Astronomical observations recorded in Vedic Literature & their Date

Jul 2017
Thanks @Kadi

Tried to get Jacobi's paper online but could not. has his books on Jainism but not this paper.

Tilak published 'The Orion' in 1893 after researching the subject for four years. He does not refer to Jacobi's paper in it because Jacobi published a year later, but acknowledges an American professor who before him gave a hypothesis that Aryans came from Polar or Arctic region.

Tilak says that he began thinking about astronomical dating when in Bhagvad Gita he read Krishna say: 'Among nakshatras I am Mrigashirsha' (Among the asterisms on ecliptic, I am the Orion). A question arose in his mind - why did Krishna think that Mriga-shirsha is the most important nakshatra?
I couldn't find the 1894 paper neither but I did find interesting articles from the Royal Asiatic Society 1909, where in one his opponents attacked his idea and in the other article he defended it using the then recent find of the Mitanni Hittite treaty


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014

Reproduced below are the clear statements in Yajur Veda (Taittiriya Sanhita ) and Aitareya Brahmana of Rig Veda. First one says Fire should be established under Punarvasu. Second one narrates story of Aditi saying that all sacrifices should commence with her and end with her [=Punarvasu].

You may like to verify & comment:


Taittiriya Sanhita i.5.1 (Yajur Veda)

"He should establish [the fire with Agni as its divinity] under Punarvasu; Punarvasu is the Nakshatra for the re-establishing; verily by establishing it under its own deity he becomes resplendent. He establishes with Darbha grass, for variety. He establishes with Darbha; verily winning it from the waters and the plants he establishes it. The sacrificial cake is offered on five potsherds; the seasons are five; verily he wins it from the seasons and establishes it."


Kanda I: / PRAPATHAKA V: The Rekindling of the Fire: / Verse i. 5. 1.

The Yajur Veda (Taittiriya Sanhita). Arthur Berriedale Keith, translator 1914


Aitareya Brahman of Rig Veda 1.7

"The sacrifice (the mystical sacrificial personage) went away from the gods. The gods were (consequently) unable to perform any further ceremony. They did not know where it had gone to.

They said to Aditi : Let us know the sacrifice through thee!
Aditi said: Let it be so; but I will choose a boon from you.
They said :Choose!
Then she chose this boon: all sacrifices shall commence with me, and end with me.

Thence there is at (the beginning of) ihe Prayaniya Isti a Charu-offering for Aditi and the same offering is given to her as the boon chosen by her at the end (of the sacrifice). Then she chose this (other) boon. Through me you shall know the eastern direction, through Agni the southern, through Soma the western, and through Savitar the northern direction. The Hotar repeats the (Anuvakya and) Yajya-mantra for the Pathya. Therefore the sun -rises in the east and sets in the west; for it follows in its course the Pathya. He repeats the (Anuvakya and) Yajya verse for Agni."


Page 11-12

Aitareya Brahmanam of the RIgveda,



Thank you for citing the translations.

As we see, yes, Aditi is the deity with whom sacrifices begin and end. It is also true that the sacrifices begin and end with Punarvasu. But what is important here is the reason why Aditi should be the deity with whom the sacrifices begin and end. For a simple reason that Aditi is the Shakti who has given birth to this universe, and the one who withdraws the universe into her. The universe is nothing but Yajnya, PrajApati's yajnya. The yajnya and all the other details were done because they were used as symbols to represent metaphorical truths. It is not that they chose to give interpretations to yajnya after they started doing it. Even the DEvAs are the sons of Aditi (and so are they of PrajApati, and that is why Aditi and PrajApati are similar).

I do not now why Punarvasu is the Nakshatra of Aditi. This is certainly not in Rig Veda, but it is possible that the seasons began with Punarvasu, and that was used as the Nakshatra to represent the beginning and ending of sacrifice (i.e. Aditi).

But to say since Punarvasu was the star during the Vedic times, and became Krittika, and others later on indicates that AryAs were outside of India is nonsense.
Oct 2015
Your post is saying:

'The cited hymn / text about Aditi does not have astronomical meaning or connection. It is a story developed from the position of Aditi in mythology.

Sacrifice did begin & end with Punarvasu (Orion). Probably because seasons began with Punarvasu. Sometime after Rig Veda Aditi came to be associated with Punarvasu, which is the reason for saying that sacrifice began and ended with Aditi.'
Oct 2015
The Month: My simplistic understanding of Naked Eye Astronomy - 1/3

Most ancient people - deprived of artificial lighting & internet - watched astronomical phenomena with great interest.

For example, Pleiades cluster of stars (Kritika Nakshatra) has bright stars which can be seen very easily by naked eye. This has been part of folklore and mythology of ancient cultures of every continent of the world. [1], [2] Below is a what one can gather about astronomy by watching the sky with naked eye (no telescope) as the ancient men did.

(i) Lunar month:

The waxing and waning of the moon is the most striking phenomena observable to the naked eye in night sky. This gave rise to lunar month because every 27th day the night was moonless and scary. Put another way, every 27th day night sky was lit with full moon - time to sing and dance and meeting between marriageable youth. Movement of the moon was linked to rise & fall of tides in coastal areas. (The revolution of moon around earth takes 27.32 days as we know today.)

(ii) Lunar mansions:

Seeing moon rise at a new location in the sky every day, must have given rise to naming the stars / star-groups on the path travelled by the moon, the lunar ecliptic. Vedic people marked this sky-path of the moon by listing 28/27 'nakshatra' (asterism) on that path to track & talk about the location of moon.

This system of 28/27 'nakshtras' (lunar mansions) was unique to Vedic astronomy. It was different from Babylonian / Hellenistic Zodiac with 12 mansions. Vedic people initially had 28 nakshtras which were later changed to 27. The Chinese followed 28 nakshtra system and never changed to 27. (There is an inclination of about 5 degrees between lunar ecliptic and solar ecliptic as we know today).

[1] Pleiades in folklore and literature - Wikipedia
[2] Pleiades - Wikipedia
[3] Kṛttikā - Wikipedia
[4] Nakshatra - Wikipedia
Oct 2015
The Year: My simplistic understanding of Naked Eye Astronomy - 2/3

(iii) From where did the Year came from?

From where did primitive human beings get the idea of an year? The cycle of seasons governed by motion of earth around sun would have given the concept of an year. In Hindu literature there is sometimes a saying that 'he had lived for 100 winters'. Thus it seems that idea of an year arose from recurring seasons.

(iv) Solar year:

If a smart guy lived near a hillock in the east, it would have been easy for him to notice that solar cycle (solar year) was disconnected with lunar cycles (lunar months).

All he had to do was to wait & watch for sun to rise exactly behind the peak of the hillock. Everyday, the sunrise point moved a little away from the peak (say towards north), then the point reversed towards south coming back to the peak, continued moving south after crossing the peak, and again reversing to north and came back exactly behind the peak. This completed one solar cycle or solar year. If one counted the days sun took for this circuitous journey, they were 365 (365.25 to be precise). The change in position of sunrise over one year is depicted in the following pictre.


In the above period, the visible moon was not sitting idle but it was also going thru its own cycles. It had completed 13 full cycles - that is there were 13 moonless nights - and 10 days of 14th cycle had also elapsed (one cycle of moon is 27.32 days).

This discovery happened quite early in human history - probably before the fist villages developed. For example, Stonehedge man seems to know about the solar year. One of the stones in Stonehenge was approximately aligned with sunrise on summer solstice and sunset of the winter solstice. It was visited by ancient people only during the winter solstice. [5]

[5] Archaeoastronomy and Stonehenge - Wikipedia
[6] The pic is taken from a lecture on 'Astronomy in Ancient, Medieval and Early Telescopic Era of India' by Prof. Amitabha Ghosh
Oct 2015
Luni-Solar Calendar: My simplistic understanding of Naked Eye Astronomy - 3/3

Once ancient man could reconcile the difference between lunar month (27.32 days) and solar year (365.25 days), he got the luni-solar calendar.

When agriculture became the mainstay for human survival - sowing had to be done by season. Then the luni-solar year should have become essential for survival because the farmers had to plant at a specific time. However, it is possible that there were some ancient societies which were able to identify the luni-solar year (equinoxes & solstices) even before arrival of agriculture.

(v) Lunar & Solar Eclipses:

Seeing eclipses must have been somewhat scary for ancient people. Many of them probably regarded sun and moon as Gods. Their disappearance during eclipses must have been a cause of wonderment and re-appearance reassuring. While ancients could see and even record eclipses but ability to predict them came much later - at least for Vedic people.

(vi) Vedic people were pretty religious.

For them astronomy was important for deciding the days on which to perform their many fire worship ceremonies. The year began with a fire-worship to their Gods, there was worship ceremonies to be done every fortnight, every months, every quarter, every half-year. How else would a priest will earn his daily bread? Let me change the previous statement - they were hell-of-a-lot religious.
Likes: Aatreya
Oct 2015
Even Makar Sankranti was unknown to Aryans because they did not use Rashis (Zodiac) but Nakshatras (Asterisms) for their calendar. Their two halves of the year were Devayana and Pitriyana; not Uttarayana and Daskhinayaya. But more in your other thread.
Interesting observation. "Makar Sankranti" could have entered as an important date in Indian calendar only after adoption of 12-part Zodiac developed in Mesopotamia. "Makar Sankranti" marks the entry of sun in 'Capricorn" zodiac. Now this entry point is not well defined in the Hindu Nakshatra system.

Greek science was accepted in Indian astronomy around beginning of Common Era. The oldest work suggesting this influence is a work on Astrology (as opposed to Astronomy). It is a sanskrit work titled 'Yavana-jataka' composed by Sphuji-dhavaj.

So Makar sankranti could have started as a festival date only around beginning of Common Era (give or take 300 years).

Yavanajataka - Wikipedia
Last edited:

Similar History Discussions