There is an interesting element of Puranic Tradition that ought to be studied – in and for itself, and later in the context of this updating exercise. This is the prominent feature of Hindu temples throughout India: the Navagrahas (Nine Planets) at their entrance in the form of a 3x3 square diagram, which the devotee is expected to acknowledge and propitiate before all else. Scientists and rationalists point to this tradition as another indication of superstition and ignorance because apart from giving a human-like personality to the planets, included among the nine are simply not planets at all – i.e., Sun and Moon, for instance. But what causes the most derision is the inclusion of Rahu and Ketu, the lunar nodes. And yet it is precisely this gross scientific ‘flaw’ that provides a hint to the remarkable advancement of higher knowledge in those early days.
The Head and Tail of the ‘Serpent’, as it is known, or the ‘Dragon’ as in St John’s Apocalypse, the last Book of the New Testament, is simply the crossing of two orbits, the Moon’s and the Earth’s, in their dance together around the Sun. Yet even while knowing that there was no solid body involved, the Ancients went to the extent of listing Rahu and Ketu as part of the scheme of 9, in a sense personalising this nothingness.
The Cobra’s Head marking
(the astronomical symbol of Rahu and Ketu
from where the name Serpent arose)
(the astronomical symbol of Rahu and Ketu
from where the name Serpent arose)
From The New Way, PNB
Aeon Books, 1981, p.408
Aeon Books, 1981, p.408
The truth be told, Rahu and Ketu, while lacking a consolidated body provide us with an even more interesting perspective vis-à-vis the ancient lore. In formalising the pre-eminence of this elusive Pair, the ancient sages were once again emphasising the role of Time in the Cosmic Order, and particularly of its cycles. In addition, emphasis is laid on orbits, above all else.
As we know, the Lunar Nodes hold the key to the occurrence of eclipses and therefore the Saros cycle of 18+ years. The number 18 has always been a significant key that the Tradition has nurtured throughout the ages. For example, the 18 Major and 18 Minor Puranas – no more, no less. This number figures in a wealth of extant cultural documents, as in the 18 Books of the Mahabharat and its 18-day war, the Gita in 18 chapters, and many more.
If we return to elements already discussed about the Churning Myth, there is an important part of its symbolism which has not been treated so far: precisely the Serpent Vasuki – the rope the Devas and Asuras use to churn Mt Meru. Vasuki is the symbol that conveys the role of Time in the action. But this serpent is not Ananta, endless, infinite Time who forms the bed whereupon Vishnu reclines before the grand moment of awakening when Time and Creation are ‘set in motion’ as it were. Vasuki, the same symbol, is here a part of the awakened action and the representative in the Myth of the evolutionary Becoming, central to which is Time. But Vasuki bears a special feature, given the stage of the avataric descents and the Order emerging out of Chaos as the tale informs us. Vasuki is Time in its periodicities rather than its endlessness or infinitudes. When Order is established, this is the most salient feature of the cosmos born of chaos. Only if and when Time is established in its recurring periods can we truly appreciate that Cosmic Order applied to life on Earth. And this is what is honoured when Rahu and Ketu are included in the Navagraha schematic of every Hindu Temple.
Again, as an indication of the prophetic quality of the Puranas, what was fundamental to preserve for posterity was simply the Measure of 9 because this number-power holds the key to Time’s periodicities. And it needs to be repeated: in the Puranic Age the higher knowledge went underground to be preserved in Myth primarily. The ‘science’ we know from this period of concealment is not veda in the sense that we find in the Rig Veda, for example. Therefore, it is no stretch of the imagination to state, as Sri Aurobindo has done, that for the past two thousand years no Indian has understood the Veda. That was the objective: occultation, a veritable eclipse of the Light. To retrieve that knowledge the process has to be through a restoration of the earlier Vedic initiation: we have to retrace our steps.
Thus, by giving a prominent position to the 9 grahas in the Puranic Age, and even imbuing each one with an approachable human aspect to which the devotee could easily relate in spite of the eclipse of the Light, and thereby further the Knowledge albeit unknowingly, this special key could be preserved across the centuries and the millennia. Puranic Tradition has once again demonstrated its ‘method to the madness’ – that is, a means was devised to utilise the temple and the individual worshipper as channels for the preservation of the Dharma through a very dark age. That key had to be camouflaged, along with everything else of significance, re-clothed as it were in a garb suitable to the darkness that set in when the Precession of the Equinoxes entered the Age of Pisces after Sri Krishna’s 8th appearance and the close of the Vedic Age proper. However, we can appreciate the value and importance of the ‘method’ only when we enter fully into the period of the 9th Avatar and can engage in an updating exercise where the 9 plays an essential role, without which the Appearance could not be seen to be factual thereby re-establishing the Dharma as it has been done. Thanks to the Puranic preservation our times can offer factuality that updates Science itself. Heaven is no longer elusive and imaginative. The Vedic Swar descends on Earth.
When I highlight 9 as the key to Time in the old and new cosmologies, it is important to note exactly how this number plays the role that it does. This is carried out through the division of the circle of 360 degrees into 9 parts, resulting in sections of 40 degrees each. Most important of all is to bear in mind ever and always that the CIRCLE IS ONE. We are always analysing one circle within which all divisions are done and find their place. This One Circle of 360 degrees is also the solar year, established by the Earth’s circumambulation of the Sun.
Vedic Tradition has a special characteristic. It is the ability to carry forward the realisation of oneness and unity in this simple manner – the Circle is one, all actions take place in this one field of our endeavour. The circle is everywhere present – in the micro and macrocosm which can all be reduced to the same 360 (=9) degrees of an infinitude of circles always and ever within the One Circle.
To illustrate the method further, we observe that the fourfold harmony is, once more, a product of the Circle. To render concrete the perspective, the ‘one circle’ is our solar system’s ecliptic. In this division, each quarter consists of 90 of the 360 degrees which are marked off by the Equinoxes and Solstices, thereby actualising what would otherwise be just theory or a mental abstract. Thus, the division of 12 (x 30 = 360) with its fourfold balance is the field of the Sacrifice, the 12-month year. Its physicality is easily appreciated by the effects of the Equinoxes and Solstices on the seasons as experienced in the course of the year.
The 12-part division of the One Circle is to be equated with space and the horizontal (expansion) bar of our equal-bodied cross . The circle of 9, on the other hand, is more elusive in that it is the vertical axis expressed in the Solstices (contraction) which require a more initiatic approach to understand as we find in the Veda in its pristine form. In the Puranas the division of 9 is equally present but embellished by tales which camouflage the Knowledge as a form of protection and preservation. From individualised consciousness to consciousness, the initiatic perspective is passed down across the ages in the sacred form of Myth, thereby assuring its survival through periods of great tribulations such as the subcontinent has known throughout the Age of Pisces. Thus, the Navagrahas at each temple’s entrance serve to ‘focus the lens’ of perception right when we enter the sacred precinct, as if to state, ‘This is the Key with which, similar to the Vedic Age, you may enter those ‘worlds’ through the months and the years, i.e., the very solar system we inhabit whose measure is 9 and 12.
To summarise, we have two features of the One Circle, vertical and horizontal. The latter is its division of 12 – spatial, resting on the four Cardinal Pillars; the former is the division of 9, experienced by us as cycles in periods of 9 and multiples thereof. The two together, superimposed, offer the most formidable key of higher knowledge of all times. I have called it the Gnostic Circle. Without it there could be no updating.
I am of the view that the superimposed 9 and 12 was known in the Vedic Age. There are clues in the Rig Veda to suggest that this was the case. The principal clue is the enigmatic phrase, ‘The 9 (navagwas) becomes the 10 (dashagwas).’
Indeed, this ‘becoming’ of 9 to 10 is the hardest, most demanding stage of the Initiate’s journey to Swar because in the lived experience of Number and Unity at the level of 9 there has to be an integration of the two divisions, 9 and 12; that is, Vertical (9) and Horizontal (12) have to intertwine, as it were, to become the equal-bodied cross out of whose centre the Axis is born. Sri Aurobindo writes in this context:
‘Tradition asserts the separate existence of two classes of Angirasa Rishis, the one Navagwas who sacrificed for nine months, the other Dashagwas whose session of sacrifice endured for ten. According to this interpretation we must take Navagwa and Dashagwa as “nine-cowed” and “ten-cowed”, each cow representing collectively the thirty Dawns which constitute one month of the sacrificial year.’
‘The victory is won in twelve periods of the upward journey, represented by the revolution of the twelve months of the sacrificial year, the periods corresponding to the successive dawns of a wider and wider truth, until the tenth secures the victory…What may be the precise significance of the nine rays and the ten, is a more difficult question which we are not yet in a position to solve.’ (The Secret of the Veda, Sri Aurobindo, pp 174-5.)
‘Here cried (or, moved) the stone impelled by the hand, whereby the Navagwas chanted for ten months the hymn…(RV, V. 45-7) ‘I hold for you in the waters the thought that wins possession of heaven, by which the Navagwas passed through the ten months…(RV. V, 45, 1).
And finally regarding the difficulty, Sri Aurobindo wrote,
‘The expression in the hymns, daso maso ataran, indicates that there was some difficulty in getting through the full period of ten months. It is during this period apparently that the sons of darkness had the power to assail the sacrifice; for it is indicated that it is only by the confirming of the thought which conquers Swar, the solar world, that the Rishis are able to get through the ten months…(The Secret of the Veda, p.169).
From The New Way, PNB, Aeon Books, 1981, p.273.
In the composite diagrammatic of the Gnostic Circle this act of the 9 wrapping around the 12 to become the realigned axis is actualised in time and by Time, and is thus forged in the consciousness-being of the Initiate. Herein lies the answer to why the Rishis declared the 10th month/sign to be the stage where the Victory is attained. The 9 of the planetary system must at some point in the initiatic process form that cross balanced on the Cardinal Poles of the 12 Circle: the two must join, and to do so the way forward is the forging of a realigned Axis, cosmos then arises out of an amorphous chaos.
This is accomplished in the 10th month/sign, which is the first of the horizontal 12 to stand before the Initiate when he or she has successfully travelled through the 9 prior stages vertically (in consciousness). The horizontal enters the scheme of things at the 10th sign Capricorn/Meru/ Bharat; hence, the month of Victory, just as the Rishis proclaimed. Thereafter two more sign/months remain, Aquarius and Pisces, which I will discuss further on in relation to Varun, Mitra and Bhaga, the ‘weightiest’ of the Vedic Gods. The diagram above will help to visualise the superimposition of the two, the circle of 9 (planets) and 12 (zodiac sign/months).
The previsionary character of the Puranas is again to be noted because this updating could only come to pass when our solar system had reached a measure of 9. When that occurred in the first half of the last century, coinciding with the arrival of the 9th Avatar of Vishnu exactly on time – that is, just when his Age of Preservation had arrived – the correct number scale could be used, 0 to 9, along with the spatial field of 1 to 12 which had been known from time immemorial and handed down as the 12-part zodiac. In this time of updating we add the Circle of 9 to the equation. Thus we have the equal-bodied cross actualised through a Key that had been preserved through the Puranic period, albeit somewhat camouflaged by the personalisation of Myth – the ‘method to the madness’ to keep the Knowledge alive for us to retrieve today.
Aeon Centre of Cosmology