Chinese Still Remember The Old Man Of The South Pole

Rupa Bhaty
4 min readJun 20, 2021

The eastern astro-ethnographic memories in Chinese fables from 12000 BCE

Ethnographic memory that NanJiXianWeng- Agastya-Canopus resides at south pole.

The Old Man of the South Pole, NanJiXianWeng 南极仙翁 in Chinese Mythology is a chinese version of remebering Agastya- Canopus as once being near the south pole. This Taoist god is a deification of Canopus, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina. For further southern voyages this star has been the most descrete star for thousands of years. We know by the History of Chinese Pottery ; Pottery at Xianrendong; that the humanity and social modern behaviour of humans existed way back from atleast 18,000 BCE in China. I should remind briefly here that the potter’s wheel — (कुलाल — चक्र n. a potter’s disk) or potter are absent in Rg veda. They appear in the later texts like Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. I am giving here a brief of a timeline when in antiquity Canopus could have been understood by the Chinese. Meanwhile, I am also inserting few information, off the track, like pottery etc., to give a vivid imagery of antiquity of Rg Veda as well. Agastya — Canopus thus is not a new god. He is remembered like deified as an old man and is the giver of Ayu — Longivity. We, thus, have an ethnographic memory that NanJiXianWeng — Canopus resides at the south pole. How old can this memory be? Near south pole conditions can only prevail when it was nearest to the southern Pole point. It is thus indicating 12000 BCE when Canopus was the nearest.

Canopus with Kamandalu

Sighting of Dhruvatārā with Saptaṛṣis

Circumpolar above 41ºN

How do we see a Dhruva tara or Soth pole star in the night sky ?

We have Gṛhya, Śrauta Sūtras and Samhitas where sighting of polestar, in connexion with the marriage ritual, in which the star is pointed out to the bride as an emblem of constancy, is always described with the Big Dipper , i.e., Saptaṛṣis. This means that in todays time if we are required to observe a polestar then with the help of these Saptaṛṣis we can easily locate it for the reference. Saptaṛṣis, thus, are used to locate the pole point as referant stars in the absence of polestar or helps in locating usable pole point either with pole point or near polestar or polestar itself. Saptaṛṣis are used in northern hemisphere. We have a memory of similar heavens created for the southern hemisphere by Viśvāmitra in Rāmāyaṇa but the information is in vain for which seven stars could have served as southern Saptaṛṣis to locate southern polestar. This knowledge has been lost.

North star and south star are basically used for navigation and human movements. Today we have compass to determine these direction, earlier we used stars in the night and to ascertain polepoints we required Dhruva — Polepoint or Polestars(northern and southern) and Saptaṛṣis ( northern and southern) — polestar locater star cluster.

No evidence of any Criteria for designating north or south polestar in Indic text

There are contemporary sciences and researchers who give designation to a star to be called as a polestar if its within 5 degrees from the pole point. But there is no such criteria in Indic texts which describes that which one should be called a polestar or which one should be called a near polestar. I have tried to understand this situation and had written a blog long ago where I have described why Arundhatī Darśana Nyāya was required. Our people were minutely and carefully watching the sky and were measuring even fraction of seconds instead of huge margins in degrees. Yesterday, when I asked the same question to Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, that how he had considered the polestar to be within the margin of 5º from the pole point, and whether this criteria is mentioned in any of the Indian Astronomy text, he has not yet answered to my questions. Lets wait for his answer. On the contrary, it is interesting to note that lexicon Amarakosha’s shloka on Dhruva-shloka offers a lot of insight.

Do I have to elaborate anything else that Agastya was once known as a Southern pole star in any culture.

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  1. कुलाल; Kulāla, the word denoting a ‘potter,’ occurs in the Śata-
    rudriya, or litany to Rudra in the Yajurveda.; Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā, xvi. 27. Cf. kulāla-kṛta, ‘made by a potter,’ Maitrāyaṇi Saṃhitā, i. 8. 3, and Kaulāla.]

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Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA