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NAKSHETRA - A POSSIBLE INSPIRATION for the MARINER'S COMPASS
By Deepak Bhattacharya 1 & P. C. Naik
Edited by Christopher F. Ash

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Part I : Correlation with ancient Kalingan archaeology, Tradition and Legend

Abstract

The location and design of the ancient temples of Bhubaneswar have been guided by a rich astronomical insight. The positions of these structures correspond to the locations of stars. These stars may have served as a kind of "compass" for ancient mariners, and the cult that assigned to them significance may have followed their precessional movement in an overland migration back and forth over the indian sub-continant over a period of thousands of years.

Introduction

In the sub Puranas (Hindu ancient scripture) called Koiel(y) Purana, a forest by the name "Tarakka" is mentioned in the context of the first appearance of the Hindu super-deity, Lord Shiva, in his "Natraja" ("Lord of dance") form.2 In our previous paper we discussed a geographical zone, Ekamra (or Bhubaneswar), the monuments of which, we suggest, have a one to one correspondence with as many as 37 bright stars. We have also suggested that smaller stars and whole constellations are reflected or recreated with monuments on the ground. Each component member monument bears a multi-mode relationship to the heavens, its architectural features also resembling stars (when a tangential (or "birds-eye-view") perspective is taken of individual monuments, or the entire group or part thereof, they appear as fallen stars on the ground).

While we have elected to name the zone "Tarakka," meaning "intra-star zone," we have thus-far avoided linking Ekamra with that mythical forest of "Tarakka," despite the term "Tarakka" being an apt description of our subject: it being a true "Forest of Stars."

Examining the Tarakka geographic zone, we find that four constituent members form a rectangle at the center. There, the trapezium matches a terrestrial model of the Orion constellation. Taking only those temples which are relatively equidistant from any two of Orion's terrestrial constituents and joining the three buildings with straight lines to form a tapered triangle produces a nine-pointed-star known as Nakshetra ("nine zones"). Incredibly, this Nakshetra is also perfectly traceable in the sky . There, the geometry offers a wealth of complementary angles and pointers -- or possibly even direction indicators.

Figure 1

The Vedic terms "Nakshetra" and "Tarakka" both mean "Star" ("Tara"). It is our position that the study of Tarakka / Nakshetra was among the primary scholastic activities of a bygone civilization that conceived this nomenclature. Our study indicates that such a school of ancient astronomy as may have existed, amalgamated zenithal and azimuthal components and coordinates (as do modern astronomers) in direction-finding, and incorporated into its scheme very bright stars from both hemispheres while excluding the poles. The Nakshetra-type direction indicators also exclude the north Pole-star and thus likely predates the Common Era (1 AD, when Polaris occupied the north celestial Pole). If Nakshetra is part of Tarakka, and Tarakka is part of Bhubaneswar, such an ancient astronomical "school" may have been located at this site.

Theoretically, the Nakshetra may have had a practical application as a route-finder for ocean navigators of that bygone civilization, such that they would have been at ease sailing in either hemisphere; something as yet unreported from any other civilization.

Our Position:

  1. The nomenclature Nakshetra, in terms of antiquity, is Vedic.
  2. This Geometric configuration of Nakshetra, when at zenith, can function as an excellent direction-finder both on land or on the high seas. It is also eerily close to the modern, eight-pointed navigation compass. [We think it possible that in later times, the rectangular perimeter of the Orion constellation may have been reduced to a square and the nine direction pointers reduced to eight; the celestial-inspired format ultimately forming the basis of a simple instrument: the mariners compass.]
  3. While Tarakka has been identified by us with Bhubaneswar, Nakshetra remains a part of it.
  4. The culture that exists today in the Tarakka zone posseses a rich tradition and claims an equally rich heritage, including religio-socio-cultural practices associated with sea voyage and with the ancient archaeology of this very zone. They are not nomadic today and neither are they reported to have had a emigrated into the area at any time in the past.
  5. Interestingly, we have been able to locate, study and investigate a series of archaeological items from the area useful in Azimuth, declination and direction computing. These artfacts include astrolabes, compass, mariners wheels / sail-set-wheels, looking devices, time-measuring instruments, clear sky diurnal and nocturnal use versatile devices, and more.
  6. The history of the past 500 years are said to mark the "dark age" of this area and its people.
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Footnotes:

  1. Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage
  2. T G Gopinath Rao; Elements of Hindu Iconography - N Y, 1968,2nded, Vol II-part- I; pp 236 and 237

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