Category Archives: b. The Hindu Universe

Navagrahas: The Nine Planetary System

The worship of nine planetary gods, the navagraha, is widespread among Hindu sects.  Nava is translated as “nine” and graha as “planets,” although it etymologically means ‘one which is seized’ (Yano 381).  The concept of graha as a heavenly body has evolved into the current nine planetary system, the navagrahas.  First, a demon which eclipses the Sun and Moon was recognized, which was later given the name Rahu and his truncating tail, Ketu, was considered separately.  Next, five planets were included in this system followed by incorporating the Sun and Moon which brought the count of celestial bodies to nine.

Navagraha (Nine Heavenly Forces) Temple, Assam

The nine “planets” in the system followed, in order by the days of the week, are the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, with Rahu and Ketu added as influential bodies but not lords over a weekday.  The order of the planets aligning with the days of the week is thought to have originated during the third century and became widespread amongst Hindus during the following century (Yano 383).  Most Sanskrit texts describing the planets in the weekday order, therefore, should be dated past the third century.  By this time, it became a general, widespread and unbreakable rule that the planets were to be named in accordance with their corresponding days of the week (Pingree 251).  Before this, many arranged the planets by how advantageous they were beginning with the most positive as Venus and Jupiter, the neutral planet of Mercury next, and then the unfavourable Mars and Saturn (Pingree 251).  The study of the heavens (astronomy) at this point in time in India was thought of as sacrosanct among the educated classes.  The celestial beings were thought of as gods and the worship of them is reflected in the Vedas (Das 197).

Navagraha (Nine Celestial Forces) Shrine, Veerammakaliamman Temple, Singapore

The nine grahas worshipped by the Hindus are seen as heavenly bodies that bring fortune or misfortune to people’s lives (Coleman 128).  The Hindus who worship these celestial bodies are mainly those who believe in astrological influences over their lives (Pingree 249).  Within Sanskrit texts, descriptions and characters of the nine planets are given in such a way so they can be applied to the lives of those born under the planets influence (Pingree 250).

The most powerful is the Sun known as Surya or Ravi.  Surya is seen as the personification of the orb of light and heat and is portrayed with a golden complexion and rays of glory surrounding his head.  He will sometimes be seen as having two or four arms and holds a lotus in one hand.  Some have even termed him “the lord of the lotus” (Coleman 128).  Surya is complex as he is believed to be tri-form; Brahma or creation in the morning (east), Visnu or preservation at noon and Siva or destruction in the evening (west) (Coleman 129).

The next graha is the moon known as Candra or Soma.  Candra is depicted as a young, beautiful male who has two arms, one holding a club and the other a lotus, and is generally riding an antelope drawn cart.  Occasionally, the moon is depicted as a female and is then known as Candri.  Candra is of the warrior caste and presides over Monday.  It is believed that those born under Candra will have many friends, high distinctions and an enjoyable life (Coleman 131).  The daily positions of the moon are considered the twenty-eight lunar mansions in the zodiac called naksatra.  They are thought to be invented by Daksa and are the personification of the daughters of Daksa and the mythological wives of Candra (Coleman 131).

Mangala, or Mars, presides over Tuesday.  This planet is also believed to be of the warrior caste and produced from “the sweat of Siva’s brow” (Coleman 132).  Mangala is represented as red of flame-coloured with four arms, holding a trident, club, lotus and spear, while riding on a ram (Coleman 132).  The disposition of Mangala is said to be fierce and those born under him are thought to undergo great misfortunes and losses.  However, to battle under him is considered to be fortunate.

Mercury is the next graha known by the Hindus as Budha, and rules over Wednesday.  He is thought to be the son of Candra/Soma and Rohini and thus the firstborn of the Candrabans which are considered to be the “lunar race of the sovereigns” (Coleman 133).  He is represented in many different ways including on a carpet, on an eagle, cart drawn by lions, mounted on a lion or mounted on a winged lion.  In some depictions he is holding a sceptre and lotus and in others a scimitar, club and shield.  Budha is the god of merchandise and the protector of merchants and being born under him is considered fortunate.

The regent of the planet Jupiter and preceptor of the gods, called their guru, is Brhaspati.  He is of the Brahmin caste and rules Thursday.  He is depicted in a golden or deep yellow hue, sitting on a horse holding a stick, lotus and his beads (Coleman 133).  Hindus are in strict worship of him and believe it is fortunate to be born under him.

The planet Venus and the god Sukra, comes next.  He is Brahmin as well and is the preceptor or guru of the ‘giants’ and is held in great esteem within Hinduism (Coleman 134).  Sukra presides over Friday and is thought to be the son or grandson of Brghu.  He is depicted as middle aged with a white complexion and is mounted in a variety of ways including on a camel or an animal resembling a rat or a horse and is holding a large ring, stick, beads, lotus or sometimes a bow and arrows (Coleman 134).  Being born under Sukra is said to bring great fortunes such as the gift of the power of omniscience and blessings of life which include many wives.

Sani, the planet Saturn, presides over Saturday.  He is of the Sudra caste and is depicted as a dark, old, ugly and lame with long hair, nails and teeth and an evil disposition.  He is usually clothed in black, mounted on a black vulture, raven or elephant holding a sword, arrows and two daggers in his hands (Coleman 134).  To be born under him is considered unfortunate as the tribulations of life are attributed to Sani’s influence and wickedness (Coleman 134).  Ceremonies held in worship of him are often just to appease him so no bad will come to those partaking in the ceremony.

Varuna, the planet Neptune, is the Hindu god of waters and regent of the west side of Earth.  He is illustrated as a four armed light skinned man riding a sea animal with a rope in one hand and a club in another (Coleman 135).  He is worshipped daily as one of the regents of the earth, especially by those who fish the lakes in Bengal before they go out.  People also often repeat his name in times of drought to obtain rain (Coleman 135).  It is believed that his heaven was formed by Viswakarma and is 800 miles in circumference.  Varuna and his wife, Varuni, are said to reside there seated on a throne of diamonds while they are attended by others (Coleman 135).

The next, and last of the navagrahas are Rahu and Ketu.  Rahu is thought to be the son or grandson of Kasyapa and is the planet of the “ascending node” (Coleman 134).  He is often worshipped to avert evil spirits, nasty diseases, earthquakes and other unfortunate events, and especially during an eclipse (Coleman 135).  He is portrayed in numerous ways including being mounted on a lion, flying dragon, an owl and a tortoise and sometimes with a spear in his hand.  As well, Rahu is generally portrayed without a head as it is thought to belong to the other part of him, Ketu.  Ketu is the planet of “descending node” (Coleman 135) and is described as sitting on a vulture or as a head on the back of a frog.  Ketu is thought to be Rahu’s tail by some while others believe Ketu to be comets (Yano 383).

Woman appeasing Rahu (Navagraha temple, Assam)

The navagrahas represent more than just a system of astrology within Hinduism, but a belief system that alters how the believers live from the moment of birth.  With the seven planets of varying fortune residing over each weekday, the timing of events is essential.  Within this study of the heavens has come a deeper understanding of the surrounding universe early on in Indian culture, as can be seen through further research, such as in Das’ Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy as well as in articles by Pingree (such as Representation of the Planets in Indian Astronomy and Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic).  The magnitude of worship of the grahas is certainly rooted deep within Hindu practices as people strive to achieve the ultimate fortunes that each day offers in this life.


Coleman, Charles (1995) The Mythology of the Hindus. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Das, Sukumar Ranjan (1936) “Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy.” Osiris. Vol. 2. pp. 197-219.

Pingree, David (1965) “Representation of the Planets in Indian Astrology.” Indo-Iranian Journal. Vol. 8. pp. 249-267.

_____ (1989) “Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic.”  Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Vol. 52. pp. 1-13.

Yano, Michio (2005) “Calendar, Astrology, and Astronomy.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Gavin Flood (ed.). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 376-392.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brishput or Vrihuspati
Shuni or Sani
Brahman Caste
Sudra Caste
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Samantha Ludwig (2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Creation in the Markandeya Purana

The Brahmanical tradition encompasses a vast body of literature commonly referred to as the Puranas (Pintchman 261). The Puranas are categorized as smrti (i.e., literature that has been passed on by human beings to the next generation through oral tradition), but often claimed as sruti-like or “divinely heard” (Coburn 343-344). For instance, the Markandeya Purana states that “as soon as Brahma, whose origin is inscrutable, came into being, this Purana and the Vedas issued from his mouths” (Mark. P. 219). The Puranas are classified according to sectarian perspectives; a majority of the eighteen Mahapuranas, or major Puranas, are Vaisnava or Saiva in orientation as the gods Visnu and Siva are deemed to be Brahman, the Absolute reality (Pintchman 261).  Four of the eighteen Upapuranas, or minor Puranas, celebrate the goddess Sakti, and are thus Sakta in orientation (Pintchman 261).  Other Puranas, however, such as the Kurma Purana and the Markandeya Purana do not appear to have any clear sectarian orientations (Rodrigues 290).

The Puranas mainly comprise several myths on “creation, renewal, genealogies, manvantara periods of time, and tales of genealogical figures” (Rodrigues 290). According to Pintchman (262), the Puranas distinguish between the two significant phases of universal creation. The sarga, or primary, creation phase occurs after a major dissolution, while the pratisarga, or secondary, creation phase refers to the renewal of the universe after a minor dissolution. These two stages illustrate the Hindu notion of eternal repeating cycles whereby the universe is constantly being created, dissolved, and renewed (Miller 63-66). In the Markandeya Purana, both the sarga and pratisarga creation phases are explained through a dialogue between three rsis (sages): Jaimini (the first inquirer), Kraushtuki (the second inquirer), and Markandeya (the informer).

Markandeya begins the creation myth by claiming that Brahma is the cause and effect of everything in the universe (Mark. P. 220). Within Brahma, the three gunas, or qualities, exist in equilibrium: Brahma is one-third sattva (pure/luminous), one-third rajas (active/passionate), and one-third tamas (passive/dark). In accordance with Sankhya philosophy, Markandeya states that the disruption of Brahma’s gunas lead to the creation of the Mahatattvas, or great categories (Pintchman 263; Mark. P. 220). First the Pradhana, or the Imperceptible, came into existence; from this, came the Mahat, or Intellectual principle, which can be identified by goodness, passion, and ignorance. Mahat in turn led to the creation of the Ahankara, or principle of Individuality. Ahankara, much like Mahat, has three characters: the Modifying, the Energizing, and the Evolving.   The Evolving Ahankara then creates the subtle elements; from each element, a complementary element was created:  From sound came ether, from touch came air, from form came light, from taste came water, and from smell came earth (Mark. P. 220-221). Following these creations, the Modifying Ahankara generated the eleven human organs. Of the eleven, five were organs of the buddhi, or intellect, and five were organs of the taijasa, or action (Mark. P. 221). These ten organs constitute the ten Vaikarika deities, while the manas, or mind, is the eleventh organ. Markandeya then continues by stating that Mahat, along with the other tattvas, give rise to a hiranya-garbha, or cosmic egg, which floats on a cosmic ocean (Mark. P. 222). [The notion of a cosmic egg that holds the universe in its incipient form is consistent with Rg Vedic accounts on creation, for an example, see Bhattacharyya 2-5]. This hiranya-garbha contains the Absolute and the universe in its embryonic form.

At this point, Markandeya is interrupted by Kraushtuki, a third rsi, who wishes to know what happens “when things are not created, and nothing exists, everything has been destroyed by time at the end of the dissolution of the universe” (Mark. P. 224). In response to this question, Markandeya commences by declaring that Brahma possesses three qualities that are manifested as Brahma the creator, Visnu the maintainer, or nurturer, and Rudra the destroyer. He continues by stating that Brahma, who is the first of all gods, lives for a hundred years. These years, however, are different from the years of human beings and deities (Mark. P. 226).  Markandeya explains that the fundamental unit of time is an age, or yuga.  There are four yugas that make up a mahayuga: the krta yuga, the treta yuga, the dvapara yuga, and the kali yuga. A thousand mahayugas constitute one kalpa, while seventy-one cycles of a mahayuga form a single manvantara. Thus, one kalpa can be divided into 14 manuvantaras; manvantaras are presided by divine beings known as Manus (Mark. P. 226-227). A single day of Brahma comprises two kalpas (For a thorough explanation of the computation of Brahma’s life, see Appendix A).

After computing Brahma’s lifespan, Markandeya continues with the creation myth. Markandeya explains that at the end of each kalpa, Brahma sleeps and a minor dissolution, which is referred to as a causal dissolution or naimittik pralay, takes place (Mark. P. 227). During the naimittik pralay, residents of the triple-world, which includes the bhurloka (earth), bhuvarloka (atmosphere or mid-region), and svarloka (heaven), temporarily relocate to the maharloka, while the residents of the maharloka travel to the janaloka (Mark. P. 227-228). [For a more detailed explanation of the triple-world system, see Prakash 55-61 and Miller 83-86]. The entire universe is also submerged in the cosmic ocean at the time of the naimittik pralay. When Brahma awakens, he starts to create the universe.

First, Brahma creates Narayana, or ‘the one who dwells in water’, who assumes the body of a boar, to dive into the cosmic waters to bring up the previously submerged world (Mark. P. 229). Markandeya continues by claiming that “the earth floated like an immense boat on that ocean, but [did] not sink by reason of the amplitude of its size” (Mark. P. 229). Narayana then began creating the triple-worlds, as well as the maharloka. Brahma is extremely satisfied with Narayana’s creations, but desires to create other superior beings to inhabit the worlds. He begins to meditate, and through this process, he creates nine classes of creations. As Brahma had already created mahat (intellect) and the subtle elements, he began meditating to create the vikaras. The vikaras comprised of sense capabilities (i.e., seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) as well as action capabilities, such as grasping, speaking, walking, procreating, and excreting (Pintchman 270). These three creations (i.e, the mahat, subtle elements, and vikaras) are thought to evolve from Prakrti, and are thus deemed to be prakrta, or primary, creations (Mark. P. 232).

The fourth class comprised the vegetables, which are described as the “creation incapable of causation” (Mark. P. 230). The fifth class comprised the four-legged animals, such as cattle, that can be characterized by ignorance. Brahma realized that even these creations were incapable of causation, and thus, he continued to meditate and created the sixth class of beings known as the urdhva-srotas, or the gods. According to Markandeya, Brahma was exceptionally pleased with this creation because the gods are primarily characterized by goodness, pleasure, and affection. Brahma prolonged his meditation to create the seventh class that was capable of causation, and characterized by ignorance and passion; these were the human beings. Since “the streams of life in them moved downwards”, human beings were deemed the arvak-srotas. The eighth class of beings was the anugraha, characterized by goodness and ignorance. These latter five creations are thought to derive from the Vikaras, and are thus known as the vaikrta creations. The ninth and final creation was the kaumara creation; kaumara consisted of both prakrta and vaikrta (Mark. P. 232).

Markandeya continues reciting the creation myth to Kraushtuki by explaining the details of Brahma’s four created beings: the asuras, or demons, the suras, or gods, the pitrs, or ancestors, and the humans. Brahma created each being from a different and separate body (Mark. P. 233-234). After using each body to create a specific being, Brahma discards the body to form different periods of the day. Night came from the body that created the asuras, while day emerged from the body that created the suras. Twilight, or dawn, derived from the body that created the pitrs, and moonlight came from the body that created the humans. According to Pintchman (270), Brahma “then creates all other existing entities from his own bodily form.” One such notable category of entities include Brahma’s manasa, or mind-born, sons (Mark. P. 247-248).

Brahma created nine sages from his mind alone (Mark. P. 247). These sages were named Bhrigu, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Angiras, Marici, Daksha, Atri, and Vasishtha. These mind-born sons were supposed to continue Brahma’s work of creation. However, the sages disregarded Brahma’s work and, instead, pursued a renouncer-like life typified by contemplation, meditation, and asceticism (Pintchman 271).  Realizing that his creations were at great risk of meeting an abrupt end, Brahma grew angry (Mark. P. 248). Amidst his anger, Markandeya explains, Brahma creates a divine being that is half male and half female (Mark. P. 248). In order to sustain his creations, Brahma orders the being to “divide thyself” to create several other females and males (Mark. P. 248).  With several other beings created from the half male and half female divine being, Brahma generates Manu Svayambhuva to guard these numerous beings.

Markandeya’s account of how the world came to be is one of several in the Hindu tradition. Although many Hindu texts bear close resemblance to the account in the Markandeya Purana (e.g., Brahmada Purana, Garuda Purana, and Padma Purana), several other texts describe differential versions of creationism. For instance, the Purusa Sukta hymn, in the Rg Veda, depicts the universe as an enormous cosmic being, known as Purusa, that is three quarters transcendent and one quarter manifest (Rg Veda 10.90). From Purusa, a feminine principle named Viraj, or the widespread, is generated. Together, Viraj and Purusa beget a son, also named Purusa; this son is sacrificed by the gods, and from this sacrifice Purusa creates the cosmos (Rodrigues 89). As this account of creationism is vastly different from Markandeya’s account, it is worth noting that many creationist accounts in the Hindu literature may be contradictory. Although most Puranic creationist accounts are valued by Hindus worldwide, the Puranas have not been granted a sruti status, and thus, Vedic accounts of creationism, such as the Purusa Sukta hymn, may be deemed more significant.


Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (1983) History of Indian Cosmogonical Ideas. New Delhi: Munishiram Manoharlal.

Chatterji, Suniti Kumar (1936) “Purana Legends and the Prakrit Tradition in New Indo-Aryan.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London 8, no. 2/3: 457-466.

Coburn, Thomas B. (1980) “The Study of the Puranas and the Study of Religion.” Religious Studies 16, no. 3: 341-352.

Knipe, David M (1991) Hinduism: Experiments in the Sacred. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Miller, Jeanine (1985) The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Veda. London: Routledge & Kegan.

Pargiter, F Eden (1981) The Markandeya Purana: Translated with Notes. New Delhi: Indological Book House.

Pintchman, Tracy (1998) “Gender Complementarity and Gender Hierarchy in Puranic Accounts of Creation.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66, no. 2: 257-282.

Prakash, Satya (1985) Hindu Religion and Morality. New Delhi: Asian Publication Services.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Shourie, Arun (1979) Hinduism: Essence and Consequence. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.

Singh, Jai Pal, & Khan, Mumtaz (1999) “Hindu Cosmology and the Orientation and Segregation of Social Groups in Villages in Northwestern India.” Geografiska Annaler, Series B, Human Geography 81, no. 1: 19-39.

Related Topics for Further Investigation











Brahmada Purana




Creation/Creator/ Creationism/Hindu Creationism


Dvapara Yuga

Garuda Purana

Genealogical figures


Hindu cosmology

Hiranyagarbha/World egg/Golden Embryo



Kali Yuga





Krta Yuga

Kurma Purana






Major dissolution




Manu Svayambhuva




Markandeya Purana

Minor dissolution


Naimittik pralay

Padma Purana














Rg Veda

Rg Vedic Cosmology







Sankhya philosophy






Supreme Being







Treta Yuga

Triple-world system












Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Sara Kafashan (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.