From predicting UAE's winter and rains to best time to travel: How ancient Drour calendar has all the answers

Suhail star that will rise on August 24 marks the first day on the calendar and signals the beginning of cooler temperatures



by

Sahim Salim

Published: Tue 23 Aug 2022, 7:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 24 Aug 2022, 3:28 PM

When will the scorching summer temperatures in the UAE start cooling down? When will winter begin? When is a good time to go fishing? Is it safe to travel this month? To get answers to these questions and more, all we need to do is look up to the night sky, much like our ancestors did centuries ago.

Suhail star (or the Canopus) is expected to rise on August 24 this year and signal the end of the summer in the UAE. However, this well-known fact is just one of the several aspects of life it signifies. For instance, the star also marks the beginning of an ancient Arab calendar called Drour, according to Hasan Al Hariri, CEO, Dubai Astronomy Group.

Hasan Al Hariri
Hasan Al Hariri

According to Hariri’s research, similar calendars date back at least 4,000 years in some form or the other. In the region, it may date back up to 800 years. “It tells us when to expect the rains and heat, and the best time to travel or settle down. This is not magic or something unfathomable. It’s just understanding nature and decoding it.”

The Drour calendar divides a year into segments of 10 days each. It starts from when the Suhail star is spotted.

The calendar details what to expect in each of the 10-day cycles. The segments are grouped into three seasons of 100 days each — autumn, winter and spring. The remaining number of days — till the Suhail star is spotted again — marks the summer.

This system was “truly genius” as, basically, the whole calendar was in the sky for everyone to see. “People essentially did their jobs based on the calendar. Sailors and fishermen used it to decide when to venture out to the sea; traders for transporting goods; and healthcare workers to get the best medicinal herbs,” explained Al Hariri.

The calendar, which was charted on observations made by “our ancestors”, still exists. For instance, it is still published by the Emirates Heritage Club in Abu Dhabi, said Al Hariri.

Similar calendars were used by people in India, Egypt and other places to determine daily or seasonal activities.

If seen in today’s context, “you will definitely find variations”, but the idea is to understand what the calendars signal.

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Looking up to the stars for guidance

The CEO of the Dubai Astronomy Group said seasons can be connected to the appearance of stars. “For example, the star called Heart of the Scorpion appears only in the summer. Similarly, Sirius is visible only in the winter.”

People used the stars to determine the best and safest time to do things. “In summer, the seas are generally calm, and it is the perfect time to go fishing or pearl diving. However, the opposite applies in the winter as the seas would be rough. So, the stars helped ancient Arabs plan their activities.”

What the Suhail star signifies

One star that signalled season changes most accurately was Suhail. “In our region, it appears between August 20 and 24 every year.”

The star signals that the UAE is transitioning from summer to autumn. “Gradually, the temperatures will come down.

“I asked an elder once how he would determine the appearance of the Suhail star. He said he would dip his hand in the desert sand. If the lower layer was cool, it meant Suhail had risen.”

The star was and is celebrated because nights tend to appear cooler after it is spotted.

For Arabs of the past, it signalled the start of the monsoon season, and therefore people were advised against going to the valleys as they would flood.

Dates would be available in abundance during the season. It also marked the end of the pearl diving season.

How Suhail got its name

According to Al Hariri, about 70 per cent of the stars have Arabic names. Suhail was among the stars named by the Arabs.

It also appears in folklores. “In ancient times, stars found a place in stories so people would remember their location. One of the stories narrates how the Suhail star and his two sisters went to the south of the sky, where they remain to this day,” Al Hariri added.

How to spot the Suhail

It’s not the most difficult of stars to spot as Suhail is the second brightest in the sky after Sirius. It approximately 313 light years away from Earth and can be seen until late winter in the Arabian Peninsula.

All you need to do is look towards the east before sunrise. The sky will still be dark and the brightest star you see would be Suhail.


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