Palm leaf inscriptions of Surya Siddhanta written in Tamil | Source: Wikimedia
The distinguished writer Mark Twain once told the world,
Standing as a testimony to this declaration, great works in the annals of the history of Mathematics and Astronomy trace their roots to Ancient India, the motherland to the development of myriad scientific notions. The vast achievements of Indian astronomy are scattered through a multitude of articles and books. Sacred texts and scriptures written by Indian philosophers contain descriptions about the functioning of the universe. While the Western world was busy debating about the authenticity of the heliocentric model, the Indian minds were lucrative in gauging the mammoth distances between Earth and other celestial bodies. When the rest of the world proposed various ideas about the working of the cosmos based on ‘Seeing is Believing’, the scientific temperament of Indians could successfully explain various celestial phenomena.“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and constructive materials in the history of man-kind are treasured up in India only.”
The ancient Indian texts on Astronomy are classified broadly into two main types:
- Works of distinguished pioneers of astronomy like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, etc. whose compilations are well known around the world and most popular in the field of astronomical sciences.
- Works of authors, who preferred anonymity with a definite motive of representing these as a direct transmission from their Supreme Gods. These were called Siddhantas.
The rest five were compiled and presented as Pañca-siddhāntikā or ‘The Compendium of the Five Astronomies’ in the sixth century by Varāhamihira, a polymath known for defining the algebraic properties of zero. These treatises are named as: Paulīśa-siddhānta, Romaka-siddhānta, Vasiṣṭha-siddhānta, Sūrya-siddhānta, and Paitāmaha-siddhānta. These are regarded as ganitas or treatises on astronomy. The Surya Siddhanta (Surya — sun) rests at the top of these revelations. Notably, it is the oldest book in astronomy in existence and has been the best known and the most referred astronomical text in the Indian tradition.
According to mythology, this sacred text is believed to have been given to Mayasura, the father-in-law of Ravana, by Lord Surya himself.
The second and third verse of Surya Siddhanta states that:
Historians believe that this highly specific knowledge of the cosmos was passed on to allow the people of Earth to better worship the Sun God. This revelation dates back to Treta Yuga, as observed by Rev. Burgess, a skilled linguist who had translated a 12th century version of the text in English in 1860.“Sometime during the end of Krita Yuga, a great demon named Maya, being desirous of obtaining the sound, secret, excellent, sacred and complete knowledge of Astronomy, which is the best of the six sciences subordinate to the Veda, practiced the most difficult penance, the worship of the Sun.”
As earlier mentioned, there isn’t any direct evidence about the original text. It managed to find a place in history due to the extensive quoting and citation of it in the 6th century CE texts, notably by Rev. Ebenezer Burgess. Citations of the Surya Siddhanta are also found in the works of Aryabhata. Utpala, a 10th-century commentator of Varahamihira, quotes six shlokas of the Surya Siddhanta of his day, not one of which is to be found in the text now known as the Surya Siddhanta. The present version was modified by Bhaskaracharya during the Middle Ages.
The present Surya Siddhanta may nevertheless be considered a direct descendant of the text available to Varahamihira (who lived between 505–587 CE)
There are three distinct growths of this text:
- The original work as it existed before Varahamira.
- Varahamira’s redaction with the epicycle theory (a geometric model used to explain the variations in speed and direction of the apparent motion of the Moon, Sun, and planets) in it.
- Later additions and alterations.
This method of expressing and sharing knowledge made it easier to remember, recollect, transmit and preserve knowledge. However, this method also meant secondary rules of interpretation, because numbers don’t have rhyming synonyms. The creative approach adopted in the Surya Siddhanta was to use symbolic language with dual meanings. For example, instead of one, the text uses a word that means moon because there is only one moon and for a skilled reader, the word ‘moon’ means the number one. The entire table of trigonometric functions, sine tables, and steps to calculate complex orbits, predict eclipses and keep time are thus provided by the text in a poetic form. This cryptic approach offers greater flexibility for poetic construction.
The Surya Siddhanta thus consists of cryptic rules in Sanskrit verse. It is a compendium of astronomy that is easier to remember, transmit and use as reference or aid for the experienced, but does not aim to offer commentary, explanation or proof.
This anthropology consists of five hundred shlokas or terse verses, compiled in 14 chapters as given below:
Stay tuned for the second part of Surya Siddhanta as we decode various shlokas and expound the scientific principles behind it!
The first shloka of the compilation is written in praise of Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. | Source : Wikipedia