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Saptarishis and Astrology

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Dear All, On Saptrarshi, by VV Raman from: http://www.siddha.com.my/ubb/Forum3/HTML/000053-7.htmlLove and regards,Sreenadh==============================

Saptarishi (Saptarishayah)

Of the scores of rishis who grace the Hindu world, seven are preeminent.They are known as saptarishayah or saptarishi (seven rishis). We recall thatthe Greeks too had seven wise men (hoi hepta sophoi): Thales, Cleobulos,Bias, Pittacos, Solon, Periandros and Chilon. As in the Greek tradition, notall ancient works list the same names for the big seven. Thus, according tothe Satapatha Brahmana, the saptarishi were: Gautama, Bharadvaja,Vishvamitra, Jamadagni, Vasishtha, Kashyapa, and Atri. These rishis are theones who are said to have received the Vedas. According to the Mahabharata,the saptarishi were Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, andMarichi's son Kashyapa. The Vishnu Purana adds Daksha and Bhrigu to thelist. These original rishis are considered to be the progenitors ofhumankind: the prajapatis.

The saptarishi are regarded in many contexts not as ordinary humans, or asgods, but as cosmic principles. It is clear from their names that they aresymbols, rather than individuals. At the same time, they also have manypersonified aspects. We read about these in the epics and in the puranas.The transformation symbols, concepts, and truths about the human conditioninto tangible names, forms and persons is mythopoesy.

Consider Angiras Rishi. He is said to have arisen from Brahma's mouth. Hisname appears in the very first hymn of the Rig Veda in which Agni (as thehousehold priest and sacrificial god) is invoked. We read here that whateverblessing Agni bestows upon whosoever worships him materializes throughAngiras. The Anukkramani, which is a kind of index for the Vedas, ascribesscores of Vedic hymns to this rishiAngiras is a personification of Fire (Agni). In Vedic vision, Agni is notsimply a raging fire or the slender flame in a lamp. Rather, it stands forforce and strength, for energy and passion and life itself: indeed it is theroot of all that is dynamic and vivifying in the world. Agni is eternalwhile the heat and light of even the sun and the stars will fade away someday. It also stands for esoteric knowledge, for the hidden wisdom behind thepassing panorama of things. In the Yajur Veda, we encounter again and againthe phrase, "I take thee, in the manner of Angiras." Angiras is alsoregarded as one of the rishis to whom the Atharva Veda was revealed.

The lore ascribes to Angiras two principal wives, and several others.Angiras is said to have had four sons and four daughters. The names of hiswives are symbolic too. Thus, his two principal wives are known as Shraddha(Devotion) and Smriti (Tradition). Perhaps it is suggested through thesenames that in the ritual mode, tradition and devotion go hand in hand withthe sacrificial fire.

Ursa Major (the Great Bear) is perhaps the best known constellation in the(northern hemisphere) sky. Every ancient culture has a mythology about it.In Hindu mythology, the seven stars of Ursa Major are the celestial presenceof the saptarishi. That is to say, the seven great rishis were transformedinto the stars of that constellation in the heavens. This translation ofthe saptarishi into the firmament was the basis for a chronological systemthat prevailed for long in some parts of northern India. It arose from theidea that an important astronomical event occurred in 3076 B.C.E. and thatthe constellation of Ursa Major moves around each of the 27 nakshatras(lunar asterisms) once every hundred years. This led to a 2700 year cyclewhich was taken as a theoretical unit of time in the saptarishi chronology.

We may note a peculiar circumstance of sounds and words that probably gaverise to the name of Ursa Major (Great Bear) in the Western world, or perhapsto the stellar saptarishi in the Hindu world. A Sanskrit word for star isriksha (neuter noun). But riksha (masculine noun) also means a bear. It isquite possible that in India the word sapta riksha (seven stars) becamesaptarishi. On the other hand riksha was probably translated as ursa (bear)into the Greco-Latin languages. This is not the only instance of wordconfusion leading to conceptual changes.

In the jargon of modern astronomy, the association of the seven visiblestars of Ursa Major to the saptarishi is as follows: Alpha Ursa Majoris:Kratu; Beta Ursa Majoris: Pulaha; Gamma Ursa Majoris: Pulastya; Delta UrsaMajoris: Atri; Epsilon Ursa Majoris: Angiras; Zeta Ursa Majoris: Vasishtha;Ita Ursa Majoris: Marichi.The spouses of the rishis have also found places in the sky as stars inconstellations. Thus, for example, the star Alcyon in the constellationPleiades (sometimes, Alcor, the companion star of Zeta Ursa Major:Vasishtha) is identified as Arundhati, Vasishtha's wife. As part of themarriage ritual, the bridegroom points this star to his bride to remind herof Arundhati's devotedness to her husband. Some say that this is a vestigeof the practice in olden times by which the groom would slowly gain intimacywith his bride by showing her a faint star at night, getting graduallycloser to her.

V. V. RamanSeptember 16, 2005


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