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India's proud scientific heritage

India's proud scientific heritage

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Organiser
Date: February 11, 2007
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=170&page=18

* Pride of India; A Glimpse into India's Scientific Heritage; Compiled by Bharatiya Bouddhik Sampada, Nagpur; pp 208; Rs 2,000.00. * Science and Technology in Vedas and Sastras; Dr R.V.S.S. Avadhanulu; Shri Veda Bharathi, Hyderabad; pp 334; Rs 350.00

When a suggestion was made some time ago that Vedic Mathematics should be introduced as a subject for study at the college level in India, there was a lot of derisive laughter among some of our pseudo-intellectuals, not to speak of 'secularists' whose knowledge of Sanskrit was questionable and a sense of inquiry non-existent. The idea had to be dropped in the face of determined opposition.

Now, overnight as it were, and almost simultaneously, we have two books on the subject, one entitled Pride of India and another entitled Science and Technology in Vedas and Sastras. Both are scholarly replies to our cynics and provide more than just glimpses into India's vast scientific heritage seldom before brought to light. Never before, may it be said, has Vedic Science been presented to the world in such intimate detail and precision whether in the realm of pure mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine or in civil and mechanical engineering and the life sciences. Our ancestors could not have built those marvellous temples if they had no knowledge of architecture and civil engineering, not to speak of geometry and allied subjects.

Pride of India is in hard cover and is the work of several experts. Beautifully illustrated, convincingly researched and splendidly presented, it is like Dr R.V.S.S. Avadhanulu's work, the ultimate reply to sceptics and a rich, if delayed tribute to the genius of India which has sustained and empowered the culture and civilisation of Bharat for centuries past. Both are works to be treasured and handed down to generation after generation. Dr Avadhanulu's work covers topics both conventional and non-conventional. It quotes with great flair the Vedas and their offshoots like the Sastras on conventional subjects like science and technology but goes beyond them to take note of what the Sastras have said about cognition, artificial intelligence, computer compilers and unified theories. The ancient seers were they to come back today would surely be stunned to know what present-day technologists have achieved unaware of what Indian thinkers had conceived in centuries past! As in Pride of India, so in Dr Avadhanulu's work, the original Sanskrit verses are quoted in full, their transliteration in English follow and their meaning and significance is explained. We are thus introduced to Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Baudhayana, Bhaskaracharya, Apastamba, names mostly unknown to today's generation of Indian students, let alone their elders who would be disturbed to know that the theorem generally attributed to Pythogaras was originally conceived by Baudhayana and should be known as the Sulba or Baudhayana Theorem.

For that matter what in the west is known as the W. Snell Theorem was first enunciated by Brahmagupta on cyclic quadrilaterals. Indeed Brahmagupta went even further to calculate the area of cyclic quadrilateral and triangle, not to speak of circumradius of cyclic quadrilateral. And it is interesting to know that even the value of 'Pi' had been studied by a succession of Indian mathematicians right from the time of Mahavira (850 AD).

It is no disrespect to Pythogoras to acknowledge that his discovery was preceded by Baudhayana or that long before Galileo, India had a succession of astronomers, eighteen of whose contributions including those of Garga, Narada, Parasara, Varahamihira, Aryabhatta and Bhaskaracharya have been duly acknowledged in the Sastras. While modern astronomy deals with planets and their movements, Jataka goes a step further and probes as to how their movements affect the living beings on earth.

As a lot of calculations are involved in predicting the positions of planets, mathematics understandably becomes prominent. It is usual to attribute the discovery of gravity to Isaac Newton and the apple that fell on his head. But a cursory perusal of our ancient literature brings out stunning information on this topic. Varahamihira, the great astrologer who lived in the 6th century AD, recorded in his Pancha Siddhanta that all objects in the universe attract each other. And he further said: "Gravity is the cause for falling of liquids and solids. It is invisible and is inferred by the falling motion. Gravity acts not only on the body, but equally on its finer constituents."

Both Pride of India and Avadhanulu's study are complementary to each other though, inevitably, on some points they naturally merge. Both have excellent chapters, for example, on medicine, anatomy, embryology and obstretics, surgery, pharmacology and elimination therapy. The Atharva Veda (youngest of the four Vedas) placed in time to around 5000 BC contains hymns on diseases and their treatment. Charaka (1st century BC) of the Atreya School codified the percepts and practices in internal medicine. Sushruta (6th century BC) of the Dhanvantari School codified surgical practices and Vagbhata (6th century AD) of the Kashyapa School dealt with gynaecology and paediatrics.

Recalling them and their contribution to medical knowledge is not, as many of our 'intellectuals' would argue, a matter of jingoism. It is merely gracing medical history as it is to its roots. And the authors in both the books now available quote from chapter and verse to see that their veracity remains unchallenged. What is significant about these two works is the amount of research work that has obviously gone into their writing. And, of course, the illustrations accompanying the text.

While the illustrations in Avadhanulu's work are in black and white, those in Pride of India are in colour which make them specially attractive. But what is exciting is the rang of subjects covered such as measurement of rainfall in Varahamihira's Pravarshana Adhyayaya, cosmic energy and radiation. Even the subject of spectrometer has been a matter of study.

Incredible, one would say but India is incredible and we have to thank the authors of these two books for reminding us of our rich scientific heritage. Truly they constitute the pride of India. Reading them is a revelation; more, they recall the glory of a great past and provide encouragement to the young to do better. We have it is us to be great. These books are a gentle reminder of that fact.

(Samskrit Bharati, Mata Mandir Marg, Jhandewalan, New Delhi-110 055.)

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