Astronomical observations recorded in Vedic Literature & their Date

Oct 2015
709
India
#1
This thread will deal with

(i) documenting astronomical observations recorded in Vedic literature,

(ii) understanding / interpreting them

(iii) summarizing attempts to date those observations

This field of study is called Astronomical chronology. [1] It has helped in clarifying chronology of ancient Near East (region between Egypt/Turkey to Iran) and chronological issues like date of death of Alexander.

Care needs to be exercised in interpreting written records from ancient Near East. Still greater caution is a must for applying the method to Vedic literature - because literature sometimes describes the astronomical events loosely and/or metaphorically.


[1] Astronomical chronology - Wikipedia

[2] Archaeoastronomy - Wikipedia

[3] List of archaeoastronomical sites by country - Wikipedia
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,843
New Delhi, India
#2
Still greater caution is a must for applying the method to Vedic literature - because literature sometimes describes the astronomical events loosely and/or metaphorically.
Ah, so you have come up with this topic. Nice. :)
Rajeev, I beg to differ with you on this point. There is nothing metaphorical about the astronomical references in RigVeda and they are very precise. The problem comes in our correct understanding of them because there occurred huge change in latitude, location and seasons, climate of the region where the IE people lived over the millenniums - Arctic Circle, Steppe and India.
Let me say a few things in this regard. Kindly note that most of the information comes from B.G. Tilak's books, 'Arctic Home in Vedas' and 'Orion or Researches into Antiquity of Vedas'. All his conclusions are repeatedly endorsed by RigVeda and other Hindu scriptures.

1. The oldest period of which we find hazy mention in RigVeda is the time when the sun on the day of vernal equinox rose in the asterism (Nakshatra, Lunar mansions - Nakshatra - Wikipedia) of Punarvasu (Castor and Pollux - Bow and Quiver). The presiding deity of Punarvasu is Aditi, who is considered the mother of Adityas (Suns). The RigVedic story says that at one time, Yajna (the symbolic deity of sacrificial fire) was lost. And men and deities did not know what to do and when. It is said tht Aditi found the year (meaning that Aditi explained the occurance of seasons so that the sacrifices could be held at the appropriate time). They said that Prajapati, the Supreme God gave boon to Aditi that the year would begin and end with Aditi. That is why Aditi was termed as (Ubhayataru - double ended). Sun arose in Castor and Pollux on the day of vernal equinox till about 4,000 BCE. So, this is the oldest period that Tilak could find in RigVeda.

2. Around 4,000 BCE, Aryans/IE people realized that the sun was no longer rising in the asterism of Castor and Pollux but leaned towards Aldebran (Rohini Nakshatra). This gave rise to another story that Prajpati had incestous intentions towards Rohini, who was considered his daughter. Rudra became angry with Prajapati who assumed the form of a deer and cut his head. The stars in asterism of Orion were considered the severed head of Prajapati. For the next two thousand years, IE people/Aryans considered Orion as the Prajapati. The sun rose on the day of vernal equinox in the asterism of Orion (Skt. Mriga+shiras, Antelope's head) and the three stars of Orion were known as 'Invakas'. It is also mentioned that the seasons (Ribhus) were woken up on that day by the Dog-Star (Skt. Shwana, Sirius) and then the Dog-Star would disappear. That also is the time when Indian Aryans/Zoroastrians started wearing the sacred thread in imitation of the 'Orion's Belt' (Bernard's Loop). That, in Tilak's opinion, is the time when the old hymns of RigVeda were written.

Twenty-One: 4375 BC--Orion in India

Orion's Belt (Bernard's Loop), Invakas, Aldebaran (upper right corner). Sirius (Shwana, Dog-Star) is towards Lower left but is not visible in this photograph.

Kindly note that day of vernal equinox was the beginning of the year for IE people/Aryans, and their sacrificial/ritual calendar began from that day. That is the reason why the priests made meticulous observation of the sun-rise. The change in the rising point and time of the sun slipped one month every 2,000 years. This was because of the precession (slipping) of equinox.

More to come ..
 
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Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,843
New Delhi, India
#3
3. Around 2,000 BCE, Aryans realized that they needed to make another change. The sun was no longer rising in the asterism of Orion but in that of Krittikas (Pleiades). That was the time (approximate) when Taittiriya Aranyaka and Tittiriya Brahamana (also I suppose Taittiriya Samhima too) were written, because they clearly made the declaration that Krittikas (Pleiades) were the head of asterisms (Nakshatras).

Taittiriya Brahmana (1.1.2.1) says: "Krittikāswagnimādadhīta .. l Mukham vā etannakshatrānām l Yat Krittikāhā l"
(One could consecrate (sacred) fire in Krittikas .. l The Krittikas are the mouth of (beginning of) nakshatras l Those are Krittikas l

4. That continued for another two thousand years. Around the beginning of the Christian era, the need was felt for another change in the calendar. The orthodox were very reticent in making a change (that happened every time, so there is a lag of a few hundred years when sun began rising in a particular nakshatra and the acceptance of the fact by the priests). Finally it was Varahamihira, the writer of Pancasiddhantika, which is summary of five astronomical treatises (Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta, early 6th Century) who was able to bring the priests around to accept Ashwinis (Arietis) as the beginning of the year.

These are the four major divisions of history of RigVeda and other Hindu scriptures which record the astronomical situation of their time.
 
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Oct 2015
709
India
#4
@Aupmanyev

Thanks for taking interest in the subject. Hope more boarders join the discussion.

Since 2000 years have elapsed since beginning of Common Era and 1500 years since Varahamihira lived, the vernal equinox should have changed again by now. Where does it happen now?

I am still trying to understand astronomy, hence this question.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,843
New Delhi, India
#5
Perfectly valid question. We have changed the beginning of our year from 'nakshatras' (lunar mansions) to 'Rashis' (Zodiac), therefore, we are not required to change with 'nakshatras', though the sun on the day of vernal equinox now rises in the asterism of Revati (Piscium). However, the slipping of seasons would have its effect. It is slow, one month in two thousand years. In 6,000 CE, winter would come in September and not in November. The vernal equinox slipped for three months in the last 6,000 years, therefore, we also changed from 'Devayana' and 'Pitriyana' to "Uttarayana' and 'Dakshinayana' wrt the two-fold division of the year. The reson for changing the year was very mundane as explained in Taittiriya Aranyaka. If We went by the old year, the beginning of the year was at time when it was not comfortable to tke a bath, the water was cold, therefore, the change (of course, I can provide you the whole discussion about that, written about 4,000 years ago). Such is the magic of oral transmission.

Satra.jpg
 
Likes: Rajeev
Oct 2015
709
India
#6
Dear Aupmanyav,

In the earliest period hinted in Rig Veda Samhita the vernal equinox was at Punarvasu nakshatra (Castor and Pollux). Now vernal equinox is in Revati nakshatra (Piscium) as clarified by you. The precession of axis gives time gap of about 6685 years (7 nakshatras * precession of 955 years per nakshatra). Thanks for the clarifying.

The image you give clarifies the Uttarayana/Dakshinayana versus Devayana/Pitriyana Tilak mentions.

Wishing you and every member of historum.com a very happy & prosperous new year

Regards

Rajeev

PS: I have just completed first reading of Tilak's 'The Orion'. Feel impressed with his clarity, depth of knowledge, comprehensive grasp of available scholarship, and logical reasoning.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,843
New Delhi, India
#7
PS: I have just completed first reading of Tilak's 'The Orion'. Feel impressed with his clarity, depth of knowledge, comprehensive grasp of available scholarship, and logical reasoning.
Wish other people also realize this. Also read his 'Arctc Home in Vedas' if you have not already done that. More interesting than 'Orion'. Avaialable at Archives.org.
 

Aatreya

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
3,267
USA
#8
Wish other people also realize this. Also read his 'Arctc Home in Vedas' if you have not already done that. More interesting than 'Orion'. Avaialable at Archives.org.
Before we get into a conversation of DEvayAna and PitryAna, can you please let us know the Rig Vedic hymns where Punarvasu and Rohini appear.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,843
New Delhi, India
#9
It took me a while, but here is Tilak's discussion about Punarvasu and the oldest 'Aditi' period of RigVeda:

"There is no express passage which states that Punarvasu was ever the first of the Nakshatras, nor have we in this case a synonym like Agrahayana, or Orion, wherein we might discover similar traditions. There are, however, some indications about the oldest position of Punarvasu preserved in the sacrificial literature. The presiding deity of Punarvasu is Aditi, and we are told in the Aitareya Brahamana 1.7 and the Taittiriya Sanhita 1.5.1, that Aditi has been blessed with a boon that all sacrifices must oommemce and end with her. The story begins with the statement that the Sacrifice (Yajna, the mysterial sacrificial personage) went away from the gods. The gods were then unable to perform any further ceremonies, and did not know where it (the sacrific ) had gone to; and it was Aditi that helped them, in this state, to find out the proper commencement of the sacrifice. This clearly means, if it can mean anything, that before this time sacrifices were performed at random, but it was at this time resolved and fixed to commence them from Aditi. Aditi was thus the oldest and the first commencement of the sacrifice or the year. In the Vajasaaeyi Sanhita 4.19, Aditi is said to be "ubhaya shirshni", "double-headed" and the commentators interpret it to mean that the two termini of the sacrifices, which began and ended with Aditi, are the two heads here alluded to.

These traditions are further corroborated by the sacrificial ceremonies. According to the sacrificial terminology the 4th day before Vishuvan or the central day of the yearly satra is called the Abhijit day. Dr. Haug observes "In the sixth month there are three Abhiplava, shalahas (six-days' periods) and one Prishthya shalaha." This makes up the first 24 days of the sixth month. The following days are thus enumerated : "the Abhijit day, the three svarasaman days and the Vishuvan, or the central day which stands quite apart." Thus if we exclude the Vishuvan day, as standing apart by itself, this 5 gives us four days and with the two days Atiratra and Chaturvinsha which are taken up by the initial ceremonies of the satra, we make up the shalaha wanted to complete the six months. The Abhijit day thus falls on the fourth day before the Vishuvan.

Now if Abhijit day be supposed to be named after the Nakshatra of that name (i. e., when the sun is in Abhijit), then the Vishuvan or the autumnal equinox must fall four days - or as the sun travels over about 1 degree of the ecliptic each day, 4 degrees after the asterism of Abbijit; and it can be shown by astronomical calculation that, with Aditi or Punarvasu at the vernal equinox to commence the sacrifice, we get nearly the same result. In the Surya Siddhanta (viii. 3 table) the longitude of Punarvasu Is said to be 93 degrees, while that of Abhijit is 266 degrees 40 seconds, that is, in other words, Abhijit would be about 6 behind the autumnal equinox or Vishuvan, if we suppose the vernal equinox to exactly coincide with Punarvasu. With the vernal equinox in Panarvasu there is again no other Nakshatra nearer to or at the autumnal equinox to mark the Vishuvan day.

We can, therefore, now understand why Abhijit, which is so far away from the ecliptic, should have been included in the old list of the Nakshatras, It marked the approach of the Vishuvan in the primitive sacrificial calendar, but when it ceased to be used for that purpose owing to the falling back of seasons, it was naturally dropped from the list of the Nakshatras, as it was far away from the Zodiac. If Bentley's suggestion about Mula and Jyeshtha be correct, this must have been done at the time when the vernal equinox was in Orion. But be that as it may, it will, I think, be clear from the above that the position of the Abhijit day in the sacrificial literature fully supports the tradition about Aditi, the presiding deity of Punarvasu, having discovered the commencement of the sacrifice. Aditi at this time must have also separated the Devayana from the Pitriyana and thus may have been appropriately called the mother of the Devas (Rig. x.72,5). It was from her that the Adityas were born (Rig. x.72.8; Shat. Br. iii.1.3.2), or the sun commenced his yearly course.
The only other tradition I could find in the Vedic literature, about this position of Aditi is the story of the asterismal Prajapati given in the Taittiriya Bralimana (i.5.2.2). The asterism of Chitra is here said to be the head of this Prajapati, Svati the heart, Hastha the hand, Vishakha the thighs, and Anuradha the foot. Many conjeetures are made about the meaning of this figure, but none of them satisfactorily explains why Prajapati, who is said to be the god of time or the lustrum of years in the Vedanga Jyotisha, should bave been represented in this way, I propose that we should interpret it after the manner of a similar representation of Brahman by Badarayana, wherein the different signs of the Zodiac are said to be similarly related to the different parts of the body of Brahman or the Creator. Prof. Max Muller has thus translated theverse: " The ram is the head, the face of the Creator is the bull, the breast would be the man-pair, the heart the crab, the lion the stomach, the maid the hip, the balance-bearer the belly, the eighth (scorpion) the membrum, the archer his pair of thighs, the Makara his pair of knees, the pot his pair of legs, the fish his two feet." Thus if Mesha was Brahman's head when the Rishis were introduced, Chitra could well be said to be the head of Prajapati when the Chitra full-moon commenced the year.

But though we can thus satisfactorily account for the fact why Chitra should have been called the head of Prajapati, yet we can not give an equally satisfactory reason in the case of one of the Nakshatras in this representation, unless we place three intercalary months in five years. It is, however, very difficult to determine how the intercalary months were inserted, if at all, at this remote period, and the question must therefore, to a certain extent, remain unsolved for the present. The analogy of the pictorial representation of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in later days, is, however, a strong ground to hold that the asterismal Prajapati may have been similarly conceived when the primitive year was first determined on the Nakshatra system. There is, so far as I know, no more evidence about this primitive calendar in the Vedic works, than what has been given above.

But the traces of such period which we can discover in the sacrificial literature and especially the express mention in Taittiriya Sanhita that the Chitra full-moon once commenced the year are, in my opinion, sufficient to prove the existence of such a calendar in the primitive days. We cannot otherwise account why the first and last offerings in every sacrifice should be made to Aditi and why Abhijit day should precede the Vishuvan by four days. Compared to the evidences of the Orion period, these are slender materials for the construction of the primitive Vedic calendar, but they are decidedly superior to the materials on which Dr. Geiger has determined the primitive calendar of the Iranians.

It appears to me therefore that the oldest Vedic calendar like the oldest hymn, was sacrificial ; and that the sacrifice or the year commenced with Aditi at the vernal equinox in or near Punarvasu. The phases of the moon, the seasons and the ayanas further guided the ancient Aryans in measuring time for sacrificial purposes. The asterism of Abhijit marked the approach of Vishuvun or the central day, while Punarvasu, which soon after came to be called Yamakau, perhaps Yama and Yami, indicated the beginning of the year. Sometime after this and before the vernal equinox had receded to Orion, the lunar months and tithis or days appear to have come in use; and, in fact, the whole calendar seems to have been rearranged, the year being made to commence from the winter solstice in the Chitra full-moon. But this did not alter the sacrificial system, which, so far as the procedure is concerned, still Continues to be what it was in the oldest days.

For all civil purposes the new calendar was, however, at once adopted and the two systems have, continued to exist side by side up to the present day though in a considerably modified form, as described before in the second Chapter. The oldest period in the Aryan civilization may therefore be called the Aditi or the pre-Orion period, and we may roughly assign 6000-4000 BCE as its limits. It was a period when the, finished hymns do not seem to have been known and half-prose and half-poetical Nivids or sacrificial formulae "giving the principal names, epithets, and feats of the deity invoked "were probably in use. The Greeks and the Parsis have retained no traditions of this period, for the simple reason that they carried with them only the calendar which was in force when they left the common home, while the Indian Aryans have preserved all th traditions .. with a super-religious fidelity and scrupuloussess. It is thus that I explain why the oldest Grreek and Parsi traditions do not go beyond Orion."
"Orion or Researches into Antiquity of Vedas", B.G. Tilak.
 
Oct 2015
709
India
#10
Which are Rig Vedic hymns where Punarvasu appears?

It does not appear in any Rig Vedic Samhita hymn. The details have to be re-constructed from available material available elsewhere on performing sacrifice ceremonies - which was, of course, the most important matter for Indo-Aryans & perhaps Indo-Europeans.

Here is an outline of Tilak's logic:

(i) Reference to year starting when vernal equinox was in Punarvasu appears in Aitareya Brahamana 1.7 and the Taittiriya Sanhita 1.5.1.

(ii) The above are interpreted by Tilak to mean that while earlier times "sacrifices were performed at random, but it was ... resolved and fixed to commence them from Aditi". He concludes that "Aditi was thus the oldest and the first commencement of the sacrifice or the year." In other words, year commenced with vernal equinox at Punarvasu.

(iii) Interpretation (ii) above is supported by five other corroborating items:

  1. Statement in Vajasaaeyi Sanhita 4.19 and its interpretation by commentators.
  2. Terminology used in sacrificial ceremonies. 'Abhijit day' is four day before Vishuvan (autumnal equinox). If so, then vernal equinox must be in Punarvasuas.
  3. Rig. x.72,5 which calls Aditi as mother of Devas because she, the presiding deity of Punarvasu which was at vernal equinox marked the beginning of six months of Devayana.
  4. Rig. x.72.8; Shat. Br. iii.1.3.2 which say that Adityas [deities 12 lunar months] were born from her, because the sun commenced its yearly course from Aditi/Punarvasu.
  5. Taittiriya Brahmana (i.5.2.2). [I am unable to understand this para]
(iv) Beginning of year with vernal equinox at Punarvasu, gives us a rough range of 6000-4000 BCE for the period this would have been true [given precession of axis].

(v) First vedic calendar simply laid down the beginning of the year (vernal equinox at Punarvasu / Aditi). Then the phases of moon, seasons, and ayanas guided further sacrifice ceremonies throughout that year. The vedic hymns at this ancient time were not in the finished form they were later put in. They were probably half-prose and half-verses.


PS:

Abhijit was included in the List of Nakshatras as 28th, even though it was far from th ecliptic, because it marked the approaching Vishuvan (autumnal equinox) for performing sacrifice. Once vernal equinox shifted from Punarvasu to Orion, Abhijit did not serve this purpose, so it was dropped and the List reduced from 28 to 27.
 
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