Ancient Hindu sages were the pioneers of aviation and algebra.

The ancient science of India - Comment on 2015 January 9

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A weekend conclave of experts and researchers, whose guests included new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was intended to highlight some of the latest achievements by India’s scientific community. Read more:

Today I bring excerpts from articles related to 2014 Dec 28 – Planes were discovered in Vedic age:

 

Indian scientists at odds on ancient discovery claims

Modi

Narendra Modi speaks at the inauguration of the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai on Saturday

A series of sensational claims, including that ancient Hindu sages were the pioneers of aviation and algebra, have triggered a furious debate in Indian academic circles amid warnings that nationalist breast-beating could undermine the country’s burgeoning scientific reputation.

A weekend conclave of experts and researchers, whose guests included new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was intended to highlight some of the latest achievements by India’s scientific community.

The nation’s scientific prowess received a major boost last year when it became the first Asian country to reach Mars, a breakthrough that academics hoped would make people view India in a different light.

However the headlines from the weekend conference in Mumbai were dominated by the contributions in a session devoted to Vedic science, which appeared in ancient Hindu scriptures.

Former pilot turned author Anand J. Bodas said Maharishi Bhardwaj - a sage of the Vedic period (around 1500-500BC) - had laid down as many as "500 guidelines"¯ on flying in one of the ancient Hindu texts much before Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century ideas for flying machines and the American Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903.

The Maharishi defined an aeroplane as a vehicle which could even travel from one planet to other, Bodas said before adding that some of the "jumbo" aeroplanes of ancient India had "40 small engines" and could move not only forward but backward as well.

He then raised eyebrows further by claiming aviation technology existed in India as early as 7,000BC, though he did not explain his evidence for this theory.

In the same session, Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan also caused a stir by claiming that Indians were the first to discover some of the most important mathematics principles.

"Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem but we very gracefully allowed the Greeks to take the credit,"¯ said the minister who is a member of Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

"We all know we knew ‘beej ganit’ (Hindi term for algebra) long before the Arabs, but very selflessly allowed it to be called algebra." The claims did receive some support, including from opposition politician Shashi Tharoor who said "the genuine accomplishments of ancient Indian science" should not be underplayed just because their modern-day champions are Hindu supremacists.

Hindus comprise some 81 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population with 13 per cent Muslim and a little over two per cent Christians.

 

India’s next gift to the world could be Vedic mathematics

Vedic mathematics, a set of supposedly ancient techniques that help even the most numerically challenged to conquer difficult sums, is surging in popularity in India

The rising popularity of Vedic maths is partly because of a renewed campaign by the nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi

India’s next gift to the world, if its Hindu nationalist government has its way, could be the secret to lightning quick mental arithmetic.

Vedic mathematics, a set of supposedly ancient techniques that help even the most numerically challenged to conquer difficult sums, is surging in popularity as government ministers claim that they could hold the key to better education.

From next month, three Indian universities will begin to offer courses in Vedic calculations while home-learners can watch an entire television channel devoted to the subject on one of India’s digital networks. Several thousand teachers have been recruited for private college courses. Its supporters believe Vedic maths could become a major export like yoga and curry.

The rising popularity of Vedic maths is partly because of a renewed campaign by the nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, to lay India’s claim to the cornerstones of human knowledge. He marked India’s successful mission to Mars last year by claiming its ancient Vedic scientists had conceived of air travel thousands of years before the Wright Brothers made their first flight. It was a reference to a disputed ‘veda’ which described ancient air travel between Indian cities and to other planets.

There have also been claims that algebra, trigonometry, Pythagoras’ theorem, the concept of zero and the decimal system all originated in India.

"Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem but we gave its credit to the Greeks," said Harsh Vardhan, the science and technology minister. India was familiar with algebra before the Arabs and made pioneering discoveries in astronomy, medicine and earth sciences but allowed others to take the credit, he added.

"Vedic maths’ is a series of short-cut techniques to simplify complicated calculations based on 16 verses discovered in the early 20th century by the Hindu guru Jagadguru Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja.. "I want it go worldwide. Students in Singapore, United Kingdom, the United States are very interested because it’s so easy ... mathematics without tears, magic for students who struggle with maths", said Dina Nath Batra, a Hindu nationalist educationalist who enjoys the support of the prime minister.

The verses are guides to turn difficult sums into quick mental maths using simple rules. The Nikhilam Navatashcaramam Dashatah - 'all from nine, last from ten’ - for example, speeds the multiplication of large numbers by breaking them down to their common bases: To multiply 48 by 52, the numbers are broken into (50-2) and (50+2) and the square of the smaller sum (4) subtracted from the square of the larger (2,500) to reach the answer of 2,496.

Similarly, division is simplified by multiplying the denominator into a base ten number: 44/25 = 176/100 = 1.76.

Gravity was explained in the Rig Veda, 2,400 years before Newton’s apple injury, while Aryabhata was the first to explain that the rotation of the round earth on its axis was the cause of sunrise and sunset.

The debate has raised an uncomfortable question for Hindu nationalists on how India lost its scientific and mathematical advantages over the following millennia.

Dina Nath Batra said Muslim invasions and British colonial rule were to blame. The ancient knowledge had been neglected "because we’ve been slaves of the Mohammedans and the British for 2,000 years. Nalanda [the ancient Indian university] and other places of wisdom were destroyed", he said.

 

Opinion

Letters

It is sad that concerted efforts are being made by quite a few to discredit Indian mythology as being a set of fairy tales and a figment of the imagination (Editorial, "Tall claims insult the past", and "Plea to remove aviation paper for ISC proceedings," all Jan.6). What these scientists and intellectuals must realise is that there is nothing called absolute truth. Scientific feats and discoveries made in the past are great and commendable. Just because there is no documented proof of things of the past, it doesn’t make them any less believable to the masses. While these intellectuals who are now making an issue of this have a right not to subscribe to such beliefs, it is their arrogance and prejudice that are just as uncalled for. Everybody has a right to believe in what they feel is true as long as it doesn’t hurt another person. This false sense of superiority over our ancestors and the past will only make us less open to our great heritage and wisdom.

There is a misconception about Sanskrit (Editorial, Jan.6) as being only a language to chant mantras in temples and at religious ceremonies. What about the major part of it that deals with other aspects of life and where it is a repository of knowledge encompassing almost every walk of life and a diverse range of subjects? We need a serious study of Sanskrit literature in order to unravel the knowledge in ancient texts, to protect our Intellectual Property Rights, to explore new avenues of innovation and to lead India on to the forefront of a knowledge-driven world. However, such a study should be driven by a scientific temper, reasoning and logic. Opposition to observations and papers that do not pass comprehensive scientific scrutiny may be fair, but total opposition to the study of science in Sanskrit itself is unwise.

 

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