The synthesis of the Puranas and the Siddhantas (Mythology or Science)
By Adbhuta Hari das
In Hyderabad, India, a group of leading Indian scholars recently held a National Seminar on “Vedic Astronomy and Cosmology”. During the two day of presentation which I attended most of the eminent astronomers headed by Dr. Balachandra Rao proudly pointed out and confirmed the undisputable fact, that the results for the corrections of planetary positions of the Siddhantas are even nowadays more accurate than the modern astronomical values. Regrettably, however, in their patriotic fervor the scholars have on the contrary, independently decided to remain intellectually dependent in their conclusions, on the ideas of an early indologists, thus perpetuating their fallacies. Many deliberately failed to consider, Puranic contribution to cosmology, while trying to convince us that the Puranas are not to be taken literally, and suggesting that the names of the demigods are the names of some bacterial germs.
The only speaker with a dissident view, Sri A. Krishna Sarma Siddhanti, maintained that the Puranas and the Siddhantas are both correct and reconcilable, but he was unable to substantiate his statements with verifiable empirical evidence. Essentially, it appeared that anyone who was still frantically clinging to the Vedic traditional values had hopelessly succumbed under tremendous ever mounting pressuring series of scientific materialism, and that the mutual consistency of the Puranas and the Siddhantas was factually never existing.
Scrutinize study; however, of the both texts reveals their auxiliary and complementary nature. The earliest available written text on astronomy, Vedanga Jyotisa is found in two rescensions: the Rig-Veda Jyotisa and the Yajurveda Jyotisa. Whereas, three other astronomical or siddhantic texts, besides Surya Siddhanta and Siddhanic commentaries, are found to be integral parts of Matsya Purana, Vishnu Dharmottara Purana and Naradiya Purana. Aryabhata I mentions and Brahmagupta refers to Paitamaha or Brahma Siddhanta, from the Vishnu Darmottara Purana. The primary principle of Vedanga Jyotisa, as acknowledged by the modern scholars, was to fix suitable times for performing different sacrifices, whose purpose and elaborate methods, divisions, and details governing proper execution were, specified in the Vedas as well as in the Puranas. The nature and origin of the universe and the planets, and the causes of the planetary motion, are given in the Puranas, while calculation through elaborate rules of the planetary positions in the sky at any desired time, numerical data concerning their distances, sizes, and rates of their motion are the essential part of the Siddhantas. The harmonious nature of both texts is additionally explicable through various, elaborate astrological applications in traditional daily life, contained in the Puranas, the usage of which would be impossible without the aid of highly accurate computational systems provided in the Siddhantas. This fact refutes the idea that the Siddhantas are the product of a gradual advancement in astronomy. Since Vedas are not topical textbooks, we won’t find a particular scientific division singled out in one complete scripture. Yet, as is hinted earlier, the astronomical knowledge was scattered throughout the larger body of the Vedic literature, of which majority, according to references of early astronomers, is nowadays unfortunately unavailable.
A further objective line that gave absolute material spin to the context of the seminar was raised by the two highly acclaimed scholars. In undue manner, they unhesitatingly hurled the choicest abuses against the Puranic literature and the Vedic Astrology, regarding them as “queer traditional theories”, “popular absurd beliefs” or “fraud, humbug gimmicks, given by a cheats”. Moreover, exhibiting conditioned human tendency by judging everything from their own perspective, they projected such irrationally twisted outlook of the Puranas on the “early” known astronomers, thus labeling them as the “pure scientists” who had nothing to do with the Vedic traditional and religious life. If one examines the recordable historical accounts, it can objectively be pointed out, that a few of the “early” foremost Indian astronomers, apparently disagreed with some parts of traditional cosmological and astronomical systems. Arguably, that seems so, because the unperceivable, subtle concepts of the universe described in the Puranic cosmography, were beyond their mechanistic reasoning framework, or because of introduction of a new planetary models, through which they attempted to achieve accurate predictions.
Aryabhata I (476- 550) proposed the model of diurnal rotation of the earth, as opposed to the (then) traditional model of the rotation of the celestial sphere. Since his calculations were proved wrong, he was criticized by the staunch followers of Vedic tradition, Varahamihira (485-587), author of Panchasiddhantika and Brihatsamhita, and Brahmagupta (598- 668), author of Brahmasphutasiddhanta and Khandakhadyaka, whose works contain many Puranic references. Brahmagupta, generally recognized as a mathematical and astronomical genius, similarly, pointed out several other flaws in Aryabhata’s methods that differed from traditional understanding.
Another non-traditional model was proposed by Nilakantha Somasutvan
(1444- 1545) who was a follower of Asvatalayana sutra of the Rgveda. He authored the best commentary on the Aryabhatiyam, Aryabhatiyam Bhasya, and preceding Tyco Brahe was the first to introduce proto-heliocentric model, in which it is suggested, that the five main planets move in eccentric orbits around the sun and the sun moves round the earth.
In order to get the computed positions of planets close to the observed ones, Nilakantha, like previous astronomers emphasized the need for refinement of basic astronomical parameters given in the Siddhantas. His reconciliation of the common understanding in his work Jyotirmimamsa, that all scriptures are divine revelations and the inexorable fact that a scripture becomes inadequate over the time is also found in the Jyotisa sastra themselves. He reasons that the scriptures are inspired and established by the demigods, but they still, remain essentially human creations through gifted individuals and can not in any sense be expected to be the ultimate or absolute truth. He argues that all the Siddhantas are correct at the particular time, and when some early Siddhanta is in discord, as mentioned in the Surya Siddhanta, due to time factor, on account of the revolution of the yugas (periods), recent observations should be made. And if given results are in agreement with celestial phenomena, accordingly a new parametars in the Siddhanta should be enunciated.
Here it is interesting to note that, Nilakantha accepts the divine revelation as the source of the Siddhantas and the divine inspiration required to correct computations in course of time. In addition same view is expressed in his work Tantrasangraha where he says’ “Being engrossed in meditations on the Lord of Laxmi, the globe and actions of time are being enlightened clearly to me. Indeed, everything desirable is achieved by the Lord’s mercy”. Aryabhata I similarly attribute his ability to reclaim old knowledge that had become confused in the course of time to Lord Brahma. “By the grace of Brahmä the precious sunken jewel of true knowledge has been brought up by me from the ocean of true and false knowledge by means of the boat of my own intellect”.
Both of them calculated time by measuring the elapsed days since the beginning of the Kali Yuga (period, intrinsic to Puranic literature). According to Surya Siddhanta and Jyotisa sastra that moment occurred on February 18, 3102 B. C., when the positions of the seven planets in their two cycles were all approximately aligned with the Revati star at day zero.
And both of them in traditional invocations offer prayers to the divine beings. In Aryabhatiyam, Aryabhata states, “Having paid obeisance to Supreme Brahma – who is one and many the real God – Aryabhata enunciates the three-fold (knowledge) of mathematics, reckoning of time and spherical astronomy”. And in Tantrasangraha, Nilakanta eulogizes, “O Vishnu, the whole creation rests in You only, who are its Cause. I offer my obeisances unto You, Narayana, who is the greatest effulgent One among all the luminaries. Aryabhata furthermore in the last verse of the gitika pada assures us: “Knowing this dasagitika sutra which gives the motions of the earth and the planets, on the celestial sphere, one attains the Supreme Brahma after piercing through the orbits of the planets and the stars”. An interesting question to be asked at this point is whether there ever was any material scientist who would credit Supreme Being for the obtained knowledge or who had seek blessings from the divine beings before commencing his work? Most unlikely, perhaps Aryabhata I and Nilakanha are the only ones.
Other purported evidence, presented by the scholars is inferred from the statements like those of Paramesvara (1360-1425), who was another prominent astronomer, mathematician and astrologer like Varahamihira and Acyuta Pisarati. He mentions that the Puranic description of the seven circular continents and oceans is something “given only for religious meditation”, and “that the 84,000-yojana height of Mount Meru described in the Puranas is “not acceptable to the astronomers”. For the yogis desiring to worship the universal body of the Lord, the Puranas recommend meditation on various parts of the universal structure that represents the Lord’s temporary form, whose subtle features, due to our impious disqualification are imperceptible and inaccessible to us earthly inhabitants. Presumably, since knowing the positions and sizes of some of its subtle manifestations is not essential for observable astronomical and astrological calculations, without dismissing their existence, Paramesvara could equally find some of its information just impractical for daily use.
Additional, unresolved problem that caused complete perplexity and incomprehension of the Puranic literature in many, to this day, was the vast flat-earth conception compared to the relatively small round globe reference given in the Siddhantas. Bhaskara II (1114 – 1185) author of Siddhanta Siromani was one of the astronomers who found this concept of an immense 4 billion miles diameter earth puzzling and irreconcilable with 8,000 miles diameter of our planet which he deduced by simple measurements. The cause for this misunderstanding is the misconstruction of the Vedic nomenclature, where a single object may be referred to by several names and a single name may refer to several objects. The Puranas accordingly, use the term “earth” for six different aspects of cosmology. One term refers to the flat-disc “earth” Bhumandala, four terms to inner circular and bow shaped parts of the same flat, Bhumandala, and one term describes our planet, which is round in shape, as confirmed in Mahabharata by the Sanskrit word parimandale meaning spherical. Our 8,000 miles diameter planet is more precisely described in Vishnu Purana and in the invocation sankalpa mantra chanted by the brahmana priests as Bharata Khanda. In a traditional light, being a great admirer of renowned traditionalist Brahmagupta, Bhaskara II similarly drew inspiration from the Puranic literature. In his work on arithmetic Lilavati, to solve the problem of quadratic equation, he refers to Arjuna, Karna and Salya, characters from the epic Mahabharata. The same work in the Persian version indicates his knowledge of astrology since by studying the horoscope of his daughter he predicted her widowhood. For the topics of permutations and combinations, the solutions were acquired while visiting the Chenna Keshava temple at Belur, where he had studied the ten handed form of a Lord Siva and the four handed form of a Lord Vishnu.
The later outstanding astronomers who on record largely devoted their lives to the religious practices include; Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura (1874- 1936) author of the Graha granita’dyaya commentary on Siddhanta Sironmani, Samanta Chandrasekara (1835-1904) credited for discovery of fourth lunar equation, Madhava (1340-1425) teacher of Rgveda and a founder of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, and Acyuta Pisarati (1550-1621) enunciator of formula to for reduction to the ecliptic. Pisarati provoked his student Narayana to dedicate himself to prayer and meditation, the result of which was famous Narayaneeyam, a beautiful devotional poetry, based on Srimad Bhagavata Purana and composed in praise of Guruvayur Lord Krishna.
Conclusively we can agree that some astronomers holding to mechanistic paradigm fall victims of analysis-paralysis, while trying to encompass and comprehend, unfathomable nature of Puranic cosmology. Nevertheless, in understanding overall the scientific nature of Vedic and Puranic scriptures they remained firm in maintaining their social and religious tradition. Some astronomers like Yajneswara in his work Virodha Mardanam endeavored to bridge the baffling contradictory gap between the Puranas and Siddhanatas providing definitive, perfectly logical solution, but their earnest aspiration remained relatively unfulfilled. Consequently the worst surmise epitomized the logic of a half hen and the most plausible assumption represented the idea wherein each text was intended for particular purpose, whose cross fertilization brings about deeper revelation of the purpose and workings of the universe.
The mystified, lost relationship, however, between the Puranas and the Siddhantas has been recently revolutionary unraveled by the two brilliant scientists, Vamsi dasa and Bhanu Prakash. Through their research they showed how even fundamental astronomical principles of the Siddhantas and the Puanas are identical, by using formula for converting the actual distances recorded in the Puranas into angular velocity stated in the jyotisa. They furthermore revealed that both scriptures give same definition of time, mahakala and khandakala as well as calculation of atomic time as the time that it takes for the sun to pass over an atom. Similarly, both texts calculate the frequency of planetary revolutions in terms of their retrograde motion with respect to zodiac, divisions of energy referred to the material universe as one perceivable quarter and three unperceivable quarters for the spiritual world, very close compatibility of the circumference of the universe, ayanamsa
(precession of the equinoxes), equal durations of day and night at poles, during equinoxes and solstices for both hemispheres, equivalent duration of one earthly month compared to the one moons day and planet conjunctions at definite yuga cycle intervals whose construction based beyond mathematical reasoning proves The Puranic and the Siddhantic ancient and divine origin. By translating reduced orbits given in the Siddhantas into representations of angular velocity and diameters as representations of angular diameters, they also provided the evidence which clarifies mistaken notion of the Surya Siddhanta presenting smaller size of the moon and its position being closer to the earth in relation to the sun.
The above astonishing glimpse indicating the Puranic scientific basis, debunks the infused, jaundiced conception of the Puranas as being mythological. Since the acceptance of the Puranic literature as scientific is synonymous of accepting Lord Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that very thought infected by the jaundice like concept evokes a bitter allergic reaction in the minds of the materialistic scholars, hindering them from tasting the nectarous sweetness of the absolute science. Yet, by repeated administration of sugarcane candy like, alleviating remedy that proofs the Puranic and the Siddhantic synthesis, the scholars could become eligible to recognize the Puranic contribution and consequently the next Seminar on Astronomy and Cosmology might have an entirely different outcome.
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