Origins of Vedic Science, Part 3
BY: DR. SUBASH C. KAK
Lakshmana Temple Musicians, Khajaraho
Jan 10, BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA (SUN) A four-part series on the Vedic origins of science.
Ernest McClain (1978) has described the tonal basis of early history. McClain argues that the connections between music and history are even deeper than astronomy and history. The invariances at the basis of tones could very well have served as the ideal for the development of the earliest astronomy. The tonal invariances of music may have suggested the search of similar invariances in the heavenly phenomena.
The Samaveda, where the hymns were to be sung, was compared to the sky. Apparently, this comparison was to emphasize the musical basis of astronomy. The Vedic hymns are according to a variety of meters; but what purpose, if any, lay behind a specific choice is unknown.
Panini’s grammar (6th century B.C.E. or earlier) provides 4,000 rules that describe the Sanskrit of his day completely. This grammar is acknowledged to be one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all times. The great variety of language mirrors, in many ways, the complexity of nature. What is remarkable is that Panini set out to describe the entire grammar in terms of a finite number of rules. Frits Staal (1988) has shown that the grammar of Panini represents a universal grammatical and computing system. From this perspective it anticipates the logical framework of modern computers (Kak 1987).
There is a close parallel between Indian and Greek medicine. For example, the idea of breath (prana in Sanskrit, and pneuma in Greek) is central to both. Jean Filliozat (1970) has argued that the idea of the correct association between the three elements of the wind, the gall, and the phlegm, which was described first by Plato in Greek medicine, appears to be derived from the earlier tridosha theory of Ayurveda. Filliozat suggests that the transmission occurred via the Persian empire.
These discoveries not only call for a revision of the textbook accounts of Indian science but also call for new research to assess the impact on other civilizations of these ideas.
Rhythms of Life
We have spoken before of how the Vedas speak of the connections between the external and the internal worlds. The hymns speak often of the stars and the planets. These are sometimes the luminaries in the sky, or those in the firmament of our inner landscapes or both.
To the question on how can the motions of an object, millions of miles away, have any influence on the life of a human being one can only say that the universe is interconnected. In this ecological perspective the physical planets do not influence the individual directly. Rather, the intricate clockwork of the universe runs on forces that are reflected in the periodicities of the astral bodies as also the cycles of behaviors of all terrestrial beings and plants.
It is not the gravitational pull of the planet that causes a certain response, but an internal clock governed by the genes. We know this because in some mutant organisms the internal clock works according to periods that have no apparent astronomical basis. So these cycles can be considered to be a manifestation of the motions of the body’s inner "planets." In the language of evolution theory one would argue that these periods get reflected in the genetic inheritance of the biological system as a result of the advantage over millions of years that they must have provided for survival.
The most fundamental rhythms are matched to the periods of the sun or the moon. It is reasonable to assume that with their emphasis on time bound rituals and the calendar, the ancient had discovered many of the biological periods. This would include the 24-hour-50-minute circadian rhythm, the connection of the menstrual cycle with the motions of the moon, the life cycle of various plants, and the semi-monthly oestrus cycle of sheep, the three-week cycle of cattle and pigs, and the six-month cycle of dogs.
The moon (soma) is called the "Lord of speech" (vachaspati) in the Rigveda. It is also taken to awaken eager thoughts. Other references suggest that in the Rigvedic times the moon was taken to be connected with the mind.
This is stated most directly in the famous Purushasukta, the cosmic man hymn of the Rigveda, where it is stated that the mind is born of the moon and in Shatapatha Brahmana where we have: "the mind is the moon." Considering the fact that the relationships between the astronomical and the terrestrial were taken in terms of periodicities, doubtless, this slogan indicates that the mind is governed by the period of the moon.
This verse from the Upanishadic period speaks at many levels. At the literal level there is an association of the elements with various cognitive centres. At another level, the verse connects the time evolution of the external object to the cognitive centre.
Fire represents consciousness and this ebbs and flows with a daily rhythm. Air represents seasons so here the rhythm is longer. The sun and sight have a 24-hour cycle. The regions denote other motions in the skies, so hearing manifests cycles that are connected to the planets. The plants have daily and annual periods; the hairs of the body have an annual period. The mind has a period of 24 hours and 50 minutes like that of the moon.
What are the seats of these cycles? According to tantra the chakras of the body are the centres of the different elements as well as cognitive capacities and rhythms related to "internal planets." The knowledge of these rhythms appears to have led to astrology.