Monday, March 16, 2020

Who introduced Signs of The Zodiac to India?

What the future holds? Is the question that has been obsessing the human mind, ever since the dawn of wisdom awakened the mankind? As humans watched the day and night skies, they realized periods or cycles in which celestial or heavenly bodies made themselves appear in the sky. The basic of these was of course the sun, which appeared all day long and disappeared in night. Other planets followed their own courses, which were not so simple. Then there were groups of stars or constellations, which first appeared to the human eye as stationary. However, observations over a longer period made humans aware that these too have their own cycles of appearance and disappearance.   It was natural for the early humans to interpret these celestial cycles as some form of divine communication that would affect not only personal behavior, but also affairs of community or states. From this basic idea, the subject of astrology developed subsequently. Until the 17th century, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition. It actually led to the development of astronomy as a science and also helped in other branches of science such as meteorology and medicine. Only by the end of the 17th century, astrology lost its academic standing and became regarded as a pseudoscience.
In the Indian context, we have a long tradition of astrologers or astronomers, who were also called mathematicians, because their work involved many new mathematical concepts. Some of these early mathematicians include Aryabhatta (आर्यभट्ट), Varahamihira (वराहमिहिर), Brahmagupta (ब्रम्हगुप्त), Bhattotpala (भट्टोत्पल) and Bhaskaracharya (भास्कराचार्य). Some of their works can be listed as Aryasiddhanta (आर्यसिद्धांत), Brahmasiddhanta (ब्रम्हसिद्धांत), Brhjjataka (बृहज्जातक), Brhatsamhita (बृहत्संहिता), and Lilavati (लीलावती). Besides these, another literary work stands out, because its author or the period, remains unknown. This work is known as Sooryasiddhanta (सूर्यसिद्धांत). The presently available transcript of this treatise is believed to be from the beginning of last millennium.
The basis of all astrological observations has always been the path followed by the Sun around the earth (called as ecliptic) on a background that is full of constellations and asterisms. (Asterisms are group of stars that appear to follow certain patterns, which our fertile minds have managed to associate with figures and outlines of living or non-living things that we see on earth). For convenience of observation and measurement, Sooryasiddhanta divides the Sun’s path or ecliptic around the earth or ecliptic in following fashion.
विकलानां कला षष्ठ्या तत्षष्ट्या भाग उच्यते
तत्त्रिंशता भवेद्राशिर्भगसो द्वादशैव ते  II २८ II

“Sixty seconds (vikala) make a minute (kala); sixty of these, a degree (bhaga); of thirty of the latter is composed a sign (rashi); twelve of these are a revolution (bhagana)”.
(Sooryasiddhanta 1. 28)
For Astrology purposes, each of the “Rashi” of thirty degrees is associated or belongs to an asterism that is seen in the background of that “Rashi”. These asterisms are known as the “Signs of the Zodiac”. (The zodiac is an area of the sky that extends approximately 8° to north or south of the ecliptic). 
It may come as a surprise to many of us that this system of division of the ecliptic, or “Rashi” and the concept of association of prominent asterisms with a “Rashi” as a particular sign of Zodiac, is virtually identical in ancient Indian Astrology or “Jyotisha” as well as in western Astrology, which is based on ancient Greek Astrology. Some of the Astrologists believe that the “Rashi” concept was a purely Indian effort, copied first, by people of Middle East, from where it propagated to west. There is another school of thought, which believes that concept of “Rashi” originated in ancient Geece, from where it was picked up by Indians.

Be it as may be, there is hardly any point in entering the fray as neither it would lead anywhere nor would it win any argument, We shall therefore refrain from joining any argument and concentrate on the fact that concept of “Rashis” appears in ancient works of both Indian and Greek origin. We can therefore conclude that there must have been a common source or a person or a group of knowledgeable persons, who were familiar with literary works of both Indian and Greek Origin, and naturally were bilingual (proficient in Sanskrit and Greek).
As it turns out, we have a readymade source of information, in form of two books, originally written by famous Indian mathematician Varahamihira. (Sixth century CE), who seems to have a full knowledge of Yavan (Greek) astronomical terms and doctrines1. He even gives the Greek terms for the Sanskrit names for the signs of the Zodiac. Varahamihira, in his books, quotes from treatises written by many other learned men or Pundits. However, he does not reveal to us the sources of his knowledge of Greek doctrines or names. MM P.V.Kane2 gives two instances, where Varahamihira, in his treatise Brhtsamhita, has referred to word “Yavana”. MM P.V.Kane says. “The word Yavana appears to be used in two senses by Varahamihira. In verse 14 of chapter 2, this word means the Yavana people in general, but in some other places (such as verse 1 of chapter 11), this word means either Yavana authors or some one writer from among them”.
Bhattotpala or Bhatta-Utpala (भट्टोत्पल) was a 10th century astrologer-mathematician. According to Al-Biruni, he was a Pundit from Kashmir2, 3. He has written commentaries on Varahamihira’s two books Brhjjataka (बृहज्जातक) and Brhtsamhita (बृहत्संहिता). Bhattotpala, besides commenting on Varahamihira’s original text, also refers, like Varahamihira, to quotes from treatises written by other learned men or Pundits. His references to “Yavanas” (Greeks) appear to be more extensive. What is of special significance is that Bhattotpala mentions certain “Yavana” Pundits either by their titles or names such as “Yavanadhipati” (यवनाधिपति), “”Yavanedra” (यवनेंद्र), “Yavanacharya” (यवनाचार्य) and finally “Yavaneshvara” (यवनेश्वर).
According to MM P.V.Kane2, out of these names, “Yavanacharya” appears to have been an ancient Greek writer. Regarding the names “Yavanadhipati”, “Yavanedra” and “Yavaneshvara”, there is no clarity, whether Bhattotpala is referring to the same author called by him as “Yavanacharya” or these are different authors from differing centuries. In another literary work known as Saravali (सारावलि) by Kalyanavarma (कल्याणवर्मा), written in the intervening centuries between Varahamihira’s books and Bhattotpala’s commentary, we do find words like “Yavanaraja” (यवनराजा), Yavanavrddha” (यवनवृद्ध), “Yavananarendra” (यवनेंद्र). There is also a mention of the name “Purva Yavendras” (पूर्व यवनेंद्र) implying that its author knew ‘early and later’ Yavana writers on Astrology. Bhattotpala makes one interesting comment about “Yavaneshwara” though. He says, “Varaha refers to the views of an ancient Yavanacharya, but he (Bhattotpala) has not seen the work. He has only read the work of Yavaneshwara  Sphujidhwaja (स्फुजिध्वज), who mentions the views of Yavana writers of a bygone age and this Sphujidhwaja flourished in an age that was later than the beginnings of Shaka-kala (CE78)”.   The original Sanskrit comment is given below.

From this rather confusing state of things, we can make out two facts clearly.
1.    Firstly, before the times of Varahamihira (6th century CE) there were several Greek or Yavan Astrologers known to Indians. They might have been based in India or Greece.  One of them, commonly known as “Yavanacharya” or “Vrddhayavana” (वृद्धयवन), was rather well known.
2.    In the intervening centuries between Varahamihira and Bhattotpala, another Greek Astrologist “Sphujidhwaja” became well known. It is not clear whether he was commonly referred to by names such as “Yavaneshwara”, “Yavanadhipati”, “Yavanendra” or “Yavanaraja” or these names were used for an earlier Greek writer, who was also a King.

According to Bhau Daji1, “Word Sphujidhvaja is a corruption of the Greek name Speusippus. Diogenes Laertius mentions two authors of this name, one of whom was a physician called Hcrophileus Alcxandrinus, and may, possibly, be the astronomer whose works were translated and studied in India”. However no other modern scholar seems to corroborate this view.
Matter would have rested here with “Yavanacharya” and “Yavaneshwara” both lost in sea of obscurity. However. In the summer of year 1897, an Indian scholar, Pundit HaraPrasad Shastry, Professor of Sanskrit, Presidency College Kolkata, briefly happened to see a palm leaf manuscript4 in the library of His Excellency, The Maharaja of Nepal.  The manuscript examined by Pundit Shastry was a remarkable one as it was a complete copy of a book called “Yavan-Jataka”. Pundit Shastry made an effort to read the last verse of this manuscript, which said, “that in the year 91 of some (unspecified) era, Yavanesvara translated from his own language into Sanskrit prose, Horashastra and that in the year 191, king Sphujidhwaja rendered that shastra into four thousand Indravajra verses7.

Mahamahopadhyay P.V.Kane managed in the year 1935, to get a transcript of the above mentioned manuscript from Nepal Darbar and translates5 the last paragraph as, “The seal of the sentences of the ocean of the knowledge of hora (astrology) was guarded by the veil of his own language and was seen in the year 91. Formerly, the Lord of Yavanas, being endowed with the vision of truth by the favour of the Sun, declared this shstra of the knowledge of hora (astrology) in unblemished sentences for enabling- the people to grasp it. There was a talented king named Sphujidhvaja, who turned this (shastra) into Indravajra verses, four thousand in number, in the year 1917. One thing becomes very clear from both these translations. King Sphujidhwaja (he was probably a Greek king, as Bhau Daji says.) was not the original author of the book “yavana-Jataka” (Greek book of Astrology). He has merely converted it from original prose to verses. MM P.V. Kane also feels that King Sphujidhwaja was probably from Gupta era (3rd to 6th century CE).   

Meanwhile, MM P.V.Kane had turned his attention to other available manuscripts of the Book “Yavan-Jataka” that were available to him. He found that they were different from the Nepal Manuscript and some of them differed among themselves. However he found that most of the manuscripts had names that implied that the book was actually called “Vrddha-Yavana-Jataka” written by one “Minaraja”.  Regarding identification of this “Minaraja”, MM P.V.Kane says6, “The name Minaraja is not necessarily non-Indian but it is not possible to shut our eyes to the fact that Menander (165/155 –130 BCE), a Greeko-Bactrian king has been identified with Mililinda of the Buddhist work ' Questions of Milind'. Miariija may be a Sanskrit rendering of a foreign word like Menendra”.

Bhattotpala’s commentary on Varahamihira’s Brhjjataka contains twelve verses about the characteristics of the twelve rashis (signs of Zodiac), which he quotes as told by Yavanesvara. (Commentry on Brhjjataka verse 1.5). In Sphujidhwaja’s “Yavana-Jataka”5 the same twelve verses about the twelve rashis appear, following the first verse that is corrupt.  The same twelve verses also occur in the “Vrrdha-Yavan-Jataka”6 composed by Yavanachrya Minaraja who is described as the overlord of Yavanas. These  twelve versest about Rashis are given below in Appendix.

We can therefore infer from above.

1.    A Greek king (most likely Menander) known by various names such as Yavanesvara or Yavanacharya authored a text in Greek language, probably around 140 BCE, about Greek system of Astrology. The book was known as “Yavana-Jataka” first and later as “Vrddha-Yavana-Jataka”. This inference finds support from another reference2 in Bhattotpala’s commentary on Brhjjataka. Here, he quotes from great Sage Badarayana (second century CE according to Marathi Vishva-Kosha of Late Shri Laxmanshastri Joshi) which mentions a certain “Yavanendra”. This would mean that the Greek king, who wrote a text about Greek system of Astrology actually preceded Sage Badarayana. This matches well with King Menander’s age.

2.    Varaha-Mihira, Kalyan-Varma and many other authors referred to this treatise, while authoring their own works.

3.    Sometime in Gupta era, another Greek Astrologist Sphujidhwaja (Greek name Speusippus) converted the original prose written in Greek language into 4000 verses and named it as “Yavana-Jataka”.

4.     Bhattotpala(10th century CE), though he  had no access to the original “Vrddha-Yavana-Jataka” , referred to Sphujidhwaja’s book in his commentary on Varahamihira’s books, Brhjjataka and Brihat-samhita.

1.     Brief Notes on the Age and Authenticity of the Works of Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhattotpala, and Bhaskaracharya : By Bhau Dajee : The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, New Series,Vol. 1, No. 1/2 (1865), pp. 392-418
2.     Varahamihira and Utpala : By P.V.Kane : Journal of Bombay Branch of Asiatic society, Vol 24-25, 1949, PP. 1-31
3.     Sanskrit literature known to Al-Biruni : By Ajay Mitra Shastri :pp.130 : Indian Journal of History of Science Vol. 10
4.     Notes on Palm-leaf MSS in the Library of His excellency The Maharaja of Nepal : By Pundit HaraPrasad Shastry : Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal : Vol. 66 : 1897 : pp.310-316
5.     The Yanavajataka of Sphujidhwaja : By. MM P.V. Kane: Journal of Bombay Branch of Asiatic society, Vol 30-2, 1955, PP. 1-5.
6.     Yavaneshvara and Utpala : By MM P.V. Kane: Journal of Bombay Branch of Asiatic society, Vol 30-1, 1955, PP. 1-5.
7      Note: - Bill M. Mak of Kyoto University challenges this translation in his research paper “The Date and Nature of Sphujidhvaja’s Yavanajātaka Reconsidered in the Light of Some Newly Discovered Materials” published in 2013. He gives a new translation in which the numbers 91 and 191 are omitted.  

15th March 2020



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