Aryabhata rejected the story of a daanava (demon) named Rahu swallowing the sun or his tail Ketu covering the moon during eclipses. Eclipses occurred due to shadows, he said, and he did not see any shadow of a tail! Brahmagupta, who came more than a century later, was a great mathematician himself but did not agree with Aryabhata about rejecting the Rahu-Ketu myth and criticised him and his followers scathingly. However, one of these, Varahamihira (505-587 CE), dismissed Brahmagupta’s arguments as ‘absurdities’ as Brahmagupta’s predictions of eclipses were also based on the shadow theory (This inconsistency in Brahmagupta was Al Biruni’s main target)! One thing I learnt from all this was that the debate between mythology and ‘rational’ science in India is at least as old as Aryabhata and Brahmagupta and, to this day, has not been resolved in the Indian popular thinking on science.” — Roddam Narasimha

Although Roddam Narasimha slurs over all the intrigues of the Indian ruling class in his books, this is very well captured by Abha Sur and of course quite eloquently by Al Biruni, the 10th century scientist, anthropologist, linguist from Arabia. The greatness of Aryabhatta stems from the fact that he proposed the same principle of relativity that Galileo re-proposed thousand years later.

The motion of a rotating and moving earth as emphasized by Aryabhatta is something that goes beyond the grasping capacity of even a great scholar as Al Biruni, who makes no bones about his great find “Aryabhatta”, but he also makes enormous obscurantist efforts at retaining the tenants of Judo-Christian belief in the fixated position of earth. But at the same time Biruni was ready to overthrow the concepts of conics by Ptolemy using factual data. Al Biruni managed to find the radius of earth through a sextant that measures angles and using it over a distant mountain to get the dip in curvature of the sphere. He was able to measure the circumference of earth to an error of less than 4%.

Based on his measurements he also came to the conclusion that between the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean lies an undiscovered piece of land mass, which was later discovered by Christopher Columbus, who made a blunder in calculating the circumference of earth by 50% (500 years after Al Biruni) and tried to reach India by travelling West! In any case, thousand years later came Copernicus and Galileo, who were bold enough to oppose Roman Catholic beliefs of fixated earth and make progress in science.

Many centuries afterwards, back in India, C.V.Raman discovered Raman scattering (along with K.S.Krishnan, who made important contributions to science, but remains quite inconspicuous). Albert Einstein emphasized the importance of Raman’s discovery in that it locates the origin of light spectrum in the material property of matter and not just scattering or diffraction of light as in the case of Maxwell-Newtonian optics. After the discovery of atomic spectrum by Bohr, this further opened-up the field of atomic spectroscopy. Einstein further discovered the corpuscular nature of light (for which he was given Nobel prize) emphasizing the material nature of light particle itself.

Megnath Saha emphasized it further by proposing the study of the optical spectrum of light originating from stars as a way of finding the material composition of stars. C.V.Raman’s refusal to support the cause of Nobel prize for Meghnath Saha for his important contributions to Plasma physics depicts Raman’s arrogance and nepotism. It was the same arrogant attitude of C.V.Raman that caused the sophisticated Lahore-born S.Chandrashekar (nephew of C.V.Raman) to leave India for Cambridge (where he faced bitter resistance for his theory of black holes from Cambridge patriarch Arthur Eddington, who played important role in confirming the predictions of special relativity).

It must also be said in the defense of C.V.Raman that he had his own troubles with the English bureaucracy inherited by Nehru that caused enormous hurdles in his path that made him blurt out loud: “I feel it is unnatural and immoral to try to teach science to children in a foreign language They will know facts, but they will miss the spirit…. We must teach science in the mother tongue. Otherwise, science will become a highbrow activity. It will not be an activity in which all people can participate.”

The tradition of spectroscopy, that C.V.Raman and K.S.Krishnan pioneered, was continued by G.N.Ramachandran, who explained the triple helix structure of collagens. This tradition was continued by “Venki” Venkatraman Ramachandran (who is now the President of the Royal Society), who was recently given Nobel prize for comprehensively explaining the structure and role of RNA. “Venki” is horrified at the current state of Indian science, which is now being infected by religious obscurantism and intolerance.

Recently the religious obscurantists and RSS brahmins have been appropriating the achievements of the discoveries of scientists of brahmin-origin, to justify its fraudulent activities and religious obscurantism. It is true that before the arrival of caste system in the Gangetic plain, science in India had important contributions from people of all walks of life. The fact that caste system did not arrive in Southern India till much later and the fact that there was international trade in the West coast helped in the development of the Kerala School of Science and Mathematics. The idea of cycle and epicycles in the study of astronomy contributed to the theory of continued fractions.

This tradition was continued by Srinivasa Ramanujan after many centuries. The English speaking Madras brahmin class that neglected Srinivasa Ramanujan and was not capable of encouraging or assessing his talent, who left him to die in penury in Cambridge, were never capable of assessing his capability. It was left to G.H.Hardy to bring-up and polish this diamond amidst cow dung, while he was at the same time fighting English racist ruling class, who would not allow Ramanujan to become a member of the Royal Society. After many decades of silence, it was Professor George Andrews of the United States who discovered Ramanujan’s notes, which is even now kept in an abject condition and poor state in Madras University (laminating it, without knowing any basics of manuscript preservation).

No less a person than physicist George Sudarshan, who was refused three Nobel prizes (including one for grand unification), who converted from being a Syrian Christian to Hindu by Brahma Samaj, only to be left high and dry by the brahmin ruling class for not being a thorough-born. He was booted-out as the director of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences by various backdoor intrigues and manoeuvres, typical of the brahmin ruling class and died a bitter man neglected by both his own country and the academicians of the world of science. His only consolation came from the foremost scientist of Asian-origin Abdus Salam, who received Nobel prize for his contributions to the grand unification theory in physics. As soon as Salam became director of International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, he constituted an important award in physics, the  Physics Prize of the Third World Academy of Sciences and awarded it to his good friend in 1985. The irony is that Abdul Salam, who was born as a lower-caste Muslim from Punjab, was  not respected in his own country. He had tears in his eyes when he visited and saw the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (Chennai), mourning that there was nothing even close to this in Pakistan, a lament that would have resonated with his fellow Punjabis like Sadaat Hasan Manto or Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

In computer science, in the late 1950s, the Indian government tersely told the Indian Statistical Institute not to develop computers but to concentrate on mathematics and statistics. Meghnad Saha emphasized how important it was to develop instruments in technology. It can be said with confidence that the telescope created Galileo and Newton. After the ban by United States on India for the procurement of super-computers, U.N.Sinha pioneered the creation of the first supercomputer, FloSolver in 1986 at NAL and has languished without recognition and in fact, as further insult to him, the government side-lined his efforts and through C-DAC created PARAM 9000. Of course, there was no market for these products in India, due to the primitive state of development of Indian industries. Recently, the ruling class in IITs have concentrated more on virtual world, mobile apps and have plans to get rid of the practical workshops that teaches carpentry, iron casting etc., a job that only persons of lower caste/class do in India.

As emphasized by Venki, science will only flourish in a society that can tolerate questioning of it’s ruling class. Paying lip service to science through Science Congress tamashas will not serve any purpose other than degrading it.

Jawaharlal Nehru created and declared that engineering and science institutes are the modern temples of progress. However, this also meant that these institutions had been captured by the same ruling class that has perpetuated religious obscurantism in Indian polity, so science in India remains in a lamentable condition, both at institutional and social level, stuck in a semi-feudal semi-capitalist society unable to wriggle out of its religious Hindutva cocoon. The future of the world of science belongs to the young students who are now branded as “global warming activists”, “urban naxals”, “Maoists” and “black rights activists”.

It is to them that we have to look for a bright future, especially to rescue us from this stagnant religious obscurantism glorifying the rituals of Vedic times that pertained mostly to development of children and cattle. Even for identifying the diamonds from cow-dung in those historic times, such as Panini’s grammar rules and it’s connection with modern EBNF rules of context-free grammar was made by Noam Chomsky, an “Urban Naxal” of the United States. Marvin Minsky and Chomsky’s challenges to the modern AI and neural network community are being met by an army of AI developers for monopoly corporations.

Karl Marx emphasized the important role played by capitalism in the further development of productive forces. But, as emphasized by Albert Einstein in his article, Why Socialism, in the age of Coronavirus, as the nuts and bolts of capitalism comes off one by one, the future road will be laid by the ones that are now rebelling against the present one, as the weight of the past lingers on us like ghosts that needs to be exorcised. Quoting A.R.Oppenheimer: “Physics will change even more… If it is radical and unfamiliar…we think that the future will be only more radical and not less, only more strange and not more familiar, and that it will have its own new insights for the inquiring human spirit.”

Back in India, Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1720 corrected the serious errors of the then Western tables of eclipses of the sun and the moon by as much as six minutes of arc using the five Jantar Mantar scientific observatories that he constructed, of which only three survive now in India. However, the credit for the last independent Indian innovation goes to Tipu Sultan, who fought East India company robbery (Robert Clive) capitalism, creating the first indigenously produced rockets that had its fame embedded in the United States national anthem.

Tipu was inspired by the French revolution and republican spirit. He advanced the cause of land reform in India and is considered the first independent capitalist of India who tried to fight the British through the alliance of Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey (Ottoman empire), an axis that is now being used by China, in their plans. With the loss of Tipu Sultan and then the Delhi sultanate, the production in India became subordinated to British interests. The clerks of the British empire later evolved to become the subordinated form of ruling class of India, without the free spirit of India, which is proud to own a French Rafale plane, German B&M car, Apple iPhone, and, British Jaguar.

Although our own Agni missile technology was not an outgrowth of Tipu’s effort, it inspired a poor Muslim boy from a small fishing village in Tamil Nadu to produce that missile and is part of Nehruvian India. Tipu’s rockets are an important part of our indigenous capacity to excel in technology, an endeavour that has been subordinated to the plans of modern neo-colonialists. Privatization of our Indian Space Research Organization will lead to furthering the cause of international capital that is bereft of the independent free spirit of Tipu Sultan on furthering the indigenous capitalist development of India.

References

  1. Al-Biruni’s India – Short Modern Summary
  2. Al-Biruni’s India
  3. Al Biruni’s measurement of the radius of earth
  4. DD Kosambi, Exasperating Essays

S K Venkatesan did B.Tech in IIT, Chennai and Ph.D. In Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkatta. Was a visiting fellow at S.N.Bose National Center for Basic Sciences. He is currently Chief Scientist at TNQ Technologies, Chennai


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