Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Indian Greenwich where time was counted

I had been to Bhopal to attend an interview for the defence forces. Since I had a lot of time on hand after attending the interview, I decided to explore places in and around Bhopal.
I had to stay back in Bhopal as the berth reservation to Bangalore in the Karnataka Express was more than a week away. I visited Sanchi, Bhojpur, Gwalior, Indore, Bhimbhetka caves and then Ujjain.
Ujjain, which is in Madhya Pradesh, has always held a special fascination. It was not only the place where Krishna, Balarama and Sudhama studied, it was also the residence of Emperor Ashoka. This is also the place where zero was invented.
Shipra river flows by Ujjain and it is believed to have stemmed from the Varaha avatar of Vishnu.
India’s greatest writer Kalidasa write two of his works here. Chandragupta, the second, or Chandragupta Vikramaditya, one of India’s greatest kings, once ruled from here. He worshipped the Garhkalika diety here which has been renovated by several dynasties. This is the Kali that is believed to have given knowledge to Kalidasa.
The mythical Vikramaditya was the lord of Ujjain and the place where he secured the legendary throne still exists near a lake in Ujjain. The lake is Rudrasagar and this is the setting for setting of the stories of Vikram and Bethal.
Vikramaditya ascended the throne after his brother Bhartrihari gave it up. Bhartrihari loved his queen who in turn loved a nobleman. The nobleman had fallen in love with a maid servant of  the Queen. Bhartrihari was shocked over these events and gave up his royal life and lived like a mendicant. He has written several book in Sanskrit and the cave in which he lived is a major tourist attraction. 
Ujjain was a well-known astronomical centre till the 13th century. The prime median passes through Ujjian and this led to pathbreaking research in astronomy and mathematics. 
 Indian astronomers calculated the beginning of the day as sunrise at the prime meridian of Ujjain. This in turn was subdivided into smaller units.
The Prana was one unit which meant the time taken to breath once, equaling four seconds. Six pranas made a pala. Sixty palas made a ghalika or galige. The sixty galiges made a day and this was called nakshatra ahorata.
A masa was one month and  it consisted of 30 days.
Ujjain continued to be the place from where time was measured till the British came to India and replaced it with a more consistent standard time covering all of  India
The earliest description of time, rather standard time, in India was compiled in the form of a book called Surya Siddantha.
The Siddantha is an astronomical book and it says the earth is spherical. It defines prime meridian or zero longitude as passing through Ujjain (Avanti). The author of this work is unknown but it has been referred to by almost all astronomers, mathematicians and astrologers in India. Even Varahahimira refers to it   
Another feature in the cap of Ujjain was that it once played host to the world’s finest observatory. Almost all Indian astronomers were the directors of this scientific institution. Bhaskara, who wrote Lilavathi, a book on mathematics, was one of the directors of the observatory.
Though this observatory was demolished and vandalized by the Sultan of Delhi, Iltumish in 1234 AD along with scores of temples and structures here, a smaller observatory was built here by the Rajput Raja Jai Singh in 1715.  
Ujjain is also the place where the first meridian of longitude passes through and Indian research has centered around it. There is a temple at the exact centre where the meridian passes.
The Navaratnas of the Gupta periods lived here and this was the capital of Chandragupta the second, one of  the greatest of the Gupta Kings.
His navaratnas were Kalidasa, a Sanskrit poet and dramatist and India’s greatest writer, Vetala Bhatta, a Hindu philosopher,  Varahamihira, scientist and author of  the astronomical compendium Pancha-siddhantika (Five Treatises),  Vararuchi (also known as Katyayana) who was the author of the Sarvanukramani, a compendium of Vedic hymns; Amarasimha, a poet and author of the Amara-Kosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit, Shanku, an architect; Dhanvantari, a physician,  Kshapanaka, an astrologer; and Vaitalika, a magician.
Shanku was an expert in Geography, while Dhanavantri was a master of Ayurveda. Even today, Ayurveda doctors swear by some of Dhanavantri’s concotions. Kshapanaka is the  author of Dvatrishatikas.
During the reign of Chandragupta Vikramaditya,  the astronomer Varahimiriha became the first person in the world to recognise the shifting of the equinox or Ayanamasa. He calculated this as 50.32 seconds. He was the author of  Brihat Samhita which is a book on several topics such as astronomy, astrology, planetary movements, eclipses, rainfall, clouds, architecture, growth of crops, manufacture of perfume, matrimony, domestic relations, gems, pearls, and rituals. It also has a beautiful chapter on pearls.
Amarasimha, another Navaratna, was a grammarian and poet. His Amara Kosha is a vocabulary of Sanskrit roots and is therefore also called as Trikanda or Namalinganushasana.
This book has 10,000 words and it is written in such a manner that it is easy to memorise. It is set to metre.
By the way, there is a Kannada translation of this book published in 1927 by BL  Rice.
Ujjain is one of the eight sacred cities for the Hindus. It is also one of the four places where the Kumbha Mela takes place. The otherplaces where the Kumbha Mela are held are: Prayag (Allahabad),  Haridwar and Nashik. The Kumbha Mela at Ujjain is called Simhastha when the Sun enters the Aries and the Jupiter is in the Leo.
Ujjain is also known for its  Jyotirlinga in the Mahakala Temple. The linga here faces south and is, therefore, known as Dakshinamurthy. The Kalabhairava temple is another well-known temple where tantric rituals were performed. 
The city is mentioned in the epics, puranas and other religious texts. The Mahabharata refers to it as Avanti. To the Western world, it was Avin.
Over the ages, Ujjain was known under different names such as Padmavati, Kushasthali, Bhagavati, Haranyavati, Kandakatringa, Kumudvati, Pratikalpa, Ujjayani, Udeni and Vishala. Too the Western world, Ujjain was known as Arin.
There are innumerable temples in Ujjain and many of our Madhwa saints have visited the holy place. Ujjain has some very unique places and temples and I will be posting details about them shortly.
Ujjain is very near to Indore which is just 48 kms away. Devas is the nearest airport and it is 38 kms from Ujjain. Bhopal is 170 kms away. Ujjain has good hotels and several ashramas where one can stay.

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