About Hinduism and India

European countries were already in contact with West Asia through Turkey. In the first instance they were influenced by Latin and Greek classics since many of the Greek fugitives intellectuals had taken shelter in Turkey and other nearby countries. That event is referred as the ‘first awakening in Europe’. They translated Arabic and Persian literature to English, which had already been influenced by Ancient Sanskrit texts.

The efforts of Europeans were initially limited to carrying out translations only. Subsequently, the Europeans discovered that most of the Arabic and Persian texts had their source from Sanskrit. It was only thereafter that Europeans turned to the original source in Sanskrit literature. That was the beginning of ‘Renaissance’ in Europe.

Spread of Indian Knowledge

Arithmetic – In 1100 AD, Robert of Chester, an Englishman, visited Spain and translated al-Khwarizmi’s little book into Latin. Thereafter other translations of al-Khwarizmi inspired Latin texts. Book on the ‘new arithmetic’ included description of the decimal system and positional notation system. Initially the Europeans were slow to absorb new type of numbers. Thus most of the work was limited to copying the manuscripts and translating them. They were not able to use decimals until a Dutch mathematician Simon Steven (1548-1620) explained the system in his book La Thiende (The Tenth). After him, Marini and Christopher Claudius used decimals in their works. In 1621, Bache published the Latin version of Arithmetica from Arabic.

Algebra – Al-Mammon had summoned Abu Jafar Mohammed Musa al-Khwarizmi, (780-850) to Baghdad during 820 AD. He led two scientific missions to India to meet Indian scholars and had collected manuscripts. Based on them he wrote ‘Kitab Al-Jabr Wa al-Muqabalah’ meaning calculation by addition and subtraction. Algebra is a short Latinate form of the word. Later its Latin translation became a standard text-book of Mathematics in European universities.

Logarithms and Positional Notation System – In 825, al-Khwarizmi wrote on the concept of logarithm zero and positional notation system again based on texts of Brahmagupta.  The Latin translation of the book was titled ‘algorithmic de numero Indorum’. This book in its Arabic form, reached Spain, that was then under Arab control.

Indian Astronomy – During 850-929 AD Al-Battani had studied Indian astronomy and carried out critical analysis of Hindu Mathematics and Siddhantas, as well as philosophy, religion, Patanjali’s Yogasutra, Bhagavad Gita and Sankhyakarika. He discussed in detail the Hindu cycle of evolution, dissolution, and re-evolution of the Universe. He expounded trigonometric methods and endorsed Indian finding that the distance from the earth to the sun varied during the year. However being afraid of fanatics, he qualified his comments by saying that to be the belief of Hindus. For instance, he wrote that ‘Indians believe that the earth is five billion years old, which is wrong, since Islam said it was created only four thousand and five years ago’. He also described the Hindu concept of Geography and observed that Hindus believed the existence of an island located diametrically opposite to the city of Rome on the globe. Those ideas were later translated into Latin and people like Columbus were inspired to reach India by going westward. The error thus led to the discovery of Americas. Al-Battani is known in Europe as Albategnius.

Astrolabe – Aryabhatta lived during 475 AD – 550 AD and he had already discovered that planets and moon reflected the light of the sun. Rotation of Earth caused day and night. The orbiting of Earth around the Sun caused year. He had also brought out causes of eclipse and that the orbits of planets were elliptical and not circular. His calculation of Earth’s diameter at 8316 miles was very accurate and inspired the astronomers of the West.

Thereafter further progress continued as under: –

  • In 1050 AD astrolabe were introduced into Europe from Asia. The tables were used to measures longitude, latitude, and the time of the day at sea.
  • Abelard of Bath (1075–1160) journeyed by ship along the new eastern trade routes to the crusader held coast of Syria, where he translated Euclid into Latin using Arabic translation of the original.
  • In 1175 Italian Gerard of Cremona translated Ptolemy’s astronomical text ‘The Almagest’ into Latin, disseminating the erroneous information. He was fluent in Greek and Arabic.  He translated into Latin the Arabic texts of Galen, Aristotle, Euclid, al-Khwarizmi and Ptolemy.
  • Inspired by Aristotle, In 1190 Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote his text, ‘The guide for the perplexed.’

Planetary Charts and Astronomical Tables

The oldest astronomical tables based on Indian charts were brought to Baghdad by Kanaka. Those later traveled to the rest of Europe through Spain where a Latin translation was made in 1126. It came to be regarded as one of the most influential works on astronomy in medieval Europe. Due to that:

  • In 1272 Alphonse tables (Planetary charts) were completed in Toledo, Spain. The work tabulated the position and movement of planets.
  • It took another 200 years when the tables were printed in 1483, and the information more widely disseminated. The work was compiled by the finest astronomers gathered by Alfonso X of Castile.

Motion of Earth – Many reconciled to Aryabhatta’s revelations that Earth rotated on its axis and its diameter was 8316 miles. During 1224 AD Abdullah-Ur-Rumi prepared ‘Mujam-ul- Buldan’ a geographical encyclopedia, in Arabic. In 1440 Cusanus theorized that the Earth is in constant motion and the space as infinite. Edwin Hubble reinforced his ideas in the early 1900 when Hubble observed the planets rushing away from Earth, thereby expanding the universe.

Fore-runners of Newton – Movement had already been analyzed in Visheshika Darshan Shstra. During sixth century Prasthapada carried out a review on the basis of planetary movement, polarization and gravitational force, and further added that the speed and elasticity also affected movement from the opposite. That theory was a fore-runner to Newton’s law of Motion.

Medical Science – Since the days of Sushruta and Charka, great advances had been made by India in the field of Medicine and Surgery. As far back as the sixth century BC, Indian physicians had described ligaments, sutures, lymphatic, nerve plexus, fascia, adipose, vascular tissues, mucous, and many more muscles than any cadaver are able to show. They understood remarkably well the process of digestion, different functions of gastric juices, and conversion of food in to blood. The European discoveries were yet to surface. They found their way much later as below:-

  • Medicine – During 1200-1300, Pietro D’ Abano, an Italian physician, wrote ‘Conciliator Differentia rum’, which integrated Greek and Arabic medical thought. He noted brain as the source of nerves, and the heart as the source of blood vessels. He was suspected of being a magician and died under trial by the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Human Anatomy – In 1543 Andreas Visalia published a treatise on Human Anatomy -‘On the Structure of Human Body’. His research was conducted through dissection of human bodies, a practice that was strictly forbidden. The work corrected many prevalent historic misconceptions about the subject in Europe.
  • Circulation of Blood – In 1628, William Harvey described the circulation of blood in the body, paving the way for modern physiology. Before Harvey, the circulatory system was misunderstood. For example, Aristotle believed that blood originated in the liver. Others thought blood moved in spurts. Harvey accurately described the function of the heart. He also theorized that mammals are produced from eggs. It took about 150 years to prove him right.

Performing Arts – Frederick II encouraged translation of Indo-Arabic texts. Frederick was elected the Holy Roman Emperor in 1220. He surrounded himself from philosophers and sages from Baghdad and Syria, dancing-girls from India and Iran.

His pursuits introduced many Indian elements into the classical dance of the West. Opera had already originated in India.

It will be relevant to compare the above fact on a time line in history. When our sages had already risen to the crest of scientific knowledge in the first millennium, it was in 19 th century that Abraham Lincoln (later American President) used an old bear skin to cover himself at night. His relatives were using deer skins as their daily wear. The Europeans were busy in establishing their colonies and exploitation of locals. That was the time when India was under the rule of East India Company as a spent force.

 Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes– 56/72 – Plagiarism of Intellectual Property)


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