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Astronomy

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Using 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 of astronomy.

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 heavenly bodies.

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!

Cosmology

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 world.

Sources

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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