Beginnings of Indian and Chinese Calendrical Astronomy

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Asko Parpola



Calendrical astronomy had a parallel but separate development in China and in India. Both were eventually lunisolar and utilized circumpolar stars, which made Ursa Major and the pole star ideologically important. Initially the Early Harappans could orient their towns according to cardinal directions and the sun probably symbolized the king. Their calendar was heliacal with Aldebaran as the new year star. Indus Civilization created the lunisolar calendar, the nakṣatras, started the new year with the Pleiades, used the gnomon, and knew planets (Dravidian names of stars and planets, preserved in Old Tamil, occur in Indus inscriptions). “Bull of Heaven” and “Sky Garment” were borrowings from Mesopotamia. The paper also deals with the heavenly crocodile and its connection with crocodile cult, the Śunaḥśepa legend, and God Varuṇa’s heavenly banyan tree, which is connected with the pole star’s Dravidian name and its function in Purāṇic cosmology.

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