Science in Ancient India – PUC First Year – Lesson 13 – विज्ञानपथः
Vignaanapathah = The Path of Science
The English translation given here is meant for easier understanding of the Sanskrit terms rather than to precisely convey the purport in English.
Right from the time of the Vedas, we can see the cultural development in our country Bharata. In parallel, Science had also developed. In multiple branches of science, our ancestors were great researchers and scholars. There were also many books that were written. Let’s look at the achievements in some of the branches like Astronomy, Mathematics, Biology and Environmental Science.
Astronomy and Mathematics
In the fields of astronomy and mathematics, we can see the heights of their thinking and understanding. In the Vedas itself, we can see the reference to the ten planets in the solar system. It is astonishing that there were aware of the Great Red Spot in Jupiter which we are able to see these days in the modern photographs taken using the telescope. Information like Mars’ disconnection from the earth, the two planets and the moon; and the revolution of the planets around the sun have all been mentioned in the Rig Veda. But the present day scientists consider them to be recent discoveries. The ancient sages knew very well that the planets were revolve like a spinning top. They knew that the planets were revolving in their own axis. They had declared that the Sun was the primary support for Earth. There are references to various measures of time like day, night, month, seasons, the six months’ duration, a year. They were aware that about the increasing and decreasing phases of the moon and that the sun was the cause of its light.
It is a matter of great pride that the numerals and the decimal system, which are widely used across the world, is India’s contribution. Another specialty is the expression of the numbers using different words. (In this way of representation called Bhootasankhyaa, the culturally familiar words were used to indicate numbers. For example, the word netram – eyes could represent the number two). Each Yagna or the fire sacrifice had a prescribed type of Yagnakunda or the sacrificial alters. For the construction of these sacrificial alters, the sages had to know about the various geometrical figures, their area, their transformation, etc. Geometry developed during the Vedic period itself. Indians were ahead in Algebra, in solving Equations, in solving Simultaneous Equations, and Simultaneous Equations with many variables. Usage of Geometry to solve Algebra and vice versa clearly demonstrates their heights of expertise in this field. This field grew due to the contributions of intellectuals like Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Sridhara and Bhaskaracharya. Among these people, Bhaskaracharya II is special. His specialty was that he used to solve problems while narrating the beauty of nature. This field kept growing until the time of the famous mathematician of our times, Srinivasa Ramanujam. Because of the contributions of these people, the growth in this field has been vast and deep.
Biology and Environmental Science
The achievement of the ancient sages in the field of Biology is also extraordinary. They categorized the plants and animals based on their qualities. They had written individual works on minding the horses and minding the elephants. Dhalvana was an expert in the study of Snakes. It has been mentioned that he had the knowledge regarding thirteen types of snakes.
The sages used to consider the protection of the environment as their fundamental duty. They considered everything to be god – the Sun, Trees, water, air, earth, etc. They considered polluting them to be a sin or a destructive activity. They were carrying out their activities with a good understanding of all aspects like the protection of plants, the protection of animals and their appropriate uses. That is why they say that a person who plants at least five trees will not go to hell. The sages gave a lot of importance for building ponds and lakes. Their consideration was towards its preservation also and not just construction. There was punishment and penalty for those who polluted these places. Even rules were established for these. The groundwater level was maintained by these measures.
There were many works composed during the ancient days, which prove that the Indians were skilled and wise in the numerous branches of Science. Some of them are Aaryabhateeyam written by Aaryabhat; Varaahamihira’s “Panchasiddhaantikaa” and “Bruhatsamhitaa”; Naagaarjuna’s “Kakshaaputatantram” related to Alchemy; the Ayurvedic books “Charaka Samhita” and “Shushruta Samhita” by Charaka and Shushruta respectively; Bhaskarachaarya’s “Siddhaantashiromanih”. All of us attach great value to the study of these scriptures.
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