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Subha – “auspiciousness”

As Ronald Inden notes, in Indic thought, nothing is inherently auspicious or inauspicious; auspicious and inauspicious signs are contextually variable – what may be considered to be auspicious in one context can be inauspicious in another. Auspiciousness involves spaces, times, people and objects that, if they intersect in appropriate ways, bring about well-being. Auspiciousness is often related to the concept of purity – suddha – but the relationship is indirect rather than causal, as “impure” people and objects can still bear auspiciousness. There is also a distinction between “everyday” auspiciousness and auspiciousness related to spiritual practices.

The term subha (or its opposite, asubha) is often found prefixed to nouns such as samaya or kala (time) for the performance of a significant action. For example, whilst the night-time is auspicious for the worship of Mahakali, it is not so for the worship of Visnu. Subha is also used alongside terms such as avasara (occasion) utsava (festival) rtu (season) masa (month) divasa (day); ghadi (a measure of time), muhurta (an astrologically appropriate moment), and yatra (pilgrimage). Subhakarya is a specific act – and subhacara, conduct, which is conducive to well-being.

Auspiciousness is also associated with places, objects and persons. For example, an altar or place set up for ritual purposes is called subhasthana. Certain directions are also regarded as subha – the East for example, whereas the South (associated with death) is asubha. A tirthasthana (place of pilgrimage) – often located on the bank of a river or a body of water is regarded as divine, and a pilgrimage to such a place (yatra) is auspicious. The holiness of a place, and the auspiciousness of a visit there, is increased if two or more streams merge, as is the case with the tirtharaja where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saravasvati meet – the site of the Kumbha bathing festival.

In relation to both time and place, the emphasis is on directional flow and what can happen to particular categories of people – and the intersection of human lives with cosmic forces (such as planetary events).

Auspiciousness is also related to objects, such as the kalasa, a vessel containing water from a river and other auspicious substances. Kalasas are associated with both the beginning of a ritual (when it is consecrated) and the end of a ritual – when its contents are distributed. Subha is also applied to actors when they perform actions conducive to well-being. One who brings good news is called subhasucani. It is not that the person is auspicious – it is their intentions, actions, or their presence.

Birth is usually considere subha and death is asubha. But both are complicated by astrological factors, such as the movement of the nine grahas and the naksatras. So a birth may be considered inauspicious due to the configuration of planetary forces, and may necessitate the performance of corrective (upaya) rituals.

Subha can also be related to a person’s name, and a person’s face (or other regions of the body) can be said to bear subhalaksana – auspicious signs or marks indication the future course of events for an individual and his or her influence on the lives of others. There are also particular actions which create well-being through their performance, and do not need to wait on an auspicious time. Daily puja, or the cooking of food, do not require an auspicious time to be undertaken, although they may not be done during inauspicious periods, such as during an eclipse or if there is a dead body in the house.