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Roots of Indian Science: Science in the Vedas – Part B

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Roots of Indian Science: Science in the Vedas – Part A

Abstract:

The foundation of science in ancient India was laid by writings in Vedas which provided an impetus for the development of modern science in the twentieth century. The recent interest in Vedas and other Vedic texts got revived by the study of Vedic texts by eminent western scholars/ scientists. The scientific ideas expounded in Vedic literature have led to some of the epoch-making contributions that have revolutionized science, particularly physics. Many of the western scientists eventually became ardent followers of Vedas.

Interest in Vedas and Vedic literature evoked keen interest of many western and Arabic scholars to study Sanskrit language. Many universities/ institutions in India as well as abroad have started teaching of Sanskrit as part of their curriculum. It appears that many of the Indo-Aryan languages may have originated from Sanskrit or had a common origin with Sanskrit.

Introduction

The Vedic sages and seers obtained scientific knowledge intuitively without going through the process of formal reasoning or performing experiments. Many of the eminent scientists have similarly gone through this process, for example Planck’s postulate of light quanta, Einstein’s equation on mass-energy equivalence, and Niels Bohr’s model of atomic structure (which is similar to the motion of planets around the Sun), were largely based on intuitive reasoning but in course of time got validated by rigorous mathematical treatment/ experimental evidence. Similarly, Vedic hymns describing scientific truths were composed intuitively by seers which have now been verified experimentally.

The precise scientific hypotheses put forward by them indicate that the people who proposed these must have been quite knowledgeable and learned.

Understanding the roots of science through the Vedic literature is of utmost importance as it provides a backdrop to understand how science evolved over time, particularly emphasizing the contributions of India to the world science.

Birth of Science:

Science was an integral part of man’s endeavour in ancient India to understand and unearth mysteries of nature.

Archaeological and anthropological pieces of evidence show that Vedic texts encompassed subjects such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, logic, cognition etc.

Vedic science is perhaps the earliest science inherited by India as part of her cultural heritage. This has significant implications to our understanding of the history of science and evolution of early civilizations on our planet.

Through the visits of Arab travellers to India during the 12th century, the Indian science spread to other countries [1].

Reconstruction of the History of Indian Science:

The Indian civilization, being among the world’s oldest, has a rich tradition of science and technology. Indian contributions to astronomy, mathematics, medicine and arts are, however, not so well known to the western world.

Most of the early scientific works are written in Sanskrit language, which is not easily understood by common man but in recent times has caught worldwide attention and subject of intensive study.

Reconstruction of the history of Indian science is based not only on the Vedas but also on their appendices called the Vedangas. The six Vedangas deal with:

kalpa, meaning the performance of rituals employing altars that were made for performing sacrificial rituals using the knowledge of geometry, mathematics and calendrics;

shiksha, meaning phonetics;

chandas, meaning Vedic meter;

nirukta, meaning etymology;

vyakarana, meaning grammar; and

jyotisha, meaning the Hindu system of astrology, astronomy and other cyclic phenomena.

In addition, there are naturalistic descriptions in the various Vedic texts that clearly describe scientific ideas of those times. The universe was considered to comprise five parts which constituted the source of scientific thought prevailing in Vedic times. One often finds references to Vedas and Vedic literature in various branches of science and technology.

In this paper, we present a brief overview of India’s contribution to world science, as discerned from descriptions in Vedas and other Vedic texts.

Panini and Sanskrit Language:

The foundation of Indian science and other scriptures is based on the Sanskrit (the word means refined or perfect) language. Over the years the Sanskrit language has changed significantly which is evident from a perusal of various texts on Vedas. However, the present Sanskrit language is based on the epoch-making book ‘Ashtadhyayi’ (meaning “book of eight chapters”) written by Panini, one of the greatest grammarians of the world.

In this book Panini formulated the rules of Sanskrit grammar, and thereafter no further changes in Sanskrit were made except for some minor ones made subsequently by two other great grammarians, namely Katyayana who wrote the book Varttika (which was an elaboration on Panini’s grammar) and Patanjali who wrote a commentary on Ashtadhyayi, called Mahabhasya.

Thus Sanskrit, as it exists today, is more or less Panini’s Sanskrit or the classical Sanskrit [2].

Panini made Sanskrit a highly developed and powerful vehicle of expression in which scientific ideas could be expressed with great precision and clarity. Sanskrit became the link language throughout India so that scholars from North, South, East and West could communicate with each other easily.

Panini in his first fourteen sutras arranged alphabets in the Sanskrit language in a scientific manner, after closely observing the sounds produced by human speech.

Various Schools of Indian Philosophy:

There are six schools of classical (orthodox) Indian philosophy (Shatha Darshana) and three non- classical (unorthodox) schools. The six classical schools are: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and Uttara Mimansa (also known as Vedanta). The non-classical (unorthodox) schools are Buddhism, Jainism and Charvak [2]. These six schools of Indian philosophy are:

  • Nyaya– presents the scientific approach. It stipulates that nothing should be accepted unless it is in accordance with reason and logic. It was subsequently distorted by the later Nyayiks.
  • Vaisheshika– presents the atomic theory of matter. It states that matter consists of very small particles. This fundamental particle is called ‘Parmanu
  • Samkhya– presents the materialistic ontology of the Nyaya and Vaisheshika However, very little of the original literature on Samkhya has survived, and there is some controversy about its basic philosophy; one school of thought regards the universe as consisting of two realities: Purusa (consciousness), and Prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). Jiva is a state in which Purusa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha (meaning liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth). Samkhya does not describe what happens after attaining moksha or anything about Iswara (God), because after liberation there is no essential distinction between individual and universal purusa.
  • Yog– offers a method of physical and mental discipline and well being.
  • Purrva Mimansa (or simply Mimansa) – lays emphasis on performing yagnas for realizing various spiritual and worldly benefits. Hence it relies on the Brahmana part of the Vedas.
  • Uttar Mimansa (or Vedanta) – lays emphasis on brahmagnyana, hence relies on the Upanishad part of the Vedas.

It is said that the classical and non-classical schools of philosophy differ in that the former accepts the supremacy of the Vedas while the latter does not. However, this does not seem to be true as a closer examination shows that the first four classical schools do not really accept the supremacy of the Vedas. It is the last two, namely the Purva Mimansa and the Uttar Mimansa, which rely on the Vedas.

The Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools represent the scientific approach. Nyaya philosophy states that nothing should be accepted unless it is in accordance with reason and experience which is the scientific approach, viz. Vaisheshika. It is the atomic (parmanu) theory which was India’s contribution to physics. Originally, Nyaya and Vaisheshika were regarded as a single school of philosophy but eventually, the Vaisheshika School was separated from Nyaya and regarded as a separate system of philosophy.

How did Vedic Seers obtain scientific knowledge?

Swami Harshananda, of Ramakrishna mutt, Bengaluru in his foreword to the book “Swami Vivekanada an Intuitive Scientist” (written by Dr D G K Murthy of ISRO), says ‘great discoveries can come out of great intuitions only’ [3]. It is an enigma as to how Vedic sages and seers obtained knowledge of science without conducting any experiment. There are several verses in Vedas which mention scientific facts that have now been firmly established by rigorous experimentation. For example, a hymn in the Rig Veda states: [4]

Taranirvisvadarsato jyotiskrdasi
Surya visvama bhasi rocanam (R.Sam.-1. 50.4)

The hymn means “The Sun quickly pervades the whole world”. Sayanacharya writes a comment on this hymn as

Tatha ca smaryate-yogananam
Sahasre dve dve sate
Dve ca yojane ekena nimisardena
Karmamana namostu te

“With deep respect, I bow to the Sun, whose light travels 2202 yojanas in half a nimesha
(Mahabharat Shanti Parva, c.3000BC)

(The unit yojana represents a distance of a few miles-with 5 and 8 being two commonly used values by astronomers. Nimesha is the unit of time; 1 Nimesha being 0.4 seconds.)

This verse describes the sunlight and its velocity, which is quite close to the presently accepted value of velocity of light. This kind of knowledge gained by the human mind directly without intervention of the sense organs is indeed intuitive. To put it in the language of Vedanta, it is aparoksha jnana or ateendriya jnana.

Further, this jnana or knowledge can only be attained after gaining anubhava (experience). According to Vedanta, it is the direct experience of the atman, the knowledge gained from pure consciousness, from which arise all kinds of knowledge [3].

When a person attains this state, his/her mind automatically achieves super consciousness. With such a state of mind, one can acquire the desired knowledge in any field. It is like a person equipped with a powerful searchlight by which one can see the objects that exist in the path of its beam.

Many of the eminent scientists used their power of intuition in propounding epoch making ideas that led to realization of some of the fundamental scientific truths.

Some Ancient Indian Scientists/Philosophers:

A list of prominent scientists/philosophers who contributed to Indian science till the scientific revolution took place in Europe in the 17th century is listed in Table-1. Most of them wrote books (treatises) on varied subjects, such as mathematics, astronomy and astrology. They observed the various planets in the solar system and stars/galaxies in the night sky by the unaided eye. For most of them, the exact place of their birth and period of their lifetime is not known. They are some of the earliest Indian scientists who have left behind their writings, based on which Table-1 has been compiled [4, 5, 6].

Table-1: Scientific contributions of some eminent philosophers/scientists of ancient India

[Due to certain technical issues, we are sharing the aforementioned list in the form of a pdf file here:]
https://www.dropbox.com/s/675oiad9ldn2vvx/Scientists_Ancient_India.pdf?dl=0

Major Centres of Sanskrit Research in India:

The National Mission for Manuscripts has 57 resource centres which are operational since 2003 under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Govt. of India, with the aim of collecting and preserving the ancient Sanskrit manuscripts. These include well established Indology institutes, museums, libraries, universities and non-government organizations whose mandate is to coordinate with the survey and documentation of Sanskrit texts in their respective regions.

Sampurnanand Sanskrit University is an Asian institution of higher learning located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India, specialized in the study of Sanskrit and related fields. The University in Varanasi was started in 1791 by Jonathan Duncan, a British national, who also established a centre for advanced studies in Sanskrit. The Department of Sanskrit and Prakrit Languages, Pune University (1949); Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati (1961); Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote , Karnataka, (1977); The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute , Pune (1917), and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady (1993), are some of the major institutions where teaching and research in Sanskrit language is being carried out in India. Other than these institutions, 77 universities in India have dedicated Sanskrit learning and research centres.

Other than these major Sanskrit institutions, some of the ancient temples in India and associated matts have centres for the primary level study of Sanskrit. Training in the chanting of Vedic hymns – a ritualistic performance, Jyotish and construction of altars for religious ceremonies are the primary activities of these centres. Sanskrit is being taught as the third language in regular degree courses and high schools throughout south India.

Study of Sanskrit in Europe:

Foreign travellers, who visited India, came to know of Sanskrit language and chanting of mantras in Hindu temples. The soothing sounds of chanting led to their interest in Indian languages, especially Sanskrit, and they started studying it systematically [7, 8, 9, 10].

Vasco de Gama (1460-1524), a Portuguese, was the first to land in Goa in 1498AD. Manoel d’Oliviera, an Indian Christian, was the first person to translate a part of Jnaneshwari (which is a commentary on Bhagavad Gita by Sant Jnaneshwar (Dnyaneshwar, a 13th-century poet-philosopher from Maharastra) to the Portuguese language. The British Jesuit Thomas Stephens (1549-1619) landed in Goa in 1579AD. He was one of earliest Britishers who mastered Konkani and Sanskrit languages. He wrote a book on Konkani grammar.

In 1718, Abbe Bignon, a Frenchman who was the librarian to the king in Paris appealed to missionaries to look for Indian manuscripts for their library collection. In response to this, some Jesuit missionaries from India sent several Sanskrit manuscripts to Paris. Jean Francois Pons (1688-1752) who visited India in 1735 AD collected more than 200 different Sanskrit works (Vedas, Puranas, and Shastras) from Calcutta and Sreerampore presses. Back home in France, he published three important books: A Sanskrit grammar based on Vopadeva’s Mugdhabodha, which was widely referred to at that time in Bengal ; a small Sanskrit dictionary on the basis of Amarakosh giving meaning of words in Latin; and a list of books on Sanskrit literature that were in his possession. Thus Jean Francois Pons laid the foundation for the study of Sanskrit in Europe.

Study of Indology in Europe:

Franz Bopp with the copy of Mahabharata translated by him

From the beginning of the 18th century, Sanskrit manuscripts were being acquired in France and placed at the disposal of scholars in the Bibliotheque du Roi, which is now the National Library of France located in Paris. In 1814, the first Sanskrit chair was established at College

De Paris by Antonie Issac de Sacy (1758-1838). This was the first such chair for Indology (the study of Indian culture and language). Antonie Issac de Sacy’s student Leonard de Chezy was the first person appointed to this chair. The well-known scholar Max Muller was a student of Chezy. In 1821 a similar chair was established at the University of Berlin and Franz Bopp was the first person to be appointed to the chair. Bopp set out to become the doyen of Indology study in Germany [11,12,13].

In England, the first Sanskrit class was held at the training college of East India Company at Hertford and the first Sanskrit chair at Oxford was named after a retired soldier of East India Company, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Boden (1832) who donated funds for establishing the chair. Other countries in Europe also started the study of Indology thereafter.

At present there are 36 universities and research centers in Europe where study of Indology is being done; the largest number (19) of them being in Germany. Berlin is the second largest center in the world after India for teaching of Sanskrit. Europeans got interested in Vedas after they visited India. Visit of Portuguese, French, Dutch and British to India provided the relevant contacts and sources of Vedic literature.

Sir William Jones:

Sir William Jones (1746-1794)

After the battle of Plassey (1757AD), the British East India Company gained control of West Bengal, parts of Bihar and Orissa and their attitude towards Indian culture changed thereafter. Sir William Jones (1783), a British lawyer, was appointed as a Supreme Court judge of Bengal. He came to know of Sanskrit, a language rich in tradition and rituals.

He, therefore, wanted to study Sanskrit for which he employed a Brahmin teacher, Ram Lochan Kavi Bhushan, to teach him the language. After learning Sanskrit he translated Kalidasa’s Abhigyan Shakuntalam into English.

Tomb of Sir Williams in Kolkata, India

This news spread throughout Europe and his book became very popular. Gothe, a German writer, politician, and scholar came to know of Sir Williams’s English translation of Abhigyan Shakuntalam and impressed by it he translated it into German [14,15].

Sir William Jones, who was also familiar with Greek and Latin, remarked that Sanskrit is more perfect than Greek, more profound than Latin and more refined than either of the two. He said – “Sanskrit is a wonderful language”.

Sir William Jones started the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 with the help of his colleagues Charles Wilkins (1749-1836), Alexander Hamilton (1762-1824) and Henry Thomas Colebrook (1765-1837). These scholars translated many Sanskrit texts into English that were subsequently translated into other European languages which created tremendous interest of Europeans in Sanskrit language and also in Hinduism. Many European universities started chairs for study of Sanskrit and Hinduism.

The initial period of study of Sanskrit in Europe was almost entirely devoted to philosophy.

However, after 1950 scholars started exploring Vedic literature on Ayurveda and science.

Jean Fillozat of France opened a new field of research in science.

What do Scientists Say about Vedas?

Many of the eminent European inventors and Nobel Laureates and knew of Vedas and Vedanta texts and have cited parts from these relevant to their work [10,16]. Some of these are given below.

Erwin Schrödinger:

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), an Austrian-Irish physicist, describing a universe in which particles are represented by wave functions, said: “The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. This is entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of “All in One”.

Erwin Schrödinger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933 for his famous wave equation, became a follower of Vedanta as a result of his quest for the search for the truth. Schrodinger kept a copy of the Hindu scriptures at his bedside. He read books on vedas, yoga, and Samkhya philosophy and had an abiding faith in them. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita were among his favourite scriptures.

Julius Robert Oppenheimer:

Robert Oppenheimer, regarded as the father of the atom bomb, acquired an in-depth knowledge of the Bhagavadgita. In 1933, as a young professor of physics; he studied Sanskrit at Berkeley under the guidance of Professor Arthur W Ryder (1877-1938). He said:

“Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries.”

After the nuclear bomb explosion by America over Japan in 1945, he said that he had read the description of nuclear weapons in Bhagavadgita. He quoted a shloka from Bhagavadgita which says “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds”

Oppenheimer said “In general notions about human understanding… which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of or new. In Hindu thought, they have a more considerable and ‘central’ place. What we shall find in modern physics is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old Hindu wisdom.”

“To the philosophers of India, the scientific theory of Relativity is no new discovery. Yet it is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance that when Western civilization discovers Relativity it applies it to the manufacture of atom-bombs, whereas Eastern civilization applies it to the development of new states of consciousness.”

Albert Einstein:

“We should be thankful to Indians who taught us how to count without which any worthwhile scientific discovery would not have been possible” was said by Einstein who was referring to the Indian contributions of zero and the decimal number system.

He further stated:

“When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.”

Werner Heisenberg:

Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist was one of the leading scientists of the 20th century. In 1929, Heisenberg spent some time in India as Rabindranath Tagore’s guest where he got acquainted with Indian philosophy which made him aware of its relevance to modern physics. He is best known for his “Uncertainty Principle” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for the year 1932.

He stated:

“Quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta”.

[Vedanta is the conclusion of the Vedic thought.]

Niels Bohr:

The famous Danish physicist and Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr (1885-1962) was a follower of the Vedas. He said, “I go into the Upanishads to ask questions.” Both Bohr and Schrödinger, the founders of quantum physics, were avid readers of the Vedic texts and observed that their experiments in quantum physics were consistent with what they had read in the Vedas. Niels Bohr got the ball rolling around 1900 by explaining why atoms emit and absorb electromagnetic radiation only at certain frequencies.

John Archibald Wheeler:

John Archibald Wheeler, an American physicist, was involved in the theoretical conceptualization of the atomic bomb. He also developed a novel approach to the unified field theory.

He said:

“I like to think that someone will trace how the deepest thinking of India made its way to Greece and from there to the philosophy of our times.”

Nicola Tesla:

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer and scientist, was one of the most innovative inventors of all time. He was involved in developing several technologies/gadgets currently being used, such as alternating current (AC), television, radio, robotics etc.

As early as in 1891, Tesla described the universe as a kinetic system filled with energy which could be harnessed anywhere. His concepts during the following years were greatly influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda who was among the first of a succession of eastern yogis who brought Vedic philosophy to the west.

After meeting Swami Vivekananda and a thorough study of the Eastern view of the mechanisms driving the material world, Tesla began using the Sanskrit words Akasha, Prana, and the concept of aluminiferous ether to describe the source, existence and creation of matter.

Charles H. Townes:

Charles Townes was a member of the technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories from 1933 to 1947. Townes worked extensively during World War II, designing radar systems and has to his credit a number of patents related to technology. He invented the MASER.

He said “Indian students should value their religious culture and, of course, the classical Indian culture bears importantly on the meaning of life and values. I would not separate the two. To separate science and Indian culture would be harmful. …I don’t think it is practical to keep scientific and spiritual culture separate.”

Alfred North Whitehead:

Alfred Whitehead was a British mathematician and philosopher best known for his work on mathematical logic and who, in collaboration with Bertrand Russell, authored the landmark three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913). He was fascinated by Vedanta and said “Vedanta is the most impressive metaphysics the human mind has conceived.”

Conclusions:

In this paper ,we have presented an overview of the work done by some of the ancient Indian seers and scholars who have written commentaries on Vedas and other Vedic texts which were subsequently studied by scholars from several European countries (Portugal, France, Germany and Britain). They highlighted the pioneering Indian contributions in diverse fields of science, such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, medicine etc.

Impressed by the profundity of the scientific ideas expressed in Vedas and other Vedic texts, Western scholars assiduously learnt Sanskrit and translated many of the important Vedic texts into their respective national languages. Thus these treatises became accessible to the Western world.

Realising the important role of Sanskrit, in effectively communicating scientific ideas/truths, several universities/ institutions in India as well as abroad have started teaching of Sanskrit. The paper also highlights the influence of Vedic literature on epoch making contributions of some of the outstanding physicists of the 20th century.

References

  • Subhash C. Kak, Science in Ancient India, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901, USA
    Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol-1, The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part-1, edited by G C Pande, ICPR/Munishiram, Delhi, pp. 507-524, 2000,
  • Sanskrit Literature and the Scientific Development in India
    Justice Markandey Katju, Judge Supreme court of India, speech delivered on 27th November, 2010 at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.
  • TGK Murthy, Swami Vivekananda an Intuitive Scientist, Sri Rama Krishna Mutt, Mylapore, Page- X, 2012.
  • Science and Technology in India through the Ages. Academy of Sanskrit records Melkote, Karnataka India, and Page-18, 2003
    Edited by Shri B K Srivathsa and Shri M A Narasimhan
  • Science in Ancient India – Indian Institute of Science, Micheal Danino, Landmarks of Science in early India, iisc.ernet.in/prasthu/pages/PP_data/105.pdf
  • Kenneth Chandler, Origins of Vedic Civilization – Sanskrit Texts and Stotras safire.com/pdf/ORIGINS.PDF
  • Pierre Sylvain Filliozat, Sanskrit Studies in France, academia.edu/Documents/in/Pierre-Sylvain_Filliozat
  • Gangodavila Chandima, To what extent German and French scholars contributed to Sanskrit studies? University of Jayawardanepurar, Srilanka dl.sjp.ac.lk/dspace/…/1/1003-Gangodawila-GermanFrenchSanskrit.pdf
    by G Chandima – 2013
  • History of early Sanskrit scholars – Institute for Oriental Study orientalthane.com/…/HISTORY%20OF%20EARLY%20SANSKRI…
  • Krishnapath, the Philosophy of Devotion,
    • org
  • The Oxford Studies of Hindu Studies, Ruohit Bhagavan Dutt, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Centre_for_Hindu_Studies
  • Western Indologists: A Study in Motives – VEDA – Vedas and Vedic…
    www.veda.harekrsna.cz/encyclopedia/indology.htm
  • Institutions of interest to Indology,
    • uni.heidelberg.de
  • Sanskrit Studies,
    • wisc.edu/~gbuhnema/study.HTML
  • The works of Sir William Jones: Jones, William, Sir … – Internet Archive archive.org › Ebook and Texts ArchiveCalifornia Digital Library
  • Biography of Sir William Jones – Kamat’s Potpourrikamat.com › Timeless TheaterPeople of India
  • Charles Hard Townes,
    • org

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the authors. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

This article was first published in the journal ‘Laboratory Experiments‘, published by Kamaljeeth Instrumentation and Service Unit, Bengaluru, India.

Jeethendra Kumar P K
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A PhD in physics, Dr Jeethendra Kumar P K worked as a physics lecturer at Mangalore University for eight years. He is the founder of a physics instrument manufacturing company (1990) and Lab Experiments journal (2001), Bengaluru, India.

Prabhakar Sharma
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Dr Prabhakar Sharma, Scientist (Retd.), is Ex-Head of the Academic Servies, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, India.

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Dhvani se Śabd aur Chinh Exhibition Inaugurated at NGMA, Mumbai

The exhibition speaks to us about southern sensibilities and singular identities that were forged through scholarly adaptations, multiple skills and experiments.

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MUMBAI (Maharashtra): An exhibition titled “Dhvani se Śabd aur Chinh” was inaugurated at National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai today evening.

Curated by Adwaita Gadanayak and his team, the exhibition speaks to us about southern sensibilities and singular identities that were forged through scholarly adaptations, multiple skills and experiments that were seeking to juxtapose the notions of the modern with the traditional.

It identifies artists who practised in Southern states as well as artists who were born there or had family trees and moved up North to become the greatest practitioners and pedagogues. We are looking at a period that just followed the Partition wherein an idea of tradition was in its genesis – as it oscillated between symbolic fantasy (Madras group) and the knowledge of truths that were generated by pure practice.

The czar of the Madras Movement, K.C.S. Paniker – believed that an artist had to foreground tradition and cultural art forms and interpret these within contemporary sensibilities, leading to defining the regional modern, particularly in Madras.

Hence, Paniker’s regional modern was firmly fixed in the wedge between the visibility and identity of the southern artists nationally, and developing a visual language born of an Indian ethos – the vitality of the Indian spirit.

Historians have noted that the modernity which was established in Madras in the ’60s integrated and blended pioneering visions of certain artist-teachers at the Madras School of Arts and Crafts.

The culling also includes Malayali veterans like K. G. Subramanyan, the cultural theorist, the philosopher, the art mandarin who taught seven decades of students as well as A. Ramachandran the scholar, the author, the art historian and the guru who taught a love for the immediate environment to his students.

“I want [my art] to flourish (so to say) in a ‘cloud of unknowing’,” K.G. Subramanyan explained in an interview when asked about the process of his work. “For a centipede-like me to start counting my legs is suicidal,” he elaborated in that distinctly witty yet acerbic manner of his, “It will freeze me into inaction.” The phrase, “cloud of unknowing”, is the ideal frame through which to look at Southern sensibilities and imagery.

It instantly conjures up that drifting restlessness which typically characterizes the traffic between the earthy and the ethereal in many of these works. Then again, it is the artist’s self-description as an unselfconscious centipede that, more than anything helps one to make sense of the profusion of paintings spread across these galleries at the NGMA. There is indeed an arduous degree of introspection and reflection about Southern sensibility and creativity — as if some artists indulged in a Dionysian ritual that revealed, quite naturally and effortlessly in an endless proliferation of images that cut across time and space to create corollaries in multiple contexts and complexities.

A look at the monumental work by Velu Viswanadhan signifies the truth that abstraction must be born out of the symbolism of a deeper experience – the incandescent flavour of the red hues and the geometry that creates succinct planes tells us that this is a nether journey built on rumination and realization and not superficial reflections of strokes and colour.

While the visual arts in the South charted trajectories that engaged with diverse media, techniques, materials, and concepts allowing articulation of creative expression also from within the social and cultural milieu, the Indian accent born of everyday idioms was also creating pathways. Between sculptures, paintings and prints we see an offering of possibilities mirroring the symbolic, the sacred and the secular.

Sculptures and paintings picked out from the NGMA Archives is an exercise that moves beyond the realms of exploration and intellectual thirst. In a large number of works that were created within and around the Deccan plateau regions and beyond the Western and Eastern Ghats this group of works is one that defines the many art practices that were born out of European influences and moved beyond to embrace and find deep rooted meaning in Indianesque histories and narratives that explored native elements over time.

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Kailash Mansarovar Yatra to Resume via Nathu La Route This Year

The yatra was stopped by China in the aftermath of the military face-off with India last year at Doklam.

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BEJING (China): In a development that is going to spread joy in the Hindu (Sanatan Dharma) community, India and China on April 22 agreed to resume the Holy Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Natha Lu route in Sikkim.

The decision was made during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

The pilgrimage was stopped through the route ten months ago following the face-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries in Doka La Plateau in Bhutan.

The pilgrims opting to undertake the pilgrimage through Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand were allowed.

The matter related to the resumption of the annual pilgrimage through Nathu La was raised by India during meetings between the two sides in the last year.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also discussed it with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in December last year.

“We are also happy that the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu la route will be resumed this year. I am confident that with Chinese side’s full cooperation, this year the yatra will be a fulfilling experience for the visiting Indian pilgrims,” Swaraj said during a joint press statement with Wang.

Ministry of External Affairs organises the yatra from June to September each year through two different routes – Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). The yatra, which holds religious value, cultural significance, is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.

Holding significance for Hindus as the abode of Lord Shiva, it holds religious importance also for the Jains and the Buddhists. It is open to eligible Indian citizens, holding valid Indian passports, who wish to proceed to Kailash-Manasarovar for religious purposes.

Har Har Mahadev!

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CULTURE-HERITAGE

Determining the Age of the Saraswat Community

Saraswats, who once lived on the riverbed of Sarasvati, have a history equivalent to that of Rigveda.

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Who are Saraswats?

In India, there are at least five Brahmin communities who claim themselves as ‘Saraswat Brahmins’, including Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, Chitrapur Saraswats, Rajapur/Bhalavalikar Saraswat Brahmins, Kashmiri Saraswats, Punjabi Saraswats, Sindh Saraswats, Kutch Saraswats and Rajasthan Saraswats.

This community, as a whole, has produced eminent personalities including Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr TMA Pai, Nandan Nilekani, Girish Karnad, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Deepika Padukone, Shyam Benegal, and Guru Dutt.

Though being miles apart from each other for ages all Saraswat legends claim of their ancestors having once lived on the banks of now extinct river Saraswati.

Today, however, there is no doubt that Saraswats are among the oldest living communities in India – still preserving their own indigenous culture which essentially hails from the Rigveda – that which is believed to have been written by their forefathers during their stint on banks of river Saraswati.

Their Relationship with Saraswati River:

Even to this day many Saraswat’s in their daily Sandhyavandana rite swears their allegiance to Rigveda. This apart, several of Saraswat’ rituals are conducted by reciting the hymns from the texts from Rigveda; firmly establishing links between Saraswats, Saraswati River and Rigveda.

According to two distinguished historians and Vedic Scholars, Dr NS Rajaram and Dr David Frawley for Vedic Aryans the holiest river was “not Ganga but Saraswati” because, they say,

“In Rigveda Ganga is mentioned only once while Saraswati is lauded no less than fifty times.”

There is at least one whole hymn devoted to Saraswati River. In a famous hymn, Saunaka Gritasamdathe seer of the second Mandala lauds the Saraswati as ambitame, naditame, devitame Saraswati:

Sarasvati, the best of mothers, the best of rivers, the best of Goddess.

To follow the very descriptions given in the Vedic literature, Saraswati was the greatest river that then used to flow to the west of the Yamuna but to the east of the Sutlej.

According to the seventh Mandala of the Rigveda attributed to the famous Rishi (Sage) Vasistha, the Saraswati was a mighty stream that flowed from the “mountain to the sea” sustaining the lives of Vedic people:

Pure in her stream, from the mountain to the sea, filled with bounteous abundance for the worlds, nourishing with her flow the children of Nahusa.

Interestingly, this very reference ‘from mountain to sea’ gives us a valuable pointer to Saraswati’ geography. But today we have no river called Sarasvati flowing in this country or elsewhere. The question then is: whatever became of it?

Thanks to archaeology and satellite photography we now know that Saraswati gradually became weaker and finally dried up completely around 1900 or 2000 BCE or even a little bit earlier.

According to several recent findings Vedic Saraswati once used to flow mainly through the channel of what is now an insignificant flow called the Ghaggar close to Indus thus making part of what we now know Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations. Even Satellite photos have shown that the Ghaggar was once a great river. Paul-Henri Francfort who recently surveyed the area calls it the “immense Ghaggar system”.

Intensive research carried by Dr Frawley and Dr Rajaram has completely debunked the Aryan-Invasion theory. They have also strongly established that the so-called Indus Valley or the Harappa civilization (of which Saraswati River is a part) did not consist of just a few urban settlements. It was a part of a vast civilization that stretched from the borders of Iran to East UP, with some sites as far south of Godavari River; as far as its duration is concerned, it represents a continuous evolution dating back to 7000 BCE in terms of the sites and more are being found all the time. So we can see that this great civilization spanned over 5000 years!

Saraswati’s Extinction:

Regarding the ending of this great civilization, thanks again to recent archaeological and ecological findings, we now know how that end came about. By putting together those pieces of evidence on the basis of archaeological and satellite studies it was most certainly due to the gradual depletion of water resources in North India that culminated in a calamitous drought in the 2200 BCE to 1900 BCE period.

Fig. 1: Map showing the flow of Saraswati from ‘mountain to sea’

Fig. 2: Area covered by Indus-Saraswati civilization and its overlap with the area covered by early Vedic Civilization.

This was, also, a global phenomenon that affected civilization across an immense belt from southern Europe to India. The Akkadian (Sumerian) civilization of Mesopotamia was practically wiped out around 2200 BCE, while in Egypt, the so-called Old-Empire collapsed. In India itself, the mature Harappa civilization of which Saraswati was an integral part came to an abrupt end and there were severe dislocations. As SR Rao observed:

In circa 1900 BCE most of the mature Harappa sites were wiped out forcing the inhabitants to seek new lands for settlement. They seem to have left in a great hurry and in small groups, seeking shelter initially on the eastern flank of the Sutlej and the Ghaggar and gradually moving towards the Yamuna. The refugees from Mohenjo-Daro and southern sites in Sind fled to Saurashtra and later occupied the interior of the Peninsula.

That this was not restricted to India is clear from a recently concluded major French-American study in Mesopotamia. The report of the study notes:

At 2000 BCE, a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced considerable degradation in land-use conditions… this abrupt climatic change evidently caused abandonment of Tell Leilan, regional desertion, and the collapse of Akkadian empire based in southern Mesopotamia. A synchronous collapse in adjacent regions suggests that the impact of the abrupt climatic change was extensive.

Whether a volcanic eruption was sufficient to trigger a drought so destructive may still be open to doubt; but whatever caused the draught, its effect now seems established beyond all doubts. The authors summarize their momentous findings as follows:

The abrupt climatic change that generated Habur hiatus I and the associated Akkadian-Gutti-Ur III collapse are synchronous with climate change and collapse phenomenon documented in the Aegean, Egypt, Palestine, and the Indus. The reoccupation of the Habur plains [in the northern Mesopotamia] in the 19thcentury BC and the sudden emergence of centralized Amorite control… was evidently facilitated by the amelioration of climatic conditions…

These very recent reports make it clear that the ending of Harappan civilization was a part of a worldwide climate change phenomenon that affected all ancient civilizations.

Fig 3: The course of Vedic Saraswati from “mountain to sea”

Fig 4: The source of Saraswati – Glacier at Garhwal

Determining the Age of Saraswat Community:

There is no doubt that Saraswats were the people who played a pivotal role in the authoring of Rigveda. Thus the age of the Rigveda can easily be regarded as the age of the early Saraswats.

Thanks to our understanding of ancient metallurgy, we can now say that Rigveda must be older than 3500 BCE.

Kunal, a recently discovered Saraswati site in Haryana has yielded silver ornaments. This shows that their metallurgy must have been quite advanced; for unlike gold, silver never appears in pure form and has to be extracted by separating it from other metals like copper. The archaeological research dates Kunal to be much earlier than 3000 BCE.

The presence of silver ornaments at Kunal shows that it is much later than the society described in the Rigveda. This is because Rigveda does not know silver. The oldest Sanskrit word for silver is Rajata Hiranyam – literally ‘white gold’ – and it is mentioned for the first time in Yajurveda.

This evidently disapproves the currently ascribed date of Rigveda as 1200 BCE as Kunal is evidently the last phase of the Saraswati civilization. Interestingly though there are proofs to suggest a date marking the end of the Saraswati civilization there is no evidence to suggest its exact beginnings.

Thus Dr Rajaram has suggested that:

All we have to do is look hard and deep along the Sarasvati and other Vedic rivers. Such sites are likely to date to 3500 BCE or earlier. These, when found, are likely to be from the Age of Rigveda. The key identifying factor will be the relatively primitive metallurgy of their artifacts.

Conclusion:

Today, though we have archaeology telling us that: there was extensive trade between the Harappans, Egyptians and Sumerians besides presenting existence of science and mathematics much advanced to that age, our understanding of the Harappa Mohenjo-Daro or better put Sindu-Saraswati civilization is incomplete.

Though we have evidence to suggest the existence of now-extinct Saraswati we are yet to find evidence to suggest the beginning of the civilization. However, with the available information we can fairly conclude that:

  1. Saraswats, who once lived on the riverbed of Sarasvati, have a history equivalent to that of Rigveda.
  2. The riverbed of an extinct river found by American and French satellites near Harappan excavation are of Saraswati as the very description of the riverbed matches with that of Saraswati mentioned in Rig Veda.
  3. The Kunal excavations discovered on the riverbed of Sarasvati belong to the Yajurveda period dating earlier than 3000 BCE. And because Rigveda was written much earlier than Yajurveda the current idea of Rigveda being authored around 1300 BCE is false.
  4. Given this, we can firmly conclude that Sarasvati civilization of which Saraswats were one an integral part has a history of at least five thousand years.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Reprinted with permission from indiamahesh.com

U. Mahesh Prabhu
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Udupi Mahesh Prabhu is a media, management and political consultant. He’s co-founder and director of Vedic Management Center. He’s also a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London (UK) and Member of the International Federation of Journalists (USA).

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