The story behind the Great Bear and Pleiades

One of the brightest and easily spottable constellations in the northern sky in the months of March — September is the Great Bear, or also known as Ursa Major. The constellation is known to resemble a question mark or a hammer. It is so big that it takes up a huge part of the sky. When it rises/sets, it is not possible to see all the 7 stars as some of them might have risen, but some will still be on the brink of the horizon (the same thing when it sets).

According to ancient Hindu mythology, these seven stars are known to represent the seven rishis (sages) in Saptarishi Mandalam. Sapta meaning seven in Sanskrit. These sages were known to be the followers of Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. It’s interesting because on the other side of the Great Bear lies another bright constellation Auriga, which encompasses Capella, the sixth brightest star visible from Earth. This constellation Auriga is known to represent a chariot or a throne. The ancient Hindus believed the same and that the chariot belonged to Lord Brahma and Capella being the heart of Brahma (as it is the brightest star in the constellation). Hence it explains why they named the star Brahma Ridaya, the very beating heart of Brahma. This way, every year, there is an endless cycle of rising and setting of Lord Brahma and the seven sages.

Another bright and widely known celestial object is the Pleiades, or as the Hindus call it, Krithika. It is a star cluster that is visible to the naked eye on a clear day. It is home to about 800 stars, but only seven of them are visible when seen through a pair of binoculars or telescope (located from inside a city, light pollution of 7–8). Although it is said that the Pleiades is made up of 7 bright stars, or according to Greek Mythology, the 7 seven sisters (Alcyone being the brightest), but when seen through a sky watching object, only six of them are seen.

Here’s why. As per the stories of the ancient Hindus, the Pleiades and the Great Bear existed in the same sky. The seven rishis and their seven wives. The God of Fire, Agni fell in love with Krithika but knew that nothing could be done as they were all married. So, in order to quell his love, he wandered off into the forest. Another woman named Swaha was in love with Agni. That’s why we say “Swaha” when offering things to the fire (Agni) during rituals. Swaha is the star at the tip of Taurus, Zeta Tauri. To claim her love with Agni, she disguised herself as Krithika and made Agni fall in love with them again. Under this act of infidelity to their husbands, all the women forming part of the Pleiades except one, Arundhati, were separated from their husbands. As only Arundhati was faithful to her husband, Vashishta, she was placed with her husband in the Great Bear, Mizar and Alcor. The other six now sit on the other side of the sky, rising and setting with Taurus.

Arundhati Vashishta has set an example as an ideal marriage for newlywed couples and is considered good luck to see the stars after the wedding ceremony. Now dwelling on the scientific structure of the stars, we find that they actually are binary stars. Most binary stars are composed of one big star and one small star, and the smaller one usually orbits the bigger star. But Alcor & Mizar are the only known binary stars that orbit each other. This is the example Arundhati Vashishta was setting. An ideal marriage is about how the husband and the wife are equally important when it comes to marriage.

These things are clearly mentioned in the Vedas. The ancient Hindus were way ahead of everyone back in the days. But because the technology didn’t exist back then, such important scientific information was hidden in the form of stories when passed down through generations and generations. Just like Arundhati and Vashishta, our ancestors have concealed so many other things in the form of tales or so-called myths. So before you dismiss a story your grandparents tell you as senseless, think twice. It may be valuable information passed down for thousands of years.

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A philomath, with varied interests in different fields.

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Ananya Nandakumar

Ananya Nandakumar

A philomath, with varied interests in different fields.

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