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SAYANA'S ASTRONOMY

SAYANA'S ASTRONOMY

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SAYANA'S ASTRONOMY
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05/02/2011

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IndianJournalofHistoryofScience,
33(1),1998
SAYA~A'S
ASTRONOMY
SUBHASH
C.
KAK*
(Received
26
May
1997;
afterrevision
14
July
1997)'
Inhiscommentaryonthe
Rgveda,
thefourteenthcenturyscholarSayanamentionsaspecificspeedforthesunwhichcanbeusedtodeterminethedistancetothesun.Vartakhasinterpretedthisstatementtostandforthespeedoflightbutwecannotplacethatinanyreasonablehistoricalcontext.thedistancetothesunimpliedbySayana'sstatementsuggeststhattherewasanotherastronomicaltraditioninIndiawhichisnowlost.
Key-words:
Medievalastronomy,
Siddhantas,
Solarsystem
INTRODUCTION
Sayana(c.1315-1387)wasaministerintheCourtofKingBukkaIoftheVijayanagarEmpireinSouthIndia;hewasalsoagreatVedicscholarwhowroteextensivecommentariesonseveralancienttexts.Inhiscommentaryonthefourthverseofhymn1.50ofthe
Rgveda
onthesun,hesays'
tathacasmaryateyojandniimsahasredvedvesatedvecayojaneekenanimisiirdhenakramamananamo'stufaiti
Thusitisremembered:
[0
Sun,]bowtoyou,youwhotraverse2,202
yojanas
inhalfa
nimesa.
WehavenoknowledgethatSayanawasanastronomerandheacknowledgesthatheisonlyquotingfromanoldtradition,sowelabelthisnoteas
"Sayana's
astronomy"onlyinthesenseofwhatwasknownbyhistimeinthefourteenthcentury.PadmakarVishnuVartakinarecentbook?hasarguedthatthisstatementreferstothespeedoflight.Hesays,"One
Yojana
isequalto9miles,110yards
==
91116miles
==
9.0625,...andaccordingto
Mahabhiirata.tSiintiParva,
231,
halfa
nimesaequals
8175
seconds.
If
calculatedonthisdatathevelocityoflightcomesto187,084.1milespersecond...SirMonierWilliamsgivesone
Yojana
equalto4
Krosa
==
9miles.Taking1
Yojana
==
9miles,thevelocitycomesto186,413.22milespersecond.Thewellacceptedpopularscientificfigureis186,300milespersecond."
*
DepartmentofElectrical
&
ComputerEngineeringLouisianaStateUniversity,BatonRouge,LA70803-5901,USA
 
32
INDIANJOURNALOFHISTORYOFSCIENCE
Thisisastoundingbecauseitisinremarkableagreementwithourcurrentknowledgeaboutthespeedoflight!Vartak'sreferenceonthe
nimesa
fromthe
Mahabharata,
whichisusuallyassignedto400Beto400AD,iscorrect.'Thespecificdefinitionofa
nimesa
istheregivenby450x30.1
nimesa
=
1
muhisrta
(48minutes),which
16
meansthatone
nimesa
is--seconds.The
yojana
isawellknownunitofdistance.75.3andthevalueascribedbyVartakistheusual
one."
EvenifonearguesthattherewasnostandardizationofmeasuresintheancientworldandthespecificvaluesassignedbyVartakfor
yojana
and
nimesa
werenotusedbyalltheancientauthorities,justthefactthattherecouldbementionofafinitespeedoflightthreecenturiesbeforethatdiscoverybyRoemerisnotbelievable.Furthermore,wecannotplacesuchknowledgeincontext.SoshouldwetakethestatementofSayauaasanamazingcoincidence?Fromallaccounts,thepassageisnotaninterpolation.Therearethosewhowouldsuggestthatconsciousnessreflectingonitselfcanobtainsuchquantitativeinformation.Butifonediscountedthatpossibilitythen,wantingevidenceofinstrumentationthatwouldhaveallowedanactualmeasurementofthespeedoflighttohavebeenmadeinmedievalIndiaofSayana'stime,theonlywayVartak'sinterpretationcanbejustifiedistoassumethatthespeedwasaluckyguess.WedoknowthatintheIndiantraditionafinitespeedwasassociatedwiththeastronomicalprocesses.Thusinthe
SuryaSiddhiinta
2.1-3,themotionoftheplanetsisdescribedintermsoftheactionofcordsof"air":FormsofTime,ofinvisibleshape,stationedinthezodiac
(bhagana],called
theconjunction
(Sighrocca),
apsis
(mandocca),
andnode
(pata),
arecausesofthemotionoftheplanets.Theplanets,attachedtothesebeingsbycordsofair,aredrawnawaybythem,withtherightandlefthand,forwardorbackward,accordingtonearness,towardtheirownplace.Awind,moreover,calledprovector
(pravaha)
impelsthemtowardtheirownapices
(ucca);
beingdrawnawayforwardandbackward,theyproceedbyavarying
motion,"
Theimportantpointhereisthatgravitationisexpressedintermsofaforcewhichiscomparedtoawind.Onewouldassume,then,thatlightmusthavealsobeencomparedtoawindandthustakentohaveafinitespeed.
 
SAYA~A'SASTRONOMY
33
It
ispossiblethatthespeedof2,202
yojana
tohalfa
nimesa
waschosenjusttomakethetimespentbylightonitsjourneyfromthesuntotheearthequalaroundnumberinsomeconvenientunits.Again,thiswouldmakethischoicejustanastonishingcoincidence.Ontheotherhand,ifVartak'sinterpretation-thatthestatementreferstotheraysofthesun-iswrong,thenshouldwetakeittobethespeedofthesun?Thatthisislikelyisbecausetheluminariesweretakentomoveatspeedsthatweremoreorlessfixed.Fortheotherplanetsthisspeedwasconsideredtobe11,858.75
yojanas,'
andtherewasacorrespondingtraditionregardingthespeedofthesun.InthisnoteweexploretheimplicationsofthisinterpretationthatSayana'sremarksreferredtothespeedofthesuninitsorbit.
ONNIME~AANDYOJANA
Canoneconsiderthepossibilitythat
nimesa
inSayana'sstatementonlymeansthe"twinklingofaneyelid"-theusualnon-technicalmeaningoftheterm?ThispossibilityisnotcrediblebecausethenSayanawouldhavehadnoneedtogiveaprecisefigureof2,202
yojanas
inrelationtoafigureofspeech.Insuchasituation,a"thousand(for'alargenumber')
yojanas
ina
nimesa
(for'atwinklingofaneyelid')"mighthavebeenused.Soitseemsquitecertainthataspecificmeaningoftheterm
nimesa
ismeanthere.Thedefinitionof
nimesa
inthe
Puriinas
generallyagreeswiththatgiveninthe
Mahiibhiirata.Yojana
isanancientmeasurewhichwecomeacrossinthe
Rgveda.
Thisishowthetwounitsaredefinedinthechapter2.20ofthe
Arthasiistra,
8
whichisattributedtoKautilya(320BC):
Yojana.
8,000
dhanus(dhanus
meansbow,takentobeabout6feet).A
dhanus
isalsotakentobeequaltoone
paurusa,
theheightofaperson,soassigningabout6feettoitisreasonable.One
dhanus
isconsideredequalto108
angulas
(fingers).
It
isastage,9.1milesapproximately,andaccordingtoKangleithas"referencetothe'yoking'ofbullocks,i.e.,distancecoveredbeforetheyokeistakenoff."Nlmesa.150
nimesa
equal1
kalii
and80
kaliis
equalone
muhisrta
(48minutes).
6
Thismeansthatone
nimesa
equals-oraboutone-fourthofasecond.
.25
Weseethesamedefinitionof
yojana
inmostastronomicaltextsoverseveralcenturies,includinginonecommentarybyYallaya,wholivedjustacenturylaterthanSayanainSouthIndia."Ontheotherhand,thedefinitionof
yojana
byAryabhata(c.499)isdifferent.Hetakes
nr
(man)tobeequalto96
angulas
andthenheconsiders

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