Though the great worth of old texts as a source .of cultural history is widely acknowledged, astrological writings are generally supposed to be deficient in this respect. The erroneousness of the notion will be best illustrated by a glance at the present-work dwelling from this angle upon the priceless historical data enshrined in the treatises of Varahamihira, one of the most celebrated astronomers-astrologers that India is justly proud of. His writings afford precious information on practically every aspect of life one can think of and happen to contain the earliest extant datable treatment of several topics in the absence of earlier texts dealing with them which were eclipsed by the comprehensiveness of his works. The present book takes a critical view of all the information afforded by them objectively in a historical perspective, checking, corroborating arid supplementing it from contemporary literary and archaeological sources and highlighting the antecedents and subsequent ramifications in many a case where found imperative. The topics dealt with include, inter alia, historical geography, iconography, idol worship. Indra's festival and other religious rituals and practices, varieties of necklaces, perfumery and other items of toilet and personal adornment comprehending hair- dyes, tooth-sticks, umbrellas, chowries and betel-chewing, agricultural and horticultural practices, gem industry and trade, role of astrology in everyday life, civil and religious architecture, plasters, sculpture, iconometry, earlier literature on a variety of topics much of which is now known only from Varahamihira's works, genesis of the name Varahamihira, jovian cycles of twelve and sixty years, meteorology and rainfall, and location of 'sub-soil water-resources. Thus, this happens to be perhaps the only work presenting critically at one place so much information on so many diverse’ topics of interest to students of geography, religious history, 'cosmetics, jewel industry and trade, agriculture and horticulture, civil and religious architecture, meteorology and hydrology.
Ajay Mitra Sliastri (b. 1934), a reputed historian, epigraphist, numismatist and indologist, has just retired as Professor of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology from Nagpur University. A former Editor of the Journal of the Numismatic Society of India and the Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India and Chief Editor of the Nidhi (journal of the Indian Coin Society), he is currently Chief Editor of the Numismatic Studies and Editor of the Numismatic Digest. Formerly Chairman of the Indian Coin Society, he is now Vice- Chairman of the Epigraphical Society of India and of the South Indian Numismatic Society, Convener of the Inscriptions of India Programme of the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, and Chairman of the Advisory Board for History of Science (Ancient Period) of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi.
Professor Shastri has been Sectional President of the Indian History Congress (1978), Andhra Pradesh History Congress (1981), Maharashtra Itihas Parishad (1986) and the All-India, Oriental Conference (1994) and 'General President of the Numismatic Society of India (1981); Epigraphical Society of India (1987), third International Colloquium on 'Coinage, Trade and Economy' at the Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies, Nasik, Tamil Nadu Numismatic Society, Indian History and Culture Society (1991) and the Vidvat Parishad of the Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti (1994), Member of the History panel of the University Grants Commission (1980-82), UGC National Lecturer (l985) and UGC National Fellow (1987-89) and is currently UGC Emeritus Fellow. He has been felicitated by the Numismatic Society of India with its Akbar Silver Medal (1984) and Altekar Gold Medal (1995); presented with a plaque of honour by the Coin Study Circle, Calcutta (1989), and a copper-plate by the Epigraphical Society of India (1992) and honoured with a couple of festschrifts: one published from Indore (1988) and the other in two tomes from Delhi (1989). He has also delivered numerous prestigious endowment lectures.
The inestimable merit of old texts for the reconstruction of the cultural history of a country like India which happens to be utterly deficient in dependable historical source material has long been recognized, and the Buddhist Jatakas, Jaina canonical texts and the writings of her great grammarian Panini and the celebrated poet-dramatist Kalidasa had been studied from this standpoint. But barring a few sporadic instances, Varahamihira's works were not tapped from this angle, perhaps because astrological texts were not supposed to afford anything substantial for sober historical purposes. It was not till late fifties that the present author, while casually perusing the Brhat-samhitii and a few other writings of this great astrologer-astronomer, realised how rich they were in historical data. And once the historical worth of these works dawned upon me, I devoted my attention to them and during the last three and a half decades published a couple of books and numerous research papers on various problems concerning early India which were well-received in historical circles. And the present work marks a culmination of my exercise with Varahamihira.
As Varahamihira lived towards the close of the Gupta period, his writings give us a vivid picture of practically all the imaginable aspects of the general life of this classical age of Indian history and may truly be called an encyclopedia containing as they do highly valuable information on everything that one could possible think of. And the Brhat-samhitii merits a special mention in this context. It was his last major and most mature all-comprehensive astrological text and had a great impact on subsequent Indian astrological literature. It contains treatment of practically everything on earth from an astrologer's angle and has in consequence turned out to be a mine of exceptionally priceless information on contemporary life. But Varahamihira had already composed specialised texts some astronomical-astrological aspects, and of these the Panca-siddhantikii, the Brhaj-jataka; the Brhad-yatra the Yoga-yiitrii and the Viviiha-patala also contain much precious information on certain aspects. And finally, the Samasa- or Sualpa-samhita, an abridged version of the Brhat-samhita and post-dating all the other works, which is known only from extracts cited by his celebrated commentator Bhattotpala in his scholia on some other texts of Varahamihira, appears to contain his afterthoughts on some of the topics dwelt upon in his magnum opus, the Brhat-samhita: It has been my effort to extract all the possible information of interest to a student of the cultural history of ancient India as well as to a reader with general interest in historic-cultural studies and present a dependable picture.
In order to make literary works yield dependable comprehensive view of things it is imperative to check, corroborate and supplement it with the information drawn from other contemporary sources like inscriptions, coins and other archaeological sources, and no pains have been spared to achieve this object. In some cases Varahamihira appears to base himself on earlier texts and in some matters he seems to have had a great impact on subsequent writers. It has been my striving in such matters to trace the beginnings and visualise later ramifications in so far as they are relevant to the present undertaking. In short, no effort has been evaded to make the present work dependable and comprehensive.
The book falls into eight chapters depending on the themes treated. The inaugural chapter dwells upon the problems concerning Varahamihira and his writings. After a critical discussion of the extant data and the prevailing theories it has been concluded that the Saka year 427 (AD 505) is the date or nearly so of the composition of the Panca-siddhantika and not of his birth or of the composition of the Romaka-siddhanta or its commentary as held by some. The mention of the king Dravyarardhana of Avanti, most probably of the Aulikara dynasty, by Varahamihira and some other references of a cultural nature scattered in his works have been pressed into service to show that our author flourished in the sixth century AD and that the Brhat-samhita was composed about mid-sixth century AD. Many unpublished works ascribed to Varahamihira, rightly or wrongly, have been listed from the manuscript catalogues, and the chronological order of his known works and their cultural significance have also been dwelt upon. The rich data on the historical geography are critically dealt with in the following chapter. The equally priceless information on religion, society and economy forms the subject matter of the next three chapters. It is pertinent to note that some of the topics covered in these chapters are treated for the first time in Varahamihira's works. Of these, the accounts of lndramaha or Indradhvajasampat (festival of Indra's flag), iconography, fashioning and installation of divine figures and symbolic representations, nirajana ceremony, perfumery, arbori-horticulture and jewel-industry deserve special mention. Varahamihira was a renowned astrologer, and no treatise professing to deal with his works, howsoever objective it may be, can afford to ignore this aspect which greatly influenced (and continues to influence even now and perhaps more vigorously) the general life and thinking of the people, and a summary of some such beliefs will be found in the sixth chapter. The next chapter aims at an analysis of the data on fine arts gleaned from our texts. It may be pointed out that the account of residential and Pauranic religious (temple) architecture, cementing materials and iconometry found in the texts under study is the earliest extant one as known at present and is therefore of enormous historical value. Varahamihira had before him a rich legacy which he drew and improved upon. But his comprehensive treatment made most of the older works disappear even as the Arthasastra of Kautilya eclipsed many of the earlier writings on polity, and their references to earlier authors and their views now form the only source of our information about them. Such references made by Varahamihira are evaluated critically in the last chapter alongside some other matter.
The work has five appendices. The opening appendix studies the genesis of the name Varahamihira which has a foreign tinge in it and tries to show its cult affiliation. Varahamihira refers to matters of interest to a student of polity and administration only casually, and such data from the theme of the second appendix. The next appendix summarises the account of the Jovian cycles of twelve and sixty years found in ch. VIII of the Brhat-samhita. The detailed treatment of meteorology and the science of locating sub-soil water-veins called Dakargala found in Varahamihira shows how highly developed these sciences were in his time, and the last two appendices are devoted to them.
The foregoing summary of the contents would hopefully suffice to bring out the encyclopedic character of the cultural data enshrined in Varahamihira's works which the present book attempts to analyse in a scientific historical perspective. I trust that this work, like my other earlier writings on Varahamihira, would be received warmly by the historians.
The present work is dedicated to the loving memory of the great savant late Professor Jagannath Agrawal who took keen interest in my work and encouraged me to go ahead with my academic undertakings. No amount of words would suffice to express my feelings of love and admiration for him and his deep learning and scholarship.
It is for us the future generations to wonder at what the glories of the Gupta age were before time took its toll. Did life flow placidly or was it a turbulent stream? What rites what customs did the people employ to mitigate their sorrows and sufferings or heighten their joy? Could they procure small pleasures of life easily or had to strive hard for the same? What superstitions provided of life easily against natural calamities? What beliefs sprouted cultural developments? What artistic and literary moorings they words what were the socioeconomic religious artistic and literary conditions of the age?
While sifting the debris literally might provide some answer to the physical conditions obtaining during a given period the matters of mind cannot be answered by archaeology; at best surmises may be hazarded here and there. It is the literary evidence that are of crucial important here.
And none of the literary luminaries produced by the Gupta age gives a better account of his period than does varahamihira. With his literary activities spread over the first half of the sixth century AD the imbibed the classical culture represented by the Gupta age in its final form. He furnishes an excellent picture of almost all the lurid aspects of contemporary life in its variegated appearances either directly or incidentally laying the inquisitive posterity highly indebted to the genius that he admittedly was. Varahmihira holds a unique position in the history of astronomical and astrological literature of India. Many authors are known to have composed works on one or the other branch of Jyotisa but Varhamihira excelled them all by giving vent to his versatile genius in all its three branches alike. He is among the writers on Jyotisha what Panini is among vaiyakaranas Manu among dharmasastrakaras kautilya among writers on political science and Brahata among dramaturgists. His masterly treatment of the subject and well deserved eminence and reputation cast all older texts with very few exception into obvious.
In later time he was gratefully remembered by the posterity. His well known scholiast Utpala described him as the very incarnation of the sun descended to this world in the Kali age in order to rescue Jyotisa sastra from wholesale destruction and compares his works to a vast ocean. The belief in Varahmihira being an incarnation of the sun is echoed by the authors of the Suprakasa the Bijapallava nad the Dasadhyayi gloss on the brhajjataka. Brahmagupta who is well known for his severe censure of earlier writer does not level any serious acusation against Varhamihira. Kalyanavarman the author of the Saravali drew among others upon Varahamihira works on horoscopy and the celebrated astronomer Bhaskaracarya also admits of having benefited from his treatises. Satananda based his Bhasuatikarana on the Pancasiddhantika of varahamihira. Sripati srinivasamisratmaja, srinivascary and Narayandasa the authors of the Jyautisa ratnamala Jyotisa tattva Kaumudi Suddhipika and the Prasna Vviplava ro vaisnava sastra respectively also acknowledge their indebtedness to his writings. Ganesa Daivajna observes that when astronomical and astrological rules framed by Parasra Aryabhata and other become inaccurate they were amended among others by varahmihira. The famous Arabic writer Abu Raihan ibn Ahmad Al Beruni better known as alberuni who visited India and wrote his account in the eleventh century AD is all admiration for him and speaks of him as an excellent astronomer who clearly spoke out the truth. He regrets that others did not follow Varhamihira example and passes strictures on Brahmagupta lack of sincerity and his support to imposture.
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