Life of Govinda Bhattathiri
By Shyamasundara Dasa
Editing: Bh. ]an
This text was originally published on my private Jyotish list in 1994 and is derived from an article by P.S. Iyer published in the April 1980 edition of B.V. Raman’s The Astrological Magazine, pp. 137-139.
The following short summary of the life of Talakkulatur Govinda Bhattathiri gives more insight into the dedication and lifestyle of a Vedic astrologer. Govinda Bhattathiri was born in Kerala, South India, in 1238 AD and died 1317 AD ( some say 1237 – 1295). He was educated in the traditional Vedic gurukula style and studied all the scriptures and sciences including jyotisa. Govinda Bhattathiri was precociously intelligent and took keen interest in all his Vedic studies, so much so that his guru blessed him that one day Govinda Bhattathiri would become a great astrologer in Kerala.
Govinda Bhattathiri vigorously pursued his astrological studies and became renowned as the most respected young astrologer of his day. He got married in the traditional custom of the Nambudiri brahmanas , and his beloved wife soon gave birth to a son. Govinda cast the child’s horoscope and was happy to find that the child would live long and also become a scholar of astrology. But within a few months the child died!
Deeply grieved at the loss of his first born but more depressed because of his astrological predictions going wrong, he began to look for an expert who could illuminate why his prediction had gone wrong. Govinda had heard of a highly learned pandit astrologer named Daivajna Alvar living in the village of Kanjanur, in the Pandya Kingdom of what is now the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Selecting an auspicious day and time for his journey Govinda Bhattathiri went to Daivajna Alvar and prostrated himself before him. Having already divined the coming of Govinda and the purpose of his visit Alvar told Govinda:
“Astrology and predictions never prove false or incorrect. It is not enough if an astrologer studies the subject and begins giving out predictions. He must develop his intuitive power for which he must propitiate his istadevata (personal deity) and seek His blessings everyday, and he should further possess Mantra Siddhi. Then alone predictions given by an astrologer will prove accurate and correct.”
With this revelation Govinda understood his shortcomings. On his way home he stayed at a temple of the Lord and began concentrated practice of Mantra Siddhi for 45 days. On the last day of his practice a theft occurred in the temple. A silver ornament of the deity had been stolen. By order of the King of Cochin, Ashtamangala Prasna was performed by the royal temple astrologer who found out by the prasna that the thief’s name had the letters “Kā” and “Kā.” There was a servant in the temple named Kākku. He was arrested for the theft but refused to accept the accusation and claimed his innocence on oath. To everyone he appeared innocent.
Being compassionate Govinda could not bear to see Kākku suffer, so he set up Ashtamangala Prasna and found out that the ornament had been stolen by a Kākka (crow) and that the bird had kept it in a particular tree. The ornament was recovered to everyone’s surprise. Govinda Bhattathiri was called upon and rewarded by all the local Kings, and then went home.
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One morning Govinda decided to examine his own chart, he found from it that 75 days from that day he would become an outcaste, that is, fall from the high standard of brahminical behavior. He kept this a secret and decided that on the fateful day in question he would go on a pilgrimage to Varanasi. When the day arrived he began his journey, he reached the bank of the river Muvattupuzha after night fall with the full moon overhead. While making the crossing a tempest arose, he was thrown overboard, and with great difficulty, almost drowning, he made it to the other side of the river. He dragged himself out of the water and in the glow of the lightning he saw a hut nearby and some planks lying in front of the hut. Exhausted he reached the planks, lay down and fell asleep.
When he awoke at midnight he saw via the moonlight a beautiful young woman sleeping by his side. He became a victim of this unexpected temptation and had sexual intercourse with her. When his sanity returned and realizing his mistake he asked the girl who she was. The girl was stunned. She jumped from there hearing the unfamiliar voice when she realized that the man lying there was not her husband. She apologized to Govinda and said: “I am the wife of the village astrologer. He was drunk, quarreled with me and left the house at noon in a huff. I thought he was still in a drunken mood and as usual was sleeping it off on this plank: and hence I slept here to appease his anger. I have committed a sin and have also made you party to it. I beg your pardon.”
Govinda Bhattathiri realized that he had become an outcast 1 on the appointed day. He convinced the girl that the occurrence had been destined by God, and had been clearly indicated astrologically. He told her that the son born of their union would be a highly intelligent and gifted child who would become a greatly learned astrologer. Bhattathiri then continued his journey to Varanasi.
The boy did indeed become trained as an astrologer and was highly skilled in both prasna and jataka and was famous as Bala Jyotisi “Boy Astrologer.” One day he was invited by the chief of the Nambudiri brahmana community to determine by prasna if the two month old fetus in the womb of his wife was a boy or a girl. The young astrologer declared that it was a girl, he fixed the time of its birth and cast the horoscope! The Nambudiri was bitterly disappointed as he dearly wanted a son. Therefore he approached a mantravadi to perform the pumsavana samskara 2 for changing the fetus into a male. At the time of delivery, which did take place at the predicted time, the boy astrologer was disappointed to find out that the child was a boy and that his prediction had gone wrong.
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On another occasion the chief Nambudiri sent for the boy to determine if the calf of the cow about to be born would be male or female. The boy set up prasna kundali (prasna chart) and boldly declared that it would be a “he calf” with a white mark on its forehead. It turned out to be a he calf, but the white mark was not on the forehead, rather it was on the tail end. The chief Nambudiri, disgusted with the young astrologer because his predictions were false began to berate the boy.
Just then a sadhu (saint) suddenly approached and affectionately told the boy that the sex of a fetus and the time of delivery should not be predicted till after the fetus is 91 days old (when sexual differentiation is complete). And, that the calf did have a white mark on the end of its tail: but while in the womb, the end of the tail had been placed on the forehead and hence the finding of the astrologer had been correct to that extent. But the astrologer should have found out if the mark was on the forehead itself or because of any other cause.
The Nambudiri was pleased and made inquiry into the identity of the sadhu, he was none other than Govinda Bhattathiri returned from pilgrimage. Having heard about his real father from his mother the boy could realize that this was his father. He was very happy and hence forward always accompanied his father.
Before his death Bhattathiri asked his son to bury his body in a samadhi, and use the place for doing Ashtamangala Prasna so that predictions would never go wrong. The place is known as Paazhur Padipura, and is known as the temple of astrological radiance even to this day.
1 In Vedic culture committing adultery was an infraction that lead to one’s losing their varna and becoming an outcaste.↩
2 Pumsavana Samskara is a rite to make sure the sex of the child is male. It is performed in the third month of pregnancy when sexual differentiation takes place. It involves elements of ayurveda, mantra sastra, and astrology. To find out more about embryology from the Ayurvedic view get Sarirasthana from the downloads page.↩