ASTAMANGALA

This note on "Astamangala" is by the Governor

Mr. A.S. Jayawardena

The national chronicle Mahavamsa says that King Dutthagamini had a ten storeyed monastery Lohaprasada constructed, and had installed a magnificent umbrella in its shrine room which depicted the Astamangala or the 8 auspicious symbols. The chronicle also says that the same king placed a model of the sacred Bodhi tree in the relic chamber of the great dagaba, Ratnamali Mahathupa, which also depicted the Astamangala.

Commemorating its 50th anniversary, the Central Bank released a special crown size silver coin on August 28 which carries the image of the Central Bank building on one side and depicts the Astamangala on the other side. The 8 auspicious symbols shown are Sankha (the conch), Purna-kalasa (filled vessel), Srivasta (Goddess Lakshmi), Camara(fly-whisk), Ankusa (Elephant Goad), Matsya-Yugala (pair of fish), Nandyavaria (Curvilinear Svastika) and Bhadrapitha (auspicious seat). The following account is based on an article in the journal of the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of 1971 on Astamangala by renowned archaeologist T.B. Karunaratne.

The use of auspicious symbols which were said to be capable of bringing happiness, prosperity and protection to those who use them as ornaments or amulets has been a custom that goes back to pre-historic times, particularly among the Hindus, Jain and Buddhists. The Buddhist tradition mentions that there were 108 auspicious signs on the feet of the Buddha. The Sri Lankan classic Butsarana refers to 16 auspicious signs. But the widely accepted tradition in ancient Sri Lanka as well as in India has been the 8 auspicious signs. Various symbols were reckoned as auspicious at different times, but it appears that the most widely accepted is what is depicted on the Central Bank coin. At various times, Hindus have used Pradipa(lamp), Darpana(mirror),Catra(umbrella), Kanya(virgin), Mala(garland), and Dhaja (banner) in place of the above symbols. Later in the 15th century, Astamangala was influenced by other auspicious signs related to bali and thovil exorcist ceremonies, when we observe the introduction of Vrushaba (bull), Naga (serpent), Makara (mythical animal) and bheri (drums) as auspicious symbols. Whatever changes took place in the Astamangala from time to time, it was always considered as a powerful instrument that gave happiness and protection to all people.

The miraculous beneficial powers associated with Astamangala made ancient kings wear these 8 symbols on their crown. It was also common to wear the symbols on the forehead or on the waist belt. Such wearing was said to give long life and protection from enemies to the wearer and prosperity to the country.

Later after the 15th century, the Astamangala came to be linked with the 8 planets (excluding Kethu) of traditional astrology, says Karunartne as shown below.

1 Mercury (Budha) Sankha(conch) North
2 Jupiter (Brahaspati) Purna-kalasa (filled vessel) North East
3 Sun (Ravi) Srivasta (Lakshmi) East
4 Venus (Sukra) Camara (fly-whisk) South East
5 Mars (Kuja) Ankusa (elephant goad) South
6 Rahu Matsya-yugala (pair of fish) South West
7 Saturn (Sani) Nandyavarta(Curvilinear Svastika) West
8 Moon (Chandra) Bhadrapitha (Auspicious seat) North West

Karunaratne says that in two square rock slabs found in ancient Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the four cardinal directions are indicated by the lion (North), elephant (East), bull (South) and the horse (West). These quadrupeds are combined with Astamangala in the above rock slabs, evidently linking the planets and the directions with fortune and protection. It is possible that the use of these animals in several moonstones found in ancient temples could be linked to seeking fortune and protection. It is interesting that the Astamangala are the symbol and "weapon" of the 8 planetary deities found in astrology. It is possible that the sculptor was seeking the protection of Lokapala deities who guarded the four directions and the planetary deities who guarded the 8 directions.

It was common practice in ancient times to place Yantragalas at the base of Dagobas, temples and statues. These were rock squares with several square holes, whose contents have been disturbed by treasure hunters. Karunaratne holds the view that these contained the animalsí symbols of the four directions and the Astamangala symbols of the 8 directions, which was meant for protection.

It would thus appear that Astamangala has been a symbol of the universe. As a cosmic symbol, the Astamangala were said to possess miraculous properties which confer happiness, prosperity and protection on the wearers of costumes and jewellery with the auspicious symbols.