“Debate about Indian contribution to science must not be seen as jingoism,” says Dr Joshi – Navtan Kumar

Navtan Kumar“Joshi cites the statement of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, during the Infosys Science Prize ceremony in Kolkata, in which he said Indian research was deeply influenced by the knowledge of foreign works on the subject. ‘But there was no specific mention of what India has given to others. There should be an objective view as far as sharing of knowledge is concerned,’ says the veteran BJP leader.” – Navtan Kumar

Murli Manohar JoshiSenior BJP leader and former Union minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is peeved that all talk of ancient Indian science is being branded as jingoism by a section of the “intellectual” class. He says there is no doubt that India has learnt many things from the West, but wonders why there is no talk about what India has given to others.

Speaking to this correspondent, Joshi says the time has come for a “reappraisal” of the history of science. “This is the responsibility of the academic institutions, authors and thinkers to ponder over this issue. The government can only act as a facilitator, which can encourage people to explore space and time and compare that with rest of the world,” he says.

Joshi cites the statement of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, during the Infosys Science Prize ceremony in Kolkata, in which he said Indian research was deeply influenced by the knowledge of foreign works on the subject. “But there was no specific mention of what India has given to others. There should be an objective view as far as sharing of knowledge is concerned,” says the veteran BJP leader.

He says that there is plenty of evidence, mainly documentary, to suggest that India has made significant contribution to science in the past. “And this is not me (talking), but many Western experts and academicians have said this for a long time. Please have a look at their writings in several books.”

Bhaskara IIHe points out that according to Jean Filliozat, the trigonometric “sine” is not mentioned by Greek astronomers and mathematicians. But it was used in India from the Gupta period onwards: the Surya Siddhanta gives a table of sines, which the Arab astronomers picked up from their Indian contacts and passed them to Europe in 12th century. The only conclusion possible is that the use of sines was an Indian development and not a Greek one, he adds.

John Playfair, in 1789, referred to certain astronomical tables received from the East Indies by European scholars at an early stage in their contact with the East. Some of these tables were received from Siam (Thailand) and their “epoch” corresponded to 21 March 638 AD. But interestingly, the “meridian” of these tables was not Siam but Benares, now Varanasi.

Other tables received from South India had one thing in common. Their epoch coincides with the era of “Kali yuga”, that is, with the beginning of 3102 BC. Playfair finds that the positions of the planets given in these tables is close to the positions calculated with the help of modern integral calculus and the theory of gravitation. So, for him, the inescapable conclusion is that these positions were observed by the Brahmins and it is rather a wonder that the Brahmins could do so rather precisely at so distant a past.

PythagorasSimilarly, E. J. Urwick has said that Pythagoras accepted the most popular Indian theories of the time. Almost all the religious, philosophical and mathematical doctrines ascribed to him were known in India in the 6th century BC. According to Urwick, the transmigration theory, assumption of five elements, the Pythagorean theory in geometry etc., have their close parallels in ancient India.

Seidenberg, while discussing the origin of geometry, argued that the Babylonians knew the algebraic aspect of this theorem as early as 1700 BCE, but they did not seem to know the geometric aspect. The Shatapatha Brahmana, which precedes the age of Pythagoras, knew both the aspects.

Joshi feels that there should be an “academic debate” on the issue. “I am saying this as a student of science. No political colour should be attached to it,” says Joshi, who did his PhD in Spectroscopy and then taught physics at the Allahabad University.

Asked to comment on the papers presented by some scientists at the Indian Science Congress, suggesting things like aeroplanes existed 7,000 years ago, and thus creating much controversy, he says, “That is not the issue. The issue is whether there was scientific tradition in India or not; whether or not India made original contribution. What were the landmarks in these areas? Sadly, nobody is discussing this. As a result, people are taking extreme positions. Some say it was developed while others say it was under-developed. But there is a need to take an objective view on the issue. While talking about Western contribution, we should also discuss what India has given to others.”

“We have also made ample contribution in science. Talking about India’s contribution should not be taken or misunderstood as ‘jingoism’ or ‘distorted nationalism’. There is always a case to be studied objectively. Rather than condemning the Indian view all the time, we should discuss how others got ideas from us, like how Pythagoras got the Buddhist concept,” he says.

SushrutaOn the role of the government, he says, “The government should create conditions so that India becomes the ‘principal contributor’ to science once again. For this, there should be a proper vision and encouragement. Science should have no monopoly for the rich or affluent. Rather, it should be used to work for the overall well-being of civilisation.”

He says, as Minister of Human Resources Development, he started the process. “I tried to discuss ancient Indian science, traditions, context and level of scientific theory. We should talk about these things.” Joshi also defends Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that plastic surgery existed thousands of years ago. “When he said this, he basically highlighted the achievements of Indian science. Sushrut had done it 500-600 BC,” he says. – The Sunday Guardian, 18 January 2015 

2 Responses

  1. Science Congress lauds ‘feats’ of ancient India – Vinaya Deshpande – The Hindu – January 5, 2015

    The Indian Science Congress made history on Sunday with a symposium on “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” that included a paper on the existence of interplanetary aircraft in India around 9,000 years ago, references to “cosmic connection” and a phenomenon explained as “fusion of science and spirituality due to inter-penetration law”.

    Held under the aegis of Mumbai University, this is the first time in its 102 year history that the Congress has included such a session, a moved hailed by delegates as long overdue but criticised by many as mixing of science with mythology.

    Seven papers were presented over the five-hour session. Papers were invited by the Department of Sanskrit, Mumbai University, and Kavi Kulaguru Kalidas University, Ramtek, and reviewed by the Mumbai University’s Department of Sanskrit. Some authors were professionals from varied fields, while others were students of Sanskirt.

    One paper, co-authored by Captain Anand Bodas, retired head of a pilot training centre, and Ameya Jadhav, a teacher, claimed there was evidence of ancient aviation in the Rigveda.

    Captain Bodas told his audience that knowledge of making aeroplanes existed between 6 and 7000 BC. An ancient Indian sage, he said, had also talked of a radar system, which depended on the “basic principle that any animate or inanimate object radiates energy all the time. We know that when radiation stops, that object is considered dead.”

    Other papers spoke about how Indian texts were the first to talk about the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, a constant known as pi, the Pythagoras theorem, classification of plants, veterinary science and metallurgy.

    “In the Sulbha Sutra written in 800 BCE, Baudhayan wrote the geometric formula now famously known as Pythagoras theorem. It was written by Baudhayan 300 years before Pythagoras,” said Dr Gauri Mahulikar, head of the Sanskrit department of Mumbai University. She added that Sulbha Sutra was also the first to crack the pi ratio.

    Union Minister of State Prakash Javadekar said it was high time India used its ancient knowledge and wisdom. Even Germany was showing ‘pragmatic interest” in Sanskirt, he said at the inauguration of the symposium.

    Delegates called for serious inter-disciplinary research between various branches of science and ancient Sanskrit texts.


    Shashi Tharoor supports Vardhan, says don’t debunk ancient science – TOI – PTI – Jan 4, 2015

    NEW DELHI: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Sunday supported Union minister Harsh Vardhan’s remarks that Algebra and Pythagoras’ theorem originated in India but others took credit for it, saying “genuine accomplishments” of ancient Indian science should not be debunked due to “exaggerations of the Hindutva brigade”.

    In a series of tweets, Tharoor said “modernists sneering at” Vardhan “should know he was right” and added that “to mock the credulous exaggerations of the Hindutva brigade, you don’t need to debunk the genuine accomplishments of ancient Indian science”.

    He went on to cite articles he had written in the past. “Modernists sneering at @drharshvardhan should know he was right, as I pointed out in 2003,” tweeted Tharoor, who was last year removed as Congress spokesperson for praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign.

    “Ganesha plastic surgery theory is absurd, except as a metaphor. But Susruta was world’s 1st surgeon,” the former Union minister added.

    At the inaugural event of the Indian Science Congress yesterday, Union minister for science and technology Harsh Vardhan had said ancient Indian scientists have graciously allowed scientists from other countries to take credit for their findings.

    “Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem, but we … gave its credit to the Greeks. We all know that we knew ‘beejganit’ much before the Arabs, but very selflessly we allowed it to be called Algebra. This is the base the Indian scientific community has maintained,” Vardhan said.

    The Union minister said Indians have never used their knowledge of science for negative purposes.

    “Whether it is related to the solar system, medicine, chemistry or earth science, we have shared all our knowledge very selflessly,” he said.

    Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks linking genetic science and surgery with mythology had caused a flutter.

    Asserting that India had opened new frontiers in the field of science, Modi had said, “Mahabharata says Karna was not born out of his mother’s womb. This means people then were aware of genetic science. There must have been a plastic surgeon who fixed an elephant’s head on Ganesha.”

    He said what the mathematician Aryabhata had said centuries ago, the world has accepted now.

  2. Dr Joshi has got it exactly right. We suggest that politicians including the Prime Minister stay out of the debate. Their inexact and exaggerated claims make India a laughing stock in the scientific community.

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