The Stargazing Ball


A very short post, and a beautiful thing to make your day golden.

I have spent many a day standing silently adoring this. Its definition is not in the dictionary, though its Sanskrit name is ancient.

It stands in the Museum of Science in Oxford. The museum is full of things I covet, and had I a prince’s ransom I sould send my soldiers to the four corners of the earth to acquire such a thing for myself.

It is a bhugola.

And engraved on it is man’s understanding of the globe,  set in India at around 1531, or as it is inscribed: ‘In the Saka year 1493 in the region of the earth-lord Viraji by Ksema Karna the learned was the earth-ball created.’

It is an extraordinary compromise. For this is an effort to combine to visions of the earth and the stars: the traditional Hindu flat earth – a crust which divides two parts of an egg-shaped universe – and the spherical earth. The Sanscrit writers, says the museum, had come across Ptolemy, and here is the result: a Purana-Ptolemy fusion.

Such a rich object, though: engraved with bands of sea and land, it includes a sea of milk and curds, and there are pictures of Gods in the mountains while humans inhabit the lowlands, dancing, playing instruments, and talking beside bathing elephants and capering turtles.

Its use seems prosaic to a society where food is not particularly ritualistic. It held food.

And its grace, and its illustrations, and its very shininess, gets me going back for more whenever I can get to Oxford.

Until tomorrow, enjoy.


20 thoughts on “The Stargazing Ball

    1. I must potter back, Col, and take some close shots. This is how I remember museums – take photos and reflect later. My children are high speed information processors so museum trips tend to be quite enthusiasm-focused. Thus, I photograph, I gaze for as long as I can, I go home, I reflect and plan to come back….

    1. Isn’t it? Just for you, I can reveal that these ‘earth-balls’ would probably have held the ingredients of ‘pan’ – the mixture of betel, lime and areca nut.
      I only know lime. Do you recognise the others?

      1. Oh! I know betel. It is what the women who live in the Golden triangle in Thailand and Burma chew. It makes their mouths bright red.

    1. I’m so glad, Penny. If you are ever in England this museum is a must, full of incredible objects which show how man created instruments to try and make sense of his universe. Awe-inspiring stuff.

  1. I just get excited at the phrase, “whenever I can get to Oxford…” That would be enough for me. 🙂 This is really beautiful. An extraordinary piece that would be worth studying. And dreaming about.

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