Every year afer Aavani Avittam/Gayathri Japam when i call up my friends or meet them in person, the first question that comes up is "evvalavu gayathri panna?". Follow up questions are "eppadi count nyabagam vechunda? exacta 1008 panniya? I really wonder how one can focus on chanting the Gayathri effectively if their mind is thinking about the count. Anyway, having said that this article is not intended to explain Gayathri Japam but to put forward my thoughts on why any hindu pooja/ritual involves a number and in most of the cases 108 or 1008.
I personally feel that our forefathers wanted to improve concentration power and since poojas/rituals need focus, it can be effectively performed when combined with some kind of counting system. In fact, most of the hindu poojas involve a number and most likely this number will be either 108 or 1008. Here are some of the reasons that i came across in the net to understand why 108 or 1008 is used as a count in poojas.
1. The radius of the sun is 108 times the radius of the earth and for all of us, both the earth and the sun are of primary importance and they greatly count in our day to day lives.
2. There are 12 prominent constellations (Rashis) and 9 heavenly Bodies (Navagrahas) that are nearby. The have a direct effect on human welfare, and 12 x 9 = 108.
3. 1 plus zero plus 8 equal 9, which is the highest in the numerical scale. That is why our enlightened Swamis are referred to as Swami 108 or 1008.
4. There are also 108 techniques of meditation or 108 paths of reaching God. So, one should not be in a hurry to judge that other paths of reaching God are wrong. At the end of 108 counting beads of a mala, there is a large bead, symbolic of the Ultimate Divine. That is why, the seeker doing Japa does not cross the large bead again but reverses the counting systematically, till one reaches the large head again, and so on, the process is repeated, making sure that one day, the seeker will certainly approach God, as a result of Gayatri Japa, or any other method of god realization.
5. The 1 symbolises the Supreme energy, or godhead. 0 symbolises completeness as God's creation is perfect and complete and the 8 symbolises eternity. (8 if you realise has no beginning and no end, it enters its own path and criss-crosses)
6. This number symbolists the magic triangle of creation: first it was one, The Goddess, of virgin, who gave birth to a son, and it became two. She became his lover and from this union the universe was born, the three. So, 1x2x2x3x3x3=108.
7. There are 108 textbooks in the Upanishads.
8. There are 27 stars (nakshatras) according to Vedic astrology and each star has 4 phases (padas). hence 27 x 4 = 108.
If you readers can think of other reasons, please comment.