Cosmogonies and Cosmologies 1531 Indian Cosmology

Buddhist Sumeru cosmology derived from 5th-century b.c. Jain cosmology. In this construction, Mt. Sumeru rose from the center of a disk-shaped Earth. It was situated somewhere in the Himalayas and had nine levels, the first eight of which successively rose from craters containing seas. The planets were propelled by a wind to revolve around Mt. Sumeru in concentric paths. One of these planets was the Sun, which rose in the Himalayas, passed over India in the day, and returned in the evening.

From India, this cosmology spread into China, and later, Japan. There is an illustration of the orbits of the Moon and Sun in each of the four seasons from a Chinese translation of an Indian source written ~450 a.d. (Nakayama 1969, p. 207). In Japan, the Hoshi Mandala—a cosmographic sketch—was transmitted from India in about the 8th century. The diagram has at its center the Buddha on the summit of Mt. Sumeru. Surrounding him are the seven stars of the Big Dipper (upper part), and below him are the nine luminaries: The Sun, Moon, five (other) planets, and two additional, unseen planets, Rahu and Ketu. In the 3rd circle are the 12 houses (a zodiac), and beyond these are the 28 mansions. Japanese Buddhists continued to defend this cosmology against western astronomical ideas until close to the end of the 19 th century.

15.3.2. Cosmic Comparisons 15.3.2.1. The Cosmic Turtle

From Mesopotamia to Ireland and Africa, we have the intellectual domination in astronomical thought of geometrically based concepts of the zodiac, well symbolized by the astrolabe; cf. §3.3. These ideas eventually penetrated India and ultimately China, Japan, and other Asian areas. However, in those areas, they never entirely replaced the elaborate complex of ideas surrounding the turtle as cosmic supporter of the universe, accompanying a more arithmetical concept of astronomy. These ideas were found in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, India and the derivative southeast Asian cultures, New Guinea, Polynesia, Mesoamerica, and most of northern North America. The distribution is essentially continuous. Whether South America is part of this complex is not determinable on evidence known to us. The oldest archaeological evidence for such beliefs is from China, and tradition there associates the appearance of a cosmic turtle with a story of a great flood.

The concept of the cosmic turtle was treated by Schuster and Carpenter (1988, III, pp. 63ff), who established much of the distribution and discussed many associated traits. There is, however, no systematic discussion of which traits co-occur in different areas nor of possible meanings of the associated tales and concepts. They mention no astronomical references to the turtle except for the axis mundi insofar as that can be considered astronomical. It is their belief that the distribution in Asia, Oceania, and North America indicates a spread in "extreme antiquity" (long before the Vedas). This idea is not supported by any direct evidence but is more acceptable to many anthropologists than is the view that the ideas spread widely in more recent times. DHK will try to show that some fairly sophisticated astronomical ideas are involved in these conceptions, which are unlikely to be earlier than the 3rd millennium b.c. They also contain arbitrary components that are unlikely to have arisen independently in different areas.

Although many conceptions associated with cosmic turtles are widely attested, the representations fall into sub-groupings, none of which give a complete representation of the imagery even in a single area. The major components in the cosmic turtle imagery include

(1) association with one or two snakes, often wrapped around the turtle;

(2) the snakes are sometimes dragon-like, and one of them may be five- or seven-headed;

(3) a pillar or tree or lotus on the turtle's carapace (the snakes are sometimes wrapped around this pillar);

(4) the snake used as a rotator of the pole to stir the Sea of Milk (Milky Way);

(5) opposing "teams" of "gods" and "demons" pulling on the snake;

(6) a god, born from the carapace or from the lotus;

(7) symbols of Sun and Moon, close by;

(8) representations of asterisms, particularly the 28 lunar mansions and the 12 zodiacal signs;

(9) an associated god in dance position;

(10) magic squares, especially those of 3 and 5;

(11) identification of Orion's Belt as part of the turtle;

(12) association with a fire god;

(13) association with drilling of New Fire; and

(14) orientation to the cardinal directions.

Other components, some important for interpretation, are not yet widely attested; we discuss some of these in the context of Angkor Wat.

The cosmic turtle may be put into an archaeoastronomi-cal context, most fully at Angkor Wat in the work of Eleanor Mannikka (1996). Mannikka's study presents massive amounts of new data and interpretations related to that site, accompanied by many impressive photographs, diagrams, and maps. She gives detailed information (Mannikka 1996, pp. 17-19) on her calculation of a precise value (0.43545 m) of the cubit, used in planning the site. This is somewhat different from the value (0.4345 m) deduced by Stencil et al. (1976), on the basis of their measurements discussed in §9.3.1. DHK thinks that the resulting values she obtains provide convincing evidence that there was high precision in measurement and that her value is a good approximation to the actual unit, however laid out.

The site is located at 13?43N latitude, and "13.41 cubits is a basic module in the second gallery, devoted to Brahma, who is 'situated' at the north celestial pole" (Mannikka 1996, p. 19). The same unit appears in the central sanctuary, also devoted to Brahma, and in the area known as the "preau cruciforme."

Mannikka (1996, p. 190) makes an interesting argument that a series of deity representations in the third gallery of the NW pavilion (east wing, north wall) constitute a planetary sequence. On the left pillar, the Sun and Moon sit in their respective chariots drawn by horses. Above, various gods are depicted mounted on their animal steeds in a procession facing to the right. Mannikka identifies them with their steeds, from left to right, as follows:

(1)

Ketu

"Comet"

Lion

(2)

Agni

Saturn

Rhinoceros

(3)

Yama

"God of the south"

Buffalo

(4)

Indra

Jupiter

Elephant

(5)

Kubera

Venus

Horse

(6)

Skanda

Mars

Peacock

(7)

Varuna

Mercury

Hamsa

(8)

Nirrti

"God of the southwest"

Yaksa

Note Mannikka's identification of Ketu as "comet" rather than the usual descending node, which she regards as an incorrect interpretation (she also regards the interpretation of Rahu as the ascending node similarly). She argues that the sequence represents the rising order of the planets (with two directional deities added) for the 24th-29th of July, 1131. She simply dismisses Ketu's position at the head of the list, where we would have expected it to refer either to a comet (as per her interpretation) or to an eclipse.

Mannikka's planetary identifications are not all certain, and the two directional gods seem unnecessary, but this sort of attempt to tie iconography to specifiable astronomical events seems to us desirable.

The difference between Mannikka's value for the cubit and that of Stencil et al. (1976) does not make an effective difference in the values the latter found for the World Ages, with lengths in cubits indicating years. Mannikka has specified general rules for measuring different components, and she was able to find evidence for measurements referring to the World Ages in parts of the complex where they had not been recognized by Stencil et al. (1976), thus, strengthening the case that these correspondences are deliberate. She also points out (Mannikka 1996, p. 51) that the Khmers believed that a perfect ruler could bring about a change from the deplorable conditions of the Kali-Yuga and institute the beginning of a new World Age. She maintains that Suryavar-man II was attempting to do this with the Angkor Wat temple complex. She is able to integrate the locations of the implicit references to the different World Ages with her analysis of the mythical and political themes of the sculptural complexes.

Mannikka's study of the "Churning of the Sea of Milk" shows that the iconography, the visual alignments (e.g., the Sun rising over the central tower), and the measurements are different ways of emphasizing the same phenomena (including equinox and solstice alignments). There are two depictions of the "Churning of the Sea of Milk" at Angkor Wat, but we will emphasize the main one. The pole of the churn, here Mt. Mandara, at the center of the composition, rests on the back of Kurma, the king of the "tortoises",8 wearing a crown. He is surrounded by parts of crocodiles and fish destroyed in the churning (Mannikka 1996, fig. 2.21, p. 49). In front of the mountain, we see Vishnu in a central role. To the left are 91 asuras (sometimes called "demons") pulling the body of the five-headed snake, Vasuki, toward the south. To the right are 88 devas (sometimes called "gods") pulling to the north. A single deva is leaping above the central pivot. The king of the devas is a monkey-headed figure, identified as Sugriva, holding on to the tail of Vasuki. At the other end, Bali appears as king of the asuras, holding the crowned heads of Vasuki. Lighting effects emphasize Vishnu, Kurma, and the Churn at equinox sunrises. Sugriva is marked out at the summer solstice and Bali at the winter solstice, but in a somewhat different manner from Vishnu. The contrast between 88 devas and 91 asuras clearly suggests the inequality of the seasons. However, a check of the inequality of the seasons at ~1000 a.d. indicates that the intervals would be more appropriate if the devas and asuras were reversed (see Table 2.3, §2.3.1). A parallel phenomenon is the alignment as viewed from the extreme west edge of the site, from the west end of the bridge across the moat surrounding the site to the south end gateway of the western entrances where the Sun rises at the winter solstice. Because the site is aligned east-west and is symmetrical, the Sun would rise behind the north end gateway at the summer solstice. From the juncture of the causeway and the bridge, the Sun rises directly above the central tower at the equinoxes.

Mannikka emphasizes repeatedly the importance of the 28 lunar mansions. Together with the four directional gods, the gods of these mansions make up the major set of 32 deities (when Brahma is added, this gives 33. See §§9.1.1, 9.1.3, 9.3, 9.3.2 for the significance of this number).

Mannikka (1996, p. 33) points out that the "tortoise" Kurma was one of the incarnations (avatars) of Vishnu and is described as "half a globe." She also emphasizes (pp. 36-37) that Varahamihira refers to the Earth as a "ball" in the "starry sphere" and identifies the asuras with the South Pole and the devas with Mt. Sumeru or Meru as the North Pole. She says that Khmers tended to identify Meru with Mt. Mandara (Mannikka 1996, Ch. 2, fn. 8, p. 305), but she maintains that "Meru is the north-south axis of the world and Mandara is not." Mandara is said to be the mountain that was "uprooted and brought to the shores of the Sea of Milk to serve as the churning pivot." In the context that Mannikka has shown, it would seem that the uprooting of Mt. Mandara should have an astronomical significance. It would also seem that the identification of Mandara and Meru might be related to the Khmer contention that Suryavarman II was inaugurating a new World Age—a return to the conditions before the uprooting of Mandara at the beginning of the Kali-Yuga era.

Whatever significance this scene may have had for other cultures, its representation seems to be extraordinarily widespread.

In Figure 15.6a, we have Schuster's version of the churning from the SW pavilion at Angkor Wat. He shows a gigantic pole as a lotus surmounted by a deity figure (Brahma) and with a dancing four-armed deity figure (Vishnu) on the pole. Sun and Moon appear on either side. A five-headed serpent is being used to turn the churn, tugged in opposite directions by gods and demons.

In a Totonac version (Figure 15.6b), the pole (in this case, a flower stem) is shown in plan rather than in elevation view, with the turtle seen in profile in front of the structure. The snakes are intertwined around the pole. On some Mayan pots, the snakes are replaced by water lilies, a Mesoameri-can approximation to the lotus.9 This Totonac depiction was regarded as a war standard (Ringle, Gallareta Negron, and Bey 1998), which seems to DHK unlikely. This is the site with the Pyramid of the [365] Niches, certainly suggesting the importance of solar phenomena there. Schuster and Carpenter (1988, Vol. III, pp. 74-75), compared the "Sea of Milk" at Angkor Wat with the highland Mexican representations of Mayauel, goddess of the milky drink, pulque, seated on a turtle.

A very elaborate Balinese version shows Tintiya, their highest god, in dance position above a turtle. The turtle is

8 Although evidently somewhat more aquatic than that term normally connotes.

9 See Rands (1953) for a detailed comparison of the artistic representations of Mayan water lilies and the Indian lotus. Rands regarded the similarities as independently developed.

Figure 15.6. (a) A version of the Cosmic Churn from Angkor Wat, with the pole as a lotus surmounted by a deity and with a dancing four-armed deity figure on the pole: Sun and Moon appear on either side. A five-headed serpent is being used to turn the churn, tugged in opposite directions by gods and demons. (b) A Totonac version from Structure 4, El Tajin, Mexico, shows the pole (in this case, a flower stem) in plan rather than in elevation view, with the turtle seen in profile in front of the structure. Two feathered snakes are intertwined around the pole. Drawings by Sean Goldsmith.

Figure 15.6. (a) A version of the Cosmic Churn from Angkor Wat, with the pole as a lotus surmounted by a deity and with a dancing four-armed deity figure on the pole: Sun and Moon appear on either side. A five-headed serpent is being used to turn the churn, tugged in opposite directions by gods and demons. (b) A Totonac version from Structure 4, El Tajin, Mexico, shows the pole (in this case, a flower stem) in plan rather than in elevation view, with the turtle seen in profile in front of the structure. Two feathered snakes are intertwined around the pole. Drawings by Sean Goldsmith.

bound by two snakes that are looped together in an elaborate and intricate manner (see Figure 15.7a). The binding snakes prevent the turtle, as fulcrum of the world pillar, from causing earthquakes (Schuster and Carpenter 1988, Vol. III, p. 225). The pillar is curiously missing. The turtle from India in Figure 15.7b shows an emphasis on eight directions in four sets, as can be argued also for the Balinese and Batak representations of Figure 15.7. The Batak turtle (Figure 15.7c) shows an elaborate cosmogram apparently marking the cardinal and the intercardinal points as two squares, one superimposed on the other. Two snakes encircle the entire scene, and a ladder appears between their tails. According to Schuster and Carpenter (1988, Vol. III, p. 78), "this ladder symbolizes, often simultaneously, a sacrificial pole, Tree of Trees, and Ladder of Ascension." They point out (p. 66) that the Samsam tribe on the "Siamese-Malayan" border places a turtle diagram under a house post when it is being built, thus, replicating the Cosmic Pole on the Cosmic Turtle.

In a Mayan picture (Figure 15.8a) from the Madrid Codex, gods hold the body of a snake that passes over an elevated structure on which the turtle appears to be precariously perched. Hieroglyphs of the Sun and Moon appear on the body of the snake. A Mayan painting at Bonampak shows a turtle with three "star" hieroglyphs on its back (Figure 15.8b). Given colonial Mayan identifications of the turtle with Orion's Belt, it seems highly likely that this was intended here.

A version of the churning of the Sea of Milk from India is shown in Figure 15.9. Here, the demons appear animal-headed, on the right, holding the heads of Vasuki. Sun, Moon, and Lotus appear below the turtle with a number of other figures, many known in other contexts as asterisms. That may be what is intended here.

Turning now to cosmic turtles in other contexts, Figure 15.10a shows the Indian turtle as world supporter, with the cobra wrapped around its neck. The layers of heaven and earth are clearly shown with supporting elephants all surmounted by a pyramid. The same ideas, in very different form, are incorporated in the Tibetan turtle (Figure 15.10b). This shows one turtle within another. The inner turtle has the magic square of 9 on its plastron and is surrounded by the 12 animals of the rat zodiac. Outside of these are the

Figure 15.7. (a) From Bali, we have a depiction of two serpents elaborately intertwined around the turtle. Between the serpent heads is a phallic figure in dancing pose, like that of Figure 15.6a. (b) A turtle from India with written numbers indicating an interest in directions in sets of four. (c) A Batak turtle as an elaborate cosmogram: It is shown surrounded by a directional frame, snakes, and ladder. Drawings (a) and (b) by Sean Goldsmith and (c) by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 15.7. (a) From Bali, we have a depiction of two serpents elaborately intertwined around the turtle. Between the serpent heads is a phallic figure in dancing pose, like that of Figure 15.6a. (b) A turtle from India with written numbers indicating an interest in directions in sets of four. (c) A Batak turtle as an elaborate cosmogram: It is shown surrounded by a directional frame, snakes, and ladder. Drawings (a) and (b) by Sean Goldsmith and (c) by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 15.8. (a) In a Mayan picture from the Madrid Codex, gods hold the body of a snake that passes over an elevated structure on which the turtle appears to be precariously perched. Hieroglyphs of the Sun and Moon appear on the body of the snake. (b) A Mayan painting at Bonampak shows a turtle with three "star" hieroglyphs on its back, probably Orion's Belt. Drawings (a) by Sean Goldsmith and (b) by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 15.8. (a) In a Mayan picture from the Madrid Codex, gods hold the body of a snake that passes over an elevated structure on which the turtle appears to be precariously perched. Hieroglyphs of the Sun and Moon appear on the body of the snake. (b) A Mayan painting at Bonampak shows a turtle with three "star" hieroglyphs on its back, probably Orion's Belt. Drawings (a) by Sean Goldsmith and (b) by Sharon Hanna.

eight Chinese trigrams and various other symbols, and finally, the outside turtle and associated directions.

Another similar example is shown in Figure 15.11, where the two turtles are somewhat separated from each other, and the Tibetan symbols for the planets descend from the turtle's tail.

The Assyrian "charm" in Figure 15.12 has many interesting features that tend to tie it in to the Tibetan cosmic turtles. In a general way, the appearance is similar. Both were used in averting evil. The symbols of the planets and of the Pleiades appear across the top, and they may be seen on Tibetan turtles. There are 12 animal-headed people depicted on the Assyrian amulet, in addition to two "fish-men" and a man lying on a bed or bier. The active posture of the individual shown in the two-headed boat, as well as the association with a river, create a degree of parallelism with some of the scenes of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The Tibetan representations usually include the 12 animals of the "rat zodiac."

In southern India, housewives make elaborate sand paintings called kolams (Bayiri 1967-1992). These are placed on the threshholds of houses during certain festivals. They are designed to ward off evil. They include "tortoise" designs, some of which are easily recognizable, whereas others seem to have no representational identity at all. The date of the Assyrian amulet is much earlier than is any turtle representation from Tibet or India, but there could well be some sort of prototypical relationship.

The earliest iconographic representations of cosmic turtles come from China, where the turtle and an associated snake are identified as seven asterisms of the 28 lunar mansions (Figure 10.9), which represent one of the four great directional animals (cf., Figures 10.5 and 10.6). Figure 15.13 is a later example.

In China, when the great mythological flood subsided, a turtle appeared. On its underside were cosmic symbols and a pattern of 9 numbers (three on a side—see the lower part of Figure 15.14a) revealing, according to the belief, the first magic number square ever known (the horse in the upper part of the figure also bears a magic square). Another more realistic appearing turtle is seen in Figure 15.14b. In medieval European belief, the magic square of 3 was asso-

Figure 15.9. In India, the demons in the Cosmic Churn depiction appear animal-headed. Here, Sun, Moon, and Lotus appear below the turtle. Drawing by Sean Goldsmith.
Figure 15.10. (a) The Indian turtle as world supporter, with the cobra wrapped around its neck. Drawing by Sharon Hanna. (b) The same ideas incorporated in this Tibetan turtle as in (a) but in very different form involving magic squares and one turtle within another. Drawing by Sean Goldsmith.

ciated with Saturn. Saturn as a slow-moving10 turtle seems appropriate at any time or in any culture, but we do not seem to have a direct Saturn-turtle association in either place, although it is found in India.

The magic square11 of 5 is indirectly associated with the turtle. We have noted that the magic square of 5 is regarded in India as a representation of sky and Earth together, and we have just seen that the turtle is there regarded as the supporter of sky and Earth. In Mesoamerica, the so-called Kan cross (Figure 15.15) substitutes in the lunar series for a compound Earth-sky glyph and is frequently shown on the backs of depictions of turtles on Mayan pottery (Figure 15.16a), although the glyph of the Sun may also appear there. In India, odd numbers represent sky and even numbers, Earth.

10 See Table 2.9 and §§2.3.5 and 2.4 for the physical basis for this motion.

These pots show a hero being born from the turtle's back and an associated water lily representation (the New World equivalent of the lotus). In India, the numbers of the central cross, representing Heaven, add to 117, and the numbers of the four corners, representing Earth, add to 52. The sum of numbers in any column, row, or along a diagonal of the magic square of 5 is 65. The number 65 is also reached by summing five chess moves of a knight. These numbers are very important in Mesoamerican divinatory tables.

In Thailand, many cosmic turtles have designs that include number patterns. See Schuster and Carpenter (1988, Vol. III, figs. 49-54, p. 77). The inscriptions on the turtle from India in Figure 15.7b are also numbers. On Malekula Island in the New Hebrides, cosmic turtles with intricate designs are found in diagrams and sand paintings. They are similar to the Thai turtle designs.

In the New World, the Algonquins maintained that the Earth was supported by a turtle. Plate 8 (see color insert) shows a modern cosmic turtle created by Christine Sioui Wawanaloath. This is an artistic rendering of various symbols of American Indian groups, based partly on sacred traditional Algonquin drawings to which she has access and partly on her perceptions and intuitions. Schuster and Carpenter (1988, Vol. III, p. 66) mention that the Delawares

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