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Yuva Spot : The advanced sciences of our civilization


(Extract­ed from talks at Vikasa, Rishikesh, Decem­ber 2016. A ses­sion on Indi­an astron­o­my)

Astron­o­my is also called Jyotisha. Jyotisha is one of the Vedan­gas. Before the study of the Vedas, the Trive­da, or the Chaturve­da – Rig, Sama, Yajur, Athar­va, one had to go through the study of the Vedan­gas. (Veda + Anga; Anga mean­ing “limbs”. Vedan­gas are con­sid­ered the limbs of the Vedas) The Vedan­gas were 6 in num­ber – Niruk­ta, Vyakarana, Chan­das, Shik­sha, Kalpa and Jyotisha.

The first 4 – Niruk­ta, Vyakarana, Chan­das, Shik­sha — dealt with lan­guage and its con­struc­tion. For exam­ple, Shik­sha was pho­net­ics. Niruk­ta was ety­mol­o­gy, root words and deriva­tions from root words. A sim­ple exam­ple is how sci­en­tif­ic the whole design of the lan­guage was. Just to illus­trate that, in San­skrit “Vid” means “to know”. Vidya means knowl­edge. Vid­yarthi means a stu­dent or seek­er of knowl­edge, or one for whom, artha, wealth, is knowl­edge. Vidyasha­la or Vidyalaya means alaya, abode of learn­ing. Vidyapeetha, seat of learn­ing. Vid­van, expert. All these are inter­re­lat­ed. From one root word, you could derive. But in Eng­lish, if you look at these words — stu­dent, uni­ver­si­ty, knowl­edge, school — these seem to be pure­ly mem­o­ry based. You need to use brute force method­ol­o­gy to just remem­ber them. And con­nect them with each oth­er. They are not cog­ni­tive­ly inter­con­nect­ed. They are sep­a­rate cog­ni­tive aspects but you need to some­how con­nect them togeth­er with expe­ri­ence. But that is not how it is in San­skrit. That is the design of the lan­guage struc­ture. The rea­son why I am illus­trat­ing it is, peo­ple stud­ied the design of the lan­guage struc­ture and it was passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion and four of the most impor­tant Vedan­gas, before the com­mence­ment of the study of the Vedas, formed lan­guage and its con­structs. So pri­ma­ry con­structs being pho­net­ics. There is a sci­ence of pho­net­ics — how you pro­nounce. That is why you have: ka kha ga gha nga. These use the entire sys­tem of the body and mod­u­la­tions to the sound to pro­duce a spe­cif­ic phoneme. And that is com­bined togeth­er with spe­cif­ic com­bi­na­tions to form syl­la­bles and words. And those words indi­cate cer­tain aspects. So all this is built up. So ety­mol­o­gy — from a root word, syl­la­bles or root words, com­bi­na­tion of syl­la­bles are formed and they have a spe­cif­ic mean­ing. From that you derive fur­ther, based on cer­tain con­structs. And then you have gram­mar, com­bi­na­tion of words to pro­duce mean­ing­ful sen­tences.

One of the impor­tant com­po­nents, for exam­ple in San­skrit and oth­er Indi­an lan­guages, you will see that a word could be placed any­where in the sen­tence, so spa­tial­ly it was free. You could place it any­where to get the same mean­ing. But in Eng­lish, you would not be able to do that. Do that you will not be able to. Do that you will not able to be. Do that able to not be will. Slow­ly it will stop mak­ing sense. But in San­skrit, Tamil, Hin­di or Indi­an lan­guages you will see struc­tures, which allow you to locate words. And hence that spa­tial con­straint is lib­er­al, it is free, you could locate words. Chan­das was met­ri­cal com­po­si­tion. That would allow you to locate syl­la­bles with­in a word itself. You could jug­gle with syl­la­bles. And hence it formed pow­er­ful poet­ry. For exam­ple, one very famous chan­das is Gay­a­tri chan­das. So that is a meter. You use that meter. For exam­ple in Eng­lish poet­ry we use rhyme. So rhyme alone is not suf­fi­cient. You need much more, in terms of flex­i­bil­i­ty with syl­la­bles. You should be able to play with it. That play was pos­si­ble in a lan­guage like San­skrit. Vyakarana was the rules of gram­mar. So that used to be one part of the Vedan­gas, to study.

The next 2 were Kalpa Shas­tras and Jyotisha. Jyotisha was con­sid­ered very impor­tant because that pro­vides you with a sci­ence to time events, or see for exam­ple, how do we time events? What is the intel­li­gent way to decide when to do some­thing? That is a very crit­i­cal ques­tion. We now time it based on most­ly our con­ve­nience. And hence it is not an exact sci­ence. But in India it was con­sid­ered very very impor­tant to time events appro­pri­ate­ly. The tim­ing of events was con­sid­ered excep­tion­al­ly impor­tant and hence the sci­ence of Jyotisha. You would align your tim­ing accord­ing to the astro­nom­i­cal basis, astro­nom­i­cal align­ment. And then there was Kalpa Shas­tra. Kalpa was to do with using all of this, in actu­al hands-on stuff, to achieve a cer­tain goal. So for exam­ple, design of the altar. You will need to “square the cir­cle, cir­cle the square”, use threads to do that and so many things were dealt as part of the Kalpa Shas­tras. So all this formed a sys­tem­at­ic study. So basi­cal­ly Kalpa Shas­tras and Jyotisha are astro­nom­i­cal math­e­mat­ics and prac­ti­cal math­e­mat­ics. So math­e­mat­ics and lan­guage formed the basic lev­el study, along with Iti­hasa and Puranas which would give some­one a cer­tain val­ue back­ground. In fact, if you see now, we study only this. Is it not so? In fact, what we study is devoid of a lit­tle val­ues. Oth­er­wise it is pri­mar­i­ly lan­guage and math­e­mat­ics. Sci­ences depend on lan­guage and math­e­mat­ics, and is an expan­sion of math­e­mat­ics and lan­guage. You can­not do physics, chem­istry — all that with­out math­e­mat­ics. But for math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tions we use some­thing oth­er than Eng­lish. But in San­skrit, it was built into the struc­ture. So it is very inter­est­ing to look at all these aspects and hence believ­ing in the words that we were a prim­i­tive soci­ety, agrar­i­an soci­ety alone, seems very far-fetched, actu­al­ly! If you con­sid­er it log­i­cal­ly, an intel­li­gence that can design such aspects so very well, can­not be a prim­i­tive intel­li­gence. It has to be very far advanced. Because, still, we are not able to grasp that!

Take even architecture for example, the place that we are in is Coimbatore, we have 2000 year old temples still standing intact! While modern construction, how many years would it last? Something like 30-40 years. Maybe 60 years, not even 100 years. Generally even bridges and dams and so on, you see, even earthern dams lasting so long, what did the ancients do? For example, Iron pillar and so on, it has been studied, but how do you arrive at such perfection that it does not rust? Or solidifying mercury. Such things are not a joke. And hence our civilization was highly advanced.

Even if we consider,”Okay, it was not wide­spread, it was one instance!” But still that one instance itself shows how advanced the whole knowl­edge should have been. What are the back­ground which will lead to that one instance? For exam­ple there is a “stray inci­dent” of Ramanu­jam, aris­ing in an oth­er­wise intel­lec­tu­al­ly bank­rupt Indi­an sce­nario. That is how the Eng­lish con­sid­er it. British­ers con­sid­er it. See Ramanu­jam has cre­at­ed almost like a cot­tage indus­try now. 200–300 math­e­mati­cians work­ing on his note­books. Even now. That can­not be a fluke! There has to be whole back­ground for a Ramanu­jam to arise. Oth­er­wise it is sim­ply not pos­si­ble. Even log­i­cal­ly it is not pos­si­ble. So that is crit­i­cal to under­stand and that will give us a cer­tain appre­ci­a­tion of our civ­i­liza­tion and its advanced knowl­edge.

With the math­e­mat­ics used in Jyotisha, peo­ple can pre­dict when an eclipse is going to be. But today, we mod­ern peo­ple can­not pre­dict when an eclipse is going to be with­out refer­ring to NASA, or ISRO. They will have to pre­dict for us. So that is how pow­er­ful our sci­ences were. These are per­son­al­ized astronomies. Per­son­al­ized. Any­body can pick it up. NASA’s astron­o­my, or mod­ern astron­o­my, you and I can­not pick it up. You need a PhD degree to pick it up. So that also shows the pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of the sci­ence in our tra­di­tion. For exam­ple, nowa­days, in nutri­tion and dietet­ics, peo­ple do PhDs. But in our places, every­one cooks as per the sci­en­tif­ic prin­ci­ples of Vata, Pit­ta, Kapha – the Tri­dosha in Ayurve­da — no mat­ter where you go in India. You will find what is called Anjaraipet­ti. What is that called in the North, I don’t know. Spice box? Turmer­ic, mus­tard, tad­ka, etc, and also mix­ing and match­ing ingre­di­ents, the indi­vid­ual flavour might dif­fer, but the over­all sci­ence is the same. That is the sci­ence of Ayurve­da. So we were very advanced with respect to pop­u­lar­is­ing sci­ence and mak­ing it prac­ti­cal for any­body to use. That is how edu­ca­tion spread. Knowl­edge spread to this every­body.

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