Puranic Cosmology Updated 8

17 March 2010

In discussing Form and Essence, my intention was not to minimise the outstanding art that has come down to us from the Puranic period, a comparable quality of which surfaced in Europe only many centuries later. Rather, I would like to demonstrate how the direction of the quest – the Journey in the Veda – was reflected in art itself. To illustrate, I reproduced in Update 7 the exquisite Ankhor Vat bas-relief of the Churning Myth, certainly one of the finest sculptural renditions of its kind, as the grandest of all myths merits. Then the same tale is retold in our century/millennium in the form of what could almost be described as graphic art, in the sense that the artistic refinement of the former Age has been set aside in favour of the more graphic representation. Art today has certainly undergone a change from both the oriental and the European styles of times gone by. In itself this displays the ‘levelling’ process, if you will, a universalisation such as Aquarius demands more clearly than anything else.
Art as a representation of the collective experience and level of consciousness in any given age, we observe through this expression the same levelling in the ideologies that surfaced right at the turnover from Pisces to Aquarius. With the demise of monarchies after World War 1 as effective means of governance, and the surfacing of movements demanding larger and more comprehensive participation of the masses, the indications were that the Aquarian Age had begun. Noblesse oblige came to an end as the new Age set in; and with that we witnessed the gradual elimination of colonialism that was a natural corollary to the monarchic system, both being justified as having a sort of divine sanction that could not be questioned.
The direction of the cosmic evolutionary process has been more than clear. But equally clear is the shift of the cosmic contest to the world stage today; and, in one form or another, we observe that the struggle for supremacy between Gods and Titans has moved into a position of pre-eminence, as it were: witness totalitarianism and democracy, for example. Both advocate rule of the people (democracy), or for the people (communism). To solve the conundrum, on which the future of Earth societies hinges, understanding the cosmic sense and purpose of the Harmony provides clear lines we can follow if we truly wish the Daivic/Asuric struggle to be resolved.
To return to the Churning Myth and its various depictions – at the height of Puranic glory and its contemporary version – it is noteworthy that the two examples provided have come from lands beyond the actual Indian landmass and in what have become Buddhist nations. However, the reach of Puranic culture was so widespread and penetrating that we have a Muslim nation, Indonesia, honouring the very backbone of Vedic civilisation through the formal adoption of the Ramayana as its national epic. How else can this be explained except to state that Myth and Epic speak with the language of the Soul which is universal?
Further to be noted is that the Vishnu abode at Ankhor Vat itself finally fell into disuse and was ultimately covered over by the tropical jungles of the region not long after Buddhism had displaced Hinduism as the national culture. It was predictable in that the Soul is not given pride of place in Buddhism – if it is given a place at all; therefore, its ‘language’ cannot receive the revitalising sustenance Myth requires from time to time, as we find on the Indian subcontinent where it is alive and well even today. The contemporary graphic rendition of the Churning Myth, though of lesser artistic value is precious in that occupying centrestage at a main international airport in a Buddhist country (ironically, an unthinkable occurrence in secular, socialist India), again drives home the point that the Cosmic Spirit envelops the entire Earth and is boundary-less. It is our modern concept of Nation that has to evolve further so that we may embody the highest ideals of the Age we entered in 1926. Indeed, during the former Piscean Age passports were not required to travel from one point of the known world to another, as we demand today. Rather than drawing closer to the Aquarian one-world ideal we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Further, hidden in the Puranic artistic renditions of this sublime myth is a clue to the shift that was taking place at the time it was formulated, and as it has come down to us today. To put it in perspective, we need to appreciate that the very same tale is the essence, if not the form, of the Vedic ‘journey’ on the backdrop of the Sacrificial Year. In the earlier Age the question of universalism had not figured. Its time had not yet come.
This may explain the stand taken by governments in adopting restrictions which seem to close borders even tighter than had ever been done in the past, precisely as an indication that this ‘knot’ in human consciousness had to become tightened in the extreme before release can come. (In one’s individual sadhana in the practice of Integral Yoga, the same situation is often experienced: when the Yoga Shakti has decided that it is time for a certain breakthrough, the issue in question seems to arise more vehemently than ever. Then we know that with her Grace its hold over our consciousness is nearing its end, the ‘knot’ is about to be undone if we participate in the required action.)
Thus, in Vedic times the Journey was, strictly speaking, reserved for the Initiate-Warrior; the masses were not involved, except insofar as the struggle of the Initiate reflected the condition of each soul participating in the evolutionary process. But knowledge was restricted to an elite, as the Cosmic Order of the day demanded. That Knowledge was, however – and this is the point to note – passed on to the whole of Vedic civilisation through the calendar formulated by the Sages to implement the cosmic scheme, thereby uniting the energies of ALL members of the society around the Cosmic Truth (the central Axis) which is the sense and purpose embedded in the Sacrificial Year. The Initiate had to realise that Truth of the Year, that realignment, make it his or her own conquest, if the masses at large were to benefit from the struggle. But the very same process is displayed in the later Puranic Myth, though its subtlety reveals the gradual directional shift to otherworldliness that was then taking place. It seemed to be presented more as the Ideal rather than the actualisation process of the Vedic period.
Thus, the vertical/horizontal axes in the Puranic sculptures clearly reveal the ideal of a harmonised, balanced world. Moreover, placing Mt Meru as the central axis makes the position even clearer. Mt Meru is the tool without which no ‘churning’ can take place. However, equally if not more indispensable is the presence of none other than Mahavishnu to control the action according to rhythms the Time-Spirit sets in motion. Mt Meru resting on the Tortoise (Kurma Avatar following Matsya), apart from all else, indicates that the churning displayed is a movement of the Cosmic Ages – hence the perspective as mirrored in the precession of the Earth’s equinoctial plane over ‘tortoise-like’ slow-moving vast cycles of time. In this myth the question is not the individual’s transformation and participation; it is the cosmic angle almost exclusively. More particularly, it is Vishnu’s ‘play’, the understanding of which must come from Vishnu Himself through the periodic avataric appearances of his emanations.
Kurma, the avatar as Tortoise, is one of the most significant stages in what Sri Aurobindo has referred to as ‘a parable of evolution’. This second appearance is not just evolution per se. It is Order out of Chaos, the Cosmic Order. Kurma Avatar initiates the quest for the Nectar of Immortality for which the churning is required; its various stages describe with great exactitude just how order finally emerges out of a primordial Chaos. The task of Vishnu’s Avatars is to guide the evolutionary process according to the rhythms set by the Time-Spirit toward this end. No other myth presents such a superb exposition of deep cosmic workings as this one.
Vishnu is obliged to take the form of the mythic Tortoise, an amphibian creature, to prevent the Meru-churning stick from sinking relentlessly while the Devas and Asuras seek to carry out their labour of ‘accelerating Time’ – that is, to allow evolution to reach higher stages in this round of 25,920 years on the road to a full apotheosis. Kurma supports the churning stick from below, while Vishnu/Garuda enters the operation from above by restraining the measure of the rise of the churning stick until the perfect measure/stability is reached for the success of the endeavour: Time’s orderly march is established after which evolution cannot fail to manifest what is contained in the original ‘seed’ (of the Veda) that Matsya Avatar had hidden in that very Ocean for its protection. The Ocean acts as protective covering of the Seed; it is both covering and medium within which or by which the subsequent Churning can ensue.
What is clear in this mythic formula is that the Vertical is the Axis of the Avatars, in this instance involving Kurma and Matsya; the myth is clear on this point. Moreover, the link of the Vertical with Time is further corroborated because the Avatars are offspring of the Time-Spirit. We will observe further on how immaculately this arrangement has played itself out in contemporary India (Meru) with the appearance of the 9th Avatar in the last millennium, and how by the use of Number and the universal calendar (not the Hindu Calendar), and more particularly the number system India bequeathed to the world, we can APPLY what until now has remained mere ‘myth’. In the process Myth comes to be understood differently, at least in the Indian context: it is actually recurring history. Mt Meru holds the key to the past, but more specifically to the future of the evolutionary process. No other Myth in the Puranic lexicon presents such an accurate description of the cosmic process as the Churning of the Primordial Ocean, nor is there any other as prophetic. This is proven, however, only when the updating of the old cosmology takes place. But the new cosmology is not prophecy as we understand the term today. This will become clear in the course of the updating exercise centred on the Puranas.

We must view the vertical/horizontal axis in the terms laid down in Update 7: Asuras and Devas, time and space. What is displayed is the orderly harmonisation of the two in the course of the year, Cosmic or Earthly. In the Vedic Age it was the latter primarily; in the Puranic the focus was Cosmic. The sacred task of our present Age is the lived experience and APPLICATION of that harmonisation which we do experience on Earth in the progression of the year across the solstices and equinoxes. But the issue is to become conscious participants, thereby fulfilling the dharma of the Age: universal transformation.

Some in the academic world hold a similar view regarding the progression from equinoxes to solstices. For example, we note that the mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, Maurice Glaize, along with Eleanor Mannikka, a scholar who specialises in East Asian art and religion, hold the view that the difference in the number of Asuras (92) and Devas (88) depicted in the Ankhor Vat bas-relief represents the number of days between winter solstice and spring equinox to summer solstice; certainly numbers chosen not randomly but deliberately by the executors of the temple’s sacred architecture in appreciation of the cosmic vision prevalent in the Puranic period. The Ankhor Vat plan uses the Tropical Solar Year as the Measure with its equinoxes and solstices, just as in the Vedic Age and well into the 12th Century, the time when the Ankhor complex was constructed.
Interestingly, it was at this very time that Al Biruni, the Arab scholar, was travelling in India and translating Hindu texts on astrology and cosmology into Arabic. The undermining of the Vedic prescription seems to have begun then, for we have his own words to substantiate this statement: ‘The solstice has kept its place, but the constellations have migrated, just the very opposite of what Varaha has fancied.’ (India, II, p.7). Al Biruni implies what post-Vedic astrologers sustain today: Capricorn is ‘not there where once it was’; but with their floating constellations they are chasing a phantom because Capricorn is not ‘out there’, disregarding the Earth’s harmonies and rhythms. What is even more interesting to note is that through his translations of the Hindu texts Al Biruni was responsible for the adoption of the Vedic method of horoscopy in the West, while suggesting the sidereal method for pundits of the subcontinent! But the final, total eclipse of the Vedic Tropical Year in India occurred closer to our times. This was the definitive adoption of the Nirayana system in lieu of the Vedic. Interestingly, it was supplanted on the subcontinent just as Science gained the upper hand over the sacred and the division was then complete.
Advantage in carrying out the universal transformation seems to lie with the West not the East this time around, because though the subcontinent preserves a vast treasure of Myths, all of which describe the Cosmic Truth, and incomparable examples of sacred art and architecture which display that same Truth, the masses are left out of the experience. Or at least as in contemporary India’s case, 80% of the population is excluded from participation through the mis-calculation of the Hindu calendar. Originally it served to unify and draw the energies of the population into the yearly Sacrifice through the celebration of certain outstanding landmarks in consonance with the cosmic harmony. Two are of are primary importance, Mahavishuva (March Equinox) and Makar Sankranti (December Solstice), the establishment of which would ensure the right temporal insertion of all the other celebrations, festivals, pilgrimages, and so forth. These commemorations continue and are noteworthy because they make identification of the unbroken Thread traceable into our times. But equally significant is the distortion of the Vedic measure of the year, the chief protagonist of the Sacrifice, which speaks volumes of the condition of the Dharma today.
Given the present conditions, it would appear that the West is better positioned to make the process consciously lived. But what we find lacking in the occident is the age-old tradition that the subcontinent carries over from the hoary past into the present via the unbroken Thread. It is for the reader to judge which pole, oriental or occidental, would have a better chance at actualising the Dharma of the Aquarian Age: the West which experiences the solar year as it was known in the Vedic Age, but which lacks the foundation in myth and cosmic sense and purpose that we find alive and well in the subcontinent. Or the eastern end of the pole where treasures lie buried somewhere beneath the coverings of the ages. Thus the conscious participation is denied to the masses because of errors in transferring that cosmic measure to the populace. The means to do so, the proper calendar for the purpose, is opposed by those who hold the power to determine which system is to be used, Nirayana based on the constellations, or Vedic based on the Earth’s own measure.

The constant reference I am making to the erroneous Measure used for the computation of the Hindu calendar of observances is extremely important, though it might appear as a tedious repetition to readers. Be that as it may, its singular importance is twofold. First and foremost is the fact that the Cosmic Truth cannot be perceived, much less actualised or applied, on the sidereal backdrop of the current post-Vedic Nirayana system. Simply put, that Order, that Cosmic Truth vanishes in the post-Vedic system. It remains submerged in the Piscean Ocean, or imprisoned beneath coverings and ‘cobwebs’, as I call them, which demand removal if that Sense and Purpose is to be restored and the Churning Myth is to be made a reality of our contemporary world.
Next is the effect of this mis-measure on the subcontinent: 80% of the energies of the majority population continue to be dispersed rather than unified via an enlightened calendar, whose primary purpose is the fulfilment of the great ideals of Aquarius, for which the subcontinent plays a central role, as the Thread itself reveals through the Capricorn hieroglyph.

Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet
Aeon Centre of Cosmology

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