During many traditional Hindu marriages, the presiding priest usually shows the bride, a star called ‘Arundhathi’ in the night sky. Sadhwi Arundhathi is the wife of sage Vasishtha. This famous couple from vedic times, well known for their harmony and devotion to each other, is revered as a an ideal couple worthy of emulation by all married couples. Nowadays not many can identify this star in the night sky. This article aims to help in identifying this star in the night sky for those who are interested.
The star pair Arundhathi-Vasishtha is in the famous constellation Ursa Major. It is also called Big Dipper or Great Bear. In India this constellation is calledSaptha Rishi mandala (Seven Sages). Vasishtha is one of the seven Rishis. The astronomical identity of these stars is very easy to establish due to explicit definitions given by Varaha Mihirain his Brihat Samhita (Ref 1 - circa 550 AD).
Varaaha Mihira in his Brihat-Samhitha, dedicates 13th chapter to Saptha Rishis. The relevant verses provide following descriptions roughly translated as;
We have on Vriddha Garga’s authority that in the Northern Sky, the SapthaRishi’s revolve around Dhruva Nayaka like a necklace.
From east to west the saptha muni's Marichi, Vasishtha, Angirasa, Athri, Pulasthya, Pulaaha and Krathu sit. Chaste Arundhathi accompanies sageVasishtha.
These descriptions provide us with adequate information about the explicit astronomical identity of the nine stars, called as Dhruva, Arundhathi & Saptha Rishis’s.
The Seven Sages are ‘Marichi, vasishtha, angirasa, athri, pulasthya, pulaaha, and kruthu’. Varaaha Mihira notes that Saptha Rishi’s circles around Dhruva naayaka (Ref 1), which clearly stands for Ursa Major & Polaris. He provides us the proper names of seven dominant stars, and attributes the origin of these names to sage ‘Vruddha Garga’. In all probability ‘Vriddha garga’ is same as ‘<>Gargya Rishi’ of Athrvana veda 19 kaanda 6-7 sooktha whose time was approximately 2400 BC.(Ref 2). Figure 1 and 2 illustrate a sky view of Ursa Major(Ref 3) from a modern astronomical software. This constellation in Northern Hemisphere appears to rotate around the pole star Polaris. ‘Dhruva’ clearly is Polaris
Figure 1 shows the night sky with ursa Major/Saptha Rishis. The red line joining the seven dominant stars provides us with the shape of a ‘Big Dipper’. Star identities Mizar and Alcor fall on each other.
The saptha Rishi’s are the seven major stars of Ursa Major. Based on VaraahaMihira’s verses, we can easily identify starting from east, that ‘Marichi’ is Arab Alkaid, 'Vasishta' is Mizar, 'Angirasa' is Alioth, ‘Athri’ is Megrez, ‘Pulasthya’ is Phecda, ‘Pulaaha’ is ’Merak and ‘Krathu’ is DuBhe. The companion star for Mizar is Alcor. Hence ‘Arundhathi’ stands for Alcor. In the figure 1, Vasishta and Arudhathi (Mizar-Alcor) can not be seen separately.
Figure 2 Shows the zoomed in picture of the stars near Mizar.
The star Arundhathi is difficult to separate from Vasishta for people with poor eyesight. Arundhathi’s brightness is a fourth magnitude star and is within 0.2 degrees of Vasishtha, which is twice as bright.
85 h UMa
79 z UMa
77 e UMa
69 D UMa
64 g UMa
48 b UMa
50 a UMa
1 a UMi
The table provides the modern astronomical identity of the nine stars from Vedicperiod, not in the ecliptic track. The 27 daily stars are in ecliptic plane. Dhruva(Polaris) is not illustrated in any of the figures, as its identity is very well known in the sky.
Other cultures of the world also have historically used the keenness of eyesight to distinguish between the two starsVasishtha-Arundhathi (Mizar-Alcor) as an asset. In India, it is said anecdotally that people who are approaching death can not separateArundhathi from Vasishta and hence cannot see Arundhathi. Perhaps eyesight has more to do with this.
In conclusion this article hopefully will assist those who wish to identify Arundhathi and Saptha Rishi’s in the sky. In USA, which is in the Northern Hemisphere, Ursa Major is easily visible most of the year.
1) M.R.Bhat - Brihat-Samhita of Varaaha Mihira; (Original Sanskrit text & English commentary)
Motilal Banarasidass Publications, 1981.
2) S.Balakrishna - Names of Stars from Period of Vedas, 1998
3) Wayne Annala - Load-Star Pro Software, Zephyr Services, Pittsburgh, 1994