From the Ancient Greek Pleiades to the Hindu Matrikas: Mother Goddesses, Music and the Sacred Number 7

From the Ancient Greek Pleiades to the Hindu Matrikas: Mother Goddesses, Music and the Sacred Number 7

In Brihat-Samhita, Indian astronomer Varahamihira (505–587 CE) says that "Mothers are to be made with cognizance of gods corresponding to their names” leading to the birth of Matrikas (“Divine Mothers”) who are then associated with some of the major gods of the Hindu pantheon as their shaktis (energies). The Matrikas are Brahmani (from the creator god Brahma), Vaishnavi (from the preserver-god Vishnu), Maheshvari (of Shiva), Indrani (of Indra, the king of the gods), Kaumari (of Skanda, Shiva’s son as well as the god of war), Varahi (of Varaha, the avatar of Vishnu in the form of a boar) and Chamunda (of Devi).

The Matrikas have existed from as early as the Indus Valley civilization (3300–1700 BCE). The Rigveda (c. 1700–1100 BCE) merely refers to them as a group of seven mothers who control the preparation of soma (the drink of the gods). However, by the fifth century CE, the Matrikas were already incorporated in Hinduism as Tantric deities. The Saptamatrikas (“The Seven Divine Mothers”) were especially connected with Skanda and later associated with the sect of Shiva. In the Western Ganga Dynasty (350–1000 CE) kings of Karnataka built many Hindu temples with carvings of the Saptamatrikas as well as memorials containing sculptural details of the seven mothers. The evidence of sculptures of the Matrikas is further shown in the Gurjara-Patiharas (eighth to tenth century CE) and Chandella period (eighth - twelfth century CE). Also between the sixth and the twelfth centuries CE, the Chalukya dynasty claimed to have been nursed by the Saptamatrikas themselves.

The idea of the seven mothers is not exclusive to the Matrikas. The Matrikas display many similarities with the ancient Greek Pleiades and ancient Korea’s Magos, including their depictions as mothers and the number seven, which is associated with many divine groups in ancient mythology.

The Matrikas, the Krittikas, and the Pleiades

The Pleiades are among the first stars mentioned in ancient literature, appearing in Chinese annals from c. 2350 BCE. The earliest European references of the star cluster are Hesiod’s Work and Days as well as in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. According to Greek mythology, the Pleiades were daughters of Atlas, the titan commanded by Zeus to hold up the earth, and the Oceanid nymph Pleione, protectress of sailors. The Pleiades were seven sisters - Maia, Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete, Electra, and Merope.

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