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Aksha – Axis Of Rotation In Ancient Hinduism

The term aksha is used with reference to the earth in Hinduism. The daily rotation of the earth around its aksha causes days and nights. The inclination of Aksha to the ecliptic produces changes in the seasons and duration of the day. 

Vedic people were aware of the change of seasons and the shortening and lengthening of days in a year. Like any other ancient people, they believed that the Earth was stationary and all heavenly bodies revolved around it. They, however, investigated the sun’s revolution deeply and recognized its going northward (uttarayana) for half of the year and southward (dakshinayana) for the remaining half. They also possessed the knowledge of solstices and probably knew about the equinoxes and their precession. 

A perfect understanding of these phenomena was arrived at only later by Aryabhata I (b 476 CE). In Aryabhatiya, he states that the Sun, the nodes of the Moon and planets and the earth’s shadow move along the elliptic, which is inclined to the equator at an angle of 24 degrees. He proposed a novel theory that the earth rotates on its axis and the stars are fixed in space. This provides an elegant explanation for the apparent westward movement of the stationary asterisms. Unfortunately, he was opposed and bitterly criticized by the later astronomers.

Of the other astronomers who upheld the theory of Earth as rotating on its axis, the prominent names are Prithudaka (860 CE) and Makki Bhatta (1377 CE). Incidentally, Skanda Purana describes the earth revolving like a spinning top.