Rohini – A Re-Examination Of The Red Goddess And Rudra

This morning marks an astrological transit – that of Mangala (Mars) into Rohini.

Now, to explain a bit about this in terms that will, perhaps, be a bit more familiar – Rohini is a Nakshatra, a (lunar) star sign; and it is correlate with what, in Western terms, would be identified with Aldebaran or Alpha Tauri (the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus).

‘Rohini’, itself, means ‘The Red One’ – and, indeed, Aldebaran is a Red Giant, with corresponding hue observable even to the naked eye. As a point of interest, this is not the only Nakshatra to bear the name – Jyestha [‘the Elder [Sister]’] is also referred to as ‘Rohini’ in the Nakshatra list given in the Taittiriya Samhita of the Krishna Yajurveda at IV 4 10. We have our own thoughts as to why that might be, that we intend to elaborate upon in due course (that may, perhaps, also manage to incorporate the Greek name for the Star – λαμπαδίας or λαμπαύρας / Lampadias or Lampauras : ‘The Torch-Bearer’) .

But what is Rohini ? Well, as with every Nakshatra – and, indeed, various of the constellations that have come down to us as star signs (albeit of Solar saliency) via the Western inheritance of the Hellenic sphere of antiquity … there is a Myth encoded up there ‘midst the Stars.

And it is one that shall be eminently familiar to our readership by now (we hope!) – that of the high crime committed by Prajapati (Brahma in later scripture) against His Own Daughter, the Wife of Rudra (Diva (we would identify as a feminine for ‘Dyaus’) – and interestingly, with ‘Ushas’ also used as a hailing in some versions of the story alongside ‘Diva’ ; and we note the frequency with which Ushas is hailed in ‘Red’ terms in the RV, etc., for reasons that ought be readily, ruddily apparent).

So the story goes, Prajapati adopted the form of a male deer in order to pursue His Daughter – and, outraged by this, the Gods sought to respond to the violation of Cosmic Order (Rta) via the emanation of a most terrifying Avenger … that being the God Rudra (Vastospati, per RV X 61 7; and hailed in various other ways in relevant texts, as we have capaciously addressed elsewhere).

Rudra is the Archer, the Hunter – yet He is also The Wolf Who Stalks [Between] The Stars, and in this context should be rightly identified with the Star of Sirius (‘Sirius’, as noted elsewhere, coming from a similar root to ‘Seismic’, helping to connote the ‘Shaking with Fury’ conception for the relevant Figure) … a Celestial Canid par excellence.

This mighty Hunter fires a particular Arrow – the TriKanda (‘Three-Pointed’ or ‘Tripartite’ –  and you can see how this resonates with the Trishula encountered more prominently in subsequent Shaivite iconography, etc.), which pierces Prajapati in this deer form … the Arrow in question still protruding from His Astral Corpse, and visible to us today as the Three Stars of the Orion’s Belt.

Not coincidentally, we know various stars within Orion as the asterism (and Nakshatra) of Mrgashira – ‘The Deer’s Head’. A fine trophy for the Lord of Beasts (Pashupati) that is Rudra [identified here with the Nakshatra of Ardra – the Star following immediately on in the Nakshatra Processional from Mrgashira, with this being the subsequent sign to Rohini].

This is evidently an incredibly ancient story – as it occurs also in several (interrelated) forms in the Hellenic mythos , as we have detailed at some length elsewhere. There we find Zeus acting in defence of His Wife, Semele, against Actaeon (with the similar situation of the assailant transformed into a deer and beset upon by Hunting Hound(s)); and, likewise, various recountings involving Artemis and either Actaeon or Orion (which helps to loka-lize the whole thing in the same heavenly region of astrogation).

However, as with any archaic story, it has undergone several ‘evolutions’ – and, indeed, ‘branchings’ for various ritualized or otherwise purpose – over the ages.

And so we find some rather interesting developments in the Nakshatra star-lore pertaining to Rohini in various Vedic texts.

The Aitareya Brahmana [III 33] (attached to the RigVeda – a ‘Ritual Manual’, we might conceptualize the Brahmana as being ; containing various and vital detailing for actually bringing the relevant RV liturgies ‘to life’ and explicating their (broader) purport) directly has the Goddess in question Whom Rudra acts to Avenge being identified with the Rohini asterism. Rudra, here, is identified with the asterism of ‘Mriga Vyadha’ – the ‘Hunter of the Deer’ … with the ‘Deer’ (Mriga) in question being, of course, Prajapati.

As we have speculated upon elsewhere, there is an intriguing interior logic to the notion of Rudra attaining the title of Pashupati (‘Lord of Beasts’) via the popular acclaim of the Gods during the course of this episode – as ‘Prajapati’ is ‘Lord of Creatures’, and we might, potentially, infer that the sacred responsibility inherent in the latter title has been defiled also by His (Prajapati’s) would-be ‘procreative’ misdeed.

In the rather ancient renditions of the Maitrayaniya Samhita of the Krishna Yajurveda [I 6 9], we find Rohini identified as being under the aegis of the deific that is Soma – which fits, given the well-known association of Soma as / with Rudra.

The same text [MS II 2 7] also provides, as Manasataramgini notes (to whom I am also indebted for highlighting the above MS point also), an early recounting of the myth prominent in later Nakshatra-lore – of the situation involving Chandra and Rohini. In essence, Daksha has 27 Daughters (the 27 Nakshatras), given as Wives to Chandra. Chandra favours Rohini above all others, and so lingers with Her. This causes Him to be afflicted with a curse of waning (‘tuberculosis’, per M.’s translation of this Vedic rendition) – a matter somewhat resolved when Chandra agrees to begin behaving more properly and migrating His way through the other 26 Nakshatras also, as is right and proper. 

We hasten to add that this is a clear exemplar for the ‘Symbolic’ utilization of rather ‘piquant’ typologies drawn from the broader skeins of Vedic myth in order to elucidate or otherwise explicate an understanding. Namely – the situation of Daksha having a certain Daughter that is married to a relevant God … also (broadly) describes the circumstance of Daksha, Sati and Rudra, with this itself being a clear ‘resonancy’ and ‘carrying forward’ of the aforementioned scenario of Prajapati, Prajapati’s Daughter and Rudra, as demonstrable via key details held consistent between the accounts in, say, the Shatapatha Brahmana (specifically that found in SBr I 7 4 viz. Rudra obtaining His Share of the Offering, immediately following on from His encounter with Prajapati), and later Pauranica scripture detailing the ill-starred occurrence of Daksha’s Horse-Sacrifice.

Here, the general patterning of Daksha Prajapati (this is not me conflating things – that’s literally a hailing of Daksha), the Daughter(s) of Daksha, and the Divine Dulha (‘Groom’, ‘Husband’) also being utilized to furnish the symbolism of the Moon being ‘linked’ (‘married’ – but also, more specifically, ‘co-habiting’) to each Nakshatra in turn. We should, perhaps, clarify for unfamiliar readers that the way the Jyotisha (Hindu Astrology) schema works – whereas the Western paradigm has the Sun moving from this Star Sign to that (and these being the Twelve familiar to us from the morning newspaper’s horoscope sections) as its chief focal … the Hindu reckoning is much more interested in the placement of the Moon in a given Nakshatra (although also, as with the Western approach, having additional interest in the placement of various other celestial bodies in relevant houses, constellations, etc., also). Hence the centrality of a ‘Migration of the Moon’ about the 27 Constellations as an explanatory narrative for how the whole thing works. [And we ought, at this juncture, also make mention of Manasataramgini’s sage observation viz. both ‘Rohini’ asterisms – that being the Star of Aldebaran, and the particular Scorpio star closely identified as Jyestha – being subject to “frequent occultation” by the Moon on its stellar pathway, per “modern calculations” which serve to confirm and attest “the early Indo-Aryan recognition” of same] 

Now how this relates back to our Rudra, of course, is in no small part due to the well-attested co-identification of Shiva with the Moon. We might also add to this the notion of Shiva’s general placement as the Master of the Salients of the Celestial Spheres [c.f, for instance, the ‘Kolaru Tiruppatikam’ of the great Tamil Shaivite Saint, Sambandar] – hence why the Moon, linkable to Him, is the ‘operationalizer’ of a Nakshatra’s energy and so therefore must move from one to the next thusly to make these ‘active’ within our Skies and Chartings.

And yet while this might sound purely speculative upon my behalf – to seek to link the fact of Chandra and Rohini having a significantly highlighted relationship in this symbolic recounting of the situation of the Nakshatra processionals … we can, in fact, point toward a repeated pattern found within various Puranic recountings for the Eight Forms and Associations of Rudra which would appear to considerably support this.

To wit – the Vishnu Purana ( I 8 ) has Rohini presented as the name of the Wife of Mahadeva, this Mahadeva being identified with the Moon; and with the Child of this union being Budha (Mercury); as does the Markandeya Purana ( LII ). The same scenario is presented in the Brahmanda Purana ( II 10 ) – which, to quote in the Tagere translation: “The body Mahat of the eighth name is remembered as Candramas (Moon). Its wife is Rohiṇī. Her son is remembered as Budha.”

These are, of course, carryings-forward of the archaic ‘AshtaMurti’ conceptry found in the Shatapatha Brahmana [ VI 1 3 ] – albeit with Brahma, herein, in exactly the role and application of Prajapati in the earlier  scripture (i.e. Names and Portfolios hailed for Rudra by Him). 

However, with a key difference – the SBr account does not make mention of the Wife and Her various forms. So, to cite the relevant SBr verse [VI 1 3 16] for the occasion (in the Eggeling translation):

“He [Prajapati] said to Him [Rudra], ‘Thou art Mahân Devah (the Great God).’ And because He gave Him that Name, the Moon became suchlike, for the Moon is Pragâpati, and Pragâpati is the Great God. He [Rudra] said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a Name!'”

Now, our reasoning for quoting this verse is due to the situation of this Mahadeva (Rudra) , identified with the Moon (Soma, Chandra) , also being spoken of as (a ) Prajapati. 


Because in various of those other Vedic verses wherein Rohini is spoken of, we often find that rather than Soma – it is Prajapati that is the strongly associated (male) deific of the Nakshatra. Something that, upon first inspection, would seem to pertain to the aforementioned myth featuring Prajapati in pursuit of His Daughter. And whilst that is certainly not an implausible reading of the evidence afore us – this nevertheless sits rather curiously with the also aforementioned and (per Manasataramgini) more archaic situation of Soma (Chandra ?) as the Deific associated thusly with Her. In later scripture (for instance, the relevant sections in Taittiriya Brahmana III 1 1 & III 1 4; or, for that matter, TS IV 4 10) we find the situation reversed – with Soma associated with Mrgashira, and Prajapati with Rohini. 

The ‘dislocation’ of Prajapati from Mrgashira, despite Mrgashira being – quite expressly – Prajapati per various texts’ recounting of the relevant mythology … makes little sense, upon the face of it; and meanwhile (notwithstanding the possible potential for AitBr III 34, the section following that which we had referenced above, to provide another type of explanation)  , there is a further eminently logical reasoning to believe the linkage of Rohini and Soma to be accurate:

Namely, that Rohini is a Cow. This is directly attested in, for instance, SBr II 1 2 6, wherein Rohini is stated to have just such a bovine nature (and with this most definitely according rather intriguingly with the hailing of Her Savior, Rudra, as ‘Pashupati’ – given, of course, that ‘Pati’ can also mean ‘Husband’ rather than simply ‘Lord’ … and ‘Pashu’ as in ‘Cattle’, ‘Cows’, being utilized also in the relevant SBr verse ; with , further intriguingly, the Cow(s) in question being stated to engage in setting up sacral fire in order to obtain the love of a man) . 

We are also overtly reminded of the various occurrences (and, indeed, this is a pervasively Indo-European typology) for the Empowering Elixir (i.e. Soma) to be i) Milk associated, ii) Goddess associated … specifically, Goddess in Cow (or, in the Hellenic sphere, potentially  Goat) form. Indeed, we also find the complex ritual operations which involve such a Cow expressed directly in the SBr itself as well – consider SBr III 2 4 20, for instance, wherein we should seem to find the Cow “go[ing] to the God” that is Soma in order to obtain such : with the Cow being hailed “as a Goddess, as Vak”, and being under the auspices of both Indra (for the Ascent) and Rudra (guiding through the Return) for the respective phases of the journey. We would remind of the situation of the Two Rohini Nakshatras, the ‘elder’ of which being Jyestha that is under the divine association of Indra – and with the other Rohini (that is the one still majorly known as Rohini today) being , as we have demonstrated via the mythology, under Rudra’s aegis of protection. 

In short: Rohini as a Cow (Goddess) makes eminent sense in light of this Soma connexion for such a Cow Goddess, even afore we consider those other elements to the constellation-of-facts such as Rohini to this day being under the the rulership of Chandra (the Moon, Soma; the (seemingly Roudran) ‘Hound of Heaven’ (worshipped with the Bow and Three Arrows), per SBr XI 1 5) as the Graha (‘Planetary Lord’) of the Nakshatra ; or, for that matter, the circumstances pertaining to Aditi Vak in relation to other ritual and mythic conceptry (for example, the aforementioned Vak saliency in the Cow-as-Goddess to obtain the Soma – and, as it should happen, the direct identification of Vak in the role typologically that of Rohini / Diva , in the Bhagavata Purana [ III 12, 28-33 ] presentation of the episode of Brahma / Prajapati’s outrage).

The situation presented in SBr VI 1 3 16, therefore, wherein we find Shiva hailed not only as Chandra, but also with a potential title of ‘Prajapati’ (as He indeed is encountered in possession of in later texts – I emphasize that’s the title rather than co-identification with Prajapati as in Brahma, in these) may provide some observance of a ‘bridging point’ between the prior approach of Rohini being under Soma and the later-prevalent notion of Rohini being under Prajapati. It certainly has the various typological elements for both skeins – all that is missing, in that relevant SBr verse, is the actual presence of Rohini, directly attested, Herself. For which we handily have our later scriptural sources providing coterminous contextual identifications, as noted recurrently above. 

These matters attain a particular, poignant saliency in light of the Taittiriya Brahmana’s presentation [III 1 4 2] as to the potency and purpose of the Oblation to the relevant Nakshatra. It ostensibly begins with Prajapati emanating creatures in a manner that would, indeed, track with the Prajapati of Vedic identification – however, the ensuing lines depict something that also resonates most deeply with the Roudran mythology (indeed, upon a much more free-standing basis, as well). Namely, that of the situation of His Wife, His Love, going away  – and having to be won, invoked, sought, brought back through especial metaphysical means. In this case, sacrifice (although other ‘resonancies’ for the tale that we would find most prominently amongst us of the Hindusphere as pertaining to that Daughter of Daksha Prajapati wed by Rudra, Lady Sati, may omit this element in direct presentation – the circumstances of Persephone becoming secured in Her returning to Hades or of Skadi from Her mountainous wanderings, for example. The situation of Vak, Herself, coming back to the Gods following a diversion-of-trajectory out amidst the Demons, only to be won back via pious offering and Her being bid a status of precedency in the receipt of offerings a-priori even to Lord Agni … along with what the SBr rather overtly presents as being ‘flirted’ or ‘wooed’ back by the relevant Priest of the Gods … is more in keeping with this typology.) – the formula for which, we shall quote in the Dumont translation :

“Prajapati emitted from Himself the creatures.
Having been emitted from Him, they went away.
Among them He longed for Rohini.
He desired: “May She come back to Me. May I unite with Her.”
He offered that well known sacrificial pap to Prajapati (i.e. to Himself) and to Rohini (Who is His Naksatra).
Consequently She came back to Him, and He united with Her.
What is Dear to One, that Comes Back to Him, and with what is Dear to Him, He Unites, He Who offers that Oblation, and Who thus knows it.-
So, on this occasion, (after the chief oblation,) he (the Sacrificer) offers the (additional) oblations, saying: “To Prajapati, Svaha! To Rohini, Svaha! To the Bright One, Svaha! To the Creatures, Svaha!””

So Shall It Be ! 

One thought on “Rohini – A Re-Examination Of The Red Goddess And Rudra

  1. Pingback: Rohini – A Re-Examination Of The Red Goddess And Rudra – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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