Brihadratha, ancient astronomy, etc.

Anthony P Stone stone_catend at
Sat Feb 15 14:07:16 UTC 1997

On the astronomy,  S. Palaniappan wrote on  14 Feb 97:

>Alternately, there is a poem in Purananuru (no. 229) in which the
asterisms auguring the >death of a Ceral king is described. John Marr gives
Kanakasabhai Pillai's translation as 
>"On the day of Kuddam (Karttika) when the sun was in the sign of Adu
(Mesha) at  >midnight when the asterisms from the first star of Mudappanai
(Anuradha) to the last star >of Kulam (Punarvasu) were visible in the sky,
and while the asterism which is in the >zenith during the first half of the
month of Pankuni (Phalguni) was declining from the >zenith, the eighth
asterism before it was setting and the eighth asterism after it was
>rising, a brilliant meteor which illumined the whole sky fell towards the
northeast...."   >John Marr quotes Sesha Aiyar according to whom the
astronomical data could not help >us to discover the date of the king's
demise.  I do not know the details regarding Sesha >Aiyar's conclusions. If
it is due to insufficient information about Tamil terms, can the >progress
in Indology in the past 70 years make it possible for another attempt by
>someone at first understanding the terms first and then applying
astronomical >knowledge to arrive at the date? 

Firstly, the nakshatras from Anuradha to Punarvasu would normally mean
Anuradha, Jyeshtha, ... , Asvini, ... , Punarvasu.   The zodiacal sign
Mesha covers 2 1/4 of these nakshatras, beginning with Asvini.   Hence if
the sun is in Mesha it is high in the sky and the time is not midnight.  
The translation would have to be quite different to change this situation.

Secondly, a clue to the date of the poem is that the zodiacal signs are in
use, but the date of introduction of the signs into India is is a vexed
question.   David Pingree believes it was in the 2nd cent. AD, while P V
Kane thought the 3rd or 4th cent. BC. 

Tony Stone

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