Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stargazing on the Rampart Wall

* Sequel to Sunset on the Rampart Wall

Galle, in Southern Sri Lanka, has a beautiful fort. Its Dutch fortifications and architecture captivates one’s mind. For an imaginative mind, it is a time machine which takes one straight into the 17th and 18th centuries. Time travelling is not just science fiction. It is possible in the Galle Fort, at least for now.

Our journey to Galle took us back in time, although we could see modern imperfections at times. Nevertheless, there was nothing imperfect about the ramparts. The rampart walls and main bastions stood high and proud. True, some of the lesser bastions show the age. But otherwise, it’s a timeless memorial of the past.

The ramparts facing the Western horizon are an excellent place to be at sunset. We experienced the changes in the atmosphere as darkness fell, sitting on the grass on the top of the ramparts. Soon, the dark night started its reign. Life moved on the ramparts as well as down below on the streets.

We decided to lie down, facing the sky. The view surprised us. The cloudless, starry night opened up a new perspective on our world view. It opened up the universe to us.

The realization that we rarely take some time to observe the beauty of the starry night hit upon us. We saw the unmistakable three stars which make the belt of Orion, the hunter. One can draw a straight line connecting the three stars. Extending the line further down, one meets Sirius, the crown jewel among the stars in the night.
Johannes Hevelius imagined Orion as a warrior with a club and a shield. From Prodromus Astronomia, volume III: Firmamentum Sobiescianum, sive Uranographia (1690)

Our ancestors had the time and discipline to decipher the mysteries of the night sky. For them, the night sky was a canvass, or a jigsaw puzzle. They created many figures by connecting the dots on the sky. They had legends about them. For these people, stars served a purpose. They forecasted the weather; acted as a compass. The people sailed the seas and explored the unknown lands with the help of the stars.

In the modern electronic world, we have created our stars, the satellites. We do not need Sirius or Canopus or Polaris or the Southern Cross. We do not need Orion. We have our satellites who feed our GPS and navigation systems.

The only service provided by the celestial bodies is to enslave the human mind through something called horoscopes. For many people, only these 12 constellations exist.

Man is the only creature with boundless capacity to imagine. However, the supreme irony of his imagination is that he has become a slave of his own creations. He created constellations out of some dots in the night sky. However, they have also enslaved him. Essentially, man is a slave of his own creations and limitations he has imagined.

We do not usually look up. We look up to someone else even less. Looking down at fellow human beings is much easier. Similarly, we never look up at what the universe reveals at night.

The temporary respite from the restlessness of our usual routine allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the boundless expanse of the universe. It was a practice, an art, and a science we have forgotten.

Looking back at the sky, we could see Orion, the hunter, brandishing his sword (or whatever weapon he held) at us. It was as if he was getting ready to punish us for fighting over petty worldly matters while there were much more important things to do.