Astronomy in India
Mark Twain once said, “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand-mother of tradition.”
Indeed, India is one of the oldest civilisations of the world. The Indus Valley is today famous, for being the first city, to be built so precisely, that you would find few structures today which are as geometric as those of the Indus valley.
Today, when you hear India, the first thing coming to your mind will surely not be science. But the fact of the matter is that various discoveries have proven that ancient India was indeed much more knowledgeable than you might believe. In this article, I will shed some light on few of the greatest discoveries of ancient India.
Please note that my intention is neither to glorify my own culture, nor to diminish any other. In case this article hurts anyone’s feelings, I sincerely apologise. In case you are doubtful about any information presented in the article, please post so in the comments, and I will happily revert back to you.
Astronomy, as we know it today, seems to be a rather modern idea to many. However, the oldest object related to it dates back to 12,000 B.C.E, in the Andaman Islands of India. These are calendar sticks noting the waxing and waning of the moon by incising daily notches on a wooden stick.
The oldest calendar ever, was mentioned in the Rigveda, Wherein an year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each. In order to make for the slight error, an extra month is added every 5 years. Few years after this, the Yajur veda mentioned a solar calendar with 365 days, and lunar calendar with 354 days. In the Vedanga Jyotisa, the duration of the day is measured as 23 hrs, 56 minutes and 4.6 seconds, while the correct value is 23 hr 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds. The difference is extremely negligible. Another notable fact is that a unit of time named ‘kalpa’ also called a day of Brahma, who is the Hindu god of creation, which was used in various puranas, is equal to 4.32 billion years, while the age of earth is 4.5 billion years, and the closeness of the two is curious. On the other hand, Earth was thought of being about 20 million years old in the west until the 1956, when a precise age was discovered.
The Indian philosopher Aryabhatta in his book Aryabhattiya said that the circumference of spherical Earth is 4967 yojanas, which is equal to 39,968 km, while the actual value is 40,075. What is surprising is that while Aryabhata was born in 476 A.D., It was only after Magellan’s circumnavigation in 1519-22 that Earth’s spherical nature was widely accepted in Europe. He also explained that Earth was a rotating sphere.
Nilakanth Somayaji of Kerala proposed the heliocentric model a few years before Copernincus, and did great calculations on the interior planets of the solar system.
All these great discoveries prove the fact that there is great need for further research on the knowledge of our ancestors.
(I don’t claim credit for unearthing these facts. All these are from secondary sources.)