Birthday reflection: Number 18 and its significance

By Sridhar Subramaniam
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

I celebrated my birthday on the 18th of February. Every birthday is a significant milestone in the journey of life. Normally, the hoi polloi take the hedonistic route of celebration and indulge in a bout of bacchanalia, let their hair down in some frivolous pursuit and feign attainment of Nirvana.

But I had other plans.

I decided to take stock of where I was, how far I had come, do some introspection and soul searching. And I did precisely that!

If you have waded through life, seen several summers and have graduated from the University of Hard Knocks with a Magna cum laude, then it goes without saying that you would have got a perspective on life and developed a spiritual outlook. The great seers normally are your icons!

I was elated to be in exalted company. I shared my birthday with two great souls. One the mystic, non pareil Sri Ramakrishna Parmahamsa, the other the Bard of the Bhakti movement Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We all were born on the 18th of February.

The number 18 has a special significance. The theme of all scriptures is the triumph of good over evil, dharma over adharma, the higher self over the lower self and the divine over the demoniac (or asuric). In Sanskrit it is the word JAYA. According to the Katapayadi Sankhya Sastra, the Sanatanic Science of Numbers,, JAYA equates to 18.

In the Indic scheme of things, 18 has a pride of place. The first Veda had 18 chapters. The four Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Ved have 18 chapters each. There are 18 puranas, 18 upa puranas and 18 smritis.

The Kurukshetra War was fought for 18 days. The Mahabharata had 18 parvas or chapters. Eighteen akshouhinis (battalions) fought the war in Kurukshetra—11 on the Kaurava side and seven on the Pandava side.

The Bhagavad Geetha has 18 chapters.

Our body has 18 aspects:

  • Five Jnanendriyas (sense organs)—eyes (chakshu), ears(shotras), nose (ghrahna), tongue(rasana) and skin (tvak).
  • Five Karmendriyas (organs of action)—mouth (vak), hands (pani), feet(pada), genitals (upastha) and anus (payu).
  • Four-fold mind—Manus, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahankara.
  • Three-fold Gunas—Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
  • One Jeeva.

During the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, the devotee climbs 18 steps to reach the Garba Griha or the Sanctum Sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa. The esoteric significance is that the devotee conquers something, each step of the way to finally reach Godhead, the be all and end all of spirituality.

The conquests include the five Panchendriayas (eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin). The eight Ashtaragas—Kama (love), Krodha (anger), Lobha (avarice), Moha (lust), Mada (boastfulness), Matsarya (jealousy), Aham (pride) and Asooya(crookedness). Three Gunas include—Sattva (perspicuity, discernment), Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Tamas (inactivity, stupor); 17th Step is Avidya (Ignorance) and finally the pinnace the 18th Step Vidya (knowledge or illumination).

In Hindu lore, 18 is a manifestation of 9. There are 9 planets (Grihas), 27 stars (Nakshatras), 108 names of the Lord (Ashtottra Sata Nama), 1,008 names of the Lord (Sahasra Nama) and 18,000 verses in the Bhagavatham.

Even for Jews, 18 holds a special significance. Hebrew Word for Life is Chai which has a numerical value of 18. Even when gifts are given, they are given in multiples of 18 as an expression of long life.

Eighteen therefore holds tremendous significance for me and I consider it the Summum Bonum of my existence!

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