Some Q&As for you

Some Q&As for you compiled by D.P. Agrawal:

Question: Where the earliest dockyard of the world is located?
Answer: At Lothal, a Harappan acropolis in Gujarat.

Question: Where zinc metal was smelted and extracted for the first time?
Answer: Smelted zinc was known both in India and Greece in the mid-I millennium BC.

Question: Where zinc was first produced by distillation process?
Answer: Globally the first distillation of pure zinc was carried out at Zawar mines, Rajasthan, in 12th Century AD.

Question: When did zinc distillation technology reach China and from where?
Answer: Pure zinc distillation went to China from India with Buddhist scholars in the 16th Century AD.

Question: Which civilization of the world had the earliest planned layout of the cities?
Answer: The Indus Civilisation was the first to lay out its planned towns of Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan etc.

Question: Where the rust free massive iron pillar is located in India. When was it built and who got it built?
Answer: The massive rust-free iron is erected in the Qutub Area of Delhi and was built by Chandra Gupta in 4th Century AD.

Question: Did you know who was Aryabhatt and what was his date?
Answer: Aryabhatt was a great mathematician and astronomer of ancient India.

Date of Aryabhata:
Kâlakriya 20: When sixty times sixty years and three quarters of the yugas (of this yuga) had elapsed, twenty three years had then passed since my birth.

(In Aryabhata’s system of measuring time, 3600 of the Kali era corresponds to mean noon at Ujjain, on March 21, 499 CE (Sunday). So Aryabhata was born in 476 CE.) All other authors known by name are later to Aryabhata I, and mention his theories while refuting them or correcting them. The dates for Varahamihira have been verified also by independent techniques.)

Question: Did you know that Aryabhatt had propounded the view that earth was round.
Answer: He compared the Earth to a Kadamba flower as explained in the following quaotes:

Gola 6: The globe of the Earth stands (supportless) in space at the centre of the celestial sphere….The Earth is circular on all sides.

Gola 7: Just as the bulb of a Kadamba flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides, so also is the globe of the Earth surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.

(The very term Gola means sphere or round. Vatesvara, explicitly mentions a popular belief about the Earth being supported on the back of a turtle, and points out its deficiencies, “What does the turtle rest upon, etc”. But no other reputed astronomer seems to have taken such possibilities seriously enough even to contest them.)

Question: Did you know that Aryabhatt propounded in the 5th Century AD that the Earth rotates and not the celestial sphere?
Gola 9: Just as a man in a moving boat sees the stationary objects on the land moving in the opposite direction, so also the stationary stars are seen by a person at Lanka as moving exactly towards the West. (Lanka is an imaginary point on the equator at which the Meridian of Ujjayini intersects the Equator. Ujjayini is the modern-day Ujjain. Thus, Aryabhata’s Lanka is below the current-day Lanka. The Meridian of Ujjayini is was later copied by instituting the Meridian of Greenwich. )

Gola 10: It only appears to an observer at Lanka as if the celestial sphere and the asterisms and planets move to the West…to cause their rising and setting.

(This view is rejected by later authors, like Varahamihira, Brahmagupta etc. on the grounds that if it is the Earth that rotates, then clothes on a line will fly, and the falcon, which rises high in the sky will not be able to find its way back. Others say, the tops of trees will be destroyed, the ocean will invade the land etc.)

Question: Did you know that Aryabhatt had worked out the duration of the day at the poles?
Gola 16: The gods living in the north at the Meru mountain (north pole) see one half of the Bhagola (celestial sphere with its centre at the centre of the earth) as revolving from left to right (i.e., clockwise); the demons living in the south at Badvâmukha (south pole) see the other half rotating from right to left (i.e., anti-clockwise).

Gola 17: The gods (at the north pole) see the sun after sunrise for half a solar year; so do the demons (at the south pole). Those living on the moon see the sun for half a lunar month; the humans here see it for half a civil day.

(Wooden and iron models were used to demonstrate the spheres. Bhagola is the celestial sphere centred at the centre of the earth, while Khagola is the sphere centred on the observer. The principal circles of the Bhagola are the celestial equator, the ecliptic etc., while the principal circles of the Khagola are the horizon, the meridian, the prime vertical etc. For the related concepts of spherical astronomy, consult any text on spherical astronomy.)

Question: Did you know that Aryabhatt had given an accurate value of pi (p)?
Rational approximation to pi

Ganita 10: 104 multiplied by 8 and added to 62000 is the approximate circumference of a circle whose diameter is 20,000.

(That is, pi = 62832/20000 = 3.1416. This value of pi was widely used in the Arabic world. In Europe, this value is cited by Simon Stevin in his book on navigation, The Haven Finding Art, as the value known to the “ancients” which he states (correctly) as far superior to any value known to the Greeks. Unlike what current-day historians would have us believe, Egypt does not mean Greece to Simon Stevin. In any case Aryabhata’s value is better than that of Ptolemy (3.141666), who lived in Alexandria, in Egypt. Simon Stevin, a Dutch mathematician, astronomer and navigator, introduced the decimal system in Europe, c. 1580, and gives a table of sine values like Aryabhata, correcting the earlier table given by Nunes. Better values of pi were subsequently obtained in Europe using the “Gregory” series for the arctangent, and faster convergent methods, all of which are found in works of the Aryabhata school, which were imported into Europe in the 16th and 17th c. (Gregory does not claim originality.) The Sanskrit term for approximate is asanna, a term also used in the sulba sutra. The Chinese had a better value of pi than Aryabhata, just as al Kashi had a more accurate value of pi than Nîlkantha. However, none of those values had the potential of the calculus, and neither Chinese nor al Kashi had equally accurate sine values. (Ptolemy does not even mention sines.) The Chinese value may well have been a fluke, while al-Kashi’s value was based on extremely laborious computation. Neither had the future potential or the sweep that Aryabhata’s approximation techniques had. These techniques were later developed by his school into the “Taylor” series for arctangent, the sine and the cosine.)
Question: Did you know where the famous Bower manuscript was found and what is its importance for Ayurvedic Studies?
Answer: The Bower Manuscript (mss), which is named after its discoverer, Lieutenant H. Bower, was found in 1890, in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan, on the great caravan route of China. It was then sent to Colonel J. Waterhouse, who was then the President of Asiatic Society of Bengal. On reaching Calcutta in February 1891, it was taken over by the famous epigraphist and indologist Hoernle who was at that time the Philological Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. After the completion of its editing, Hoernle returned it to Bower in 1898.

The Bower Manuscript in reality is a collection of seven distinct manuscripts, or it may be called a collective manuscript of seven parts. The total of the existing leaves of the Bower Manuscript is fifty-one. But unfortunately the more important portion of it, Parts I- III, which deals with medicine, is incomplete.

Detailed studies of the mss indicated to Hoernle that the writers of Parts I- III and Parts V-VII were Indian Buddhist monks. The mss is written in Indian Gupta script. The use of birch-bark for writing shows that they must have come from Kashmir or Udyana. Hoernle thinks that they passed the mss into the hands of the writer of Part IV, who would seem to have been a native of Eastern Turkestan, or perhaps of China. But the ultimate owner of the whole series of manuscripts, Yasomitra, must have held a prominent position in that monastery. For this collective manuscript was contained in the relic chamber of the memorial stupa at the Ming-oi of Qum Tura, built in his honour.

The large medical treatise called Navanitaka forms the second part of the Bower mss. As the date of that mss falls somewhere in the second half of the fourth century A.D., and as the Navanitaka quotes numerous formulae from the Cikitsita-sthana of Charaka’s Compendium, it seems obvious that none of the chapters of the latter, from which quotations occur in the Navanitaka, can have been written by the famous physician Drdhabala, who lived several centuries later, probably in the ninth century A.D. The date of the composition of the Navanitaka is probably much earlier than that of the writing of the Bower mss, in which it has been preserved for us. “That the latter is not the autograph of the author of the Navanitaka, but is a copy of a pre-existing work, is proved by various marks in the mss.” Hoernle holds the view that the Navanitaka being later in date than the Caraka-samhita, and of the latter work (in the form in which it at the time existed, before its revision and completion by Drdhabala) having been one of the sources drawn on by the author of the Navanitaka.

Question: Did you know Joseph Needham, in addition to his work on science in China, was equally impressed by the achievements of India in the field of knowledge and learning?
Answer: Joseph Needham is famous mainly for the formidable magnitude and scholarship of his work on science in China. In the years between 1920 and 1942 Needham was a well known biochemist, before he became simply obsessed with the ancient science and technology of China for almost half a century. But few people know that he was equally impressed by the achievements of India in the field of knowledge and learning. In his lecture to the students of Cambridge University in 1963 he gave full compliments to India’s intellectual heritage. He said, ‘it is good to remember, therefore, that our own pious founders were not the only men, and that Christendom was not the only culture, to set on foot great and noble institutions of learning where successive generations of students assembled to get the benefits of education and research. When the men of Alexander the Great came to Taxila in India in the fourth century BC they found a university the like of which had not then been seen in Greece… and was still existing when the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien went there about AD 400. Later the torch of learning moved to Buddhist Nalanda in Bihar, as we know from the account of that other great pilgrim Hsuang-Chuang in the seventh century. In China the foundation of the Imperial University goes back to 165 BC and by the beginning of the Christian era it had no less than 3,000 students’. In turning to the arts and sciences of Arabic culture, Needham reminds his listeners of a provocative Islamic saying, ‘the ink of science is more precious than the blood of Martyrs’. Emphatically deprecating the Eurocentric ways of thinking, Needham wants them to be humble and asks, ‘How are we to look upon all these achievements of people who were neither British nor European, neither Christian, nor ‘white’? … Today, at a time when international political tensions are intermingled with racial factors, it is more than ever essential that we approach people of other cultures with the conviction that they have at least as much to give us as we have to give to them.’
Question: Did you know Bhaskaracharya? What was he famous for and when did he live?
Answer: Bhaskaracarya was a mathematician-astronomer of exceptional abilities. He was born in 1114 AD.

Mathematics became the hand-maiden of astronomy and, from the time of Aryabhata I, it began to be incorporated in astronomical treatises. Thus all components of mathematics came to be developed: geometry, trigonometry, arithmetic and algebra. The great astronomers had to be great mathematicians too.

The great astronomer-mathematicians of the Siddhanta period, in a chronological order were: Aryabhata I, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Aryabhata II, Sripati, Bhaskara II (known popularly as Bhaskaracarya), Madhava, Paramesvara and Nilakantha. These great scientists, except the last three, grew in different parts of this vast sub-continent. Perhaps such isolated growth may explain the apparent abruptness in astronomical and mathematical development in India. Even before Bhaskara made his mark on Indian Jyotisa, there were three distinct schools, the Saura, the Arya and Brahma. Bhaskara was respected and studied even in distant corners of India. Bhaskara was perhaps the last and the greatest astronomer that India ever produced.

Brahmagupta was Bhaskara’s role model and inspirer. To Brahmagupta he pays homage at the beginning of his Siddhanta-siromani and most of his astronomical elements are taken from the Brahmasphuta siddhanta or the Rajamrganka belonging to the same school. Bhaskara improved upon him not through any great original contribution but by the thoroughness with which he could and did analyse the rationale of the calculations. Bhaskara’s exhaustiveness was so profound that his works have not only eclipsed lesser works but even the works of his great master Brahmagupta himself.

Bhaskara was born in Saka 1036 (1114 A.D.) and composed his masterpiece Siddhanta-siromani at the age of thirty-six. His second work, the Karanakutuhala was composed at the age of sixty-nine. The sharpness of his keen mind seems to have remained undiminished over a long period. Some details of his family too are known through the Goladhaya of the Siddhanta-siromani. His father, Mahesvara, was an astronomer well-versed in all the branches of learning and was Bhaskara’s guru. He belonged to the Sandilya gotra, and lived in Vijjadavida near the Sahya Mountain. This information is corroborated and supplemented by two stone inscriptions in temples, one at Patan and the other at Behal. The first of these mentions five ancestors and the son and grandson of Bhaskara. Amongst the ancestors is Trivikrama, who is the poet Trivikrama, author of the Damayantikatha and the son Laksmidhara is said to have been called away from Patan to be the court pandit of king Jaitrapala. The grandson Cangadeva was astrologer royal to the Yadava king Singhana of Devagiri and got the incription engraven, established an institute for the study and propagation of Bhaskara’s works. Bhaskara’s whole family was one of scholars and most of the members were astrologers attached to royal houses. Curiously enough, there is no mention of Bhaskara himself being the astrologer royal to any king. Perhaps he disdained the work of a professional astrologer as is hinted at in the story of Bhaskara writing his work Lilavati for the sake of his daughter, elaborated with delicate fancy by Edna E Cramer in her Mainstream of Mathematics. The inscription at Behal gives the lineage of another son Sripat of Mahesvara. In the Persian translation of Bhaskara’s Lilavati, prepared at the behest of the Mughal emperor Akbar, Bedar is mentioned as the native place of Bhaskara. But this place is not near the Sahya Mountain. Vijjadavida, the now unknown native place of Bhaskara, must have been somewhere near Patan.

Bhaskara is known for his two main works: a ‘Siddhanta’ text, the ‘Siddhanta-siromani’ and a ‘Karana’ text, the ‘Karanakutuhala’. The former is in four parts, viz. (i) Patiganita or Lilavati, (ii) Bijaganita, (iii) Grahaganita, (iv) Goladhyaya. Of these, the first two are usually treated as separate treatises. The Lilavati deals with arithmetic and geometry; it is said that the name is after his daughter Lilavati, who was according to her horoscope to remain unmarried. There is a story which says that Bhaskara put to use all his astrological knowledge to find out an auspicious moment for her marriage, and on the marriage day had a water-clock fixed up as to hit the exact time favourable for her happy marriage, but his efforts were foiled by the child-bride herself. Impelled by girlish curiosity she kept on running to the water-clock and bending to peer at it. In one of these visits to the water-clock, a pearl loosened from her neck and got stuck to the hole of the water-clock. The auspicious moment passed unnoticed and the girl had to remain unmarried. To console her and perpetuate her name Bhaskara called his treatise on arithmetic and geometry by her name. According to others, Lilavati was the name of Bhaskara’s wife. More probably Bhaskara was attracted by this fanciful name. Bhaskara was known not only for his mathematical scholarship, but also for his poetic inclinations.

In the Lilavati the eight mathematical operations (parikarmastaka), addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, squaring, cubing, extraction of square and cube-roots are dealt with first. The operations with zero (sunyaparikarma) follow. Then come vyastavidhi (method of inversion), istakarma (unitary method), sankramana (finding a & b when a+b and a-b are known i.e., the method of elimination), vargasankramana (finding a & b from a-b and a2 -b 2 ), vargakarma (finding a & b so that a2+b2-1 and a2-b2-1 may be perfect squares), mulagunaka (problems involving square roots i.e. those which lead to quadratic equations); trairasika (rule of three); bhandapratibhandaka (barter), misravyavalara (mixtures), srenivyavahara (series); ankapasa (permutations and combinations) and kuttaka (indeterminate analysis). In fact, some of these topics like series, permutations and combinations and indeterminate analysis more properly come under algebra.

The section on geometry (ksetraganita) opens with the enunciation of the theorem of the square of the hypotenuse. But the enunciation is algebraic rather than geometrical and leads on to the solution of rational right triangles and height and distance problems. The condition for given lengths of sides forming the sides of a closed rectilinear figure is then given. The rules for calculating the attitude, area, etc., of triangles and different types of quadrilaterals come next. After criticising Brahmagupta’s rule for finding the diagonals of quadrilaterals, he gives his method of getting a rational quadrilateral by the juxtaposition of rational right triangles and shows how the diagonals are then easily found. Circles are dealt with next, a very satisfactory approximate formula for calculating the arc in terms of the chord and vice versa were given, so also are given the correct expressions for the volume and surface of a sphere. Though Sridhara before Bhaskara gave the correct expression for the volume, Bhaskara’s is in more general terms. The sides of rectilinear figures with 3,4….9 sides are calculated next. Khatavyavahara (section on excavations) and krakacavyavahara (shadow problems) cover some interesting problems. Except for the section on permutations and combinations, the scheme is the same as that in the mathematical chapters of the Brahmasphutasiddhanta. But Bhaskara’s treatment is always richer and more comprehensive.

The topics in the Bijganita are fundamental operations with positive and negative quantities (ghanarnasadvidham) with zero (sunyasadvidham), with symbols (varnasadvidham) and with surds (karanisadvidham); indeterminate simple equations (kuttaka); indeterminate equations of second degree (vargaprakrti) equations in one unknown (elavarna-samikaranam); solving quadratic equations by completing the square (madhyamaharanam); equations in more than one unknown (anekavarnasamikaranam), equations involving products of the unknowns (bhavita).

In the Grahaganita and Gola chapters after the preliminary disquisition on the importance of the astronomy of the heavenly bodies, the Prasnadhyaya (chapter of questions) asks a series of questions which are discussed in the succeeding chapters. The third chapter, Bhuvanakosa (the universe), asserts the unsupported situation of the earth in space and explains how beings exist on the surface of the round earth. The measurement of the circumference, surface area and volume of the earth is next dealt with. A good approximation for p (namely p = 3.1416) is used for these calculations. The fifth chapter titled Madhyamagativasana treats of the mean motions of the sun, moon and the planets. Like the other Indian astronomers, Bhaskara too ignores the thesis put forward by Aryabhata that the stationary stars appear to move to the observer on the revolving earth. The next chapter, chedyakadhikara, describes the true motions of the heavenly bodies. The true motions, says Bhaskara, can either be represented as motion along a small circle or as motion centre moves along the circumference of a circle whose centre does not lie at the centre of the earth. The diagrammatic representation of the true motions is termed ‘chedyaka’. In the Golabandhadhikara, Bhaskara explains how models of the celestial sphere with the orbits of the sun, moon and the planets are constructed by the teacher of astronomy. The eighth chapter, Triprasnavasana, tells us how to know the time of sunrise, the relative lengths of the day and night in different seasons and at different latitudes, and the latitude of a place. The next three chapters are devoted to eclipses. The Yantradhyaya describes the astronomical instruments used for observing the heavenly bodies but ends it with the remark that intelligence is a better tool than all these, which is significant from an astronomer who seems to have neglected practical observation. Some machines with no astronomical application are also included in the list. One chapter is devoted to a poetic description of the seasons, another to astronomical questions and their answers.

The last chapter is again devoted to Jyotpati (calculation of sine), which gives different methods of calculating the sine. The whole text of the Grahaganita and the Goladhyaya has a commentary (vasana) attached to it, written by Bhaskara himself.

Amongst Bhaskara’s noteworthy contributions to mathematics is his finding of the correct volume of a sphere by dividing it into pyramids with their apexes at the centre and bases on the surface of the sphere and of the correct surface area of a sphere by cutting up the surface into concentric rings and into lenticular strips and adding up their areas. How exactly this is done is not clear, but some scholars think it is by a sort of differentiation-integration. Bhaskara’s treatment of the mathematics of the zero is remarkable for the undoubted realisation that any quantity divided by zero is infinity (termed Khahara or Khahara having zero as divisor) and for the implied concept of the infinitestimal. In the calculation of the instantaneous motions of planets he seems to anticipate differentiation.

Bhaskara took all the astronomical elements from the older works, chiefly the Brahmasphutasiddhanta and the Rajamrganka. The high fame the Siddhantasiromani has achieved is due to the fact that every thing of Indian astronomy is to be found in it. The period between Aryabhata I and Bhaskara II was the golden age of Indian Jyotisa. It saw the production of many astronomical works, but they were all pushed to the background, by the brilliant exposition and the analytical power displayed by Bhaskara. So thorough and so sure was his treatment that no need for further improvement was felt. The later works were almost all commentaries on Bhaskara’s works.

Unlike most of the scientific works originating in the south, Bhaskara’s works were not unknown in the north. They were studied with great assiduity. Many of the developments in mathematics are embedded in the commentaries on the Lilavati. The Siddhantasiromani too enjoyed great popularity. Bhaskara calculated the equinoctial shadow at any place and the new corrections to be applied to the calculation of the time of sunrise. The precession of the equinoxes too was accepted by Bhaskara, though later astronomers allowed Bhaskara’s correct theory to be perverted. All this shows beyond doubt that Bhaskara was blessed with a remarkably active brain. Bhaskara’s works have served as reference books in every nook and corner of India.

The Karankutuhala, like other Karana works, is a manual for easy astronomical calculations. Even now it is used for making calendars in many parts of India.

The number of commentaries testifies to the popularity of Bhaskara’s works. The Lilavati has the largest number. Some amongst these like the Gantikaumudi of Narayana Pandita, son of Nrsimha, are almost independent works bringing in much new matter. Others like Kriyakramakri while faithfully commenting on the Lilavati verses one by one, supplement the information contained in the Lilavati with many new discoveries. More than twenty commentaries on the Lilavati have already been brought to light. There may be more. On the other sections of the Siddhantasiromani and on the Karanakutuhala too there are a number of commentaries. In 1577 A.D. the Lilavati was translated into Persian and the Bijaganita in 1665. In modern times Colebrooke translated the Lilavati and the Bijaganita. The Lilavati is rated so high in popular opinion that there is a saying that a person well up in the Lilavati will be able even to find out the exact number of the leaves on a tree.

Question: Did you know that smallpox inoculation started in India before the West?
Answer: Smallpox inoculation is an ancient Indian tradition and was practiced in India before the West.

Smallpox was not known to Hippocrates, and probably not to Galen or his successors either. The earliest Western references which seem to describe it are those of early medieval chroniclers. The turning point comes with the great physician and alchemist Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (865 to ca.923 AD), whose Kitab al-jadari wa’l-hasba (On the variola and the measles) is still regarded rightly as a landmark in the history of medical literature. It gave the first clear account of these diseases and their differentiation in the Western world. But in China smallpox was accurately described several centuries earlier than in Islam. The key passage occurs in the Chou hou pei chi fang (Handy therapies for emergencies) finished by the great physician and alchemist Ko Hung about 340 AD, and revised by Thao Hung-ching (also a great physician and alchemist), in the around 500AD.

But as far as the inoculation is concerned, the earliest reference to smallpox inoculation is in the book Wan Chhuan on smallpox and measles, Tou chen hsin fa, first published in1549 AD and reprinted half a dozen times in the Chhing dynasty. The next step concerns the Chu family, who practised medicine through several generations. A book of Chu Shun-ku )ca. 1634 AD to1718 AD) entitled Tou chen ting hun (Definitive discussion of smallpox, 1713 AD) describes inoculation (Sivin 2000).

In ancient times in India smallpox was prevented through the tikah (inoculation). Kurt Pollak (1968) writes, “preventive inoculation against the smallpox, which was practiced in China from the 11th century, apparently came from India”. This inoculation process was generally practiced in large part of Northern and Southern India, but around 1803-04 the British government banned this process. It’s banning, undoubtedly, was done in the name of ‘humanity’, and justified by the Superintendent General of Vaccine (manufactured by Dr. E. Jenner from the cow for use in the inoculation against smallpox).

Worship related to Smallpox:

S. C. Dube (1955) says that in ancient times disease was regarded as a punishment from the god and goddesses, or the work of evil sprites, or supernatural powers. People think that propitiation of the god or goddesses was the sure antidote against these diseases. Worship of goddess is also connected with the smallpox and organized annually in the South. The village community organizes this annual worship of Pochamma on Thursday or Saturday in the month of Shravan (July-August). The Muslims also participate in this festival but don’t participate in worship, as they dont believe in Hindu god, but were as afraid of the village gods and goddesses as the Hindus.

Smallpox in the 17th Century and Traditional Inoculation:

Dharmapal (2000) has quoted British sources to prove that inoculation in India was practiced before the British did.

In the seventeenth century, smallpox inoculation (tikah) was practiced in India. A particular sect of Brahmins employed a sharp iron needle to carry out these practices. In 1731, Coult was in Bengal and he observed it and wrote (Operation of inoculation of the smallpox as performed in Bengall from Re. Coult to Dr. Oliver Coult in ‘An account of the diseases of Bengall’ Calcutta, dated February 10, 1731):

The operation of inoculation called by the natives tikah has been known in the kingdom of Bengall as near as I can learn, about 150 years and according to the Bhamanian records was first performed by one Dununtary, a physician of Champanagar, a small town by the side of the Ganges about half way to Cossimbazar whose memory in now holden in great esteem as being through the another of this operation, which secret, say they, he had immediately of God in a dream.

There method of performing this operation is by taking a little of the pus (when the smallpox are come to maturity and are of a good kind) and dipping these in the point of a pretty large sharp needle. Therewith make several punctures in the hollow under the deltoid muscle or sometimes in the forehead, after which they cover the part with a little paste made of boiled rice. When they want the operation of the inoculated matter to be quick they give the patient a small bolus made of a little of the pus, and boiled rice immediately after the operation which is repeated the two following days at noon.

The place where the punctures were made commonly festures (sic) and comes to a small suppuration, and if not the operation has no effect and the person is still liable to have the smallpox but no contrary if the punctures do suppurate and no fever or eruption ensues, then they are no longer subject to the infection.

The puncture blacken and dry up with the other pustules.

The fever ensues later or sooner, according to the age and strength of the person inoculated, but commonly the third or fourth days. They keep the patient under the coolest regimen they can think off befor the fever comes on and frequently use cold bathing.

If the eruption is suppressed they also use frequent cold bathing. At the same time they give warm medicine inwardly, but if they prove of the confluent kind, they use no cold bathing, but (keep) the patient very cool and give cooling medicines.

I cannot say anything of the success of this operation or their method of cure in this disease, but I intend to inform myself.

Dr. J.Z. Holwell writes the most detailed account for the college of Physicians in London in 1767 (An account of the manner of inoculating for the smallpox in the East Indies, by J. Z. Holwell, F.R.S. addressed to the President and Members of the College of Physicians in London). He wrote:

Inoculation is performed in Indostan by a particular tribe of Bramins, who are delegated annually for this service from the different Colleges of Bindoobund, Eleabas, Benares, & c. over all the distant provinces: dividing themselves into small parties, of three or four each, they plan their traveling circuits in such wise as to arrive at the places of the operation consists only in abstaining for a month from fish, milk, and ghee (a kind of butter made generally of buffalo’s milk); the prohibition of fish respects only the native Portugese and Mahomedans, who abound in every province of the empire.

When the Bramins begin to inoculate, they pass from house to house and operate at the door, refusing to inoculate any who have not, on a strict scrutiny, duly observed the preparatory course enjoined them. It is no uncommon thing for them to ask the parents how many pocks they choose their children should have: Vanity, we should think, urged a question on a matter seemingly so uncertain in the issue; but true it is, that they hardly ever exceed, or are deficient, in the number required.

They inoculate indifferently on any part, but if left to their choice, they prefer the outside of the arm, midway between the elbow and shoulder for the females. Previous to the operation the Operator takes a piece of cloth in his hand, (which becomes his perquisite if the family is opulent) and with it gives a dry friction upon the part intended for inoculation, for the space of eight or ten minutes, then with a small instrument he wounds, by many slight touches, about the compass of a silver grout.

The instrument they make use of, is of iron, about four inches and a half long, and of the size of a large crow quill, the middle is twisted, and the one end is steeled and flatted about an inch from the extremity, and the eight of an inch broad; this extremity is brought to a very keen edge, and two sharp corners; the other end of the instrument is an earpicker, and the instrument is precisely the same as the Barbers of Indostan use to cut the nails, and depurate the ears of their customers. The operators of inoculation holds the instrument as we hold a pen and with dexterous expedition gives about fifteen or sixteen minute scarifications with one of the sharp corners of the instrument, and to these various little wounds, I believe may be ascribed the discharge which almost constantly flows form a part in the progress of the disease. I cannot help thinking that too much has been said (pro and con) about nothing, respecting the different methods preferred by different practitioners of performing the operation; provided the matter is thrown into the blood, it is certainly, a consideration of most trivial import by what means it is effected; if any claims a preferences, I should conclude it should be that method which bids fairest for securing a plentiful discharge from the ulcer.

Just making the smallest appearance of blood, then opening a linen double rag (which he always keeps in a cloth round his waist) takes from thence a small pledget of cotton charged with the variolous matter, which he moistens with two or three drops of Ganges water, and applies it to the wound, fixing it on with a slight bandage, and ordering it to remain on for six hours without being moved, then the bandage to be taken off, and the pledget to remain until it falls off itself; sometimes (but rarely) he squeezes a drop from the pledget, upon the part, before it applies it; from the time he begins the dry friction, to tying the knot of the bandage, he never ceases reciting some portions of the worship appointed, by the Aughtorrah Bhade, to be paid to the female divinity before mentioned, nor quits the most in a double calico rag, is saturated with matter from the inoculated pustules of the preceding year, for they never inoculate with natural way, however distinct and mild the species. He than proceeds to give instructions for the treatment of the patient through the course of the process, which are most religiously observed; these are as follows:

He extends the prohibition of fish, milk and ghee, for one month from the day of inoculation; early on the morning succeeding the operation, four collans (an earthen pot containing about two gallons) of cold water are ordered to be thrown over the patient, from the head downwards, and to be repeated every morning and evening until the fever comes on, (which usually is about the close of the sixth day from the inoculation) then to desist until the apperance of the eruptions, (which commonly happens at the close of the third complete day from the commencement of the fever) and then to pursue the cold bathing as before, through the course of the disease, and until the scabs of with a fine sharp pointed thorn, as soon as they begin to change their colour, and whilst the matter continues in a fluid state. Confinement to the house is absolutely forbid, and the inoculated are ordered to be exposed to every air that blows; and the utmost indulgence they are allowed when the fever comes on, is to be laid on a mat at the door; but, in fact, the eruptive fever is generally so inconsiderable and trifling, as very seldom to require this indulgence. Their regimen is ordered to consist of all the refrigerating things the climate and season produces, as plantains, sugar-canes, water melons, rice, gruel made of white poppy-seeds, and cold water, or thin rice gruel for their ordinary drink. These instructions being given, and an injunction laid on the patients to make a thanks giving Poojah, or offering, to the goddess is a pund of cowries, equal to about a penny sterling, and goes on to another door, down one side of the street and up on the other, and is thus employed from morning until night, inoculating sometimes eight or ten in a house. The regimen they order, when they are called to attend the disease taken in the natural way, is uniformly the same. There usually begins to be a discharge from the scarification a day before the eruption, which continues through the disease, and sometimes after the scabs of the pock fall off, and a few pustules generally appear round the edge of the wound; when these two circumstances appear only, without a single eruption on any other part of the body, the patient is deemed as secure from future infection, as if the eruption had been general.

Thus far the system of practice pursued by the Bramins will, I imagine, appear rational enough, and well founded; but they have other reasons for particularly prohibiting the use of these three articles, which to some may appear purely speculative, if not chimerical. They lay it down as a principle, that the immediate (or instant) cause of the smallpox exists in the mortal part of every human and animal form; that the mediate (or second) acting cause, which stirs up the first, and throws it into a state of fermentation, is multitudes of imperceptible animalculae floating in the atmosphere; that these are the cause of all epidemical diseases, but more particularly of the small pox.

That the great and obvious benefit accruing from it, consists in this, that the fermentation being excited by the action of a small portion of matter (similar to the immediate cause) which had already passed through a state of fermentation the effects must be moderate and benign; whereas the fermentation raised by the malignant juices of the animalculae received into the blood with the ailment, gives necessarily additional force and strength to the first efficient cause of the disease.

Holwell’s detailed account, not only describes inoculation, but also shows that the Indians knew that microbes caused such diseases.

In 1787 the Government erected a hospital for smallpox inoculation at Dum Dum in Calcutta. There were some restrictions included before and after inoculation, such as the breastfeeding children were not inoculated, but children above one year of age were considered old enough for the operation, no member of an inoculated household was permitted to mix with the outside world, and no permission from another village was permitted to enter a house having an inoculated person, etc.

Smallpox in 18th and 19th Centuries:

During the 18th century smallpox was widely prevaialent in India, and killed more people here than in other countries. At Calcutta in mid 18th centaury, the yearly death rate from smallpox was, on an average, 12,000 per million.

In 1798, Edward Jenner discovered that the cowpox inoculation-vaccination protected a person against the smallpox. Only four years after the discovery, vaccination was introduced in India under the guidance of Lord Clive. This was the time when British Government banned this traditional inoculation practice.

In Calcutta, around the 1802-03 inoculation was banned under the Bengal Presidency. At first, in Bengall people rejected this vaccination because operation of inoculation was very ancient and widespread. But in 1804, Dr. Shoolbred drew attention to the determined opposition of the Brahmin inoculators. He tried to convert the numerous ticcadars (inoculators) into vaccinators, and, to an extent, he succeeded in his attempts. On April 23, 1805, after a visual demonstration of the effect of vaccination, 26 Brahmin inoculators declaring their full faith in the power of vaccination to prevent smallpox signed a statement.

Dr. T. P. Wright, civil surgeon of Bhagalpur wrote in 1868 (Annual report of the Sanitary commissioner, India, Pp. 333.):

“There is a very strong prejudice against vaccination in almost all parts of the district, and in five years, only 1519 operations have been performed….”

In 1900, smallpox inoculation was still in practice in Bengal, Assam, North-West Frontier Provinces, Punjab and the Maratha state.


In olden times tikah (inoculation) against smallpox was very common in Southern and Northern parts of India, chiefly at Calcutta. A special sect of the Brahmins practiced this inoculation operation. It was a technical operation carried through the sharp needle. Pollack asserts this operation was practiced in China from the 11th century and it definitely reached there from India. Around 17th Century it was very common in India but after the introduction of the smallpox vaccine in India by the Britishers, this traditional inoculation practice was banned under the Bengal Presidency.

Question: Did you know that India in the 18th Century was exporting its technology to England?
Answer: The answer to this query is based on the book by the well known Gandhian Dharampal (see source below below).

India then had industry, the famous extensive cotton cloth industry (spinning, weaving, dyeing, finishing, etc.) producing cloth for ordinary wear, as well as for exquisite purposes. Further, there were the great building industries run by high professionals like experts in Vastu-sastra, also those who constructed tanks and irrigation channels and maintained them, and people who looked after the roads and rivers. There were the great cartiers like the Banjaras, the transporters who were said at times to have travelled on the roads in caravans of 10,000 carts. Then there were the boats and ships in the rivers and on the seas, and those who built them, and those who sailed them in the rivers and seas around India, and to places in South East Asia and to East and South Africa.

Most parts of India produced very fine iron and steel from very early times. Around 1700-1800 it was perhaps the best steel in the world and distant countries like the Netherlands and Britain imported it and used it for special purposes. We of course used it for our agricultural purposes, and in tool-making, and in great temples as well as in great iron pillars, like the one in Delhi. Our annual potential of iron and steel production, around 1800, is estimated at 2,00,000 tons. The furnaces which manufactured such iron and steel were found in practically all regions of India, and were made by the iron-smelters themselves, used ores available locally, and charcoal made from specific trees, and the furnaces could be carted from place to place.

There were scores of large and small industrial and other manufacturing enterprises even till A.D. 1800 and in many areas till much later. Around 1770 it was found that ice was manufactured from water by a man-made process in the Allahabad region. This was wholly unknown in Britain, and perhaps in Europe too, and so details of the process were conveyed to the British Royal Society in London by the British commander-in- chief of the Bengal army. The details were tested and analysed in Edinburgh by one Prof. Black, probably Edinburgh was the main centre for understanding the process. Prof. Black found that the Indian process worked in his laboratory too, and the confirmation of it, in due course must have led to the founding, patenting etc. of the earlier forms of modern-day refrigeration.

Incidentally, it seems that ice was made in India from water (and perhaps by the same or similar process) in the early 7th Century A.D. in the days of the celebrated Harshavardhana of Kannauj. This is referred to in the Harsha-Charitra by the great poet Bana Bhatta

Contrary to what the British assumed, especially Mr. James Mill, the historian of British India (1817), India seems to have been well endowed in the matter of the treatment of the body, largely through Ayurveda and its regional versions, and in surgery. Indian surgeons, disciples of the ancient Susruta, did surgery for many things including the removal of the cataract of the eye in Bengal (c.1790) and in mending noses, and perhaps, limbs. The news of the process of the mending of noses reached the British Royal Society from Pune, and may be from other places also. There seems to have arisen some amazement, a sort of unbelief, but the details of the surgery were studied, and by 1810 Dr. Carpue of London was able to build up the technique of a new plastic surgery derived and based on the Indian method.

There must be many more such instances of export of knowledge, processes, and techniques, in multiple fields which came to Britain, and perhaps to some other European areas, from 18th and early 19th century India. There were the details of the practice of inoculation conveyed firstly around A.D. 1732, and later in much greater detail in 1765 to the British College of physicians by Mr. Holwell, who was also a surgeon. Similarly the practices of Indian agriculture were described to London from various areas, and some Indian tools, particularly drill ploughs, were sent to Britain to help improve the British agricultural implements, all in the later part of the 18th century.

A Dutch scholar around claimed an Indian origin of 16th-17th European furniture, and published several articles on it in the Burlington Magazine, London. As this claim got contested by a couple of British scholars the magazine found it more politic to terminate publishing the series. There must be many instances of this kind.

According to recent estimates of world-wide industrial manufactures, 73% of world manufactures were done in the Chinese and the Indian regions around 1750. Even around 1820 these two regions produced some 60% of world manufactures.
Question: Did you know that cow urine distillate has been found to be a bio-enhacer?
Answer: The US Patent No. 6,410,059 (issued June 25, 2002) has been taken by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (India) for a Pharmaceutical composition containing cow urine distillate and an antibiotic.

Summary of the Invention:
The invention relates to new use of a known abundantly available cow urine distillate as an enhancer of antibiotic action on the target. The molecule of invention helps in the absorption of antibiotics across the cell membrane in animal cells, gram positive and gram negative bacteria. Similar activities can also be obtained by using the distillate of the urine of cow at 40- 50 degree C and from the concentrate, which is lyophilized and dissolved for further use. Further the urine distillate from buffalo, camel, deer provides similar activity of bioavailability.

A pharmaceutical composition comprising an antibiotic and cow urine distillate in an amount effective to enhance antimicrobial effect of the antibiotic is disclosed. The antibiotic can be an antifungal agent. The antibiotic can be a quinolone or a fluoroquinolone. The antifungal agent can be azoles, clotrimazole, mystatin or amphotericin. When the antibiotic is an anti-tuberculosis agent, selected from the group consisting of isoniazid, pyrazinamide and ethambutal, anti-tuberculosis effect of said agent is enhanced 2 to 80 folds.

For further details, search for ‘cow and india and urine’ on the advanced search page of

Question: Did you know that the famous poet Omar Khayyam was also an astronomer?

“A loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse and Thou”

I am sure, you have read this couplet of Omar Khayyam, the great poet and connoisseur of wine.

May 2002 marked the 954th birthday of Omar Khayyam who is more famous for his Rubaiyat. What is less known is that he also made great contributions to maths and astronomy.

Over nine hundred years ago, in Naishapur in what is now Khorasan in Iran, three young students made a pact. If anyone of them made a fortune, he would share it with his friends. In time, one, Nizam ul Mulk, became vizier, or administrator of affairs, to the Seljuq ruler of Khorasan. His friends, hearing of his elevation, approached him; the vizier generously upheld the promise.

Hasan al Sabbah wanted a place in government, but soon fell afoul of his benefactor and eventually became the head of the Persian sect of the Ismailis. From Alamut, his mountain fastness, Hasan and his fanatical followers spread terror across the Islamic world. Ironically, one of their countless victims included Hasan’s former friend and benefactor, the Nizam ul Mulk, Today we know them as the Assassins, a word they have contributed to the English language.

The other beneficiary wanted no title or office. He asked only for the chance to study science and to pray for his benefactor’s prosperity. Yet his contribution to our world would be far greater than Hasan’s. He is known largely as the composer of many of the 600 short four-line poems that make up Persian literature’s famous Rubaiyat. It is less well known that Omar Khayyam was also one of the world’s great mathematicians and astronomers.

Khayyam was one of several remarkable Arab mathematicians and scientists who produced work of astonishing sophistication in an age when the people of what is now the developed world were busy slaughtering communities that didn’t agree with them.

Al Khwarizmi (780-850) (the term algorithm is in fact is coined after his name) appears to have been the first of a long line of brilliant men who immeasurably extended the scope and depth of mathematics and its application by developing the theory of algebra.

Khayyam too had this gift for abstraction and understanding. Some of his work on cubic equations could not be surpassed for five hundred years. And his calculation of the exact length of the year differs from the current value nearly a thousand years on by just 0.000002 per cent!

Khayyam also did path-breaking work on the binomial theorem. Over the centuries, this would eventually form a foundation for probability and statistics, which in turn would lead to risk management-a powerful technique used to determine the viability of virtually any commercial enterprise today. The binomial theorem is also one of the core concepts of discrete structures, which form the basis for many important areas of computer science.

Khayyam deserves a toast of the best Persian wine for his great scientific contributions too.
Question: Did you know that honey has been found effective in healing festering wounds?
Answer: Honey has been used in Indian and Oriental traditional medicine since antiquity to heal wounds. Recent research (Cooper et al 2002) has shown that honey can stop even bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

The records of ancient people covering wounds in honey go back to ancient India and Egypt. Honey could help to treat wounds that refuse to heal. It was generally believed that honey’s syrupy consistency kept air out of wounds, and that its high sugar content slowed bacterial growth. But recent research shows that honey must also have other properties that kill bacteria.

Rose Cooper, a microbiologist at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, and her colleagues have shown that compared with an artificial honey solution of the same thickness and sugar concentration, natural honey kills bacteria three times more effectively, though they are not yet sure what the active ingredients are. It is however known that some types of honey, when diluted, form hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacteria and can be used to clean wounds. But Cooper’s team rules out the possibility that its only hydrogen peroxide that helps healing.

Cooper et al found that both pasture honey, which generates hydrogen peroxide, and manuka honey, which does not, stop bacteria from growing in the lab. They collected microbes from wounds and hospital surfaces and used strains of Staphlyococcus and Enterococcus that can withstand even the ‘last resort’ antibiotics, such as methicillin and vancomycin. They suggest that honey may be antimicrobial because of enzymes secreted by the bees that make it; alternatively, its activity could be due to its acidity or to chemicals from the original plant nectar.

Cooper says: “It’s a traditional remedy that has been overlooked. To reintroduce it, we must have evidence to support its antibacterial and healing properties.” Andrea Nelson, a nurse researcher who has worked on chronic wound healing at the University of York, UK, supports her. Nelson says that to convince skeptical doctors, clinical trials must be carried out applying honey to patients’ wounds. Treating infected wounds in the hospitals has become a problem, as prolonged use of antibiotics can result in the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria.

Cooper et al are still working on the effects of honey on wounds and warn that they are not suggesting people to rush to the store to get a bottle of honey to treat the wounds, though some companies are already making sterilized tubes of honey and honey-impregnated bandages for treating wounds.
Question: Did you know Varahmihira?
Answer: Varahmihira was a great astronomer and a polymath. He was born in the last quarter  of the 5th Century AD.

 Jyotisa embraces both astronomy and astrology and is one of the six Vedangas (branches of knowledge accessory to the Vedas). In its popularity it is equalled only by Ayurveda (medicine, science of life) and Mantrasastra. It is the most important Vedanga being described as the eye among the angas (limbs) of the Veda.

 The systematisation of this branch of learning probably started with the treatise called the Vedanga-jyotisa, which  consists of three main branches: Siddhanta, Samhita and Hora. Varahamihira is famous for his Brhatsamhita

 While the Siddhanta deals with the calculation, etc., of planets, i.e., the astronomical part, the Hora deals with individual horoscopes, auspicious and inauspicious times for doing a particular thing and other matters of this nature. Prasna or Horary astrology (and also Tajika – a later adoption) comes under this latter branch. Samhita (i.e., collection), as the term indicates, deals with astrology collectively, i.e., in general, taking the effect of the various natural phenomena on human life into consideration. Included in it are a variety of subjects, the auspicious and inauspicious physical characteristics of men and animals (elephants, horses, etc.), science of precious stones, iconography, Vrksayurveda, etc. Varahamihira enumerates them in his Brhatsamhita (I. 9). The eighteen ancient sages who propounded Jyotisa are given by Kasyapa as follows: Surya, Brahma (Pitamaha), Vyasa, Vasistha, Atri, Parasara, Kasyapa, Narada, Garga, Marici, Manu, Angiras, Lomasa, Paulisa, Cyavana, Bhrgu and Saunaka.

 This list of sages shows how the science started developing from very early times. There is an extensive literature on the subject now available to us.

 In the long history of  Indian Jyotisa, Varahamihira’s name is as famous as that of  Bhaskara, his brilliant twelfth-century successor, who successfully emulated him in introducing poetical excellence in the presentation of the dry subject of astronomy.

 Varahamihira is still considered the greatest name among all the authors on Jyotisa,  as he enriched all the three branches of the science, Ganita, Hora and Samhita. The precious gift he bequeathed to posterity was the compilation of the  five ancient Siddhantas (the details of which would have otherwise been lost to us). He also wrote a work in the Samhita branch which has never been surpassed by any other work of its kind till today, besides giving us works on Horasastra. Each one of his works bears the stamp of his deep knowledge of the previous works on the subject available to him. What makes Varahmihira unique among ancient scientists is his versatility, encyclopaedic knowledge, poetic talent, and his deep grounding in Sanskrit grammar and the science of metres. No surprise then that a later tradition includes him among the Nine Jewels of Vikramaditya’s court. Although the contemporaneity of the nine ‘gems’ stands disproved, the inclusion of his name here is a proof of the high esteem in which he was held throughout the ages.

 Son of Adityadasa, Varahamihira belonged to Avanti (Ujjain) and studied Jyotisa from his father. He was an ardent devotee of the sun from whom he is said to have  received a boon in Kapitthaka (the name of the place occurs also with a variant Kampillaka, identified by some with Kalpinagar). The names of both the father and the son, viz., Adityadasa and Mihira, show that not only the son, but the father also was a worshipper of the sun.

 At the and of the Brhajjataka, he gives us information about himself.  In his Pancasiddhantika Varahamihira uses Saka 427 (A.D. 505) for Aharagana. From this we can presume that he was born in or about the last quarter of the 5th century. Amaraja in his Khandakhadya Karanatika tells us that Varahamahira passed away in Saka 509, i.e., 587 A.D., thus living a long life. 

Varahamihira refers to Aryabhata in his Pancasiddhantika. He, therefore, lived a little later than Aryabhata or was probably a younger contemporary of the latter. Aryabhata gives us information regarding his date: 
“When three of four ages were past, and 60 times 60 years, then 23 years from my birth were past.” The years given here, namely, Kali 3600, correspond to A.D. 499. Aryabhata (reference is to Aryabhata I) was then 23 years old. This makes Varahamihira a younger contemporary of Aryabhata. Some scholars believe that Varahamihira was a Magadha Brahmin, who, after getting acquainted with the work of Aryabhata, migrated to Ujjain and settled there. It may be noted that Aryabhata belonged to Kusumapura, which scholars identify with modern Patna. Madhava Sarma, however, refutes the view that Varahamihira belonged to Magadhadesa, as Varahmihira himself  claimed to be an Avantika – which term means one who belonged to Avanti. He was, therefore, a Brahmin belonging to Avanti and to a family devoted to the worship of the sun. It is possible that he had visited Kusumapura and got acquainted with Aryabhata’s views. 

 There is overwhelming evidence in his works to show that Varahamihira was a Brahmin, a follower of the Vedas. The reference to the description of the sun in various forms in the Vedas may also be noted. In fact, the invocation is an exposition and elaboration of the Gayatri hymn, addressed to Savitr (sun) in the Vedas. 

Each one of his works is written after a deep study of the entire relevant earlier literature on the subject, presented with his own views, in a brief but attractive style, often embellished with poetic and metrical flourishes. He says that the science of Jyotisa is a safe boat in a vast ocean. He repeatedly mentions that he is writing the particular work after consulting all the previous authors. In the Brhajjataka also we have a similar statement that he studied the works of earlier writers and condensed the knowledge contained in them. His works are characterised by not only brevity but also by a deep knowledge of grammar and the poetic style. A large variety of metres were used by him in both the Brhajjataka and the Brhatsamhita. Although the expressions used are sometimes brief, they are fully expressive of the desired meaning. 

Varahamihira believed in the intuition of the ancient sages. But he is not a blind follower of the old. He accepts things on their own merit. He says that a view is not to be rejected simply on the ground that it was not mentioned by the ancients and it comes from a new author. One is here reminded of Kalidasa’s statement in his play Malavikagnimitra that things are not good merely because they are old nor bad merely because they are new. He gives the views of his predecessors, but also boldly points out the defects in them, if any. For instance, after giving the Yoga Vajra, etc., in the Brhajjataka, he says that he gave the view of the earlier works but it was not astronomically possible. 

An intellectual with a broad outlook, he respected learning wherever it was found. He had an intimate acquaintance with the astrological literature of the Greeks and, in his Brhatsamhita, refers to the respectful position in which they were held, quoting the words of his predecessor Gargacarya. A good many Greek astrological terms are found in the Brhajjataka: 

In a spirit of humility, Varahmihira requests his successors in the field to make good the deficiencies that may be found in his works and also cautions them against textual corruptions that may creep in the course of time. 

The exact number of his works is not yet certain. The main known works are Pancasiddhantika, Vivahapatala, Brhajjataka, Laghujataka, Yatra and Brhatsamhita. According to some, these were written in the above order. There are scholars who believe that he wrote the Samasasamhita also (just as he has written the Laghujataka as an abridgement of the Brhajjataka) as an abridgement of the Brhatsamhita. But if he wrote it, it has not come down to us. This belief is not supported by any textual evidence. Though the Brhatsamhita statement gives us some inkling of the order in which the works were written, it does not make their number explicit. 

The Pancasiddantika is a work on astronomy, a Karana Grantha. The five Siddhantas, schools of systems of ancient astronomy, dealt with here are the Paitamaha, Vasistha, Romaka, Paulisa and the Saura. Speaking about the relative importance in treatment of these by Varaha, Thibaut observes: “Varahamihira then also states his views as to their order of importance, assigning the first place to the Surya Siddhanta, placing next the Romaka and Paulisa Siddhanatas as equally correct, and declaring the two remaining works to be greatly inferior to the three mentioned. In agreement with this estimate very different amounts of space are allotted to the individual Siddhantas in the body of the work.” But for Varaha much of the information regarding these ancient Siddhantas would have been lost to us. 

The Brhajjataka deals with Jataka, i.e., individual horoscopes, in 25 chapters. It is still the most authoritative work on the subject. Almost all the later writers on this branch of Jyotisa from Kalyanavarman, author of the Saravali have drawn upon it. Each verse in the work bears ample testimony to the ability of the author to express briefly without sacrificing what is intended to be said, and to his poetical talent and command over the use of metres. He wrote it after studying almost all the previous authors on the subject. Among those who are referred to are Maya, Yavana, Manittha, Parasara, Visnugupta, Devasvamin, Siddhasena, Jivasarman and Satya or Bhadanta (also spelt as Bhadatta), the last receiving greater importance for his views than the rest. The Laghujataka is an abridgement of the Brhajjataka. The Yogayatra and the Vivahapatala, as the names indicate, deal with the auspicious times for journeys and marriage, respectively. Manuscripts of both the works are known to exist. The contents of the Yatra are given at the end of the Brhajjataka and some believe that this work, consisting of three chapters, is a supplement to the Brhajjataka. The Tikkanika Yatra is a further condensed work on the subject. 

The Brhatsamhita, a work on the Samhita branch, is Varahamihira’s magnum opus and also the work, which, as we know at present, he wrote last. It consists of 106 chapters with a total of nearly 4000 slokas. The range of subjects dealt with here is very large, including the effect of movements of planets and natural phenomena on human life, geography, characteristics of Khadga (sword), Angavidya (Samudrika), architecture, iconography, auspicious and inauspicious characteristics of men and animals (elephant, horse, dog, goat, etc.), omens. Manufacture of cosmetics, Vrksayurveda (Botany), science of precious stones, etc. there is a chapter in praise of women. It is more a poem than a chapter on women. Varaha, as noted already, possessed a great poetic and aesthetic sensibility.  

The Brhatsamhita must have been of immense use to people, particularly to kings of ancient India, providing guidance in their daily life in respect of many things. A critical study of this work is very important from the point of view of our cultural history. It shows the range and wide sweep of Varahamihira’s mind. 

By enriching and preserving  all the branches of Jyotis, Varahamihira acquired for himself not only the eminent position of the greatest author on the subject, but he kept the lamp of knowledge alight for posterity. No wonder that the tradition puts him on the same pedestal as Dahanvantari and Kalidasa. 

Want more? There are loads of scholarly essays here that you can spend days reading.


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