Saturday, July 9, 2016

Astronomy and Astrology of the Medieval Islamic World


Medieval Period – Scientists’ Contribution to Astronomy

Scientists during the medieval period had made great contribution to the field of astronomy. They had updated methods of measuring and calculating the movements of heavenly bodies while their work was centred on ancient sources from Greece, India and Iran, they continued to progress models of the universe as well as the movements of the planets in it. In the midst of the eighth and tenth centuries, Baghdad had been a main center of study under the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur and al-Ma’mum though the local rulers through the region, in Cairo, Rayy, Isfahan together with the other cities had supported scientific exploration.

Scientists during that time, translated studies in Sanskrit, Pahlavi and Greek into Arabic and Arab Bedouin was recorded for the first time. The Persian Pahlavi and the Indian Sanskrit sources imparted medieval astronomers methods to calculate the position of heavenly bodies as well as in creating tables recording the movements of the sun, moon and the five known popular planets. The Bedouin traditions contain information on fixed stars, the passage of the sun and moon via the zodiacal signs as well as lunar mansion together with the seasons and connected phenomenon.

Aristotle’s model of Universe – Widely Accepted

The form of information had been refined in section due to the specific needs of Islam, the religion need the skill to determine the time and direction of Mecca for prayer, accurately, the moment of sunrise and sunset for the purpose of fasting during Ramadan. It was also needed for fixing the appearance of the moon which marked the beginning of a new month, leading to the refinement of scientific instruments. This was an improvement in systems in making observations together with the creation of new calendrical methods.


Another section of study had been led by astronomers interested in a correct understanding of the movements of the planet in reply to the inquiries of Greek in this area. The most influential Greek texts were more concerned in developing a model of the universe and the movement of the heavenly bodies in it. However the literature planned two diverse approaches to this issue. Aristotle’s model of the universe, on the other hand with the earth at its centre and the sun, moon, planets and the fixed stars that rotate around it, in uniformly turning spheres had been widely accepted.

Astrology – Predicts Influence of Heavenly Bodies on Events on Earth

The work of Ptolemy instead pursued a purely theoretical, geometrical representation of the universe centred on accurate observation even though it differed with the ideal Aristotelian model of stars and planets.Astrology tends to seek in predicting the influence of the heavenly bodies on events on earth, depending on understanding the movement of the planet together with the skills to calculate their position in the near future.

This way, astrology had been considered as a branch of astronomy with serious scientist like Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi, al-Biruni and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi who wrote astrological treatises. The amount of medieval theologians, jurists and philosophers who had written anti-astrology tract tends to indicate that it was controversial and not accepted universally as a scientific or ethical practice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

History Mystery: The Hammam, the Ancient Bathing Culture of Middle East

Hammam – Public Bath – Vital Social Institution

Before the arrival of modern plumbing, in any Middle Eastern city, the public bath or hammam had been a vital social institution, though presently bathing is considered as a private activity. Hammam seemed to play a significant role in encouraging hygiene and public health, but they also served as a meeting place where individual could relax and mingle. The history of Hammam in the Mediterranean can be traced to Roman thermae where the baths were common, in a geographic range all throughout the Roman Empire, extending from Europe to North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

The Roman baths usually had a reception room or apodyterium that led to a hot room known as caldarium – a warm room or tepidarium as well as a cold room called a frigidarium. The visitors moved around through these rooms where the temperature seemed to change stimulating the flow of blood, boosting the body to sweat out the impurities. Eventually some of the baths comprised of areas where the bathers could exercise. As the tradition of the public baths became popular under the Romans, it gradually died out in the West and continued over several centuries in the eastern Mediterranean.

Public Baths – Important Part of Community Life

Byzantine baths in the region followed many of the same traditions of the earlier Roman baths inclusive of the trends in decoration like the intricate mosaic floors. The Umayyad caliphs had constructed mostly lavish private baths as a needed section of their imperial palaces or qusur. Qusayr `Amra’ in Jordon, an eighth-century complex is probably the best known of these, where the walls of the baths are covered with elegant paintings, comprising of scenes showing women bathing.

But Umayyad baths differ to some extent from their predecessors, where the cold room has been removed, reception rooms seems larger, the bath chambers smaller and the layout much more complex. Scholars suggest that the imperial Umayyad baths had been settings for courteous entertainment and period literature relates stories of drinking parties held at the qusur. All through the medieval period, public baths were an important part of community life and the quality and number of baths, were accounted among any city as the most attributes of the country.

Hammams Altered – Progress in Plumbing

The authors of medieval period have mentioned in their description that the hammams alongside mosques, madrasas and gardens are beautiful and prosperous cities. For instance, Hilal al-Sabi projected that at its height,Baghdad had 60,000 bathhouses while al-Sabi could have been overstated. Though the hammams all over the Middle East tend to look like each other, with regards to their basic outlines, the expression of the structure of the bath together with its decoration were locally specific.


 The hammams had also fascinated the western visitors. Though most of the studies of hammams concentrated on their architecture and decoration, the objects used in the bath were also taken into account. The hammams were usually single-sex with separate bathhouses or bathing times provided for men and woman. Present day hammams have been altered since progress in plumbing have reduced several of the services as out-dated. While people would regularly go to the public bath for cleansing, presently prefer the convenience of the home bathroom causing the widespread decline of the bathhouse.

Monday, July 4, 2016



Nuremberg Undeclared Capital of Holy Roman Empire

Nuremberg city is placed on the river Pegnitz and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in German state of Bavaria in the administrative region of Middle Franconia and is around 170 km north of Munich. It is said to be the second largest city in Bavaria after Munich and the largest in Franconia. It is the unofficial capital of Franconia and is an active place where the nightlife is strong and the beer is as dark as coffee. The town is also the Centre of the Metropolitan Region of Nuremberg.

It is alive with visitors all through the year particularly during the remarkable Christmas market. Nuremberg had been the undeclared capital of the Holy Roman Empire for eras and also the preferred residence of most of the German kings who had kept their crown jewels at this place. Being rich and full with architectural wonder, it is said to be a magnet for well-known artists and the most renowned of them all was Albrecht Durer who was born here. Nuremberg is well-known by its medieval architecture inclusive of the fortifications and stone towers of its Altstadf – Old Town. Towards the northern edge of Altstadt surrounded by red –roofed building is the Kaiserburg Castle.

19th Century – Powerhouse in Industrial Revolution of Germany

The central square – Hauptmarkt comprises of the Schoner Brunnen, the gilded beautiful fountain having tiers of figures and a 14th century Gothic church – Frauenkirche. Martin Luther had said that `Nuremberg shines throughout Germany like a sun among the moon and stars. Towards the 19th century, the city became a powerhouse in the industrial revolution of Germany. When the Nuremberg Chriskind tends to open the christkindlesmarkt every year, on a Friday, before the first Sunday in Advent, the atmosphere gets charged with excited anticipation together with reverent silence.

Though the opening has been the same for years, you will find thousands waiting impatiently on the Main Market Square to hear the familiar words which tend to opens `her’ market. The opening ceremony has been the same over the decades though the festive introduction had been rewritten many times in 1950s and 60s. Nuremberg in Advent is a destination to cherish with friends and family and experience the happiness which comes in with Christmas since Nuremberg is said to be Germany’s Christmas City.

Nurnberg Card – Free Admission to 49 Museums/Free Public Travels

There are endless reasons to love Nuremberg during Christmas time. For some it could be the pleasing smell of unusual spices in the popular Nuremberg gingerbread while for the others it could the Christmas Market where one will find shiny Christmas ornaments, hand-made gold-foil angels, prune men or wooden nativity figures together with nutcrackers are very appealing to the eye. Exclusive boutiques together with shops having rare gift ideas tend to draw you to shop where one can enjoy the Children’s Christmas Market and Sternenhaus theatre and music centre for children.

A visitor spending at least a night in Nuremberg, Erlangen, Fluerth or Schwabach can purchase the `Nurnberg Card which comprises of free admission to 49 museums together with attractions and free travel on all public transport services in Nuremberg and Fluerth. Moreover, a 10 to 15% discounts on purchases in several shops is also offered.Seven theatres varying from children’s theatre to cabaret to charade shows tend to offer attractive 10 to 20% discounts. One of the largest IMAX cinemas of Europe in the CineCitta Nuremberg provides the most current shows with lowered entrance price.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

New Evidence Suggests 9th Planet Lurking at Edge of Solar System

9th Planet

New Evidence of Giant Icy Planet – Solar System

Recently the astronomers at the California Institute of Technology had revealed that they have found new evidence of a giant icy planet prowling in the darkness of our solar system way beyond the orbit of Pluto, known as `Planet Nine’. Their paper which had published in the Astronomical Journal assess that the mass of the planet as five to 10 times that of the Earth. However, the authors, astronomers Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin had not noticed the planet directly.

On the contrary they had inferred its existence from the motion of lately learned about dwarfed planets as well as other small objects in the outer solar system. These small bodies seem to have orbits which look to be subjective to the gravity of hidden planet – a `massive perturber’. The astronomers propose that it could have been thrown into deep space long ago by gravitational force of Jupiter or Saturn.

Telescopic searches on at least two continents are on, for the object which on an average is 20 times beyond the eighth planet, Neptune. If the `Planet Nine seems to exist, it could be big around two to four times the diameter of the Earth and that would make it the fifth largest planet after Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
9th planet

New Horizons of NASA – Revealed World of Atmosphere/Weather….

However at such great expanses, it could reflect very little sunlight that it could have gone unnoticed by even the most powerful telescopes. On validation of its existence, the models of the solar system could be reconfigured. Pluto which was discovered in 1930 had spent three quarters of a century as the iconic ninth planet and then a decade ago, Pluto had received a debated demotion in large portion due to Brown.

As per his observation of the outer solar system, he had recognized several small worlds, some close to the size of Pluto and had urged the International Astronomical Union of reconsidering the definition of a planet. The IAU had elected to change the classification of Pluto to `dwarf planet’ a decision which was ridiculed constantly last summer when probe of New Horizons of NASA flew past Pluto, revealing a world with an atmosphere, weather together with a volatile as well as vigorously reworked surface.

Other Explanations for Observed Motion of Small Bodies in Solar System

Brown who tends to tweet under the handle @plutokiller and had written the book `How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming’, mentioned that now could be the time to rewrite the textbooks yet again’. Jim Green, director of planetary science of NASA, warned that there could be other explanations for the observed motion of the small bodies in the outer solar system.He referred the well-known statement from Car Sagan that `extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence’.

He further added `The Sagan Rule applies – If it is there, find it, I challenge you. Somebody out there ought to find it’. He mentioned that he was excited regarding the new research and commented that `what an era we are in, where we’re discovering new things about our solar system that we never thought possible even a handful of years ago’.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Shakuntala Railway - A Railway Ride into History

Picture Courtesy: Rogier Koops

Shakuntala Railway - Century Old Operational Train Line

India seemed to have a century old operational train line, till 2014 that had not been in possession of the Indian Government. Several of the people were of the opinion that the rail assets inclusive of trains and tracks were the possession of the Indian Railways. However there seems to be a railway network known as Shakuntala Railway which was retained by a private British company and till recently- 2014, it was said that each year the British company netted revenue of around 1 crore from this set apart rail network.

The said rail network built during the time of the British rule by a British company in 1903 is known as Killick, Nixon and Company – KNC, for transporting cotton from Vidharba – Maharashtra, to Bombay, to be shipped to Manchester. The British owned company received the royalty from the Indian Railways for running the passenger train – Shakuntala Express on its narrow gauge route which runs in the remote-cotton growing locations of Achalpur earlier known as Ellichpur, under the division of Amravati which is the birthplace of President Pratibha Patil.Set up in 1857, Killick, Nixon and Company had created the Central Provinces Railway Company to act as its agents.

Political Issue to be Kept Alive

Moreover, the company had also built narrow gauge line in 1903 in order to carry cotton from Yavatmal to the main line to Mumbai which was then shipped to Manchester in England. Built in 1921 in Manchester, a ZD-steam engine dragged the train for over 70 long years after it was put in service in 1923.On April 15, 1994, it had been withdrawn to be replaced by a diesel engine which tends to pull carriages presently.

Shakuntala Railway

In 1913, the ancestor of present day Indian Railway, The Great Indian Peninsula Railway had started utilising the tracks and trains of Shakuntala Railway to transport passengers and on using the assets of a private company, paid royalty to KNC. Unlike several of the rail lines which tend to be broad gauge line, Shankuntala railways tend to use a narrow gauge line, still. The main train in this network had been Shakuntala Express transporting passengers to Yavatmal to Murtijapur. It would cover around two dozen villages daily that had no connectivity of roads between them, which made the train life a benefit for hundreds of the villagers as well as a political issue to be kept alive.

Killick-Nixon – Agent for Own Group Company

In 1910, it was a period of private railroad companies when the British company floated the Central Province Railway Company, a joint venture with British Indian government in laying the railways tracks which could be utilised in transporting cotton from Vidarbha and eventually to Manchester in England. The tracks had the trains running by 1916 and shortly was utilised in transporting passengers also. The trains which were operated in Central Indian were run by Great Indian Peninsular Railway. This deal seems to continue even after the GIPR became Central Railway post-independence and in the entire process, Killick Nixon seemed to be the agent for its own group company.

Presently the track tends to fall under the Bhusawal division of Central Railway. But no one in the railways and Killick Nixon has the knowledge of why the track is not nationalized yet. An official has mentioned that ‘All the British companies were taken over like GIPR became Central Railway; East India Railway Company was made Eastern Railway and so on. But the erstwhile companies’ contract with private firms like CPRC seems to continue. We do not know what the decision makers thought at that time. Maybe nobody bothered since the affairs seems to be running smoothly then’.