Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nujum al-’Ulum (Stars of Sciences)

Each of the then known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, together with the Sun and the Moon, which were also regarded as planets) were believed to rotate round the earth, each within their separate spheres.

Beyond this was the sphere of fixed stars and then the outermost sphere. This outer sphere is mentioned several times in the manuscript as the darkest heaven or crystalline sphere. From the sphere of fixed stars we see, to the right, the constellation of Ursa Major.

The stars are shown as golden dots.


Nujum al-'Ulum
(Stars of Sciences):

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Each of the seven planets is accorded attributes - including zodiacal signs and lunar mansions - representing the rotation of the sun and the moon round the earth. (Called nakshatra in India, the lunar mansions are 28 divisions of the sky, presumably selected as approximate ’Moon stations’ on successive nights.)

The Sun (regarded as a planet), portrayed as a human figure with four hands sitting cross-legged on a throne. His face is surrounded by two nimbi, penetrated by two layers of rays. The two lower hands, with their palms turned outwards, rest upon the heads of two lions sitting on either side of the throne. (The Sun is often painted with one or two lions, Leo being the zodiacal sign associated with the Sun.) The two upper hands of the Sun are raised. The right holds a shell and the left a mace, both symbols of authority.


One of the many treasures from the Wellcome Library’s celebrated Asian Collections is a rare example of an astrological work entitled Nujum al-'Ulum 'Stars of Sciences'. The Wellcome manuscript is a fragment copied from an earlier work (dated AD 1575), which was probably commissioned by ‘Ali’ Adil Shah II of Bijapur in India.

Among the illustrations in this text are representations of planets, some of which are shown as personifications. The planet Mercury, for example, is represented as a scribe. Particularly striking are the tiny miniatures, encapsulated in medallions, representing the thirty degrees of each of the zodiacal signs.

Illustrated texts – such as the ‘Stars of Sciences’ – were produced as manuals that set out the cosmological order of the heavens and explained their astrological significance.

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