Ten ancient Indian mythological characters from the stars.
Indian astronomy and its stars shares part of its history with mythology, before slowly dwindling into oblivion behind the more favoured craft of astrology. And stars from the ancient skies stopped being named soon after the contemporary epic of ‘Mahabharata’, which is said to have marked the advent of the dark age or Kaliyuga that is today. But all darkness has its twining pair of redeeming light, and the legacy and light of stars to this day indicate to connecting clues and myths of the old ways. The following are the introductions to some of those guiding lights of consciousness and the night, at least from the Indian sky.
Agni is the star Beta Taurus, also known as Nath. Agni is the Indian name of the God of fire, and as such is one of the principle deities worshipped and lauded in the hymns of the oldest known scriptures in the Rig Veda.
Known and hailed as the tongue of the gods, most of the creation legends in the Rig Veda are in some part or the other attributed to Agni, and existence of man on the Earth is regarded as the testament of Agni’s glory.
There is an interesting story associated to the betrothal of Agni with the star Svaha, Zeta Taurus. Agni, as a god young and eligible was rumoured to be besotted with inappropriate admiration for the dutiful wives of the seven sages, aka ‘the Saprishis’, of the constellation Ursa Major. When unable to handle it, he resolves to set himself ablaze to his shame until he exists no more in a forrest of stars. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, Svaha, a sister to the 7 (who are also the Pleiades of the Indian context) wives that are subject to Agni’s affection, herself desires Agni. And upon hearing of his dilemma approaches and pleads Lord Shiva for an appropriate recourse. Lord Shiva acquiesces, and affords to Svaha a solution and boon to cure of them both. Svaha is directed to emulate the 7 of her sisters, and offer herself to Agni in order to sate his desires, and of her own.
Agni, upon receiving her is moved at the offer, and accepts resulting in their divine and eternal union. Svaha one by one, sets in herself an illusion of Pleiades for Agni’s sake.
She on her part is able to emulate 6 of them, but not the seventh. The seventh was Arundati, originally the star Alcor in Ursa Major, and consort to Saptrishi Vasishta. The stars, Vasishta and Arundati are considered the marriage stars in several traditional Indian marriage ceremonies, and regarded as the gates of heaven.
Agni and Svaha’s union resulted in the birth of Kartikeya, also called Skanda who would eventually lead the host of heaven’s armies against darkness.
The constellation and star Sirius, otherwise called Canis Major, hailed bright as the scorching dog-days after-noon. Sirius is the sage Vishvamitra, one of pivotal heavenly sages also in the ancient Ramayana. Vishvamitra is regarded in his life to have groomed himself as first a warrior, then a king of kings, and finally as a heavenly sage. It is cited that at one point, he expanded the entire sky into another part and of it, created a completely new hemisphere of stars in a mirror image of the originals. The entirety of the Southern Hemisphere of stars is known as the Asura-bhaga and is attributed into creation by sage Vishvamitra.
In Indian astronomy Vishvamitra was also called Lubdaka. And upon the onset of existence in the Universe was considered as the chief of stars. At the time that the primal building blocks of life integrated with the elements to breed man’s being, this dogged star of among the first gods also fell into the obscurities of myths offered up to the Milky Way galaxy.
The goddess of creativity, Saraswati’s abode in the stars is regarded to be the constellation Veena or Lyra, the celestial lyre-harp.
Saraswati is also associated with an offshoot from the Milky-way stream of stars called Akasa-ganga colloquially. Apart from that, a river flowed to her name in the north-western part of India until roughly about 3000 years ago.
As the galaxy’s consort of music, Saraswati had several birds and animals beside her for the task. An eagle and a hawk in the adjoining stars, the swan-bird Hamsa, or the constellation Cygnus always at her side, and a little tortoise. It is said that the first Veena was mounted on the shell of a living tortoise, offering timber to the strings for the melodies of music. In fact, some subspecies of ancient tortoise still have squares marked on their shells like grooves.
Saraswati is then said to have become one with the entire universe in a creative burst at about the time that her rivers on the Earth dried up to mark this present age.
The north star. Also known as Polaris. Seen to the true north of existence, and so is a fixed star, and is always stationary to our locations. It is cited that the entire galaxy of space we reside in, including the sun, all move around Polaris, or Dhruva.
Geographically at the line at the equator is where this star, is directly seen overhead. Otherwise it can be spotted at the exact north of any other location of the globe. Just the sheer act of regarding or seeing this star at night is considered auspicious and cleansing according to one of the principle texts of Hinduism, the ‘Puranas’, It is said that seeing Dhruva-tara in the night can free us from the day’s sinfulnesses.
Mythologically Dhruva is akin the fountainhead of stars. According to legend, at the earliest dawn of time when the sun was merely a dwarf-star, his light, that could not even light the poles of the Earth. And the star Sirius Lubdaka was chief of the stars, and the giants ruled the heavens, Vishnu as a dwarf-brahmana called Vamana asked for alms from the giant king Vali and tricked him to wrest control of the sky, earth and heaven in three steps. And then as a giant to even the giant king Vali, as his foot landed on heaven, with his left toe, he pressed down. And from underneath Vishnu’s nail, freed and poured, flowed the waters from outside the universe.
And underneath, holding up the sky was Dhruva, the north star. And while, like Atlas he held upon his shoulders, not the Earth but the sky itself, he made a cavern inside of himself through which the otherworldly waters flowed, onto the Milky Way, and eventually the Earth itself. Darkness had been defeated, and Dhruva with Vishnu had freed the light. The point in the sky was called in Sanskrit the Tritya Vishnu-pada or the Parama-pada, Vishnu’s third and final step.
The seven sages (Saprishis) :
The constellation Ursa Major or the Great Bear is also known in Sanskrit as the Saprishis or the seven sages. There are several myths associated with Saprishis who in themselves are considered among the building blocks of sentient life on the planet. They each are supposed to be the ‘sahasrara’ – the crown of a thousand eyes.
It is curious to consider that the Saprishis or the Ursa Major does not move around the sun but rather the north star or Dhruva. Rather in fact, it is the sun that moves around and follows the north star and in turn, the Saprishis.
The Ursa Major is supposedly the timekeeper of night, just as the sun is the time keeper of the day. In the night, one can track the Saprishis in their place in the sky moving to the hours around Polaris like clockwork.
The names of the saptrishi stars individually are Angiras, Kratu, Vasishta, Marichi, Pulaha, Pulastya and Atri to the otherwise star names of Dubhe, Mizar, Phegde, Benetnash, Megrez, Merak and Alioth.
The lord of the heavens, or at least in Indian pantheon, always the head of entire deva armies. The star Kochab from the Ursa Minor constellation of the little bear. Kochab, or Kakkab in the earliest Babylonian languages means star, an apt descriptor to what is considered the heavenly king of the stars. As amongst the highest stars, along with Dhruva and another star in Ursa Minor form the guardians of the pole, and the presiders of the highest principles of the galaxy.
Indra is the only star in the northern hemisphere to not have a reduplication in the southern hemisphere of stars, which according to legend was treaty with sage Vishvamitra, or Lubdaka Sirius, the former king of stars for the ancient age.
Orion the constellation. Also known as Kalapurusha (the eternal and complete man) is the giant in the sky. In the ancient age, the king Vali was considered the greatest and mightiest of Asuras or giants who went on to conquer the heavens itself. At the time, even the very gates of heaven for the the celestials was known as Vali-dwara. But even the greatest bastions of darkness falls to brighter light, Vishnu transcended Vali and a new sun came upon Earth. Vali became synonymous to Vishnu’s grace and the giants disappeared to everywhere but Orion and the imagination. In the Indian epic, Ramayana, another namesake of Vali appears as Bali, the monkey-titan king and is supposed to be within the circle of Vali’s lifetimes with Vishnu.
Kalapurusha also connects to other myths in the mythologies of astronomy, namely the hunter, and with the star Sirius, always connected to Orion in its rising and falling in the sky.
Sati (The origin of Parvati) :
The goddess of Shiva-Parvati, the eternal pair in repair. The star Spica (Alpha, Virgo) of the constellation Virgo is also called Tara, which colloquially in Indian languages means star. This is considered in many ways the star of creation, regarded celestially as the ear of the corn.
Curiously this star makes a shape of an irregular Y, then the mini-asterism Chitra of Nakshatra constellations makes the same shape as a constellation. And then finally the entire Zodiac constellation Virgo follows the same irregular Y to its shaping 3 times over. Virgo has 33 stars in it.
The great starburst that was Sati in the ancient age is said to broken itself into sound that fell on 51 of the oldest constellations and endowed the ancients with the Sanskrit alphabet or the Varna-mala.
Amongst the last stars to be named of astronomy in the Indian sky and our age. Arjuna has not one but two associations with mini-constellations or asterisms in the Nakshatra system of moon tracking. The constellations are called Uttara-Phalguni and Purva-Phalguni, Phalguni itself being a synonym name of the hero Arjuna of the epic Mahabharata. Both of these asterisms are in the larger constellation Zodiac of Leo, the lion, otherwise associated with king-makers of yore. In fact, Pandu, which was the name of Arjuna’s father means red in old Sanskrit. And 5 stars in the constellation Leo are supposed to be Pandu, or red, signifying the 5 brothers inclusive of Arjuna that heralded Indian history. On its own, Arjuna’s stars are a pair, inside the constellation, and of the asterisms. It derived its name from Arjuni, who was a goddess-apsara among the first gods, renowned for feminine grace, and notably focus. The same divine focus that with the help of the contemporary god and counsel Krishna, Arjuna then channels in his various victories. In so, Arjuna ability to excel in his many pairings, with Krishna, his brothers, his consort and then eventually history itself becomes part of stories within the constellation Leo.
Arjuna’s primary skill is naturally that of the archer and the dutiful to consciousness.
Sage Agastya :
Māna, or the star known as Canopus, is called Agastya in the Indian Pantheon. Māna is the piloting star of the largest constellation of stars, the Argo Navis, the great ship of the heavens.
In the ancient age, Agastya is supposed to have been the south pole star of the Earth, the right that eventually became that of Yama, the death-star.
In the ancient age, to balance the great ship of stars in flooding waters, the sage Agastya drank up the entire ocean, and then balanced the ship as Earth, while Dhruva balanced the North Pole to the waters thereafter.
Upon which, Sage Agastya’s turn changed as the south pole star, and Argo moved to calmer waters of other cultural and astronomical legends.
The constellation Argo now stands broken up into several constellations called Carina, Puppis, Pyxis and Vela respectively.
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A coat of quotes and passing poetry
This soaring, sacred thirst, Ambassador of bliss, approached first.
Making a place in me That made me apt to prize, and taste, and see.
For not the objects, but the sense Of things doth bliss to Souls dispense,
And make it, Lord, like Thee. Sense, feeling, taste, complacency, and sight,
These are the true and real joys,
The living, flowing inward, melting, bright, And Heavenly pleasures; all the rest are toys:
All which are founded in Desire, As light in flame and heat in fire."
Ambassador of Bliss | Thomas Traherne