Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Back East

We will leave Europe for now and go back east to India. It was to here, as we have mentioned, that the Nusantao merchants brought their goods for distribution to points beyond on the Clove Route.

Good relations with India would have been important especially for the Dragon and Bird Clan who mostly controlled this northern route as opposed to the southern transoceanic Cinnamon Route. The gradual migration of Indian religious influences into Southeast Asia helped foster good relations.

While it is difficult to gauge when these influences began, by the time of the Chinese traveler Fahsien in the 5th century, the influece was apparently strongly established. Fahsien mentions that in Ye-po-ti an island on the last leg of the journey from India to China, he found a form of Brahminism in practice. When I Ching traveled to India and back a few centuries later, he found at Foshi, again the last stop from India to China, that Buddhism was flourishing instead .

Indeed, there are some who believe that the syncretic forms of belief that combined Hindu worship of Siva and the Sun together with Buddhism originated in Southeast Asia and were carried back to India.

I suggest in one of my articles that the location known as Sakadvipa to the Indians was in Southeast Asia. In Hindu texts, Sakadvipa is associated strongly with Sun worship.

Indeed, in insular Southeast Asia we find that Siva is combined with local manifestations of the Sun god. Solar worship was and is widespread among indigenous religions of this region and also beyond into the Pacific. Forms of Siva such as Batara Guru and Maharaja Dewa (Mahadewa) are closely identified with the Sun in local forms of Hinduism or Kebatinan, and even in the genie lore of Muslims.

Apparently people from Sakadvipa also migrated to India forming the caste known today as the Sakadwipi brahmins. These Sakadwipis are dispersed mainly in eastern India where we also find syncreticism of Sun and Siva worship as in the Bhairava sect. Orissa on the eastern coast, in particular, becomes a center of Sun worship and pilgrims often visit to worship at Sun temples here.

One of the specific forms of solar worship was to bathe in the sea or to meditate in the forest (vana) and this was recommended especially to be done in Orissa.

The Sakadwipi brahmins became established mainly in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa, and from these places migrated to other regions. This occured during a time of significant recorded contact between East India and Suvarnadvipa (insular Southeast Asia). Specifically we know that Gauda and Varman kings of Bengal were said to have brought Sakadwipi brahmins into their courts. The Sakadwipis of today are often of the Sakta sect, which worships the goddess in the form of the spouse of Siva. They generally are held in low esteem by brahmins who claim North Indian origin (Pancha Gauda).

However, at one time they were leaders in the fields of astronomy and ayurvedic medical sciences. Even today, many are found practicing traditional astrology and healing.

The Sakadwipis are located where Siva/Sakti worship combines with Sun worship as in northern Bihar where the Chhath Sun festival is still of great importance. Here one encounters many syncretic temples combining Siva/Sakti images with those of the Sun god.

Sakadwipis were apparently very important in the astronomical circles around Magadha and latter in Avanti. The great astronomer Varahamihira was a Sakadwipi. It was during the period starting around the fifth century that we see a real flourishing of astronomy and geography in India.

One important feature of this astronomy/geography is found in the relation of the place known as Yamakoti or "Yama's peak." As mentioned previously, Yama is the Indian god of death and the Underworld. According to the astronomical text Surya Siddhanta we find from Lanka "at a quadrant of the earth's circumference eastward, in the clime Bhadrasva, is the city famed as Yamakoti, having the walls and gateways of gold."

Bhadrasva is the eastern region in the Puranas fed by the Sita, the river which also happens to be linked with both Sakadvipa and Shambhala.

Varahamihira states that when it is midnight in Yamakoti, it is sunset in Lanka and midday in Romaka, which refers either to Rome or Alexandria. If we accept Romaka as the latter, then Yamakoti would be roughly at the same meridian as Mt. Pinatubo.

Lanka is said to be on the same longitude as present-day Ujjain or at about 75° East longitude. Alexandria is at about 30° East and Pinatubo is at about 120° East, so they are both separated by about 45 degrees from Lanka.

Of course, 45 degrees is only one half of a quadrant of the earth's circumference. Rome would be much closer to a quadrant although still far off the mark.

We should note that Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy of Alexandria tend to give similar indications in respect to longitude. If you remember, we mentioned that when Magellan landed in the Philippines he was heading for the port known as Cattigara.

In Ptolemy's Geographia, we find that Alexandria, Cattigara and the approximate location as best we can determine of Ujjain, are about proportionately equidistant from one another.

A medieval rendition of Ptolemy's world map by Girolamo Ruscelli in 1561

Marinus of Tyre states that the distance from the Fortunate Isles (Canary-Madiera Islands) to Cattigara was 230 degrees. The actual distance is about half that amount. Thus, both the Indian and Greek astronomers appear to overestimate distance in degrees by the same amount at least a these long ranges.

If Yamakoti mentioned by the Indian astronomers coincides fairly well with the Cattigara of the Greeks and Magellan, then we can see the Mt. Pinatubo would definitely be a good candidate for "Yama's Peak."

Paul Kekai Manansala


Burgess, Rev. E.(trans), Gangooly, P.(ed.), The Surya Siddhanta: A Text-Book of Hindu Astronomy: Motilal Banarsida Publishers Private Ltd., Delhi, India, 1860 (reprinted in 1935 and 1989).

Varahamihira, Panchasiddhantika, Translated by G. Thibaut and Mahamahopadhyaya Sudhakara Dvivedi. Benares: Medical Hall Press, 1889.