saptaRshis and kRttikAs

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 20 22:37:42 UTC 1998

Re: S. Krishna's recent post about Messrs. Frawley and Kak,

I don't intend to defend these authors, but changing 6 to 7 is not an
example of Kak-ism. It is well attested in Hindu myth, and all Kak does
is to report it in a nebulous way, notwithstanding his engineering
background. :-)

An early version of the myth of skanda's birth, in which agni is the
father (not Siva), makes the six kRttikAs the wives of six of the
saptaRshis. agni desires the wives of the seven Rshis, but is ashamed of
his desire. svAhA, the daughter of Daksha, desires agni, and
successfully mates with him six times, by assuming the forms of six of
the seven wives. She is unable to take the form of arundhatI, that well
known pativratA. skanda is born with six heads and one body, and these
six wives are implicated indirectly in his birth. So their husbands
abandon them, after which skanda gives them a position in heaven as a
constellation. However, the sages and the mothers are all present in the
assembly that welcomes skanda. The number 7 enters into the myth in
another way too. indra sends the ferocious and murderous mothers of the
world (the sapta-mAtrkAs?) to kill skanda, but they can't, because their
breasts fill with milk and they want to feed the child. The
sapta-mAtrkAs are drinkers of blood, and play a role in the mahishAsura
set of myths too.

In versions like kumArasambhava, which make Siva the father of skanda,
the kRttikAs are six in number, but there is still an important seventh
mother, i.e. umA, or even an eighth, if we take gangA's role into
account (agni receives Siva's seed, finds it too hot to hold, and casts
it into the gangA). And significantly, in the different context of the
mahishAsura myth, the varAha purANa reports eight instead of seven
mothers, sent by Vishnu, two of whom (yogeSvarI and mAheSvarI) are
consorts of Siva, just like umA and gangA. What makes the symbolism of 6
and 7 even more interesting is that there is a faint seventh star in the
constellation of the Pleiades. The anomalous seventh goddess is
presented both in conjuction with and in opposition to the six, and has
parallels in Greek myth too.

S. Vidyasankar

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