“Ye multiplying masses of increased
And still increasing lights: what are ye? what Is this blue wilderness of interminable
Air where ye roll along, as I have seen
The leaves along the limpid stream of Eden? Is your course measured for ye? or do ye
Sweep on in your unbounded revelry Through an aerial universe of endless Expansion, at which my soul aches to think, Intoxicated with eternity.”
A EUROPEAN critic says: “For a man, the most sublime study is that of astronomy.” And, indeed, what can be more sublime than the study of Nature in its broadest aspects, of the movements and the functions of those wonderful and splendid bodies with which the boundless expanse of the wide, wide space is thickly studded, where fancy is puzzled and imagination itself staggered ?
“Heaven Is as the book of God before thee set
Wherein to read His wondrous words.”
MILTON: Paradise Lost.
The science of astronomy flourishes only amongst a civilized people. Hence, considerable advancement in it is itself a proof of the high civilization of a nation. Hindu astronomy, or what remains of it, has received the homage of European scholars. Dr. Sir William Hunter says: “The Astronomy of the Hindus has formed the subject of excessive admiration.” “ Proofs of, very extraordinary proficiency,” says Mr. Elphinstone, “ in their astronomical writings are found.’
The Hindu astronomy not only establishes the high proficiency of our ancestors in this department of knowledge and exact admiration and applause: it does something more. It proves the great antiquity of the Sanskrit literature and the high literary culture of the Hindus. “Mons. Bailly, the celebrated author of the History of Astronomy, inferred from certain astronomical tables of the Hindus, not only advanced progress of the science but a date so ancient as to be entirely inconsistent with the chronology of the Hebrew Scriptures. His argument was laboured with the utmost diligence, and was received with unbounded applause. All concurred at the time with the wonderful learning, wonderful civilization and wonderful institutions of the Hindus.”12 It must not, however, be forgotten, as this celebrated astronomer (Mons. Bailly) holds, that Hindu astronomy is “the remains rather than the elements of a science.133
Mr. Weber says: “Astronomy was practised in India as early as 2780 B.C.”14 But some of the greatest modern astronomers have decided in favour of a much greater antiquity. Cassini, Bailly, Gentil and Playfair maintain “that there are Hindu observations extant which must have been made more than three thousand
1 History of India, p. 129.
years before Christ, and which evince even then a very high degree of astronomical science.”‘
Count Bjornstjerna proves conclusively that Hindu astronomy was very far advanced even at the beginning of the Kaliyug, or the iron age of the Hindus (about 5,000 years ago). He says: “According to the astronomical calculations of the Hindus, the present period of the world, Kaliyug, commenced 3,102 years before the birth of Christ, on the 20th of February, at 2 hours 27 minutes and 30 seconds, the time being thus calculated to minutes and seconds. They say that a conjunction of the planets then took place, and their tables show this conjunction. Bailly states that Jupiter and Mercury were then in the same degree of the ecliptic, Mars at a distance of only eight, and Saturn of seven degrees; whence it follows, that at the point of time given by the Brahmins as the commencement of Kaliyug, the four planets above-mentioned must have been successively concealed by the rays of the sun (first Saturn, then Mars, afterwards Jupiter and lastly Mercury). They thus showed themselves in conjunction; and although Venus could not then be seen, it was natural to say, that a conjunction of the planets then took place. The calculation of the Brahmins is so exactly confirmed by our own astronomical tables, that nothing but an actual observation could have given so correspondent a result.” The learned Count continues: “He (Bailly) further informs us that Lauhere, who was sent by Louis XIV as ambassador to the King of Siam, brought home, in the year 1687, astronomical tables of solar eclipses, and that other similar tables were sent to Europe by Patouillet
1 Theogony of the Hindus, p. 32.
(a missionary in the Carnatic), and by Gentil, which latter were obtained from the Brahmins in Tirvalore, and than they all perfectly agree in their calculations although received from different persons, at different times, and froni places in India remote from each other. On these, tables, Bailly makes the following observation.
The motion calculated ‘by the Brahmins during the long space of 4,383 years (the period elapsed between these calculations and Bailly’s), varies not a single minute from the tables of Cassini and Meyer; and as the tables brought to Europe by Laubere in 1687, under Louis XIV, are older than those of Cassini and Meyer, the accordance between them must be the result of mutual and exact astronomical observations.” Then again, “Indian tables give the same annual variation of the moon as that discovered by Tycho Brahe, a variation unknown to the school of Alexandria, and also to the Arabs, who followed the calculations of this school.”
“These facts,” says the erudite Count, “sufficiently show the great antiquity and distinguished station of astronomical science among the Hindus of past ages.” The Count then asks “if it be true that the Hindus more than 3,000 B.C., according to Bailly’s calculation, had attained so high a degree of astronomical and geometrical learning, how many centuries earlier must the commencement of their culture have been, since the human mind advances only step by step on the path of science!’
There are, however, many other arguments to estab= lish a far higher antiquity of the Hindu astronomy than what is assigned by Bentley.
The equation of the sun’s centre, according to the Indian tables, is 2° 10i
1 Theoogony of the Hindus, p. 37.
whereas the same quantity according to the modern observations is only 1° 552’. It is one consequence of the mutual disturbances of planets that the eccentricity of the solar orbit on which the equation just mentioned depends, was greater in former ages than it is at the present. time. From the quantity which the Hindus assign to this astronomical element, M. Bailly has drawn an argument in favour of the antiquity ocf the Indian tables, which it must be confessed is of great weight when the difference of the Indian and European determinations is considered as arising from the gradual alteration of the planetary orbits.
2. The quantities which the Indian tables assign to other astronomical elements, viz., the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, have been found to agree almost exactly not with what is observed at the present time, but with what the theory of gravity shows would have been observed at the beginning of the Kaliyug. Laplace discovered it after the publication of the Astronomic Indien and inserted it in the Journal des Savans.
3. M. Bailly has shown that the place of the aphelion of Jupiter’s orbit, determined by the Indian tables for the beginning of the Kaliyug agrees with the modern tables of Lalande when corrected by the theoretical equations of La Grange. The same thing is true of the quantity which the Hindus assign to the equation of Saturn’s centre.
4., Another argument to vindicate the great antiquity of Hindu astronomy is derived from the obliquity of the ecleptic which the Indians state at 24°. Both observation and theory concur in showing that the obliquity of the ecliptic has been diminishing slowly for many ages preceding the present.
5. The length of the Hindu tropical year as deduced from the Hindu tables is 365 days, 5 hours, 50 minutes, 35 seconds, while La Callie’s observation gives 365-5-48-49. This makes the year at the time of the Hindu observation longer than at present by 1’46”. It is, however, an established fact that the year has been decreasing in duration from time immemorial and shall continue to decrease. In about 49 centuries the time of the year decreases about 402”. This, then, is an unmistakable proof of the very high antiquity of Indian astronomy. The observation by the Hindus must have been made in the Dwapar (more than 5,009 years ago).
It should now be quite clear that in India astronomy was cultivated and wonderful progress in the science made at a period when the rest of the world, including the whole of Europe, was completely enveloped in ignorance.
Sir W. Hunter says: “In some points the Brahmans made advances beyond Greek astronomy. Their fame spread throughout the West, and found entrance into the Chronicon Paschale (commenced about 330 A.D. and revised under Heraclius 610-641).15
Mr. Elphinstone says: “In addition to the points already mentioned in which the Hindus have gone beyond the other nations, Mr. Colebrooke mentions two in astroT nomy. One is in their notions regarding the processions of the Equinoxes, in which they- were more correct than Ptolemy, and as much so as the Arabs, who did not attain to that degree of improvement till a later period; the other relates to the diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis which the Brahmans discussed in the fifth century B.C.”‘
Sir W. Hunter says: “The Sanskrit term for the apex of a planet’s orbit seems to have passed into the Latin translations of the Arabic astronomers. The Sanskrit uccha became the aux (gen. aegis) of the later translators.” (Reinaud, p. 325 and Weber, p. 257).
Professor Weber says: “The fame of Hindu astronomers spread to the West, and the Andubarius (or probably, Ardubarius), whom the Chronicon Paschale places, in primeval times as the earliest Indian stronomer, is doubtless none other than Aryabhatta, the rival of Pulisa, and who is likewise extolled by the Arabs under the name of Arjabahar.” 2
Professor Wilson says: “The science of astronomy at present exhibits many proofs of accurate observation and deduction, highly creditable to the science of the Hindu astronomers. The division of the ecleptic into lunar mansions, the solar zodiac, the mean motions of the planets, the procession of the equinox, the earth’s self-support in space, the diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis, the revolution of the moon on her axis, her distance from the earth, the dimensions of the orbits of the planet, the calculations of eclipses are parts of a system which could not have been found amongst an unenlightened people.” 3
But the originality of the Hindus is not less striking than their proficiency. It is remarkable that the Hindu methods are all original and peculiar. Professor Wilson says: “The originality of Hindu
‘History of India, p. 132, footnote.
2 Weber’s Indian Literature, 19, 256,
3 Mill’s History of India, Vol. II, p. 106,
astronomy is at once established, but it 18 also proved by intrinsic evidence, and although there are some remarkable coincidences between the Hindu and other systems, their methods are their own.”‘ Mr. Elphinstone says: “In the more advanced stages, where they are more likely to have borrowed, not only is their mode of proceedings peculiar to themselves but it is often founded on principles, with which no other ancient people were acquainted, and showed a knowledge of discoveries not made even in Europe till within the course of the last two centuries.”2
In the, sixth volume of the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Professor Whitney published an English translation of Surya Siddhant by the Rev. E. Burgess, with an elaborate commentary by himself. This paper excited comments from M. Biot, the late venerable
ronomer of Paris, and from Professor Weber of Berlin.
elieved that the Hindus derived their system of Nakshatras, or moon stations, from the Chinese, but Professor Whitney contributed two other papers to the said Journal, in which he clearly shows that the Hindu Nakshatra does not mean the same thing as the Chinese sieu. Sieu means a single star, whereas Nakshatra expresses a group of stars, or rather a certain portion of the starry heavens. Again, Professor Weber shows that the Chinese sieu is not traceable further than two or three centuries before Christ, while Nakshatras are amongst the heavenly objects mentionedr-in the Vedic hymns.”3 The great antiquity of the science, however, zs t he best proof of its originality.
1 Mill’s History of India, Vol. II, p. 107.
2 Elphinstone’s History of India, p. 182,
3 W. D. Whitney, “ Views of Weber and Biot respecting the ‘Relations of the Hindu and Chinese Asterisms, p, 25.
The Arabs were the disciples of the Hindus in this branch of knowledge also. Professor Weber says that Hindu astronomers are extolled by the Arabs. He adds: “For, during the eighth and nineth centuries the Arabs were, in astronomy, the disciples of Hindus, from whom they borrowed the lunar mansions in their new order, and whose Siddhants they frequently worked up and translated in part under the supervision of Indian astronomers themselves, whom the Khalifs of Baghdad, etc., invited to their courts.”‘
Dr. Robertson says: “It is highly probable that the knowledge of the twelve signs of zodiacs was derived from India.” 2
Sir W. W. Hunter says: “The Arabs became their (Hindus) disciples in the eighth century, and translated Sanskrit treatises, Siddha nts, under the name Sindhends.” 3 Professor Wilson says: “Indian astronomers were greatly encouraged by the early Khalifs, particularly Harun-ulRashid, and Almamun; they were invited to Baghdad, and their works were translated into Arabic. The Hindus were, fully as much as the Greeks, the teachers of the Arabians.” 4
There are nine Siddhantas :3 (1) Brahma Siddhanta, (2) Surya Siddhanta, (3) Soma Siddhanta, (4) Vrihaspati Siddhanta, (5) G-argya Siddhanta, (6) Narada Siddhanta, (7) Parasar Siddhanta, (8) Pulastya Siddhanta, and (9) Vashishta Siddhanta. Of these, the work best known to
1-Weber’ Indian Literature, p. 255. 2Disquisition concerning
India, p, 280.
Gazetteer, “ India,” p. 218. 4Mi11’s History of India, Vol.
II, p. 107.
5The PanchrSiddhantas, or the five principal astronomical works in general use are: (1) The Paulisa Siddhanta, (2) The Romaka Siddhanta, (3) The Vashishta Siddhanta, (4) The Saura Siddhanta, Brahma Siddhanta, (5)- The Pailawaha Siddhanta,
Europeans is the Surya Siddhc2nta which is the oldest of the extant Siddhantas.’ There is internal evidence to show that Surya Siddhanta is a very old book. The author in two slokas (Madhyan A.ddhaya, slokas 22, 23) gives the date when the book was written. He says :
“Six Manwantras have passed since the beginning of this kalp (present world): and of the seventh Manwantra, 27 Chaturyugis have passed. The Satyug of the 28th Chaturyugi has also passed. From this the time of the compilation of this book may be inferred.” This makes the book nearly 2,165,000 years old.
Mr. Davis calculates that the celebrated Hindu astronomer, Parasar, judging from the observations made by him, must have lived 1391 years before Christ,2’ and consequently, says Bjornstjerna, “ had read in the divine book of the heavenly firmament long before the Chaldees, the Arabs and the Greeks.”3
Mr. Houghton says: “From a text of Parasar it appears that the equinox had gone back from the tenth degree of Bharvi to the first of Aswini, or 23 degrees and 20 minutes between the days of that Indian philosopher and the year of our Lord 499, when it coincided with the origin of the Hindu ecliptic, so that Parasar probably flourished near the close of the twelfth century before Christ.”
1 Indian Wisdom, pp. 184, 185.
2 Asiatic Researches, Vol. II, p. 288, 3Theogony of the Hindus, pp. 33, 34.
After Parasar Muni came Aryabhatta, who was a great astrologer too. The date of his birth is not known, though it is certain that he was born long anterior to Vicramaditya. He was the man who, according to the Europeans, first brought to light “diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis, and to have known the true theory of the causes of the lunar and solar eclipses, and notice the motion of solstitial and equinoctial points.”‘
His principal works are: (1) Aryabatika, (2) Dasa Gitika, (3) Aryashta Sat&
The best known astronomer who flourished after Aryabhatta’s time is Varahmihira, who became pre-eminent in astrology. Mrs. Manning says: “Varahmihira may be cited as a celebrated astronomer to whom astrology was irresistibly attractive ;” and again, “He is called an astronomer, but it is for astrology that we find him most celebrated. He attained excellence in each branch of the Sanhita, and before writing his celebrated treatise called the Brihat-Sanhita he composed a work on pure astronomy.” 2 Virahmihir lived in the first century before Christ, and was one of the nine gems at the court of Vikramaditya. The nine gems, or nau ratan, were :—
}Izqft: ‘tiiim147iKf#V larST
“kalM NrifZ. 4.1 k T’INTkiT: II
Varahmihir’s chief works are: (1) Vrihaj Jataka, (2) Brihat Sanhita, (3) A Summary of the Original Panch Siddhantas. Mrs. Manning says: “Richness of detail constitutes the chief attraction of the book (Brihat
1 See Chamber’s Eneyelopmdia.
‘Ancient and Modimval India, Vol. I, pp., 368,369.
Sanhita), a merit which was appreciated by the Arab astrologer, Albiruni (c_53).7^11), as it will be by ourselves; for although professedly astrological, its value for geography, architecture, sculpture, etc., is unequalled by any Sanskrit work as yet published.”1
The last Hindu astronomer of eminence, however, was Bhashkeracharya, who is said by Europeans to have flourished so late as the twelfth century. He expounded the law of gravity with peculiar felicity, while his mathematical ‘works place him in the forefront of the world’s great mathematicians.
The roundness of the earth and its diurnal rotation, however, were known to the Hindus from the earliest times. Says a Rishi in the Aiteriya Brahmana: “By this great inauguration similar to Indra’s, Tura, son of Kavasha, consecrated Janamjaya, and thereby did he subdue the earth completely round.”2 In Aryabhattiyam we read :
“The earth, situated in the middle of the heavens and composed of five elements, is spherical in its shape.” Bhashkaracharya, in Goladhaya, says :
“A hundredth part of the circumference of a circle appears to be a straight line. Our earth is a big sphere,
I Ancient and Medimval India, Vol. I, p. 370. See also Dr. Kern’s Bib. Ind., Introduction, p. 27.
2IIaug’s Aiteriya Drahmana, Vol, II, p. 242,
and the portion visible to man being exceedingly small, the earth appears to be flat.”
Dr. H. Kern, in his paper on “ Some fragments of Aryabhatta,” translates a passage as follows: “The terrestrial globe, a compound of earth, fire, water, air, entirely round, and compassed by a, girdle, i.e., equator, stands in the air,” etc., etc.
As regards the annual motion of the earth, the Rig Veda says :
The diurnal motion is thus described in the Yajur Veda
The Aiteriya Brahmana explains that the sun neither sets nor rises, that when the earth, owing to the rotation on its axis is lighted up, it is called day,” and so on.’
As regards the stars being stationery, Aryabhatta2 says :
“ The starry vault is fixed. It is the earth which, moving round its axis, again and again causes the rising and setting of planets and stars.” He starts the question. “Why do the stars seems to move? “ and himself replies: “As a person in a vessel, while moving forwards, sees an immovable object moving backwards, in the same manner do the stars, however immovable, seem to move daily.”3
linaug’s Aiteriya Brahamana, Vol. II, p. 242.
2 Colebrooke’s Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. II, p. 392,
3 Journal of theli.A,S., Vol. XX, p. 372,
The Polar days and nights of six months are also described by him.
It has been remarked :
“ When it is sunrise at Lanka (the Equator) it is midday at Java, sunset in America, and midnight at Rome.” As regards the size of the earth, it is said:
“The circumference of the earth is 4,967 yojanas, and its diameter is 1,5817kyojanas.” A yojana is equal to five English miles, the circumference of the earth would therefore be 24,835 miles and its diameter 7,905’5/24 miles.
The Yajur Veda say, that the earth is kept in space owing to the superior attraction of the sun.
The theory of gravity is thus described in the Sidhanta Shiromani centuries before Newton was born.
“The earth, owing to its force of gravity, draws all things towards itself, and so they seem to fall towards the earth,” etc. etc.
That the moon and the stars are dark bodies is thus described :—
“The earth, the planets and the comets all receive their light from the sun: that half towards the sun being always bright, the colour varying with the peculiarity of the substance of each.”
The Atharva Veda says: “ff4 Tit;it wftifwa.: I “ The moon is dependent on the sun for its light.”
As regards the atmosphere it is stated :
“The atmosphere surrounds the earth, and its height is 12 yojanas (60 English miles), and the clouds, lightning etc. are phenomena connected with it.”
Mr. Colebrooke says: “Aryabbatta affirmed the diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis. He possessed the true theory of the causes of solar and lunar eclipses and disregarded the imaginary dark planets of mythologists and astrologers, affirming the moon and primary planets (and even the stars) to be essentially dark and only illuminated by the sun.”‘
As regards the solar and lunar eclipses, it is stated :
“When the earth in its rotation comes between the sun and the moon, and the shadow of the earth falls on the moon, the phenomenon is called lunar eclipse, and when the moon comes between the sun and the earth the sun seems as if it was being cut off—this is solar eclipse.”
JColebrooke’s 1!:$6ays, Appendix G, p. 467.
The following is taken from Varamihir’s observations on the moon. “ One half of the moon, whose orbit lies between the sun and the earth, is always bright by the sun’s rays; the other half is dark by its own shadows, like the two sides of a pot standing in the sunshine.”‘
About eclipses, he says: “The true explanation of the phenomenon is this c in an eclipse of the moon, he enters into the earth’s shadow; in a solar eclipse, the same thing happens to the sun. Hence the commencement of a lunar eclipse does not take place from the west side, nor that of the solar eclipse from the east.”2
Kali Dasa says in his Raghu Vansa:
Jai Deva sings in the Gita Govind: “His heart was agitated by her sight, as the waves of the deep are affected by the lunar orb.”‘
India has from time immemorial been the land of philosophers, poets, astronomers and mathematicians, and every now and then it produces a great genius. Less than two centuries ago, Rajputana produced an astronomer, no doubt the greatest of his time. This astronomer was no other than the famous Jai Singh of Jaipur. Sir William Hunter says: “Raja Jai Singh II constructed a set of observatories at his capital, Jaipur, Muttra, Benares, Delhi and Ujjain, and was able to correct the astronomical tables of De La Hire published in 1702 A.D. The Raja left as a monument of his skill, a list of stars collated by himself, known as the Zij Mohammed Shahi, or Tables of Mohammed Shah. His observatory at Benares survives to this day.”
igrihat Sanghita, Chapter V, v. 8. 2Brihat Sanghita, Chapter V, v. 8.
3Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 513.
The celebrated European astronomer, Mr. Playfair, says: “The Brahmin obtains his result with wonderful certainty and expedition in astronomy.”‘ This speaks volumes in favour of the original, advanced and scientific methods of the Hindus and their marvellous cultivation of the science. Professor Sir M. Williams says: “It is their science of astronomy by which they (Hindus) heap billions upon millions, trillions upon billions of years and reckoning up ages upon ages, aeons upon aeons with even more audacity than modern geologists and astronomers. It short, an astronomical Hindu ventures on arithmetical conceptions quite beyond the mental dimensions of anyone who feels himself incompetent to attempt a task of measuring infinity.” A strange confession of inferiority! Well may Mrs. Manning exclaim: “The Hindus had the widest range of mind of which man is capable.”16
In astronomy, as in other sciences, -what scanty records remain not only show the astonishing proficiency of the Hindus in the science, but contain theories not yet understood by others. Sir M. Mon. Williams says: “A very strange theory of the planetary motion is expounded at the commencement of the Surya Siddhanta, Chapter II,” which is unknown outside India.17
Playfair on the astronomy of the Hindus. Transactions of the R. A. S. of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. II, pp. 138, 139.