Contributed Talk - Splinter Culture

Tuesday, 14 September 2021, 10:00   (virtual Cult)

Star names in Indian culture - a search leading to their evolution

B S Shylaja, Venketeswara R Pai
Jawaharlal Nehru planetarium, High Grounds, Bengaluru, India and , Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, India

The names of stars have been imbibed in the various cultural and traditional events and rituals all over India. Here we present our efforts to trace the origin and the astronomical significance in these rituals as related to the names of the stars. The most popular stars which are known to almost all Hindus are 27 in number. These are along the zodiac and approximately correspond to the position of the moon on each night. Thus they are used as markers of the day of the month (i e the phase of the moon) as well as a time measure of about 13 degrees. The same names are used to reckon the onset of rains which indirectly hints at the position of the sun on the zodiac. The names are used in literature, puzzles, proverbs, sculptures as well as different forms of folk arts. Some examples will be discussed. We searched for the names of stars other than these 27 along the zodiac. Although various texts describe the names, the coordinates are provided only for about half a dozen stars in the early texts (10th century and earlier). We searched and found a reliable source of star names with coordinates and magnitude measures. This was prepared in the 16th century CE in the context of the use of astrolabe which was introduced in India around 11th or 12th century. The text called Siddhanta Raja lists the stars with coordinates and magnitudes estimates, enabling us to identify the stars without ambiguity. This procedure will be explained with examples, which also clarifies the probable sources of uncertainties which appear to be mainly instrumental. The names total to more than 100. It has been possible to distinguish the names carried forward from earlier era and those which are translated from Arab / Persian sources. It has been possible to trace an adjective inscribed on an astrolabe dated 1604 to Kepler’s supernova. The introduction of the British system of education during the colonial period influenced the study of astronomy akin to other branches of science. The effect shows up in the star names as well as the names of constellations that are currently in use. The examples will be described with sources traced to books authored in 1896 and 1910.