahman as one who removes all our miseries (rutaat traayate iti Rudrah). Of course there are very many sectarian translations and interpretations used in marketing technique. Even though Ganesha Devata is of later origin in Temple traditions he is the most popular and followers of Siva are in majority. Ramakrishna Math devoted to Advaita Philosophy has strongly promoted them by including this Upanishad and directing the Mantra ganaanatvaa to Ganapati in their book on Mantrapushapam! I do not know how they missed to include Skanda Upanishad in Mantrapuhpam? This is because Skanda is rarely known in the North! Hindus often cannot get out of sectarian and regional outlook and prejudices!
“Hinduism is not a bunch of ancient mythological concoctions extraneous to rational thought. It is true that just like any other ancient philosophy Hinduism also presents its thoughts with some mythological coating, rather than resorting to outright deliverance, despite the fact that these thoughts are rational in essence. Those with credulous or antagonistic dispositions take the coatings as the essence and get themselves deceived. Hinduism is not a collection of myths, superstitions, rituals, observances and expiations, as assumed by both the types of people. Hindu scriptures, especially the Principal Upaniṣhads and Bhagavad Gīta, offer a rational philosophy concerning the ultimate cause of existence of the universe and of life therein. Hinduism does not demand blind faith for its acceptance, since it expresses itself through pure rational thinking and coherence. It is also the most ancient rational philosophy of the world and therefore ancestral to all such philosophies ever dawned in history. Hinduism does not consist in visiting temples, prostrating before idols, performing rituals and begging for fulfilment of desires. It consists in visualizing and realizing the unity existing among apparent diversities in the world. A Hindu worth that name should therefore endeavor to practice equality among themselves and also towards other religious identities. The more the Hindus practice discrimination among themselves, the more they alienate their own fellow beings by straying them away to other religious holds. India’s history is the prime testimony to this simple fact” says Dr. Karthikeyan, in his article Ancient Western Philosophy and Hindu wisdom in IndiaDivine.Org.
The obvious choice for Hindus in general and Hindu Americans in particular is to progressively adopt Vedanta Religion— Everlasting, Universal and Unifying Spiritual Force based on wisdom of Vedas—Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti; Om Tad Brahma tad Vaayu, tad Aatmaa, tat satyam, tat sarvam tat puror namah.
“According to Max Mueller, Prof Keith and Macdonell Sankara was born in 788 AD and died in 820 AD” says Dr. Radhakrishnan. Jagadguru Chandrasekharanda Saraswati has revised that to 509-477 BCE. Whatever may be his period, it is clear the worship of Puranic deities Subhramanya and Ganapati was very popular during Sankara’s period as he took the veritable task of purifying the path of Bhakti by removing the crudities that had crept in by prescribing Panchayatana puja of five of the deities from the six deities identified as Devatas--Siva, Vishnu, Ganapati, Ambika, Skanda and Surya popular during his life time. He left the option to leave behind any one of the deities among six if anybody did not like or believe in its worship. Otherwise why he would mention five out of six? Sankara was also founder of Smarta Tradition in which Hari and Hara were considered one and the same. It is strange he was also silent on Brahma as nobody worshiped Brahma during his time. He went with popular opinion. I believe he was not favorably disposed towards the worship of Puranic deities but at the same time did not want to hurt the belief of people so strongly rooted as to the worship of Mythological deities. This he expressed while standing before Kasi Viswanatha. I wonder how he failed to refer to Ganesha Atharvaseersopanishat and Skanda Upanishad who are the deities of his Shanmata (Six Tradition). It is therefore safe to conclude that these were composed much later. In the Dravida version of MNU on which Ranga Ramanuja has commented there is a Gayatri Mantra “Tatpurushaya Vidmahe Vakratundaaya Dheemahi tanno Dantee prachodayat”. This could be applicable to twin-tusked Vishwaksena who is the leader of elephant headed Ganas referred in Vedic culture. Puranas say Airavata had four tusks! Vedas also mention about horse headed beings which is obvious from the title Vajasaneyee Samhita referring to Hayagrieva. Horse was very popular in Vedic culture. But in the later Andhra Version “Dantee” which means two tusks has been replaced by “Dantih” to mean single tusk to make it applicable to Ganesha which also included a Gayatri on Shanmukha. Also in Dravida version we do not find Sivopasana mantras and “the famous Mantra “Trayambakam Yajamahe….”showing thereby they are the later introduction in the larger version used by Saivites on which Sayana has commented. Sankara has made a passing reference to Dravida version. It includes Pancha Brahman mantras and Twarita Rudra Mantras which are applicable both to Rudra and Brahman. Rudra is the Vedic deity who became Puranic Deva (God) Siva. Similarly Uma Vedic deity became Puranic Parvati whose mother is also Mother Earth.
It is obvious that Hinduism was gradually drifting away from Vedic deities more and more towards the worship of mythological upa-devatas like Ganesha, Subhramanya, Navagrahas etc. who were popularized by successful marketing of Puranic deities. Subhramanya and Surya were eulogized in Ramayana but later Ganesha though not referred in Ramayana was made most popular devata pushing Subhramanya to the background. These promoters drew Vedic support from the mantras “ganaanatvam Ganapatigam havaamahe”, “Eshah Aadityah” and Sri Rudram and Chamkam (Tvam Rudrastvam) for their religious marketing by wrong interpretation moving away from the original intent. For Navagraha worship astrologers who had mere basic knowledge of astronomy played a major role unlike ancient Astronomer Rishis of Vedic culture. Otherwise how Sankara could have missed Navagraha Sukta without any reference while he promoted worship of Surya, the star hailed as Aditya and considered as Vyahriti (emanation of Brahman)? He also did not come across Skanda Upanishad. These are therefore later additions after Sankara like Narayanopanishat which talks about “Devakeeputro madusudhanah.” Astrologers reduced the status of Surya to that of a Graha (planet) raised the status of Moon a satellite to that of planet and raised the nodal points of Moon Rahu and Ketu to planets status adding to the assembly of planets Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn. They ignored the Earth Planet on which we live to whom also no temples are built and her icons are found only in processional assemblies of Vishnu and his avatars but not as Moola Vigraha (Fixed Deity). If there is no Moolavigraha where is the need for Utsava (processional deity) Murti?
From all accounts Navagraha worship as Upa-devatas or low level deities based on myths and beliefs in Temple Traditions is of recent origin and traces its origin to a much later period after the period of three great philosophers Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. Worship of Surya as Suryanarayana, Vyahriti (Emanation) of Brahman and other luminaries Stars and Moon are as old as Temple Tradition itself. MNU in its Vaisvadeva mantras only prescribes Sooryaaya swaahaa, Chndramase Swaahaa and Nakshatrebhyas swaahaa. There is no mention of Navagrahas here. Of late there is mushroom growth of installation and worship of lower level deities Upa-devatas in temples in India and wherever they are settling, though Hindus hate the words myths, beliefs and pagan practices, like Navagraha, Saibaba, Swami Narayan, Nagdevata, Karumari Amman, Santoshi Maa, Sithala (Small-pox Devi), Bharat Mata, Azhwar and Nayanmar Pavillions etc., which was solely restricted to Deva (Saguna Brahman), his incarnations and emanations) as glorified by great Acharyas (Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva). Upa-devata worship goes even below Kindergarten level to Nursery level as explained in my lecture “Vedanta Religion, Everlasting, Universal and Unifying Spirituality” and so not at all suitable too Hindu American Temples. Today pre KG schools are more popular and expensive than KG level schools.
Legends as well as wisdom of Vedas do not promote Navagraha worship. Even legends say Navagrahas are only upa-devatas subservient to Suryadevata celebrated in Vedas as Aditya to whom Navagraha worship is directed. In Vedic culture Supreme Being (DEVA) takes care of the universes with his 33 subordinates (DEVATAS). These devatas are assigned to three regions of the Earth (Prithvi), the heavens (Dyaus) and the intermediary space (Antariksha). What started as 33 Gods today continues beyond 330 Million so called gods some of whom have firmly established and worshiped in Temple Traditions by the freedom granted in Bhagavad Gita ignoring the fact which repeatedly emphasizes that those who worship Paramatman only are ultimately liberated! Hindu Americans have not lagged behind and have added many saints from other faiths that have branched out of Sanatana Dharma to show their Broad-mindedness and democratic approach (probably to please their inter-marriages) in Hindu worship forgetting the fact that there is only One Democratic God (Tadekam) in Vedanta Religion. I do not know how Saints turned into gods that includes even Buddha just as Jesus has become God in Christianity! There is even a book describing how Jesus became God! Aditya is the imperishable eternal being, the God of Light, by whom all manner of luminous life is manifested and sustained in this Universe and hence Vyahriti (emanation) of Brahman. Navagraha worship’s entry is of recent origin as confirmed by some of the ancient temples seen in Tamil Nadu where psychology of astrology plays major role and Navagraha Worship follows. Navagrahas have been most popularized in Temples of Saiva Traditions and successfully marketed. It is sad in this race Bhudevi, planet Mother Earth, is forgotten like Brahma. She is Universal Mother celebrated in Vedas and deserves equal veneration and worship like other Devatas. She is avoided as primary icon (Moola Vigraha) and seen as Bhoodevi icon in processional Vishnu assembly along with Sridevi. Probably she is shy to be carved out of stone which constitutes her body as glorified in a popular sloka (sthanamardhinee). The Nine Planets are invariably found in every Saiva temple in South India. In many North Indian temples Navagrahas are confined to the lintels of doors only, to protect the temple and all those who enter, successfully influenced and marketed by the Southern Tradition. This has even entered multi-traditional Hindu American Temples since followers of Siva are in majority. Vaishnavas are traditionally conservative and orthodox in outlook and are contented to live in their homeland but few enterprising like me do migrate and console to the situation going round Navagrahas following majority during temple visits. These upa-devatas cannot be called planets for reasons explained and are only upa-devatas of later creation by astrologers in league with Saiva Acharyas (Gurus or Monks) who have successfully exploited the religious sentiments of Saivas who run to temples with their horoscopes for all troubles. They also fill the temple coffer which is badly needed for the all fun and frolic that goes on in temples with rare spiritual focus by the serious minded. Vaishnavas follow Pancharatra Theology and Vishishtadvaita Philosphy of later Guru Ramanuja where there is no scope for Navagraha Devatas or need for Navagraha Sukta.
1. Swami Devrupananda, Mantra Pushpam, Ramkrishna Math, Khar Mumbai, India
2. Swmi Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
3. Swami Harshanada, Hindu Pilgrimage, Ramakrishna Math, Bengaluru, India.
4. Swami Virewarananda, Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
5. Wikipedia and other internet sources.
6. Ishasadguru.org, Why Shiva sits in Smashana, Cremation Ground?
7. IndiaDivine.Org., Where Rama worshiped Navagrahas.
Mythical Story of Sun and Moon Eclipse from Hindu Scriptures
Surya Grahana, solar eclipse, is widely mentioned in the Holy Scriptures of Hinduism. There is also an interesting myth regarding the occurrence of Surya Grahan. It happened during the Samdura Mathana (churning of ocean) episode in the Puranas. Rahu (Demon) and Mohini, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, are the main characters in the incident.
The Amrit (elixir) that was obtained from churning the ocean was cunningly stolen by Ausras (Demons). Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini, a beautiful damsel, to win back the Amrit. She achieved her mission by enamoring the Asuras, they fell for her beauty and handed over the Amrit to her.
Mohini returned to the Devas and started distributing it. Devas sat in a line and mohini gave a portion to each one of them. Rahu, an Asura, who found out that they were tricked took the form a Deva and sat in the line between Chandra (Moon God) and Surya (Sun God).
When Mohini approached Rahu, Chandra and Surya realized that Rahu was not one among them and soon identified him as an Asura. Mohini soon severed the head of Rahu which flew into the sky. Rahu’s, depicted in the form of a Snake head occasionally, continued to live and decided to avenge Surya and Chandra.
Thus periodically Rahu engages in a war with Surya and Chandra. The Chandra Grahan (Lunar eclipse) and Surya Grahan (Solar eclipse) takes place when Rahu gobbles up Moon and Sun respectively. Surya and Chandra then fights to free themselves.
[I wonder how this split person Ravana was raised to the status of Planets by Religious Pundits and also to the level of Sun and Moon beats anybody’s imagination? Yet we are offended when our Puranas are called Myths?]
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference cited as well as information received from other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha 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 <nrsrini.blogspot.com> 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. ]