The Beginnings of Physics: The Vedas – India (Part-4)

(Last Updated On: October 9, 2019)


In this article, we will talk about the science in India! We will focus on the time between the Vedic and the Gupta period.

This is the 4th part or article of The Beginning of Physics series. If you didn’t read the previous part then you should read it first – The Beginning of Physics: Aristotle – The Philosopher (Part-3)

If you are new then I will suggest you to read this series from the first part: The Beginning of Physics: The Presocratics (Part-1)

The Vedas

The Vedas were sacred texts containing detailed information about life during this period and so they are our primary source for understanding this period. These texts were passed down orally (even today), but part was written in the sacred language of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is, at the very least, complicated: A man called Panini wrote a book on Sanskrit grammar with more than 4000 rules! And you think that English is hard to learn…

A page of the Vedas
A page of the Vedas

Because of this complexity, it was the tradition to memorize the Vedas and understand the words. This later led to the study of acoustic and musical tones.

The Vedas, beside talking about the Gods and their rituals, also speak about math and astronomy. Reality is viewed as three regions of earth, space, and sky. These three regions and consciousness were believed to be connected. This view of the universe was clearly bond with religion, and so people who worshiped the Gods, must also ‘study’ astronomy and mathematics. For example, practicing astrology meant carefully observing the night shy, and so an astrologist was part priest, part astronomer, and part mathematician.

The Vedic view of the world also requires that the universe itself must pass thought cycles of creation and destruction. This period was thought to be 8.64 billion years, and related to this was the speed of light, which was thought to be 186 000 miles per second. It’s hard to believe, but the accuracy of these numbers is just a remarkable coincidence since there was no experimentation of any kind.

The Gupta Empire (319-605 B.C.)

Astronomy and related math flourished during the Gupta Empire, also known as the Golden Age. In this time, families of professional astronomers/mathematicians passed down their teachings about the stars and etc.. In this era there were also 6 schools of thought, competing with each other with their different ideas. These 6 schools are often divided into 3 groups, due to conceptual reasons. There was Nyaya,  emphasizing analytics and logic, and Vaisheshika the naturalism school with atomistic themes. Samkhya, the rationalism school with dualism and atheistic themes and Yoga, similar to Samkhya, but with more theistic themes. And lastly Mimasa, which mostly studied linguistics and Vedanta, which studied the most important aspects of Hinduism.

This period also saw the rise of the Siddhantas, or “The Solutions”. Basically these were high-level astronomy books written by two brilliant polymath rivals: Aryabhata and Brahmagupta.

Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta
Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta

The books of Aryabhata written somewhere in 500 BC included a place-value system, decimal notation, the “Arabic” numbers, zero and pi, calculated to 4 decimal places. Also, he thought that the Earth rotates daily on its axis, which was kind of an amazing breakthrough! Brahmagupta, on the other hand, was the first to make rules about 0, and he worked with negative and rational numbers! He did not agree that the earth rotates, but he calculated its diameter with an amazing precision: 24 835 miles (the accepted diameter today is 24 905 miles, so, pretty close).

We will explore more of the evolution of physics in the next part and the persons who made it possible! Please tell me what did you think of this article in the comments!

Here is the next part of this series: The Beginning of Physics: The Islamic World (Part-5)

Baltas Cruz

Baltas Cruz

A 15-year-old Portuguese who at such a young age has the ambitions of becoming a theoretical physicist. Whilst maintaining his passion of becoming a physicist, he is also a chess player where he has won some local competitors alongside being a runner up in the local team also.

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