Ancient Indian Sciences: An Unexplored Ecosystem

There had been much development of various sciences in ancient India and there is now a need to develop a policy framework for reviving them and follow a sustained effort to do so without political bias

Sujit Chakraborty
New Update


ndian scientists had discovered 1,400 years ago that the Sun was at the centre of the solar system, that panchagavya is an agricultural science, that geometry and trigonometry was created in India around 1,200 years ago, etc. And yet, studying ancient Indian sciences has got caught in a tussle between Right wing jingoism and Leftist ‘Nay’ sayers. Can we have a new policy framework on this? This series explores that issue objectively


One evening last winter, I reached New Delhi’s iconic performance arts Mecca, the Kamani Auditorium. On my way back I noticed that a high temple of arts was located on a street going by the name of a Prussiam polymath – primarily an astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543).


He was a science giant credited with suggesting the heliocentric model of the solar system, that is, the sun is at the centre of the solar system and not the earth. This was against the Roman Catholic church’s diktat that according to the Bible, the earth was created as the centre of the system.


As I pondered over such things, waiting for a taxi on Copernicus Marg, I felt sad that we do not have streets named after our own ancient scientists. I am not suggesting that there cannot be a street named after a great Polish scientist. My question is, why not also have streets named after ancient Indian scientists?


The reason is a politically complex one, to which I shall come a little later. But the fact remains that the idea of heliocentricity of the solar system had been mooted 1,400 years before Copernicus by an Indian scientist. That was around 600 AD.


Yet, it is claimed that astronomy as a discipline began around 1500 AD, starting with Copernicus suggesting heliocentricity 900 years after the Surya Siddhant, or The Solar Principle was written in India.


The Surya Siddhanta describes the rules to calculate the motions of various planets and the moon relative to various constellations, diameters of various planets, and calculates the orbits of various astronomical bodies


In the Satapatha Brahman, an ancient Indian treatise dating back to 9th to 7th BCE, the author, Yajnavalka suggested that the sun moves in its own axis.

“The sun moves in its own axis in space taking along with itself the mortal bodies like earth through force of attraction."


During the 1st millennium BCE, the Vaisheshika school of atomism was founded. The most important proponent of this school was Kanada, an Indian philosopher.[ The school proposed that atoms are indivisible and eternal, can neither be created nor destroyed.


So, is there much that we have ignored in the readings of Surya Siddhant, or the treatises of Brahmagupta, Aryabhatta, Sushrut and other ancient Indian scientists? After all, why is there a statue of Sushruta at The Royal Australia College of Surgeons?


Bigotry Vs Science

There is this recent screeching Facebook Reel of some crank ‘swami’ saying that cow urine is the panacea for all worldly evils and that if millions of litres of cow urine is sprinkled from helicopters, India shall again reclaim its position of Vishwaguru.


A few years ago, a man in the Howrah district if the eastern Indian state of West Bengal started selling gaumutra at Rs 150 a litre and got it declared by some ‘Baba’ that this was a great health booster and medicine, etc. This had led to his arrest and a severe mass ridicule for his party, the BJP.


On September 1, justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav of the Allahabad High Court observed that "scientists believe that the cow is the only animal that exhales oxygen". He also called upon the Indian Parliament to declare the cow as the national animal and make cow protection a "Fundamental Right of Hindus".


Needless to say, he did not, indeed could not, cite any peer reviewed research paper to substantiate his statement of the belief systems of some unnamed scientists.


Left, Right and Centre

Over the past 10 years, this widespread rightwing bigotry has done massive damage to the glorious cause of ancient Indian sciences, such as that of panchagavya, of which cow urine is a component. And this has led to a barrage of spoofs and memes by Left liberals, directed at demolishing every ancient Indian scientific achievement as ‘jingoism’.


So, is there a science behind gaumutra and is panchagavya truly an agricultural science? Or is it a just a blind faith or superstition sans any semblance if science, as the bigots from the Left insist? Did India discover Zero, as is widely held?


The Interesting thing is that today, modern western science is validating much of these discoveries and yet, we are not able to do so. This is because we are caught in the middle of this Left and Right battle for ideological supremacy.


That is why we need a balanced, strictly Centrist approach to reclaim ancient Indian sciences and take our own findings forward, for there is much on quarks and cosmogony that we already have in India, but we do not have the labs to prove those theorems.


From Surya Siddhant to Gayatri Mantra, most of our ancient scientific achievements have been put under wraps. Mainly because the West has promoted itself as the centre of civilisation, and because of a lack of policy for reviving Indian sciences, we have failed to counter that.


India has already much to give to the world, but we are losing out in creating intellectual property and the west is beating us in this relay race. For India, it is a relay race, but our runners are not catching the baton from the past and taking things forward.


Ultimately it is a question of India’s intellectual properties and national wealth, and for creating that, we do need a policy framework. So let us see what we have and what we need.


(Coming up: Gaumutra, Panchagavya and Science)