Shantaya's Compass

A disc made of bronze with gold and silver inlays; reminiscent of an astrolabe

Category:
tool
Description:

A disc made of bronze with gold and silver inlays. It is about fifteen centimeters in diameter and about one centimeter thick. The front of the disc appears to be the mater and plate of an astrolabe, lacking any rete or rule. There are sixty points around the edge of the disc, each with a different marking that appears to be in the Indus script. The back features a recessed circle with a short, flat alidade that rotates within the indentation; the alidade appears to be gold, but close examination reveals it to be made of orichalcum.

Near the edge on the back is a pair of bronze spiral hooks, about a quarter-circle apart, that were added in the sixth century BCE to allow the chain to hook to the compass and form a medallion.

The chain is about seventy centimeters long and wrought with alternating bronze and silver links. Every other silver link is decorated with a smooth, polished gemstone, no two alike, along the chain’s entire length.

Little is known of the origin of the compass, although it is known that it was passed among the kings and leaders of the sixteen Great Kingdoms of India since around 550 BCE. It was believed that the compass was a medallion given to the mythical King Dasharatha by his daughter Shanta on the day of her wedding to the hero Rishyasringa. The compass is therefore commonly known as Daśaratha ka padaka, or Dasharatha’s Medallion. The artifact passed into Persian hands at the height of that empire’s expansion and was taken to Persepolis, only to be taken by Alexander the Great and given as a gift to King Porus after Alexander beat him on the edge of India. The compass remained on the subcontinent until the British Victorian era, when it came into the possession of a British colonel who retired to Hong Kong.

Bio:

King Dasharatha

It is an old tale, even for my kind. I cannot speak to its veracity, except in that Shantaya’s Compass does exist, lending some credibility to the tale. Still, the details may be inaccurate, as the story was part of oral tradition for a very long time, written accounts having been out of favor hundreds of years prior to … I apologize, we have little time, and I digress.

In those days there was a king of Tharachosia, most of which is what we now call India. Daharan was his name, and I can only assume that the modern story of Dasharatha actually refers to him.

He was of the folk called elves in this enlightened modern age. He had many children, all destined to become heroes, including a brave daughter named Shantaya. It so happened that the kingdom fell under a great affliction. Stories conflict about whether this was a disease, or a curse, or a loathsome foe, but it threatened the country and all living beings within it. It happened that a hermit, one of the troll folk named Erekhiz’ha’a, was living deep in the wild Rishyashringa stuccoand dangerous forests of Tharachosia. It was known that Erekhiz’ha’a was a wise scholar and had studied many blights, including the one threatening the kingdom.

Daharan sent his eldest son into the treacherous forest to fetch the scholar back to him and save the kingdom. The son, Vemaharan, fought his way through the forest and asked Erekhiz’ha’a for his aid, first asking, then demanding, then begging. But Erekhiz’ha’a said only, “I am not interested in the lives of the folk of your kingdom. They are confused and foolish, and only seek knowledge when it is of their benefit. I will stay here with my studies and my thoughts.”

When Vemaharan returned in failure, the king sent his next eldest, a daughter named Kothaya. She fought her way through the forest and asked Erekhiz’ha’a for his aid, first asking, then offering herself to him, but Erekhiz’ha’a said only, “I am not interested in the lives of the folk of your kingdom. They are confused and foolish, and only seek knowledge when it is of their benefit. I will stay here with my studies and my thoughts.”

When Kothaya returned in failure, Shantaya, the youngest of Daharan’s children, barely a woman, said, “I will go to him, Honored Father, and I will bring him back, for I know his mind, and I will convince him to save our world.” The king sent his youngest daughter, for he knew that she was the wisest of his children.

Shantaya fought her way through the forest. When she met Erekhiz’ha’a, he said only, “I am not interested in the lives of the folk of your kingdom. They are confused and foolish, and only seek knowledge when it is of their benefit. I will stay here with my studies and my thoughts.”

220px rsyasrnga travels to ayodhya with santa“Why are the people so confused and foolish?” Shantaya asked.

This gave Erekhiz’ha’a pause. “They speak without thinking. They agree with the last person to speak. They are like children at best, and like cattle at worst. I wish to be separate from them.”

“All the people have needs,” said Shantaya, “some that are unknown to themselves. It is all they can do to reach beyond themselves to seek aid, even if they do not know what to request.”

“I will think upon your words,” said Erekhiz’ha’a.

“And I yours,” replied Shantaya, and she went apart from Erekhiz’ha’a. The next day she returned, and asked, “Why do the people only seek knowledge when it is of their benefit?”

This gave Erekhiz’ha’a pause. “They do not reach beyond that they can see. They are content with their lot and seek nothing beyond it.”

“All the people have ambitions,” replied Shantaya, “some that are unknown to themselves. A mother’s ambition for the health of her baby will impel her to seek shelter and food for her child above all else. A daughter’s ambition to serve her father will drive her into the most dangerous of forests. A man’s ambition for knowledge will separate him from his tribe and kinfolk.”

“I will think upon your words,” said Erekhiz’ha’a.

“And I yours,” said Shantaya, and she went apart from Erekhiz’ha’a. The next day she returned and asked, “Why will you not return with me to my father and grant us the benefit of your knowledge?”

This gave Erekhiz’ha’a pause. “I will not return with you because I do not have a place where I can be alone with my studies and my thoughts. I do not have one who knows me and can share her knowledge and understand mine.”

“All the people have a place,” said Shantaya, “and yours shall be a tower that will separate you in your thoughts but allow you to pass on your knowledge to the few students you choose among the people. You will take me as your wife, who knows you and shares her knowledge and understands your own.”

“I will think upon your words,” said Erekhiz’ha’a.

“And I yours,” said Shantaya, and she went apart from Erekhiz’ha’a. The next day she returned, and Erekhiz’ha’a said, “I will return with you as my wife, and I will live in my tower apart from the people and I will share my knowledge with the students I choose from among the people.”
Erekhiz’ha’a and Shantaya returned as husband and wife, and the kingdom was cured of its dark affliction. For her wisdom, King Daharan gave his daughter a palace with a tall tower. For his service to the kingdom, Daharan gave to Erekhiz’ha’a a medallion that could read the skies.

Thereafter, Shantaya was known for her wisdom, and many of the people, from shepherds to kings, would seek her out to judge disputes. Erekhiz’ha’a was known for his knowledge, and many scholars from across the four corners of the world came to the palace, hoping to become his student.

So there you go. I imagine that the “medallion that could read the skies,” which describes perfectly an astrolabe, is our compass. If I was to make a conjecture, I would imagine that Erekhiz’ha’a and Shantaya, or whoever the real people on which the tale is based, took a perfectly ordinary astrolabe and changed it somehow into the artifact it is today.

Shantaya's Compass

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