Brihat Samhita

by N. Chidambaram Iyer | 1884 | 135,584 words | ISBN-13: 9788171104215

This page describes canopus (agastya) which is the twelfth Chapter of the English translation of the Brihat-samhita. This work, written by Varahamihira in the 6th century, is classified as jyotisha literature, also known as Indian astronomy. It contains however, also content regarding astrology, palmistry, agriculture, gardening, perfumes, medicines and various other encyclopedic topics.

Chapter 12 - On Canopus (Agastya)

Note on Canopus: This star is sacred to Agastya who is said to have drunk off the ocean and suppressed the heights of the Vindhya mountains. The first 5 stanzas, curiously enough, are devoted to a description of the beauties of the sea on the occasion of the former feat, and the 6th stanza which is written in Daṇḍaka metre is devoted to a description of the beauties of the Vindhya mountains on the occasion of the latter feat. The language is highly rhetorical.

1. The mighty ocean whose waters were swallowed by Agastya, exhibited gems that eclipsed the splendour of the crowns of the Devas and rocks broken by the action of the sharks on them and thus presented an appearance beautiful, though without water.

2. It also exhibited hills with trees, corals and gems and the scene was rendered picturesque by serpents that issued from the rocks.

3. It exhibited whales, water elephants, rivers and gems scattered over its bed, and, though deprived of water, presented an appearance splendid as Devaloka.

4. There were also seen, moving to and fro, whales, pearl oysters and conch shells, and the sea altogether looked like a summer lake with its moving waves, water lilies and swans.

5. Its huge white waves looked like clouds; its gems looked like stars; its crystals looked like the Moon; and its long bright serpents bearing gems in their hoods looked like comets and thus the whole sea looked like the sky.

6. Hear now the effects of the heliacal rising of Canopus (Agastya), a star sacred to Agastya who suppressed the Vindhya mountains whose soaring heights obstructed the course of the Sun; to which the pictured robes of the Vidyādhara females leaning for support on their lord’s arms and flying aloft in the sky formed beautiful flowing flags; whose caves were the abodes of lions which, having drunk of the perfumed blood of elephants in rut had their mouths covered with bees that looked like so many black flowers, and from which caves issued rivers; whose summits appeared to score the starry vault; whose rocks were full of buzzing bees scared by the violent pulling of flower trees by wild elephants and were also the abodes of hyenas, of bears, of tigers and of monkeys; through which lay the secret course of the Ravi which appeared to embrace its bosom with the affection of a mistress; and in whose forests dwelt the Devas and also Brāhmaṇa recluses, some subsisting on water, some on roots, some on the air and some altogether without food.

7. When star Canopus reappears after its conjunction with the Sun, waters muddled by their contact with the earth will resume their original clearness just in the same way as the minds of the Sādhus naturally recover their original purity after contact with the wicked.[1]

8. The autumn is attended by the Cakravāka[2] on both its sides (i.e., beginning and end); in it is heard the music of the swan; and its opening is marked by the beautiful red sky; in all these respects the season resembles a woman with a rising bosom, sounding jewels and betel-coloured mouth.

9. Again in the season of autumn will be found the blue and white lotus growing side by side, hovered over by beautiful lines of bees, tender creepers adding beauty to the scene; the season therefore resembles a charming woman with blue eyes, fair face, black hair and thin brows.

10. As if to view the beauty of the pure disc of her lord—the Moon, the summer lake opens at night her red lotus buds—her eyes of soft petals in which lie concealed the black bee serving as the pupil of the eye.

11. The Earth, by means of her arms, the waves, adorned by the lotus, the swan, the ruddy goose and the water-crow appears to welcome the appearance of Agastya with her offerings of gems, abundant foowers and fruits.

12. The poisonous and hot waters poured down by cloud-covered serpents by order of Indra become pure and fit for use on the reappearance of the star Canopus.

13. The very thought (meditation) of the sage Agastya is calculated to wash off one’s sins; his praise (worship) must be capable of doing more. For the benefit, therefore, of princes,[3] I will now speak of the rules of the Arghya (offering) to be presented to Agastya as stated by the Ṛṣis.

14. The time of reappearance of the star Canopus (Agastya) is different in different places; and it is for the learned astronomer to ascertain these times for given places. In the town of Ujjain, the star reappears when the sun just begins to enter the 24th degree of the sign Leo.[4]

15. When the darkness of the night should just begin to be broken by streaks of red light from the eastern horizon, princes, previously prepared[5] for the purpose, ought to offer their Arghyam to Agastya by pouring it on the Earth in the direction of the star Canopus rising in the south-east as will be pointed out by the astronomer.

16. The offering to be made by princes in honour of Agastya shall consist of the fragrant flowers of the season, of fruits, of precious stones, of gold cloths, of cows, of bulls, of well-cooked rice, of sweet-meats, of curdled milk, of coloured rice, of perfumed smoke and fragrant paste.

17. A prince making this offering, with a truly devout spirit, on every occasion of the reappearance of the star Canopus for 7 years will be freed from disease, will triumph over his enemies and will become the sole ruler of the Earth.

18. A Brāhmaṇa making this offering to the extent of his ability will become learned in the Vedas and will be blessed with a wife and children; a Vaiśya doing the same will get cows; and a Śūdra doing it will get wealth, and all the four will be freed from disease and become virtuous.[6]

19. If the disc of the star Canopus should present a disagreeable appearance, there will be disease in the land; if yellow, there will be drought; if of the colour of smoke, cows will suffer; if of unsteady light, mankind will be afflicted with fears; if white red, they will suffer from hunger and from starvation; and if of very small disc, the chief towns will be surrounded by the enemy.

20. If Canopus (Agastya) should appear of the colour of silver or crystal, or brilliant, there will be prosperity in the land and mankind will be free from fear and disease.

21. If Canopus should be crossed by meteoric falls or by comets, mankind will suffer from hunger and death. When the sun enters the constellation of Hasta, Canopus reappears, and when he enters the constellation of Rohiṇī, Canopus disappears. (see notes)

Notes on the reappearance and disappearance of Canopus (Agastya):

The statement in the text amounts to this: Canopus (Agastya) reappears when the sun enters the 17th degree of the sign Virgo and disappears when the sun enters the 11th degree of the sign Taurus. This the commentator says cannot be ordinarily, and is besides opposed to what has been stated in stanza 14th. According to commentator, the author has quoted in the last stanza the opinion of Parāśara which is only an instance of Utpāta. It cannot be otherwise; for Canopus is situated at the end of the sign Gemini which is 70° from Hasta and only 50° from Rohiṇi:—

According to some, Canopus reappears on the 8th lunar day or on new-moon-day of the waning moon of the month of Aśvayuk (Tulā and Vṛścika). This is opposed to actual observation and must be regarded as Utpāta.

Again in Viṣṇu Rahasya Vacana, it is stated that Canopus reappears when the Sun enters Hasta: but this as well as what Bṛhaspati says, the commentator regards as being true for the northern countries.

Footnotes and references:


The rhetorical beauty in this stanza consists in a certain Śleṣa (double meaning) contained ìn the term Ku samāyoga, which means both contact with the earth and contact with the wicked.

The next three stanzas describe the beauties of the autumn which commences with the reappearance of Canopus.


Cakravāka: the ruddy goose commonly called the Brāhmaṇī duck.


The commentator adds that this offering is equally binding on all men and forms part of man’s Nityakarma. in Viṣṇu Rahasya, we find Viṣṇu addressing Agastya as follows: he who fails to worship thee by the offering of Arghya shall lose in your favour the effects of a year’s Puṇyakarma; he who worships thee shall enjoy wealth and prosperity in Śveta Dvīpa (Vaikuṇṭha).


Leo: The word in the text is Agatasya Kanyām, which literally means before the Sun enters the sign of Virgo, but which the commentator takes to mean being in Leo. Vide note to stanza 21.


Previously prepared: by fasting and performance of Agastya pūjā, according to commentator.


According to Matsyapurāṇa, the offering must be made 7 times on some one morning before dawn within 7 days from the reappearance of Canopus, According to some other authority the offering should be continued for 17 years and must be accompanied in the case of the first three classes of men by the singing of Vedic hymns. For a detailed account of the ritual connected with the ceremony, the reader should refer Bhaviṣyapurāṇa and the work entitled Dānamālā.

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