Tuesday, July 24, 2007

With a Little Luck - The Southern Cross

Currently I am working on constructing flyingstartoys.com and I was doing a little research yesterday on the Australian Flag and the Southern Cross as it relates to the story of Star Boomers (the Kangaroo toy set above). While doing so I discovered a whole array of very surprising facts and stories.

Firstly, it was a coincidence that piqued my interest while reading about the Australian flag on Wikipedia. I had just added the details of the inspiration for Star Boomer into its Story page, noting its connection to my Mt Ainslie poetry pilgrimage to read Dante. (See my post The Divine Comedy - Dante for more on this story.) I thought I'd link the Wikipedia page to the Australian Flag text so that anyone not familar with the flag might quickly understand my point. Reading through what Wikipedia had to say on it I nearly fell out of my chair when I read the following:

"Ivor Evans, one of the flag's designers, intended the Southern Cross to refer also to the four moral virtues ascribed to the four main stars by Dante: justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude."


I had never known about the association of Dante with the stars of the Australian flag before and thought it quite beautiful as well as a striking coincidence. Then another funny point struck me - the person I was with for the reading of Dante on Mt Ainslie in Canberra (Australia's capital city) was named Ivor.....hmmmmm, what would Jung say?

I thought I'd read a little more closely when it came to reading about the Southern Cross or Crux. Reading along I discovered that the Southern Cross was visible to the ancient Greeks (c 1000 BC) but by 400 AD it had slipped below the horizon, officially it had become a southern Crux visible mainly to the lands down under. Acrux, the bottom star in the cross is the 13th brightest star in the night sky and was called Trishanku in Hindu Astrology.

The story of Trishanku is recorded in the Valmiki Ramayama. In short, Trishanku was a King who wanted to ascend to heaven in his earthly body. He asked one Sage to perform the ritual but he refused. After much trouble he met another Sage called Viswamitra, the rival of the first Sage, and he agreed to perform the ritual. As Trishanku was ascending to heaven Indra, the ruler of Heaven, forbade it as unnatural and sent the king hurtling back to earth, but due to the Sage's promise, Viswamitra sent forth his powers and suspended the king's fall. This uneasy situation was a cause for some concern. The sage had to create a way of fulfilling his promise. Viswamitra's solution was to create a second heaven and a second Indra to rule the new heaven. This caused great upset in heaven and so a compromise was reached that only Trishanku would live in this heaven, though not rule it, and he would abide there upside down.

This is why you might say that the head (or brightest star) of Trishanku is upside down. The illustration above shows the Sage Viswamitra creating a second heaven with Trishanku upside down in the sky.

The word Trishanku is used in India to this day to refer to an uneasy situation, neither stable nor unstable. The Acrux star looks to wobble from earth and is therefore said to be neither stable like the Pole star or unstable like a wandering star (a planet).

The Southern Cross was also known by the name Swastika an ancient sanskrit word which meant well being or lucky....In Australia we are said to be the "Lucky Country" and after reading the story of Trishanku, it could also be said to be a little piece of heaven :)

And finally, if Dante is to be regarded, Australians might find direction on the path by the virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.....I hope so.

It certainly has been an interesting couple of days exploring mythology, toy making and the Australian flag.


shula said...


Jean-Luc Picard said...

The connection with Dante was remarkable, Florence. Thanks for highlighting it.

smokehaze said...

Thanks for putting down these interesting thoughts and connections to share with other Australians like me. Meaning is what we all need in life, and your discoveries add another layer of meaning to the Australian flag.