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Sanskrit as Language of Science

Sanskrit as Language of Science

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06/25/2014

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Full text of the speech delivered by Justice Markandey Katju, Judge,Supreme Court of India on 13.10.2009 in the Indian Institute of ScienceBangalore
It is a great honour for me to be invited to speak in the Indian Institute of Science,Bangalore, which is renowned as one of the foremost scientific institutes in India, and whichindeed is recognized as a great centre of science throughout the world. Your institute hasproduced great scientists of international repute. The topic which I have chosen to speak on today is
`Sanskrit as a language of Science'
. Ihave chosen this topic for two reasons:1. You are yourselves scientists, and hence would naturally like to know about your scientificheritage and the great scientific achievements of your ancestors.2. Today India is facing huge problems, and, in my opinion, these can only be solved byscience.
We have to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country,if we are to progress. And by science I mean not just physics, chemistry andbiology but the entire scientific outlook.
 
We must develop the rational andquestioning attitude in our people, and abolish superstitions and empty rituals.
 The foundation of India culture is based on the Sanskrit language. There is a misconceptionabout the Sanskrit language that it is only a language for chanting mantras in temples orreligious ceremonies. However, that is less than 5% of the Sanskrit literature. More than95% of the Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion, and instead it deals withphilosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation etc. In fact, Sanskritwas the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widestspectrum of thoughts on various subjects. In particular, Sanskrit was the language of ourscientists in ancient India. Today, no doubt, we are behind the Western countries in science,but there was a time when India was leading the whole world in science. Knowledge of thegreat scientific achievements of our ancestors and our scientific heritage will give us theencouragement and moral strength to once again take India to the forefront of science inthe modern world.
The word `Sanskrit' means “prepared, pure, refined or prefect”.
It was not fornothing that it was called the `devavani' (language of the Gods). It has an outstanding placein our culture and indeed was recognized as a language of rare sublimity by the wholeworld. Sanskrit was the language of our philosophers, our scientists, our mathematicians,our poets and playwrights, our grammarians, our jurists, etc. In grammar, Panini andPatanjali (authors of 
 Ashtadhyayi
and the
Mahabhashya
) have no equals in the world; inastronomy and mathematics the works of Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta and Bhaskar opened upnew frontiers for mankind, as did the works of Charak and Sushrut in medicine.In philosophy Gautam (founder of the Nyaya system), Ashvaghosha (author of 
BuddhaCharita
), Kapila (founder of the Sankhya system), Shankaracharya, Brihaspati, etc., presentthe widest range of philosophical systems the world has ever seen, from deeply religious tostrongly atheistic. Jaimini's
Mimansa Sutras
laid the foundation of a whole system of rationalinterpretation of texts which was used not only in religion but also in law, philosophy,grammar, etc. In literature, the contribution of Sanskrit is of the foremost order. The worksof Kalidas (
Shakuntala
,
Meghdoot 
,
Malavikagnimitra
, etc.), Bhavabhuti (
Malti Madhav 
,
Uttar Ramcharit 
, etc.) and the epics of Valmiki, Vyas, etc. are known all over the world. These and
 
countless other Sanskrit works kept the light of learning ablaze in our country upto moderntimes.In this talk I am confining myself to only that part of Sanskrit literature which is related toscience.As already stated above, there is a great misconception about Sanskrit that it is only alanguage to be recited as mantras in temples or in religious ceremonies. However, that isonly 5% of the Sanskrit literature. The remaining 95% has nothing to do with religion. Inparticular, Sanskrit was the language in which all our great scientists in ancient India wrotetheir works.Before proceeding further, I may take a digression from the topic under discussion. In fact, Iwill be taking several digressions during the course of this talk, and initially you may thinkthat this digression has nothing to do with the subject under discussion, viz. Sanskrit as alanguage of science, but at the end of the digression you will realize its intimate connectionwith the subject. The first digression is to ask: What is India? Although we are all Indians, many of us do notknow our own country and hence I will explain.
India is broadly a country of immigrants.
While North America (USA and Canada) is a country of new immigrants, who came mainlyfrom Europe over the last four or five centuries, India is a country of old immigrants in whichpeople came over the last ten thousand years or so. Probably about 95 % people living inIndia today are descendants of immigrants who came mainly from the North-West and to alesser extent from the North-East. Since this is a point of great importance for theunderstanding of our country, it is necessary to go into it in some detail (for further detailssee my articleKalidas Ghalib Academy).
People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas.
This is naturalbecause everyone wants to live in comfort. Before the coming of modern industry therewere agricultural societies everywhere and India was a paradise for these becauseagriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation, temperate climateetc. which was in abundance in India. Why should anybody living in India migrate to, say,Afghanistan which has a harsh terrain, rocky and mountainous and covered with snow forseveral months in a year when one cannot grow any crop? Hence, almost all immigrationsand invasions came from outside into India (except those Indians who were sent out duringBritish rule as indentured labour, and the recent migration of a few million Indians to thedeveloped countries for job opportunities).
There is perhaps not a single instance of aninvasion from India to outside India.
India was a veritable paradise for agricultural societies because it has level & fertile land,hundreds of rivers, forests etc. and is rich in natural resources. Hence for thousands of yearspeople kept pouring into India because they found a comfortable life here in a country whichwas gifted by nature.As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote:“Sar zamin-e-hind par aqwaam-e-alam ke firaqkafile guzarte gae Hindustan banta gaya”
 
Which means:
“In the land of Hind, the Caravans of the peoples of the world keptcoming in and India kept getting formed”.
Who were the original inhabitants of India ? At one time it was believed that the Dravidianswere the original inhabitants.
However, the generally accepted view now is that theoriginal inhabitants of India were the pre-Dravidians aborigines whosedescendants are the speakers of the Munda language who presently live in forestareas of Chota Nagpur, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal etc., theTodas of the Nilgiris, and others known as Adivasis.
 
Their population is only 5 to7% of the total population of India.
The remaining about 95% people living in Indiatoday are descendants of immigrants who came mainly from the north-west.
Even theDravidians are now believed to have come from outside, probably from thepresent Pakistan and Afghanistan areas, and this theory is supported by theexistence even today of a Dravidian language called Brahui which is spoken by 3million people in Western Pakistan (see Brahui on Google).
In this connection onemay also see ‘Cambridge History of India, Vol. I. There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures etc. in ourcountry, which is due to the fact that India is a country of immigrants. Somebody is tall,somebody is short, some are dark, some are fair complexioned, with all kinds of shades inbetween, someone has Caucasian features, someone has Mongoloid features, someone hasNegroid features, etc. There are differences in dress, food habits and various other matters.
We may compare India with China which is larger both in population and in landarea than India. China has a population of about 1.3 billion whereas ourpopulation is roughly 1.15 billion. Also, China has more than twice our land area.However, all Chinese have Mongoloid features; they have a common written script(Mandarin Chinese) and 95% of them belong to one ethnic group, called the HanChinese. Hence there is broad homogeneity in China.On the other hand, as stated above, India has tremendous diversity and this isdue to the large scale migrations and invasions into India over thousands of years.
The various immigrants/invaders who came into India brought with them theirdifferent cultures, languages, religions, etc. which accounts for the tremendous diversity inIndia.
As already stated above India was a country ideally suited for agriculture as it haslevel land, fertile soil, plenty of water, temperate climate etc. It is only inagricultural society that culture, arts and science can grow. In the precedinghunting stage these cannot grow because man has no free time in the huntingstage, and he has to devote all his time to get his food by hunting animals etc.
 The struggle for existence compels him to do this from morning to night leaving him no freetime for doing free thinking. It is only when agriculture begins that man can get some freetime for thinking. Since India was a country ideally suited for agriculture, people had freetime here to do thinking. In ancient India there was a lot of intellectual activity. In ourliterature we read hundreds of instances of Shastrarthas, which were debates in which theintellectuals freely discussed their points of view in the presence of a large assembly. Thousands of books in Sanskrit were written on various subjects, though perhaps less than10% have survived the ravages of time.I have made this digression to point out that it was the geographical condition of India (flatand fertile land, temperate climate etc.) which enabled our ancestors to progress a lot inscience and culture as our country was ideal for agriculture and hence provided a lot of freetime for thinking.

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