KRIP A SHANKAR SHUKLA Department of Mathematics, Lucknow University Lucknow

Glimpses of the ancient Hindu astronomy are found in the Vedas and the Vedic literature. The Ved{higa-jyoti§a (c. 500 B.C.), which exclusively deals with Vedic astronomy, shows that the Vedic seers were well versed in the motion of the Sun and tho Moon and had developed a luni-solar calendar to regulate their activities. Further progress in the field of Hindu astronomy is recorded by the five well-known siddluintas summarized by Variihamihira in his Panca-siddh/intiloi, These siddhdntas were the result of the great Renaissance in Hindu Ganita which began some time before the beginning of the Christian era. Renaissance in Hindu astronomy which seems to have begun in the third or fourth century A.D. continued right up to the twelfth century A.D. The Aryabhat,ya of Aryabhata I (b. A.D. 4 i6) is the earliest preserved work on astronomy written during this period. Of subsequent works, the notable ones are the Brohma-sphusa.eiddluinta of Brahmagupta (A.D. 628), the S'ifya-dhi.vrddhida of Lalla (c. A.D .. 749), the VateSt'arasiddluinta of Vatesvara (A.D. 904), theSiddhanta-sekhara of'Sripati (c. A.D. 1039) and the Siddluinta-siromani of Bhaskara II (A.D. 1150).

Astronomy has been studied in India from time immemorial. The earliest Indian astronomy is preserved in the Vedas and the Veda1iga-jyoti~a. The time of composition of these works ranges from c. 2500 B.C. to c. 500 B.C_! The Q,gveda divides the Sun's yearly path into 12 and 360 divisions. The Moon's path was likewise divided into 27 parts and each part was called a nalcsaira., The stars lying near the Moon's path were also divided into 27 (or sometimes 28) groups and each of them was called a nalcsalra (asterism). The names of these naksairae are found to occur in the Taittiriya-sa1(ihita of the Black Yajurveda. Some of them, viz. Ti~ya (i.e. Pu~ya), Aghii (i.e . .l~f aghii) , Arjuni (i.e. Phiilguni), Citra and Reoati, are earlier mentioned in the Q,gveda. The above 27 nalcsatras were utilized in the study of the positions of the Sun and the Moon.

The culture of astronomy in Vedic times was motivated by the need of fixing time for the various religious sacrifices which were performed at different times in different seasons. For this the knowledge of the Sun's yearly motion was necessary. The ancient Hindus determined the solstices and the equinoxes and defined the seasons with reference to them. The Kau{itakibriihmama records the occurrence of the winter solstice on the new moon day of Magha.2 It is also stated there that the year ended with the full moon at the Purva-Phiilguni,3 and that the spring commenced one day after the

VOL. 4, Nos. 1 & 2.



new moon of Caitra.4 This shows that the beginning of the year under the amuinia reckoning synchronized with the beginning of the seasons.

The year of Vedic astronomy seems to have been a tropical one. The months were lunar and measured from full moon to full moon and also from new moon to new moon. There is evidence to show that to make the lunar year correspond to the solar year 12 days were intercalated after every lunar year and one month was dropped after every 40 years." At a later stage this correspondence was established by evolving a cycle of five solar years with 62 lunar months. This cycle was called a yuga.

The V ediHLga-jyoti~a is the earliest Hindu work dealing exclusively with astronomy. It represents the rudimentary Vedic astronomy developed by the Hindus about 500 years before the beginning of the Christian era and shows that at that remote past they considered astronomy as a separate subject of study and realized its importance. The Vedanga-jyoti\~a has come down to us in two recensions, viz. the J.tgvedic recension (called Arcajyoti~a) and the Yajurvedic recension (called Yaju\~a-jyoti~a). The former contains 36 verses and the latter 43 verses, of which 31 verses are common. Both the recensions are thus practically the same and give an account of months, years, days and day-divisions, nakeatra«, new moons and full moons, solstices and seasons occurring in the cycle of five solar years, which is taken to begin at the winter solstice in the beginning of the month Magha when the Sun and the Moon simultaneously crossed into the naksatra Sravi\~!ha. Both state the tithi (lunar date), nakeaira and month in which the Sun commenced its northward and southward journeys in the five-year cycle, give the amount by which the day increased or decreased during the two journeys of the Sun (in terms of water of the water-clock) and lay down rules for determining (i) the beginning of a season, (ii) the positions of the Sun and the Moon, (iii) the naksaira corresponding to a given tithi, (iv) the position of the Sun on its diurnal circle at the end of a tithi, (v) the time when the Sun crossed a nalcsatra and (vi) the length of a day. The five-year cycle contains 1,830 civil days, 1,835 sidereal days, 1,800 saura days, 62 lunar months, 5 revolutions of the Sun and 67 revolutions of the Moon. It is noteworthy that the phenomenon of the winter solstice at the beginning of the naksoira Sravi~tha with which the five-year cycle is taken to begin occurred about 1200 B.C.

There is also a third recension called the Atharva-jyoti~a which belongs to a later date. It mentions the names of the seven planetss and the weekdays and in addition to the tithi, naksatr« and yoga (which were already known) gives the names of the seven karanae of the Hindu calendar. The Atharva-jyot~a consists of 162 verses and deals with both astronomy and astrology. The teachings of the Arca-jyoti~a are ascribed to sage Lagadha, and those of the Atharva-jyoti~a to Svayambhii and Bhrgu,



The Vedas and likewise the Vediinga-jyoti.,a have survived the ravages of time because they were religious works and were studied in their original form. This was not the case with the works dealing with the sciences and the arts. With the emergence of new discoveries, new techniques or tools, or new style of writing, older works had either to be revised or recast or had to be discarded and replaced by new ones. This accounts for a big gap in the existing Sanskrit literature. On the one hand, we have the religious works comprising the Vedic literature and, on the other, works written in an entirely new and different style belonging to the early centuries of the Christian era. Practically no scientific work of the intervening period ranging from c. 500 B.C. to C. A.D. 500 is available.

From the writings of Varaharnihira (died A.D. 587) we gather that works on astronomy written during this intervening period were known as siddhiintas. Varahamihira in his Panca-siddhiintikii summarized the teachings of five of these suldhiinias, viz. (1) the Paitamaha-siddhanta, (2) the Saura-siddluinia, (3) the Vasi~tha-siddhanta, (4) the Romaka-siddhanta and (5) the Paulieasiddhanta. Of these siddhantas, none in its original form is now available.

The five siddhiintas summarized by Varahamihira were written during the early centuries of the Christian era. It is probable that the Paiidmahasiddhiinta (which is the earliest of the five) was written in A.D. 80, this being the epoch mentioned in Varahamihira's version of that work. The Va8i~tha-8iddhanta was written prior to A.D. 269 as is shown by the fact that Sphujidhvaja Yavanesvara, who wrote his Yaoanajataka in that year, refers to this work. The other siddhantas were written later. During the early centuries of the Christian era the Indians were in touch with the Greeks and the Romans, and the Babylonian and Greek astronomical texts may have been accessible to them. This accounts for the traces of the Babylonian and Greek influences which are noticeable in the works summarized by Variihamihira. Neugebauer? has shown that some of the astronomical constants in the Vasi,~!ha- and the Paulisa-siddhiintas are inspired by the Babylonian linear astronomy. The Romaka- and the Saura-siddhiintas likewise bear traces of the Greek influence. It is, however, intriguing to find that the refinements introduced by Ptolemy in the Greek astronomy remained unknown to the Hindus.

The progress recorded by the publication of the five siddhiintas was indeed the result of the great Renaissance in Hindu mathematics which began some time before the Christian era.S The invention of the zero and the decimal place value system of notation and the development of the decimal arithmetic in India in the early centuries of the Christian era led to the development of mathematics in general including algebra and trigonometry. The availability of the decimal arithmetic along with the refined algebraic and trigonometrical tools revolutionized calculations and methods in astronomy. The Renaissance



in Hindu astronomy which appears to have begun in the third or fourth century A.D. continued right up to the twelfth century when due to the advent of the Muslims in India and consequent unsettled political conditions further progress was stopped at least in north India. The writings of Aryabhata I (born A.D. 476), Brahmagupta (A.D. 628), Lalla (c. A.D. 749), Vatesvara (A.D. 904), Aryabhata II (c. A.D. 950), Srlpati (c. A.D. 1039) and Bhaskara ,II (A.D. 1150) represent landmarks in this era of progress of Hindu astronomy. One very unfortunate consequence of the writings of these eminent scholars has been that the study of the earlier texts was given up, so that they have been lost and we have little authentic material to reconstruct the history of astronomy from the time of the VedfiJiga-jyoti§a to the end of the fifth century A.D. when the Aryabhafiya was written by Aryabhata 1.

The Aryabhat'iya of Aryabhata I written about the end of the fifth century A.D. is the earliest work on astronomy of the Renaissance period that has been preserved. It is a small work consisting of 121 verses distributed over four chapters, of which Chapter I gives the astronomical constants and the sine table, Chapter II deals with mathematics, Chapter III defines the divisions of time and explains the motion of the planets with the help of eccentrics and epicycles, and Chapter IV describes the armillary sphere and gives rules relating to various problems of spherical astronomy including the calculation and graphical representation of the eclipses and the visibility of the planets. The Aryabhatiya proved to be a work of great merit, much superior to the earlier 8iddhanta8 and won for its author a great name as an original mathematician and astronomer. It laid the foundation of a new school of astronomy, the Aryabhata school, which flourished in India south of the river Narbada. The main centres of this school existed in Asmaka and Kerala. The Asmaka school was probably founded by Aryabhata I himself and the main exponents of this school were Bhaskara I (A.D. 629) and Lalla (A.D. 749), etc. To the Kerala school belonged Haridatta (A.D. 683), Govinda Svami, Sailkaranarayal)a (A.D. 869), Udayadivakara (A.D. 1073) and others. The astronomers of the Kerala school utilized the constants of the Aryabhatiya to develop two new systems of astronomy, the Parahita and the Viikya, which received wide popularity in that country.

The works of Aryabhata I and later Hindu astronomers were either modifications of earlier works 01' based on them. From what we know about the earlier 8iddhiinta8 and the Paiica-8iddhantikii we are certain that the Aryabhat'iya and later works followed the same general pattern of the earlier eiddhiintae and enunciated rules and methods most of which were already well known. It may be that the arrangement of the subject-matter was changed and the style of expression and the language were improved.

In astronomy the epoch as well as the elements by which the mean motions were determined had to be changed from time to time, as we do even



now as a result of observation. It may be that Aryabhata I was the first to make considerable changes in the elements. In fact, it has been claimed by his followers that his elements continue to give correct results consistent with observation even after the lapse of long time and in far- off places.? It is this change in the elements that accounts in our opinion more for the popularity of the Aryabhatiya than his theory of rotation of the earth which did not in any way modify the methods of calculation based on a stationary earth. Aryabhata I himself, however, clearly states that he has based his Aryabhatiya on the teachings of the Svayambh?wa-siddMinta (i.e. the Paiuimaha or Brahma-siddh/intas, which was already held in high esteem at Kusumapura.!'' About 130 years later, Brahmagupta based his siddhanta on the same Brahma-siddhiinta. During these 130 years a number of other works were written, based on the Aryabhatiya and the earlier siddhiintas. For example, Latadeva, a direct pupil of Aryabhata I, wrote two works in one of which he reckoned the day from midnight at Lanka and in the other from sunset at Yavanapura.t! According to Varahamihira, Latadeva was the author of the commentaries on the Romaka- and Paulisa-siddhantas.12 During the same period Sri;:;el).a brought out a redaction of the Romakasiddhanta, Vijayanandi and Visnucandra independently brought out new editions of the Vasi§tha-siddhanta.l3

In the early part of the seventh century, we find Bhaskara I writing works based on the Aryabhatiya wherein he does not change the elements of the Aryabha{iya but has interpreted the teachings of Aryabhata I according to the traditions of the Asmaka school and has made additions to Aryabhata L's system to simplify astronomical calculations. At the same time, Brahmagupta brought out another recast, a very comprehensive one, containing 1,008 stanzas, of the Brahma-suldhiinta; His elements differ from those contained in the Aryabhatiya. Brahmagupta and his followers claimed greater accuracy for the Briihma-sphnua-euldhiimta; which was adopted as a standard textbook on astronomy in North India. The superiority of Brahmagupta's constants was recognized even by the followers of Aryabhata I who introduced bija correction to modify the constants given by Aryabhata 1. Thus the astronomers of the Asmaka school, headed by Lalla, introduced a correction taking A.D. 499 as the origin, whereas the astronomers of the Kerala school introduced a similar correction with A.D. 522 as the origin. The process of modification and improvement of the existing works continued till the middle of the twelfth century A.D. when Bhiiskara II wrote his Siddhanta-siroma1}i. After the time of Bhaskara II no significant progress was made in the field of astronomy.

Works on Hindu astronomy differ from one another either in the astronomical constants or in the details of calculation. The astronomical constants were subject to correction from time to time as a result of observation, and



the methods of calculation were improved with the advance of mathematical knowledge. On basic principles and theories, there is complete unanimity. The following hypotheses are inherent in all of them:

Hypothesis 1: The mean planets revolve in geocentric circular orbits. Hypothesis 2: The true planets move in epicycles or in eccentrics.

Hypothesis 3: All planets have equal linear motion in their respective orbits.

The Hindu astronomers, unlike their Greek counterparts, have established an epoch when all the planets were in zero longitude. According to Aryabhata I the epoch, when the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn were last in zero longitude, was sunrise at Lanka (a hypothetical place at the intersection of the equator and the meridian of Ujjain) on Friday, 18 February, 3102 B.C. The period from one such epoch to the next, according to Aryabhata I, is 1,080,000 years. When the Moon's apogee and the Moon's ascending node are included in the list of the planets, the abovementioned period becomes 4,320,000 years, which is defined as the duration of a yuga. Thus a yuga is a period of time which begins and ends when the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, the Moon's apogee and the Moon's ascending node are in zero longitude. It consists of four periods of 1,080,000 years, which are called quarter yugas and bear the names Krtaynga, 'I'reui, Doiipara and Kaliyuga. The current quarter yuga is the current Kaliyuga which is assumed to have begun at sunrise at Lanka on Friday, 18 February, 3102 B.C. A bigger period than the yuga is called kalpa. According to Aryabhata I, a kalpa consists of 1,008 yugas, and 459i_yugas had elapsed at the beginning of the current Kaliyuga since the beginning of the current kalpa. The Hindu astronomical works called Siddhiinia adopt the time of creation as the epoch of calculation whereas those called Tantra adopt the beginning of Kaliyuga as the epoch of calculation. Both these epochs are epochs of zero longitude, i.e. at these epochs the longitudes of the planets are zero.

The epoch of zero longitude is useful in the computation of the mean longitude of a planet. The Hindu astronomers calculate the aharqana, i.e. the number of days elapsed since the epoch chosen and then by the application of the following formula (based on Hypothesis 1) to determine the mean longitude of a planet:

1 't d R X A

mean ongi u e = --0- ;


R = number of revolutions of the planets in a ynga (or kalpa), C = number of days in a yuga (or kalpa), and

A = _ ahargary,a.



The true geocentric longitude of a planet is derived from its mean longitude

by applying the following corrections:

(1) Correction for local longitude (desiintara), (2) Equation of the centre (bahuphala),

(3) Correction for the equation of time due to the eccentricity of the ecliptic (bhujavivara),

(4) Correction for local latitude (cara), in the case of the Sun and the Moon, and an additional correction called sIghraphala in the case of the other planets. The method of applying these corrections in the case of the planets other than the Sun, however, is not the same with all the astronomers.

Besides the above-mentioned corrections, a few more corrections were devised by later astronomers on the basis of continued observations. Vatesvara (A.D. 904), for example, gave a lunar correction, which consists of the deficit of the Moon's equation of the centre and the 'evection', and Bhaskara II (A.D. 1150) gave another lunar correction which corresponds to the 'variation'. Sripati (A.D. 1039) prescribed a general correction which was meant to account for the equation of time due to the obliquity of the ecliptic.

The corrections applied to the mean longitude to get the true geocentric longitude were based on the epicyclic theory. Comparison of the Hindu epicyclic theory, as given by Aryabhata I and his followers with that of the Greeks, reveals striking differences between the two theories. Whereas the epicycles of the Greek astronomers do not undergo any variation in size and remain the same at all places, the epicycles of Aryabhata I and other Hindu astronomers are different in size in the beginnings of the odd and even quadrants and vary in size from place to place.

The longitudes of the Sun and the Moon were used in computing the elements of the Hindu Calendar (PaiicaJiga), viz. tithi, nakscara, karana and yoga, and the times of the eclipses. Hindu astronomers were special1y interested in the calculation and the projection of the eclipses as they had an important bearing on their religious observances. The Moon and its motion with respect to the naksatras have been a subject of study from the Vedic times. The Aryabhatiya and other later works treat of the rising and setting, the phases, and the elevation of the horns of the Moon, as also deal with the conjunction of the Moon with the prominent stars of the naksairas. Among other topics dealt with in the Aryabhat~ya and other works may be mentioned the heliacal risings and settings of the planets and the conjunction of the planets with the prominent stars of the nalosairas,

The Hindu astronomers did not possess the telescope. They made their observations with the naked eye using suitable devices for measuring the



angles. Their astronomy therefore remained confined' to the study of the Sun, Moon and the planets.


1 Wlntemitz, M., A History of Indian Literature, Vol. 1, Calcutta (1959), p. 271. 2 Kuusitaki-brdhrnana, xi, 3.

3 Ibid., v. 1.

4 Ibid., xix. 3.

& Law, N_ N., Age oj the Rqueda, pp. 20, 28-29_

6 The seven planets are mentioned in the Taittiriya Ara"f}yaka and t.he Maitraya"f}¥ Uponiead also.

7 Neugebauer, 0., The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, second edition, 1957.

8 B. Datta, 'The Scope and Development of the Hindu Ganita ', Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. V, No.3 (1929), p_ 484.

9 Laghu-Bhaskariya, i. 2. 10 Aryabhaf,iya, ii. 1.

11 Paiica-siddluintik/i, xv. 18; Siddluinto-eekhara, ii. 10. 12 Panca-siddluiniikii, xv. 18.

13 Briihrna-splnua-siddh/inta, xi. 48-51.

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