Big Dipper/ the Plough
Ursa Major (also known as the Great Bear and Charles’ Wain) is a constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere. It can be visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere, and is commonly used as a navigational pointer towards the current northern pole star, Polaris in Ursa Minor.
Its name, Latin for “the greater (or larger) she-bear”, stands as a reference to and in direct contrast with Ursa Minor, “the smaller she-bear”, with which it is frequently associated in mythology and amateur astronomy.
The third largest constellation in the sky, Ursa Major is home to many deep-sky objects including seven Messier objects, four other NGC objects and I Zwicky 18, the youngest known galaxy in the visible universe.
The constellation’s most recognizable asterism (not a constellation), a group of seven relatively bright stars recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures are commonly known as the “Big Dipper”, “the Wagon” or “the Plough” (among others), both mimicks the shape of the lesser bear (the “Little Dipper”).
These stars are the brightest of the formal constellation Ursa Major; six of them are second magnitude stars, while only Megrez (δ) is of third magnitude. The North Star (Polaris), the current northern pole star on Earth, can be located by extending an imaginary line from Merak (β) through Dubhe (α). This makes it useful in celestial navigation.
Ursa Minor (Latin: “Smaller She-Bear”, contrasting with Ursa Major), also known as the Little Bear, is a constellation in the northern sky. Like the Great Bear, the tail of the Little Bear may also be seen as the handle of a ladle, hence the name Little Dipper.
Ursa Minor has traditionally been important for navigation, particularly by mariners, due to Polaris being the North Star. Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation, is a yellow-white supergiant and the brightest Cepheid variable star in the night sky, ranging from apparent magnitude 1.97 to 2.00.
Beta Ursae Minoris, also known as Kochab, is an aging star that has swollen and cooled to become an orange giant with an apparent magnitude of 2.08, only slightly fainter than Polaris.
Kochab and magnitude 3 Gamma Ursae Minoris have been called the “guardians of the pole star”. Planets have been detected orbiting four of the stars, including Kochab. The constellation also contains an isolated neutron star—Calvera—and H1504+65, the hottest white dwarf yet discovered with a surface temperature of 200,000 K.
In the Babylonian star catalogues, Ursa Minor was known as MAR.GID.DA.AN.NA, the Wagon of Heaven, Damkianna. It appeared on a pair of tablets containing canonical star lists that were compiled around 1000 BC, the MUL.APIN, and was one of the “Stars of Enlil”—that is, the northern sky. The possible origin of its name was its appearing to rotate like a wheel around the north celestial pole.
The first mention of Ursa Minor in Greek texts was by philosopher Thales of Miletus in the 6th century BC. He pointed out that it was a more accurate guide to finding true north than Ursa Major. This knowledge had reportedly come from the Phoenicians in the eastern Mediterranean, and the constellation bore the term Phoenikē. Homer had previously only referred to one “bear”, raising the question of what he saw the stars of Ursa Minor as, or whether they were recognised at all.
Ursa Minor and Ursa Major were related by the Greeks to the myth of Callisto and her son Arcas, both placed in the sky by Zeus. However, in a variant of the story, in which it is Boötes that represents Arcas, Ursa Minor represents a dog. This is the older tradition, which explains both the length of the tail and the obsolete alternate name of Cynosura (the dog’s tail) for Polaris, the North Star. Cynosura is also described as a nurse of Zeus, honoured by the god with a place in the sky.
An alternate myth tells of two bears that saved Zeus from his murderous father Cronus by hiding him on Mount Ida. Later Zeus set them in the sky, but their tails grew long from being swung by the god.
Because Ursa Minor consists of seven stars, the Latin word for “North” (i.e. where Polaris points) is septentrio, from septem (seven) and triones (oxen), from seven oxen driving a plow, which the seven stars also resemble. This name has also been attached to the main stars of Ursa Major.
Ursa Minor has traditionally been important for navigation, particularly by mariners, due to Polaris being the North Star. Polaris is less than one degree away from the north celestial pole (hence the alternative name Pole Star) so its position in the sky is largely unaffected by the rotation of the Earth. From any point in the Northern Hemisphere the direction to Polaris is always north and its angular altitude is roughly equal to the latitude.
In Inuit astronomy, the three brightest stars—Polaris, Kochab and Pherkad—were known as Nuutuittut “never moving”, though the term is more frequently used in the singular to refer to Polaris alone. The Pole Star was too high in the sky at far northern latitudes to be of use in navigation.
The constellation of Ursa Major has been seen as a bear by many distinct civilizations. This may stem from a common oral tradition stretching back for thousands of years. The Big Dipper and the constellation as a whole have mythological significance in numerous world cultures, usually as a symbol of the north.
Using statistical and phylogenetic tools, Julien d’Huy reconstructs the following Palaeolithic state of the story: “There is an animal that is a horned herbivore, especially an elk. One human pursues this ungulate. The hunt locates or get to the sky. The animal is alive when it is transformed into a constellation. It forms the Big Dipper”.
In Roman mythology, Jupiter (the king of the gods) lusts after a young woman named Callisto, a nymph of Diana. Juno, Jupiter’s jealous wife, transforms the beautiful Callisto into a bear. Callisto, while in bear form, later encounters her son Arcas. Arcas almost shoots the bear, but to avert the tragedy, Jupiter turns them into bears and puts them in the sky, forming Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Callisto is Ursa Major and her son, Arcas, is Ursa Minor.
In ancient times the name of the constellation was Helike, (“turning”), because it turns around the Pole. In Book Two of Lucan it is called Parrhasian Helice, since Callisto came from Parrhasia in Arcadia, where the story is set.
The Odyssey notes that it is the sole constellation that never sinks below the horizon and “bathes in the Ocean’s waves”, so it is used as a celestial reference point for navigation. It is also referred to as the “Wain”.
One of the few star groups mentioned in the Bible (Job 9:9; 38:32; — Orion and the Pleiades being others), Ursa Major was also pictured as a bear by the Jewish peoples. (“The Bear” was translated as “Arcturus” in the Vulgate and it persisted in the KJV.)
In Finnish language, the asterism is sometimes called with its old Finnish name, Otava. The meaning of the name has been almost forgotten in Modern Finnish; it means a salmon weir. Ancient Finns believed the bear (Ursus arctos) was lowered to earth in a golden basket off the Ursa Major, and when a bear was killed, its head was positioned on a tree to allow the bear’s spirit to return to Ursa Major.
The Iroquois Native Americans interpreted Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid as three hunters pursuing the Great Bear. According to one version of their myth, the first hunter (Alioth) is carrying a bow and arrow to strike down the bear. The second hunter (Mizar) carries a large pot — the star Alcor — on his shoulder in which to cook the bear while the third hunter (Alkaid) hauls a pile of firewood to light a fire beneath the pot.
The Wampanoag people (Algonquian) Native Americans referred to Ursa Major as “maske”, meaning “bear” according to Thomas Morton in The New England Canaan.
In Hinduism, Ursa Major is known as Saptarshi, each of the stars representing one of the Saptarshis or Seven Sages viz. Bhrigu, Atri, Angirasa, Vasishta, Pulastya, Pulalaha and Kratu. The fact that the two front stars of the constellations point to the pole star is explained as the boon given to the boy sage Dhruva by Lord Vishnu.
In Javanese, as known as “Bintang Kartika”. This name comes from Sanskrit which refers “krttikã” the same star cluster. In ancient Javanese this brightest seven stars are known as Lintang Wuluh, literally means “seven stars”. This star clusters so popular because its emergence into the start time marker for planting.
In South Korea, the constellation is referred to as “the seven stars of the north”. In the related myth, a widow with seven sons found comfort with a widower, but to get to his house required crossing a stream. The seven sons, sympathetic to their mother, placed stepping stones in the river. Their mother, not knowing who put the stones in place, blessed them and, when they died, they became the constellation.
In Shinto, the 7 largest stars of Ursa Major belong to Amenominakanushi, the oldest and most powerful of all kami.
In China and Japan, the Big Dipper is called the “North Dipper” (hokutô), and in ancient times, each one of the seven stars had a specific name, often coming themselves from ancient China: “Pivot” (sû) is for Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris), “Beautiful jade” (sen) is for Merak (Beta Ursae Majoris), “Pearl” (ki) is for Phecda (Gamma Ursae Majoris), “Authority” (ken) is for Megrez (Delta Ursae Majoris), “Measuring rod of jade” (gyokkô) is for Alioth (Epsilon Ursae Majoris), “Opening of the Yang” (kaiyô) is for Mizar (Zeta Ursae Majoris), and Alkaid (Eta Ursae Majoris) has several nicknames : “Sword” (ken) (short form from “End of the sword” (ken saki) ), “Flickering light” (yôkô), or again “Star of military defeat” (hagun sei), because travel in the direction of this star was regarded as bad luck for an army.
In Theosophy, it is believed the Seven Stars of the Pleiades focus the spiritual energy of the Seven Rays from the Galactic Logos to the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, then to Sirius, then to the Sun, then to the god of Earth (Sanat Kumara), and finally through the seven Masters of the Seven Rays to the human race.
In European star charts the constellation was visualized with the square of the Big Dipper forming the bear’s body and the chain of stars forming the Dipper’s “handle” as a long tail. However, bears do not have long tails, and Jewish astronomers considered Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid instead to be either three cubs following their mother, and the Native Americans as three hunters.
In both Ireland and the United Kingdom the Big Dipper is known as the Plough. The symbol of the Starry Plough has been used as a political symbol by Irish Republican and left wing movements. Another former name was the Great Wain (i.e., wagon).
In northern England, it is occasionally still known as the Butcher’s Cleaver, and in the northeast, as Charlie’s Wagon. This derives from the earlier Charles’s Wain and Charles his Wain, which derived from the still older Carlswæn.
A folk etymology holds that this derived from Charlemagne, but the name is common to all the Germanic languages and intended the churls’ wagon (i.e., “the men’s wagon”), in contrast with the women’s wagon (the Little Dipper). An older “Odin’s Wain” may have preceded these Nordic designations.
In German, it is known as the “Great Wagon” (Großer Wagen) and, less often, the “Great Bear” (Großer Bär). In Scandinavia, it is known by variations of “Charles’s Wagon” (Karlavagnen, Karlsvogna, or Karlsvognen). In Dutch, its official name is the “Great Bear” (Grote Beer), but it is popularly known as the “Saucepan” (Steelpannetje).
In Romanian and most Slavic languages, it is known as the “Great Wagon” but, in Hungarian, it is commonly called “Göncöl’s Wagon” (Göncölszekér) or, less often, “Big Göncöl” (Nagy Göncöl) after a táltos in Hungarian mythology who carried medicine that could cure any disease.
In Finnish, the figure is known as the “Salmon Net” (Otava) and widely used as a cultural symbol. The brown bear in Finnish actually became known as otava, but this is claimed to stem from its resemblance to—and mythical origin from—the asterism rather than vice versa.
Book XVIII of Homer’s Iliad mentions it as “the Bear, which men also call the Wain”. In Latin, these seven stars were known as the “Seven Oxen” (septentriones, from septem triōnēs).
Triōnēs is a hapax legomenon, occurring only in a single passage by Varro, where he glosses it as meaning “plough oxen”. The derivation is acceptable but the meaning, if Varro is right that it derives from terō (“thresh grain by rubbing”), is surely “threshing oxen”: the seven stars wheel around the pole star like oxen on a threshing floor.
The name is the origin of septentriōnēs the Latin word for north, from which came the adjective septentrional (“northern”) in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
In Hindu astronomy, it is referred to as the “Collection of Seven Great Sages” (Saptarshi Mandal), as each star is named after a mythical Hindu sage. In Mongolian, it is known as the “Seven Gods”. An Arabian story has the four stars of the Plough’s bowl as a coffin, with the three stars in the handle as mourners, following it.
The Saptarishi (from saptarṣi, a Sanskrit dvigu meaning “seven sages”) are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature. The Vedic Samhitas never enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion.
The earliest list of the Seven Rishis is given by Jaiminiya Brahmana 2.218-221: Vashista, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Atri, Visvamitra, and Agastya, followed by Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 2.2.6 with a slightly different list: Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashiṣṭha and Kaśyapa, and Atri, Brighu. The late Gopatha Brāhmana 1.2.8 has Vashiṣṭa, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Gautama, Bharadvāja, Gungu, Agastya, Bhrighu and Kaśyapa.
In post-Vedic texts, different lists appear; some of these rishis were recognized as the ‘mind born sons’ (Sanskrit: manasa putra) of Brahma, the representation of the Supreme Being as Creator. Other representations are Mahesha or Shiva as the Destroyer and Vishnu as the Preserver. Since these seven rishis were also among the primary eight rishis, who were considered to be the ancestors of the Gotras of Brahmins, the birth of these rishis was mythicized.
In some parts of India, people believe these are seven stars of the Big Dipper named “Vashista”, “Marichi”, “Pulastya”, “Pulaha”, “Atri”, “Angiras” and “Kratu”. There is another star slightly visible within it, known as “Arundhati”. Arundhati is the wife of vasistha.The seven Rishis in the next Manvantara will be Díptimat, Gálava, Parasurama, Kripa, Drauńi or Ashwatthama, Vyasa and Rishyasringa.
In traditional Chinese astronomy, which continues to be used for throughout East Asia (e.g., in astrology), these stars are generally considered to compose the Right Wall of the Purple Forbidden Enclosure which surrounds the Northern Celestial Pole, although numerous other groupings and names have been made over the centuries.
Similarly, each star has a distinct name, which likewise has varied over time and depending upon the asterism being constructed. The Western asterism is now known as the “Northern Dipper” or the “Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper”. The personification of the Big Dipper itself is also known as “Doumu” in Chinese folk religion and Taoism, and Marici in Buddhism.
The personification of the Big Dipper itself is also known as Doumu (“Mother of the Great Chariot”), Doumu Yuanjun (“Primordial Mother Goddess of the Chariot”) or simply known as Big Dipper Mother in Chinese folk religion and Taoism, and Marici in Buddhism.
She is a Chinese goddess in traditional religion and Taoist schools, also named through the honorific Tianhou (“Queen of Heaven”), shared with other Chinese goddesses, especially Mazu, who are perhaps conceived as her aspects. According to Ge Hong (283-343), Yuanjun was the teacher of Laozi.
She represents the Big Dipper (or Great Chariot, or Plough), and is therefore considered the mother of its seven stars and two not visible ones, the Jiuhuangdadi or Nine Great Emperor Gods.
The Big Dipper is in Chinese culture, as well as in other cultures of the world, a traditional symbol of the absolute principle originating the universe (Taidi, Tian or the Tao in Chinese thought). Therefore, Doumu is not the chthonic goddess, but rather the “solar” or heaven goddess; she is indeed seen as the female consort of Shangdi or Shang-ti, also named Doufu (“Father of the Great Chariot”), or Yuanshi Tianzun (“Heavenly Lord of the Primordial Beginning”) or Taiyi Tianzun (“Heavenly Lord of the Great Oneness”) in Taoism. Tiān is one of the oldest Chinese terms for heaven and a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and religion.
According to Ge Hong (283-343), Yuanjun was the teacher of Laozi. In Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Chinese Buddhism, Doumu is also known as the Bodhisattva Marici. In Hinduism, she is known as Gayatri.
Shangdi or Shang-ti, also written simply as Di or Ti (pinyin: Dì; “Emperor”), is a supreme god and sky deity in China’s traditional religions. At a point he was identified as Tian, “Heaven”, the “Universe”, the “Great All”.
The name is the pinyin romanization of two Chinese characters. The first Shàng, means “high”, “highest”, “first”, “primordial”; the second Dì, is the same character used in the name of Huangdi—the Yellow Emperor, originator of the Chinese civilisation—and the title huangdi, emperor of China, and is usually translated as “emperor”.
The name Shangdi is thus generally translated as “Highest Emperor”, but also “Primordial Emperor”, “Ancestral God”, “First God”. The deity preceded the title and the emperors of China were named after him in their role as Tianzi, the sons of Heaven.
The earliest references to Shangdi are found in oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty in the 2nd millennium BC, although the later work Classic of History claims yearly sacrifices were made to him by Emperor Shun, even before the Xia Dynasty.
Shangdi was regarded as the ultimate spiritual power by the ruling elite of the Huaxia during the Shang dynasty: he was believed to control victory in battle, success or failure of harvests, weather conditions such as the floods of the Yellow River, and the fate of the kingdom. Shangdi seems to have ruled a hierarchy of other gods controlling nature, as well as the spirits of the deceased. These ideas were later mirrored or carried on by the Taoist Jade Emperor and his celestial bureaucracy.
Shangdi was probably more transcendental than immanent, only working through lesser gods. Shangdi was considered too distant to be worshiped directly by ordinary mortals. Instead, the Shang kings proclaimed that Shangdi had made himself accessible through the souls of their royal ancestors, both in the legendary past and in recent generations as the departed Shang kings joined him in the afterlife.
The emperors could thus successfully entreat Shangdi directly. Many of the oracle bone inscriptions record these petitions, usually praying for rain but also seeking approval from Shangdi for state action.
In the later Shang and Zhou dynasties, Shangdi was gradually replaced by or conflated with Heaven (Tiān). The Duke of Zhou justified his clan’s usurpation through the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which proposed that the protection of Shangdi was not connected to their clan membership but by their just governance.
Shangdi was no longer tribal but instead an unambiguously good moral force, exercising its power according to exacting standards. It could thus be lost and even “inherited” by a new dynasty, provided they upheld the proper rituals.
Nonetheless, the connection of many rituals with the Shang clan meant that Shang nobles continued to rule several locations (despite their rebellions) and to serve as court advisors and priests.
The Duke of Zhou even created an entire ceremonial city along strict cosmological principals to house the Shang aristocracy and the nine tripods representing Huaxia sovereignty; the Shang were then charged with maintaining the Rites of Zhou.
Likewise, the Shang’s lesser houses, the shi knightly class, developed directly into the learned Confucian gentry and scholars who advised the Zhou rulers on courtly etiquette and ceremony. The Confucian classics carried on and ordered the earlier traditions, including the worship of Shangdi. All of them include references:
The Four Books mention Shangdi as well but, as it is a later compilation, the references are much more sparse and abstract. Shangdi appears most commonly in earlier works: this pattern may reflect increasing rationalization of Shangdi over time, the shift from a known and arbitrary tribal god to a more abstract and philosophical concept, or his conflation and absorption by other deities.
By the time of the Han dynasty, the influential Confucian scholar Zheng Xuan glossed: “Shangdi is another name for Heaven”. Dong Zhongshu said: “Heaven is the ultimate authority, the king of gods who should be admired by the king”.
In later eras, he was more commonly referred to as the August Highest Emperor of Heaven (Huángtiān Shàngdì) and, in this usage, he is especially conflated with the Taoist Jade Emperor.
Sacrifices offered to Shangdi by the king are claimed by traditional Chinese histories to predate the Xia dynasty. The surviving archaeological record shows that by the Shang, the shoulder blades of sacrificed oxen were used to send questions or communication through fire and smoke to the divine realm, a practice known as scapulimancy.
The heat would cause the bones to crack and royal diviners would interpret the marks as Shangdi’s response to the king. Inscriptions used for divination were buried into special orderly pits, while those that were for practice or records were buried in common middens after use.
Under Shangdi or his later names, the deity received sacrifices from the ruler of China in every Chinese dynasty annually at a great Temple of Heaven in the imperial capital.
Following the principles of Chinese geomancy, this would always be located in the southern quarter of the city. During the ritual, a completely healthy bull would be slaughtered and presented as an animal sacrifice to Shangdi.
The Book of Rites states the sacrifice should occur on the “longest day” on a round-mound altar. The altar would have three tiers: the highest for Shangdi and the Son of Heaven; the second-highest for the sun and moon; and the lowest for the natural gods such as the stars, clouds, rain, wind, and thunder.
Shangdi is never represented with either images or idols. Instead, in the center building of the Temple of Heaven, in a structure called the “Imperial Vault of Heaven”, a “spirit tablet” (or shénwèi) inscribed with the name of Shangdi is stored on the throne, Huangtian Shangdi.
During an annual sacrifice, the emperor would carry these tablets to the north part of the Temple of Heaven, a place called the “Prayer Hall For Good Harvests”, and place them on that throne.
“Shangdi” has also been used to translate the word God (Elohim in Hebrew, Theos in Greek) into Chinese by some Christian missionaries. The point has been contentious, with some preferring “Shangdi” and others “Shen” (lit. “[a] god”).
Shen is a key word in Chinese philosophy, religion, and traditional medicine. Shén is the Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation of “spirit; god, deity; spiritual, supernatural; awareness, consciousness etc”.
British missionaries and some Catholics preferred Shangdi as a connection with a presumed ancient and primitive native monotheism, while American missionaries and other Catholics preferred to avoid it as such a specific term may associate the Christian God with actual Chinese polytheism. The Catholics officially use the term Tianzhu (lit. “The Lord of Heaven”).
In Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Chinese Buddhism, Doumu is also known as the Bodhisattva Marici. In Hinduism, she is known as Gayatri, the feminine form of gāyatra, a Sanskrit word for a song or a hymn, having a Vedic meter of three padas or lines of 8 syllables. In particular it refers to the Gayatri Mantra and the goddess Gāyatrī as that mantra personified. Gayatri is typically portrayed as seated on a red lotus, signifying wealth.
She is an aspect of Mata Saraswati, Mata Lakshmi and Mata Parvati, all three in one form, a form of Adi Shakti, possessing the Rajasi Guna and hence is the source of Brahma’s power. Without her, Brahma remains dormant or unable to create. It’s said that if we worship anyone, Gayathri Lakshmi Saraswati Durga or Radha devi it is equal to worshiping all the pancha (5) matha.
Gayatri is in fact the name applied to one of the most well known Vedic hymn consisting of twenty-four syllables. This hymn is addressed to god Surya (sun) as the supreme generative force. Being translated this hymn means “We meditate on that glorious light of the divine Surya (Sun), may he, the lord of light, illuminate our minds”.
It is ordained that repeating this hymn again and again leads to salvation. One who desires to attain heaven should recite it a thousand times each day. A person, who daily repeats the Gayatri hymn 3000 times for one month, shall be freed from guilt, however great.
Gayatri later came to be personified as a goddess. She is shown having five heads and is usually seated within a lotus. She is another consort of Brahma.
According to the myth one day Saraswati was late to arrive at the time when Brahma was to perform his sacrifices to gods. Brahma became very angry because his consort’s presence was indispensable to complete the ceremonies. Brahma asked the priest to fetch him any woman and wed him to her at the spot.
Just in the neighborhood was found a very lovely Gurjar shepherdess. In reality she was no other person than this Vedic hymn of Gayatri incarnated in the shape of that beautiful girl. Brahma immediately married that girl and kept her as his other wife together with Saraswati.
The five heads of Gayatri represent the four Vedas of ancient Aryans and the remaining one represents the Almighty Lord himself. In her ten hands she holds all the symbols of Lord Vishnu including mace, lotus, axe, conch, sudarshan, lotus, etc. One of the sacred texts explicitly reads, ‘The Gayatri is Brahma, the Gayatri is Vishnu, the Gayatri is Shiva, the Gayatri is Vedas”.
All sects of Hindus accept the importance of this hymn. Even the Arya Samajists, who do not believe in the worship of images and idols, proclaim this hymn as the most sacred one and in every prayer of theirs repeat the holy mantra to achieve success as well as salvation.
King Puru was a Puranic king and the youngest son of king Yayati and Sharmishtha and one of ancestors of the Pandavas. They in turn gave rise to Puru Vansha and eventually Pauravas, whose King Porus fought with Alexander the Great in the Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC.
In the nineteenth chapter of book nine of the Bhagavata Purana, Puru is described as having four brothers; Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. There is a story about him temporarily exchanging his youth with his Father in order to become king of the world. His son and successor is named as his son was Práchinvat; his son was Pravíra; his son was Manasyu.
In the Mahabharata – Adi Parva, he is said to have inherited his kingdom in the Gangatic plain. He is said to have three mighty heroes as sons by his wife Paushti; Pravira, and Raudraswa. Pravira succeeded Puru and was in turn succeeded by his son Manasyu.
When Yayati divided up his kingdom, he allocated the lands to the east to Turvasha, the lands to the west were given to Druhyu, the north was ruled by Anu and the land to the south by Yadu. Puru was ruled from the centre as a supreme World Emperor or King of Kings. This also showed his supreme power and displays the right of people named Puru.
Another Puru is mentioned as a king in the Rigveda and as the father of Adityas, married to Aditi, living and ruling over and area of the Saraswati River.
A King Puru is also mentioned in Korean mythology as the son of a heavenly king called Haemosu who ruled the Buyeo kingdom. The Korean King Puru went on to succeed his divine father and ruled in peace and prosperity. There is a story that when he grew old in age without any children, he was led to a large stone by a horse.
When the horse began to cry in front of the stone, the king had it moved and found a frog bathed in a golden light. The frog quickly turned into a handsome boy, which Puru interpreted as a sign from heaven and made him crown prince.
A pole star is a visible star, preferably a prominent one that is approximately aligned with the Earth’s axis of rotation; that is, a star whose apparent position is close to one of the celestial poles, and which lies approximately directly overhead when viewed from the Earth’s North Pole or South Pole. A similar concept also applies to other planets than the Earth. In practice, the term pole star usually refers to Polaris, which is the current northern pole star, also known as the North Star.
The south celestial pole lacks a bright star like Polaris to mark its position. At present, the naked-eye star nearest to this imaginary point is the faint Sigma Octantis, which is sometimes known as the South Star.
While other stars’ apparent positions in the sky change throughout the night, as they appear to rotate around the celestial poles, pole stars’ apparent positions remain virtually fixed. This makes them especially useful in celestial navigation: they are a dependable indicator of the direction toward the respective geographic pole although not exact; they are virtually fixed, and their angle of elevation can also be used to determine latitude.
The identity of the pole stars gradually changes over time because the celestial poles exhibit a slow continuous drift through the star field. The primary reason for this is the precession of the Earth’s rotational axis, which causes its orientation to change over time.
If the stars were fixed in space, precession would cause the celestial poles to trace out imaginary circles on the celestial sphere approximately once every 26,000 years, passing close to different stars at different times. The stars themselves also exhibit proper motion, which causes a very small additional apparent drift of pole stars.
The closest bright star to the north celestial pole is Polaris (from Latin stella polaris “pole star”). It was formerly sometimes known as Cynosura, from a time before it was the pole star, from its Greek name meaning “dog’s tail” (as the constellation of Ursa Minor was interpreted as a dog, not a bear, in antiquity).
As of October 2012 its declination is +89°19′8″ (at epoch J2000 it was +89°15′51.2″). Therefore, it always appears due north in the sky to a precision better than one degree, and the angle it makes with respect to the true horizon (after correcting for refraction and other factors) is equal to the latitude of the observer to better than one degree.
Due to the precession of the equinoxes (as well as the stars’ proper motions), the role of North Star passes from one star to another. In 3000 BCE, the faint star Thuban in the constellation Draco was the North Star. At magnitude 3.67 (fourth magnitude) it is only one-fifth as bright as Polaris, and today it is invisible in light-polluted urban skies.
During the 1st millennium BCE, β Ursae Minoris was the bright star closest to the celestial pole, but it was never close enough to be taken as marking the pole, and the Greek navigator Pytheas in ca. 320 BCE described the celestial pole as devoid of stars.
In the Roman era, the celestial pole was about equally distant from α Ursae Minoris (Cynosura) and β Ursae Minoris (Kochab). α Ursae Minoris was described as ἀειφανής “always visible” by Stobaeus in the 5th century, when it was still removed from the celestial pole by about 8°. It was known as scip-steorra (“ship-star”) in 10th-century Anglo-Saxon England, reflecting its use in navigation.
The name stella polaris has been given to α Ursae Minoris since at least the 16th century, even though at that time it was still several degrees away from the celestial pole. Gemma Frisius determined this distance as 3°7′ in the year 1547.
The precession of the equinoxes takes about 25,770 years to complete a cycle. Polaris’ mean position (taking account of precession and proper motion) will reach a maximum declination of +89°32’23”, so 1657″ or 0.4603° from the celestial North Pole, in February 2102. Its maximum apparent declination (taking account of nutation and aberration) will be +89°32’50.62″, so 1629″ or 0.4526° from the celestial North Pole, on 24 March 2100.
Gamma Cephei (also known as Alrai, situated 45 light-years away) will become closer to the northern celestial pole than Polaris around 3000 CE. Iota Cephei will become the pole star some time around 5200 CE. First-magnitude Deneb will be within 5° of the North Pole in 10000 CE.
When Polaris becomes the North Star again around 27800 CE, due to its proper motion it then will be farther away from the pole than it is now, while in 23600 BCE it was closer to the pole.
Currently, there is no South Star as useful as Polaris. Sigma Octantis is the closest naked-eye star to the south Celestial pole, but at apparent magnitude 5.45 it is barely visible on a clear night, making it unusable for navigational purposes.
It is a Yellow giant, 275 light years from Earth. Its angular separation from the pole is about 1° (as of 2000). The Southern Cross constellation functions as an approximate southern pole constellation, by pointing to where a southern pole star would be. At the equator it is possible to see both Polaris and the Southern Cross.
The Celestial South Pole is moving toward the Southern Cross, which has pointed to the South Pole for the last 2,000 years or so. As a consequence, the constellation is no longer visible from subtropical northern latitudes, as it was in the time of the ancient Greeks.
Around 2000 BCE, the star Eta Hydri was the nearest bright star to the Celestial south pole. Around 2800 BCE, Achernar was only 8 degrees from the south pole.
In the next 7500 years, the south Celestial pole will pass close to the stars Gamma Chamaeleontis (4200 CE), I Carinae, Omega Carinae (5800 CE), Upsilon Carinae, Iota Carinae (Aspidiske, 8100 CE) and Delta Velorum (9200 CE).
From the eightieth to the ninetieth centuries, the south Celestial pole will travel through the False Cross. Around 14000 CE, when Vega is only 4 degrees from the North Pole, Canopus will be only 8 degrees from the South Pole and thus circumpolar on the latitude of Bali (8 deg S).
The constellation Ursa Major is commonly used as a navigational pointer towards the current northern pole star, Polaris in Ursa Minor. The North Star (Polaris), the current northern pole star on Earth, can be located by extending an imaginary line from Merak (β) through Dubhe (α). This makes it useful in celestial navigation.
A common method of locating Polaris in the sky is to follow along the line of the so-called “pointer” stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper asterism, specifically, the two stars farthest from its “handle”. The arc between the pointer stars and Polaris is nearly five times greater than the arc between the pointer stars.
Because of its importance in celestial navigation, Polaris is known by numerous names. It became known as Polaris during the Renaissance, its name derived from the Latin polaris “of/near the (north) pole”.
One ancient name for Polaris was Cynosūra, from the Greek κυνόσουρα “the dog’s tail” (reflecting a time when the constellation of Ursa Minor “Little Bear” was taken to represent a dog), hence the English word cynosure. Most other names are directly tied to its role as pole star.
In English, it was known as “pole star” or “north star”; in Spenser, also “steadfast star”. An older English name, attested since the 14th century, is lodestar “guiding star”, cognate with the Old Norse leiðarstjarna, Middle High German leitsterne.
Use of the name Polaris in English dates to the 17th century. It is an ellipsis for the Latin stella polaris “pole star”. Another Latin name is stella maris “sea-star”, which, from an early time, was also used as a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularized in the hymn Ave Maris Stella (8th century).
In traditional Indian astronomy, its name in Sanskrit is dhruva tāra “fixed star”. Its name in medieval Islamic astronomy was variously reported as Mismar “needle, nail”, al-kutb al-shamaliyy “the northern axle/spindle”, and al-kaukab al-shamaliyy “north star”. The name Alruccabah or Ruccabah that was reported in 16th century western sources was that of the constellation.
In the Old English rune poem, the T-rune is identified with Tyr “fame, honour”, which is compared to the pole star, ᛏ [tir] biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel “[fame] is a sign, it keeps faith well”. Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 is an example of the symbolism of the north star as a guiding principle: “[Love] is the star to every wandering bark / Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
Because α UMi lies nearly in a direct line with the axis of the Earth’s rotation “above” the North Pole—the north celestial pole—Polaris stands almost motionless in the sky, and all the stars of the Northern sky appear to rotate around it. Therefore, it makes an excellent fixed point from which to draw measurements for celestial navigation and for astrometry.
The moving of Polaris towards, and in the future away from, the celestial pole, is due to the precession of the equinoxes. The celestial pole will move away from α UMi after the 21st century, passing close by Gamma Cephei by about the 41st century. Historically, the celestial pole was close to Thuban around 2500 BCE, and during classical antiquity, it was closer to Kochab (β UMi) than to α UMi.
It was about the same angular distance from either β UMi than to α UMi by the end of late antiquity. The Greek navigator Pytheas in ca. 320 BCE described the celestial pole as devoid of stars. However, as one of the brighter stars close to the celestial pole, Polaris was used for navigation at least from late antiquity, and described as ἀεί φανής (aei phanēs) “always visible” by Stobaeus (5th century). α UMi could reasonably be described as stella polaris from about the High Middle Ages.
Due to the precession of Earth’s rotational axis, Thuban was the naked-eye star closest to the north pole from 3942 BC, when it moved farther north than Theta Boötis, until 1793 BC, when it was superseded by Kappa Draconis. It was closest to the pole in 2830 BC, when it was less than ten arc-minutes away from the pole.
It remained within one degree of true north for nearly 200 years afterwards, and even 900 years after its closest approach, was just five degrees off the pole. Thuban was considered the pole star until about 1900 BC, when the much brighter Kochab began to approach the pole as well.
Beta Ursae Minoris (β UMi, β Ursae Minoris) is the brightest star in the bowl of the “Little Dipper” (which is part of the constellation Ursa Minor), and only slightly fainter than Polaris, the northern pole star and brightest star in Ursa Minor. It has the traditional name Kochab. Kochab is 16 degrees from Polaris and has an apparent visual magnitude of 2.08. The distance to this star can be deduced from the parallax measurements made during the Hipparcos, yielding a value of 130.9 light-years (40.1 parsecs).
Kochab and its neighbor Pherkad served as twin pole stars, circling the North Pole, from 1500 BC until 500 AD. Ancient Egyptian astronomers referred to them as “The Indestructibles”. Neither star was as proximitous to the celestial North Pole as Polaris is now. Today, they are sometimes referred to as the “Guardians of the Pole.” Due to precession of the equinoxes, the previous holder of the title was Thuban, and the next was the present-day Polaris. This succession of pole stars is a result of Earth’s precessional motion.
Amateur astronomers can use Kochab as a very precise guide for setting up a telescope, as the celestial North Pole is located 43 arcminutes away from Polaris, very close to the line connecting Polaris with Kochab.
Gamma Cephei is the naked-eye star that will succeed Polaris as the Earth’s northern pole star, due to the precession of the equinoxes. It will be closer to the northern celestial pole than Polaris around 3000 CE and will make its closest approach around 4000 CE. The “title” will pass to ι Cephei some time around 5200 CE.
The Constellation Crux, the Southern Cross, is a southern constellation laying south of conetalltion Centaurus. It spans only 13 degrees of the zodiac in the sign of Scorpio, and contains 5 named fixed stars. It is located in the deep southern sky and is the smallest yet one of the most distinctive of the 88 modern constellations.
The most prominent feature of Crux is the distinctive asterism known as the Southern Cross. It has great significance in the cultures of the southern hemisphere, particularly of New Zealand, and Australia, whose pioneers were colloquially referred to as sons and daughters of the Southern Cross.
Currently, there is no South Star as useful as Polaris. Sigma Octantis is the closest naked-eye star to the south Celestial pole, but at apparent magnitude 5.45 it is barely visible on a clear night, making it unusable for navigational purposes.
The Southern Cross constellation functions as an approximate southern pole constellation, by pointing to where a southern pole star would be. At the equator it is possible to see both Polaris and the Southern Cross.
The Celestial south pole is moving toward the Southern Cross, which has pointed to the south pole for the last 2,000 years or so. As a consequence, the constellation is no longer visible from subtropical northern latitudes, as it was in the time of the ancient Greeks.
Around 2000 BCE, the star Eta Hydri was the nearest bright star to the Celestial south pole. Around 2800 BCE, Achernar was only 8 degrees from the South Pole. Its name means “male water snake”, as opposed to Hydra, a much larger constellation that represents a female water snake. It remains below the horizon for most Northern Hemisphere observers.
In the next 7500 years, the south Celestial pole will pass close to the stars Gamma Chamaeleontis (4200 CE), I Carinae, Omega Carinae (5800 CE), Upsilon Carinae, Iota Carinae (Aspidiske, 8100 CE) and Delta Velorum (9200 CE). From the eightieth to the ninetieth centuries, the south Celestial pole will travel through the False Cross. Around 14000 CE, when Vega is only 4 degrees from the North Pole, Canopus will be only 8 degrees from the South Pole and thus circumpolar on the latitude of Bali (8 deg S).
Its name is Latin for cross, and it is dominated by a cross-shaped asterism that is commonly known as the Southern Cross. Although visible to the Ancient Greeks, it was seen as part of the constellation Centaurus, and not defined or accurately mapped till the 16th century.
It was entirely visible as far north as Britain in the fourth millennium BC. However, the precession of the equinoxes gradually lowered its stars below the European horizon, and they were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes. By AD 400, most of the constellation never rose above the horizon for Athenians.
Known as Acrux, blue-white Alpha Crucis is the constellation’s brightest star and the bottom star of the cross. Nearly as bright are Beta and Gamma, while Delta and Epsilon make up the asterism.
In ancient Hindu astrology, the modern Crux is referred to as Trishanku, a character in Hindu Itihasa referred to through mention of “Trishanku’s heaven”. The word Trishanku has come to denote a middleground or limbo between one’s goals or desires and one’s current state or possessions.
The original name of this constellation in the Akkadian language was Tul-Ku, meaning a sacred mound, or an altar. Akkadians believed that the souls of the deceased were weighed at God’s altar. The altar became synonymous with the idea of scales, where souls were weighed. The name for these particular scales was Zibanitu, or Zuben-itu.
Because this Altar, Tul-Ku,was associated with Zuben-itu, the Balance, the two became connected in the Indian language so that the Indian words Tula or in Tamil (a southern Indian dialect), Tulam or Tolam, all mean “Balance” or “Scales”.
In Hebrew the constellation is Moznayim or “Balance” as in Isaiah 40:12. The use of the prefix “Zuben” in some of the star names therefore comes from the ancient Akkadian language.
For this reason, the Alpha star (the furthest one to the right on the green lines in the diagram above), or Zuben el Genubi (or Ganabi) means “the balance/purchase/price is deficient.” It is also the root from which the Hebrew word “stolen” is derived.
The Beta star (the uppermost star) is Zuben el Chamali (or Shemali), meaning “the price which covers”, a word whose root comes into Hebrew as meaning “raiment” or “cloth.” The Hebrew name for this star was Kaphar which means “to cover” or “the atonement.”
The star Gamma (connected to the Beta star, coming down to the left) is Zuben Akrabi, meaning “the Price of the Conflict” or “the Price of the War.” This could be referring both to the battle with evil on the cross (the Southern Cross constellation is a Decan of Libra) as well as Armageddon itself.
The possible reference to Armageddon can be drawn due to the fact that Scorpius, the scorpion is the next constellation in the zodiac. More about the scorpion later, but it is important to note that this constellation always represents ‘against Christ’ or ‘anti-Christ.’
The ancient Akkadians showed something interesting on both their seals and boundary stones. On these was a picture of the scorpion’s claws seizing the altar of Libra. In other words, they had combined the two pictures into one and called it the “Constellation of Claws.” The delta star in Libra is Mulu-Izi, or “Man of Fire.”
In Revelation 13:13, we find the Antichrist calls down fire from heaven in the sight of men. This is similar to what Elijah did in the 8th century B.C. to conquer the priests of Baal. When he did this, Elijah was able to turn a remnant of the people back to the living god. Revelation tells us the Antichrist will do the same to cause most people to worship him. His evil rule is brought to an end at the Battle of Armageddon. This is the “price of the conflict.”
The price of the conflict, however, is also on the Cross, where the payment was made for our sins, and spiritual evil was thus conquered. So Libra, the sacred Altar and Balance, also shows that our lives fall short of God’s standard – the price is deficient – we are weighed in the balance and found wanting. But the Price that Covers is the atonement made by Messiah for all humanity, who paid the price by His conflict against evil and shed His blood to blot out our sins.
Associated with Libra is the constellation Centaurus, with the Southern Cross at its feet, or base. A Centaur is either a two-natured person, or a combination of a man and horse as a unit of war. The two bright stars on the lower left of the photo above are Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. They “point” the way to the Southern Cross, shown as “Crux” in the photograph below. The Southern Cross is in the middle of the photograph above.
The name of this constellation in Sumerian was EN.TE.NA.BAR.HUM; Habasiranu was the Akkadian name. Taking the Akkadian name apart, we get ANU (“Head God”); “God of the sky and heavens”; the “One with power to Judge”). HABA (“come” or “comes” or “came”), and SIR (“command” or “order”). Altogether, “Comes to command, the Head God (or Judge).”
It is interesting to note that Jamieson, in his Celestial Atlas published in 1822, says that the Arabic and Chaldean name for Centaurus was Bezeh. Bezeh is also a Hebrew word which means ‘the despised one. In Isaiah 53, the coming Messiah is spoken of as the Despised One.
Centaurus and Crux received ancient names because they were visible in the Northern Hemisphere 2000 years ago, although they are not now. This is because of the way the axis of the earth itself wobbles a bit.
Many of the constellation’s brighter stars are members of the Scorpius–Centaurus Association, a loose group of hot blue-white stars that appear to share a common origin and motion across the Milky Way.
Two star systems have been found to have planets. The constellation also contains four Cepheid variables visible to the naked eye under optimum conditions. Crux also contains the Jewel Box, a bright open cluster, and the Coalsack Nebula, the most prominent dark nebula in the sky.
A very large constellation, Cygnus is bordered by Cepheus to the north and east, Draco to the north and west, Lyra to the west, Vulpecula to the south, Pegasus to the southeast and Lacerta to the east. The three-letter abbreviation for the constellation, as adopted by the IAU in 1922, is ‘Cyg’.
Cygnus culminates at midnight on 29 June, and is most visible in the evening from the early summer to mid-autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Normally, Cygnus is depicted with Delta and Epsilon Cygni as its wings, Deneb as its tail, and Albireo as the tip of its beak.
There are several asterisms in Cygnus. In the 17th-century German celestial cartographer Johann Bayer’s star atlas the Uranometria, Alpha, Beta and Gamma Cygni form the pole of a cross, while Delta and Epsilon form the cross beam. The nova P Cygni was then considered to be the body of Christ.
Deneb (α Cyg, α Cygni, Alpha Cygni) is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, it is one of the vertices of the Summer Triangle and forms the ‘head’ of the Northern Cross. It is the 19th brightest star in the night sky, with an apparent magnitude of 1.25. A blue-white supergiant, Deneb is also one of the most luminous nearby stars. However, its exact distance (and hence luminosity) has been difficult to calculate; it is estimated to be somewhere between 55,000 and 196,000 times as luminous as the Sun.
Deneb lies at one vertex of a widely spaced asterism called the Summer Triangle, the other two members of which are the zero-magnitude stars Vega in the constellation Lyra and Altair in Aquila. This formation is the approximate shape of a right triangle, with Deneb located at one of the acute angles. The Summer Triangle is recognizable in the northern skies for there are few other bright stars in its vicinity.
Deneb is also easily spotted as the tip of the Northern Cross asterism made up of the brightest stars in Cygnus, the others being Beta (Albireo), Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon Cygni. It never dips below the horizon at or above 45° north latitude, just grazing the northern horizon at its lowest point at such locations as Minneapolis, Montréal and Turin.
In the northern hemisphere Deneb is high in the sky during summer evenings. The name Deneb is derived from dhaneb, the Arabic for “tail”, from the phrase Dhanab ad-Dajājah, or “tail of the hen”.
Similar names were given to at least seven different stars, most notably Deneb Kaitos, the brightest star in the constellation Cetus; Deneb Algedi, the brightest star in Capricornus; and Denebola, the second brightest star in Leo. All these stars are referring to the tail of the animals that their respective constellations represent.
Gamma Cygni (γ Cyg, γ Cygni) is the Bayer designation for a star in the northern constellation Cygnus, forming the intersection of an asterism of five stars called the Northern Cross. It has the traditional name Sadr (also spelled Sadir or Sador), which name comes from the Arabic word şadr, “chest”, the same word which gave rise to the star Schedar (Alpha Cassiopeiae).
In the catalogue of stars in the Calendarium of Al Achsasi al Mouakket, this star was designated Sadr al Dedjadjet, (şadr aldajaaja), which was translated into Latin as Pectus Gallinǣ, meaning the hen’s chest.
In Chinese, meaning Celestial Ford, refers to an asterism consisting of γ Cygni, δ Cygni, 30 Cygni, α Cygni, ν Cygni, τ Cygni, υ Cygni, ζ Cygni and ε Cygni. Consequently, γ Cygni itself is known as The First Star of Celestial Ford.
Cygnus is a northern constellation lying on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latinized Greek word for swan. The swan is one of the most recognizable constellations of the northern summer and autumn, it features a prominent asterism known as the Northern Cross (in contrast to the Southern Cross). Cygnus was among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations.
Cygnus contains Deneb, one of the brightest stars in the night sky and one corner of the Summer Triangle, as well as some notable X-ray sources and the giant stellar association of Cygnus OB2. One of the stars of this association, NML Cygni, is one of the largest stars currently known.
The constellation is also home to Cygnus X-1, a distant X-ray binary containing a supergiant and unseen massive companion that was the first object widely held to be a black hole. Many star systems in Cygnus have known planets as a result of the Kepler Mission observing one patch of the sky, the patch is the area around Cygnus. In addition, most of the eastern part of Cygnus is dominated by the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall, a giant galaxy filament that is the largest known structure in the observable universe; covering most of the northern sky.
In Greek mythology, Cygnus has been identified with several different legendary swans. Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduce Leda, Spartan king Tyndareus’s wife, who gave birth to the Gemini, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra; Orpheus was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was said to have been placed in the sky next to his lyre (Lyra); and the King Cygnus was transformed into a swan.
The Greeks also associated this constellation with the tragic story of Phaethon, the son of Helios the sun god, who demanded to ride his father’s sun chariot for a day. Phaethon, however, was unable to control the reins, forcing Zeus to destroy the chariot (and Phaethon) with a thunderbolt, causing it to plummet to the earth into the river Eridanus.
According to the myth, Phaethon’s brother, Cycnus, grieved bitterly and spent many days diving into the river to collect Phaethon’s bones to give him a proper burial. The gods were so touched by Cycnus’s devotion to his brother that they turned him into a swan and placed him among the stars.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there are three people named Cygnus, all of whom are transformed into swans. Alongside Cycnus, noted above, he mentions a boy from Tempe who commits suicide when Phyllius refuses to give him a tamed bull that he demands, but is transformed into a swan and flies away. He also mentions a son of Neptune who is an invulnerable warrior in the Trojan War who is eventually defeated by Achilles, but Neptune saves him by transforming him into a swan.
Together with other avian constellations near the summer solstice, Vultur cadens and Aquila, Cygnus may be a significant part of the origin of the myth of the Stymphalian Birds, one of The Twelve Labours of Hercules.