“India –the land of the Vedas, the remarkable works contain not only religious ideas for a perfect life, but also facts which science has proved true. Electricity, radium, electronics, airship, all were known to the seers who founded the Vedas.” – Ella Wheeler
Many attempts have been made to explore and analyse the ancient scientific approach to be found in early Indian scriptures, especially the Vedas, which modern scientists term as the Vedic science. We can find a large number of verses, references, Sutras and materials presented in the ancient Vedic literature, which was indoctrinated more than three thousand years ago and reveal a much-advanced scientific content. The Vedas are along with the basic source of spirituality, the most important scriptures for cultural wealth and also for great scientific inventions much ahead of modern sciences.
This short article is meant to analyse the status of science in ancient India. The evidence of the history of Indian civilization is clearly available for more than five thousand years, and it is a mammoth job to list the development of Indian science in chronological order. But, it would suffice to mention the major scientific achievements in the Vedic age.
Every civilization that has advanced economically and socially owes its success to science and technology. India is proud to have one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Tracing back the chain of scientific achievements in ancient India, would give a clear hint as to how far our seers had gone in inventions to offer to the world.
Back in the ancient times, when some Indian seers were busy discovering the power of the Yoga, the Ayurveda and chanting of the Mantras, others were busy in exploring life and making scientific inventions that could seek the welfare of mankind. Flipping through the scriptures will substantiate the fact that modern inventions seem nothing but a rediscovery of the things that already existed in the Vedic era. But as there was no such thing as patent, the ancient sages documented their work in the Vedas only for future generations to read, analyse and extend. They do indicate that centuries before we set up our modern laboratories, our ancient scientists of India had advanced enormously in the field of science and technology.
One of the most significant contributions to the world has been the discovery of Zero by Indian astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata. It is very interesting to find that the world’s first plastic surgery was devised by Sushruta. The Sushruta Samhita–Sushruta's compendium, which is one of the oldest discourses dealing with surgery in the world, indicates that he was probably the first surgeon to perform plastic surgical operations. It is surprisingly mentioned in this ancient text of the First Millennium BCE, i.e., the Sushruta Samhita (Book-3, Chapter-5) that different parts or members of the body, including the skin, cannot be correctly described by one who is not well versed in anatomy. Hence, any one desirous of acquiring a thorough knowledge of anatomy should prepare a dead body and carefully, observe, by dissecting it, and examine its different parts.
There is a couplet in the Hanuman Chalisa referring to Hanumana travelling thousands of kilometres to swallow the Sun, which seemed tempting to him as a sweet fruit, “Yuga Sahastra Yojana Para Bhaanuu/ Liilyo Taahi Madhura Phala Jaanuu//” The first line reveals a mathematical formula to calculate the distance between the Sun and the Earth, One Yuga = 12000 years, One Sahastra Yuga = 12000000 years, and, one Yojana =8 miles, hence, “Yuga Sahastra Yojana”, means 12000*12000000*8 =96000000 miles or 153,600,000 kilometres, far the Sun exists. It is quite interesting to note that modern mathematics has also calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun as 152,000,000 kilometres, which is quite close to the same calculated years ago, with an error of about one percent.
We have many stories of advanced genetic experiments at that point of time. The Mahabharata is also replete with stories of cloning, incubators and surrogacy. We all know that Gandhari had one hundred sons, but there is a scientific explanation behind her giving birth to one hundred Kauravas. The Kauravas were created by breaking one single embryo into one hundred parts and developing them in separate Kundas –containers, modern incubators. This is quite identical to the cloning process today. The epic Mahabharata also describes one instance of the Niyogatradition, modern-day technique of surrogacy. King Vichitravirya of Hastinapur died at an early age leaving behind his childless widows Ambika and Ambalika. Worried about giving an heir to the Kuru Dynasty, the queen mother Satyavati summoned her seer son Vyasa, who was born to her through Sage Parashara, to impregnate her widowed daughters-in law through Niyoga. He did and while coming close to Ambalika, he scared her with his unpleasant appearance and she closed her eyes tightly, whereas her sister Ambalika’s body went pale with fear, as a result, the sons were destined to be born blind and jaundiced respectively. The worries of Satyavati for a worthy heir continued and she asked Vyasa to grant another son to Ambika, but out of fear, Ambika sent her lady-in-waiting to Vyasa. Quite surprisingly, this woman was not frightened by Vyasa's appearance and was to give birth to a healthy son. Thus, Vidura was born to her. Karana was also born by Niyoga technique by Kunti invoking the Sun-god, which again replicates the modern concept of surrogacy. India can also be referred as a pioneer of modern medical science because the world’s first head transplant was done in ancient India by replacing the head of Ganesha with that of an elephant. No head transplant has been done in modern times as yet.
The Vedas already had a very proper –scientific explanation behind the fearful solar eclipse, as we can see in the following verse from theRigveda (5:40:5), “Yattvaa Suuryya Svarbhaanustamasaavidhyadaasurah/ Akshetravidyathaa Mugdho Bhuvanaanyadiidhayuh – O Sun! When you are blocked by the one whom you gifted your own light (moon), then earth gets scared by sudden darkness.” The invention of Vimanas (airplanes) had occurred in ancient India long before their modern counterparts by the Wright brothers. Though they were far more advanced in technology as they could fly not only by mechanical, but by spiritual and tantric power also. Those Vimanas could travel long distances as well as interstellar spaces. We have ample evidence in Vedic literature of such Vimanas that carried people from one planet to another during wars between Devas and Asuras, to travel to the Devaloka to be granted some boon or used by kings and sages with spiritual powers. In the Ramayanaalso, we get references of the Pushpaka Vimana that belonged to Kubera, who used to travel in it across far off places to distribute wealth and bless the poor with prosperity and pleasures. The usage of Brahmastra in the Kurukshetra war was nothing, but an ancient version of the modern nuclear weapon.
Researchers have recently found evidence that the Empire of the Maryadapurushottama, Shri Rama was devastated by a nuclear war. The Indus valley was converted to a desert (the Thar Desert) by nuclear explosion, and the radioactive ash found in Jodhpur bears a testimony to a nuclear warfare of yester years. It is really amazing to believe that there had been a civilization, centuries ago, that had developed its nuclear technology as much as we have done or maybe much more than this.
Science and technology existed in ancient India to a very high level in advanced state. The Indian scriptures are replete with innumerable instances of scientific advancement, e.g., Baudhayana and Katyayana, Physics of Kanada and Gautama, Astronomy of Aryabhata and Brahma Gupta, Geometry of Apastamba, Chemistry of Rasarnava, Aeronautics of Maya, the Ayurveda of Charaka, Surgery of Sushruta and many more. They had such techniques, which even modern science has not evolved yet.
The most important thing is that all these techniques have been developed for the large scaled welfare of humanity, to bring peace, prosperity, love and happiness to the fellow beings, according to the basic spirit of knowledge and science –Jnana-Vijyana. Further, they contain science founded upon ethics and morality, and all-welfaristic philosophy. The Western science and scientists have much to learn from them to find a right direction to make the planet Earth a better place for generations to come.
— Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal
[The view expressed here are personal and don’t reflect those of the government]