In Hinduism numbers have a lot of significance. In some places it is used as a symbol or metaphor. Vedas also have a lot of numbers and their meanings are still mysterious. One example is the odd and even numbers up to 33 and 44 respectively in the Chamakam (a part of the Rudram in the Krsna Yajur Veda). But 108 and 1008 are used for all the Gods in Ashtotharam (108) and Sahasranamam (1008), particularly in all the South Indian Temples on day to day basis.
Hindu epic Mahabharata is associated with number 18 in several ways. The Mahabharata is divided in to 18 books (parvas) and the Bhagavad Gita also has 18 chapters. The original name of the Mahabharata was JAYA and according to Sanskrit numerical system (Ka Ta Pa Yathi sankhya) Jaya is 18. The architect of the war Sri Krishna’s Yadava caste - which had 18 clans. The army number of divisions that took part in the war were also 18 (11 divisions/Akshauni of Kauravas and 7 Akshauni of Pandavas).
There is a beautiful description about the number 18 in the Tamil epic Cilappatikaram: The war between the Devas and Asuras went for 18 YEARS. The fight between Rama and Ravana went on for 18 MONTHS. The war between the Pandavas and Kauravas went on for 18 DAYS, but the battle between the King Cheran Senguttuvan and Kanaka Vijayan went on only for 18 NAZIKAS! (A day consists of 60 Nazika and one Nazika is 24 minutes). Cheran Senguttuvan was a great Chera (Kerala) king who went up to the Himalayas and brought a stone from the holy Himalayas to erect a statue for the Tamil heroine Kannaki. He washed the stone in the holy Ganges and brought it on the heads of Kanka and Vijayan who were defeated by him in seven hours (Ref. Cilappatikaram, Neerpataik kaathai lines 8-9).
The Number 10,008
The priests who did havan/yagna erected the yaga kund (fire altar) with 10,008 bricks in the shape of an eagle. The reason for this may be the Deva year was equivalent to (360 X 30) 10,800 days and Brahma’s kalpa was 40 times of this i.e. 432,000 years. If we add any of these figures and bring it to one digit it will always be 9.
Number 9 and its multiples are in Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Planets are nine-Nava Grahas, Gems are nine- Nava Ratnas and the scholars in the assembly of Vikramaditya were also called Navaratnas.
Another reason for this is a man breathes 21,600 (half of 43,200) times a day, on average. The book written by Romarishi calculated this on the basis of 15 breaths for every minute. This is reflected in the famous Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu where the Golden Roof of the temple contains 21,600 gold tiles. They used 72,000 nails to fix them.
Sathya Sai Baba’s interpretation
Sri Sathya Sai Baba went one step ahead of others in explaining the significance of these numbers. A man breaths 21,600 time a day (at the rate of 15 a minute and 900 times an hour). During the day time he breaths 10,800 times. During this day time one must say the mantra ‘soham’ ( sa=He, aham=I; in other words – God and I are one) and to signify this we have 108, 1,008 and 10,008. Baba added by saying that number nine represents Brahman and number 8 represents Maya (illusion). He demonstrated that Nine remains intact after multiplying by any number (e.g. 9x12=108,8x9=72,3x9=27 if we bring them down to one digit it is always 9) Where as if we multiply 8 with other numbers it will go down when we bring them down to single digit (e.g. 1x8= 8, 2x8=16,3x8=24,4x8=32,5x8=40,6x8=48 etc. One digit numbers will be 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).
“With each breath you are positively affirming 'Soham (I am He)'. Not only you, every being thus affirms it. ... When you watch your breath and meditate on that grand truth, slowly the 'I' and the 'He' will merge; Soham will become transformed into Om, the primal sound, which the Vedas (ancient scriptures) proclaim as the symbol of the formless, all-knowing God."
The Devas spent 10,800 days (in other words 29 years and 5 months) to churn the Ocean of Milk to extract Amrit (ambrosia). The planet Saturn, which plays a significant role in our lives, also takes the same time to complete one circuit of the Solar System.
Tamils have divided their 2,000 year old Sangam Literature in to 18 books (Pathu Paattu & Ettu Thokai) and the post-Sangam ethical literature in to another 18 books! (Pathinen Keez Kanakku).
These numbers have also got some significance in the Buddhist and Greek literatures as well.