hitherto neglected texts related to ritual and the Vedic indices, an astronomy of the
third millennium BCE has been discovered. Here the altars symbolized different parts of
the year. In one ritual, pebbles were placed around the altars for the earth, the
atmosphere, and the sky. The number of these pebbles were 21, 78, and 261, respectively.
These numbers add up to the 360 days of the year. There were other features related to the
design of the altars which suggested that the ritualists were aware that the length of the
year was between 365 and 366 days.
The organization of the
Vedic books was also according to an astronomical code. To give just one simple example,
the total number of verses in all the Vedas is 20,358 which equals 261 x 78, a product of
the sky and atmosphere numbers! The Vedic ritual followed the seasons hence the importance
The second millennium text Vedanga Jyotisha went beyond the earlier
calendrical astronomy to develop a theory for the mean motions of the sun and the moon.
This marked the beginnings of the application of mathematics to the motions of the
The sun was taken to be midway in the skies. A considerable amount
of Vedic mythology regarding the struggle between the demons and the gods is a
metaphorical retelling of the motions of Venus and Mars.
Yajnavalkya (1800 BCE ?) knew of a 95-year cycle to harmonize the
motions of the sun and the moon and he also knew that the sun's circuit was asymmetric.
It is most astonishing that the ancient Indians knew the correct
speed of light!
We have seen how the logical apparatus that was brought to bear on
the outer world was applied to the analysis of the mind. But the question remains: How
does inanimate matter come to have awareness? This metaphysical question was answered by
postulating entities for smell, taste, form, touch, and sound as in Figure 1. In the
Sankhya system, a total of twenty-four such categories are assumed. These categories are
supposed to emerge at the end of a long chain of evolution and they may be considered to
be material. The breath of life into the instruments of sight, touch, hearing and so on is
provided by the twenty-fifth category, which is purusha, the soul. The tanmatra of Sankhya
is the potentiality that leads to matter or cognitive centers. In this conception it is
somewhat like a quantum potential.
The recursive Vedic world-view requires that the universe itself go
through cycles of creation and destruction. This view became a part of the astronomical
framework and ultimately very long cycles of billions of years were assumed. The Sankhya
evolution takes the life forms to evolve into an increasingly complex system until the end
of the cycle.
The categories of Sankhya operate at the level of the individual as
well. Life mirrors the entire creation cycle and cognition mirrors a life-history.
Surprisingly similar are the modern slogan: ontogeny is phylogeny, and microgeny (the
cognitive process) is a speeded-up ontogeny. The Vaisheshika system describes an atomic
S. Kak, 1995. The astronomy of the age of geometric
altars. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. vol. 36.385-396.
T.R.N. Rao and S. Kak, Computing Science in Ancient
India. USL Press, Lafayette, 1998.
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