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In the Brāhmaṇas, muhūrta denotes a division of time: 1/30 of a day, or a period of 48 minutes. The sense "moment" is also common in the Brāhmanạs. In the Rigveda we only find the sense "moment".
Further each muhūrta is further divided into 30 Kalā, i.e. Indian minutes (making 1 Kalā = 1.6 western minutes or 96 Western seconds). Each kalā is further divided into 30 Kāṣṭhā i.e. Indian seconds (making 1 Kāṣṭhā ≈ 3.2 Western seconds).
The "Sandhi Vidchhed" for the term is thus: It breaks muhūrt into two parts, "muhu" (moment/immediate) and "ṛta" (order). The Ṛg Ved III.33.5 has accordingly mentions this descriptive term. Ṛta refers to the natural, yearly order of the seasons, so that the term muhūrta refers to the daily reflection of these. Also, cf., Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa X.4.2.18, as below.
Usage in the Vedic Period
The term appears as early as the Ṛg Veda, where, according to Monier Williams, it means "a moment", but does not evidence any specification of an exact periodicity there as received in later works, such as the Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa, "The One Hundred Path Riddle" or the Taittirīya-Brāhmaṇa, "The Partridge's Riddle".
Pt. Vijay Shrikrishna Jakatdar points to two specific Ṛg Veda passages that employ the term, III.33.5, and III.53.8:
रमध्वं मे वचसे सोम्याय रतावरीरुप मुहूर्तमेवैः | पर सिन्धुमछा बर्हती मनीषावस्युरह्वे कुशिकस्य सूनुः ||
"Linger a little at my friendly bidding rest, Holy Ones, a moment in your journey.
With hymn sublime soliciting your favour Kuśika's son hath called unto the River." (trans. Ralph T. H. Griffith)
रूपं-रूपं मघवा बोभवीति मायाः कर्ण्वानस्तन्वं परि सवाम | तरिर्यद दिवः परि मुहूर्तमागात सवैर्मन्त्रैरन्र्तुपा रतावा ||
"Maghavan weareth every shape at pleasure, effecting magic changes in his body, Holy One, drinker out of season, coming thrice, in a moment, through fit prayers, from heaven." (ibid.)
Taittirīya-Brāhmaṇa mentions the names of 15 muhūrtas as follows:
- bhūtam |
citraḥ ketuḥ prabhānābhānt saṁbhān |
rocano rocamānaḥ śobhanaḥ śobhamānaḥ kalyāṇaḥ |
darśā dṛṣṭā darśatā viṣvarūpā surdarśanā |
āpy-āyamāṇāpyāyamānāpyāyā su-nṛterā |
āpūryamāṇā pūryamāṇā pūryantī pūrṇā paurṇamāsī |
dātā pradātā'nando modaḥ pramodaḥ || III.10.1.1 ||
Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa describes a muhūrta as 1/15th portion of a day:
átʰa yaccáturviṃśatimātmáno'kuruta | tásmāc-cátur-viṃśaty-ardʰa-māsaḥ saṃ-vatsaraḥ sá etaiś-cátur-viṃśatyā triṃ-śád-iṣṭakair-ātmábʰir-na vyábʰavat-sa páñca-daśā́hno rūpā́ṇy-apaśyad-ātmánas-tanvò muhūrtā́lokam-pr̥ṇāḥ páñca-daśaiva rā́tres-tadyán-muhu trā́yante tásmān-muhurtā átʰa yát-kṣudrāḥ sánta imā́ṃ-lokā́n-āpūráyanti tásmāl-lokam-pr̥ṇā́ḥ || (X.4.2.18)
saṃvatsarásya muhūrtā́ yā́vanto muhūrtā́s tā́vanti páñcadaśa kŕ̥̄tvaḥ kṣiprā́ṇi yā́vanti kṣiprā́ṇi tā́vanti páñcadaśa kŕ̥̄tva etárhīṇi yā́vanty etárhīṇi tā́vanti páñcadaśa kŕ̥̄tva idā́nīni yā́vantīdā́nīni tā́vantaḥ páñcadaśa kŕ̥̄tvaḥ prā́ṇā́ yā́vantaḥ prā́ṇā́s tā́vanto 'nā́ yā́vanto 'nā́s tā́vanto nimeṣā́ yā́vanto nimeṣā́s tā́vanto lomagartā́ yā́vanto lomagartā́s tā́vanti svedā́yanā́ni yā́vanti svedā́yanā́ni tā́vanta eté stokā́ varṣanti // XII.3.2.5b
It is stated in Manusmṛti that 18 nimeṣas (twinklings of the eye) are 1 Kāṣṭhā, 30 Kāṣṭhās are 1 Kāla, 30 Kālas are one Muhūrta, and 30 Muhūrtas are one day and night.
It is a common practice in Hinduism to perform or avoid activities like important religious ceremonies on the basis of the quality of a particular Muhūrta. One or more Muhūrtas are recommended by the Vedic scriptures when performing rituals and other ceremonies. This is demonstrated in the way "Muhūrt" is used in present-day South Asia for calculating the most auspicious moment for a Vedic-Hindu Wedding ceremony. Astrologers are often hired to calculate a moment for the wedding so that any possible divinely-sourced problems can be averted. Jakatdar suggests a shift in the contemporary temperament regarding the traditional approach to calculating such events, to accommodate the ever increasing complexity of modern life. The muhūrt has the same utility in the marriage rites in Hinduism.
Another example is the so-called Brahma Muhūrta, which is about one and a half hours before sunrise. This particular time, which is associated with the constellations during the Vernal Equinox, is said to be auspicious for practicing yoga. There is also the case of samayik, which is part of the initiation rite for the Svetambar mendicants or those who pursue a perpetual state of heightened meditative awareness. They take the samayik, a vow for life taken for short periods, preferably one or two muhūrts, where one muhūrt constitutes forty minutes.
The Muhūrtas are traditionally calculated by assuming sunrise at 06:00 AM on the vernal equinox, which is the Vedic New Year. Not all of the constellations cross the zenith, so that it is not in every case clear which constellation presides over the Muhūrta. Yet it is clear that one or more prominent features of the correlate constellations, from which the later Muhūrtas draw their respective names, falls within the celestial longitude of the same, drawn from the polar axis.
|No.||Daily period||Name (मुहूर्त)||Translation||Correlate constellation/star (Greek)||Quality, or guṇa (गुण)|
|1||06:00–06:48 (sunrise)||Rudra (रुद्र)||"Cryer", "Howler"||Unknown||Inauspicious|
|4||08:24–09:12||Pitṝ (पितृ)||"Father"||Cepheus & Casseiopeia||Inauspicious|
|7||10:48–11:36||Viśvedevā (विश्वेदेवा)||"Heavenly Lights in the Universe"||Unknown||Auspicious|
|8||11:36–12:24||Vidhi (विधि)||"Insight"||Unknown||Auspicious, except Mondays and Fridays|
|10||13:12–14:00||Puruhūta (पुरुहूत)||"Many Offerings"||Unknown (Taurus or Orion?)||Inauspicious|
|11||14:00–14:48||Vāhinī (वाहिनी)||"Possessed of Chariot"||Unknown (Gemini?)||Inauspicious|
|12||14:48–15:36||Naktanakarā (नक्तनकरा)||"Night Maker"||Unknown||Inauspicious|
|13||15:36–16:24||Varuṇa (वरुण)||"All-Enveloping Night Sky"||Unknown||Auspicious|
|14||16:24–17:12||Aryaman (अर्यमन्)||"Possessed of Nobility"||Unknown||Auspicious, except Sundays|
|16||18:00–18:48 (sunset)||Girīśa (गिरीश)||"Lord who lifted the Mount (Krishna)"||Unknown||Auspicious|
|17||18:48–19:36||Ajapāda (अजपाद)||"Unborn Foot"/"Goat Foot"||Unknown||Inauspicious|
|18||19:36–20:24||Ahir-Budhnya (अहिर्बुध्न्य)||"Serpent at the Bottom"||Hydra||Auspicious|
|21||22:00–22:48||Yama (यम)||"Restrainer" (Death)||Boötes (cf., Bhūteśa)||Inauspicious|
|24||00:24–01:12||Kaṇḍa (क्ण्ड)||"Ornament"||Corona Borealis||Auspicious|
|25||01:12–02:00||Aditi (अदिति)||"Limitless"/"Boundless"||goddess good time||Auspicious|
|26||02:00–02:48||Jīva/Amṛta (जीव/अमृत)||"Life"/"Immortal"||Unknown||Very Auspicious|
|27||02:48–03:36||Viṣṇu (विष्णु)||"All Pervading"||Hercules||Auspicious|
|28||03:36–04:24||Dyumadgadyuti (द्युमद्गद्युति)||"Resounding Light"||Lyra||Auspicious|
|29||04:24–05:12||Brahma (ब्रह्म)||"Universe"||Cygnus||Very Auspicious|
|30||05:12–06:00||Samudra (समुद्र)||"Ocean"||Deluge (region with several aqueous constellations)||Auspicious|
Traditionally, it is common practice amongst Hindus to start or avoid starting significant tasks like religious ceremonies, etc. on the basis of the quality of a particular Muhūrta. The Vedic scriptures also generally recommend one or more Muhūrtas to perform rituals and practices. The most widely known example of this practice:
- Brahma Muhūrta, approximately one and a half hours before sunrise or more precisely is 1Hr 36 Mins. i.e. 96 Minutes = 2 Muhūrta or 4 Ghaṭīkā, is recommended in all practices of yoga is traditionally considered most apt for meditation. However, it is clear from the associations of the names with specific constellations that the present Brahma-Muhūrta starts just before 6:00AM during the Vernal Equinox. At present, Jīva-Amṛta and Viṣṇu comprise the two twilight muhūrtas prior to sunrise.
- Verma, Dinesh (2008). Hinduism for Children Activity Workbook. Chanda Books. p. 101. ISBN 9781440499913.
- Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa, iii. 10, I, I (for the names); 9, 7; 12, 9, 6; Śatapata Brāhmaṇa, x. 4, 2, 18. 25. 27; 3, 20; xii. 3, 2, 5; x. 4, 4, 4, etc.
- See Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 9, 139 et seq.; Indische Streifen, I, 92, et seq.
- Rigveda iii. 33, 5: 53, 8.
- Arthur Anthony Macdonnell and Arthur Berriedale Keith, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, vol. 2, p. 169. Motilal Banarsidas, London 1912, reprint 1995.
- "Cologne Scan". Archived from the original on 2016-05-14. Retrieved 2022-07-14.
- Arthur Anthony Macdonell; Arthur Berriedale Keith (1995). Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, Volume 2; Volume 5. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 169. ISBN 9788120813335.
- "Rig Veda: Rig-Veda, Book 3: HYMN XXXIII. Indra".
- "Rig Veda: Rig-Veda, Book 3: HYMN LIII. Indra, Parvata, Etc".
- Shri, Satya (2017). Demystifying Brahminism and Re-Inventing Hinduism: Volume 1 - Demystifying Brahminism. Chennai: Notion Press. ISBN 9781946515544.
- Sholapur (1884). Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Volume 20. Bombay: Government Central Press. p. 110.
- Cort, John (2001). Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 123. ISBN 0195132343.
- "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents". nitaaiveda.com. Archived from the original on 2013-05-08. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- Article on Importance of Muhurta by Shyamasundara Dasa