Refutation of Rupa Bhaty’s dating of ancient texts

Nataraja iconography has NOTHING to do with Agastya (Canopus) star

Refutation of astronomical dating of Agastya observation to 19,000 BCE by Rupa Bhaty

In this article I will refute the claim of astronomical connection between Natarāja iconography and Agastya. This thesis has been developed by Rupa Bhaty and described in an article on IndiaFacts [1] and presentations available on Youtube [2–4]. In the article on IndiaFacts, Bhaty asserts:

“Cosmic Natarāja has to do with identification of Agastya’s location. … This astronomical event happened during 11000BCE- 13000BCE.” [1]

In a related presentation, Bhaty takes this connection to over 19,000 BCE [2]. I intend to show that Bhaty has made baseless assumptions to come up with these numbers that defy common sense. I will start with the accepted understanding of Natarāja iconography and then refute Bhaty’s thesis.

1. Natarāja iconography

The image of Lord Śiva as Natarāja is shown in Figure 1. The meaning of Natarāja iconography is well known. Here is what Wikipedia says about Natarāja iconography [5]:

The sculpture is symbolic of Shiva as the lord of dance and dramatic arts, with its style and proportions made according to Hindu texts on arts. It typically shows Shiva dancing in one of the Natya Shastra poses, holding Agni (fire) in his left back hand, the front hand in gajahasta (elephant hand) or dandahasta (stick hand) mudra, the front right hand with a wrapped snake that is in abhaya (fear not) mudra while pointing to a Sutra text, and the back hand holding a musical instrument, usually a damaru. His body, fingers, ankles, neck, face, head, ear lobes and dress are shown decorated with symbolic items, which vary with historic period and region. He is surrounded by a ring of flames, standing on a lotus pedestal, lifting his left leg (or in rare cases, the right leg) and balancing/trampling upon a demon shown as a dwarf (Apasmara or Muyalaka) who symbolizes ignorance.

The quoted text is self explanatory. It is clear that the Naṭarāja iconography has nothing to do with astronomy and has no connection with Agastya, but Bhaty has used her boundless imagination to connect it to Agastya.

Figure 1: Lord Śiva as Natarāja

2. Astronomical connection between Natarāja iconography and Agastya

So how does Bhaty connect the Naṭarāja iconography to Agastya, who is a sage as well as a star named Canopus? Here is Bhaty’s explanation [1]:

Apasmāra means forgetfulness and epilepsy. It represents Agastya when Agastya is not visible from parts of India. Astronomical evidences, are philosophically braided in Indian scriptures, alludes to ignorance and forgetfulness about the star Agastya. It represents a lost memory of an astronomical event, moreover, which has been a neglected part in understanding of Natarāja’s iconography.

Bhaty just decides out of her fancy that Apasmāra represents Agastya. Bhaty does not have a single quote from any text that justifies this identification. Bhaty then proceeds to superimpose the image of Naṭarāja on the Orion constellation in an arbitrary manner as shown in Figure 2. We are talking science here. How did Bhaty decide the size and orientation of Naṭarāja icon to be superimposed on this part of the sky? There has to be some basis of this superimposition instead of flights of fancy.

Based on the fanciful placement of Naṭarāja icon in the sky, Bhaty has identified Lepus constellation with Apasmāra [1].

From the above Pic it is found that Apasmāra gets superimposed upon a separate constellation called ‘Lepus’, which is shown trampelled by Śiva-Natarāja, and which rises before Agastya- Canopus during the rising and setting of Orion in the sky.

Figure 2: Bhaty’s representation of connection between Naṭarāja and Agastya [1]

First it is claimed that Apasmāra represents Agastya and then it is claimed that Apasmāra is Lepus constellation, hence Lepus constellation is Agastya. The absurdity of this concept is clear from Figure 2, where Agastya (star Canopus) is shown at the bottom. How can there be two Agastyas, Lepus constellation as well as Canopus?

Furthermore, an iconography of Naṭarāja exists that totally demolishes the ill-conceived theory of Bhaty. It is a Naṭarāja statue from Kashmir that has Naṭarāja upside down with his hand on Apasmāra. Check these two links. [https://in.pinterest.com/pin/57350595231012613/, https://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/LORD%20OF%20DANCE.htm]. Bhaty’s whole idea of superimposing Naṭarāja iconography on stars goes for a toss with this statue.

The whole idea to superimpose the image of Naṭarāja on the Orion constellation is absurd. The concept of Orion constellation is western, not Indian. Bhaty has borrowed a western concept and arbitrarily used it in an Indian context for which there is no precedence. It makes no sense to impose the iconography of a cosmic dance when discussing Orion as a hunter. To make any sense, Bhaty has to use the imagery of Śiva as a hunter and not as a cosmic dancer.

The concept of Orion as a hunter may have evolved from the description of Śiva as a hunter in Vedic texts. However, the description of this part of the sky is significantly different from what Bhaty has arbitrarily imposed on it. Here is the description of related nakṣatras in Vedic text Aitareya Brahmana (iii.33/ xiii.9):

prajāpatirvai svāṃ duhitaramabhyadhyāyaddivamityanya āhuruṣasamityanye tāmṛśyo bhūtvā rohitambhūtāmabhyaittaṃ devā apaśyann ākṛtaṃ vai prajāpatiḥ karotīti te tamaichanya enamāriṣyatyetamanyonyasminnāvindaṃsteṣāṃ yā eva ghoratamāstanva āsaṃstā ekadhā samabharaṃstāḥ sambhṛtā eṣa devo’bhavattadasyaitadbhūtavannām bhavati vai sa yo’syaitadevaṃ nāma veda taṃ devā abrūvannayaṃ vai prajāpatirakṛtamakarimaṃ vidhyeti sa tathetyabravītsa vai vo varaṃ vṛṇā iti vṛṇīṣveti sa etameva varamavṛṇīta paśūnāmādhipatyaṃ tadasyaitatpaśumannāma paśumānbhavati yo’syaitadevaṃ nāma veda tamabhyāyatyāvidhyatsa viddha ūrdhva udapravata tametammṛga ityācakṣate ya u eva mṛgavyādhaḥ sa u eva sa yā rohitsā rohiṇī yo eveṣustrikāṇḍā so eveṣustrikāṇḍā tadvā

Here is the English translation of the text [6]:

Prajāpati felt love towards his own daughter, the sky some say, Uṣas others. Having become a stag he approached her in the form of a deer. The gods saw him, ‘A deed unknown Prajāpati now does.’ They sought to punish him; they found him not among one another. These most dread forms they brought together in one place. Brought together they became this deity here; therefore is his name containing (the word) Bhūta; he prospers who knows thus his name. To him the gods said, ‘Prajāpati here hath done a deed unknown; pierce him.’ ‘Be it so,’ he replied, ‘Let me choose a boon from you.’ ‘Choose’ (they said). He chose this boon, the overlordship of cattle; therefore does his name contain the word ‘cattle’. Rich in cattle he becomes who knows thus this name of his. Having aimed at him he pierced him; being pierced he flew upwards; him they call ‘the deer’. The piercer of the deer is he of that name (Mṛgavyādha). The female deer is Rohiṇī; the three-pointed arrow is the three-pointed arrow.

Based on this description, the identification of star/star groups is shown in Figure 3. Lord Śiva as Mṛgavyādha or hunter of deer is identified with star Sirius. Prajapati is Mṛgaśirā nakṣatra, which is a group of three stars, Heka (φ1 Ori), Meissa (λ Ori), and HIP 26366 (φ2 Ori). Rohiṇī (doe) is star Aldebaran. Three-pointed arrow is the group of three stars in the Orion’s belt, Alnitak (ζ Ori), Alnilam (ε Ori), and Mintaka (δ Ori).

Figure 3: The identification of star/star groups according to Vedic texts

It is clear from the above description that identification of Orion constellation with the Naṭarāja has no basis. It is Bhaty’s figment of imagination. Other parts of Bhaty’s thesis are also the result of wishful thinking such as the dating of Arudra /Ardra darisanam.

3. Arudra /Ardra darisanam

Bhaty proposes that the festival of Arudra /Ardra darisanam is related to vernal equinox being in Ārdrā naksatra, which Bhaty dates to 6000 BCE-5000 BCE. Here is what Bhaty writes [1]:

The first eye-catching evidence is Arudra /Ardra darisanam festival of Tamilnadu which is a ten day annual festival in December related to the moon being full in the lunar asterism (nakshatra) Ardra (i.e, alpha Orionis), associated with wrathful aspect of Śiva. On this day Śiva becomes Natarāja or Koothan. In Kerala, the festival is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Śiva. Thiruvathira is the Ardra nakshatra or “star” as per the Malayalam calendar of Lord Śiva. Indeed some astronomical event must have had happened in Ardra nakshatra sometime in past due to which the festival of Arudra Darisanam continues till date. One such is a speculated event of supernovae explosion which has been assumed by many writers. My conjecture would show that it has been related to a new-year beginning on vernal equinox day. We come across another verse in regard of yearly phenomena,-“tasmai te rudra saṃvatsareṇa namaskaromi” (Taittirīya Saṃhitā V.5.7.3–4). This verse serves as a piece of evidence for year beginning with Rudra (deity of Ardra Nakshatra) on the ecliptic node and this was happening around 6000 BCE-5000BCE.

This is a prime example of gross misinterpretation of texts. Bhaty claims that “tasmai te rudra saṃvatsareṇa namaskaromi” in Taittirīya Saṃhitā V.5.7.3–4 means that year began with Ārdrā naksatra at vernal equinox as Rudra is the presiding deity of Ārdrā naksatra. Here is the text of Taittirīya Saṃhitā V.5.7.2–4:

yatte rudra puro dhanustad vāto anu vātu te tasmai te rudra samvatsareṇa namaskaromi |

yatte rudra dakṣiṇā dhanustad vāto anu vātu te tasmai te rudra parivatsareṇa namaskaromi |

yatte rudra paścāddhanustad vāto anu vātu te tasmai te rudredāvatsareṇa namaskaromi |

yat te rudrottarāddhanustad vāto anu vātu te tasmai te rudreduvatsareṇa namaskaromi |

yat te rudropari dhanustad vāto anu vātu te tasmai te rudravatsareṇa namaskaromi |

The English translation by Keith is as follows [7]:

The bow of thine, O Rudra, in the east, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the year I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the south, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the full year I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the west, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the Idā year I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the north, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the Idu year I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra above, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the year I pay homage.

The English translations of our scriptures sometimes miss the technical points, which can be corrected by looking at the original texts. We can correct the above translation by Keith to following, after taking into account that the passage contains technical names of the years in the 5-year yugas.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, in the east, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the samvatsara I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the south, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the parivatsara I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the west, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the idāvatsara I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra, on the north, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the iduvatsara I pay homage.

The bow of thine, O Rudra above, may the wind blow after it for thee, to thee, O Rudra, with the vatsara I pay homage.

Clearly, this is homage to Rudra with each year of the yuga. There is no reference to Rudra samvatsara or year marked with Rudra. Saṃvatsara has not been used here as any year, but the first year of the 5-year yuga used in Vedic times. It does not support year beginning with Ārdrā Nakṣatra (represented by its deity Rudra) being on the vernal equinox.

Bhaty claims that the festival of Arudra /Ardra darisanam associated with Naṭarāja dates back to 6000 BCE-5000 BCE. However, the Naṭarāja iconography is of much recent origin, starting in 6th century CE. Here is what Wikipedia says [5]:

The classical form of the depiction appears in stone reliefs, as at the Ellora Caves and the Badami Caves, by around the 6th century. Around the 10th century, it emerged in Tamil Nadu in its mature and best-known expression in Chola bronzes, of various heights typically less than four feet, some over.

Arudra /Ardra darisanam takes place when the moon is in Ārdrā Nakṣatra on full moon night in the month of Margazhi or Mārgaśīrṣa. It falls towards the end of December or early January. Thus it is essentially a festival related to winter solstice.

Bhaty has also claimed that star Agastya was being observed in India since over 19,000 BCE [2]. This is based on giving an astronomical interpretation to a tale where none is warranted.

4. Agastya story is not astronomical

The proponent of this astronomical interpretation was late Professor K.D. Abhyankar. The story of sage Agastya crossing Vindhya Mountain is well known. Abhyankar has described this story and its interpretation in these words [8]:

The Puranic story tells us that the Vindhya mountain tried to compete with the Himalayas in height by becoming taller and taller. People became afraid that it may obstruct the path of the sun; so they approached sage Agastya who was the Guru (teacher) of the Vindhyas. As Agastya arrived, the Vindhya mountain prostrated before him in reverence. The sage said that he was going south and that the mountain should lie prostrated till he returned. But the sage never returned thus laying the Vindhyas flat for ever. It is easy to interpret this tale as an allegory to the actual crossing of the Vindhyas by Agastya, a northerner, for the first time in history. … Now if we assume the above interpretation to be correct, it is possible to find the epoch of Agastya’s crossing the Vindhyas. Here we have a clue that Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky, is called Agastya in India.

It should be noted that Abhyankar has said “if we assume the above interpretation to be correct” meaning he had no proof to verify his interpretation. Now the story as told in the Purāṇas is not about star Agastya but sage Agastya. The story can be explained without resorting to an astronomical interpretation. The time of the Purāṇas was the time of national integration. North Indians and South Indians were coming in cultural contact and Vindhya Mountain was an obstruction to this national integration. Hence, it was the desire of the intellectuals (sages) of the time to tame the Vindhya Mountain. This story is the expression of that desire in which Vindhya mountain lies low forever so that North India and South India could be integrated in one cultural unit. The dates of 12,000 BCE and 19,000 BCE based on the movement of star Agastya are unacceptable for the simple reason that the story on which this calculation is based is about sage Agastya and not star Agastya. If Bhaty or anyone else claims fantastic high chronology based on an astronomical observation then that observation has to be rock solid and unambiguous and not subject to some fanciful interpretation. For anyone claiming such antiquity, the burden of proof has to be extremely stringent and these claims cannot be made in such casual manner that Bhaty has proposed.

References

1. Bhaty, R., “Astronomical Association of Natarāja’s Dance with Apasmara and Agastya”, https://www.indiafacts.org.in/archives/cosmic-consciousness-and-astronomical-association-of-natarajas-dance-with-apasmara-and-agastya/.

2. Bhaty, R., “Nataraja, Apasmara And Agastya Connection from +19000 BCE”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRhO-y9NgjI.

3. Bhaty, R., “Cosmic Consciousness & Astronomical Association of Natarāja’s Dance with Apasmara and Agastya”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5ayP1hR6IE.

4. Bhaty, R., “Cosmic Consciousness; Dance of Natarāja & Agastya’s influence on Shaiva tradition; An Astronomical Case”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9ZwvLeJ4dw.

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nataraja.

6. Keith, A.B., 1920, Rigveda Brahmanas: The Aitareya and Kausitaki Brahmanas of the Rigveda, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, pages 185–186.

7. Keith, A.B., 1914, The Veda of the Black Yajus School entitled Taittiriya Sanhita, Part 2, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, page 446.

8. Abhyankar, K. D., 2005. Folklore and Astronomy: Agastya a sage and a star, Current Science, Vol. 89, №12, pages 2174–2176.

Note: 10 April, 2021

Bhaty has said on Twitter the following:

I have made no such admission. Astronomical interpretation of Naṭarāja iconography is not supported by Vedic texts as shown in my article.

More about the author

I am a seeker in search of the true history and heritage of India. I have strong scientific background (B.Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA) and a deep interest in ancient Indian texts. My work on Indology spans three different fields: cosmology, astronomy, and history.

Email: rajarammohanroy108@gmail.com

Next: Surya Siddhanta was NOT written over 14,000 years ago: Refutation of the article “Ancient updates to Sūrya-siddhānta” by Nilesh N. Oak and Rupa Bhaty

Vedic Scholar, Materials Scientist, Author of books on Vedic Astronomy, Jain Astronomy, and Ancient Indian History

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