Thursday, November 22, 2007

Balarama’s pilgrimage (Part 1)

The Indian Calendar

The story below has a connotation to Indian astrology. 27 constellations, which are considered to be relatively fixed in the sky because of their great distance from earth, were of great significance in Indians right from ancient days. They are called stars for convenience and are named “aSwini”, “bharaNi” and so on. The earth, in its rotation around the sun, passes past each of them in turn. The moon, going round the earth at the same time, also passes by the same stars. During this journey the moon waxes and wanes. Indian astrology crucially bases its calculations on the relative position of the sun, moon and earth with respect to these stars. This astrological phenomenon is poetically told in the story below.

Astrologers consider that the moon is strongest in its effect when it is near the star, “rohiNi” which is also hinted in the poetic imagery in the story.

Incidentally, the ancient Indian lunar calendar is based on this path taken by the earth and the moon. The time taken for a full cycle (that is one year), is divided into 12 equal parts and are taken to be the months. Thus, 2 and 1/4 of the stars are covered in a month. The month is given the name of that star (constellation) near which the moon becomes full. For example, in the first group the full moon appears when the earth passes past the star, “aSwini”. Hence, the month is called “aaSwina” and so on.

The Prabhaasa Teertham

The word Theertham means a pilgrimage centre, where generally, there is a holy river or lake for bathing. Prabhaasa is a holy place along the river Saraswati in the present day Gujarat, near to Krishna’s abode, Dwaaraka.


Balaraama was the son of Vasudeva (Krishna’s real father) born of Rohini. He was upset with the impending war between the two of his allies, Kauravas and Pandavas. So, he decided to go on a pilgrimage to avoid the war that was, according to him, immoral.

He ordered for elaborate preparations for his pilgrimage. A large caravan of animals and men was made ready as ordered by the Yadava chief. The group included Brahmins of great learning to perform rituals at the pilgrimage centres. A large number of milch cows with their horns covered in gold or silver was included in the group. They were meant to be gifts to deserving Brahmins. Food in abundance was also carried to offer to the poor all along the way.

Balaraama started northwards along the bank of the river, Saraswati. His first visit was to Prabhaasa along the holy river. Janamejaya, at that point, wanted to hear the importance of the holy place. Accordingly, sage VaiSampaayana narrated the story of Daksha Prajaapati (the latter word meaning the father of the human race). It was the time of the first Creation. Daksha was one of the first to be created by Brahma, the God of Creation. He was then given the task of procreating other living beings in the world. He produced 27 daughters (besides others) who were named “aSwini”, “bharaNi”, etc. He married them off to “soma” (the Moon).

All the daughters of Daksha were wide eyed and beautiful. But, prettiest of them was “rohiNi”. Hence, Soma was attracted more towards her. He spent all his time with this daughter of Daksha which made the other daughters angry and jealous. They went and complained to their father about it. Daksha called his son-in-law and asked him not to be partial to any. Soma agreed. But, he could not change his old ways.

Again the girls complained about it and again Daksha ordered his son-in-law to behave. This happened three times. Each time Soma agreed to change his ways, but, failed to do so once he was with his darling “rohiNi”. After the third offence Daksha uttered a curse on Soma. “May you suffer from the debilitating consumption!” The curse of the powerful Prajapati took immediate effect. Soma started getting pale day by day. He tried all sorts of cures including special prayers and rituals. Nothing worked. The gods went on a delegation to Daksha to save Soma from his malady. Daksha called Soma aside and said. “My words have to take effect. You must start spending time with your wives equally. For atonement, take a holy dip in the sacred river Saraswati. Then, you shall recover your health. But, as a reminder, you shall be inflicted with the malady half the time in each month. Henceforth, young man, do not humiliate women!”.

Soma, accordingly, took a dip in the holy river at Prabhaasa and started getting better day by day until he recovered fully and became his old self. But then, the curse of Daksha had to take effect. So, he started getting paler day by day for the next fifteen days. It is said that this, his holy dip, getting better and then the curse taking effect for the next fifteen days, has been going on ever since then. It is also said that Soma has been spending equal time with all of his wives ever since.

Balaraama and his entourage spent one night at Prabhaasa and continued northwards next morning.

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