Monday, September 13, 2010

The Celestial Key to the Vedas: Discovering the Origins of the World's Oldest Civilization

Book Review: The Celestial Key to the Vedas: Discovering the Origins of the World’s Oldest Civilization by B.G. Sidharth (Inner Traditions 1999)

This was a great read but it does make several bold assertions that would not be acceptable to most scholars of this subject. The author’s basic conclusions are that the chronology and history of ancient science should be revised and that the Vedic period dates back to beyond 10,000 BCE – based on civilizations recently unearthed in Anatolia that he thinks are Vedic. He thinks that there is evidence of a continuous tradition of astronomical observation and that this tradition is hidden in allegories in the Vedic hymns.

The author suggests that such ideas as the sphericity of the earth, the water cycle, tides, rotation of the earth, and the earth, planets, and moon revolving around the sun (heliocentrism) were known to the Vedic seers. If such was the case it is clear that the information was somehow lost through time. The author suggests that there is a code of sorts where the deities refer to natural phenomenon. He sees Vishnu as the Sun nourishing the Earth and the serpent circling the earth being a symbol of rotation. He also suggests that the ancient Vedics knew of the movement of the pole star – and subsequently the precession of the equinoxes. This is interesting as he describes this in terms of the Vedic time cycles, or yugas – one Great Yuga being the time it takes to return to a similar position – roughly about 26,000 years. The author mentions the astronomical discoveries attributed to Pythagoras, who traveled widely, to Asia Minor and Babylonia, to Egypt, and perhaps to India. He talks about the discovery of precession by the Greek Hipparchus around 125 BC. The Babylonian astronomer Kidinnu may have known about precession in 700 BC.

One of the author’s assumptions is that astronomically the horse twins known as the Ashvins represent the planets Venus and Mercury. The Ashvins were described as roamers or wanderers and the Greek name for a planet is a wanderer. He notes a Vedic statement that the Ashvins compass around the sun. Even though a reviewer of this book did not seem to like the arguments of the Ashvins representing these planets (since the twins represent other things – ie. Castor and Pollux in Gemini - in the Babylonian cum Greek context – the arguments sound at least plausible to me. He suggests that Babylonian astrology and astronomy actually came from the Aryan tribes. One thing of interest that he notes are two of the gods of the Kassites (an Aryan tribe) who ruled Babylonia from 1746 to 1180 BC. These were Shuria and the Marytas – certainly sounds like Surya and the Maruts.

The author does ask the reader to make many assumptions against the mainstream views of history. First he suggests that there was no Aryan invasion/migration into the Indian subcontinent – and there are some good arguments in favor of this although most evidence suggest suggests that there was at least migration. There is some evidence that Indian astrology and astronomy may predate the Babylonian but it is inconclusive.

In terms of deities he says that Indra represents the “invisible atmosphere that scatters sunlight, destroys darkness, and creates day and twilight, and that is also responsible for seasonal phenomena.” Indra slays the demon Vritra (darkness) with the Thunderbolt of Vishnu (rays of the sun). He also slays Ushas – the morning twilight (dawn goddess too) and then disappears into hiding – after releasing the seven rivers (seven component rainbow colors of sunlight). He uses various quotes to describe Soma as solar radiation, although Soma is often identified as a lunar deity. The three Ribhus, says the author, are three early astronomers, led by Indra. Again he gives more quotes. They are interesting but not convincing. The devas, or shining ones are stars and day as the asuras and dasas represent darkness/night.

In addition to allegorical code he also mentions a metrical code. Various meters are well-known in the Rig Veda as in most oral traditions. There is the Gayatri meter (which if one has ever chanted it – gets the rhythm pretty easily) and the Tristub meter. Gayatri is associated with the Vasus and Tristub with the Rudras. Gayatri is three lines of eight syllables and Tristub is four lines of eleven syllables. Astronomically, the synodic, or lunar month (new moon to new moon or full moon to full moon) is 29.5 days so that 12 of these lunar months equal 354 days – leaving 11.25 days left over when comparing to the tropical year. These equates to 33 days over three years so usually an extra month was added every three years. In 8 lunar years one would need to add almost exactly 3 months to match the tropical year. Based on the story of the 8 Vasus, or 8 sons of Aditi – the author thinks this refers to an eight-year lunar cycle. As for the Tristub meter there are 11 Rudras who circumambulate three times making 33 rounds (years)– in 33 years the added months would equal nearly one full year so a cycle is completed. So it refers to a cycle of three 11 year periods. This may relate to the 33 god-realms or Indra’s heaven of the 33. In any case, these are the types of arguments he gives in this book – interesting yes, fascinating, perhaps yes, but still not conclusive.

Next is a discussion of precession, Vedic time cycles, and various mathematical and scientific phenomena. A Great Age, or Kalpa, or Brahma’s Day – 8640 Million years. Interestingly the age of the universe is thought to be a little over 10000 million years –so reasonably close in number terms. Here is an interesting mathematical observation:

“There is a beautiful numerical twist that is also very typical of the secret and mysterious knowledge contained in ancient Hindu scriptures. The kalpa is also a product of (1x2x2x3x3x3x4x4x4x4x5x5x5x5x5)"

This = 86400000. I should note that also of interest is that 1x2x2x3x3x3 =108 the well-known mystic number. Also of interest is that a day of 24 hours is equal to 86400 seconds or 60x60x24.

The author next compares Greek and Hindu astronomy/astrology and science. He thinks that there is evidence that the Vedics knew about the sunspot cycles and he goes into arguments that they were aware of the Heliocentric theory (of our solar system).

In Vedic astrology the asterisms (or star groups/constellations) are grouped in 27 sections called nakshatras. The moon spends one day in each nakshatra spending about 27.3 days going around the earth. The author thinks that the nakshatra system developed from the Vedas which is certainly plausible and he mentions stories of a 28th nakshatra that was scratched. He also thinks that the deities were given multiple meanings, some atmospheric, some astronomical, and some mythological. Again regarding the Ashvins he thinks that the Vedic astronomers knew about the phases of Venus and Mercury – and theoretically they could only be determined with an aid to sight – such as possibly a curved metal lens lending some telescopic vision. Again regarding meter he notes that the hymns of the Ashvins are associated with the Pankt meter of eight syllables and five lines – and that there is an 8 to 5 relationship of Venus and Mercury – 8 conjunctions of Mercury in 5 Venus years. It is interesting that there are other references in Vedic literature and literature derived from Vedic thought that have very definite calendrical references so some of these assumptions may not be as outlandish as they seem. He also goes through some interesting mythological-astrological correlations from the Puranas.

Next are a couple of chapters regarding the antiquity of the Vedas. There is more fascinating time cycle number analogies – and I think the math is the most fascinating part of the book. There are several fascinating numerical puns and even sub-puns and puzzle-fitting math mind twisters as well.

The author mentions a few times the study of dating the Vedas by astronomical references done by Gangadhar Tilak. Tilak dated the Vedas to 5000 BC and also suggested that the references indicated that the Arctic Circle as a homeland! Based on the lunar asterism (nakshatra) Tishya occuring at the vernal equinox the author dates certain references in the Rig Veda to about 7300 BC. Interestingly the Greek historian Megasthesnes who visited India in the 4th century BC mentions 153 monarchs stretching back 6042 years. Apparently this accords with the Puranic record of dynasties and the list of rishis in the Brahmanas. As back-up for this idea he notes the speculations of Colin Renfrew who traces the origins of Indo-European people to Anatolia where agricultural communities stretch back at least that far and perhaps a millenium or two further. Archaeologists have also postulated a priestly-elite class among the peoples of Catal Huyuk (~6000 BC) and recently discovered Nevali Cori (~7300 BC). The author is fond of attributing a limestone sculpture of a shaven head with a pony tail (or a serpent) as that of a Vedic priest with a sikha. Interesting also is that Sumerian and Egyptian priests were also known to have shaven heads. One problem he notes of bringing Vedic civilization back this far in time are the references to horses and horsemanship as horse domestication – further away too in the Ukraine dates back only to 4000 BC in the archeological record – but there are remains of wild horses dating back much further in Anatolia. The author also notes a few similarities between the Vedic and Sumerian traditions of 3000 BC – “...., the typical luni-solar calendar with its intercalation or addition of extra months, or the vast periods of past history such as 4,320,000 years, or allusion to the seven sages, and so on.” He also notes all the Indo-European tribes settled quite early in the area – the Kassites, the Hittites, Mitanni, Luwians, and even the modern Kurds said to have been Zoroastrians way back in time as possible evidence for them being a native people there. I think most scholars would disagree – perhaps strongly – but as we know – it really is hard to know based on the little clues we have – and I think we should entertain many possibilities and keep an open mind about things. He also makes note of the Mehrgahr civilization in Baluchistan (6500-3000 BC) that may be the continuous precursor to the Harappan/Indus Valley civilization.

He presents some more fascinating number stuff with the number 3339, or a series of 33;303;3003; ... This he says is a method of synching the lunar/sidereal and tropical/solar calendars with increasing precision.

The author dates the Mahabharata to 1350 BC based on astronomical, literary,a nd archaeological evidence. He dates the Ramayana all the way back to 7300 BC and the Zoroastrian tradition back to nearly 8000 BC – bold assertions indeed! He dates the Kumbha Mela festival tradition back to 3000 BC – again based on astrology.

It should be noted that the author is also a noted physicist and has written on theories of the universe as well and he certainly has a strong scientific background from which to draw. Even though most would find these ideas far-fetched, I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable book – stimulating, mind-stretching, mathematically fascinating, and just barely –possible. One of the best books I have read regarding secrets of the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment