Astrology, Vedic Astrology

The Legend Of The Southern Cross Early Writings on the Nakṣatras from the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna Translated with Commentaries By Kenneth Johnson, USA

Introduction

This article was the product of a happy synchronicity. I had acquired an interest in accessing previously untranslated Sanskrit astrological texts and was busily engaged in that task with a number of friends from the academic community. At the same time, I began my own M.A. program in Eastern Studies, part of which required me to undertake at least a small amount of translation work from the original Sanskrit. Fortunately, my academic advisor, though a strict Western academic, had no prejudice against astrology. When I asked him if I could undertake translations in that field, he simply shrugged and said, “Why not? In ancient India it was a perfectly legitimate śastra.” This article was the result. I have only one technical

note here: Those who are familiar with Sanskrit will note that not all the names of the nakṣatras are declined with feminine endings. Some are in the masculine or neuter. These inconsistencies seem to be a feature of ancient texts, including Atharva Veda 19.7. I have retained the original forms, rather than attempting to modernize them – KJ

The Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna is a Buddhist text dating, probably, from the first century C.E. Widely popular, it was twice translated into Chinese and once into Tibetan, becoming a standard work for Buddhist astronomy and astrology in general.

Despite its Buddhist origins, the astronomy and astrology contained within the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna is characteristic of Hindu Jyotiṣ as practiced throughout India. While the love story that prefaces the work as well as the debate about caste which follows are indeed of Buddhist origin, the astrological portion of the text contains no references to Buddhism, but many references to the caste system, Vedic rituals, etc. Part of the text’s significance lies in the fact that its contents are similar to those of the legendary Garga Saṃhitā, an enormously important astronomical text, also from the 1st century CE, which was believed to contain all indigenous Indian astronomical knowledge. Many people, even Sanskrit pundits, have told me emphatically that this work no longer exists; but this is not quite true. In the late 1970s, Dr. David Pingree, Professor of the History of Mathematics at Brown University, located three fragmentary manuscripts in Cambridge, Paris, and Bombay. They were, however, in such poor condition as to be beyond even Pingree’s considerable powers of reconstruction. The material contained in the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna is as close as we are ever likely to get to the contents of the Garga Saṃhitā, and represents an extremely clear picture of what astronomy/astrology was like in India during the first Christian century.

The Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna deals with two lovers, of different castes, who have come together again after many incarnations, but must overcome limitations of caste in order to reunite. The fathers of the two principals, a Brahmin and a learned outcaste named Triśanku, debate about reality, and it is within the frame of this debate that the astrological material is included.

Why should a “learned outcaste” lecture specifically about astronomy and astrology? In Hindu myth, Triśanku is a sage who strove to enter Heaven while still in his mortal body. The Gods tossed him out, and he remained suspended forever in the sky as the constellation we call the Southern Cross. Important stars and constellations are often said to be the souls of great Rishis, as for example the Big Dipper, commonly called the Seven Rishis, or the bright star Canopus, associated with the sage Agastya. In the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna, the sage of the Southern Cross has incarnated once again as the outcaste father of the young lover.

The love story was the subject of a dance drama written by India’s Nobel prize-winning laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. The astrological portions of the text have never been previously translated. The edition of the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna used here is the critical edition edited by S. Mukhopadhyaya and published by Viśvabharati in 1954. For the basic translation I have used Apte’s Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, with much thanks to Nicolai Bachman for his assistance and with emendations from Apte’s larger Practical Dictionary courtesy of Dr. Bruce Perry, Professor of Sanskrit, St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Characteristics Of The Work

In this work, all the lists begin with the nakṣatra Kṛttikā, the constellation known in the West as the Pleiades. This demonstrates the archaic, even atavistic, nature of the text. All the most ancient lists (including Atharva Veda 19.7) begin in this fashion; inasmuch as the Hindu New Year has always begun at the spring equinox, many scholars have believed that the nakṣatras must have originated at a time when the equinox took place in the Pleiades, an era which began around 2,400 BCE during the Harappan period. Despite the fact that the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna was written while the equinox was in Bharaṇī, none of the lists were ever altered to fit the actual astronomical situation. It is only after about 300 C.E. that we find nakṣatra lists beginning with Aśvinī, marking the beginning of Aries.

Also, in Hindu myth the nakṣatras are the daughters of Dakṣa Prajāpati and consequently they are all written as feminine nouns today, though in this text some of them (Mṛgaśira, Punarvasu, Puṣya, Hasta, Mūla, Abhijit, and Ṥravaṇa) have masculine or neuter endings.

The work usually lists twenty-eight nakṣatras rather than twenty-seven, for it usually (though not always) includes Abhijit, which is something of a mystery. Abhijit is included in all the earliest lists of the nakṣatras (including Atharva Veda 19.7); in the beginning, there were clearly twenty-eight lunar mansions rather than the current twenty-seven. Abhijit’s importance to the early nakṣatra tradition is critical. In the Mahābhārata, the great king and exemplar of the dharma, Yudhiṣṭhira, is born in the muhūrta or hour of Abhijit. Why was Abhijit left out of the later nakṣatra count? No one really knows. Mahābhārata 3.37.219.7-10 reads: “The Goddess Abhijit, the younger sister of Rohiṇī and her rival, has gone to the forest to mortify herself, for she wishes to be the eldest…. Now a constellation has dropped from heaven.” Abhijit is the star Vega, hence nowhere near the ecliptic and not on the path of the planets and the luminaries.

The Legend of the Southern Cross

The first chapter in the astrological portion of the work is a brief passage on natal astrology, simply called “Birth in the Nakṣatras.”

Birth in the Nakṣatras

One born in the Kṛttikās becomes honored and famous. One born in Rohiṇī becomes very fortunate, also a giver of pleasure. One born in Mṛgaśira becomes a seeker of battles. One born in Ārdrā becomes a fountainhead of food and drink.[1] One born in Punarvasu becomes a farmer and a cowherd. One born in Puṣya becomes possessed of good qualities.[2] One born in Aśleṣā becomes lustful. One born in Maghā becomes full of knowledge, also magnanimous.[3] One born in Pūrvaphalgunī becomes diminished in life-span. One born in Uttaraphalgunī becomes accustomed to fasting and is intent upon heaven.[4] One born in Hasta becomes a thief. One born in Citrā becomes skilled in dancing and singing and knows all the rules of ornamentation. One born in Svātī becomes a mathematician, or the best among mathematicians.[5] One born in Viśākhā becomes a soldier of the king. One born in Anurādhā becomes a merchant, also a trader. One born in Jyeṣṭhā becomes diminished in life-span and in abundance.

One born in Mūla becomes possessed of sons, also famous. One born in Pūrvāṣāḍhā becomes a practitioner of yoga. One born in Uttarāṣāḍhā becomes a lord among devotees, also well-born. One born in Abhijit becomes a famous man. One born in Ṥravaṇa becomes honored by kings. One born in Dhaniṣṭhā becomes wealthy. One born in Ṥatabhiṣā becomes an ascetic.[6] One born in Pūrvabhādrapadā becomes the general of an army of thieves. One born in Uttarabhādrapadā becomes a seller of perfumes, also a gandharva.[7] One born in Revatī becomes a navigator.[8] One born in Aśvinī becomes a seller of horses. One born in Bharaṇī becomes a victim-slayer.[9]

Commentary: One thing we may immediately notice is that The Legend of the Southern Cross actually provides us with information as to the spiritual path associated with some of the lunar mansions – something we don’t often get from the well-known chapter on birth nakṣatras written by Varaha Mihira, who is concerned almost entirely with one’s fate in worldly life. We are told that one born in Pūrvāṣāḍhā becomes a “practitioner of yoga,” while one born under Uttarāṣāḍhā becomes a “lord among devotees” – and the actual Sanskrit word here is bhakti, the word still used for one who takes a devotional path based upon love and worship. Natives of Uttaraphalgunī are said to have an affinity for paths which include fasting, and when it says that they are “intent upon heaven,” they are called svargaparāyaṇa, a term which implies deep and constant meditation until the world is transcended. In similar fashion, natives of Ṥatabhiṣā are more than merely “ascetics” – they are mūlika, which specifically refers to an ascetic whose path consists of living entirely on roots (mūla). In light of this nakṣatra’s traditional association with Ayurveda and natural healing, this is a significant detail indeed.

It is possible that there is even more material on one’s spiritual path implied in the text than is shown in the translation. For Puṣya, by way of example, the actual descriptive term is ṣīlavān. While I have translated this in its most common meaning as “one possessed of good qualities,” it can also mean “one who practices meditation.” There may even be a reference to astrologers here! When the text says that those born under Svāti become “mathematicians,” the word is gaṇaka, which can also mean “astrologer.”  I have chosen not to translate it as such, simply because jyotiṣi is almost always used for “astrologer,” whereas gaṇaka more commonly refers to a mathematician. But then again, one never knows….

Chapters 3 and 5 are closely linked with each other, being entitled “Regions and Places” (Chapter 3) and “Eclipses” (Chapter 5). Both chapters link various regions in India with various nakṣatras. I have attempted to identify these ancient sites in the footnotes, although I have not had an opportunity to compare the list of regions from the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna with the one given in Varāhamihira’s Bṛhat Saṁhita. Such a comparison might be useful.

Regions

O, Puṣkarasārin!  Kṛttikā nakṣatra is possessed by the people of Kaliṅga[10] and Magadha.[11] Rohiṇī is possessed by all of humankind. Mṛgaśirā is possessed by those of Videha[12] and those who serve near the king. Thus Ārdrā is possessed by kṣatriyas and brahmins. Punarvasu is possessed by those with emeralds. Puṣya nakṣatra is possessed by all those dressed in beautiful clothing[13] and those who serve at the feet of the king. Aśleṣā is possessed by the Nāgas and the Himalayas.[14] Maghā nakṣatra is possessed by the Gauḍikans.[15] Pūrvaphalgunī is possessed by thieves. Uttaraphalgunī is possessed by the people of Avanti.[16] Hastā is possessed by the Saurāṣtrikans.[17] Citrā is possessed by birds with two feet. Svātī is possessed by those who have roamed about like mendicants. Viśākhā is possessed by the watery ones. Anurādhā is possessed by merchants and their carts. Jyeṣṭhā is possessed by doorkeepers. Mūlā is possessed by travelers. Pūrvāṣāḍhā is possessed by Balkh and Uttarāṣāḍhā is possessed by Kamboja.[18] Abhijit is possessed by all those who travel to the south and by those of Tāmraparṇika.[19] Ṥravaṇā is possessed by killers and thieves. Dhaniṣṭhā is possessed by Kuru of the Pānchālas.[20] Ṥatabhiṣā is possessed by ascetics and by those who have encompassed the Atharva Veda. Pūrvabhādrapadā is possessed by perfume sellers and those of Greek Kamboja.[21] Uttarabhādrapadā is possessed by gandharvas. Revatī is possessed by navigators. Aśvinī is possessed by horse merchants.  Bharaṇī is possessed by those made with beautiful feet and beautiful bodies.

Eclipses

O, Puṣkarasārin!  If a lunar eclipse occurs in Kṛttikā, the eclipse is possessed by the people of Kaliṅga and Magadha.[22] If a lunar eclipse occurs in Rohiṇī, the eclipse is possessed by all of humankind. If a lunar eclipse occurs in Mṛgaśirā, the eclipse is possessed by the people of Videha and those who serve near the king. Thus should it be said[23] as regards Ārdrā, Punarvasu, and Puṣya. If a lunar eclipse occurs in Aśleṣā, the eclipse is possessed by the Nāgas and the Himalayas. If a lunar eclipse occurs in Maghā, the eclipse is possessed by the Gauḍikans. If the Moon is grasped in Pūrvaphalgunī, the eclipse is possessed by thieves. If the Moon is grasped in Uttaraphalgunī, the eclipse is possessed by the people of Avanti. If the Moon is grasped in Hastā, the eclipse is possessed by the Saurāṣtrikans. If the Moon is grasped in Citrā, the eclipse is possessed by birds and by the two-leggeds. If the Moon is grasped in Svātī, the eclipse is possessed by all those who have roamed about like mendicants. If the Moon is grasped in Viśākhā, the eclipse is possessed by the watery ones. If the Moon is grasped in Anurādhā, the eclipse is possessed by merchants and their carts. If the Moon is grasped in Jyeṣṭhā, the eclipse is possessed by doorkeepers. If the Moon is grasped in Mūlā, the eclipse is possessed by travelers. If the Moon is grasped in Pūrvāṣāḍhā, the eclipse is possessed by the people of Avanti.[24] If the Moon is grasped in Uttarāṣāḍhā, the eclipse is possessed by Kamboja. If the Moon is grasped in Abhijit, the eclipse is possessed by all those who travel to the south and by those of Tāmraparṇika. If the Moon is grasped in Ṥravaṇā, the eclipse is possessed by thieves and killers. If the Moon is grasped in Dhaniṣṭhā, the eclipse is possessed by Kuru of the Pānchālas. If the Moon is grasped in Ṥatabhiṣā, the eclipse is possessed by ascetics and by those who have encompassed the Atharva Veda. If the Moon is grasped in Pūrvabhādrapadā, the eclipse is possessed by perfume sellers and those of Greek Kamboja. If the Moon is grasped in Uttarabhādrapadā, the eclipse is possessed by gandharvas. If the Moon is grasped in Revatī, the eclipse is possessed by navigators. If the Moon is grasped in Aśvinī, the eclipse is possessed by horse merchants.  If the Moon is grasped in Bharaṇī, the eclipse is possessed by those upon the seacoasts.[25]

Commentary: Another “list” appears later in the text, detailing how many days a patient might expect to be ill if she or he falls sick while the Moon is in a particular nakṣatra. This gives us a sense of which nakṣatras were considered to be more auspicious than others: one recovers from illness more swiftly under the influence of a friendlier nakṣatra. Another example of this sort of writing is Chapter 11, which tells us how long a political prisoner may expect to remain incarcerated if they were locked up under the influence of a particular nakṣatra.

The Binding and Liberation of Prisoners

Puṣkarasārin!  One who is bound and obstructed in the Kṛttikās will be liberated after three nights, as it is said. One who is bound and obstructed in Rohiṇī will be liberated after three nights. One who is bound and obstructed in Mṛgaśira will be liberated after twenty-one nights. One who is bound and obstructed in Ārdrā will be liberated after a fortnight. One who is bound and obstructed in Punarvasu will be liberated after seven nights. In Puṣya, after three nights. In Aśleṣā, after thirty nights. In Maghā, after sixteen nights. In Pūrvaphalgunī, after ten nights. In Uttaraphalgunī, after seven nights. In Hasta, after five nights. In Citrā, after seven nights. In Svātī, after ten nights. In Viśākhā, after twenty-six nights. In Anurādhā, after thirty-one nights. In Jyeṣṭhā, after eighteen nights. In Mūla, after thirty-six nights. In Pūrvāṣāḍhā, after fourteen nights . In Uttarāṣāḍhā, after fourteen nights. In Abhijit, after six nights. In Ṥravaṇa, Dhaniṣṭhā, Ṥatabhiṣā, Pūrvabhādrapadā, Uttarabhādrapadā, and Revatī, after fourteen nights. In Aśvinī, after three nights. One who is bound and obstructed in Bharaṇī will obtain much suffering, as it is said.

Commentary: Sometimes the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna gives us information which is altogether new, different, and unexpected. For example, many are familiar with the categories of the nakṣatras used in muhūrta or electional astrology as described by Varaha Mihira.

Categories of Muhūrtas

O, Puṣkarasārin! There are four dhrūva[26] nakṣatras, as I shall explain. Hear me. Namely: They are the three Uttaras and Rohiṇī.[27] Here may one dwell high in happiness. And here should people plant seeds. And here may any fitting thing be entered into. And here one should anoint a king. And whatever other actions are mentioned, one may cause those to be done.

Whatever is destroyed, burned, even pierced or removed

Will swiftly be made auspicious.

One born here is blessed, learned and famous;

He will become auspicious, of great enjoyment and a great yogi.

O, Puṣkarasārin! There are four swift nakṣatras. Namely: Puṣya, Hasta, Abhijit, and Aśvinī.[28] During these swift ones, the expert may cause actions to be done. Studying, the commencement of mantras, the beginning of a long journey and going about on horses may all be done.  Yoking cows and horses, actions involving herbs,[29] and all healing regimens may all be done.

And during these four may rites be made to commence. And whatever is destroyed or burned or pierced will be made auspicious. Thus it ought to be said.

One ought to know that one who is born here is auspicious and famous,

Great in enjoyment, a great yogin and a lord,

Greatly wealthy, great in enjoyment, and of the highest greatness,

A benevolent kṣatriya and a Brahmin who is a family priest.

Ah, but Puṣkarasārin! There are five dreadful nakṣatras. Namely:

Maghā, the three Pūrvas, and Bharaṇī are the five.

And whatever is destroyed or burned or pierced during these will not be made auspicious.

It should be said: There are six that are half-dark. Namely: They are Ārdrā, Aśleṣā, Svātī, Jyeṣṭā, Ṥatabhiṣa and Bharaṇī. The nine-portion and the six-portion are two fields. Rohiṇī, Punarvasu, and Viśākhā, and the three Uttaras are of both portions. There are fifteen fields. Kṛttikā, Maghā, Mūlā, and the three Pūrvas: these six are the former parts. Mṛgaśirā, Puṣyā, Hastā, Citrā, Anuradhā, Ṥravaṇā, Dhaniṣṭā, Revatī, and Aśvinī: these nine nakṣatras are the latter parts, and these fields are linked by thirty muhūrtas.

O Brahmin, there are also favorable muhūrtas and there are unfavorable muhūrtas. There are mixed muhūrtas. When the combination among all these nakṣatras is favorable, the result is that there are favorable muhūrtas. When unfavorable muhūrtas are the result, they are not favorable. When once again there are mixed outcomes, there are ordinary results.

Commentary: It will quickly be seen that these nakṣatra categories are quite different than any other known system, and constitute a whole different way of classifying the lunar mansions. The system can easily be tabulated as follows:

 

HALF-DARK
Ārdrā, Āṣleṣā, Svāti, Jyeṣṭhā, Ṥatabhiṣā, Bharaṇī
EARLY FIELD OF ACTION MIXED FIELD OF ACTION LATER FIELD OF ACTION
Kṛttikā

Maghā

Pūrvaphalgunī

Mūla

Pūrvāṣāḍhā

Pūrvabhādrapadā

Rohiṅī

Punarvasu

Uttaraphalgunī

Viśākhā

Uttarāṣāḍhā

Uttarabhādrapadā

Mṛgaśira

Puṣya

Hasta

Citrā

Anurādhā

Ṥravaṇa

Dhaniṣṭhā

Revatī

Aśvinī

Anyone relatively familiar with the nakṣatras will see that this method of classification, though ancient, is also inherently psychological. The “half-dark” nakṣatras are the ones which tend to be more troublesome, while the “Early Field” includes those which tend to be morally ambivalent. The “Mixed Field” leans more towards those nakṣatra which are typically considered positive, and the “Later Field” is almost wholly so.

There are some unexpected judgments here as well. Why, for instance, should Svāti and Ṥatabhiṣā be included among the more difficult lunar mansions? Our current psychological interpretations might acknowledge a certain pridefulness or arrogance in Svāti and a certain melancholy or even morbidity in Ṥatabhiṣā, but we would still expect to find them among the “Early Field” of nakṣatras or even the “Mixed.” And what is Rohiṅī, acclaimed throughout almost all early texts as the “queen of the nakṣatras,” doing in the “Mixed Field”? All of this deserves further contemplation and study.

Though we, as practitioners of Jyoti, are privileged to have many of our classic works at our disposal, we have scarcely even begun to scratch the surface of the wealth and diversity that makes up our art – much of which remains yet unknown to us. When students of ancient astrology approached the late Dr. David Pingree, professor of the history of mathematics at Brown University, he would typically tell them: “If you want to re-create ancient astrology, turn to India rather than Greece. There are literally millions of unknown texts there, still waiting to be discovered.

Millions? That might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but it may be quite accurate. In addition to university collections of manuscripts, there are extensive private libraries which go back for generations. Some of these archival treasures are well cared for and preserved; others are subject to the ravages of monsoons and white ants. Our heritage is almost incalculably vast, and portions of it are disappearing every day. With a little bit of care, concern, and hard work, we may yet rescue some of the unknown treasures which Jyotiṣ still holds waiting for us.

[1] Here we see the author indulging in what I believe to be a kind of word play. I have translated the term utsa as “fountainhead,” even though this seems a strange word choice to describe one who bestows a great deal of food and drink all around.  However, it should be remembered that the adjective ārdra means “wet” or “moist,” so a kind of pun may be intended. And though I have chosen to translate pānāna simply as “drink,” it often has the connotation of liquor, an alcoholic drink. This also fits with the typical perception of Ārdrā as a fierce or unruly constellation, governed by Rudra, the destructive aspect of Ṥiva.

[2] The actual term is ṣīlavān. I have translated this as one who is “possessed of good qualities,” though another possibility would be “one who practices meditation.” I toyed with this idea, especially since the love story that makes up the early part of the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna often uses the term, “a member of the Buddha’s ṣīla” in precisely that sense. However, the word is also used simply to mean something which is a habit, or to which one has become accustomed. There is no reason to believe that the same author who wrote the love story also wrote this nakṣatra text; therefore I have chosen to err on the side of conservatism.

3] This is a glowing prediction indeed!  Here we might wish to remember that Maghā is the first magnitude star Regulus, a cornerstone of celestial mythology all over the world. This constellation is ruled by the pitaraḥ or ancestors. Coming, as it does, close to the summer solstice and thus serving as a marker for the ayana or half year, Maghā is often said to begin the ayana which is ruled by the spirits of the ancestors, as opposed to the other half year, from the winter solstice back to Maghā, which is ruled by the gods.

[4] The word for “intent upon heaven,” is svargaparāyaṇa,  a term which implies deep and constant meditation until the world is transcended.

[5] There may be a reference to astrologers here. When the text says that those born under Svātī become “mathematicians,” the word is gaṇika, which can also mean “astrologer.”  All the same, I have never seen the word ganika used to describe an astrologer elsewhere – jyotiṣi is the term almost universally used. There is indeed a division of jyotiṣ described in some medieval texts which is called ganita, but the texts themselves imply that this relates solely to the mathematical calculations involved, and all of my contemporary teachers have agreed. Therefore I have translated ganika in its more common meaning.

[6] The word used here is mūlika. This is derived from mūla, meaning, among other things, a root. There is a form of asceticism called mūlakacchraḥ, which involves subsisting only on roots and herbs. A mūlika would appear to be the type of ascetic who follows this diet. This seems to be related to some of Ṥatabhiṣā’s most important associations. The name of the asterism means “one hundred doctors,” and it has always been regarded as the constellation of the healer, the Ayurvedic physician, the herbalist.

[7] This is probably the best example of word play in the text. I have chosen to leave the word gandharva untranslated. It refers to a category of semi-divine beings who amuse themselves playing celestial music and making love. In human terms, the word can also refer to a musician of great skill, which is certainly the meaning intended here. The root of the word is gandhaḥ, meaning an aroma or fragrance, and a “seller of perfumes” is gandhika, derived from the same root. Hence there is a kind of pun on the idea of aroma or fragrance. There may be a pun on eroticism as well; in folklore, the perfume seller is in a perfect position to carry messages and act as liaison between women and men intent upon romance; the gandharvas spend all their time making love.

[8] Revatī has always been the sign of the traveler, for it is ruled by the Vedic deity Pūṣan, a god of crossroads and a kind of psychopomp. All the same, it is surprising to find this expressed through the word nāvika, meaning “navigator.” References to sea-faring are few and far between in Indic literature; no matter how far they journeyed, Hindu navigators always stayed within sight of the shore and sailed by “coasting.” It may be significant that this text was written at about the same period of time that India was establishing its first “colonial” kingdoms in Burma, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

[9] I am not the least bit happy with this translation, but I don’t know what else to do with it. The compound noun is vadhyaghātaka. The word ghātaka means “slayer,” but vadhya is more difficult. It can mean one sentenced to execution, or enemy, or victim. However, the compounds formed from it relate primarily to execution: a vadhyapaḍhahaḥ is a drum beaten at the time of execution, while vadhyasthānaṃ is the place of execution and vadhyamālā is the garland placed around the neck of the condemned man. Perhaps “executioner” would be a better translation. The nakṣatra is ruled by Yama, the god of death, who was himself the first human sacrifice.

[10] Kaliṅga, though now identified as a region on the southeast coast of India (sometimes known as the Coromandel coast), was anciently a kingdom much farther north along the eastern coast, not far from present-day Calcutta.

[11] Magadha is the southeastern portion of the present-day state of Bihar, as well as the name of the principal city of the region.

[12] Videha was an ancient kingdom often mentioned in the Mahābhārata. It lay in present-day northern Bihar as well as in parts of Nepal.

[13] This might also mean “all those who dwell in beautiful houses.”

[14] The Nāgas were serpent beings, wise but treacherous; they frequently mated with human beings to produce unusual demi-gods. They live beneath the earth. The word haimavat can mean mountains generically as well as the Himalayas in particular; though I have translated the word literally, one should understand that the author may be using it in a general way to give the sense of “depths and heights” to the whole phrase.

[15] Gauḍa was a region of ancient India, but I have been unable to determine its precise location. A Puraṇic reference says: vaṃgadeśaṃ samārabhya bhuvaneśaṃtagaḥ śive | gauḍadeśaḥ samākhyātaḥ sarvavigcāviśāradaḥ ||

 [16] Avanti was an ancient name for the city now called Ujjain, a sacred city which is one of the sites of the Kumbha Mela and which contains the temple of Mahakala (“great time”). Ujjain was the prime meridian of ancient India, and an important center for astronomy and astrology. Apte’s dictionary remarks that the women of Avanti were regarded as highly skilled in all the erotic arts.

 [17] Saurāṣtra is the peninsular portion of the state of Gujarat, an important region all the way back to the days of the Harappan civilization, and, at the time of the composition of the Ṥārdūlakarṇāvadāna, an important trading entrepot with the Roman Empire.

[18] This is not Cambodia but a kingdom located in the northern reaches of the Indus, presumably in present-day Pakistan and close to modern Kashmir.

[19] This was the name of a river in Malaya, renowned for its pearls. Though “Kamboja” is not “Cambodia,” one wonders if “all those who travel to the south” may indeed refer to traders and colonists from India who were exploring and settling in Southeast Asia at the time this text was written.

[20] This is the famous battlefield of Kurukṣetra, where the mythic conflict that forms the centerpiece of the epic Mahābhārata was fought.

[21] There were two kingdoms called Kamboja, one of them a Greek-speaking state to the north of the Hindu Kamboja, hence close to the Indo-Greek cultural capital of Gandhara.

[22] The reader will quickly see that this chapter essentially follows the series of attributions already established in Chapter 3 regarding regions and countries. There are only a few variations. For explanation of the place names, see the footnotes to that chapter.

[23] It is unclear as to whether the term vaktavyaṁ (thus should it be said) means that the following three nakṣatras ought to be interpreted like Mṛgaśirā or like the material detailed in Chapter 3.

[24] This is very likely a mistake. Chapter 3 links Pūrvāṣāḍhā with the Central Asian city of Balkh, while Avanti is attributed only to Uttaraphalgunī. Here Avanti is mentioned with both Pūrvāṣāḍhā and Uttaraphalgunī, which is very likely a copyist’s error.

[25] This attribution is quite different from Chapter 3, wherein Bharaṇī is linked with “those made with beautiful feet and beautiful bodies.”

[26] The word dhrūva means “fixed” or “constant,” but I have chosen to leave this term untranslated because it has a range of associations which cannot easily be resolved into a single word. Dhrūva is the name for the northern star, which is generally regarded as the “center of the universe,” the world axis from which a direct line leads from one’s sacred space (the place of ritual or spiritual practice) to the world beyond. Anything done when the Moon is in one of the dhrūva nakṣatras places that action at the very center of the universe; hence it is the time for religious rituals, the anointing of kings, etc.

[27] The four dhrūva nakṣatras listed in the text are precisely the same as those listed in the standard work on the subject, the Bṛhatsaṃhitā of Varāhamihīra (c. 550 CE), and thus the same ones recognized as such into modern times.

[28] These are almost but not quite the same swift nakṣatras listed by Varāhamihīra, who omits Abhijit. See my previous comments regarding this nakṣatra, which was dropped from the list of nakṣatras at some unknown point in history.

[29] I am reading cauṣadhīkarmāni rather than coṣadhīkarmāni. Either way, the reference is to the healing arts and goes along with the succeeding reference to “healing regimens.” Apte’s Student Dictionary lists a word coṣaḥ, which means either an inflammation or “sucking” (presumably a reference to the shamanic healing practice known as “cupping and sucking”). This, however, is a rather unlikely reading. The reference to herbs is perfectly in context. One of the swift nakṣatras is Aśvinī, and the various actions such as beginning long journeys, riding on horses, taking herbs or beginning healing regimens all relate to the Aśvins of mythology, who daily make a long journey across the sky in a chariot pulled by swift horses, and who are renowned as healers, especially with herbs. A well-known Ayurvedic herbal preparation is named for one of the individuals they healed.

 

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