By Arabinda Ghose
In the January 16 issue of the Organiser, Dr Ravi Varma writes under the title ?A Peep into the Future? (Open Forum): ?Rohini, being the dearest wife of (the) Moon, is always seen close to him in the form of (a) star in the sky? (column two, end of first paragraph).
Before commenting on Dr Varma'sparticular statement, one has to admit that our ancestors, who were extremely knowledgeable about astronomy (repeat astronomy), had sought to educate the lay people about the heavenly bodies such as the Sun, the Moon, the planets, the stars and star clusters or asterisms (nakshatras) through beautiful allegorical descriptions, attributing human qualities to heavenly bodies.
The statement that Rohini was the ?dearest wife? of (the) Moon is one such ?story?.
We are all aware that the Sun rotates on its (imaginary) axis once in every 24 hours (actually 23 hours and fifty-six minutes) and the Moon, being a satellite of the Earth, goes around our planet once is 27 days (it does not rotate on its axis). Our ancient astronomers had also noticed 27 star clusters or asterisms which in Sanskrit are called nakshatras. (A nakshatra is not one star but a group or a cluster of stars. A nakshatra is not just one tara). They had found that while going around the Earth, the Moon crosses the paths of these 27 nakshatras every (lunar) month.
Since we can see the Moon only at night, and every night the Moon is at or near one of these star clusters or nakshatras, our forefathers wove a beautiful story about the Moon and its movements around the Earth. According to them, the Moon spends one night each with one of his twenty-seven ?wives? during its one circumbulation of the Earth. Rohini is one such ?wife?; not the ?dearest wife?.
While going around the Earth, the Moon crosses the paths of these 27 nakshatras every (lunar) month.
The full list of these 27 ?wives? of the Moon or the nakshatras is: Ashwini, Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Mrigashirsha, Ardra, Punarvasu, Pushya, Ashlesha, Magha, Poorva Falguni, Uttar Falguni, Hasta, Chitra, Swati, Vishakha, Anuradha, Jyestha, Mula, Poorvashadha, Uttarashadha, Shravana, Dhani-shtha, Shatabhisha, Poorva Bhadrapad, Uttar Bhadrapad and Revati.
There is another allegorical story which has given rise to the notion that Rohini is the ?dearest wife? of the Moon. At one time in the past, probably the paths of the Earth and the Moon in the backdrop of the ?fixed? stars in the heavens were such that the time taken by the Moon to cross the ?home? of Rohini used to take a little more time. This gave rise to the legend quoted by Dr Varma.
However, according to another legend, but connected with this ?story?, the gods were angry with the Moon for being ?partial? to one of his ?wives? and cursed that henceforth the Moon would wax for 15 days and then wane for the next 15 days (actually the total is twenty-nine-and-a-half days and not 30). Thus we have the Shukla and the Krishna pakshas.
Now, although there are 27 ?wives? or nakshastras on the path traversed by the Moon, the Earth, during these 27 days, also goes forward by the duration of two-and-a-half days in the course of its revolution around the Sun which it completes in 365.24219 days. The time taken by the Moon to complete its round of visiting the 27 ?wives? is thus 29.5306 days, which is the duration of a lunar month.
The Moon has good reasons to be enamoured particularly of his ?wife? Rohini. It is a beautiful star, reddish in colour, and is the brightest star in the Vrishabha rashi (Taurus) and is known by the astronomical name of Alpha Tauri the brightest star in this constellation (all rashis are constellations).
If you take the trouble of looking at the sky, preferably on a moonless night, and look up in the evenings (January-March), you are likely to be able to actually see Rohini with your naked eyes. You can find it a little to the east of the constellation known as the Orion (the hunter or the Vyadh) and west of the star cluster (nakshatra) called Krittika, which consists of six dim stars but not too dim for you to miss it. The astronomical name given to Rohini by Western scientists is Aldebaran (it is a name with Arabic origin which shows that the Arabs were also good astronomers at one time).
These days, hardly any urbanite can enjoy the majestic spectacle of the night sky, particularly during the winter months. With just a little effort, and helped by a map of the sky, one can ?discover?, for his or her own pleasure, the stars, the constellations, the planets, an occasional comet or a ?shower? of meteorites. A cloudless, moonless night sky is a gift to inquisitive humans who can spot the rashis, the nakshatras and the planets (even the Saturn) without any aid. (Once when I had suggested to a friend, an ardent believer in astrology, to accompany me for a dekho at the Saturn by our unaided eyes, he furiously refused to have anything to do with Saturn, which is considered a malevolent planet. What a pity!
The night sky is a more pleasurable ?place? for ?travel? than any fairy-tale garden on the face of the Earth. All the allegorical stories, legends and the triumph of modern science come alive when you have a chance to look up skywards at night. Enjoy the spectacle, and don'tbe cowed down by superstitions. You can see with unaided eyes Mercury (Budha), Venus (Shukra), Mars (Mangal), Jupiter (Vrihaspati), Saturn (Shani) and probably Neptune too, provided you are familiar with their ?looks??Venus is, of course, the brightest, the Mars is red in colour like Rohini, and Jupiter is a calm, but brilliant white.
In conclusion, astronomy as a science should be taught in schools too. Today'schildren must learn about the stars and the planets. When they grow up, maybe some of them will have to travel to one of these planets.