Of the Armillary Sphere

The ancient Hindu astronomy book, Surya Siddhanta, is an enigma for modern Indic scholars and astronomers. Second most mysterious only to my previous post, is Chapter XIII, concerning the building of an ‘armillary sphere’, ’til now, thought to be an aid in astronomical instruction. Termed an ‘astronomical Upanishad’ (jyotishopanishadadhyaya), implies it is an inspired source of knowledge and is afforded particular reverence in Verses 1 and 2.  Then the construction of the ‘sphere’ begins:

3. Prepare the wonder-working fabric of the terrestrial and stellar sphere. Having fashioned an earth-globe of wood …

Sphere is singular implying it is both a terrestrial and stellar sphere –
a terrestrial planet like the Earth, but one in the heavens that had bright points of light on the surface.

4. Fix a staff, passing through the midst of it and protruding at either side, for Meru; and likewise a couple of sustaining hoops (kaksha), and the equinoctal hoop.

The published commentator’s remarks are in quotations:
” [Although] a means of illustrating … the mutual relations of the earth and heavens as explained in the previous chapter – and yet not precisely as there explained; for it gives a representation only of the earth and of the one starry concave upon which the apparent movements of all the heavenly bodies are to be traced, and not concentric spheres and orbits [given in the previous chapter].”

Obviously he has already assumed that the features, i.e. asterisms (bha) specified in the description below are stars.  However, the previous chapter describes this earth-globe (bhugola) in verse 32, as the Brahma-egg:

29. This Brahma-egg is hollow; within it is the universe, consisting of earth, sky, etc.; it has the form of a sphere …

30. A circle within the Brahma-egg is styled the orbit of the ether (vyoman): within that is the revolution of the asterisms (bha); …

Here the ether is the atmosphere of priori-Mars, which could be seen encircling the planet, and within it are the asterisms, i.e. on the surface of the planet. Modern scholars believe the asterisms were patterns of stars, like the constellations we know today. As explained in my previous post, they were actually erupting volcanoes in the northern hemisphere of priori-Mars, which formed recognizable patterns and had well-known names as do the constellations.

32. Quite in the middle of the egg, the earth-globe (bhugola) stands the ether, bearing the supreme might of Brahma, which is of the nature of self-supporting force.

33. Seven cavities within it, the abodes of serpents (naga) and demons (asuras), … are the interterranean (patala) earths.

Brahma, which arose from Mt. Meru is in the center, along with seven great volcanoes, which are (correctly) assumed to originate from great magma cavaties beneath them.

34. A collection of manifold jewels, a mountain of gold, is Meru, passing through the middle of the earth-globe and protruding on either side.

Understood to be its axis of rotation.

35. At its upper end are stationed, along with Indra, the gods, and the seven Great Sages, (maharshi); at its lower end, in like manner, the demons (asura) have their place – each the enemy of the other.

Because the Hindus only could observe the northern hemisphere of priori-Mars, this was called the hemisphere of the gods and the southern was considered the hemisphere of the ‘demons’.

36. Surrounding it [Mt. Meru] on every side is fixed next to this great ocean, like a girdle about the earth, dividing the two hemispheres of the gods and the demons.

The commentator interprets this as an incorrect description of the geology surrounding the Aryan lands on Earth because he cannot imagine an ocean in the heavens.

44. … at Meru the degrees of latitude are ninety.

These verses from Chapter XII describe the planet priori-Mars, seen to be a world, with its north pole, i.e. its spin axis pointing toward the Earth.  This was the position of  Mt. Meru, the origin out of which Brahma (or Prajapati), the column of smoke and fire, rose downward toward the Earth.
At the beginning of each encounter with the Earth, all the water in the northern hemisphere was tidally pulled to priori-Mars’ north pole. But as the months passed, melted sub-surface rock began to flow upward and this glowing mass of magma could first be seen beneath the water as a glowing (Brahma-)egg. As it continued to grow, it arose as an island above the water at the north pole “bearing the supreme might [heat] of Brahma”. Thus the ‘risen land’ was surrounded by the northern ocean. Many other volcanoes began to erupt in its northern hemisphere including seven extra-large ones which are recognized in the myth of every ancient culture. The seven maharishis (saptarshayas), the seven sisters of Zeus, i.e. Pleiades etc., where Zeus was the Greek name for Brahma.
Back to Chapter XIII, the construction of the Armillary Sphere.proceeds with a series of hoops, the functions of which are given (to the astute) but the actual locations on the model are not:

5. These [hoops] are to be made with graduated divisions (angula) of degrees of the circle (bhagana) …

6. And by means of the degrees of declination and latitude (vikshepa) marked off on upon the latter – at their own respective distances in declination of Aries etc., three [more]

7. Hoops are to be prepared and fastened …for Cancer, Libra and Capricorn.

The commentator states that “the construction of this passage is excessively cumbrous and intricate” as it indeed is, but then states “Its meaning, however, is free from ambiguity.”, which is nonsense.
The declination hoops are meant to show the visible portion of the surface of priori-Mars in the Aryan lands as it revolved in geostationary orbit above the Himalayas, with the Earth. The solstices were at Aries, when the planet was almost fully illuminated, i.e. at midnight when India faced Aries, and at Libra when the northern hemisphere of the planet was in almost complete darkness at noon in the Aryan lands. The equinox points were the orientations of Vedic people at which priori-Mars was exactly half illuminated, at 6 AM and 6 PM. Thus, although priori-Mars’ north pole (spin axis) remained facing the Earth during each fifteen year encounter, its illumination by the Sun went through a complete cycle like the Moon every day. Considering the area of priori-Mars was some 500 times that of the full Moon, and that its illumination increased to a maximum at midnight, the surface of the Earth was never dark as it was when the planet left Earth, and as it is now between dusk and dawn.

8. And situated in the southern hemisphere are to be made and fastened to the two hoop-supporters … Those likewise of the asterisms (bha) situated in the southern and northern hemispheres, of Abhijit,

The asterism or fixed star Abhijit, was sometimes included and excluded from ancient lists, because it was in the southern hemisphere.  I suggest that because the rotation of priori-Mars was wobbly or precessing, that the enormous volcano Olympus Mons, just below the equator was sometimes visible because of its great elevation.

9 Of the Seven Sages (saptarshayas), of Agastya, of Brahma etc., are to be fixed.

The commentator believes that each of these are to have hoops of their own, I maintain the asterisms are to be marked (fixed) directly on the wooden globe of priori-Mars.

15. Having turned upward one’s own place, the circle of the horizon is midway on the sphere.

16. As covered with a casing (vastra) and as left uncovered, it is the sphere surrounded by the Lokaloka.

“Verse 16 … a circle is by some means to be fixed about the [equator] and the part below [the southern hemisphere] is to be encased in a cloth covering, the upper hemisphere alone being left open. As thus arranged, the sphere is, as it were, girt about by the Lokaloka mountains. Lokaloka in Puranic geography is the boundary … which separates the world (loka) from the non-world (aloka), [the hemisphere of the gods from that of the demons.]”

Comparing Asterisms with Stars

It requires an enormous imagination to consider the Armillary Sphere as a description of the stars in the heavens. This discomfort has been illustrated by a number of ‘papers’ published in Journals such as the American oriental Society, in which great effort has been expended to identify the exact stars corresponding to those constituting the asterisms, based on their coordinates given in the Surya Siddhanta and a number of other ancient texts.  This is done by searching modern star catalogues containing tens of thousands of stars, their positions and brilliance. Although vehemently contested, I have abstracted two comments from such papers, that echo the misgivings of the authors as to their own efforts:

“It is not less difficult in this than in the former case to account for the selection of these stars, among the hundreds equaling or excelling them in brilliancy as objects of special attention to the astronomical observers in ancient India.”

“Why so faint and inconspicuous a star should be found among the few of which the Hindu astronomer have taken particular note is not easy to discover.”

~ by Angiras on April 11, 2012.

One Response to “Of the Armillary Sphere”

  1. So the ancient Hindus knew the Earth was a sphere, so why do we keep hearing all that bunk about Columbus?? Apparently these ancient astronomers were quite competant and knew what they were doing, so why is this such a hidden subject?? I wonder what else they knew, that is lost today??

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