ASET Colloquium

Five Degrees of Variation at Nalanda: a stellar hypothesis

by Prof. Rajani M.B. (NIAS, Bengaluru), Prof. Viraj Kumar (IISc, Bengaluru)

Friday, September 4, 2020 from to (Asia/Kolkata)
at Online ( )
Historical records suggest that Nalanda was a Buddhist monastery of considerable repute, which remained in existence from the 4th/5th century CE until at least the end of the 12th century CE. Phased excavations conducted by Archaeological Survey of India (between 1863 and 1983) have exposed sixteen large structures: six temples (chaitya) and ten monasteries. This talk will focus on the curious variation in the east-west orientations of these six temples, which vary in a narrow band about five degrees wide. The historical record does not suggest any explanation for this mysterious five-degree variation. By measuring temple orientations using satellite imagery, we identify an interesting pattern that could serve as an important clue: older constructions are generally aligned closer to the cardinal directions than newer constructions. Based on this pattern, we present a novel hypothesis: these temples were oriented to the rise of a particular star. If true, not only does this hypothesis explain the five-degree variation as a consequence of axial precession (a well-understood astronomical phenomenon), but it allows us to estimate an approximate date of construction for each temple based only on its orientation.

About the Speakers:

M.B. Rajani is an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. Her research interests are in Landscape Archaeology and geo-spatial analysis for cultural heritage. Her recent publication includes the upcoming book "Patterns in Past Settlements: Geospatial Analysis of Imprints of Cultural Heritage on Landscapes" (2021). She is an elected member of Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS) 2018-2022, a Young Affiliate 2019-2023 of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and recipient of P.R. Pisharoty Memorial award 2019 given by the Indian Society Of Remote Sensing (ISRS).

Viraj Kumar is a Visiting Professor at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc. He contributes to the Centre's educational outreach and policy initiatives, and his research interests lie in the use of technology to improve teaching-learning processes. He was a consultant to the Committee to draft the National Education Policy (2017-18), and is a member of the ACM India Council.
Organised by Dr. Satyanarayana Bheesette