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The Pole Star

A Pole Star is a star, which is bright, is a star nearly aligned with the axis of a rotating astronomical body. The entire constellation of ursa minor, in antiquity known as cynosure (Dogs tail) was used as indicating the northern direction for the purposes of navigation by the Phoenicians. Ursa minor was described as meaning “always above the horizon’, ever shining’ by stobaeus in the 5th century. It was known as ‘Ship Star’ in 10the century anglo-saxon England, reflecting its use in navigation. In the Vishnu purana, it is personified as the name ‘Dhruba’ (Immovable, fixed). The name stalla polaris was coined in the Renaissance. In the medieval period, polaris was also known as stella maris (Star of the sea) from its use for navigation at sea. In thebook – Bartholomeus Anglieus (1272 AD) in the translation of John Trevisa, we find –“By the place of this star place and bounds of the other stars and and circles of heaven known therefore astronomers behold most this star. Then this star is described of the most short circle: for he is far from the place that we been in; he hides the hugeness of his quantity for unmovableness of his place and he doth certify men most certainly, that behold and take hide there of and therefore he is called stella marries, the star of the sea for he ledeth in the sea men that sail and have shipmans craft.” Polaris was associated with marian veneration from an early time, our lady, star of the sea being a title of the blessed virgin. Jerome gave stilla maris – “drop of the sea” as a Hebrew etymology of the name maria. Paschasius Radbertus in the 9th century, makes an explicit reference to the ‘star of the sea’ saying that mary is the star of the sea to be followed on the way to Christ “lest we capsize amid the storm-tossed waves of the sea.

According to Mandean cosmology the polestar is considered to be auspicious and is associated with the world of light (heaven) mandaeans face north when praying, and temples are also oriented towards the north. On the south is associated with the world of darkness. In Indian (Hindu Mythology) the pole Star is referred to as Dhruba, who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and was transformed into the immortal star by Vishnu.In a dark country sky, even when the full moon obscures a good deal of the starry heavens the north star (pole star) is relatively easy to see. That fact has made this star a boon to travellers throughout the northern hemisphere, both over land and sea. If you have found polaris, you know the direction north. As you travel north wards, pole star climbs higher in the sky. If you go to the north pole, you will see pole star directly over head. As you travel south, pole star drops closer to the northern horizon. If you go to the equator, polaris sinks to the horizon. South of the equator, pole star drops out of the sky.In ancient India, the newly wed couples were seen the Pole Star in the night sky, in their very first night.When my sister was a child, my father used to teach her every day, how to find the Pole Star in the night sky.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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