The Worship of Murukan and the Zodiac
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao B.sc., M.A., A.M.I.E., C.Eng(I)., B.L.,
A study of number and figure myth associated with Murukan / Kanda / Karttikeya / Subramanya worship shows the connection of it with time reckoning, as the related concepts revolve around the movement of planets, change of seasons, repetition of day and night in conjunction with the celebration of rites, rituals and ceremonies in the specific seasons1. Though the Puranic compilers have meticulously recorded such facts and details, the modern interpreters would not notice the astronomical significance, as they used to dub the Puranas as myth. The western scholars indeed could notice such significance, but they did not want to give any credit to Indians. Thus, Hopkins (1903), Fleet (1916), and others simply brushed aside such discussion and B. G. Tilak (1897), S. B. Dikshit (1913), M. N. Saha (), V. S. Agrawala (1953) and others struck to their interpretation. Pointing out this, G. S. Ghurye (1977) attempted to find out the astro-physical phenomenon basis for the Skanda concept2. After that, though modern scholars referred to the connection of stars with Karttikeya and Vishaka, they did not elaborate the significance. A. K. Chatterjee simply notes that it should be remembered that both the names are philologically connected with stars Visakha and krittika3 and draws the attention to another observation made by M. N. Mukherjee, wherein the latter noted that the star-worship was mixed with the Skanda worship4. All the interpretation has been based on the Sanskrit literature. Therefore, an attempt is made to interpret the Tamil literature to find out the astronomical background of the Murugan worship.
Tamil scholars and researchers always divide the Sangam literature into Agam (human matters related to inner aspects like love, marriage, marital life etc.) and Puram (human matters related to outside aspects like valour, wealth, education etc.) and attribute the respective themes. Though, the Tamil poets appear to be over imbibed with the theme of love, love-making, fondling etc., they have clearly recorded the meticulous metaphor of time reckoning behind such background and it is very interesting and informative for study. The symbolization of the hexagram / hexagon / double triangle / two crossed triangles / star / six limbs with that of Shadmukha / Shanmugam / Murugan is significant as it is nothing but zodiacal representation in the astronomical connotation. As they have concealed such facts with their love theme, they have to be decoded and deciphered properly to understand the hidden meaning in astronomical perspective. This aspect is dealt with in this paper based on the literary evidences of the Sangam literature.
Diagramatic / Geometric Representation of the properties of Muruga
As Arumugam, Shadmukha, Shanmukha, Shadvadhan, Shadhanan and other epithets are repeatedly used for Muruga, their representation and association with astronomy has to be studied. Geometrically, such concept can be represented as a Hexagon. As it can be drawn only with a circle, the concept of hexagon is connected with a circle. Not only circle, but also all geometrical figures are based on the concept of point, which is nothing but the smallest circle that could be drawn with no radius. Similarly, a circle is a polygon with infinite sides. These are not mathematical unreality or uncertainty leading to philosophy, but facts. The geometry is related to arithmetics, which in turn to numbers. All these concepts are related to the importance of squaring a circle and circling a square covering all mathematical functions, operations and manipulations.
Here, a diagram drawn with such concepts surprisingly tally with mathematical and astronomical principles. For example, a circle is drawn inside a square touching its sides. The circle is divided into twelve equal parts (12 x 30 = 360). They are named after Tamil months and common zodiac signs for convenience. Then the circle is divided into 27 equal parts of 13 degrees 20 minutes (130 20" x 27 = 3600) accommodating 27 stars / asterism. Thus, each rasi contains 2 1/2 stars / asterism, depending upon their movement with reference to Sun. Here, according to the Indian system of asterism, the stars are considered to be stationery with reference to planets.
The ruling planets are also mentioned in the corresponding rasis - Mars, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Saturn and Jupiter. The seasons are – 1. Ilavenir / Vasantham, 2. Mudhivenil / Kreshmam, 3. Kar / Varsha, 4. Kudhir / Sarath, 5. Munpani / Hemantha and 5. Pinpani / Sasira.
Two equilateral triangles are superposed on the figure with vertices - one touching the square at the top and another inverted same as the former. The touching points are 0 and 180. They surprisingly cut the circle at 60, 120, 240 and 300. The intersecting points are 30, 90, 150, 210, 270, and 330. Thus 0, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180, 210, 240, 270, 300, 330 and 360 are nothing but the twelve divisions of zodiac.
The lower triangle with apex downwards is the symbol of Tirumal / Vishnu, the God of Moist principle in the Nara or waters (Mahabharata.III.189.3). The triangle with its vertex upward is Shiva the principle of Fire, symbolized by the triple flame in the hand (three eyes, Tripurantaka etc). Thus, the combination of Tirumal and Sivan is Skanda / Murukan / Karttikeya formed with the properties of Fire and Water. The Saravanabava signifies the unification of these major elements into the Most Powrful One.
If the Hexagram is examined, all ten numbers 0 to 9 are found in it.
If the Hexagram / hexagon / double triangle / two crossed triangles / star / six limbs does not have any astronomical significance the points need not coincide with the degrees. It cannot be said that it is a mere coincidence, because all other calculations tally with the pictorial / geometrical representation. Therefore, it is evident that the Hexagram representing Murugan / the mantra saravanabava is nothing but a zodiacal symbol implying the position of asterism with reference to the movement of planets. That is why the important festivals connected with Kanda / Kadamba/ Murukan / Karttikeya / Subramanya fall in intervening periods, i.e, the sectorial areas representing the 12 rasis.
That the ancient Tamils of Sangam period had conscious observation of movement of planets, eclipses, day and night time reckoning, growing of trees, flowering of plants and trees at a particular season, connected animals and their survival on the nature etc., are well established in the references available in the Sangam literature. The division of land into five tinais, their respective, Gods, trees, plants, flowers, animals, music, musical instruments etc., are also closely connected with such observation of planetary movement and recording time reckoning in the natural code, which are dealt with below.
Seasons, Festivals and Murugan Worship
How the changes in the seasons affect the psychosomatic processes or psychosomatic changes vary with the seasons interacting with flora and fauna is vividly described in the Sangam literature. The change of seasons. as we know due to the planetary motion, mainly due to Sun. However, the influence of other planets are also significant, which is not generally considered in the seasonal changes. The animal behaviour is expressed the the faunic representation of the zodiac, as during such periods, man behaves or exhibits qualities like the represented animals. Similarly, the trees grown and flowers blossomed during the period satisfy his needs. Symbolically, they are also used in different rites, rituals and ceremonies conducted during the respective periods. In the Sangam literature, the following features are noted:
As square is nothing but a combination of two equilateral triangle. Thus, both representation can be broken into triangles.
Seasonal Murugan Festivals
The festivals celebrated according to Tamil months are studied to note that they fall exactly on Full Moon or New Moon day coinciding with the respective stars. This also clearly proves that they are celebrated based on astronomical significance with the past observations. Though the astronomers and connected scholars do the calculations, the common people are made to keep the importance of nakshatras, week days, fort night, month, six months, year etc., in their minds in a systematic way. For comparison, the celebration of vrat / penance in connection with Skanda-Karttikeya are alsom given and they coincide perfectly. Therefore, how time has been reckoned and recorded throughout India can be noted. Thus, with the passage of time, as there is a possibility of forgetting the astronomical significance, the periodic pujas / festivals have been prescribed to remember / know the hours, seconds, minutes etc. The details are tabulated as follows5:
Here, particularly, the festivals connected with Murugan are taken. Only a few other festivals are mentioned for calculation purposes. For complete study, along with month – rasi, corresponding English month, English name for rasi / zodiac, symbol, season, sign corresponding to certain parts of bodies and mineral / metal are tabulated as follows for further discussion.
If we take Mesha rasi as starting point from the equinoctial point, we can see Krittika nakshatra overlaps Mesham / Mari / Adu and Rishabam / Bull / Erudhu / Kalai. Exactly on the opposite are Tula and Vrichigam, which are overlapped by Vishaka nakshatra in Karttikai month. It may be noted that the Karttikai month is winter, whereas, Vaikasi month with Krittigai nakshatra is very hot. Incidentally, Skanda / Karttikeya / Murukan is born on a Full Moon day, Vishaka Nakshatra, Karttigai month. Skanda shasti / Kanda catti is celebrated in that month only. As he is born of or rather cared by six Krittika mothers / Pleiades / Arumin / Six nakshatras, perhaps, his birth day is celebrated for six days with the sixth day ending on sixth day of a lunar month. It is thus celebrated in the Ippasi (Oct-Nov) on first six days of waxing days. Thus, originally started as celebrating the birth of Skanda / Karttikeya / Vishaka, is changed to Kanda Catti with different meaning coinciding with the killing of Surapadman. Shasti is the sixth day of a lunar month. However, the symbol Catti / Pot unveils the myth behind it. Incidentally, there is a Tamil proverb, "Cattiyile irunthal than agappaiyile varum" = If there is anything in the pot, then only it comes through laddle. Actually, the real meaning is, if anybody (particularly woman) performs the penance / sacrament sincerely in the Shasti days, then, only conception would take place in embryo. Thus, it is evident that it is a fertility rite coinciding with the birthday of Murugan. Saravanabhava tatva too expounds the conception, growth and birth of Skanda / Muruga. Incidentally, this festival is connected and superimposed with other months, but all have astronomical significance. Some are discussed as follows5:
Skanda merging with Vishaka
Mahabharata6 (Markandeya Samasyaparva) describes a story of a baby born from the brilliance of Adbhuta and Rudra, of which Indra is afraid of. The babe, named Guha / Skanda raises a loud cry which makes all the Devas trembled with terrible fear. Indra throws his thunder-bolt on Skanda, which results in the birth of a goat-faced youth from the right side of Skanda and he is known as Vishaka. It is also said that one of the six faces of Skanda is that of a goat. However, it may be noted that Guha and Vishaka are merged in Skanda. Vishaka nakshatra is considered very auspicious, as most of the saints, geniuses and others have born in that nakshatra, e.g, Buddha, Nammazhwar. Born in the same nakshatra, Murukan is known as "Gnana pandita" = Authority of Wisdom. Karttikeya and Vishaka incidentally represent 3rd and 16th Lunar mansions of the Zodiac. In fact, Vishaka is a binary star according to Sanskrit literature. Therefore, it is not known as to how the ancients would have known the binary stars without telescope is intriguing and interesting.
Skanda merging with Sri
This is similar to take over of Sur by Muruga. Vishaka is depicted as protector of wealth or having a bag in his hand. Skanda is depicted in coins along with Lakshmi. In fact, like him another goddess is depicted with six heads. Revatikalpa describes how different forms of Revati Jataharini, literally means one who afflicts the children, causes abortion of foetus. Kasyapa Samhita / Vriddha Jivakiya Tantra describes how the children diseases are caused and they can be cured. The terrible attendants of Skanda are all named Kumara. This similar to Velan, who performs veriyadal for Muruga. In fact, the 7th and 15th dark days of Karttika are famous for the festivals of Jataharini like goddesses, including Jara (one who steals babies), Hariti (one who steals foetus), Ayohi (who is opposed to the manifestation of life), later changed to Karttikeya. Skanda unites with Śrī on the 5th bright day of the Magha month known as Sri-panchami / Magha panchami. The next day, Skanda found his consummation with Śrī and it is Shasthi. It may be noted that names of the goddesses, who are associated with one act or the other, are nothing but nakshatras – Revati, Kartika, Magha, Vishaka, Jyesta in cyclic order. Incidentally, they are connected with conception, foetus, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. Though, first, they are depicted as the destroyers of children, later portrayed as protectors of children. That is why perhaps, women are barred from touching the vessels of Murugan kottam in Sangam literature. In any case, it explains that conception takes place on a particular star, then the birth of child would take place n a particular star in a year. This is possible, only if astronomical observations are made. Thus, parents, doctors and others who took care of pregnant women would have followed such time reckoning meticulously for the purpose.
The devisers / the persons who introduced the festivals for Murukan or take over the existing festivals by merging with the myth of Murukan must have been experts of astronomy and well versed with the seasonal changes, flora and fauna of India. That is why the nakshatras, thithis, months etc., coincide exactly and the tradition continues even today.
Time reckoning in the Ancient Tamizhagam
There had been systematic time reckoning and recording, though the material evidences might point to different picture. Based on literary evidences, the following facts are brought out7.
Division of a day: About the division of a day three methods are noted:
The starting of a day: The day starts with the midnight / passing of midnight. This is similar to ardharatrika system followed throughout India. The cock announces the starting of a day, an astronomical symbol.
Counting of days: Agananuru mentions about "Nal izhai neduncuvar", that is a wall on which days have been marked as small straight lines. However, there must have been sundials to measure time during day time and days to count with shadow movements. Definitely, the erected Kandus played a role.
Counting of Lunar days: as the tithi calculation is based on the waxing and waning of Moon, its observation must have been noted and recorded. It is revealed through the specific expressions used – first phase (Perump.11), Third phase (Kurun.178.5; Agam.239:9-10), eighth phase (Puram.11-12, 18.2), waxing phase (Madurai.193-194, Perum.383-384), and Full Moon (Puram.67.4, Padit.31:11-12, Puram.400.1-3).
27 Stars during Tolkappiyam Period: As Tolkappiyam has given rules for naming the stars and they tally with the existing ones, it is evident that such knowledge of asterism must have existed even before Tolkappiyar.
Manimekhalai (8:45-49) mentions about Cakravalakottam and a globe model existed there. In fact, the description of the globe and other details resemble an observatory. In fact, the experts residing there predict the time and date of birth of Abuttiran as follows (Mani.15:23-25):
1. Ilavenir / early summer period.
2. Sun in rishaba rasi.
3. Vaishaka month.
4. Of 27 stars, 13 have passed.
5. In the middle of such stars i.e, at Vishaka, as Karttigai is taken as first star.
Sittalai Sattanar records that the time and date of birth of Abuttiran are same as Buddha. In fact, in another place (Mani.12:72-82), the poet specifically mentions about the year of Buddha as 1616. As he has not mentioned the era for calculation, the date of Buddha could not be determined here. However, the important point to be noted is the existence of astronomical knowledge and its application to time reckoning and recording. The relation of Vishaka / Karttikeya with Murugan worship has been pointed out above.
The Zodiac of the Tamils or the Zodiac Depicted in the Sangam Literature – The Inthinai Zodiac
An attempt has been made by the author to depict the details given in the Sangam literature in Five tinais on a sheet of paper cyclically. The poets have been very meticulous in describing each tinai with their associated factors specifically. For the astronomical discussion, the connected factors are takan and tabulated as follows:
Time of a day is divided into five equal parts = 24 / 5 = 4.8 hours.
A year is divided into five parts = 12 / 5 = 2.4 months per division.
Thus, the zodiac is divided into 5 parts, thus 360 / 5 = 720
The current method is, a day has 12 hours, an hour has 60 minutes, a minute has 60 seconds. Thus, it is based on 60 cycle.
As 5 is used as a calculation basis, a circle is divided into five equal parts, thus, each sector has 720. In each sector, the respective factors are marked in the sub-sectors. The figure obtained is nothing but a Zodiac, which can be compared with the 12 sign-zodiac by superimposing. Taking clue from the symbols – Ram, Swan, Lion, peacock and Kite connecting them with the properties, we can assign the rasis as follows:
As 12 rasis are distributed to Five Divisions, there has been overlapping. This kind of overlapping can be seen in the distribution of 27 starts for 12 rasis.
The usual distribution of rasis (4 x 3) are as follows:
Thus, it is evident that the people of Tamizhagam have definitely incorporated the zodiac idea in Inthinai. The poets might have also mentioned or indicated the rasis and nakshatras related to each Tinai. As the commentators and modern day scholars have evidently left out other factors, the alignment of the Inthinai-zodiac with the modern-zodiac poses some problems or shows variations. The scientific study of the Sangam literature is imperative and such research could only rectify, correct and refine the Inthinai-Zodiac constructed. The author craves for the help of the scholars in this regard.
Did the People of Tamizhagam Followed a Jupiter Cycle?
The discussion about the Zodiac based on Inthimai or Inthinai Zodiac points to a possibility that the people of Tamizhagam might have followed a Jupiter cycle for the calculation and recording time and events. As mentioned, time of a day is divided into five equal parts = 24 / 5 = 4.8 hours, a year is divided into five parts = 12 / 5 = 2.4 months per division and thus, the zodiac is divided into 5 parts, thus 360 / 5 = 720.
"Multiply by 12 the past Jupiter revolutions of Jupiter, add the signs of the current revolution, add and divide by sixty; the remainder marks the year of Jupiter's cycle, counting from Vijaya [Surya Siddhanta – I.55].
In Vaishaka etc., a conjunction (yoga) in the dark half-month (krishna), on the 15th lunar day (thithi), determines in like manner the years Karttika etc., of Jupiter, from his helical setting (asta) and rising (udaya) [Surya Siddhanta – XIV.17]".
The first verse clearly points to the existence of sixty year cycle that is still followed throughout India. The second quoted verse points to the Skanda Shasthi festival / birth of Viskhaka / Karttikeya. Then what is the relation between the 60 year cycle and 12 year cycle? Mathematically, it is 60 / 12 = 5.
If in any year, the helical setting of Jupiter takes place in the month Vaishaka, then the asterism with which the moon is found to be in the conjunction at the end of that month, which will be, of course, the asterism of the year, which is Krittika. Thus, here, the relation between Vaishaka and Karttika is explained. Therefore, the connecting factor of these two months and as well as stars is Murukan and his worship.
Astronomically, the connecting factor of two Jupiter cycle is 5 and it is Inthinai-Zodiac. Therefore, the poet or poets who had been familiar with the three important aspects – Surya Siddhanta / Vedic Astronomy, myth of Vaishaka and Karttika and Inthinai-Zodiac and of course Tamil (perhaps Sanskrit too) could have only conceived such Zodiac and presented such astronomical myth through his / their poetics and poetry. And this historical process could have taken place only about the period in which the Tamizhagam was reigning supreme in all aspects.
Cakras, Rasis and Muruga
The astronomical interpretation of Murugan worship incidentally embraces with Tantras, Yantras and Mantras. The amalgamation, integration and unification of different gods and goddesses point to compromise made with the Tantric and Yantric works. In fact, such details are available only in Tantric works as noted in the case of Jara, Hariti, Jataharini, Revati etc. The worship of Murukan has been symbolic and natural i.e, Kandu – the Wooden Pillar. Later, it is modified with personification and deification. However, the fundamentals are available only in the tantric works. The old worshippers or followers of the established system would not come to new one, unless the new one has incorporated all the old ones and also some extra favorable, comfortable and usable factors. As diversified people come together in such interactions, manifold and dissimilar factors have to be moulded together to get an acceptable cast. As heads of the respective groups are experts, they see that their subject matter is not compromised and at the same time do not ant to percolate to the bottom or new entrants easily without efforts or understanding the inner meaning. At the same time, the knowledge has to be preserved, protected and propagated to the progeny for the welfare of the humankind. That is why, we find mathematics, astronomy, geography, psychology, environmental study and much more modern subjects in the decoding and deciphermet of Skanda-Karttikeya-Murukan worship.
The relation between Cakras, Rasis and Muruga are turned out to be very revealing. They are tabulated below:
The author9 has already implied the association of Cakras with Murugan worship earlier in a paper.
From the above discussion, the following conclusions are drawn:
Notes and References
This paper was presented at the Third International Conference on Skanda-Murukan, November 2003