The Great Hindu Intellectualism

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

There was a time when Hindus were leading the world in science.

Many people will challenge this assertion, but here is what the prominent medieval Muslim Arab scholar Sa’id ibn Ahmad al-Andalusi (1029-1070 ) wrote in his book Tabaqat al-‘umam, the earliest book on the history of science :

“The first people in the world to have cultivated science are the Hindus, who are renowned for their wisdom. Over many centuries, all the scholars of the past have recognized the excellence of the Hindus in all branches of knowledge. They have made great strides in the study of numbers and geometry. They have acquired immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of astronomy. They have surpassed all other peoples in their knowledge of the medical sciences “.

Many scientific thinkers consider the invention of the decimal system by Hindus the greatest scientific invention ever made by man. Without it modern civilization would be impossible. Thus, in his three volume work, ‘ The Universal History of Numbers ‘, the French scholar Georges Ifrah writes :

“Finally, it all came to pass, as though across the ages and the civilizations, after the human mind had tried all the possible solutions to the problem of writing numbers, before universally adopting the one which was the most abstract, the most perfect, and the most effective of all. The measure of genius of the Hindus, to which we owe our decimal system, is all the greater in that it was they only in all history and of all people in the world to have achieved this triumph “.

It is interesting to note that while Arabic, Persian and Urdu are written from right to left, writers in these languages write numbers from left to right, which proves that these languages borrowed their numbers from Sanskrit, the language of the Hindus, who wrote from left to right. At one time they were called Arabic numerals, but now they are universally regarded as an invention by the Hindus.

The vital importance of the decimal system invented by the Hindus for progress in science can be demonstrated by one fact.

The ancient Romans no doubt built a great civilization, the civilization of Caesar and Augustus. But if one asked an ancient Roman to write numbers above 1000 he would start feeling very uncomfortable. That is because he wrote his numbers in alphabets, V standing for 5, X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1000. There was no alphabet expressing a number above 1000, and there was no 0. So if an ancient Roman had to write 2000 he had to write MM, to write 3000 he had to write MMM, and to write 1 million he had to write M a thousand times, which would drive him crazy.

On the other hand, in the decimal system invented by the Hindus, the concept of 0 enabled them to express huge numbers in very brief. Thus, 1000 was called sahastra, 100,000 was called lac, 1,00,00,000 was called crore, 1,00,00,00,000 was called arab, 1,00,00,00,00,000 was called kharab, 1,00,00,00,00,00,000 was called padma, 1,00,00,00,00,00,00,000 was called neel, 1,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,000 was called shankh etc. This was possible because the Hindus had conceived of the number 0, which no one had conceived of before.

Baudhayana in his Shulba Sutras mentions the geometry for construction of temples and large buildings long before the Greeks and Romans worked out their theories about them.

Computer scientists today are finding the highly scientific approach to grammar and linguistics in the book Ashtadhyayi by the great grammarian Panini as valuable tools in designing computer languages.

The famous French astronomer of the 19th century Jean Sylvan Bailey was amazed by the accuracy of the system of astronomy created by the ancient Hindus.

He writes: “The motion of the stars calculated by the Hindus thousands of years ago vary not one bit from the tables of Cassine and Meyer which were used in Europe in the 19th century. The Hindu tables give the same annual variation of the moon as those discovered by the great 16th-century Danish scientist Tycho Brahe–a variation unknown to the school of Alexandria and also to the Arabs. The Hindu system of astronomy is far superior to that of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and the Jews .”

In medicine, Hindus at one time far surpassed all peoples in the world. The Charak Samhita in medicine and the Sushrut Samhita in surgery were the oldest and most comprehensive medical books of their time.

Sushrut invented plastic surgery 2000 years ago, while the Europeans learnt it only about 200 years ago.

The concept of town planning was perhaps conceived for the first time in history by the people of the Indus Valley Civilization, who were probably the first to set up a scientific drainage system and scientific ports such as that at Lothal.

Before I conclude, two notes of caution must be struck. Firstly, some Indians like Prime Minister Modi and members of the RSS claimRSS claim that we had aeroplaneswe had aeroplanes, atom bombs, guided missiles, etc in ancient India, and that we had invented head transplant transplant surgeryhead transplant transplant surgery ( since the Hindu god Ganesh had an elephant's head ), and knew genetic engineering and stem cell therapy ( since Queen Gandhari had 100 sons using its aid ), knew how to produce test tube babies ( e.g. Karna ), etc. This is all false, as explained in the article below, and we make a laughing stock of ourselves before the whole world by mixing whole world by mixing the truth with untruth by making such false and fantastic claims.

Many people, some of whom are even so called 'educated' people, say that in ancient India we had aeroplanes, atom bombs and guided missiles. In support of this argument they refer to the Ramayan and Mahabharat.

Now It is true that the Ramayan mentions Pushpak Viman, an alleged flying chariot, on which Lord Ram is said to have brought Sita from Lanka to Ayodhya, after defeating Ravan. On this basis it is claimed that there were aeroplanes in ancient India.

My reply to such people is this :

We must first understand what are Ramayan and Mahabharat ? They are epic poems ( mahakavyas). In poetry there is a thing called 'poetic licence', which gives a poet the right to exaggerate. So one must not take all things in the Ramayan or Mahabharat literally. As in much of poetry, many things are imaginative.

Everyone in the world knows that the first aeroplane in the world ( the Kitty Hawk ) was built by the Wright brothers in 1903. Hence we make ourselves a laughing stock before the whole world by claiming that there were aeroplanes in ancient India.

If there were aeroplanes in ancient India then there must have been engines in ancient India ( because an aeroplane requires an engine). In that case soldiers should have fought in tanks instead of in chariots and horses in the Mahabharat.

Similarly, the claim that there were guided missiles and atom bombs in ancient India,( because there is mention of brahmastra, agnyastra, narayanastra, etc in the Mahabharat and Ramayan ) is also nonsense. These were only poetic imaginations.

Secondly, we must not gloat on the scientific achievements of our ancestors, but move forward and do scientific thinking today to solve our huge socio-economic problems of massive and abject poverty, record and growing unemployment, appalling level of child malnourishment ( every second Indian child is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index, a reputed international agency ), 57% of Indian women are anaemic, prices of essential commodities like food, fuel and medicines are skyrocketing, there is almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc.

People like Modi and the RSS are blockheads having no scientific understanding of anything, and their heads are only crammed with hatred of Muslims. They have no clue how to solve these real problems of the people, and hence resort to diversionary gimmicks like building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, cow protection, Yoga Day, Swatchata Abhiyan, etc.

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court. These are his personal views.)

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