Monday, 1 September 2014

Surya Siddhanta

The numeric system of Roman numerals makes use of contributing Latin alphabets to signify numbers.
Representing numbers using Latin alphabets is a different thing, there has always been a tradition in every numeral system since the beginning of time to name certain numbers. Like, fox example, 1 is named as "one" in modern number system, "ek" in Hindi numerical system, "yi" in Chinese, and so on.

So, coming back to the first line, Roman numerals, this way have named 106 numbers in total. This is significant because Roman numerical system is one of the oldest and most ancient form of numerical system of all times.
The modern numerical system has named some 10^3 named numbers, the system that we use in our say to day work.
Why I am writing all this about other cultures and systems? Because Indian numerical system names a whopping 10^62 numbers.
Now, why am I writing all this? Has this anything to do with the name of the blog post 'Surya Siddhanta'? The only purpose of writing all this is that ancient Indians used to build such concise and well-planned systems and frameworks, that even modern people get awed of. Every single piece was so much planned and thought-off, the entire framework such well-built and well-designed, the principles and foundations so strong, there are still secrets and ideas which the modern people haven't been able to discover, or have discovered very late in the game.

This post mostly talks about the concise astronomical system that ancient Indians had built up, and what all they deduced. There wasn't just one system in place and various astronomers had their own version, but to talk about them in one single post would be beyond the scope of this blog. Hence we would talk about a few specific ones only.

Length of an Year: Surya Sidhhanta, which is one of the many traditions, doctrines of ancient India, speaks of 4 ways to measure the length of an year, viz. Nakshatra, Savana, Lunar and Saura. While the other systems are used for specific purposes, like Nakshatra for auspicious dates, etc. The Saura measure accurately estimates the length of date to be 365 days, 6 hours 12 mins and 30 seconds. If you think the number is a bit too far fetched, as how could Indians measure back then with such accuracy, I would suggest going to any ancient temple, specially Konark Temple, and witness the incredibly complex and technically correct architecture based on astronomical guidelines

The sphere called Earth: A quick search over the internet credits the discovery of Earth being round to some or the other Greek astronomers, including Pythagoras. Interestingly, Indian astronomers by then had already claimed that Sun is yet another star, and that earth is spherical. As a matter of fact, numerous attempts had been made to measure the circumference of earth. Aryabhatta presented a complete system of mathematics, on basis of which, Earth is said to be rotating on an axis. He also estimated the value of pi to be 3.1416, based on which he deduced the circumference of earth to be 24,835 miles, only 70 miles below its true value.
In fact, in his book Aryabhatiya, he also asserts that the movement of heavenly bodies like the sun, the stars are all relative, and only earth is moving.
"Just as a passenger in a boat moving downstream sees the stationary (trees on the river banks) as traversing upstream, so does an observer on earth see the fixed stars as moving towards the west at exactly the same speed (at which the earth moves from west to east.)"-translated from Aryabhatiya Gola 9

Gravity before Newton?: Much before the lucky apple dropped on the head of Newton, and he thought of this idea called gravity, Varahmihira, in 6th century proposed an idea of a force, that not only holds celestial body in space, but also things on earth. Varahmihira proposed that there must be some form of force that keeps objects stationary. Brahmagupta, in the 7th century had also proposed an idea that "It is the nature of The Earth to attract objects, and so the objects fall, just like water flows."
Here we must take note that the Sanskrit word for Gravity is Gurutvakarshan which is a Sandhi of Guru-tva-akarshan, thanks to the power of Sanskrit. Here akarshan means "to be attracted". So, Gurutvakarshan means "to be attracted by the master".
Interestingly, the Sun was treated as the most powerful of all celestial bodies, the master of them all, Gurutvakarshan would refer to being attracted by the sun, which holds true in the modern sense of astronomy as well.

Celestial Calculations:
युग सहस्त्र योजन पर भानु
लील्यो ताहि माधुर फल जानू 
-Hanuman Chalisa
Tulsidas wrote 40 verse in praise of Lord Hanuman, and the above verse, which is eighteenth from the beginning, translates to how "The Surya, situated thousands of Yojanas(a unit of distance) away was swallowed by you, after you assumed him to be a sweet fruit"
As per Vedic literature, the measure of units of distance are converted as follows:
1 Yuga = 12000 years. and 1 Sahsra Yuga = 12000000 years.
Also, 1 Yojan = 8 miles
So, Yug Sahsra Yojan(the first three words) would mean 96000000 miles.
Converting it to kilometers, 96000000 X 1.6 = 153,600,000 kms
Actual distance from earth to sun = 152,000,000 kms(error margin of around 1%)

Brahmagupta in the 7th century CE claimed the circumference of the Earth to be 36,000 km, which is close to the actual figure of 40,075 km, with an error margin of 1%

Yajnavalkya measured the distance of the earth from the sun and the distance of the moon from the earth and concluded that the distance is 108 times the diameter of these celestial bodies. Interestingly again, the correct number is 107.5 for sun and 110.6 for moon

Predictive Astrology: The very first references to astronomy are found in the Rig Veda. In ancient times, astrology and astronomy were coherent to each other, with Indians predicting fate and future on the basis of planets, with Mangal(Mars), Shani(Saturn) getting more ascendance than others.
Though, Aryabhata had already deduced that solar eclipse was caused by moon coming in between earth and the moon and that the moonlight was actually powered by the sunlight, Rahu and Ketu were still considered major forces in a person's fate and were called evil forces.
Predictive astrology is a very ancient Indian philosophy where astronomical phenomenons and movements of celestial bodies was studied to make predictive analysis. Not glorifying predictive astrology as such, but the study of planets and their movements was very much active even during Vedic periods.

The study of astronomy in ancient India wasnt restricted to predictive astrology only. The most comprehensive book covering this subject would be Aryabhata's Aryabhattiya which has laid down the entire framework of how astronomical calculations were done during early days. Jantar Mantar of Jaipur is a living example of such art of knowledge as it was built on the principles of ancient India.
Aryabhata was also the first to deduce that the time taken by planets to revolve around the sun was in ratio to their circumferences. He was also the first to deduce that the orbits of planets around the sun were ellipses. They were only slowed down due to the lack of a proper telescope, something which other cultures beat India to, and they had to base their calculations and assumptions on their imperfect instruments.
Other noted names in the field of ancient Indian astronomy were Bhaskar, Bhaskaracharya and Brahmagupta. They and Aryabhata not only made great advancements in the field of astronomy, but presented and formulated complex calculus puzzles and equations and trigonometric calculations which further helped scientists of other cultures to work on and enhance their studies.

Ending the post, I personally am delighted that Nalanda University is being revived, and finally our greatest treasure is being acknowledged, that of ancient Indian education system and the entire educational machinery.
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Bidding Adieu for now.

1 comment:

  1. Ancient Indian Scientists were superior to modern scientists. Aryabhatta had asseverated much before Galileo that the Earth moves around the Sun and the opposite is not true. The gravitational force of earth was not a secret for Indians much before Newton thought about that. The west repudiates our scientist’s efforts for most of the important discoveries. We should, our government should acknowledge them. It should be mentioned in the text books that credits have been wrongly given to the western scientists. Children should understand who the real persons behind all these discoveries are.

    I like your posts. They galvanize the whole thought process.