Ancient Indian Scientists (शास्त्रज्ञाः महर्षयः)

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Ancient Indian Scientists (Samskrit: शास्त्रज्ञाः महर्षयः) enumerates the scientists of ancient India and elaborates on their contribution in various fields of scientific knowledge encompassing medicine, mathematics, astronomy, technology, architecture, chemistry, metallurgy, etc.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Bharata is known for its long standing civilisational history with significant contributions to the fields of science, philosophy, literature, astronomy, architecture, etc.

Did you know ?

• Zero was discovered in Bharata.

• Maharshi Kanad gave the concept of Paramanus to the world.

• Ayurveda, a branch of medicine, was given by Bharata.

• The age of earth according to Bharatiya Vaidik Scriptures is about 3-4 billion years which is equal to the real age of earth.

The Indian landscape is replete with examples of Indian architecture and monuments. It also reflects development of techniques in the field of chemistry. The iron statue near Qutab minar which is still rust free is one of the finest examples of the same. And the most important point to be noted here is that the ancient architects were kown to have developed these techniques without any laboratory. It is thus, imperative to learn about the scientists of ancient India and their contribution scattered across the fields of mathematics, medicine, astronomy etc. in order to gain inspiration and guidance from their findings.[1]

भारतीयाः गणितज्ञाः ॥ Indian Mathematicians

Ancient Indian mathematicians had an edge in the field of mathematics. Some such luminaries and their contributions in the field of mathematics are as follows:[1]

बोधायनः ॥ Bodhayana

Bodhayana was a famous Indian mathematician around the 7th-8th century BCE. The ancient most shulbasutra text is known by his name viz. Baudhayana Shulbasutras. The shulbasutras are the oldest texts of geometry.

Bodhayana is especially known for providing a very close approximation (3.0883) of the value of Pi (π) and a clear enunciation of the so-called Pythagorean theorem as Bhuja-Koti-Karna-Nyaya in his Baudhayana shulbasutras much before Pythagoras.[2][1]

पिङ्गलाचार्यः ॥ Acharya Pingala

Acharya Pingala is an important name in the field of mathematics in ancient India. He lived between 2nd-3rd century BCE. Chandas Sutra also known as the Pingala Sutra is his work through which he contributed to the development of binary number system. He is considered the propounder of binary digits. Acharya Pingala's use of 'laghu' and guru' words later became the basis for the discovery of zero. It is believed that Acharya Pingala used the word Shunya which meant zero (0).[1]

आर्यभटः ॥ Aryabhata

The decimal place value system with zero adopted internationally traces its origin to Ancient Bharata. The decimal place value mode recognised in the Vedic Samhitas came to be clearly enunciated in mathematical-astronomical texts beginning with Aryabhata onwards.

Aryabhata (born in 476 CE) was a great mathematician and astronomer of the 5th century. It is said that he wrote the text 'Aryabhatiya' at an early age of 23 years (in 499 CE). The Aryabhatiya is a book of mathematics and astronomy where Aryabhata mentions the use of decimals among many other things. It is interesting to note the importance of the decimal system and zero in the calculations of planetary distances.[3][1]

ब्रह्मगुप्तः ॥ Brahmagupta

Brahmagupta was one of the most prominent mathematicians belonging to the school of Ujjain.[4] He is reffered to as 'Ganakachakra Chudamani' (Jewel among the circle of Mathematicians) by Bhaskara-II. Born in 598 CE, he authored the famous book Brahmasphuta Siddhanta in 628 CE at the age of 30 years.[5][4]

It is said that he was the first one to use zero as a number. He also used many mathematical methods. One of which is the multiplication method and the use of place value in the same that is in vogue even today.

The credits for spreading Indian Mathematical Knowledge to the world is accorded to Brahmgupta.[1] His works which were translated into Arabic seem to have influenced Arabian astronomy and mathematics in the 8th century CE possibly before the Arabian scholars became acquainted with Ptolemy.[4]

भास्कराचार्यः ॥ Bhaskaracharya

Bhaskaracharya is one of the most well-known names amongst the ancient Indian astronomer-mathematicians of the 11th-12th century.[1] He is also designated as Bhaskara-II to differentiate him from the earlier Bhaskara-I who lived in the 7th century CE.[6]

The monumantal treatise Siddhanta Shiromani, comprising of the famous Lilavati (arithmatic), Bijaganita (algebra), Goladhayaya (Trigonometry) and Grahaganita (Planetary motion) is his contribution.[7]

According to the statement in Goladhyaya, Bhaskara-II was born in Shaka 1036 or 1114 CE and came from Vijjalavida near the Sahyadri mountain[6] (which is taken as the modern day Bijapur in Karnataka). It is said that he learnt mathematics and astronomy from his father who was a teacher at observatories in Ujjain. Bhaskara-II was the first to use the Chakravala vidhi or compounded form. He lived until 1185 CE.

The western countries came to know about the contribution of Bhaskara-II in 19th century. And an attempt to translate into English the first part of his work known as Lilavati was made by James Taylor.

In honour of this great Indian astronomer-mathematician, a satellite in his name Bhaskar II was launched on 20th November 1981 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).[1]

भारतीयाः आयुर्वेदाचार्याः ॥ Indian Ayurveda Acharyas

Did you know that Ayurveda is known as the oldest medicinal system of the world ? Ayurveda literally translates to 'the Science of Life' and is around 5000 years old. Ayurveda is indeed a gift from India to the world. Here is a brief description of the valuable contribution of famous Ayurveda Acharyas in the field of medicine.[1]

आचार्यः चरकः ॥ Acharya Charaka

Acharya Charaka is known as the founder of Ayurveda. He was the physician of King Kanishka. He studied diseases, their causes and treatment in detail. And collected all his views in the book Charaka Samhita which is one of the ancient and authentic books of Ayurveda.[1] It is said that Agnivesha was the composer of the original text and Charaka was the redactor of the same text. However, even after further redaction to the Samhita by Drdhabala, the nomenclature did not change, it continued to be known as Charaka Samhita. This shows that Acharya Charaka not only redacted but also thoroughly revised the text, elaborating it according to the need and on the basis of prevailing authentic knowledge, giving it new shape as a treatise.[3]

The text compiles information on around 2000 medicines and explains diseases of many organs with their treatment. Acharya Charaka believed in removing the cause of diseases and stated that prevention is better than cure. He believed that a physician needs to have knowledge and understanding of diseases to treat the patient.

Acharya Charaka is also considered the first physician to talk about concepts like digestion, immunity power and excretion. He believed that there are three areas of human body viz. cough (kapha), air (Vata) and bile (Pitta). And an imbalance in them leads a human to fall ill.

Indeed, the foundation of today's Ayurvedic medical system was laid by Acharya Charaka.[1]

आचार्यः सुश्रुतः ॥ Acharya Sushruta

Acharya Sushruta is a great legendary in Ayurveda and has contributed to the field of surgery.[3] A practical surgeon, he was the first to advocate the dissection of dead bodies as indispensable for a successful student of surgery.[8] It is said that he himself studied the structure and anatomy of human body by dissecting dead human body.

He is the author of Sushruta Samhita and is known as the father of surgery. It is believed that the first surgery of the world was done by him.

Sushruta Samhita is a pool of knowledge. It enumerates about 1100 diseases and elaborates on the usage of about 760 plants and herbs. And most of these herbs are those used day to day in the kitchen. This text also documents about 191 tools used in surgery by Sushruta. And it is interesting to note that the procedure enunciated by Sushruta is similar to modern medical policy.[1]

महर्षिः पतञ्जलिः ॥ Maharshi Patanjali

Maharshi Patanjali is known as the compiler of the Yoga sutras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. He is also considered as the author of an unspecified work of medicine[3] (called Patanjali Tantra).[1]

The Yoga Sutras explain human nature and psychology while also being an intensely practical manual for spiritual advancement. Therefore, Yoga is both physical as well as mental. Physical yoga is called Hathayoga. Generally, it aims at removing a disease and restoring healthy condition to the body. While, Rajayoga is mental yoga. Its goal is self realisation and liberation from bondage by achieving physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance.[3][1]

Thus, the science of Yoga, as developed in ancient India, aligned with the science of Ayurveda facilitated healing at the physical and mental level. And the credit of systematically presenting this great science goes to Maharshi Patanjali.[3] The 106 Yoga sutras given by him form the base of Yoga Shastra. And therefore, Maharshi Patanjali known as the father of Yoga.[1]

भारतीयाः ज्योतिःशास्त्रज्ञाः ॥ Indian Astronomers

There is a deep connect between the fields of mathematics and astronomy. In fact, most astronomers in ancient India were also great mathematicians. They beautifully propounded the inter-relation between the two fields through their work in the field of astronomy. Some such contribution of ancient Indian astronomers in the field of astronomy are as follows:[1]

आर्यभटः ॥ Aryabhata

Aryabhata has already been enumerated as one of the most celebrated mathematicians of ancient India. He was also an astronomer ie. one who studies planets and galaxies. It is said that he studied in famous observatories at Nalanda.[1] In fact, a verse mentions that Aryabhata was the head of an institution at Kusumapura identified as Pataliputra (modern Patna). Since the University of Nalanda, equipped with an astronomical observatory, was in Pataliputra at that time, it is speculated that Aryabhata may have been the head of Nalanda University.[3]

Earlier, it was believed that the earth is fixed at one place. Aryabhata was the first person to correctly insist that the earth constantly rotates about its axis[1] daily and that the apparent movement of the stars is a relative motion caused by rotation of the earth, contrary to the then prevailing view that the sky rotated. This is indicated in the first chapter of his work, the Aryabhatiya, where he gives the number of rotations of the earth in a Yuga.

The Solar and Lunar eclipses also were scientifically explained by Aryabhata. Instead of the prevailing cosmogony in which eclipses were caused by Rahu and Ketu (identified as pseudo-planetary lunar nodes), he explained eclipses in terms of shadows cast by and falling on earth. He even provided the computation and size of the eclipsed part during an eclipse.[3]

The main objective of studying astronomy was to make correct calendar or panchang, identify the correct season for crops etc. that will help people in farming. Aryabhata contributed to this.[1] The calendric calculations devised by Aryabhata and his followers have been in continuous use in India for the practical purposes of fixing the Panchanga (the Hindu calendar).[3]

It is in honour of this great astronomer-mathematician that India's first man made satellite is named Aryabhata.[1][3]

भास्कराचार्यः ॥ Bhaskaracharya

Bhaskaracharya's contribution in the field of Mathematics has already been enumerated. He also gave many astronomical calculations. For eg. Bhaskarcharya calculated accurate time of a year, that is, the time taken by earth to complete a revolution of the Sun.[1]

The Ganitadhyaya and Goladhyaya of his work Siddhanta Shiromani are devoted to astronomy.[3] It deals with distance of planets, solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, phases of moon etc. and other essential knowledge of ancient Indian astronomy. He also writes about space, movement of planets, phases and its calculation etc in this book.[1] In fact, his book Siddhanta Shiromani surpassed all the ancient books of astronomy in India.[3]

वराहमिहिरः ॥ Varahamihira

Born in Avanti region (roughly corresponding to the modern-day Malwa), Varahamihira was a famous astronomer from ancient India[1] who lived through 505-587 CE. He is considered to be one of the nine jewels (Navaratnas) of the court of legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya of Malwa.[3]

Varahamihira belonged to Ujjain and is famous for two of his works namely, Pancha Siddhantika and the Brhat Samhita. The Pancha Siddhantika is a treatise on the five astronomical canons. A work on mathematical astronomy, in its five parts it summarises five earlier astronomical treatises namely,

  1. Surya Siddhanta
  2. Vasishtha Siddhanta
  3. Paulisha Siddhanta
  4. Romaka Siddhanta
  5. Paitamaha Siddhanta

His other work, the Brhat Samhita is encyclopedic in nature and within astronomy also covers wide range of topics like speed of planets, eclipse, rain etc.[1][3]

अन्यशास्त्रेषु योगदानम् ॥ Contribution in Other Fields

Ancient Bharata saw progress in other fields of science like chemistry, physics, agriculture, etc. as well. Brief description of some of the great scientists and their contribution in this regard is enumerated below.[1]

महर्षिः कणादः ॥ Maharshi Kanada

Maharshi Kanada is the founder of the Vaisheshika school of Indian philosophy[1][9] which incorporates within itself the ancient Indian tradition of physics.[10]

It is said that Maharshi Kanada was thus named because, as an ascetic, he used to live on the grains picked up from the fields. Interestingly, 'Kana' also means a particle and therefore, Kanada suggests one who spoke about particles.[9]

He authored the Vaisheshika Sutras also known as Kanada Sutras. He was the first person to talk about Anu ie. the most fundamental particle of matter. He believed that the smallest unit of physical world is not perceivable to the naked eyes. And cannot be divided or destroyed. However, it is capable of conjunction and hence, he states that the whole world is made up of these Anu-s. And such visible gross matter can be divided until it reaches the final indivisible entity ie. the Anu.

This principle putforth by Maharshi Kanad seems far ahead of its times in comparison to the present principles of molecule or nucleus. But it is interesting to note that the idea of tanmatra which is viewd as a kind of potential out of which materiality emerges in the cosmology of Samkhya prevalent in those times has features similar to that of Anu in the Vaisheshika Darshana.[10][1]

नागार्जुनः ॥ Nagarjuna

Nagarjuna was an alchemist and metallurgist of the 8th century CE[3] born at Fort Daihak near the famous shrine of Somnath in Gujarat. He worked in the field of melting metals and making new metals. His efforts were concentrated on transforming base metals into gold. Although he couldn't succeed in transmuting base metals into gold, his techniques yeilded metals with gold-like lustre.[1] Till date, this technology is used in making imitation jewellry.

His work known as Rasaratnakara contains descriptions of alchemical processes and preparations of mercurial compounds. He also wrote about the methods for extraction of metals like gold, silver, tin and copper from their ores and their purification.[1] His book, Rasaratnakara, is indeed a survey of metallurgy and alchemy as it existed in ancient Bharata.[3]

वराहमिहिरः ॥ Varahamihira

Varahamihira's contribution in astronomy has already been mentioned. He also had astonishing knowledge of a variety of subjects like hydrology, meteorology, astrology, seismology, etc. His work in the fields of earth science, geology, environment, etc is reflected in his magnum opus Brhat Samhita.[3]

He was the first to tell that termites and underground plants reflect presence of life. He also writes about earthquakes and its cases. And tried to relate the effects of planets, of earthquake, movement beneath the ocean, underground water and behavior of animals.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 Vijnana - Level B (Chapter 10), Open Basic Education Programme (Bharatiya Jnana Parampara), Noida: National Institute of Open Schooling.
  2. Mathematics in India: From Vedic Period to Modern Times, NPTEL Course (Lectures 1-3), Accessed on 10/08/2022.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 Dr. Binod Bihari Satpathy, History of Science and Technology in India (accessed on 10/08/2022).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 A.K.Bag (1979), Mathematics in Ancient and Medieval India, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia.
  5. Mathematics in India: From Vedic Period to Modern Times, NPTEL Course (Lecture 11), Accessed on 03/10/2022.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mathematics in India: From Vedic Period to Modern Times, NPTEL Course (Lecture no.20), Accessed on 30/09/2022.
  7. D. Arkasomayaji (1980), Siddhanta Siromani of Bhaskaracarya, Tirupati: Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha.
  8. Kunja Lal Bhishagratna (1907), An English Translation of The Sushruta Samhita, Calcutta.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Chandradhar Sharma (1962), Indian Philosophy: A Critical Survey, U.S.A.: Barnes & Noble, INC.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Roopa Narayan, Space, Time and Anu in Vaisheshika, Accessed on 13/10/2022.