Ammonites, echinoderms worshipped as Saligrams by Hindus. 

Ammonites, echinoderms worshipped as Saligrams by Hindus. 

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In all the Indian legends, whether it is the Ramayana or Mahabharata, one can find embedded elements of geological processes. Perhaps due to the lack of a sound scientific basis for recognizing geological processes in ancient Indian civilization, such processes were believed to be the acts of ‘Gods’ (Suras) and ‘Demons’ (Asuras) and hence they for...

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... Pandey 1979) and lifted the Earth with his tusks from the ocean bottom and reinstated it in its proper orbit. One may interpret this geologically as the birth of the planet Earth or an analogy of sea- floor spreading at mid-ocean ridges where new material is created. Lunar and solar eclipses are natural phenomena of the solar system and for that matter an eclipse is common to all the planetary bodies. However, in Indian mythology it is a chase between Rahu and the Moon and Ketu and the Sun (Dave 1991 a ). Indra, one of the celestial gods or ‘S uras ’, was cursed by Durvasa for insulting him by throwing away the flowers offered by him. By nature, Durvasa is short-tempered and cursed Indra and all the gods that they would lose their vigour and strength. So the gods started losing power while the ‘ Asuras ’ (demons) started gaining power. The gods pleaded with Vishnu to help them to regain their power so that the demons would not overtake their kingdom. Vishnu advised the gods to churn the milky sea using serpent ‘Vasuki’ mount Mandara as a stirrer to obtain celestial nectar (elixir) that would restore their power (Fig. 2). Thus both the gods and the demons churned the ocean and the nectar emerged from the ocean. Vishnu deceived the demons by taking the form of a beautiful lady (Mohini) and diverted their attention while the gods consumed the elixir. However, two ‘ Asuras ’ (Rahu and Ketu), aware of Mohini’s trickery, took the guise of gods and also consumed some of the celestial nectar and became immortal. The Moon and the Sun reported this incident to Vishnu who became furious and chopped off their heads with his Chakra (see Fig. 3). Since Rahu and Ketu consumed the nectar, they remained in the universe and started chasing the Moon and the Sun as an act of revenge. Thus in Hindu mythology Rahu and Ketu are regarded as celestial bodies that swallow the Moon and the Sun thus causing lunar and solar eclipses respectively. Indian astronomers as early as AD 300 discounted this myth and presented the orbital paths of the planets and their moons thus accounting for lunar and solar eclipses (Somayaji 1971; Dave 1991 a ). While Rahu and Ketu were consuming the celestial nectar, a few drops fell on Earth. Wherever drops of the celestial nectar or the elixir spilled, those places became divine or holy shrines for Hindus. Ujjain is one such place. Ujjain is located within the northern flank of the mid-continental Narmada rift. The Mahakal rift zone extends from the NE part of Madhya Pradesh to SW part extending up to Ujjain. (Venkata Rao & Nayak 1995; Fig. 4). The famous Tattapani thermal springs in Chattisgarh district (east of Jabalpur, not shown in Fig. 4) emerge through this rift system (Chandrasekharam & Antu 1995; Subramnya Sastri 1989). Hindu mythology mentions such a rift zone through which Lord Shiva (known as Mahakaleswar) emerged to save his devotees in Ujjain by killing the demon Dushana who was living in Ratnamala hills (Dave 1991 a ). Though there are no hill ranges around Ujjain, the Ratnamala hills may be the Vindhyans that form part of the Narmada rift system. Geographically, Ujjain attained importance for nurturing great Hindu astronomers and because the Tropic of Cancer passes through it. Ujjain was considered the ‘Greenwich’ of Hindu astronomers (Dave 1991 a ). Fossils are considered divine and are thought to rep- resent Hindu gods. For Indians, ammonites and echinoderm fossils are sacred and are known as ‘ saligrams ’ or ‘ saligramas ’ (the actual name or term in Sanskrit is ‘ Salagraman ’ and is one of the names of Vishnu; Swami Nityananda 1998). In Hindu mythology, ammonites are considered as Vishnu Chakra and the echinoderms and cephalopods (belemnites) as Shiva (in his phallic form, Linga). The ammonite fossil with circular shape and radiating ribs look very similar to Vishnu Chakra (Fig. 3) with radiating spikes. All types of ammonite fossils (e.g. Meekoceras varaha; Promi- phites nebrascensis; Acanthoscaphites nodosus : Krishnan 1968) are given different names indicat- ing different manifestations of Vishnu (Swami Nityananda 1998). The ammonite fossil Meekoceras varaha found in the Triassic formation of the Central Himalayas (Krishnan 1968) resembles the Vishnu Chakra. Varaha is one of Vishnu’s avatars. It is not clear whether this name is given to the fossil because of its resemblance to Vishnu Chakra or it attained this name accidentally. Indian geology textbooks mention of the ‘ saligram ’ (Krishnan 1968; Wadia 1978); some of the echinoderm and cephalopod fossils look like a phallus, symbolizing Shiva. In India, these Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils are extensively found in Spiti Shale Formations of upper Himalayas and brought to Nepal by Gandak River (Krishnan 1968), which joins the Ganges in the Gangetic plain in India. Vishnu became incarnate in the form of Saligram to save the demons and semi-gods alike. These fossils are kept in temples and households as natural symbols of Vishnu (Fig. 5). Shiva is part of life for many Indians and he is worshipped in the form of Linga (phallus) by a large number of Hindus. Some Hindus carry the Shiva Linga (phallus) on their body (especially the echinoderm fossils). A large number of pilgrims travel to Amarnath cave annually to see the Lord. According to Shiva Purana (Subramnya Sastri 1989), Shiva recounted the secret of creation and eternal life to his consort, Parvati, in this cave. The Amarnath cave is about 145 km NE of Srinagar, at a height of about 4000 m above mean sea level, in the Himalayas (Fig. 6). It is believed that the Shiva Linga in the cave forms every lunar month: during the first half the Linga starts forming and attains full size on the full-moon day (lunar day 15), and during the second half of the month the Linga starts decreasing and disappears on new-moon (Dave 1991 b ). This cave attracts large crowds from all over India and more than 25 000 pilgrims visit this shrine between May and July. In reality this cave is located in limestone- gypsum formation (Krishnan 1968) and the melt- water percolating into the cave from the roof through joints freezes on the ground and grows as a stalagmite (Fig. 7). Due to the heat generated by the pilgrim population visiting the cave, the stalagmite melts by June, thus reducing the size of the Shiva Linga (the stalagmite). White gypsum powder from the cave is distributed to the pilgrims as ‘Vibhuti’ (sacred powder). The Kashmir government reportedly is planning to extend the life of the stalagmite artificially. In Mahabharata, Lord Krishna was the chief advisor to the Pandavas (worriers and sons of King Pandu). Mathura was the abode of Krishna. Due to constant hostility between ‘ Suras ’ and ‘ Asuras ’, Kamsa, the demon, waged a war against Krishna. Kamsa had a curse on his head that he would be killed by Krishna. In the ensuing battle, Kamsa was indeed killed. Krishna, who actually belongs to the Yadavas (a Hindu sect and disciples of Krishna), found it impossible to continue his stay in Mathura and shifted his abode to Dwaraka along the Saurashtra coast in Gujarat (Kamala 1977; Dave 1991 b ). According to the legend, Krishna’s disciples perished from infighting. Since the main task of killing Kamsa had been accomplished, Krishna decided to leave Dwaraka and in one of the texts it was told that Krishna knew about the fate of Dwaraka and hence left for his heavenly abode. The town of Dwaraka was inundated by the Arabian Sea and subsequently submerged. Recent marine archaeological investigation dis- covered the mythological Dwaraka town intact, under the sea along Saurashtra coast (Gaur et al. 2000) (Fig. 8a,b). The sinking of Dwaraka was due to tectonic activity accompanied by sea level rise; sea level was about 150 m below the present level. Signatures of Late Quaternary coastal tectonics and sea-level changes are well recorded along the cliffy coastline of Saurashtra. A succes- sion of raised terraces and wave-cut notches have resulted from changes in sea level whereas tectono- genic features are represented by steep vertical cliff faces, distorted morphology of wave-cut notches and staircase platforms (Pant & Juyal 1993 a , b ). This discovery gives an idea about the lay out of Dwaraka and the forts believed to have been inhab- ited by the Yadavas of the mythological Mahabharata (Rao 1999; Gaur et al. 2000; Vora et al. 2002). Further the entire Saurashtra coast has been subject to major tectonic events since Jurassic times (Mishra et al. 2001). Rama, the great hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, was the seventh avatar of Vishnu. The epic Ramayana was written by Valmiki several centuries after Rama’s reign, which according to the astronomical data was around 2012 BC (Srinivasa 1955). Rama, Sita (his consort), and Laxmana (his brother) were in exile for fourteen years due to the wicked plan of his stepmother Keikeyi. While he was in the Dandakaranya forest, Surpanaka, sister of Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka, expressed her desire to marry Rama. Laxmana cut her nose and ears as a punishment for this desire (Srinivasa 1955; Rajagopalachari 1958; Lakshmi Narasimha 1984; Ganapati Sastry 1986; Dave 1991 c ). Ravana took revenge by kidnapping Sita to his kingdom. Rama decided to wage a war against Ravana. The main hurdle was to cross the sea between Rameswaram and Sri Lanka (Fig. 9). Rama’s disciples helped him to construct a bridge between Rameswaram and Sri Lanka. This is the legendary Rama’s bridge across Palk Strait. In reality this bridge is a coral reef extending between these two land masses. A recent Indian remote sensing satellite picture clearly shows the presence of coral reefs, sand bars and clay deposits between these two countries (Fig. 9) which are sep- arated at this point by a distance of 32 km (Bahuguna et al. 2003). These coral reefs must have been exposed due to a change in sea level, near Sri Lanka, during that period described in the myth. Sea-level changes are not uncommon ...

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... His third reincarnation was in the form of Varaha or wild boar, to rescue the earth from the evils of demons. Till date, many temples throughout India offer prayers to the Varah avatar of Vishnu (Krishna 2010;Dornadula 2007). ...
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