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Friday, June 9, 2023

Bharat, a land of great Acharyas – thinkers, scientists & teachers

Bharat is an ancient civilization that enriched the world in a number of different ways and fields with its inventions and discoveries. Although Bharat is known as a land of spirituality, our ancestors were far advanced in numerous fields. Our Rishis were experts in fields as diverse as mathematics to astronomy and language to medicine. They harnessed these powers and made many scientific discoveries. These were used to make the lives of ordinary citizens easy. 

Here we will learn about some of Bharat’s great Rishis who were also scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and medical experts who enriched the world with their discoveries and inventions.

01) Bhaskaracharya (600-680 CE)

Bhaskaracharya, also known as Bhaskara I, was a mathematician and astronomer who lived in the 7th century. He wrote Aryabhatiyabhasya in 629 CE which is the oldest known Sanskrit prose work on mathematics and astronomy. His other works are Mahabhaskariya and Laghubhaskariya. Interestingly, it was Bhaskara who first used 0 as a symbol for Zero. Bharat’s space organization Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) honoured the Acharya by launching a satellite Bhaskara I in his name in the year 1979.

02) Charaka (300 BCE)

Acharya Charaka wrote the Charaka Samhita, an Ayurvedic medical treatise divided into 8 books and consisting of 120 chapters. Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are considered the basic texts of Ayurveda. Charaka is rightly known as the father of Bharatiya medicine. The Samhita provided cures for diseases related to almost all body parts and contains descriptions of around 1,00,000 herbal plants along with their medicinal values and functions. 

03) Aryabhatta (476-550 CE)

Aryabhatta was born in Patna during the Gupta Era which is considered to be the golden age of ancient Bharat. He was a mathematician and astronomer who wrote Aryabhatiya and Arya-Siddhanta. Some of his notable concepts are the explanation of lunar and solar eclipses, the rotation of the earth on its axis and the reflection of the sun’s light by the moon and the calculation of the value of pi accurately up to 4 decimal places, the diameter of the earth and correct calculation of the length of the sidereal year. Bharat’s very first satellite launched in 1975 was called Aryabhatta as a tribute to this great Acharya. 

04) Sushruta (600 BCE)

An ancient Bharatiya physician who is known as the father of surgery, Sushruta is said to be the son of Rishi Vishvamitra (as mentioned in Mahabharata). He authored Sushruta Samhita which contains chapters on surgical training, instruments and procedures in addition to descriptions of medicinal plants and their uses, types of diseases and their cures and various types of fractures. Readers would be surprised to know that plastic surgery is not a modern concept but one which finds mention in this ancient text.

05) Kanad (somewhere between the 6th and 4th century BCE)

What if I were to tell you that atomic theory was known to our ancient Rishis and was put forth 2,500 years before English physicist John Dalton came up with the concept? Unbelievable, right? The truth is that Acharya Kanad, founder of the Vaisheshika School of Philosophy and author of Vaisheshik Darshan, came up with the atomic theory and explained the properties of anu and parmanu.

06) Panini (4th Century BCE)

Panini is an ancient grammarian who authored Ashtadhyayi which is a treatise on Sanskrit grammar divided into 8 chapters with 3959 verses explaining the rules of linguistics, syntax and semantics. He formalized language which made Sanskrit the main language of learning and literature for about 2000 years. Several modern linguistic theories of Bharatiya languages are based on Panini’s analysis of noun compounds.

07) Kapila (3000 BCE)

Rishi Kapila founded the Sankhya School of Hindu philosophy. He is called the father of Cosmology. He explained the nature and principles of Purusha and Prakriti and how the combination of the two is the basis of cosmic creation as well as all energies. 

08) Varahamihira (505-587 CE)

He lived during the Gupta Era and was known for authoring works such as Brihat-Samhita, Brihat-Jataka and Pancha-Siddhantika. Brihat-Samhita is a very exhaustive work which covers topics such as architecture, eclipses, agriculture, astrology, mathematics, timekeeping and planetary motions among others. The most important text authored by Varahamihira is Pancha-Siddhantika a treatise on mathematical astronomy which compiles five important previous astronomical treatises. These five are Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vashishta Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta.

09) Brahmagupt (598-668 CE)

He was a mathematician and astronomer born in Ujjain located in modern-day Madhya Pradesh. He wrote Brahmasphutasiddhanta and Khandakhadyaka. He was the first to put forward rules for computing with zero. He is also credited for the modern number system and many other mathematical formulae. 

10) Patanjali

Yoga is a universal practice today. However, it was Maharishi Patanjali who wrote the Yog Sutras which is a text on the theory and practice of Yog. The Yog Sutras of Patanjali consist of 196 sutras and were translated into as many as 40 Bharatiya and 2 foreign (Old Javanese and Arabic) languages.

11) Pingala (3rd or 2nd century BCE)

Acharya Pingala was a mathematician and Sanskrit grammarian. He authored Chandasastra (Pingala Sutras) which is a treatise on Sanskrit prosody (study of poetic metres and verses). His other notable concepts include his works on binary numeral systems and arithmetical triangles.

12) Bhaskara II (1114-1185 CE)

Bhaskara was a 12th-century astronomer and mathematician born in modern-day Karnataka. He made notable contributions to the field of mathematics and astronomy. His main work is Siddhanta Shiromani which is divided into four sections dealing with arithmetic, algebra, and maths of planets and spheres. His work on the law of gravity & calculus predated that of Newton and Leibniz by more than 500 years. ISRO honoured the astronomer and mathematician by launching the satellite Bhaskara II in 1981.

13) Baudhayana (around 800 BCE)

He is the author of Sulbasutras which provided rules for the construction of altars necessary for sacrifices. His work basically provides rules for religious rites. Besides being a Vedic priest, Baudhayana was a skilled craftsman who put mathematics to practical use by constructing sacrificial altars of the best quality. Sulbasutras along with five other texts form Baudhayana Sutras which are a group of Vedic Sanskrit texts covering dharma, daily ritual, mathematics etc. Srautasutra, Karmantasutra, Dvaidhasutra, Grihyasutra, Dharmasutra and Sulbasutra together form Baudhayana Sutras. 

14) Kautilya (371-283 BCE)

We all know Acharya Kautilya or Vishnugupta as Chanakya; who is best known as the Guru of Chandragupta Maurya. Besides being a philosopher and jurist, Chanakya was an economist par excellence. He wrote Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti. Arthashastra deals with foreign policies, war strategies, international relations and monetary and fiscal policies. Chanakya Niti is a text that contains Acharya Chanakya’s maxims on life.

We are so fascinated by the West, in addition to not having learnt Sanskrit, that we don’t even know that our ancestors put forth scientific, astronomical, mathematical and other theories centuries before scientists and thinkers from the West. Many of the concepts were carried from Bharat to the West either by Greek travellers or Arab traders to foreign shores, contributing in no small measure to the European Renaissance from the 15th century onwards. Sanskrit, being the language of communication and writing in the past, is important for us to learn if we are to understand the thoughts of our ancestors which hold true even today. 

This list is, of course, by no means exhaustive but I hope it would provide us with a glimpse of the genius minds that made Bharat a land of knowledge.

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A opinionated girl-next-door with an attitude. I'm certainly not afraid to call myself 'a proud Hindu' and am positively politically incorrect. A Bharatiya at heart who loves reading, music, sports and nature. Travelling and writing are my passions.


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