Mythology for the Millennial: Notes on the Hindu calendar and planets that can doom you for life

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
Before the modern-day Gregorian calendar year-month-week-day breakdown of our lives began, what would we have used? A look at the days of the week in the Hindu calendar reveal that they are exact correspondents to the Roman one, from distribution to superstition.

It is Thursday as I'm writing this. Thursday, from the Norse god Thor (the original, not the Marvel version), also the ruling god of the planet Jupiter. In Hindu mythology too, it corresponds to the god of Jupiter, Brihaspati. Brihaspati was the teacher to all the gods, which means he's also known as Guru, which means today in Hinduism is either Brihaspativar or the much more commonly used Guruvar.

Time is a weird thing. I started thinking about it when I was researching my last novel €" book two in a series about the women of the Mahabharata. Before the modern-day Gregorian calendar year-month-week-day breakdown of our lives began, what would we have used? I assumed they thought about time like seasons €" the last rain, the last cold season, or even the last time the moon was full €" but it got me curious about how we arrived at where we are today.

A look at the days of the week in the Hindu calendar reveal that they are exact correspondents to the Roman one. Sunday is Ravivar, the god of the sun, Monday is Somvar for the moon, Tuesday is Mangalvar for Mars, Wednesday is Budhvar for Mercury, Thursday, like I already said, is Guruvar for Jupiter, Friday is Sukravar for Venus and Saturday is Shanivar for Saturn. This is a relatively new way of looking at the calendar €" new for Hinduism, ie €" dating back to about the 4th or 5th century, when a king called Rudraman I, asked for a Greek text on horoscopes to be translated into Sanskrit. This book, called the Yavanajataka ("Yavana" is "Greek," "jataka" is "nativity") is what led to Hinduism's days of the week, and a text modern-day Indians use to this day.

If you spend enough time on the internet, you'll see a certain type of person complaining about how "kal-yug" is here already, and what are we going to do, we're all going to die in pits of fire and whatnot. The kali-yuga, the era associated with goddess Kali and also disharmony and strife €" and the rest of them, are measurements of eras by early Indian astrologers. They all stack downwards from the all-encompassing era or yuga, which is the life of Brahma, the creator god. Brahma's 311-trillion-year lifespan is also how long the universe will last. This is also one exhalation of the god Vishnu's breath €" each exhale leads to thousands of new universes and new Brahmas. (Each inhalation €" well, you should just hope he's holding his breath.) Too much math? Here's more: according to calculations based on this calendar, we still have over four million years to go before this era is over. That's comforting when you think about climate change.

There's an old English rhyme that goes: Monday's child is fair of face/Tuesday's child is full of grace/Wednesday's child is full of woe/Thursday's child has far to go/Friday's child is loving and giving/Saturday's child works hard for a living/But the child that is born on the Sabbath day, is happy and good and bonny and gay. The Hindu days of the week €" well, more like the Hindu planets €" are associated with traits of character as well. Remember that old rumour about Aishwarya Rai having to marry a tree before she married Abhishek Bachchan? That came about because she was born under the planet Mangala, making her "full of anxious thoughts [...] and will lose her land, trees and good name." Mangala is better than being born under the influence of Shani, who is represented, no surprise, as a black man with four arms riding a crow. If you have Shani in your birth influence, you're basically doomed: "he will be slandered," says my book of Hindu mythology by WJ Wilkins, "his riches dissipated, his son, wife and friends destroyed, he will live at variance with others and endure many sufferings."

Poor old Shani. He was born to the god Surya and his wife's shadow; the wife herself couldn't put up with how bright her sun god husband was, and took a little break back at her parent's house, by leaving her shadow behind, as her stand-in. The shadow (Chhaya) and Surya had three children of their own, one of them the god Shani, who was born so dark, Surya doubted it was his kid. Shani was born with a temper though, so he burnt his father to a crisp with his own blazing eyes. Who needs a DNA test after that display of sunburn?

As for me, since I'm going on a short trip this Thursday, I'm going to send up some salutations to Zeus, Thor and Brihaspati. Who knows €" maybe it'll bring me some luck.