5.11.2005

Coiled serpents on a wayside stelae

On the roads, Tamil Nadu country side: Coiled serpents on a stelae, sounds like something out of a fantasy in the middle ages. Well, not exactly, because its something you would invariably pass without taking notice of, every time you went to work.



If you looked closer, you would notice various version of coiled serpent stelae, but one of the most prominent is that of two serpents in two and half coils facing each other, housing a shiva linga in between. Maybe they are some naga cult icons under a tree, smeared with vermillion and turmeric.

Why is there so much of importance given to these icons, what do they signify and why are they all over the place? Well, someone had pointed out to me earlier that faith cannot be compared with language since its not logical. There is nothing more logical than the school of thought the surrounds these naga cult icons. Its all about energy... of course you need to believe in it.

Its a school of thought, that the energy of Shiva stays dormant as the potential energy while the mother godess represents the active kinetic energy that flows through the passages along the spinal chord. These are typically called the Nadis, you might have heard this before... but i will keep this one short. It is believed that when the female energy, also called the kundalini energy, is awakened in the aspirant, it sits up like a two and a half coiled serpent ready to rise up the nadis, crossing each chakra or energy center along the way till it finally meets the male potential energy and unites with it. This has been represented as the soma skanda panel depicting the union of shiva and parvati resulting in the birth of soma skanda.

Soma skanda is a debatable person. He could be karthikeya or a concept without a form. The idea behind soma skanda is to depict the union of the male and female energy which results in the flow of self generated amrita or soma which sustains the aspirant, hence forth eliminating his dependency on the external world around him. This subtle concept is depicted as a family panel for the understanding of the masses.



Now coming back to the cult icons, its interesting to see that this school of thought is plastered all over the place, and we simply dont seem to take notice of it. We do have the naga cults, but they were subordinate to the cult of Shiva and had a lot to do with him. The shore temple at Mahabalipuram clearly depicts cult icons of Nagas on the outer walls, resonably eroded, but clear enough to indicate the practices during the Pallava ages. This practise definitely has not died since, its very much alive getting a fresh coat of vermillion every morning, apart from flowers from passerbys who dont even knwo what its meant to depict.

Bottom line, our culture is all around us, its under the trees, in the temples, potent schools of thought scattered all around reminding us of what our forefathers have figured out well before the white man even started to think!

All we need to do is just open our eyes!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe i dint communicate correctly despite the rigidity of logical rules in language...i am not disputing logic behind faith...all i am saying is the application of logic i.e. rules(grammatical and otherwise) that apply in language is more rigid than that in faith so that individual impressions can be minimized (although that doesnt seem to be the case)...where you have a certain degree of freedom to find your own paths and conclusions....having said that...there is a question i would like to pose regarding the stelae...
the logic behind this cannot be interpreted that easily that they are naga cult icons denoting energy? That would be more an assumption...more data is required for a conclusion...for example if we assume that the used pepsi cans thrown at roadside ditches have the longevity of granite, do u think it is right to assume a few thousand years later that they represent spiritual freedom of a pepsi cult coz they are a container...and there is emptiness within..and the emptiness should be crushed? that is not the way...there should be another way...my next post may possibly suggest the way...i need time to think on how to communicate it...

Anonymous said...

okay here goes...starting with the example of the pepsi cans...the best way for our descendants to find out the meaning would be to try and figure out the utility of the pepsi cans to find out their meaning...and the logic behind it...similarly with the stelae to find out what they are we need to understand what they were used for...an empirical method can be based on again the meaning and origin of the words...so first find out what these are called in local languages in the places they are found...(tamil nadu is not the only state in india where they are seen under primarily banyan trees)...now comes the difficult part...splitting the word etymologically will not help since you are trying to find the utlility...so identify local literature like folk songs, folk stories, etc which contain the word for stelae and how they have been represented...a trend can be seen after studying a few such folklore..and bingo u know why the stelae werre there and who used it and for what....
mebbe i am wrong mebbe i am right but thats how i would proceed to learn
Do i see some hints to prejudice in ur sentence...well before the white man even started to think! well you have heard of suryavamshis who were white men with fairskin and who wrote the vedas...and migrated out of india like they came into india...mebbe there is a missing link there...after all what is the aryan race about?

kavitha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kavitha said...

Hi "anonymous"

You make a lot of sense there, going into folk lore is a very essential way of finding out the purpose of these stelae.

Talking about the aryans, there is a mixed theory that the aryans never invaded, the story of them being a mongolian race is something the brits put in place here to increase the racial chaos in this country.

yes i was being prejudiced about the "white man". here it was clearly intended to be the american and european races - not the ancient indians. I figured i was not too clear in my post.

Lastly this posting on stelae, is what i think they posibly could signify, maybe i might have missed a whole new perspective altogether. Your post on Vimanas was indeed very enlightening and you have given me more reason to look into this subject from a totally different perspective. Thanks for that. I have been going through it very art historically and have not exactly moved into language - its a weak point.

As far as your point on language goes there was a particular aspect of it i was trying to hit on. Its not the logic of language i was talking about but the fact that when you start to learn a language, there are greater chances of picking it up when you are in an environment where only that language is spoken and not as a cold logical approach to nouns and verbs, kids dont learn language by understanding it, they simply pick it up.

thats what i was talking about, to follow a religion you need to be in the middle of it, (faith to keep your mind open and receptive) and you will pick up the religion as fast as you pick up language, but asking quetions before getting started wont fetch the answers you are looking for...i hope i made my point a little clearly now...:)

btw thanks for visiting my blog, you do have quite a few interesting things to say.

Anonymous said...

i am glad u appreciate my comments...will comment further sometime...do let me know what u find out about the naga icons...it would help if u can tell me what the local words are in a few languages...say tamil, hindi, keralite, kannada, and telugu...let me kow that adn ill see what i can find

JC Joshi said...

There is interchange of thoughts between all 'life forms', between the life of the same kind, maybe in words or even sign languages as is understood by the 'scientists' today.

However, one could find that there is an unspoken communication in every thing/ phenomenon one finds in ‘Nature’ or one’s environment that needs 'reading between the lines'. For example, presence of cream in every single drop of milk is interpreted by some as communicating God’s presence within each ‘life’ form. And, floating of a thick layer of cream on the top, after milk is boiled in a vessel, indicates similarly the lifting of total energy to one point in the head for realization of truth as an outcome of ‘tapasya’ by Yogis, who believe Krishna, the cowboy of Dwaperyuga, to be the Yogiraj or their boss. (Yoga, meaning unison, is believed as an exercise with a view to achieving unison of mind, body and soul by reaching a thoughtless state, i.e., attaining a ‘zero’ state, like that of the ‘omnipotent’ God, who believably remains detached and located ever in zero space and time. The ancients believed God to be a dot, or Naadbindu, the source of sound energy used in the creation of the infinite universe.) Our galaxy of innumerable stars, a disc shaped and frisby (Sudershan Chakra) like body in appearance that houses our planetary system also, could be visualized as the link between our planet earth, including life on it, and the infinite void of the universe. And, the galaxy itself was perhaps visualized as the prototype represented by Krishna in human form as its model…

The ‘live’ human body was believed to consist of two ‘working’ systems. The body structure was believed to be formed out of the ‘essences’ of selected members of the planetary system, each of which was believed to be centred at different levels or points along the central nervous system (that has a sympathetic nervous system that runs parallel to it on either side and equidistant from the central system, referred also as nadis or rivers to indicate flow of energy, like water in rivers) - from the tail-bone end or Mooladhar to the head or Sahasrara (indicated by the figure 8, the coiled serpents, as an easily understandable example in nature. Or, as Conception vessel and Governing vessel as in ancient Chinese belief, reflected in the science of Acupuncture that considers man as store house of surplus Solar energy, perhaps for use of the relatively longer living planetary system, like man similarly uses surplus stored energy in vegetable and animal life) - and according to a set hierarchy between the planets concerned. (One could perhaps now see why the flute, a musical instrument that has holes in its body, and is played with the exhaled air blown in at one end, with the other end open at the bottom, was associated with Krishna.) Each ‘working body’ was believed capable of storing a part of the total energy, the total potential of which was infinite. The performance efficiency of each such ‘working model’ or an ‘instrument’, however, depends on the original potential or the balance charge in the jeevatma or the soul that gets introduced at the Yuga concerned and the time of birth of the concerned body as per the relevant practice. This could be compared with introduction of a charged battery into a torch, or a toy, or an electronic clock, and so on. The ‘death’ of the body thus could be visualized, with the above-said items becoming in-operational when the battery is either completely discharged, or is removed even when it is charged and the equipment may still be in a ‘working condition’. Yogis exhibited that the soul in an apparently weak body due to abuse of misuse even could be recharged, like an ordinary battery, with the help of Faith, and controlled breathing or Pranayam, together with certain yogic exercises, and thus result in increase in the utilizable potential and/ or the extension of the life span of the concerned body itself.

The stelae at a particular time, relatively in recent times, in the past could at
least communicate that even if these were installed, recently as a ritual practice, by 'tribals', it could prove that the ancients were much more advanced in technology than the apparent advancement in the present era over the last few centuries.

JC Joshi said...

Hi!
As an attempt to understand Som Skandha, let us see the order of location of the ‘Heavenly Bodies’ in the Planetary System - from ‘Left to Right’, the accepted practice of writing in Sanskrit or English - with our Sun in the number ‘zero’ or central location, i.e., relatively in a fixed position, around which revolve other members of the system. Each along its own defined orbit while they rotate around their own axes too, such that each completes one revolution in varying durations of time due to the increase in distance from the sun.

The nearest planet is Mercury that runs the fastest as it completes one revolution in just 88 days, compared to about 365 days (of 24 hours each, the time of its one rotation around its own axis) taken by our planet earth, which is referred as the ‘third planet’. The second in position, after Mercury, is Venus that does it in around 224 days. The peculiarity of this planet is that it has a retrograde motion, i.e., it rotates from East to West, unlike other planets that rotate from West to East. Thus, for the terrestrials, the sun rises in the East whereas for Venus it rises in the West (It could perhaps explain why the Muslims in India face the direction West, Urdu is written from Right to left, and so on, such that their actions appear exactly opposite to that of 'Hindus'!). Venus could thus be seen located on the right hand side of the Moon-Earth, as the ‘inner planet’. Whereas the next planet after Earth, Mars the ‘outer planet’, is located on the left hand side of the Earth-Moon. Because of the position values of the planets nearest to earth-moon, Venus (Kartikeya, the General of the Generals as its typical model in the Satyuga) is the Right hand side Som skandha, whereas, Mars, Ganesha as its typical model, is the Left hand side Som Skandha. It is a fact that, considered relatively, normally the right hand is physically stronger in the males (Moon) compared to his left. However, although Ganesha or Mars, being an outer planet, takes more time to complete one revolution compared to Venus as well as Earth, but has an edge in comparison, as it revolves around Earth-Moon (taking care of the parents) also, which the inner planet can't.

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