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108 – The Magic Number


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.


God’s Hexagram

The StarHexagram, or the six pointed star is a common symbol and popular by the name of Megan David or the Star of David. It is a considered to be a Jewish symbol and can be seen in the Flag of Israel. History tells that in Judaism, the symbol first appeared in a Synagogue of Israel in 3rd or 4th century, where it was purely a decoration motif. Few other synagogues of same period bear a Pentagram (5 pointed star). More meaningful usage appears in 11th century to decorate manuscripts. Much later, this symbol became popular and was associated with Judaism officially. However, the Hexagram was used in many other parts of world much before it became popular in Israel.


The Origin

Hexagram is a generic shape. It is difficult to ascertain the origin, given the limited information in this regards. We can only study the oldest usage and appearance of the symbol. In my earlier article, I discussed about Swastika, which appears in various religions and communities with different names. Similarly, Hexagram also appears almost everywhere and there is a possibility that the symbol was created by different people with no connection to each other.


The Hindu Theory

In Hinduism, the Hexagram is more commonly known as Shatkon or Satkona (Shat = six, Kona = corner/angle). It is the union of Shiv (Male) and Shakti (Female). Here, Shiva, or the Purusha is represented by symbol “ᐱ”, which is a symbolic representation of male organ. Shakti, or Prakriti is represented by symbol “ᐯ”, which denotes the female womb. They are both combined to form “”. This is called Shanmukha, which represents “Origin”, or the formation of life. Shanmukha literally means Six faced. Hindu deity Kartikeya, Shiv and Shakti’s progeny, is also represented with six faces.

Hexagram is also used in Yantras in Hindu religion. Yantras are used in rituals.



Anahat Chakra or Padam Sundra

The Anahat Chakra or Anahatpuri is one of the seven chakras of Yoga, which is associated with well being, emotions, love and devotion. It contains a lotus flower with twelve petals and an encircled hexagram.


Hexagram in Jainism & Buddhism

Vajrayogini, the highest yoga-tantra Ishta-Devi is practiced to avoid ordinary death and reaching higher spiritual paths. She is a high spiritual figure in Tibet and other areas where Buddhism is practiced. In Tibetan Mandalas, she is drawn in a Hexagram. Some old versions of Tibetan Bardo Tholo (Book of funerary texts) contains Hexagram with Swastika. In Tibetan, it is called the “origin of phenomenon” (chos-kyi ‘byung-gnas). Hexagram is also seen at many places in Jain and Buddhist texts.



Judaism and Christianity

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Judaism considers Hexagram as Star of David. While the symbol was used in Jew and Christian texts from centuries, the official use of the Hexagram to represent the Jewish community started from First Zionist Congress in 1897. Soon, it was being used in everything related to Judaism. It became popular to an extend that the flag proposed in first congress later became the official flag of Israel (with minor modifications).

Hexagram can be seen in many churches, where it is part of the architectural patterns. However, at few places, Jesus Christ is depicted in the Hexagram. Star-of-David

One important thing in case of “Star of David”, which usually goes unnoticed is that it is not 2 triangles overlapped. Megan David is actually two triangles interlocked. In almost all other cases, it is the overlapped triangles.


Hexagram in Islam

If you have been to Saudi Arabia, you would know the difference between a Pentagram and a Hexagram. A 5-pointed star has been widely accepted by modern Islamic fundamentalist and they discourage the use of the 6-pointed star. However, this move is more political than religious. Islam considers Moses as one of its prophets and his name appears more than any other prophet in the holy texts. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all Abrahamic religions and share common roots and beliefs. In South Asia, the Hexagram can be seen on almost all ancient Islamic structures, from tombs to mosques.

In examples below, we have the name “Allah” written inside an Hexagram. It can be seen in the Mosque of Makhdoom Sabzwari in Mayfair Garden near Hauz Khas, New Delhi. The wall on right side is from an unknown tomb in Lado Sarai area of Delhi, where Hexagrams and regular hexagons are used as decorative geometric patterns.

MakhdoomSahibMosque LadoSarai

Below, on the left is the Tomb of Sheikh Yusuf Qattaal in Khirki village of New Delhi. This tomb is known for its intrinsic Jaali work. The patterns are derived from Hexagrams. On right, we have the Mehrab of the Mosque of Jamali Kamali in Mehrauli Archaeological Park (Delhi). The mehrab has Hexagrams as medallions.

YusufQattaal JamaliKamali

Humayun's-Tomb Qutub

(Left) Hexagram on Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi. (Right) Hexagram inside Alai Darwaza, one of the oldest surviving true dome gates of South Asia inside Qutub Complex.

Shinto (Japanese)

Hexagram is a common symbol in Shinto. There, it is known as Kagome Crest and can be found in almost all Shinto temples, dating back to 5th century BC.


Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi

The Rashtrapati Bhawan and Secretariat designed by Lutyen and Baker is an amazing example of the amalgamation of South Asian and European architecture. Hexagram can be seen almost everywhere in these structures.



The Seal of United States of America

Notice the 5-pointed stars in the US Seal. These stars form a Hexagram.



There is a lot more about the Hexagram than what I have mentioned in this article. But I will stop here to avoid converting this article into a mini-book. Please feel free to read through the links given below for more understanding on this subject

For further reading, you may refer to:

– Vikramjit Singh Rooprai

Swastika, in common culture

220px-HinduSwastika.svg When famous Bollywood actor Amir Khan said ‘All is Well’, I was wondering, how come such a beautiful and powerful line was not discovered earlier. Then one day, when I was explaining the symbols on mosques and temples to some college students, I pondered over the name “Swastika”. A little more research and I found that this name is actually three words combined to one. “Su” here means ‘good’ (as in Su-Prabhat, Su-vidha, Su-Kumar etc). “Asti” means ‘to-be’. Along with a diminutive suffix ‘Ka’, it becomes Su-Asti-Ka, which means “It is good” or “All is well”. With time, it became the synonym of good health and wealth. 5000 years ago, during the Indus valley civilization, this symbol was established and widely used. It was a synonym for sun, power, strength and good luck. Many believe, that this symbol is actually the characters of Brahmi Script, written in calligraphic form. While some debate that the symbol used for Swastika is as old as 10,000 BC as it appears on a late Palaeolithic figurine of mammoth ivory in Mezine, Ukraine. However, most of the historians and archaeologists confirmed that it is actually a stylized figure of stork in flight and not a true Swastika symbol. Hence, the honour of oldest use of Swastika is still with the Indus Valley Civilization.

With time, people started migrating from the Indus Valley. They went to lands far-far away and established new colonies. With them, they also took this auspicious symbol of prosperity and luck. It was spread across the globe and became popular with many names. It went to China to be called ‘Wan’, while in England, it became popular with the name of ‘fylfot’. From Ethopia to Ghana, it was called ‘nkotimsefuopua’ and appears at various occasions. Germans started calling it ‘Hakenkreuz’, which also became the official symbol of bath party and was made (un)popular by the third reich, Adolf Hitler. In Greece, it was known as tetraskelion and gammadion. Before Hitler adopted this symbol, it was used by many other armed units. Swastika was the official emblem of Finnish Air Force till 1945. Latvia called it Ugunskrusts and used as the official air force symbol till 1940. The 45th Infantry division of the United States Army used swastika as a unit symbol until 1930s. They even fought Germans wearing the swastika badge in World War I. Swastikas and the similar Greek key symbol appear in decorative features of a number of U.S. federal, state and local government buildings including schools and county courthouses.

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Very few people know that the famous brewery group Carlsberg’s first logo was a Swastika, which was discontinued in 1930. Many other companies like KRIT Motor Car Company, Crane Valve Company, Buffum Tool Company, Washington Charcrete Company, Duplex Adding Machine Company and Swastika Flour used it in their logos in past. Famous author Rudyard Kipling was a big fan of Swastika and used it as his personal emblem on the covers and flyleaves of many editions of his books, signifying his affinity with India. Even the theosophical society included it in their logo, along with the famous start of David, the Ankh and Ouroboros. Swastika also appeared on currency notes of Russia in 1917 and on stamps of Britain. The ancient Greek coins were stamped with Swastika symbol. Collectors have identified more than 1,400 different swastika design coins, souvenir or merchant/trade tokens and watch fobs, distributed by mostly local retail and service businesses in the United States.

In 1925, Coca Cola made a lucky watch fob in shape of Swastika. The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company also made a ‘Good Luck’ token featuring Swastika. Harvard University Library has a 1908 leather watch fob with a brass swastika that was created for the presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan. America, in 1917, made good luck medals during World War I, bearing a Swastika. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. displays the original propeller spinner from Charles Lindbergh’s aeroplane Spirit of St. Louis, manufactured in early 1927. A swastika, left-pointing, was painted on the inside of the spinner cone along with the names of all the Ryan Aircraft Co. employees that built the aeroplane, presumably as a message of good luck prior to Lindbergh’s solo Atlantic crossing. In Mathematics, the equation (x4 – y4 = xy) creates a curve, which is known as ‘the Swastika Curve’. Swastika even found its space in Chinese and Japanese scripts, where it is an important alphabet.

clip_image007The “Legion Freies Indien” (Free India Legion) aka “Indian Volunteer Legion Regiment 950” was an Indian military unit raised during World War II in Germany. It was co-founded by Subhash Chandra Bose and became popular by name “Azad Hind Fauj”. It was originally established with intention to confront the British and free India. However, due to outbreak of World War II, it got involved in other battles and the soldiers were killed or captured. The legion did not survive post 1945. Captured soldiers were deported back to India, where they were tried for treason in Delhi. Along with their flag bearing a Tiger and words “Azad” & “Hind”, they proudly carried the Swastika flag during their days in Germany.

While swastika remains a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, it is also popular worldwide. Due to America’s reaction against Germany, its wide use in the Americas was stopped, however, it still is used as a running pattern in architecture and craft. In Asian countries, one can encounter swastika at every step in one or other form.

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