Rajeshwar Vetti, a Gond tribal, has no trouble spotting the Great Square of Pegasus in a night sky simulated at the Raman Science Centre’s planetarium.
Every year, the 62-year-old Vetti, a Gond tribal from Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh, waits to see the bright constellation between the last week of May and the first week of June, before harvesting his 12 acre farm. The constellation indicates a good monsoon.
For the past two days, scientists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Navy Nagar, have been interacting with Vetti and 22 other Gond tribals at the Nagpur planetarium to understand their traditional knowledge of identifying and interpreting astronomical entities.
They will document the astronomy of the Gond tribals for archival purposes.
According to official records, Gonds date back to at least 800 AD. At present, there are 50 lakh Gonds spread across eastern Maharahstra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. “Astronomy is useful to understand civilisation because it has utilitarian value. While aspects such as literature can get lost with generations, astronomy does not,” said Mayank Vahia, astrophysicist, TIFR. “While Hindu and western astronomy are largely in sync, Gond astronomy is completely different.”
For instance, Gonds divide the region of the Orion constellation into five different constellations by including some of the neighbouring stars. Also, the wide region around Scorpion constellation symbolises death rituals by a scorpion bite. A bright Pegasus constellation means sowing water-intensive crops such as cotton. If it’s a dull constellation, they sow-less water intensive crops such as soya and maize.
“These recordings will serve as evidence of our traditional knowledge for outsiders and for our future generations,” said Karmiji Kudmate Nimni, 55, from Yavatmal.
For most of the Gonds, it was their first time in Nagpur and also inside a planetarium.
“The sky inside had more clarity than the night sky we watch everyday. In fact, it felt like I was on the moon,” said Vetti.