Mahābharata astrological phenomena

Bhiṣmaparva, chapter 2

In this chapter Vyāsa and Dhṛtarāṣṭra discuss the future of the battle which is about to begin. In this event Vyāsa blesses Sanjaya to be able to see the battlefield and narrate the event to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. In this debate between Vyāsa and Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vyāsa describes the positions of the Grahas and omens through which he predicts the results of the war to be.

अलक्ष्यः परभया हीनः पौर्णमासीं च कार्त्तिकीम
चन्द्रॊऽभूद अग्निवर्णश च समवर्णे नभस्तले 23
alakṣyaḥ prabhayā hīnaḥ paurṇamāsīṃ ca kārttikīm
candro’bhūd agnivarṇaś ca samavarṇe nabhastale 23
alakṣyaḥ: invisible;  prabhayā: splendour, lustre; hīnaḥ: without/devoid; paurṇamāsīṃ: full moon; ca: and; kārttikīm: the month of kārtik; candro: the moon; ‘bhūd: became; agnivarṇaś: having the complexion of fire; ca: and; samavarṇe: being of the same colour; nabhastale: the surface of the sky;

Translation: appearing invisible and without splendour during the full moon of the month of kārtika, the Moon became the complexion of fire with the hue being alike a lotus.

Commentary: This is known as an Āghrāta lunar eclipse (Rath, 2010) where it appears that the Moon is covered with a thin red layer over it. Varāhamihira treats this as a benign eclipse which will cause prosperity for the nation. An Āghrāta eclipse is a total lunar eclipse.

An obvious problem occurs herein which has been the biggest problem for all scholars who have attempted to date this event. If the lunar eclipse occurred during the full moon of Kārtik then the Sun was likely in the signs of either Libra or Scorpio. Therefore Mars could not be retrograde in the Nakṣatra of Jyeṣṭhā at the same time! We must therefore infer that the retrogression referred to had occurred much before the eclipse which is mentioned.

या चैषा विश्रुता राजंस तरैलॊक्ये साधु संमता
अरुन्धती तयाप्य एष वसिष्ठः पृष्ठतः कृतः 31
yā caiṣā viśrutā rājaṃs trailokye sādhu saṃmatā
arundhatī tayāpy eṣa vasiṣṭhaḥ pṛṣṭhataḥ kṛtaḥ 31

yā: that one; ca: and; eṣā: this; viśrutā: celebrated; rājaṃs trailokye sādhu saṃmatā
arundhatī tayāpy eṣa vasiṣṭhaḥ pṛṣṭhataḥ kṛtaḥ

Translation: She, O king, who is celebrated over the three worlds and is applauded by the righteous, even that (constellation) Arundhatī keepeth (her lord) Vasiṣṭha on her back.

Commentary: The seven sages are said to circle the pole-star (Polaris), also known as Dhruva (the fixed one) and are the equivalent of the constellation; The Big Dipper. Other names for the constellation are The Plough, Charles Wain or ‘Karlsvognen’ as it’s known in Scandinavia. This constellation forms part of Ursa Major also known as the Great Bear. Residing just above this constellation, right above Vasiṣṭha is the star Arundhatī also known as Alchor.

bigdipper

The image given herewith is not an unlikely depiction of what is read in the śloka. At this instance Arundhatī appears to be underneath Vasiṣṭha and thus could imply that she is carrying Vasiṣṭha. Notably in western context this is depicted as if the rider is carrying the horse.

रॊहिणीं पीडयन्न एष सथितॊ राजञ शनैश्चरः
वयावृत्तं लक्ष्म सॊमस्य भविष्यति महद भयम 32
rohiṇīṃ pīḍayann eṣa sthito rājañ śanaiścaraḥ
vyāvṛttaṃ lakṣma somasya bhaviṣyati mahad bhayam 32

rohiṇīṃ: rohiṇī nakṣatra; pīḍayann: being tormented; eṣa: this; sthito: placement; rājañ: royal; śanaiścaraḥ: Saturn; vyāvṛttaṃ: turned away, different, split asunder; lakṣma: sign, mark; somasya: of the moon, mṛgaśira nakṣatra; bhaviṣyati: future; mahad: great, enormous; bhayam: fear;

Translation: Rohiṇī nakṣatra is afflicted by the placement of Saturn in it. The marks (horns) of the Moon are split asunder portending a great terror in the future.

Commentary: It appears that during the lunar eclipse, Saturn is occupying Rohiṇī Nakṣatra. This is confirmed from the earlier śloka 7 of Udyogaparva, chapter 141. Further a reference to the horns of the moon being split suggests that the eclipse may be afflicted by some other planet; however we have already been informed that this was an āghrāta eclipse in śloka 31.

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Visti Larsen
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