Nakshatra in Springtime

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.

Nakshatra: Lunar mansions in the Indian tradition of the Spring constellations

The Nakshatra of the spring do not contain stars as bright as the Nakshatra of the winter. However there are still some very famous stars within the Nakshatra or nearby involved. All religious information is taken from the English Wikipedia.

1 Pushya: the Beehive Cluster

The first Nakshatra of the spring is Pushya. This means "the nourisher", also known as sidhya or tisya. This Nakshatra consists of two 4th magnitude stars and a famous star cluster, the Beehive Cluster.

It can be found most easily by imagining a triangle of the Twin Star Pollux, the Twin Star Alhena between Pollux and Betelgeuse and the northern Dog Star Procyon. Mirroring Alhena at the axis Pollux - Procyon leads to an area, where with the help of binoculars, a star cluster looking like a small nebula can be seen. This is the Beehive Cluster, which is 600 lightyears away. On the left side there are 2 stars, which are foreground stars, the northern one is Asellus Borealis, meaning "northern donkey colt", which is a white star 160 lightyears away, and the southern star is Asellus australis, meaning "southern donkey colt", which is a red giant star 135 lightyears away.

Going from Procyon to the Twin Star Alhena, a quarter of the way along, a nearly second magnitude star is seen - Gomeisa, a bluish star 170 lightyears away. Gomeisa means "the bleary-eyed (woman)".

The Lord of Pushya is Shani represented by Saturn, its symbol is a cow's udder, a lotus, an arrow and a circle, and its Deity is Brhaspati, a priest of the gods.

2 Ashlesha: the head of the Hydra

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Ashlesha. This means "the embrace". This Nakshatra consists of five stars in the head of the constellation Hydra. The brightest one is epsilon Hydrae, a third magnitude star. These stars can be found with the help of the Big Dipper and the Lion.

From Big Dipper to Northern Star
One of the most famous constellations of all is the Big Dipper. In the English language this constellation originally was called the Plough, but nowadays the name Big Dipper is more familiar. The Big Dipper consists of 7 stars of which 4 stars form the bowl and 3 stars form the handle. Six of them are of second magnitude and the three brightest ones nearly reach first magnitude: Alioth, the first star of the handle closest to the bowl, then Dubhe, the upper star of the bowl away from the handle, and Alkaid, the star at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper.

Alioth is a white star 80 lightyears away and means "fat tail of a sheep", Dubhe is a red giant star 120 lightyears away and means "the Bear" (as in Greek mythology the Big Dipper is representing a Bear) and Alkaid is a bluish star 100 lightyears away. This name originates from Alkaid-Benetnash and means "the leader of the daughters of the bier".

The most famous star of the Big Dipper is Mizar, the middle star of the handle. Like Alioth, it is a white star 80 lightyears away. Mizar means "girdle". A person with good eyesight can see a further star next to Mizar; this is Alcor, a star as bright as a typical Pleiades star. Indeed, Alcor is a neighbouring star of Mizar. In a telescope it can easily be seen that Mizar is a double star where the companion star is of the same brightness as nearby Alcor.

Going six times as far southwards down the left side of the bowl leads to the second magnitude star Algieba, and one and a half times further to a first magnitude star, which is Regulus, the star at the Lion's heart. Its Arabian name Kabeleced also means "the Lion's heart". It is a bluish star 80 lightyears away. Algieba is a double star consisting of a red giant star and a sunlike yellow star 130 lightyears away. Algieba means "the forehead (of the Lion)". - Currently the giant planet Jupiter can be seen nearby Regulus and Algieba.

Now in the middle of Regulus and the northern dog star Procyon a group of two third magnitude stars and several fourth magnitude stars can be seen; they form the head of the Hydra. The brightest star of this group is zeta Hydrae and does not belong to the Nakshatra: it is a red giant star 150 lightyears away. A little east the star epsilon Hydrae of nearly the same brightness is seen. This is the brightest star of the Nakshatra Ashlesha, like our sun a yellow star 135 lightyears away. Epsilon Hydrae and the 4 fourth magnitude stars nearby form this Nakshatra.

The main star of the constellation Hydra is Alphard and can be found easily: following Algieba to Regulus and twice as far again leads to a second magnitude star, this is Alphard. Alphard means "the solitary one" and is a red giant star nearly 200 lightyears away.

The Lord of Ashlesha is Budh represented by Mercury, its symbol is a serpent, and its Deity is Sarpas or Nagas, the deified snakes.

3 Magha: Regulus

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Magha. This means "the bountiful" and is built by Regulus, the main star of the Lion.

The handle-side of the bowl of the Big Dipper is composed of two stars: on the northern edge the third magnitude star Megrez, which is physically brighter than the Dog Star Sirius, and on the southern edge the second magnitude star Phecda. Both are white stars at a distance of about 80 lightyears. Phecda means "thigh (of the Bear)" and Megrez means "the base (of the Bear's tail)".

As seen before, going down from Megrez to Phecda and six times further leads to Algieba and beyond on the same path to Regulus. They are the brightest stars of the constellation of the Lion. Above Algieba another 3 stars of about third magnitude are seen building a trapezium with Algieba attached to the line leading to Regulus; these stars form the head of the Lion.

The Lord of Magha is Ketu representing the South lunar node, its symbol is a Royal Throne and its Deity is Pitrs, 'The Fathers', the family ancestors.

4 Purva Phalguni: Duhr and Coxa

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Purva Phalguni. This means "first reddish one" and is formed by the Lion's stars Duhr and Coxa.

The Lion is a very beautiful constellation: moving from Regulus to Algieba and then rectangular to the east leads to a further second magnitude star, this is Duhr. South of Duhr the third magnitude star Coxa is seen; these four stars also build a trapezium-like figure. Duhr and Coxa are white stars, Duhr 60 lightyears away and Coxa nearly three times further away. Duhr means "the back (of the Lion)" and Coxa means "the hib (of the Lion)".

The Lion is completed by a further second magnitude star east of the line Duhr - Coxa, which is Denebola, the small tail of the Lion. Denebola is a white star at a distance of 35 lightyears.

The Lord of Purva Phalguni is Shukra represented by Venus, its symbol are the front legs of a bed, a hammock and a fig tree, and its Deity is Bhaga, the god of marital bliss and prosperity.

5 Uttara Phalguni: Denebola

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Uttara Phalguni. This means "second reddish one" and is formed by the Lion's star Denebola.

Following the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper leads to a very bright star of 0th magnitude which is the brightest star of the northern hemisphere. Its name is Arcturus, this means "hunter looking at the Bear". Arcturus is a very close red giant star only 37 lightyears away.

In the middle of Denebola at the small tail of the Lion which builds up this Nakshatra, and Arcturus, a nearly second magnitude star can be seen, this is Vindemiatrix, like the sun a yellow star 100 lightyears away. Vindemiatrix means "Grape Gatherer", because when in autumn this star was rising again in the morning, the winegrowers started the grape harvest.

The Lord of Uttara Phalguni is Surya represented by the Sun, its symbol are the four legs of a bed and a hammock, and its Deity is Aryaman, the god of patronage and favours.

6 Hasta: the Raven

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Hasta. This means "the hand" and is based upon by the constellation of the Raven.

This constellation is seen southeast of the Lion and looks like a quadrangle with a shorter side at the west. Its stars are of third magnitude. To the left at the northern edge, the star Algorab is seen, meaning "the crow". Continuing along the line to the west leads to Gienah, the right wing (of the crow). Both are bluish stars 90 and 165 lightyears away respectively. To the left at the southern edge, there is Kraz and to the right side there is Minkar. Kraz is a yellow star 140 lightyears away, the meaning of this name is not known, and Minkar is a red giant star more than 300 lightyears away and means "the nostril (of the crow)". Gienah and Kraz are even of nearly second magnitude.

The main star of the constellation is a fourth magnitude star below Minkar, named Alchiba, possibly meaning "the tent". It is a white star 50 lightyears away.

The Lord of Hasta is Chandra represented by the Moon, its symbol is a hand or a fist, and its Deity is Saviti or Surya, the Sun god.

7 Chitra: Spica

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Chitra. This means "the bright one", which is a name of Spica.

Following the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper leads to Arcturus and by continuing along this path, the star Spica can be found. Spica means "the virgin's ear of (wheat) grain" and is a bluish star more than 250 lightyears away.

Between Denebola, the small tail of the Lion, and Spica, but closer to Spica, a star of nearly second magnitude is seen. This is Porrima, a double star of 2 yellow stars 40 lightyears away. Porrima is the name of ancient Roman goddesses of prophecy. Between Porrima and Vindemiatrix in the middle of Denebola and Arcturus, a third magnitude star is seen. This is Minelauva, a red giant star at a distance of 200 lightyears. Minelauva means "barking (dog)", as according to Arabian mythology, Vindemiatrix, Minelauva, Porrima and two further stars in the direction of the Lion are five dogs barking at the Lion.

The Lord of Chitra is Mangala represented by Mars, its symbol is a bright jewel or a pearl, and its Deity is Tvastar or Vishvakarman, the celestial architect.

8 Svati: Arcturus

The next Nakshatra of the spring is Svati. This means "Su-Ati (sanskrit) Very good", which is a name of Arcturus.

Arcturus is the brightest star of the the northern hemisphere and is found following the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper.

The Big Dipper is also a very useful pointer towards the north since the two stars of the bowl away from the handle, Dubhe, the upper one, and Merak below, form a line starting at Merak and continuing about five times further through Dubhe, which points to the Northern Star. The Northern Star is a white star nearly 500 lightyears away and as it is located very close to the northern pole of the hemisphere, it always appears to be at the same place in the sky.

Merak, the southern pointer star of the Big Dipper, is a white second magnitude star 80 lightyears away. Besides Dubhe and Alkaid, all the stars of the Big Dipper including Alcor, the teststar of eyesight, are white stars at a distance of 80 lightyears. They all form a loose star cluster, the Ursa Major moving group; all shared a common birth.

The Lord of Svati is Rahu representing the North lunar node, its symbol is a shoot of a plant and a coral, and its Deity is Vayu, the Wind god.

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