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Splashes – 35/72 – India’s Technological Contributions

Vishwakarma is the celestial engineer in Hindu Mythology, to whom all the knowledge of Technology is attributed. He is worshiped by devote engineers and crafts men in India. Vishwakarma is worshiped by devote engineers and crafts men in India before starting new projects.

He is believed to have designed the weapon systems of gods like Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva Dhanush, Indra’s Vajra, and Arjuna’s Gandiv, just to mention the few. He designed Ravana’s Pushpak Vimana and also the wonderful palaces of Indraprastha. Pushpak Vimana was seven storied aircraft, with five-star luxuries that could fly according to the wishes of its master.

It appeared fantasy some time ago but, we have touch screen technology, invisible fences like Lakshman Rekhas to restrict the pets. Chinese Researchers have created a ‘quad copter’ similar to Pushpak Vimana that can be controlled by thought alone and has the potential to give people with impaired motor abilities a new avenue for interaction. Now we can be assertive in explaining that our so-called “blind faiths” are taking concrete shape as well.

Invention of Wheel

Technological development started after the discovery of wheel. Westerners credit Mesopotamians for this discovery in 500 BC. This is due to simple reason that prior to Fourteenth century, Westerners had no knowledge about India and whatever they had learnt was sourced from Greeks. Even today, Americans and many other countries of the West have been holding concocted knowledge about Indian culture, beliefs and voluminous literature. This can be easily ascertained by opening literature available in their libraries today. Facts are either missing or have been misrepresented as for as India and Hinduism are concerned.

For the sake of argument only, without inventing the wheel Indians could not have had Sudarshan Chakra added to the icon of Vishnu and Durga. Without wheels Mahabharata war could not have been fought with Arjuna on a chariot driven by Krishna. Arjuna was definitely not on sledge, the kind of which is normally associated with Santa Claus. Bhishma Pitama had provoked Krishna to attack him with a chariot wheel during the battle!  Thus certainly the initial step towards technological development was taken only in India.

The Indian invention of wheel accelerated the pace of technological development in other countries also. Conclusive evidence has also been provided by the wheeled cart toy excavated from the site of Indus Valley civilization and at display in National Museum at New Delhi.

The Spinning Wheel

The discovery of wheel was made use for spinning through Charkha. This was as important discovery as its predecessor wheel. Today’s mechanical development owes a lot to invention of Charkha by Indians. With this technique motion could be continuously transferred to another wheel with the help of belt. Bhaskracharya had invented this technique and that reached Europe via Arabs.

Many other inventions have been mentioned in Samrangna Sutradhara a treatise dating 1100 AD, during the reign of Raja Bhoja of Central India. The descriptions include pullies, levers, cantilevers, and bridges.  Arabs acquired this technology from India and later passed the same to Europeans in Arabic and Persian language. Mechanical writings of D Vince were instrumental in its further spread.

Mineralogy and Metallurgy

Great progress was made by India in mineralogy and metallurgy also. The mining and extensive use of gold, silver and copper was undertaken in the Indus Valley in the third century BC. In the Vedic period extensive use was made of copper, bronze, and brass for household utensils, weapons, and images for worship. It is noteworthy that whereas gods and goddesses in other mythologies are depicted in head dresses made of animal skins and horns, Hindu gods are always dressed up in gold crowns.

Patanjali, authored Lohasastra in the second century BC. He has given elaborate directions for many metallurgic and chemical processes, especially the preparation of metallic salts, alloys, and amalgams, and the extraction, purification, and assaying of metals. The discovery of Aqua Regina, a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid to dissolve gold and platinum is also ascribed to him. Manusumriti also contains several passages on purification of various metals, such as:-

अपामग्नेश्च संयोगाद्धेमं रौप्यं च निर्वभो। तत्मात्तयोः स्वयोन्यैव निर्णेको गुणवत्तरः ।।

ताम्रायः कांस्यरैत्यानां त्रपुणः सीसकस्य च। शौचं यथार्हं कर्तव्यं क्षारोम्लोदकवारिभिः ।।

(Manusumriti 5- 113-114)

(The formation of Gold and silver is attributed to water and Fire, thus both the metals can be effectively refined through water and Fire. Copper, Iron, Bronze, Brass, Raga and mirror should be refined with using acids, detergents and water.)

Chemistry and Metallurgy

Chemistry developed in India from two sources – medicine and industry. There is mention about the construction of dams, bridges and even suspension bridge in Kautillya’s Arthashastra. Agriculture had its beginning in Indus valley during 4500 BC. Water storage system has been excavated from Girnar (3000 BC). There is bath connected with under-ground outlets lined with baked tiles. Similarly excavations at Harappa revealed use of utensils and swords made of copper, brass, and bronze.

India was looked as industrially developed and militarily strong country by Roman Empire since Gupta period. They regarded it as most skilled nation possessing chemical industries such as dyeing, tanning, soap-making, glass and cement.

In second century BC Nagarjuna devoted an entire volume to Mercury. By the sixth century Indians were far ahead of Europe in industrial chemistry; they were masters of calcification, distillation, sublimation, steaming, fixation, the production of light without heat, the mixing of anesthetic and soporific powders, and also the preparation of metallic salts, compounds and alloy. Ancient Indians were highly skilled in manufacturing and working with iron and tempering steel. The analysis of zinc alloys like brass, from archaeological excavations, testify that the zinc distillation process was known in India as early as 150 BC.

Southern India was a region that was renowned for metallurgy and metal work in the olden days. The Muslims carried Indian chemical science and industry to Europe.

  • Karnataka – fine steel wires were being produced for use as strings in musical instruments, at a time when the western world was using animal gut for stringed musical instruments.
  • Kerala – besides its large iron smelting furnaces, Kerala possessed skill of special processes such as the metal mirror of Aranmula.
  • Tamil Nadu – High quality steel from Tamil Nadu was exported all over the world since Roman times.
  • Andhra Pradesh –Kona Samudram region in Andhra Pradesh was famous for producing the world-renowned Woozy steel – the raw material for King Salahuddin’s fabled Damascus Sword. The tempering of steel had been brought in ancient India to perfection.
  • Rajasthan – Zink mining was carried out at Jhavar during 400 BC.

King Porus is said to have made a special gift to Alexander in the form of thirty pounds of steel. The Muslims carried Indian chemical science and industry to Europe. The image of Nataraja was made of five metals (Pancha-Dhatu).  This technology of mixing two or more metals and deriving superior alloys had been observed and noted by the Greek Historian Peisistratus. The Spire (Makara) over Hindu temples were always adorned with brass or gold toppings (Kamandals). 

Units of Measurement

  • Yativrasabha prepared tables for distance measuring and time calculations in his treatise Tiloyyapannati way back in 6 century.
  • Yakaspati Mishra has explained in Niyaya-suchini-bandha (840 AD) that location of any point in space could be fixed by the intersection of three imaginary lines drawn and distance accurately measured. This principle was a forecast of Solid Quadrant Geometry later propounded by Descartes in 1644 AD.
  • Niyaya Visheshika mentioned 1,944,000 Kshana as the duration of Sun Day. One Kshana equals to .044 of our today’s second. Truti was the smallest unit of time.
  • Para-manu has also been mentioned in Niyaya Visheshika It was the smallest unit of measure for measuring length. It equals to 1/349525 th part of modern inch. This measure can be imagined to equal the smallest particle of dust visible in sun light entering a dark room.

Iron pillar at Delhi 

Traditional Indian iron and steel are known to have some very special properties such as resistance to corrosion. This is substantiated by the 1600-year-old, twenty-five feet high iron pillar next to the Qutub Minar in New Delhi, installed during the period of Chandragupta Maurya. The famous iron pillar in Delhi is a metallurgical wonder. This huge wrought iron pillar, 24 feet in height 16.4 inches in diameter at the bottom, and 6 1/2 tons in weight has stood exposed to tropical sun and rain for fifteen hundred years, but does not show the least sign of rusting or corrosion.

Evidence shows that the pillar was once a Garuda Stambha from a Vishnu temple and added as a trophy in the Quwwat al-Islam mosque in Delhi. Experts at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur have now found that a thin layer of ‘miswrite’ – a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen – protected the cast iron pillar near the historic Qutub Minar from rust for centuries. The metallurgy could be used to develop a model for containers used to store nuclear materials. The protective film had formed due to the presence of high amounts of phosphorous in the iron – as much as one percent, against less than 0.05 percent in today’s iron. The high phosphorous content was a result of the unique iron-making process practiced by ancient Indians.

Galvanizing Feat

Zinc metallurgy traveled from India to China and then to Europe. As late as 1735, professional chemists in Europe believed that zinc could not be reduced to metal except in the presence of copper.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 36/72 – Astrology Palmistry and Gemology)

Splashes – 34/72 – Indian Contributions towards Physics

Philosophy and Science are deeply related. Ideas precede inventions. Philosophers generate ideas and scientists shape them. The two functions might be combined in one person or more. The founders of Western scientific thought were also philosophers. So were the Indians. Indian scientists were called Ashvins.

The Beginning of Physics

Today the text books on Physics tell that matter lays in three states, that are solid, liquid and gas. This statement tells the condition of matter at some particular time only. The forms and shapes can change. The properties of different kinds of matter are the subjects covered under the Science of Physics.

Vedas were the first text books on Physics. The compiled knowledge about matter and its properties came to humans originally through the text of Vedas that provided the first, foremost and subtle knowledge about basic elements (Panch Bhuta) of Nature – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether; out which rest of the things have come in to existence. The process of acquiring knowledge about the composition of different things, properties, and establishing cause to the effects has been a continuously ongoing process.

Vedanga and Vedanta carried forward the studies in Physics. Upanishdas, Darshana Shastras and Puranas are the sources that contain mantras explaining properties of various natural phenomena and link causes to the effects. All Mantras are not meant for spiritual development. Most of them contain vast knowledge in compressed form, like zipped files, and need further expansion.

Format of Texts

Those days even the scientific writing was also done in poetic Chhandas, economized within the given structure of the metric measure. That served as an aid for memorizing. Mostly the style of writings was either in ‘Ode’ format. The author ‘addressed’ the ‘Subject’ and narrated the properties and utilities before seeking the effect. Another style used in ancient texts was a dialogue between the Rishi and disciples. This style offered explanation with examples also. 

Example of the knowledge content

Atharva Veda is mostly devoted to Physics.  It stated that there are seven fundamental elements of matter. Those are (1) Dhara (Earth), (2) Jala (Water), (3) Teja (Fire), (4) Vayu (Wind), (5) Khitija (Horizon), (6) Tanmatra (Quantity) and (7) Ghamanda (Ego).

Further, every kind of matter is possessed by three Gunas (qualities) of (1) Satvik, (2) Rajasik and (3) Tamsik. That implied that all matters can cause beneficial, dormant and harmful effects.

By different permutations and combinations of seven fundamental matter and three Gunas, 21 more products could be formed.

Likewise, another Treatise Vaisheshika Darshana Shastra lists out Prithavi (Earth), Jala (Water), Agni  (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Akasha (Horizon), and adds Kala (Time), Disha (Direction), Atma (Soul) and Mana (mind).

The properties of those are briefly  explained below:-

Prithavi- Earth element has qualities of smell, shape, taste and touch, out of which smell is most significant.

Jala – Water qualities are Taste, Touch and shape. Taste is most significant. Presence of Water is identified through coolness in matter. The warmth in Water denotes the presence of Fire element.

Agni – Fire element has qualities of shape and touch, out of which shape is most significant. 

Vayu – Wind element has distinct quality of touch. 

Akasha – Ether element has qualities of sound. It is formless, but where ever sound can be heard, presence of this element is confirmed. Ear drums are the recipients of this property.

Kala – Time causes origin, state and destruction of everything. For practical interpretation, it has been conceptualized into hours, days, months, age, present, past and future.

Disha For practical application there are ten directions that have been conceptualized for the origin, existence and expiration of matter.

  • These are four cardinal points East, West, North and South.
  • Four corners North East, South East, South West, and North West.
  • Two sides, Surface and Bottom

Atma – Awareness is the sign of Atma. Awareness is not the identity or qualification of senses, because previous knowledge continues to stay even after destruction or mal- functioning of the sense that had acquired knowledge in the past. It implies that Atma experienced knowledge and is separate from senses. Desire, feelings, efforts, comfort and discomfort are separate from body and are the identity of Atma.

Mana – It is a tool to experience various sensory feelings.

The above illustrations depict that spirituality has been neatly blended with the subject of pure science Physics. It is not necessary to use only European terminology to look authentic. Explaining subtle scientific facts through artistically woven mythological stories has been the hall mark of Hindu religion.

Scope of Hindu Scriptures

Scientific gems are lying scattered throughout in Hindu Scriptures like Vedas, Vedangas, Vedants Purans and Epics. Modern physics confirmed that the Sun’s rays travel in a curved way, but not in a straight line. The same fact our ancestors had artistically explained through mythology that seven horses tied by snakes drew Sun’s chariot. As the movements of the snakes are crooked and curved, so also are the sun’s rays. This phenomenon has been poetically described in scriptures:

भुजंगनः मितः सप्तः तुर्गः

Similarly the Atharva Veda explained another scientific truth about Sunlight that there are seven colors in the white ray of the Sun. Sun rays contain blend of seven colors:

सप्तः सूर्य्स रसम्यः। 

Contribution of Indian Scientists

In the realm of physics, Indian scientists have made remarkable contributions.

  • Rishi Kanada, the founder of the Vaisesika system of philosophy, expounded that the entire matter in this world consisted of atoms, as many in kind as there were various elements. About light he explained that light and heat are variations of the same reality. He is the fore-father of Atomic Science. Jain thinkers went a step further. They thought that all atoms are the same kind and variety emerged because they entered into different combinations.
  • Sushrut explained that we are able to see the objects around us due to the light falling on them. Aryabatta also supported his views later. In contrast, Greek scientists held the view that objects are seen because of light in the eyes.
  • Varahmihir in sixth century explained how shadows were cast.
  • Chakrapani was the first to explain that light and sound traveled through waves, but the speed of light was many times faster than the sound waves.
  • Pratispda further elaborated that sound waves travelled in the shape of concentric circles and every sound wave has a corresponding echo.
  • Vachaspati interpreted light as composed of minute particles emitted by substances striking the eyes. This is a clear anticipation of the corpuscular theory of light, which was proposed by Newton, but was rejected till the discovery of the proton.

Gravitation and Astro-Physics

The theory of gravity found its existence in Yajur Veda that explains that the Earth is kept in space owing to the superior attraction of the Sun. Scholars of the Gupta period were already acquainted with the movement of the heavenly bodies, the reasons for eclipses of the Sun and the Moon.

  • Aryabhatta put forward a brilliant thesis regarding the Earth’s rotation on its axis. As regards the stars being stationary, Aryabhatta stated that starry vault was fixed, but the earth moving round its axis, again and again caused the rising and setting of planets and stars. He also described the Polar days and nights of six months duration. Aryabhatta affirmed the diurnal revolutions of the earth on its axis. He wrote that when the sun rose in Sri Lanka, it was midday in Yavakoti (Java) and midnight in the Roman land. Yavadvipa, a Sanskrit name mentioned in the Ramayana, to which Sugriva sent search parties looking for Sita, was the ancient name of Java. As regards to the size of the earth, he calculated the circumference of the earth as 4,967 Yojanas and its diameter as 1,581 1/24 Yojanas.  A Yojana is equal to five English miles, and the calculation tallies with modern calculations. The circumference of the Earth works out to be 24, 835 miles, with its diameter as 7, 905 5/24 miles. He also wrote a textbook Aryabhatta Siddhantafor working out astronomical calculations.  Even today, this data is used in preparing Hindu calendars (Panchangs) giving most accurate results.
  • Brahmagupta, (598 AD – 665 AD) is known for introduction of negative numbers and operations on Zero in Arithmetic. His main work was Brahmasphuta Siddhanta, which was a corrected version of an old astronomical treatise Brahma Siddhanta. From his time the Hindus were aware of the length of diameter and circumference of the earth.
  • Varahamihira in 6th century produced valuable material relating to Astronomy, Geography and Mineralogy in his work Brihat-Samhita. It is stated that one half of the moon, whose orbit lies between the sun and the earth, is always bright by the Sun’s rays;  while the other half is always dark by its own shadows, like the two sides of a pot standing in the sunshine. Explaining eclipse of the Moon and Sun, he wrote that Moon enters into the Earth’s shadow; and in Solar eclipse the same thing happens to the Sun. He further explained the commencement of a lunar eclipse does not take place from the Western side. The solar eclipse does not take place from the Eastern side. He gave the calculation of eclipses; independent of any reference to the mythological ‘Rahu Ketu’ episode.
  • Bhaskaracharya knew the law of gravitation. In a verse in Sidhanta Shiromani, he held that the Earth is endowed with the power of attraction. It drags with own power heavy objects on the sky.  It appears that objects are falling but actually they are not, they are only being dragged by the power of attraction of the Earth. When everything on the sky drags each other equally there is no question of objects on Earth to fall. It is explained that Earth, planets, stars, Moon, and Sun – each of them is being dragged by the other with its respective power of attraction and as a result of this attraction none of them is removed from their axis. This theory was deliberated in the Siddhanta Shiromani centuries before Newton was born. According to Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya the diameter was calculated to be 7182 miles, some calculated that to be 7905 miles, while modern scientists take it to be 7918 miles. Bhaskara is renowned for his concept of Tatkalik-agati (instantaneous motion).

Last but not the least, none of the Hindu scientists suffered the fate of poor Galileo for making new discoveries. 

Chand K Sharma

Next: Splashes – 35/72 -India’s Technological Contributions


Splashes– 33/72 – Indian Contributions to Mathematics

Hindus have contributed most to the science of Mathematics. Our decimal system, place notation, numbers 1 through 9, and the ubiquitous ‘0’ zero, are the major contributions towards this fundamental science. In the Vedic age, India was ahead of the rest particularly, in mathematics and astronomy. Mathematics (Ganita) had been at the top of the sciences known as Vedanga. It is through the magic of Vedic Mathematics that Shakuntala Devi dazzled computer wizards by orally solving complex equations.

Combination of physical and Spiritual

Mathematics served as a bridge between understanding material reality and the spiritual conception. The mathematics of the Vedas contrasts the cold, clear, and geometric precision of the West and is cloaked in the poetic language that distinguishes the East. Vedic mathematicians devised sutras for solving mathematical problems with apparent ease.

Aryans were deeply interested in planetary positions to calculate auspicious times and they developed Astronomy and Mathematics side by side, towards that end. They identified various constellations (Nakshatras) and named the months after them. Indian system was far superior, to that of the Greeks. They could count up to 1012, while the Greeks could count up to 104 and Romans up to 108.

Ancient Literature on Mathematics 

Indians had adopted verse form to explain Mathematical concepts. The earliest available work in the field of Mathematics include Bakshali Manuscript that was discovered from Bakshali, a village near Takshashaila. Other texts are Ganitasara-Sangraham of Mahavira Acharya, who lived between Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya and Akshara Lakshana Ganit Shastra, containing 84 Theorems.

Invention of Numbers

Invention of numerals from 1 to 9 has been the major contribution of Indians to the science of Mathematics. Its importance is similar to the alphabets in any language, without which, the language cannot be visualized. Not only they designed the shape of numbers, but also assigned valuable meaning to each shape. By adding the system of placement to each number they expanded their expressive and application potential.

Discovery of Zero

The earliest use of the zero symbols is in one of the scriptural books dated about 200 BC. The zero is called Shunya or ‘nothing.’  It was initially represented by a dot and later it was replaced by a small circle. It was thereafter accepted as a numeral like others. There is a beautiful definition of the infinite in the following line of a Vedic mantra of Isavasya Upanishad:-

ॐ।।पूर्णमद : पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते। पूर्णस्य  पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते।।

It says: “Take the whole (Infinite Brahman) from the whole and the whole still remains”. This is almost like the mathematician, Cantor’s definition of infinity.

For example, in Roman Numeral System the figure ‘three thousand three hundred thirty three’ will be represented as ‘MMMCCCXXXIII’. The same figure can be easily expressed as 3333. For multiplying this figure by ten, all that is required under the Indian system is just to place a zero on the right so that all digits get shifted one step to the left and it is read as 33330. Performing such simple mathematical functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division was extremely tedious in Roman Numeral System.

Positional Notation System

Intellectuals all over the world had been grappling with numerical signs but till India supplied them the knowledge of positional notation system, they remained handicapped to utilize their application. If that had not happened, there would not have been any progress in the field of Mathematics as well as in Computer Science.

Our ancient mathematicians, by assigning positions to numbers extended the application of Mathematics to other branches of learning. The number on the right of digit raised the value of the first digit tenfold and the process continued till infinity. For example if we added one zero to the right of any digit, the value of the digit increased in multiple of ten.  Adding another zero would increase that to multiple of hundred and so on. Conversely if the digit is placed on the left side the value of the digit decreased in multiple of ten and so on. This revolutionary discovery goes to the credit of Indian mathematicians.

Decimal system

Not only zero denoted its own value, but the complete system based on its positional concept opened the gates for subsequent revolutionary system of decimal. Brhahmagupta pioneered the decimal concept about 1500 years ago. The Western world owes a great deal to India for this simple invention made by an anonymous Indian. Without it, most of the great discoveries and inventions (including computers) would not have come about. This invention was the decimal system of numerals – nine digits and a zero. Roman system of numerals even today is too clumsy to be used as a scientific tool.

Miscalled “Arabic” Numerals

The miscalled “Arabic” numerals are found on the Rock Edicts of Ashoka (250 BC), a thousand years before their occurrence as Hindsa even in Arabic literature implying imported from India. The Arabs carried this system to Africa and Europe.

Symbols in Trigonometry and Calculus.

Indians also added more branches to the field of Mathematics, such as Trigonometry and Calculus. They studied and applied this knowledge in Astronomy. The symbol for infinity is called the lemniscuses. English mathematician John Wallis introduced this symbol for the first time in 1655. Hindu mythological iconography contained a similar symbol representing the same idea. The symbol is that of Ananta, the great Adisesha of infinity and eternity, which is always represented, coiled up in a horizontal figure of ‘8’ just like the lemniscuses.


Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, and Bhaskara conceptualized negative quantity in positional system. They found the square root of 2, and solved indeterminate equations of the second degree in 8 th Century AD. They expressed their science in poetic form and added grace to mathematical problems, a characteristic to India’s Golden Age. The same were unknown to Europe until Euler appeared on the scene thousand years later. Bhaskara invented the radical sign and many other algebraic symbols.

The largest numbers used by Greeks and Romans were 106, whereas Indians used numbers as big as 10 to the power of 53, as early as 5000 BC. The use of symbols-letters of the alphabet to denote unknowns, and equations are the foundations of the science of Algebra. The Hindus were the first to make systematic use of the letters of the alphabet to denote unknowns. They were also the first to classify and make a detailed study of equations. Thus they may be said to have given birth to the modern science of Algebra. Algebra went to Western Europe through the Arabs. To them Al-Jabr meant adjustment.

Ancient Indian Mathematicians

  • Aryabhattalived during 475 AD – 550 AD and was born in Kerala. He had studied at Nalanda. In the section Ganita (calculations) of his astronomical treatise Aryabhatiya (499 AD), he made the fundamental advance in finding the lengths of chords of circles, by using the half chord rather than the full chord method used by Greeks. He gave the value of pi as 3.1416, claiming, for the first time, that it was an approximation. He also gave methods for extracting square roots, summing arithmetic series, solving indeterminate equations of the type ax – by = c, and also gave the table of Sines.
  • Brahmagupta lived during the period 598 AD – 665 AD. He is known for introduction of negative numbers and operations on zero into arithmetic. His main work was Brahmasphuta Siddhanta. As a matter of fact, it is a corrected version of old astronomical treatise He formulated the rule of three and proposed rules for the solution of quadratic and simultaneous equations.  He was the first mathematician to treat Algebra and Arithmetic as two different branches of Mathematics. He gave the solution of the indeterminate equation Nx2+1 = y2. He is also the founder of the branch of higher Mathematics known as ‘Numerical Analyses’. Brahmagupta‘s work Brahmasiddhanta was later translated into Arabic as Sind Hind.
  • Mahavir Acharaya wrote Ganitasara Sangrahamin 850 AD, which is the first text-book on Arithmetic in present day form. He is the only Indian mathematician who has briefly referred to the ellipse, and called it ‘Ayatvrit’.
  • Bhaskaracharaya is the most well-known ancient Indian mathematician. He was born in 1114 AD at Bijjadabida (Bijapur, Karnataka). He was the first to enunciate that any number divided by zero is infinity and that the sum of any number and infinity is also infinity. Bhaskara can also be called the founder of Differential Calculus. He gave an example of what is now called ‘differential coefficient’ and the basic idea of what is now called ‘Rolle’s Theorem’. Unfortunately, later Indian mathematicians did not take any notice of this. Five centuries later, Newton and Leibniz developed this subject further.  Bhaskaracharaya wrote Siddhanta Siromani in 1150 AD. It is divided into four sections as under:-
  1. Leelavati – a very popular text-book on Arithmetic
  2. Bijaganita – introduced chakrawal to solve algebraic equations. Six centuries later, European mathematicians like Galois, Euler and Lagrange rediscovered this method and called it ‘inverse cyclic’ equation.
  3. Goladhayaya– chapter on sphere – celestial globe,
  4. Grahaganita – mathematics of the planets.


Vedic altars and sacrificial places were constructed according to strict geometrical principles. The Vedic altar had to be stacked in a geometrical form with the sides in fixed proportions. Brick altars had to combine specific dimensions with a fixed number of bricks. Again, the surface areas were so designed that altars could be increased in size without change of shape, which required considerable geometrical ingenuity. Geometry was known as Kalpa. Geometry was developed in India from the rules of the construction of the altars.

Geometrical rules found in the Sulbha Sutras, therefore, refers to the construction of squares and rectangles, the relation of the diagonal to the sides, equivalent rectangles and squares, equivalent circles and squares, conversion, of oblongs into squares and vice versa, and the construction of squares equal to the sum or difference of two squares.

Aryabhatta discovered the method of calculation for areas of triangle, trapezium and circle. In a verse (shloka), Arybhatta has explained the value for pi (tyajya) which is accurate to four decimal places.

We must appreciate the geometrical expression of Duryodhana in Mahabharata when he declared that he would not gift land to Pandavas even that measured equal to the land placed under a needle point. The statement expressed his acute sense of precision and measurement even as a layman.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 34/ 72 – Indian Contributions towards Physics)  

Splashes – 32/72 – Cosmic Time in Hindu Scriptures

Hindu scriptures tell us that Universe is without a beginning (Anadi) or an end (Ananta). Cosmos undergoes infinite number of deaths and rebirths. Every moment old stars are dying and new being formed. This truth stands ratified by the modern scientists also. Santana Dharma and modern science are not in conflict. Search for truth was the pursuit of Hindu Sages, and modern scientists have also kept up the same tradition.

Calculation of Time

The time scales worked out by Hindu sages also correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. One cosmic day and night of Brahma equals 8.64 billion years on our planet Earth. It is therefore longer than the age of Earth as well as the Sun at the center of our solar system.

The Rig Veda lists a number of stars and mentions twelve divisions of the sun’s yearly path (rashis) and 360 divisions of the circle. Thus, the year of 360 days is divided into twelve months. Using mythology as a training aid, the Sun’s annual course was artistically explained as a wheel with twelve spokes that correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Time taken in twinkling of eye is called Nimish. This unit of measure is more or less like a micro second.

The time calculation table for day and night on Earth in Manusamruti is given as under:-

  • 18 Nimish = 1 Kastha
  • 30 Kastha = 1 Kala
  • 30 Kala = 1 Mahurata
  • 30 Mahurata = 1 Ahoratra
  • 30 Ahoratras = 1 Masa (Month)

Due to rotation of Earth one Ahoratra is divided in two parts called day and night (Divas and Ratri). Day is meant for work and night is for rest.

Every month has two fortnights (Paksha) of fifteen days each. Moonlit nights are called Shukal Paksha, while dark nights are called Krishna Paksha.

The above division is perfectly natural, tangible, and scientific. The day starts with Sun rise. At the day break all living beings wake up. There is freshness in breeze and streams. Flowers bloom. Nature signals every living being to start activity.

Similarly at Sun set, all living beings start returning to their resting place, flowers close, streams also indicate feeling of slowing down, and Nature ushers everyone to sleep and rest except those species that are assigned and designed by the Creator to work at night.

If we compare Natural division of Day – Night with the division followed vide Roman calendar, the date is upgraded at midnight when everyone is sleeping in bed. There is no perceivable change around and everything is artificial, stale and unscientific!

Cosmic Time and Yugas

As per Hindu scriptures, process of creation and destruction of Universe continues in cyclic order. The creation goes on for 4.32 billion years (Srishti Kalpa – Brahma’s day) followed by an equal period of destruction (Praleya Kalpa – Brahma’s night). Srishti and Praleyas Kalpas follow each other like our day and night. Together they sum up to, 8.64 billion years to make one Brahma day – called a Brahma Ahoratra. Such 360 Braahma Ahoratras, or 3110.4 billion years make one year of Brahma.

Chaturyuga is the time taken by our solar system to circle bigger solar system in the Universe. It is also called Mahayuga or great year. The Indian concept of the great year (Mahayuga) was developed from the idea of a lunisolar period of five years, combined with four ages of the world (Yugas) which were thought to be of unequal perfection and duration, succeeding one another and lasting in the ratio of 4:3:2:1.

This figure was calculated not only from rough estimates of planetary and stellar cycles, but also from the 10,800 stanzas of the Rig Veda, consisting of 432,000 syllables. The enlightened Hindu Sages calculated the great period as one of 4,320,000 years, the basic element of which was a number of sidereal solar years, 1,080,000 a multiple of 10,800.

Hindu texts have further divided a Kalpa in to 14 Manvantaras. Every Manvantra has 308448000 years or 308.448 million years.

Manvantras are divided in to Chaturyugas.  One Chaturyuga consists of 43 lakhs & 20 thousand years.  Chaturyuga is further subdivided as under:-

  • Satyug = 17 lakhs 28 thousand years
  • Treta = 12 lakhs 96 thousand years
  • Dwapar = 8 lakhs 64 thousand years
  • Kaliyug = 4 lakhs 32 thousand years

71 Chaturyugi make for one Manvanter. (30 crore, 67 lakhs, & 20 thousand years). This is the time bigger solar system takes to circle around further solar system and there is no end to more solar systems.

According to the Hindu scriptures the present phase of creation began with the beginning of the current Shwetavaraha Kalpa about 1.972 billion years ago. Since then, 6 Manvanters have passed and the 7th Vaibasvat Manwantara is in currency. There names of previous six Manvanters are Swayambhar, Swarochish, Ottmi, Tamas, Ryivat and Chakshash.

Out of currently running seventh Manvantra 28 Chaturyugas have also passed. Of the running 29 th Chaturyuga, we are passing through present Kaliyuga. That has also passed its time of 5002 years. According to Bhagavat Purana, King Uttanapaada, the father of Dhruva, ruled during the period of first Swayambhuva Manu. That was nearly 1.97 billion years ago.

Slavery to Western mindset 

Western scientists as usual, continued to reject these mind-boggling calculations, till Michael A. Cremo, an American researcher, propounded that human beings existed 2 billion years ago on Earth. Mr Cremo’s findings substantiated the narration of the Bhagavat Purana. The neat question is that do we need to overlook own achievements till certified by others?

Indian Calendar

Unfortunately, our present generations are totally ignorant about the names of the months in Indian Calendar and its base. India’s Vikrami calendar is based on the movement of planets and is more scientific whereas Gregorian (Roman) calendar is conventional and unscientific.

Our ancestors had named the days of week after the planets of our solar system.  Starting the week with Sun (Ravivar) the following days have been named according to the proximity of planets in relation to Earth. They are moon (Somvar), Mars (Mangalvar), Mercury (Budhvar), Jupiter (Brahaspativar), Venus (Shukravar) and Saturn (Shanivar).

The word calendar is pronounced kalandar in Portuguese and resounds with Sanskrit word kal-antra meaning time differentials. Other time units in Sanskrit are Yug-antra, Manv-antra, and Kalp-antra. The months of September, October, November and December also have their source in Sanskrit words Sapt-ambar, Ashta-ambar, Nov-ambar, and Dash-ambar implying seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth in order.

Gregorian (Roman) Calendar

Gregorian calendar was introduced in Rome by Julius Caesar after his victory. Although Christians claim to believe in one God, but for no reason they named the days and months of their calendar after pagan gods, whom they denounce otherwise.

It will be interesting to trace the induction of Gregorian calendar in India through East India Company. The British did not have any of their own calendar, and like other European Countries they also had been using Julian calendar. Their year started with the month of March, and counting further September was seventh month followed by October, November and December as eighth, ninth and tenth months respectively. Months of July and August was added much later and like December and January both have 31 days one after another.

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in England as official calendar in 1750 and till 1772 England also begun her new year on 1st of March every year. Later by an act of British Parliament New Year was made to start on 1 st January, the month following Christmas.

Basis of Rashi Chakras

Our sages knew that Earth took 365-1/3 days to circle the Sun. Rig-Veda has described several constellations in the sky. Our sages identified the route of Earth around the Sun and prepared a chart. The spread of constellations in the sky were imagined to resemble out lines of animal figures and given names that came to be known as Zodiac signs (Rashi chitras). Those were used as reference points in the sky along the route of Earth while circling the Sun.

The sages arrived at the conclusion through repeated observations of the sky that Earth took 30 days’ time to pass through one constellation (Rashi). Thus they worked out 30 X 12 = 360 days of the year and twelve month. But little extra time was also to be adjusted.

For the sake of simple calculations, sages standardized every month to have thirty days each. The left-over period was allowed to accumulate for twelve years after which an extra month was added to the year. That year was supposed to have 13 months that was called ‘Malmas’. It is relevant that the rotational festival of Kumbha is held after 12 years at the same place.

The Sun entered new constellation on the first of every Indian month and made exit after thirty days accordingly. Indian system is not a matter of blind faith, but purely based on calculations that are perceivable. The same 12 zodiac signs have been adopted all over the world with slight local variations but each Zodiac sign begins somewhere on 20 th or 21 st of Calendar month for ‘unknown’ reasons and relevance.

Compared to that Roman calendar months had 30 or 31 days, but the last month of the year February held ‘left-over days’ in its kitty. Sometimes it contained 29 days and sometimes 28 days. Thus extra days are adjusted by having a leap year after every four years and varied numbers of days during months. It is all conventional and arbitrary.

Reminiscent of Slavery

East India Company officials had no clue to the scientific making of Indian calendar. Along with other British colonies, British calendar was heaped upon us in India, and we as slaves had no choice or resources to resist. Indian standard time is five and half hours ahead of British time. When there is Sunrise in India to start fresh date, there is mid night in England. But as they happened to be the masters, they ordered Indians and other colonial slaves to change date at midnight to suit British. Other colonies readily obliged as they did not have any calendars of their own.

We do appreciate that cosmic time schedule cannot be taken into use to establish our historic events. The weighing bridge used for heavy-duty trucks are not used for weighing ornaments. The age of a person can neither be expressed in Light years nor in micro seconds.

But why India has been still following Roman calendar for the sake of standardization? What is the necessity for us to match our dates with Roman calendar? Even today our Government and its functionaries have made no use of ‘Saka Calendar’ that was adopted in the Constitution as Official Calendar. If we want to trace our history we shall have to rely upon our own Calendar.

Chand K Sharma

Next: Splashes – 33/ 72 – Indian Contributions to Mathematics

Splashes– 31/ 72 – Blend of Science and Faith

One of the most remarkable features of Hinduism is that unlike other faiths, it is not confined to any geographical area; such as Jerusalem or Middle East, or time like first to seventh century AD, where Christianity and Islam developed. Santana Dharma has had its imprints left over the entire Universe. The gods, goddesses and sages are timeless. There are several inter-planetary movements not only of gods and goddesses, but also of sages and mortal beings. They appear and disappear. With such faith, Hinduism has unified abstract scientific knowledge and humanized illustrations in the form of spiritual literature that Europeans tend to call mythology.

The Scientific Mythology

Although mythology is a subject of faith and beliefs, but abstract knowledge compiled in books is open to scrutiny at all times. Hindu scriptures and text books are open to inclusion in the University curriculum for critical evaluation, so that various hypotheses could be verified by employing modern tools. The concepts in Hinduism are so strong that criticism is not considered taboo or blasphemous.

Hinduism is a perfect blend of Science and faith where both are complementary to each other.  Whatever cannot be comprehended is said to be a myth. The branch of knowledge that serves as tool to understand the intelligible qualifies to be referred as Mythology. Therefore, complex scientific concepts had been explained by Hindu sages utilizing the tool of mythology that is scientific in every respect.

Evaluation by Reasoning

Faith is always a consequence of several reasoning pointing to same findings with consistency.  Blind faith also required some solid ground for support. Hindus have several faiths and beliefs established in their kitty on account of reasoning. There is absolutely no danger to Hindu faiths that can survive any amount of cross checks. Faith is the real foundation of Hinduism.

Our scriptures are open to reasoned evaluation. Hinduism is not vulnerable to atheist thoughts that many other faiths are.  Many faiths have separated religion from science, under secularism, that is nothing but an escape to avoid scientific evaluation. Science and Religion are complementary to each-other for Hindus. Pursuit of Gyana (knowledge) is Science.

The Evolution Theory

The beginning of Indian scientific thought can be traced to the Rig Veda. According to Vedas ‘Creation’ indicated the state when there was no Creator. It is line between indefinable ‘nothingness’ and something defined by attributes and function. It was like the moment before the ‘Big Bang Theory’. These concepts about Truth provide cue to the scientific mind and are not mere religion.

Manusmariti (chapter one) refers to Evolution of Earth and life on our planet. Several Puranas have also given detailed description of the origin of our Universe.     

आसीदितं तमोभूतमप्रज्ञातमलक्षणम् अप्रतक्यमविज्ञेयं प्रसुप्तमिव सर्वतः ।।

ततः स्वयंभूभर्गवानव्यक्तो व्यञ्जयन्निदम्। महाभूतादि वृत्तौजाः प्रादुरासीत्तमोनुदः।।

                                                                                 – (मनु स्मृति 1 – 5-6)

It stated that the universe was covered in darkness and there was nothing to perceive or imagine for establishing the shape according to reasons. The five basic elements of matter subsequently known as Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether emerged automatically out of the state of nothingness.

As per Sage Manu, the first germ of life was developed by water and heat from Sun. Water ascended towards the sky in vapors; from the Sky it descended in rain, from the rains were born the plants, and from the plants, animals and subsequently humans were born.

The ancient thinkers correctly understood the theory of animal life and particularly of man. The Brihat Vishnu Purana states that the aquatic life preceded monkey life, and monkey life is the precursor of the human life. Centuries later, Charles Darwin plagiarized the same thought and got it registered in his name. The ten incarnations of Vishnu explain the same theory in an interesting way since evolution, like everything else, was the manifestation of the supreme spirit (Atman). Chandogya Upanishad also testified the same thought.

Hindu sages had thoroughly studied the behavioral pattern of living beings and the motivating force urging them to actions. Animals and bird do not have schools to train their off springs in the art of making nests, finding food and satisfying other body demands, yet they have learned the same automatically under the guidance from the Creator. These findings are now being televised on National Geographic channels but sage Manu had enunciated the same fact centuries ago as under:     

     यं तु कर्मणि यस्मिन्स न्ययुड्क्त प्रथमं प्रभुः।

     तदेव स्वयं भेजे सृज्यमानः पुनः पुनः ।। (मनु स्मृति 1- 28)

For whatever activity Lord Brahma created the first specie, their off-springs automatically performed the same functions again and again.

Wood-peckers birds have been pecking holes in tree trunks for centuries to search food for themselves, when plenty of substitutes are available nearby. Their generations have continued to perform same duty in every birth without any training.

Puranic narratives depicted feelings and sensations existing in plants and animals similar to humans, and much later Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose was awarded Nobel Prize for re-stating the same truth in modern scientific language to the West.

Contributions in Applied Science

Old Indian Scriptures contain description of fourteen bhavans, seven continents and four oceans that we see printed on the geographical globes of today.  The Indian astronomers identified orbit of Earth around Sun and marked the route by providing twelve zodiac signs. They identified all the planets of our solar system, measured their distance and orbit,  predicted their effect on human mind, and thereafter included them in a Mantra to be recited to witness all the rituals of life. They had identified the gems and their properties to balance the effect of heavenly bodies on our mind, actions and events. That was the application of scientific knowledge in everyday life. The data gathered by Indian astronomers is as near to the limits established through the scientific discoveries being made today.

Philosophy of Actions and Re-actions

On the philosophical plain the Karma Sidhanta explained in Srimad Bhagvad Gita is the fore-runner of Action – Reaction Theory or better known as Theory of Relativity.

It is an accepted scientific truth that ‘Action and Reaction are equal and opposite.’ Doer does an action and its fruit is given by Almighty God and goes to the doer itself. In simple words, ‘Man acts and God reacts. Whatever you sow shall you reap is an eternal law. Effect wise actions have been classified in four types:

  • Nishkam Karma: The actions that are performed without any motive for reward provide deepest satisfaction instantly.
  • Punya Karma: When action and the intentions behind the action are noble, such as saving the life of some one.
  • Paap Karma: Evil actions performed with evil intentions to harm some body.
  • Mishrit Karma: Mixed actions are good actions with bad intentions or vice versa, such as using pesticides to obtain good crop.

Another classification of action is on different scale –

  • Kriyaman Karma: Present actions leading to chain reaction.
  • Sanchit Karma: Past deed, those have yet to show result.
  • Prarabdha: Actions performed in the past, but show their effect in present after maturing. Such actions are called fate or destiny.

The belief goes that it is purely destiny that someone has up start in life by birth in riches, while another is born with deformities. All activity in life is result of past actions and reactions. Some actions can be analyzed while others cannot be. Not only we are affected by individual actions, but also suffer or enjoy due to the actions of our parents, relatives and contacts. Can scientific reasoning be different from this thought process of Hinduism? Here lies the blend between faith and scientific explanations.

 Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 32/72 – Cosmic Time in Hindu Scriptures)

Splashes – 30/72 – Exploration for Knowledge

Hindu religion has always encouraged individuals to pursue knowledge. Inquisitiveness has always been appreciated as opposed to blind faith. It is for this mindset that India has enriched every art and science known to man from the earliest times.

System of Learning

The initial stage of learning started at home with Yama and Niyamas to inculcate values and inquisitiveness for absorbing knowledge. The methodology at Gurukul was aimed not to convert the student to a data bank, but to develop an intelligent and action oriented personality. The three-fold process of teaching included attentively listening (Shravan) the discourse, followed by assimilation (Manana), and lastly practical application (Nidyasana). Practicing for perfection (Sadhna) thereafter was to be a continuous and life-long process till the salient aspects of learning reflected through reflex actions.

Classification of Grades

Besides the literature of Vedas, Upanishdas, Darshan Shastras, Puranas and the epics; India had established a formal system of education from the earliest times. The syllabus for the next stage included study of Mathematics, Algebra, Physics, Astronomy, and Fine Arts. Graduate Students (Sanatkas) were expected to excel in Vedic knowledge. Those who could not cope for want of aptitude or hard-work were advised to switch over to professional training in the field of commerce or skills.

Entry to further higher training was open only to those who qualified prescribed levels of second stage and earned the status of Ribhu.  The tradesmen (Ribhus) were skilled persons who could be assisting scientists and engineers (Ashvins) in the designing and manufacturing of chariots, vehicles, ships and similar projects.

The next higher category was of specialists (Daksha) in specific fields such as Astronomy, Philosophy and so on. The faculties were known as Acharyas.

Recognition of Intellectuals

Those days Educational Institutes did not award degrees and diplomas, but classification was there. First class Graduates were required to pursue studies up to the age of 24 years and stay unmarried till completion. They were given the title of Brahmcharya. Those who studied further up to the age of 36 years were entitled Rudrai, and those who attained further distinctions up to the age between 44 to 48 years were recognized as Adityas.

Roughly we can co-relate the same to Graduation, post-Graduation and Doctorate classifications of today. Subsequently, those who specialized in the knowledge of Vedas came to be identified and progressively graded as Vedi, Duvedi, Triedi and Chaturvedi.  Later with passage of time such qualifications got stuck as hereditary sur-names irrespective of the real potential of the bearer.

Authenticity of Knowledge

While nomadic civilizations in other part of the world were emerging out of forest dwellings, ancient Indians had measured the land, divided the year, mapped out the heavens, traced the course of Sun and other planets through the zodiacal belt, analyzed the constitution of matter, and studied the nature of birds, beasts, plants and seeds. India’s contribution to the sciences of Mathematics and Medicine has been unique. In linguistics, Metallurgy, and Chemistry, Indians have made trail-blazing discoveries. Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Pluto and others who are claimed to be the ‘founding-fathers’ of Western education were not born by then.

Just three centuries ago, there was no science like Allopathic, but Ayurveda had system of curing chronic diseases. Europeans did not know the existence of Pacific Ocean on globe till 1510 AD, but ancient Indians had already established the following astronomical facts:

  • The Sun never rises, nor sets; it is due to rotation of Earth that days and nights are formed – Sam Veda 121
  • The Earth remains stabilized due to mutual gravitation of planets of our solar system. – Rig-Veda 1-103-2,1-115-4, 5-81-2)
  • The axle of Earth never gets rusted around which Earth continues to revolve. – Rig-Veda 1-164 – 29)

Institutes of Higher Learning

Educational institutions, known as Gurukuls, Ashramas, Viharas, and Parishads existed all over the country. Students were given free tuition and boarding. For higher learning universities were located at Takshashila, Kashi, Vidarbha, Ajanta, Nalanda,Ujjain and Magdha. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction. Many learned personalities were associated with universities who contributed in their respective fields earlier than European classical exponents arrived on the scene. Brief account of the prominent universities in ancient India is as follows:-

  • Takshashila: World’s first international university was established at Takshashila seven hundred years ago before Christ was born. Takshashila was known to the world as the leading seat of Hindu scholarship. It was renowned above all for its medical school, even before the time of Alexander’s invasion. The campus at Takshashila accommodated 10,500 students and offered over sixty different courses in various fields, such as Religion, Philosophy, Science Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Warfare, Politics and Music. Students, as far as Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia and China came to study.
  • Vikramasila: The University of Vikramasila accommodated 8,000 students. It was situated on a hill in Magdha on the banks of the River Ganga, and flourished for four centuries. Kalidasa has mentioned multiple disciplines of knowledge taught and learnt under the guidance of Rishi Kanva, who was once Kulapati (Vice-Chancellor) there.
  • Ajanta: The Ajanta institute was known for studies in the field of Fine Arts and Architecture (Vastu Kala). The existing remains of Ajanta are still there to testify the glory of the institute.
  • Nalanda: The University of Nalanda built-in the 4th century BC was another landmark of ancient India in the field of education. It was the first University on globe. Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime. The Chinese scholar and traveler Hiuen Tsang stayed there in the 7th century, and has left an elaborate description of the excellence, and purity of monastic life practiced there. About 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied in that international university. The University counted on its staff great thinkers like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Vasubhandu, Asanga, Sthiramati, Dharmapala, Silaphadra, Santideva and
  • Odantapuri: The University at Odantapuri was established by King Gopal near Nalanda. About 12000 students resided there.  The complex was surrounded by a high wall that Muslim invaders mistook as fort. They ransacked the institution and killed all the teachers and students.
  • Jagddala: The University at Jagddala was founded by King Devapala during the period 810-850 AD. This institute was dedicated to Tantrik studies and Buddhism. In 1027 AD Muslim invaders destroyed this institution of learning.
  • Vallabhi: This Buddhist institute at Vallabhi was known for the study of Hiyansung school of thought in Buddhism. It was founded and funded by rulers of Maitrika Besides that the subjects offered for study included Rajaniti, Krishi, Arthashastra, and Niyaya Shastra, meaning Political Science, Agriculture, Economics, and Jurisprudence respectively.

Contribution to Global Knowledge

Today we are over awed by the repute of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and cannot reconcile to the fact that India also had greater Universities to impart higher education. Emperor Ashoka and emperors of Gupta dynasty and Emperor Harshavardhana patronized many monasteries and institutes to promote knowledge.

Ancient intellectuals from India have enriched every branch of learning with original creative works that contain authentic and scientific knowledge that is still being used abroad. More stimuli contained therein is lying untapped. In the field of fine arts and literature, the contribution of writers and artists in the form of treatises is of pioneering nature. 

Unfortunately, many institutions of knowledge along with the intellectual treasures stored there in were burnt down by barbarous Islamic invaders. Nalanda Univerty was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during 1193 and all the intellectuals were massacred. Other Universities also met similar fate.

The Mughals ignored learning and devoted time and resources in building harems and mausoleums throughout in the length and breadth of India. With their biased mindset they opposed knowledge on the excuse of ‘Kufer’. Their major interests were in developing gardens, dishes, dance and music. Schools (Maktab and Madrassas) imparting elementary education of Islam was considered enough.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 31/72 – Blend of Science and Faith)

Splashes – 29/72 – Practices for Self Control

Vrata implies taking vow to accomplish pre-decided mission in spite of difficulties and obstacles. Repeated action aimed at perfection is called Sadhna.  Undertaking Sadhna is called Tapa. It is one of the five Niyamas of Yoga. Sadhnas prepare a person bodily and mentally to negotiate challenging situations. The gamut of Vrata, Sadhna and Niyama is regarded as an effective tool for spiritual, mental and physical development.

Fasting (Vrata) is an important practice (sadhna) for exercising control over passions.  It is undertaken primarily to keep the body in fit condition and to balance out excessive intakes. Fasting controls passion, emotions and controls the senses also. It is a great penance to purify mind and heart. Fasting overhauls the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. It destroys all the impurities of the body and all sorts of poisons; such as uric acid deposits. In no way God is concerned to keep record of fasts undergone by an individual.

Choice of Time

Fasting may be practiced on any day according to the choice and convenience of the individual, or on the days as suggested by customs of the society. Persons can select any days and frequency to practice fasting. Instead of continuous fasting for several days, Hindu sages have suggested certain days so that fasting could be spread over the year and easily practiced by all sections of the society.  The uniform days for observing fast are advantageous because person required undertaking travel can also get fasting type food at all places.

During fasting some people abstain from taking one or more items such as salt, certain specific cereals, non-vegetarian foods, and various items classified as ‘Tamsik ’ or considered undesirable. Sometimes people do not take even water, but all such restrictions are left to the choice of the individual. It is simply a sort of training in self-discipline to overcome temptations. Excessive fasting is to be avoided, as it will lead to weakness. It must be practiced gradually. Complete fasting helps to control sleep. During fasting, as for as possible, one should avoid company and be alone. When breaking a fast, a heavy meal or food that is hard to digest should be avoided. Milk or some fruit juice is more beneficial.

Over the period, interesting folk tales have also got attached with various fasts to impress the importance and keeping people occupied with some activity. Most common occasions for fasting are as under:

Sheetla Vrat: Summers are generally accompanied with fly breeding and cause epidemics like small pox. As protective measure, people in northern part of India change the food intake. On the day of Sheetla fast only pre-cooked food, combined with cool items like yogurt, butter and milk is consumed. The items are generally fried, and sweet in taste to maintain requisite nourishment to the body.

The Eclipse: Fasting is recommended during solar and lunar eclipse. Preferably, food should have been taken and digested before the beginning of the eclipse. Alternately, kitchen should be disinfected of bacterial growth occurred during the eclipse, and food should be prepared fresh for consumption afterwards. Normally people clean their houses, vessels, and take a bath before they start cooking. Sages have further advised that pregnant women should not see the Sun or the Moon during the time of the eclipse. If they do the child born may have some kind of physical defect. He may be born deaf, dumb or blind or having some awkward marks on his skin. Householders are strictly forbidden from sexual intercourse during the eclipse, for the same reason. At this time one should take great care in avoiding bleeding. Even an earthworm has a poisonous effect when it bites during an eclipse.

Satya Narayana Vrata: It is generally observed on the full moon day, or on new moon days. It is a standard practice of one fast every month. It is therefore simple in ritual and least expensive on pocket, that everyone can afford. The observance of the Satya Narayana Vrata does not cost much. Some wheat flour and sugar will make up the Prasad for general distribution, while little curd and some fruit are required to substitute as diet. Regular practice of this fast is enough to keep fit. For mental satisfaction, the ritual of narrative can be completed through self-reading or by professional priest.

Ganagaur: This fast is more popular in Rajasthan. The period of fast is in the month of March April (Chaitra). During this period, harvesting is almost over. In ancient days, young warriors would return home after campaigning period, therefore married women observed this fast for the longevity and safe return of their husbands, while the unmarried for seeking prospective husband. From the first day of Chaitra month, the fasting period extends to eighteen days, during which women take one meal only after moon rise. On the last day procession of Shiva’s spouse Gauri is taken out, since the legend goes that she had also undertaken this fast for marrying Lord Shiva.

Karva Chauth: Karva Chauth falls during October November. This is a rare practice of love and affection that Hindu wives perform not for their personal benefit, but for the welfare of their husband. They refrain from taking food and water for the entire duration of the fast, which is broken on sighting the moon.  It is really a tough fast. Nowhere else in the world such a penance is undertaken.

Ekadashi: Ekadashi refers to the eleventh day of a fortnight belonging to a lunar month. It occurs twice in a month, as there are two fortnight in a lunar month—the bright and the dark. No rice should be taken on Ekadashi days.  As compared to Satyanarayan Vrat, this fast offers standardized schedule to people to observe two fasts a month.

Nirjala Ekadashi: Out of several Ekadashies during the year, the one falling during the month of June (Jyeshtha) has special significance. The fast on this Ekadashi is the toughest.  People do not take even a sip of water, although summer is on its peak and days are long. Higher level of determination and self-discipline are necessary to undertake this fast. People donate, hand-held fans, earthen water pots and seasonal fruit melons to passersby and organize sweetened water drinking outlets. The spirit of Hindu community in self-discipline with helping attitude is visible in the length and breadth of the country during this fast.

Navaratras: Fasting for nine days is undertaken by devotees twice a year, once as ‘Rama-Navaratri’ in the month of April-May (Chaitra) to mark the beginning of summer: and then as ‘Durga Navaratri’ in September-October (Ashawin) to mark the beginning of winter. Both the occasions are two important junctions of climatic and solar influence, and bodies and minds of people undergo considerable change on account of the changes in weather.

For health point of view, diet routines are changed for a period of nine days by observing fasts, to prepare digestive system to acclamation with the changes in weather. Devotees abstain from non-vegetarian foods, and cereals. They use other substitutes to cater for balanced dieting, experimenting varieties in food habits.

The scientific aspect of this tradition has found acceptance even in the Middle East region also. People observe fast during the entire month of Ramadan, though the sanction for the same came from their holy book Quran.

Besides the above, some individuals voluntarily abstain from only one or two items like salted food, some particular grain or non-vegetarian food, to practice self-control. In substance all fastings are optional. Significant aspect of Hindu fasts is that no animal is sacrificed for breaking the fast. If any sacrifice was to be desired, the person would be suggested to donate his own blood at nearby blood bank for common good.


Keeping Quiet is most powerful and an effective tool to practice self-control and developing confidence. It may be combined with fasting also. During Maun-Vrata, an individual has to refrain from communicating with others in any form including gestures and writing. He is expected to spend time in introspection and meditation.

The purpose of restricting communications is to gain control over reactions caused by the activities of others. This training is most beneficial to diplomats, military persons and those dealing in matters related to security. The period and frequency of this resolve depends upon the choice, capability, and the aspirations of the practitioner.


There is really no intrinsic connection between fast and meditation, but it is better to give rest to digestive system while practicing meditation. This helps to control mind and will. There is a necessity to give the physiological system some rest once a while. It may be over-worked due to a little over-eating or in-discrimination in diet. Thus the irregularities unconsciously done during the past get rectified in one day.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes 30/72 – Hinduism and Knowledge)

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