Nakshatra in Winter

Composer: Ralf Kannenberg

Nakshatra: Lunar mansions in the Indian tradition

As our planet Earth moves around the Sun, from Earth there is the impression that the Sun is moving leftwards in front of the stars. As the lunar orbit around Earth geometrically closely falls into the same plane, the Moon seems to move in front of the same stars like the Sun. As the stars passed by the Moon can be observed easily during the night, the Indian tradition and later also the Arab tradition used lunar mansions for their calendar and related them to Godesses and Deity. The lunar mansions of the Indian tradition are called Nakshatra and the next section will describe the stars within each lunar mansion and nearby bright stars.

All religious information is taken from the English Wikipedia.

1 Krittika, the famous Pleiades

In Winter the famous Pleiades, a group of 6 stars of 4th magnitude or brighter closely located together, are easily visible. In the Nakshatra they have been called Krittika, which is an old name for the Pleiades; they are personified as the nurses of Kirttikeya, the son of Shiva and Parvati.

Their Lord is Surya, representing the Sun, their symbol is a knife or spear and their Deity is Agni, the god of fire.

The Pleiades are a young star cluster of only 125 million years of age at a distance of nearly 400 lightyears. It looks like a sauce pan with a handle where the handle touches the pan at its brightest star. That is Alcyone, a star of nearly 2nd magnitude; it is the third brigtest star in the constellation of Taurus. Alcyone is, like all stars of the Pleiades, a very hot bluish star.

The second brigtest star of the Pleiades is the star Atlas at the end of the handle. Thus Atlas and Alcyone form the handle of the pan. Continuing along the line is Maia, following the pan around is Elektra and then Merope. Above Maia the star Taygeta can be seen. Besides Merope and Taygeta all of them are nearly of 3rd magnitude.

2 Rohini, the main Taurus star Aldebaran

Following the belt of the famous Orion to the north the main star of Taurus can be seen. Its Indian name is Rohini which means "the red one", also known as brahma. Aldebaran is a bright red giant star of nearly 0th magnitude, a distance of 70 lightyears away. Its arab name means "the follower (of the Pleiades)", since Aldebaran is the next lunar mansion rising after the Pleiades.

Its Lord is Chandra, representing the Moon, its symbol is a cart or chariot, a temple and a banyan tree and its Deity is Brahma or Prajapati, the Creator.

Aldebaran seems to be located within a group of a star cluster which is called the Hyades about 150 lightyears away. Thus Aldebaran is a foreground star not belonging to this star cluster. The main stars of the cluster and Aldebaran look like a "V" with stars at the top, middle and the bottom of the "V", where the middle of the left fork consists of 2 stars. All these main stars of the cluster appear in the 3rd or nearly 3rd magnitude. Only the second brightest of them, on the other side of Aldebaran, has a name, "Ain", the eye of the bull. The brightest star of the cluster is the outer star located in the middle of the left fork. When going from the middle right star of the Hyades to Ain, a further star of the Hyades is seen of the same brightness as the Pleiades star Taygeta, and a further star of nearly the same magnitude is seen when going from the brightest cluster star in the middle left to the star at the bottom, at a quarter of the distance, a little outside. All of these stars are yellow stars like our sun.

3 Mrigashirsha: the stars at the head of Orion

Above the shoulder of the famous constellation of Orion some stars of 3rd magnitude are visible. They build up Mrigashirsha, that means "the deer's head", also known as agrahayani. Their brightest star is called Heka, a bluish star more than 1000 lightyears away. Slightly below, 2 stars can be seen: Khad Posterior, the brighter one to the side of Betelgeuse, the famous shoulder star of Orion, and Khad Prior on the other side. Khad Posterior is like our sun, a yellow star, at a distance of about 120 lightyears, whereas Khad Prior is a very distant bluish star nearly 1000 lightyears away. Heka means "a White Spot", Khad-al-Geuse means "Cheek of the Giant". The Latin attributes 'prior' and 'posterior' indicate the foremost and the furthermost location in the Giant's Cheek.

Orion is a famous constellation containing 7 stars of second magnitude or brighter. Betelgeuse is a very bright star of 0th magnitude and a little brighter is the right foot star Rigel, a bluish star more than 700 lightyears away. Rigel means "Foot". Likewise Bellatrix, the right shoulder star of Orion, is a bluish star at a distance of nearly 250 lightyears and reaches nearly 1st magnitude. Bellatrix means "female warrior".

The left and the middle belt stars of Orion also nearly achieve first magnitude: Alnilam, the middle belt star, means "string of pearls"; Alnitak, the left one, means "belt".

The remaining Orion stars are Mintaka, the right belt star, and Saiph, the left foot star. All of them are very distant bluish stars more than 1000 lightyears away. Mintaka means "the Giant's Belt" and Saiph means "the Giant's Sword".

Their Lord is Mangala, represented by Mars, their symbol is a deer's head and their Deity is Soma, Chandra, the Moon god.

4 Ardra: the Orion shoulder star Betelgeuse

The winter triangle
The left shoulder star of Orion, Betelgeuse, forms the next Nakshatra, called Ardra meaning "the moist one". Betelgeuse is a red giant star 400 lightyears away and translates as the "Giant's Shoulder".

If you follow the belt of Orion to the south you see the brightest star of all, the famous Dogstar Sirius. In the northern hemisphere its ascent is heralded by another bright star of 0th magnitude called Procyon. Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon to the east form a regular triangle, the so-called "Winter Triangle" that is very useful for orientation. In contrast to the stars of Orion, both Sirius and Procyon are nearby white stars, Sirius 8 lightyears away and Procyon 11 lightyears away. Both are accompanied by a high density star, each of which is a White Dwarf, that has undergone a gravitational collapse but is stable now due to Pauli's exclusion principle for electrons. Sirius means "the very bright one" and Procyon means "(the star) before the Dog (Star Sirius)" since it rises ahead of Sirius and thus announces Sirius' arrival.

The brightest star Sirius is in the company of several stars that are also very bright: on the right side of Sirius is a star of nearly 1st magnitude, called Mirzam, a bluish star at a distance of more than 500 lightyears. Mirzam means "The Herald (of Sirius)".

Below Sirius and Mirzam, a triangle of three bright stars can be seen: on top of this small triangle is Wezen, a very distant white star slightly brighter than Mirzam, which is more than 2000 lightyears away. Wezen means "weight". Right below Wezen a further 1st magnitude star is seen, which is Adhara. This means "virgins" and is a bluish star 500 lightyears away. On the left side below Wezen the star Aludra can be seen, a 2nd magnitude star also at a large distance of more than 3000 lightyears. Aludra means "the virgins" indicating that both stars have the same underlying tradition.

Going down the left side of Orion twice its height to the south leads to the second brigthest star of the firmament, that is Canopus. Canopus is a white star more than 300 lightyears away. The Arab name for Sirius is Alhabor, which means "bright star, that has passed (the Milky Way)", whereas Canopus in this tradition is the bright star that has not passed the Milky Way.

A further bright star can easily be found with the help of Orion: going from Betelgeuse diagonally through Orion to Rigel and then four times further leads to the brightest star of the river Eridanus, Achernar, a star as bright as Betelgeuse and Procyon. Achernar is a bluish star nearly 150 lightyears away and means "End of the River".

The Lord of Ardra is Rahu, representing the North lunar node, its symbol is a teardrop, a diamond and a human head and its Deity is Rudra, the storm god.

5 Punarvasu: the Twin stars Castor and Pollux

East of the constellation of Orion you can see two close stars of first magnitude, that build the next Nakshatra, called Punarvasu. This means "the two restorers of goods", also known as yamakau "the two chariots".

The brighter of them is Pollux, a red giant star about 30 lightyears away. Castor is a famous double star of two white stars at a distance of about 45 lightyears. Between Pollux und Betelgeuse in Orion a further bright Twin Star of nearly 1st magnitude can be seen nearly halfway to Betelgeuse; this is Alhena at the foot of Twin Pollux, a white star over 100 lightyears away. Alhena means "the Brand (on the neck of the camel)" and is the Arab lunar mansion for Betelgeuse.

Using the line Aldebaran to Castor and Pollux, above the middle you can see a further very bright star of 0th magnitude, which is the goat star Capella in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. Capella is a double star of two very close yellow stars over 40 lightyears away and brighter than the Orion stars Betelgeuse and Rigel.

The Lord of Punarvasu is Guru represented by Jupiter, its symbol is a bow and quiver and its Deity is Aditi, the mother of the gods.