Saturday, June 12, 2010


Thanks to the erstwhile rulers of India, the Gregorian calendar has been the reference in the day to day life of us Indians. For all practical purposes, we have attuned ourselves to the date, month and year patterns of this calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th Century CE.

Apart from the Gregorian calendar, we occasionally refer to the Hindu calendar developed in late BCE. This is usually to check our Nakshatra Birthdays or just to understand why a festival like Diwali falls on a particular day of the year. However, such references are too few and too far apart to allow us to understand the calendar, its many features and benefits, even over a long period of time. So much so that I don’t even know the months of the Hindu calendar. Do you?

Now, I am not very much well versed with the Hindu calendar as well and hence will steer clear from its general attributes. And I write only on Mythology, with which this calendar has no direct reference. So, I have handpicked a very specific and current topic – days in one of the months in this calendar – and the correlations it has with the Indian mythology tales. It is the very month in which this blog is posted – Vaishakha (in Sanskrit) or Vaikashi (in Tamil) and the days are the Full Moon and New Moon days in this month.

a. Whole or Part:
The Full Moon day or the Poornima in this month is celebrated world over as Buddha Poornima. Now, this is hardly a fact related to Indian Mythology. However, as Buddhism emerged and flourished at a time when Hinduism ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent, it had several brushes with the dominant religion of that time. Buddhism contrasted Hinduism in several aspects, especially on worship of Gods, responsibilities of men and women in society etc, which often caused conflict and even clashes among the followers. However, it was a master stroke, when the Hindus, instead of denouncing Buddhism, decided to take it under the fold of Hinduism. This made Buddhism not a separate religion, but a branch of mainstream Hinduism, thereby totally eliminating the competition. Amazing isn’t it? But you might be wondering where the Mythology in this is!

Mythology can be understood as an expression of Religion, especially in the Indian (Hindu) context. Earlier and even today, we have been accepting and worshiping almost all those whom we read about. One of the most brilliant ways of enveloping Buddhism into the circle of Hinduism was to associate the supreme Buddhist, Gautama Buddha, with the pantheon of Hindu Gods. The stories about these Gods were narrated to the masses, which propagated the idea of Buddhism being one with Hinduism. And the story is…

If you scroll down (or navigate) to my first blog, you’ll find mentioned a list of the 10 main avatars of Lord Vishnu. There is a conflict with the 8th and the 9th. There is a popular belief (especially among the Colonials then and the West now) that Lord Krishna is the 8th Avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Buddha is his 9th. The story of the Buddha avatar does not change much from the story of Gautama Buddha we commonly know. However, certain changes were made to introduce a divine aspect to this tale.

Taraka, a demon killed by Lord Skanda (Karthikeya), had 3 sons – Taarakaaksha, Kamalaaksha and Vidyunmaali – who strove hard to gain boons from Lord Brahma. They desired for and were granted a revolving aerial city each which could be destroyed only when aligned and attacked by a single weapon. The brothers built fortresses of these cities, named in Tripura, and soon wreaked havoc on the Universe. The terrified Devas rushed to the Tridev – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – asking them to help them destroy the Demons and Tripura. Even the Gods agreed that aligning the cities would a difficult task, as the Asuras could control the cities to avoid alignment. So, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a Monk, Gautama Buddha. He pacified the people of Tripura and taught them about non-violence. As a result, the demons lost interest in material world and took to the lessons of Lord Buddha. Consequently the demons lost control of their cities and soon the cities aligned together. Lord Shiva mounted the chariot which was Earth, with Sun and Moon as it wheels and Lord Brahma as the charioteer. He strung the bow which was mount Meru with Vasuki, King of Serpents. He mounted the arrow which was Lord Vishnu and fired at the aligned Tripura, thus reducing it to ashes. The world was rid of the demons thanks to the thoughtful interference of the Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Buddha. Thus an attempt was made to wrap Buddhism under the Hindu blanket. Quite amazing, isn’t it?

Now that I have mentioned this tale here, let me bring out another interesting aspect. After destroying Tripura, Lord Shiva (Tripurantaka) smeared his forehead with three strokes of Ashes. This has become a prominent symbol of Lord Shiva and is practiced even today by Shaivites, viz. Iyers (I too!).

b. The Day before Today:
In the blog about Sahadeva, we had come to know that Duryodhana had enquired with Sahadeva about an auspicious day to begin the Kurukshetra battle. This day was the New Moon day or the Amavasya in the Vaishakha month; which is Today – Saturday 12th June (as I write). If the war were to have started on this day, then our understanding of the Mahabharata would have been quite different. To avoid this, once again, Lord Krishna had to interfere, this time with the calendar.

A day before the Amavasya, Lord Krishna started performing Tarpanam (a Tamil word meaning oblations offered to the deceased ancestors on Amavasya). Watching this, everyone was surprised, wondering whether the day was Chaturdashi (14th day) or Amavasya. However, as it was Lord Krishna offering oblations, people believed the day to be Amavasya and changed their routine accordingly. Even the Sun and the Moon realigned themselves (or something like that) to cause Amavasya. Observing this, the Kauravas marched ahead and thus the Kurukshetra war started on the 14th day of the waning moon itself. This day is called Bodhayana Amavasya and it fell on Friday 11th June in 2010.

So, these are the days of the Vaishakha month which have references in the Indian Mythology. Forgive me if I have omitted any details or have ignored any other dates of this month; you can call me an ignoramus. Anyhow, I am quite certain that exploring the Hindu calendar can be quite fun. Each month and even day has a lot of significance attached to it and the more we know about them, the closer we will feel to our roots. So, enjoy the date with the dates!

References – ‘Myth = Mithya’ by Devdutt Pattanaik, Karna (Tamil Movie featuring N T Rama Rao as Lord Krishna) and Wikipedia

1 comment:

Sandip said...

kalnirnaya... :)