Monday, April 14, 2008

Vishu and the Solar Tradition in Indian Astrology

Vishu, a time of celebrations, dates back to the Gupta period in Indian history.

A FRIEND, John Samuel, wrote to me from Thailand that on the day of equinox, when the sun starts moving north, the Thai people celebrate their new year Sonkran, just like we Malayalees celebrate Vishu. They too have kanikkonna during this season, and kaineettam, with exchange of gifts among the near and dear.

In Assam, they have Bihu, the New Year day on the day of equinox, and in Bengal they have Baisakhi. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, we have similar celebrations on the day of Vishu, or the day of utharayanam, when day and night are equal, a universal New Year day and a day of celebrations.

Vishu marks the day of medasankranthi, or the day sun enters the medam rasi from the meenam rasi. In the solar calendar, this is the point of New Year and hence it is the auspicious occasion for starting agricultural operations, beginning of the sowing season, settling accounts and paying the taxes to rulers.

It appears that the solar calendar became very popular in India during the Gupta period, mainly from the time of Aryabhata, in the third or fourth century AD. It was Aryabhata who calculated the year according to the solar movements and his Aryabhateeyam is the most important astrological work of this period. Later on Bhaskaracharya wrote two books known as seminal works in Indian astrology.

In Kerala, it was Sankaranarayanan, the court astrologer of the second C’era ruler Sthanu Ravi, who gave the greatest contribution to the science of astrology. His guide to the ancient Indian texts on astrology, called Laghu Bhaskareeya Vyakhya, was written in 869 AD, completed on the 25th year of Sthanu Ravi’s rule, as mentioned in a conversation between the ruler and courtier referred to in the books. Historian Dr MGS Narayanan points out that it was Elamkulam Kunhan Pillai, eminent historian, who came to the conclusion that Sthanu Ravi’s rule started in 844 AD based on this reference in the book.

Sthanu Ravi was a ruler who held control over most of Kerala from his capital near the modern-day Kodungallur. It was evident that his court was a centre of great knowledge and scientific pursuits as it was this deep south kingdom which continued to the great Gupta tradition, at a time when their rule had been eclipsed in the north.

There is reference to the Vishu day's unique solar position, even in Mahabharata. Bheeshma, who can fix his own time of death, waits in his bed of arrows for the day of utharayanam, an auspicious time to die. There is a similar reference to the equinoctical change in Viushu Puranam too, a text that could belong to the Gupta period, say historians.

Later, this tradition and pursuit of knowledge spread far and wide, as Jains and Buddhists travelled to various parts of South and South East Asia, taking the solar calendar the culture of Vishu even to distant lands like Thailand.

1 comment:

shripad nadkarni said...


truly India symbolizes unity in on i found interesting astrological gift ideas.