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108 – The Magic Number

108-Pentagon

Most religions originated from India consider 108 as a sacred number. The beads of prayer rosary count up to 108. Vedic scholars gave so much importance to ‘108’, that it practically reflects in all auspicious things. Many temples reflect this number in their design. But why is this number so important? Let us answer this question from different aspects.

The most important aspect is Astronomy. Number 108 is well explained in the work of legendary astronomer Varha Mihir (505-587 CE). He was one of the nine jewels of King Yashodharman Vikramaditya of Malwa, with his capital in Ujjain. Varaha Mihir, established an observatory in Mihirapuri. Some accounts suggest, the area known as Mihirapuri is now called “Mehrauli” (A locality in Delhi). Out of several notable works of Mihir, the most important was ‘Panch Siddhantika’ (literally: 5 Treatise). It is more of a summary of earlier astronomical works. The first siddhant (out of 5) is the Surya Siddhanta, where he talks about using Sunlight to perform various calculations. In one of the experiments, it is stated that if one measures the shadow casted by a long pole on a particular day (equinox) at a particular time (noon), and apply the formula given, s/he can obtain the diameter of sun and distance between sun and earth. It may not be just a coincidence that a pillar of wootz steel is standing in Qutub Complex. (Area around Qutub Complex is considered to be the site, where Varah Mihir once had his observatory and school. Also, Wootz Steel was developed in Vidisha, from where Mihir comes). Surya Siddhanta mentions that distance between earth and sun is approximately 108 times the diameter of sun. Similar calculation exists between earth and moon. This is what modern research tells:

Diameter of Sun: 1.391016 million Km.
Average Distance between Sun and Earth: 149.6 million Km.
Calculation as per Surya Siddhanta: 1.391016 X 108 = 150 Kms.

Diameter of Moon: 3,474 Kms.
Average Distance between Moon and Earth: 384,400 Kms.
Calculation as per Surya Siddhanta: 3473 X 108 = 375,192 Kms.

Further, Atharvaveda divides the ecliptic into 27 houses or mansions, and calls them ‘Nakshatras’. Each of these 27 Nakshatras cover 13°20’ of the ecliptic. Further, each Nakshatra is divided into 4 quarters (padas). 27 X 4 = 108. Hence, 108 represents the complete ecliptic.

These 27 Nakshatras are: Kṛttikā (the Pleiades), Rohinī (Aldebaran), Mrigashīrsha, Ārdrā (Betelgeuse), Punarvasu, Pushya, Asleshā, Maghā (Regulus), Purva phalguni, Uttara phalguni (Denebola), Hasta, Chitrā (Spica), Svāti (Arcturus), Vishākhā, Anurādhā, Jyeshthā, Mūla, Purva ashadha, Uttara ashadha, Shravana, Dhanishta, Satabhishak (Sadachbia), Purva bhadrapada, Uttara bhadrapada, Revati, Ashvini, Bharani.

Next, Indian Vedas suggest that Sun is the master, and has 12 zodiac signs. Sun is also related with Lord Brahma, which is represented with number 9. 9 X 12 = 108.

As per Hindu belief, Lord Shiva has 108 Mukhya Shivganas (attendants), with Lord Ganesha as their leader. The Gaudiya Vaishnavism believes that Lord Krishna has 108 Gopis. The Sri Vaishnavite tradition has 108 temples of Vishnu. There are 108 Upnishads. Indian Tantra system suggests that we breath 21,600 times in a day, out of which 10,800 are solar energy and 10,800 are lunar energy. That is 100 times 108. Natya Shastra of Rishi Bharat has 108 Karanas (movements of hands and feet).

In Jainism, there are 108 ways of Karma influx.
4 Kashays (anger, pride, conceit, greed)
3 karanas (mind, speech, bodily action)
3 stages of planning (planning, procurement, commencement)
3 ways of execution (own action, getting it done, support/approval)
4 X 3 X 3 X 3 = 108

Japanese tradition says that there are 108 earthly temptations, a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. In Taoism, there are 108 lords.

Buddhism believes that there are 108 feelings. This number is reached by multiplying 6 senses (smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and consciousness) with the 3 types (painful, pleasant and neutral). It is further multiplied by the factor ‘internally generated’ or ‘externally affected’ and with the time period – Past, present or Future. So 6 X 3 X 2 X 3 = 108.

Even Christianity mentions the number 108. According to one belief, from Soul’s day (November 2) to Christmas (December 25), there are 54 days and 54 nights. This can also be translated to 54 positive and 54 negative units. In this sense, Number 108 (54 + 54) would symbolize the progress from darkness to the light. According to some texts, Jesus had 108 disciples (excluding apostles).

According to Ayurveda, there are 108 pressure points in the human body. There are 108 energy lines converging to heart chakra.

There are 54 letters in Sanskrit. Each having a masculine and a feminine form (Shiva and Shakti). 54 X 2 = 108.

There are many branches of martial arts, that have 108, or its factors as some significant element. In most cases, there are 108 steps to certain technique, or 108 techniques in total.

Interestingly, at 108 Fahrenheit, the human body’s vital organs begin to fail from overheating.

There are 108 lies a human can tell, 108 desires a mortal can have and 108 delusions, that a man encounters.

 

…. And, 108 is the emergency number in India.

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2 thoughts on “108 – The Magic Number

  1. A S Mahal on said:

    Excellent description – Thanks

  2. I’m glad to have discovered your blog since attending your katha workshop 🙂 Great read!

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