Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam Festival, Shravan Month and Shravana Star

 

This word “Onam” is the shortened form of Thiruvonam or Shravanam, since this event occurs in the Shravan month under the Shravana star in the Indian calendar.

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that typically falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South. This period is characterized by heavy rains and many other festivals such as Narial Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chathuthi, Krishna Janmashtami to name a few.

This month is called Shravan since the full moon during this month occurs against the Shravana star.

But why did this particular star get the name Shravana?

Which is this star in the sky?

The 3 footprints in the sky

 

Before we go to skies, let us recollect the story behind the Onam festival and why it came to be celebrated. How this festival marks the day when Maha Bali, the great Asura king was humbled by Vamana with His 3 giant strides.

The star Shravana is the set of stars known in western astronomy as Altair the bright star in Aquila constellation along with Beta and Gamma Aquilae that flank it on either side.

 

Shravana Constellation

 

These three stars are pictured as the 3 footprints of Vamana in His gigantic Trivikrama form.

One may wonder what does the legend of Maha Bali and Vamana, have to do with the name Shravana for this star?

The word “Shravana” means to listen, to pay heed to. The legend of Maha Bali from time immemorial has been a moral story on how one should pay heed to one’s mentor, teacher, failing which one could fall into trouble. Hence these 3 stars which depict the outcome of Maha Bali’s disobedience stand as a constant reminder in the sky to caution people to listen and pay heed to good counsel.

Another way in which the name of this star is spelt is, Shrona, which means “lame” or “to limp”, in SamskrtShrona is one who limped. Trivikrama after measuring the 2 steps, stood limping, with one leg raised in the air, asking Maha Bali where He could place his foot for the third step?

Trivikarma with one leg up

 

Hence these 3 stars, as Shrona, also depict the footsteps of Trivikrama as He covered the earth and the skies with His foot.

Another Angle to the Triangle

There is yet another tale associated with how these 3 stars came to be called Shravana.

Much later, closer to the times of Rama, Shravan was a young lad who lived in the time of Dasaratha, father of Rama. He used to dote on his parents and take care of them with love and affection. Since they were old and blind, he would carry them in two baskets hanging on either side from a rod on his shoulders, like a weighing scale, balance.

One day, he was filling a pitcher of water from a pond for his parents. King Dasaratha, out on a hunting trip, mistook the gurgling sound of the pitcher for an animal and shot an arrow in its direction. He rushed to catch his prey but instead found young Shravan Kumar mortally wounded. Even in that state, Shravan requested the king to carry water to his thirsty parents. Dasaratha, approached them with trepidation in his heart and from the sound of his footsteps the old couple realized it was not their son. On being asked, he narrated what had happened. The bereaved father cursed Dasaratha that one day he would also have to bear the sorrow of his son leaving him. Strangely, the king expressed happiness on being cursed because he did not have children at the time and was pining for a child. For the curse to come true, he would have to have children. Just this thought made him so happy, that he took mud and grass from the ground and showered it on his head. As fate would have it through, Dasaratha was later blessed with 4 sons out of whom he loved Rama, the eldest dearly. But when Dasaratha grew old and had pinned his hopes on Rama to take over his kingdom, he was separated from Rama – a separation that took away his life.

Shravan Kumar, even today, is remembered for his dedication towards his parents. Altair in the Aquila constellation, in the sky has been named after Shravan.

 

Why is Altair equated with Shravana?

Altair, flanked by the two dimmer stars, Beta and Gamma Aquilae gives an impression of a balance, just like how Shravan Kumar carried his aged parents.

Shravana and shravana constellation

 

What lies in a name?

The ancient astronomers of India had a practice of giving scientific names to stars, names that denote their function, characteristic. Sometimes legends from Puranahave been mapped to these objects to symbolically explain scientific principles or facts.

The story of how the Shravana star got its name is just one among many.

Does naming Altair and these 2 dimmer stars as Shravana indicate that the two stars flanking Altair are dying stars while Altair in comparison, a star in the prime phase of its life? This could be a lead for further analysis.

Incidentally Beta Aquila, also known as Tarzed though not very old, has burnt up all its fuel and has entered its dying phase. It has swelled into a giant and is expected to blast and later become a white dwarf.

Delving into understanding the detailed description of Puranic legends in connection with the stars they point to in the skies, could perhaps help provide more clues to understand these stars better.

We will understand why our ancients chose to name the stars what they did?

We will understand our ancients and our heritage better!

Thus concludes the story of Onam from Kerala, to Pathala Loka, to the skies.

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 – PATHALA LOKA

Onam Festival Part 3 – Significance of Onam

 

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Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.

This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.

Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.

EarthinSolarsystem

Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?

Is this not self-contradictory?

Is there anything rational about this legend?

We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.

What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?

Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also arrogance in him because he owned the entire expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.

While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance got him banished to Pathala Loka.

Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.

Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.

Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.

Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller.

This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.

These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.

But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?

Also in the series :

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 – PATHALA LOKA

 

More to Come …

-Bharath Gyan

 

Art of Living Wisdom.

The Puranic legends of India speak of many worlds.

As per the Puranas, when Vishnu, in the form of a young scholar Vamana, humbled Asura king Maha Bali, Maha Bali was banished to Pathala Loka. When the Deva overcame the Asura in battles, the Asura were forced to migrate to thePathala Loka, the netherworld or the world below.

Where is this Pathala Loka?

People have conjured up images of Pathala Loka as being vertically downwards inside the earth.

 

Asura going down to Pathala Loka

 

In the picture it is shown as Asura going down to Pathala Loka  an incorrect understanding

The Puranic legends describe how the world is divided into different habitable regions. They list 14 regions, with 7 regions being the “nether worlds”, the Pathala Loka. The Puranic texts also give the notion of the Pathala Loka as being beyond the seas.

The words like location and locomotion are etymologically similar to the word, “Loka”.

There are other technical texts that mention the location of Asura and their adversaries, the Sura.  A sloka in Surya Siddhantha throws some light on the exact location of the Pathala. The relevant sloka is,

 Surasuranam anyonyam diva – ratra viparyayaha

For Sura and Asura, days and nights are interchangeable

According to this sloka, Sura and Asura would have lived on opposite sides of the earth as only then can their days and nights be interchangeable.  The region of the earth diametrically opposite to the Indian subcontinent is the central parts of South America which was the Pathala Loka of the Asura.

 

Pathala Loka

 

If we want a modern analogy, we have the British calling Australia as Down Under. That does not mean that Australia is in the underground areas of England. What the English really mean by the phrase “Down Under”, is that, for England, high in the northern hemisphere, Australia is on the other side of the earth, down in the south

 

DownUnder

 

Similarly, there is another popular term in the US, called the China Syndrome. People often joke that, in case there were to be a nuclear mishap in America, then the nuclear explosion would burrow a hole beneath America, continue to burrow through the earth and come out on the other side of the earth, in China.

ChinaSyndrome

 

These phrases, Australia Down Under and China Syndrome are examples of usage by people on one side of the globe to bring out the concept that, there is another side, opposite to them on the earth, which is also inhabited by people.

It is in this similar vein of expression that the ancient Indians had used the term Pathala Loka, as the area on the other side of the spherical earth. It is not to be erroneously understood as an underground cavern or kingdom.

To have had this knowledge, the ancient Indians must have known that the earth was not flat but spherical in nature.

Does this mean that Pathala Loka is for real and the story of Maha Bali, real?

ALSO IN THE SAME SERIES

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

More to Come

Bharath Gyan