Iranian Personalities

Varahamihira, a great Iranic astronomer
By: Dr. Samar Abbas, 2003, Aligarh, India

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Abstract: An account of Varahamihira, father of modern South Asian astronomy, architecture and the arts. His Scythic or East Iranic origin revealed. Varahamihira, an inhabitant of Sakastan or Rajputana, disclosed as a Maga, Magus or Magician, the class of legendary Iranic sun-priests. Varaha-Mihir named after Mihira or Mithra, the supreme Iranic Sun-God; his ministry as priest of the primordial Iranic religion of Heliolatry, Sun-worship, or the Saura sect. Surya-siddhanta, Varahamihira's system of Iranic astronomy, named after the Iranic Sun-God Surya, Syrius, Cyrus, Ashur or Asshur. Harappan or Dravidian Origin of Vedanga Jyotisha, ancient Vedic astronomy, disclosed. Iranic Solar or Surya astronomy (Surya-siddhanta) contrasted with, and its supercession of, Dravidian Vedic astronomy (Vedanga Jyotisha).

Who was Varahamihira?
Varahamihira, also called Varahamira or simply Varaha, was one of the most celebrated scientists in South Asian history, having made substantial contributions to virtually all branches of the arts and sciences. Thus, Encyclopedia Britannica notes, "Varāhamihira of the Gupta age was a profound scholar of all the sciences and arts, from botany to astronomy and from military science to civil engineering." (Enc.Brit., "Education, History of," vol.18, p.4, 1990 ed.)

Born in Ujjain, the capital of the Scythian-dominated region now known as Rajputana, he wrote three important books: Panchasiddhantika, Brihat Samhita, and Brihat Jataka. Brihat Samhita is a compilation of an assortment of topics that provides interesting details of prevailing beliefs. Brihat Jataka is a book on astrology.

However, the most famous work by Varahamihira is the treatise on mathematical astronomy called the Pañca-siddhāntikā ("Five Astronomical Treatises") and dated 575 AD. It is a summary of five earlier astronomical systems, namely the Surya, Romaka, Paulisa, Vasistha and Paitamaha siddhantas. (Chakravarty 1991) The famous Iranic scholar Al-Beruni summarised these canons thus, providing slightly different names for the various systems:

"They [the Indians] have 5 Siddhāntas:
  1. Sūrya-Siddhānta, ie. the Siddhānta of the Sun, composed by Lāṭa,
  2. Vasishṭa-siddhānta, so called from one of the stars of the Great Bear, composed by Vishnucandra,
  3. Pulisa-siddhānta, so called from Paulisa, the Greek, from the city of Saintra, which I suppose to be Alexandria, composed by Pulisa.
  4. Romaka-siddhānta, so called from the Rūm, ie. the subjects of the Roman Empire, composed by Śrīsheṇa.
  5. Brahma-siddhānta, so called from Brahman, composed by Brahmagupta, the son of Jishṇu, from the town of Bhillamāla between Multān and Anhilwāra, 16 yojanas from the latter place.
The authors of these books draw from one and the same source, the book "Paithāmaha", so called from the first father, ie. Brahman." (Sachau 1964, vol.I, p.153)
Thus, the Romaka-Siddhanta was Roman in essence. The Pulisa-Siddhanta was, as noted by Al-Beruni above, of Egyptian origin. The Paitamaha Siddhanta appears to be the ancient Vedanga Jyotisha of Lagadha, which was of Dravidian origin (see below). However, the Surya Siddhanta or Saura-Siddhanta was the most accurate and is the system most widely used today. The modern system differs but in minor details from Varahamihira's classical system.

On a more concise note, the Encyclopedia Britannica provides a compact summary of his outstanding achievements:
"Varāhamihira, also called VARAHA, or MIHIRA (b.505, Ujjain, India -d.587, Ujjain). Indian philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, author of the Pañca-siddhāntikā ("Five Treatises"), a compendium of Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Indian astronomy.

Varāhamihira's knowledge of Western astronomy was thorough. In 5 sections, his monumental work progresses through native Indian astronomy and culminates in 2 treatises on Western astronomy, showing calculations based on Greek and Alexandrian reckoning and even giving complete Ptolemaic mathematical charts and tables.

Although Varāhamihira's writings give a comprehensive picture of 6th-century India, his real interest lay in astronomy and astrology. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of astrology and wrote many treatises on śakuna (augury) as well as the Bṛhaj-Jātaka ("Great Birth") and the Laghu-Jātaka ("Short Birth"), two well-known works on the casting of horoscopes." (Enc.Brit., vol.12, p.269)
Towering like a colossus on the Indian science scene, it is only natural that the Indian Union should honour Varahamihira with a mural inside the Parliament House at New Delhi (see Fig.).

Fig: Mural painting inside the Parliament House of New Delhi showing Aryabhatta (5th Century CE) and Varahamihira (7th Century CE),
Artist: Ms. Kumud Patel, Baroda.

Maga or Iranic Sun-priestly Descent of Varahamihira
Given Varahamihira's immense contributions to science, it is important to ascertain his ethnic origins. In this regard, it is important to note that he was born in Ujjain, a city located within a region later known as Rajputana. As eminent ethnographers such as Col. Tod and Baron Metcalfe have shown, the people of Rajputana or Rajasthan are predominantly of Scythic or East Iranic origin. Indeed, in Varahamihira's age, Rajputana was part of a much larger region called "Sakastana", or "Land of the Scythians", a vast tract of land which included modern Afghanistan, Seistan, Rajputana, the Punjab and Sindh. From the fact that the word "Sakastan" occurs on the Mathura lion capital inscription, it is evident that Mathura (a name itself derived from Mithra) and Delhi were also included in the vast territories of Sakastan. Having been born in Sakastan, it is only natural that he should himself be of Scythic or East Irano-Aryan stock.

His Iranic origin is further confirmed by his very name: Varaha-mihira. The last part, Mihir, is derived from the Persian Mithra. Moreover, the fact that he named his astrological works using the name "Jataka" is significant, for it is identical to the name of the Scythic-Buddhist cycle of legends on the Buddha's former lives. Furthermore, the focus of his research was the Surya-siddhanta system, a clearly Iranic school of astronomy, as its name, derived from the ancient Iranic sun-god Surya or Assur or Asshur, clearly indicates. The term "Surya-Siddhanta" means "Treatise of the Sun", while the alternative name "Saura-Siddhanta" denotes "Treatise of the Sun-worshippers". Since the only exclusive Sun-worshippers in South Asia are Iranic, it follows that Varahamihira was an Iranic sun-priest or Magus (Biswas 1949). The Magii were so famed for their prowess in science and mysticism that the modern words "magic" and "magician" are derived from their noble name. Hence, Mrs. Debala Mitra notes,
"The Magas did not confine themselves to Śāmbapura, identified with the modern Multan, where Hiuen Tsang saw a grand Sun temple in the seventh century. They soon spread over other parts of India. Ptolemy (middle of the second century AD) vouches for the existence of the `Brachmanai Magoi' in the South. ... They contributed much to astronomy and astrology. The famous astronomer Varāhamihira was himself a Maga. The descendants of the Maga Brāhmaṇas are still interested in astrology, foretelling, divination, propitiation of planetary deities (graha-yāga), etc. As they enjoyed the gifts made for the propitiation of the grahas (planets), they are called graha-vipras (astrologers)." (Mitra 1962, p.614)
Further connections with Iran exist (Upadhye 1933). Davar has an exhaustive description of the Maga "Brahmins" and provides substantial new evidence proving Varahamihira's Iranic origin:
"We shall now review the influence of the Mag Brahmins on India. According to K.N.Sitaram,38 [38. "Iranian Influence on Indian Culture": an article by K.N.Sitaram in the K.R.Cama Institute Journal] the influence of the Mag Brahmins was considerable in the 6th century AD, when the Iranian form of sun-worship was in full swing in India. Sitaram holds that king Harshavardhan (AD 606-648), his father Prabhākarvardhan, his father Ādityavardhan and his father Rājyavardhan were all sun-worshippers and {p.66} descendants of Mag Brahmins. It is also significant that `Prabhākar' and `Āditya' are names of the sun. Sitaram asserts that the famous Indian astronomer Varāhamihir of the 6th century AD was a Mag Brahmin, and that he had referred to his Mag Brahmin ancestors in his works. From his father's name Ādityadās (meaning servant of the sun) and from the fact that Varāhamihir dedicated his great work, the Brihatsamhitā, to Mihir (Mithra or the sun), Sitaram concludes that the astronomer was in some way connected with the Mag Brahmins. In this respect a shrewd argument has been advanced by J.E.Sanjana 39, [39. "Varāhamihir - an Iranian name": an article by J.E.Sanjana in the Dinshah J.Irani Memorial Volume] who invites our attention to a certain verse of a Zarathushtrian scripture, named the Meher Yasht (Yasht X), according to which, while Meher (the sun) advances, he is accompanied by Verethraghna (Vritrahaṇa or Behrām) in the form of a "varāz" (varāha or boar). From this Avestan passage one can see the close connection between Varāha (boar) and Mihir (sun), which words go to form the name of the Hindu astronomer, and thus support the theory that he was a Mag Brahmin." (Davar 1962, p.65-66)
The Magas of Persia were of course subsequently absorbed into Islam as the priestly Sayyid or Syed class. Islam - with its focus on the Kaaba of Mecca, the ancient temple of the Assyrian or Syrian Sun-God Hu-Baal, Bel or Baal - came naturally to the heliolatric Persian Magas, who no doubt regarded Islam as an offshoot of the ancient Iranic Solar religion.

Father of Indian astronomy
Perhaps the most famous Maga in the East, Varahamihira was the father of modern Indian astronomy, for his system superceded the preceding Vedanga Jyotisha. Indeed, the earliest Indian treatise on astronomy is the Vedanga Jyotisha, as a recent popular science article states:
"The first formal treatise on astronomy is the Vedanga Jyotisha, dated about 1400 BC. It talks of a five-year yuga (time span) consisting of 67 lunar months, which incorrectly corresponds to 366 days in a year. But a peculiar concept was of the Rahu and Ketu which eclipsed the sun and the moon. This was later identified as two imaginary points where the path of the moon intersects the apparent path of the sun. For an eclipse to occur the moon should be at one of these two points." (Abraham 2001)
This Vedanga Jyotisha dominated South Asian astronomy for 1500 years. Unfortunately, the lunar Vedanga Jyotisha system was crude in comparison to the advanced heliolatric Surya Siddhantic system. This, coupled with a continuous immigration of Iranic settlers, led to the new Surya Siddhanta system gradually superceding the Harappan system around 400 AD. It has remained supreme ever since. Thus, Varahamihira is the father of modern Indian astrology and astronomy.

Father of Rajput Art, Sculpture & Architecture
What is often vaguely and incorrectly called "North Indian architecture", or "Classical Hindu architecture" is in fact more correctly known as "Rajput architecture" or "Scytho-Rajput architecture". Varahamihira was the first person to codify the rules for art, sculpture and architecture which formed the basis for this splendid Rajput school:
"The rudiments of this framework for construction and design can be seen in the Puranas, Shastras, Samhitas and Buddhist classics. Matsya Purana, for instance, has much on architecture and sculpture. Natya Sastra has a chapter on the design and construction of theatres while Padma Samhita covers planning and construction of temples.

But the earliest text codifying rules for art, sculpture and architecture is the early 6th century AD text Brhat Samhita of Varahamihira. Mayamata and Manasara are early texts which are held as standard reference works on Vastuvidya-the science of building." (Abraham 2001)
That Varahamihira codified the norms of civilization for the Rajputs should come as no surprise, for the Rajputs were ethnically closely related to Varahamihira. Both Rajputs and Magas are twigs of the same branch, for they are divisions of the Saka branch of the long-headed Iranic or Iranoid race.

Alleged Vedic Origin Refuted
Out of ignorance or chauvinism, Varahamihira, and sometimes even his whole school of astronomy, is often misrepresented as being of so-called "Vedic Origin". Refuting the alleged Vedic Origin of Varahamihira, Prof. Rajesh Kochhar, "astrophysicist and director of National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies in New Delhi," (Abraham 2001) notes,
"`Vedanga Jyotisha does not mention week days or zodiacal signs but in the Siddhantic astronomical texts zodiacal signs are inbuilt," says Kochhar. "There are many new inputs in Aryabhatta's work.' Aryabhatta's follower Varahamihira (c. 505 AD) compiled five siddhantas, two of which bear testimony to outside influence. The most accurate is Surya Siddhanta, which was revised several times." (Abraham 2001)
Prof. Kochhar further notes that modern South Asian astronomy is in fact non-Vedic and was largely created by Varahamihira:
"Kochhar, who wrote the book Vedic People, says the astrology we have today is not Vedic and hence there is no question of teaching Vedic astrology (as planned by the University Grants Commission). "It is post-Varahamihira and based on Siddhantic astronomy. Vedic astronomy did not have zodiacal signs," says Kochhar. "Teaching astrology is different. You can certainly teach astrology if you can teach Sanskrit." (Abraham 2001)
Thus, modern South Asian astrology is non-Vedic and instead based on the Iranic solar system of Varahamihira. Indeed, Varahamihira called the Vedanga Jyotisha system as "Pitamaha Siddhanta" and considered it inferior to the Iranic system:
"Varahamihira (c. AD 530), in his work, `the five astronomical systems' or the Pancasiddhantika, begins with an account of what he calls Pitamaha Siddhanta or the astronomical system of the grandfathers - evidently a figurative way of indicating its hoary antiquity. Compared to the other systems of astronomy discussed by him, this is considered by Varahamihira as crude and undeveloped, and hence he gives very meagre information about it.78 (78. Panca-Siddhantika, verse 4, see also S.B.Dikshit, BJS [Bharatiya Jyotish Sastra, tr. R.V.Vaidya], pt. II, p.3). But the interesting point is that Thibaut, comparing these information with some of those of the Vedanga Jyotisa, feels "that the astronomical book quoted by Varahamihira as Pitamaha Siddhanta must have been either the Jyotisa itself or a work very much like it." 79 (79. G.Thibaut, in SHSI ["Symposium on the History of Sciences in India", New Delhi, Oct. 1968], II, p.488)" (Chattopadhyaya, 1986, vol.I, p.267-268)
Thus, the Surya-Siddhanta system of astronomy cannot be of Vedic or non-Aryan origin, and was the creation of Iranic sun-priests or Magas.

These Maga Brahmins are not to be confused with the Vedic or Vaidik Brahmins. The Magas are members of the dolichocephalic (long-headed) Irano-Aryan race, while the Vedic Brahmins are, as their very name indicates, "Abrahamites" or members of the original brachycephalic (round-headed) Semitic race which ruled over later Sumer and Harappa. The Irano-Aryans were Aryan Sun-worshippers of Surya, representative of the forces of Light and Day, while the Vedic Brahmins were adherents of the Semitic Moon-cult of Sin or Chandra, representative of the forces of Darkness and the Night. It must be recalled that the prime god in the Vedas is Indra, a derivative of Indu, the moon-god, while the Irano-Aryan sun-god Surya is cursed in the selenolatric (moon-worshipping) Vedas and Puranas as "Asura" or demon. Instead, the Vaidiks worship the "devas" (a term cognate with the English "devil"), while these "daivas" are considered malevolent spirits in the Iranic tradition. Indeed, the Vedic cult is the very opposite of the Aryan or Iranian religion, and is anti-Aryan in spirit, one of the main proofs for the non-Aryan origin of the Vedic Brahmins. These more numerous Vedic Brahmins have always refused to interdine and inter-marry with the Magas, and curse them as "non-Brahmins". The Maga Brahmins in their turn consider the lunar Vedic cult inferior to their own solar Avestan and Iranic civilization. Moreover, it is the Maga Brahmins who produced much of the later Brahmanic civilization. (Srivastava 1969, 1970, 1972).

Dravidian Origin of Vedanga Jyotisha
Indeed, not only is the Surya-Siddhanta of non-Vedic origin, but the so-called "Vedanga Jyotisha" (used for ritual purposes during the Vedic Dark Ages, ca. 1500 BC-500 BC) itself was in actual fact the system of astronomy adopted by the Vedic priests from the Dravidian priesthood of Harappa. As it is still sometimes misrepresented as "Vedic astrology", and falsely portrayed as having its roots in the Vedas, it is necessary to summarise the Dravidian origin of Vedanga Jyotisha:
"It is also significant to note from the point of view of our discussion that the place of observation of the longest and shortest day of the Vedanga Jyotisha cannot be true of the regions where the Vedic people eventually settled and produced their ritual literature - the Yajurveda and the Brahmanas. The latitude of the Vedic settlements could not be more than 28 ° N. 86 [86.The Aryavarta of the Dharmasastras is the middle Gangetic zone, extending initially from Kurukshetra to Allahabad.] Therefore, we are inclined to conclude that in the Vedanga Jyotisha we have an important clue which, geographically, speaking, indicates that its astronomical contents were presumablybased on the observations of the Harappans, though it came down to a much later period and to a different region altogether, where the Vedic priests wanted somehow to connect it with their sacrificial ritual, branding it as a "limb of the Vedas" (Vedanga), perhaps without understanding and certainly not verifying the astronomical contents that came down to them." (Chattopadhyaya 1986, vol.I, p.271)
Moreover, the name "Lagadha", the legendary author of Vedanga Jyotisha, has no Indo-European etymology, and is phonetically of Dravidian origin: "... the author/authors of both its [Vedanga Jyotisha] versions claim that they simply present the views of a certain authority called Lagadha74 [footnote 74. RV-J.2, VJ-Y.44. Interestingly, the name [Lagadha] appears to be quite peculiar and it seems that it is not Sanskritic at all]." (Chattopadhyaya 1986, vol.I, p.266).

Hence, what is often termed as "Vedic astronomy" or "Vedic astrology" is a misnomer; the ancient Vedic astronomy of the Vedanga Jyotisha is Harappan and hence should correctly be termed "Afro-Dravidian astronomy", whilst later "Vedic astronomy" should be termed "Iranic astronomy".

The Maga or Iranic priestly origin of Varahamihira has thus been firmly established. Varahamihira is justly regarded as one of the greatest Iranic astronomers in history. He was perhaps the greatest representative of the Maga branch of the Iranic race.

The author would like to thank Prof. Qazi Afzal Hussain (Aligarh) for assistance.

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