Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Navagrahas.



The belief on the influence of planets on human affairs is age old. The famous statement of Calpurnia, wife of Julius Ceasar, “ When beggars die, there are no comets seen”, establishes the fact such a belief did exist in ancient Rome, three hundred years before the birth of Christ. The sighting of a star at Bethlehem by the three wise men of the East, heralded the arrival of Jesus. Hindu mythology is rich with several spicy anecdotes on planetary effects over human beings. Ramayana contains a very interesting story linked with the birth of Indrajit, son of Ravana, the mighty Emperor of Lanka, who had subjugated all the deities including the planets. Having full control over the planets, Ravana, in consultation with his palace astrologers had positioned each of the planet in such a way that the boy born at that moment will be invincible. But at the exact moment of the birth , Saturn played a mischief , making the entire calculation go hey wire and consequently, Indrajit met with premature death.

A distinguishing feature of the planetary position is that it keeps changing every second. All the planets revolve around the Sun ,the mightiest of the planets. While Earth, even rotating on its own axle all the time, takes one year to circumvent the Sun , Moon which is the fastest planet circumvents the earth in 27 days and 8 hours. All the other planets revolve around the Sun’s orbit. The Mars does it in 684 days, Mercury takes 88 days, Jupiter 154 days and Venus 225 days . Saturn which is the slowest takes 19 ½ years to complete one circumvention of the orbit. Both Rahu and Kethu the last two planets, travel in the opposite direction.. With different speeds in circumventing the Sun, which itself is on the move all the time, there is nothing like a fixed planetary situation and it is a second to second combination with the attendant consequences- good or bad. Little wonder that even twins born in split seconds often face different experiences in life.

It is amazing that over the centuries this belief in the power of the planets, stars and zodiacs has not witnessed any erosion. On the other hand , not withstanding rationalists and atheists , faith and dependence on them has only increased.

It is in this background that the nine temples in the Cauveri belt within a radius of 100 kms around Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu (covering Kumbakonam and Myladuthurai )dedicated to each of the nine planets assume significance.. In line with the ancient belief that the planets are lesser deities and do not merit an independent status, all the nine temples are annexed to a Shiva temple, with the presiding deity of each temple bearing a different synonym .Attached to the abode of every planet are also a few holy tanks with water of curative powers proved down the centuries.

Planet town Planet Shiva Temple Nearest town (distance in kms)

Suryanarkovil Sun Kashi Viswanathar Kumbakonam (15)

Thingaloor Moon Kailashnath Thanjavur (14)

Vaitheeswarankovil Mars Vaitheeswaran Mayiladuthurai (16)

Tiruvenkadu Mercury Swetharanya Mayiladuthurai (25)

Alangudi Jupiter Apatsahayar Kumbakonam (20)

Kanjanoor Venus Agnipureeswarar Kumbakonam (18)

Thirunallar Saturn Darbharanyeswarar Mayiladuthurai (30)

Thirunageswaram Rahu Naganathaswamy Kumbakonam(7)

Keezhaperampallam Kethu Naganathaswamy Mayiladuthurai (25)

These temples are indeed unique as no such conglomeration of the temples dedicated to the planets exist anywhere in India or perhaps in the whole world. These are the immortal contribution of the Chola dynasty which ruled the undivided Tanjore State from 8th to 12th century A.D. It is believed that the very positioning of the temples dedicated to the planets in the various strategic locations has been done with such astronomical calculations and precision that the combined effect would ensure peace, prosperity and all round progress of this fertile riparian land in the Cauveri route for centuries to come. Experience bears testimony to this belief.

This delta has an unparalleled history of cultural and spiritual excellence, not to speak of its material richness. It has produced great saints like Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnana Sambandhar, Manikyavachakar and the 12 Alwars, the immortal Trinity in music- Thiagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshithar and Shyama Sastri, and several literary luminaries and poets par excellence . Driven by ecstasy, great devotees like Appothi Adigal, Sekkizhar, Arunagiri and many others have composed and sung several hymns in praise of the planets . Pregnant with meaning and piety these hymns have assumed eternal value over the years elevating the spiritual level of the community.

What is generally known as Sthalapurana, each of the temple carries with it a legend of its origin with supportive and descriptive miracles. Also, the stories on the genesis of each planet cover a wide range - from incurable disease to adultery and deceit to which even deities became susceptible like mortals. Of the nine planets, seven represent the seven days of the week , while Rahu and Kethu have only a secondary ranking- often referred to by astrologers as “Neecha”or “paapa” grahas .They have their presence for a select duration of 1 ½ hours known as Rahukalam and Gulika kalam every day with a total weekly presence of 10 ½ hours each . These are considered as the very inauspicious periods of the day . Since Sun occupies the prime position, the week starts with Him followed by the other six planets .

Markandaya Purana describes that when the world was first created, the sound “OM” resonated the whole earth and the bright Sun appeared. (“Let there be light”: Bible.) He bestows on his devotees fame, good health, governing capacity and popularity. While recitation of Gayathree is associated with Sun, ”Aditya Hrudayam” is another popular Mantra recited by devotees, as Sri Ram overcame his obstacles for his final onslaught of Ravana with this Mantra administered to him by Rishi Agasthya. Accompanied by his consorts Samjna and Chhaya, the idol of Sun (Surya)on Suryanar temple faces the West and outside the sanctum sanctorum all the other planets stand in attention, disarmed .

The temple of the Moon(Chandra) is located at Thingaloor . Moon came to being during the churning of the Ocean of Milk along with other celestials like Kamadhenu, Airawatha, and Goddess Lakshmy .Reportedly a manifestation from the heart of Vishnu, the Purusha Sooktha describes his origin as “Chandrama manaso jaathah” Drawing light from the Sun, basically Moon is benevolent, soft and fair.” Legend has it that Thirunavakarasar the great saint restored life to a boy who died of snake bite by singing the famous hymn ”Ondru Kolam” before the deity in this temple. Even to this date thereafter there has been no death of snake bite in this area..

Mars (Angaraka) is at Vaitheeswarankovil close to Mayilanduthurai. The birth of Angaraka also referred to as Kuja or Mangal is traced to a drop of sweat which fell from the forehead of Lord Shiva during one of his moments of trance.Kuja is a very large hearted, warm planet with a positive disposition and quick response to prayers. Since his origin is traced to Shiva, he is considered the elder brother of Ganesha and Karthikeya.. The Lord Shiva (Vaitheeswaran) in this temple is a Divine Healer for chronic ailments.

A progeny of Moon through Thara, wife of his preceptor Brihaspathi under questionable circumstances, Budha(Mercury) is an acknowledged scholar and the planet of learning. Accompanied by his consort meaningfully christened as Brahmavidyaambika (Goddess of wisdom).this planet is located at Thiruvengadu near Mayiladuthurai. Airawatha the illustrious white elephant offered him worship here and so the place is also known as Swetharanya. This place is also revered as Adi Chidambaram, because Lord Nataraja performed His first dance rehearsal called Chandrachoodamani in this spot before the august assembly of the great nine sages, long before He performed in Chidambaram.

The temple of Jupiter (Guru) is located in Alangudi, a small hamlet , about 20 kms south of Kumbakonam. The temple for Lord Shiva here is to commemorate and thank Him for His timely help to the Devas by drinking the poison vomited by Vasuki during the churning of the Ocean. (In Tamil, Alam means poison and Kudi (gudi) means drink.) The idol of Gurumurthy, strangely enough faces the South and so is also known as Dakshinamurthy.. Transition of Guru from one zodiac to another marks beneficial effects like success in marriage, employment and so on. Like Thingalur this village is also immune to snake poison. Another very interesting aspect of Guru is that every Navagraha temple houses a niche for Dakshinamoorthy (also known as Brihaspathi) on the southern corridor facing South! He is the only one planet worshipped by Devas as he is their Guru. Among the nine planets Guru is considered the prime benevolent one.

Kanjanoor where the planet Venus (Shukra) is present is on the banks of river Cauveri.Shukra is the preceptor of Asuras and is a master of state craft and diplomacy credited with a publication known as Shukraneethi. He is one eyed and exclusively possesses a special power to bring the dead back to life.Apart from bestowing health and happiness, Shukra’s blessings are always sought for wealth and prosperity. Unlike other planets, there is no separate sanctum for Shukra in Kanjanoor and the planet is deemed merged within the idol of Shiva bearing the appellation Agnipureswarar.

Saturn (Shani), one of the most troublesome planets has a temple in Tirunallar, in Pondicherry state. An offspring of Sun and Chhaya, Shani is the most dreaded of all planets often compared to Satan of Holy Bible and Koran . Hindu mythology is filled with horror stories of how Shani could reduce Emperors from riches to rags and the trauma experienced by them- loss of kingdom, separation from wife and children, loss of complexion and even identity - particularly during the notorious 7 ½ years of his presence in the individual’s zodiac, every 30 years. The pathetic stories of Nala and Damayanthi, King Harischandra are all linked with this planet. The temple derives its name from Nala who came out of his turbulent Saturn period by worshipping him and taking a dip in a nearby sacred pond here. Unfortunately his aspects of magnificence are eclipsed by sheer bias. In the normal life span of a person, the Saturn period of 7 ½ years happens thrice- while in the first one the person undergoes miseries, the second one takes him high to comforts and if he lives for a third one he achieves heights of glory and happiness. In fact there is an adage which says :

“No one gives as much as Shani

and no one causes ruins as much as Shani”

Supposedly with a lame foot, Shani moves very slowly and it takes 2 ½ years for his transition from one Zodiac to another. On this significant day lakhs of pilgrims gather at Tirunallar temple seeking his blessings.

Rahu and Kethu are only shadow planets, making their presence felt everyday for 1 ½ hours - considered inauspicious. Rahu has the head of a man but the body of a serpent, while Kethu has the head of a serpent and the body of a human being. Their origin is traced to a deceit played by one demon (Asura) who managed to consume the nectar stealthily by faking himself as a deva and so became immortal. Sun and Moon who discovered the fake reported it to Vishnu who beheaded him. However, as the demon had already consumed nectar he would not die and Vishnu to his astonishment found life in the severed body . He then fixed the head to a dead serpent lying nearby who became Rahu; his torso was then attached to the head of the serpent who became Kethu.. The former is located at Thirunageswaram in the heart of Kumbakonam. Rahu gets pleased with worship during the Rahukalam and devotees throng in the temple during this short period (otherwise considered inauspicious), every day. The temple of Kethu, the other shadow planet is at Keezhaperumpallam which is hardly three kms from the temple of Budha.



(The author was in the Indian Economic Service and later Director, Garware Polyester,Mumbai) .



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