POST HARAPPAN PERIOD (1200 BCE to 500 CE)

The material that helped me write this segment of Indian history is derived from both archaeological findings and from the writings from that period.  A careful scrutiny of such evidence all but convinced me that, of all the  segments of Indian history, the period that helped shape the Indian personna, its character, it’s standing in world history and science and philosophy is this post-Indus valley civilization era.  When one considers how wide and deep the developments in the Indian culture were made in this period, this can be described as truly a golden age.  While no dynasty or major settlements (in the manner of Indus valley civilization) dominated this period, one witnesses the laying down of the foundation of and flowering of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism to such an extent that these teachings remain substantially unchanged almost 3 millennia later.  The literary gems that were composed during this period remain masterpieces of philosophical and theological thoughts both in volume and quality.   Paralleling the above were major advances made in every aspect of culture, with the field of science, especially mathematics and astronomy leading the way, but others such as  Yoga and Meditation reaching a level of perfection that has not been paralleled to this day!  Thus, this is the period in which India rose to the status of the premier world culture and thus, a magnet for both scholars and students and also in material wealth.  The establishment of two major centers of learning (Takhshasila in the North West and Nalanda in the North East), both of which attracted students from all over Asia and as far away as the Greeks, Persians and Arabs in the West) and Takhshasila flowering into a major center of commerce as well.  Unfortunately, this very prominence of India in all fields of culture and commerce and economy, attracted foreign invaders, who, over many centuries, managed to do great damage to India and its, and the world's very first civilization.

We will discuss aspects of developments in the different fields of culture in Post Harappan period India under the following headings:

1) THE HINDU THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

2)  BUDDHIST THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

3)  MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY

4)  YOGA AND MEDITATION

5)  MEDICINE AND SURGERY

 

1)  THE HINDU THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

The flowering of Hindu theology and philosophy began with the composition of the “Vedas” but flowered into the epics “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata”.  An off-shoot of the latter and of great significance to Hindu way of life is the “Bhagavad-Gita”.  Pure philosophical discourses without any references to historical events are the Upanishads.  In contrast, the “Puranas” dwell upon dynasties that date back to the 4th Millennia BCE.  After the above treatises helped define Hinduism, two more major religions took root in India.  Both also originated about the same period (6th Century BCE).  The first, Jainism, a strict ascetic religion remained confined to India but Buddhism not only spread all over India and Sri Lanka but also to China, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam and most of the countries of the South East, most notably, to Thailand.

Instead of dividing this period of Indian history into time segments, I will describe the above major literary and philosophical works and the religious teachings. They will at once help us delve into the Indian psyche and the historical time lines.  Thus, the following major subsections will be the platform; however, when an important personality, event or dynasty demands our attention, we will take a suitable detour:

1) Roots of Hinduism

2) Vedic Hinduism

3) Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita

4) Jainism and Buddhism

5) Pre-Mauryan states

1) ROOTS OF HINDUISM:

I have already indicated in the section on Indus Valley civilization that certain hints of distinctly Indian belief systems had already developed there.  In the 3rd Millennia BCE, these village-dwelling people left terra-cota figurines of women there and these have been believed to be of a fertility deity.  Combined with figures of a bull, scholars see a connection between this civilization and the Mediterranean area.  The “Great Bath”, a structure found in the central part of the Citadel in Mohenjo-Daro is thought to have been used for ritual bathing.  Measuring 897Sq ft, the bath was constructed of fine bricks, approximately 8ft lower than the surrounding pavement.  Flights of steps led to the level of the bath and an adjacent well supplied the water for the bath. All modern Hindu temples have large bathing ponds with similar construction and are obvious descendants of this “Great Bath”

While the scriptures left by these peoples have not been deciphered and therefore appropriate interpretation is difficult, small conical objects thought to be phallic emblems definitely show a link to later day Hinduism and the deity Lord Shiva.  Another reminder of this tradition are the ‘ghats’ (the bathing steps on river banks) which are found in most Hindu temples of today.  Belief in “sacred animals” and trees also make a link between the Harappan civilization and Hinduism.

2) VEDIC HINDUISM (2nd Millennium to 7th century BCE):

THE VEDAS:  The time periods indicated in this section are controversial.  There are hints that Hinduism and the Indian (Hindu) way of life were present in its early forms many Millennia earlier.  The city of Dwarka, that has been found off the coast of Gujarat in Northwest India, dates back to at least 9,000 BCE.  The city is about the size of current Manhattan, had paved streets and inscriptions.  Once adequate studies are completed, this city is likley ot yield valuable information about the way of life in India, approximately 3Millennia before the Sumerians, and indicate that here was the earliest city-dwelling civilzation in th world.  If such information is found to extend the life of Indian civilization, much of the dating of the material in this section will become moot.  Also, the very concept of "Aryan invasion" and subsequent actions will also be questioned.

“Creative energy was there with energy and action,

But who really knows where this creation came from?

For the gods came after the world’s creation.

Who could know the source of this creation and how it was produced?

The one seeing it in the highest heaven only knows,

Or may be it does not”  from The Rig Veda.

I have included the sacred scripture of Vedas along with the Upanishads as they deal with the same general theme, were composed in roughly the same time period and because, collectively, they define the Hindu belief systems.  The Vedas were composed around 1400 BCE, the Upanishads between 1100 and 700 BCE.  Most scholars regard the Vedas as the most important (Veda= “Books of Knowledge”), of which there are four main Texts: “Rig Veda” (the oldest, the wisdom of the verses), the “Sama Veda” (wisdom of the Chants) the “Yajur Veda” (wisdom of the sacrificial formulas) and the “Atharva Veda” (wisdom of the Atharva Priests).

Composed in the 2nd Millennia BCE and organized into 10 books or Mandalas, much of Rig Veda is devoted to description of the influx of the fair skinned “Aryans” (“the noble ones”) into India. There they discover, already flourishing, city dwellers of the Harappan culture.  With their superior military weaponry the “Aryans” subdued and then enslaved the dark skinned “dasyus” (the indigenous inhabitants of the Indus valley). Thus, many of the hymns in the Rig Veda are devoted to glorifying this conquest and the justification of it.

The Rig Veda is also concerned with rituals to pacify the many Gods that Hindus already believed in. These were Indra (the foremost god of the Vedic pantheon), Varuna (the guardian of the cosmic order), Agni (the sacrificial fire) and Surya (the sun). The rites of marriage and disposal of the dead were described in the Rig Veda and has been followed in later Hinduism. Some special rituals in Rig Veda are contained in the “Soma sacrifice”, using a hallucinogenic beverage. In this practice, animal sacrifice, usually of goats was made in honor of the hallucinogen in Soma juice. During the sacrifice the juice was also poured on the offerings and toasted to different gods. During the Rig Veda period the Brahmins (the priests and teachers of the scriptures) emerged as the specialists in such rituals and one can see the beginning of the caste system in Hinduism.

Sama Veda is a compilation of melodies and music for the chants of Rig Veda. The contents of Sama Veda represent the origin of the Indian music as well as of the musical notes, which later became the basis of the Western musical notes.  Yajur Veda dates to the 10th Century BCE, by which time the priestly class and the ruling Kshatriyas accumulated wealth and power in their hands and the structure of the Hindu caste system was in place.  This Veda text is divided into two “Samhitas” (collections), the White and the Black, the latter being somewhat obscure.  The text deals with the construction of the altars for and performance of the various rituals and animal sacrifices. The highest form of sacrifice was the “Sarvamedha” in which the sacrificer paid all his possessions as fee at the end of the ceremony.

Atharva Veda, the last of the Vedas compilations, deals primarily with magical spells and incantations. Positive spells included those conducted for successful childbirth, romance, virility and for healing many ailments. The negative spells were for attempting to cause disease or other harm to the enemies.  After the period of Atharva Veda, all sacrificial performance required four priests, each an expert in the four Veda Samhitas. Atharva Veda has other positive manifestations in that philosophical and abstract thinking started to appear and seems to be the forerunners of the Upanishads.

We present some more examples of Hymns from the Vedas below:

 

RIG VEDA:

 

"God!

May we listen with our ears to what is good;

May we see with our eyes what is good;

May we with firm limbs enjoy the term of life granted to us,

Singing your praises"

"Let the words of truth be spoken.

Let the deeds of wisdom be performed."

"If all speed could be divided into four equal parts,

The wise will replace three parts with silence."

" Lord! How do I comprehend you?

Let my ears be turned to hear you;

Let my eye be opened to behold you;

Let my mind be eager to know you;

Let my heart be absorbed in you.

What more shall I say?"

 

YAJUR VEDA:

"God! The granter of welfare, the source of happiness, the beneficent,

The cause of joy, the auspicious and the source of bliss, salutations to you."

"I am he; you are she.

I am song; you are verse.

I am heaven; you are earth.

Let us dwell together here;

Let us generate children."

"By holy resolve does one obtain consecration.

By consecration does one gain grace.

By grace does one develop trust in God.

Trust in God leads one to the Truth."

ATHARVA VEDA:

"Let the son be devoted to his father;

Let him be of one mind with his mother;

Let the wife be sweet and gentle to her husband."

"May you rise and not fall.

May you be granted long life.

May you achieve success in your occupation.

May you ride the chariot of happiness.

May you grow in wisdom with years."

"May the Lord make a gift of peace to us and to all men.

May harmony be established by removing what is dreadful.

May harmony be established by removing what is sinful.

May peace and harmony reign everywhere."

"Bearer of all things, hoard of treasures rare,

Sustaining mother, Earth the golden-breasted.

Who bears the Sacred Universal Fire,

Whose spouse is Indra- may she grant us wealth!"

UPANISHADS:

“Upanishad” means “those who sit near” implying that this learning was from listening closely to a teacher.  Composed between 1100 and 700 BCE, the abstract, esoteric, highly introspective philosophical renditions do not speak of sacrifices or conducting rituals (that the Vedas were concerned with) but seem to seek answers to unknowable and unanswerable questions regarding the undying soul and its connection with God the “Supreme Soul”.  Although there are at least one hundred Upanishads, only 14 contain scriptural material.  These are the Aitareya, Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Isavasya, Katha, Kaivalya, Kausitaki, Kena, Maitri, Mandukya, Mundaka, Prasna, Svetasvatara and Taittiriya Upanishads.

Even before the Upanishads, Hinduism, with its caste system was well in place. The Brahmin caste, with its almost exclusive knowledge of the Vedas were the priests and teachers. The Kshatriya were the ruling caste, vaisyas were the farmers and merchants and the sudras the working class.  Justification for this strict division of labor can be found in the following hymn from the Rig Veda:

“The Brahmin was His mouth,

Of both His arms was the Rajanya made.

His thighs became the Vaisya,

From His feet the Sudra was produced”.

The Upanishads attempt to make the connection to the Supreme Soul, the Brahma through meditation and, numerous chants were described.  A very limited collection of these is presented below:

“He the Supreme Soul, who dwells in all human beings, who controls all beings, yet, whom the beings do not know, is the inner ruler, the imperishable”.

“God dwells in the heart, where, like the spokes of a wheel on its limb, the arteries come from all over the body. Worship Him by repeating the word OM. By doing so you will cross over and beyond darkness”.

“He is the knower of everything. His glory is manifest in the universe He created. He shines in the hearts of people. He is the One who has endowed us with a mind and has given us life. Wise people recognize Him in their own heart and receive His bliss by finding the glorious eternal within”.

“Sinless sages see the glorious Lord in their own hearts-the Lord who is attainable through truthfulness, meditation, wisdom and continuous self-discipline”

The Upanishads repeatedly dwell on the subject of the indestructible nature of the soul.

“At death the voice goes into the mind, the mind into the breath, the breath into heat and heat into the highest divinity, the finest essence of truth and soul”

“Truly, indeed, when the living soul leaves it,

This body dies; the living soul does not die.

That which is the subtle essence

This whole world has for its soul.

That is reality (truth). That is the soul.

That you are, Svetaketu

“Speech is to be valued, because it makes known right and wrong,

True and false, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant.

Mind is revered, because it enables one to do sacred work.

Will is valued, because heaven and earth and all things were

Formed by being willed.

Thought is important, because it is better not to be thoughtless.

Meditation is revered, because one attains greatness by meditation.

Understanding is valued, because by it we can understand everything.

Strength maintains everything. Food, water, heat and space

Each has their value. Finally also memory, hope, and life (prana)

Are to be revered”

 

More examples of Hymns from the various Upanishads:

 

"O Lord!

From the unreal lead me to the real!

From darkness lead me to light!

From darkness lead me to light!

From death lead me to immortality!"

 

"Whoever sees all beings in the soul,

And the souls in all beings,

Do not shrink away from this.

In whom all beings have become one with the knowing soul;

What delusion or sorrow is there for the one who sees unity?"

 

"One can live without the faculty of speech-witness the dumb;

One can live deprived of eyesight-witness the blind;

One can live without the faculty of hearing-witness the deaf;

One can live without the legs-witness the lame;

One can survive without the maturity of mind-witness the child;

But one cannot live without the breath of life. And without soul,

The consciousness of life leaves the body."

 

"Know that the soul is the rider, the body the chariot,

The intellect the charioteer, and the mind the reins.

The senses they say, are the horses, the desires are the pathways.

When the soul is attached to a body with the mind and the senses,

The soul is said to be the enjoyer."

 

"Eyes do not see Him.

Speech cannot describe Him.

Mind cannot comprehend Him.

Him we do not know;

Nor is any one able to teach us about Him.

He is different from all that is known to us.

This is what has been handed down to us about Him,

By our ancestors."

 

"It needs to be realized that the soul is neither born nor does it die;

When the body dies, the soul does not die.

It is ancient, unborn, eternal and permanent."

 

"Who it is not possible to describe by speech,

But who has made speech possible,

He we know is God; He alone is the one we worship. None else.

Who it is not possible to comprehend through the use of mind,

But who has endowed us with a mind, He we know is God.

He alone we worship, none else."

 

"O god! May my speech truly reflect my mind.

May I speak what is right.

May I speak the truth.

May my learning not depart me.

God. Let there be peace. Let there be peace. Let there be peace."

 

"The Supreme Soul moves and yet does not move.

It is near and yet (for the ignorant) it is very far.

It is within us and it is everywhere outside of us."

 

"It needs to be realized that the soul is neither born nor does it die;

When the body dies, the soul does not die.

It is ancient, unborn, eternal and permanent."

 

"The Kingdom of God is achievable by those who keep away from

Fraud, untruth, and unrighteous actions."

 

"He is the fire; He is the heat; and He is the light-giving Sun.

He is the rain. He is the wind and the earth.

He is everything visible and invisible; and He is eternal."

 

Through passage after passage, encompassing 200 Upanishads, in these spirited writings by sages and teachers, who remain anonymous, the Hindu philosophy flowered. These were perfect springboard for the later teachings of the Buddha and the great volumes of Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the philosophic masterpiece Bhagavad-Gita.

 

BHAGAVAD GITA: Given below are some of the advice that Lord Krishna gave Arjuna, who, after seeing his teachers and respected members of his family on the side of Kauravas, with serious doubts in his heart, sat down in the chariot, unable to act.  Through eighteen chapters Bhagavad Gita explains why in the conflict between good and evil, moral human beings are required to act.

"The minds of those who do not attend to action waver in all directions. On the other hand, the mind of a karmayogin ("doer") remains focused."

"You have control over action but not over the results of your action. Your action should never be determined by what personal benefit you will receive. Arjuna, do not ever be inclined to inaction."

"A person whose senses are under control is a person steadfast in wisdom. Having brought his senses under control, the wise person would remain in union with me."

"A person who enjoys life's pleasures with his mind under his control and without aversion or attachment to pleasures, has attained the purity of the soul."

"There was never a time when you and I did not exist; nor will the other persons.

"There will never be a time when anyone of us will cease to exist."

"There is no existence for the unreal, and the Real never ceases to be.

Thus, the knower of Truth has ascertained the nature of what is real and what is unreal."

"The soul is never born, nor does it ever die. No one can bring about the destruction of the soul.

"Weapons do not cleave the soul, fire cannot burn it, and water does not wet it. The wind cannot parch it. You should know that the soul is eternal and blameless."

"Just as smoke envelopes fire, dust covers the mirror and the membrane covers the embryo, so does selfish desire cover up the wisdom of man."

"Actions do not bind that realized person who having removed all doubt by wisdom, dedicates all actions to God."

"The person who finds his happiness within, his joy within, and his light within, is divine and attains nirvana ("the state of union with God")."

"O Lord! Lead me away from what is evil and untrue, to what is good and true;

O Lord! Lead me away from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom;

O Lord! Lead me away from death to immortality."

"I am the taste in water, O son of Kunti. I am the radiance of the moon and the sun. I am the (sacred) syllable "OM" in all the scriptures. I am the sound in space and vigor in men."

"This knowledge is supreme. It is the secret to the kingdom (of heaven). It is holy. It is directly experienced and is righteous. It is easy to practice and is eternal."

"Persons lacking in faith and devotion return to mortal living without attaining Me."

"I am the source, the sustainer and the protector of all beings, but my spirit is not active in many of them."

"The knowers of scriptures, who have removed themselves from sin and have thus purified themselves; who worship me asking for my kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, reach it and enjoy it."

"Of philosophies, I am metaphysics. And of discussion, I am the constructive reasoning'"

"Of the letter of the alphabet, I am the vowel A. And of compound words, I am the dual. I am the eternal time and I am the support of all, watching everything happening in every direction."

"Yet those who worship the imperishable, indescribable, unmanisfest, all pervading, inconceivable, changeless, immovable and eternal also come to Me and Me alone. Remember that those who want to reach Me must control their senses, be even-minded in all situations, love fellow human beings and remain engrossed in their service."

"I am beyond my perishable and imperishable expressions. That is why I am known in the Vedas as the Supreme Soul ("Purushottama").

"The person who performs actions dedicating them to God, giving up attachment to results, is not touched by sin just as a lotus leaf remains untouched by water."

 

For further reference the reader is directed to: The Bhagavan Mahima.The Hindu Scriptures,

Vol I, The Vedas, Vol II the Upanishads, Sacred Books inc.,

and http://www.san.beck.org/EC7-vedas.html

Also, please check our section in philosophy: www.indiancentury.com/indian.htm

 

2)  BUDDHIST THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY: 

 We focus on only Buddhism, rather than Jainism as these two religions are quite similar, with a notable difference.  Jainism is a more or less ascetic religion and, probably for that reason it did not spread beyond the borders of India.  In contrast, Buddhism did spread to neighboring countries of North and North Eastern Asia, such as Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, as well as to the South and South East Asia such as Sri Lanka and Thailand.  Ironically, although during the reign of the great Emperor Ashoka, the religion spread to most of India, it would decline and Hinduism would enjoy a resurgance in the latter half of the first Millennium CE. We will dwell in this section mainly on the teachings of the Buddha.  For details about his life and other historical aspects, the reader is directed to the appropriate section in this website: www.indiancentury.com/hist5.htm

TENETS OF BUDDISM:

The Buddhist Philosophy can be comprehended by considering the following segments:

1)    SUFFERING AND ITS CAUSES:

The cornerstone of the Buddha’s teachings is that of human suffering. He stated that the existence itself is painful; the same conditions that make an individual also give rise to suffering. Individuality (a basic tenet of the Western psyche and which can be based on the notion of “I” and “mine”) implies limitation; limitation gives rise to desire; desire brings suffering.

2) IMPERMANENCE:

This suffering is caused by the fact that what is desired is often transitory, changing and perishing. It is this impermanence of the object of one’s desire that leads to disappointment and sorrow. The Buddha’s teachings are directed to removing the “ignorance” and thus guides to freedom from this suffering.

3) NONSELF (NONEGO):

The Buddha described the human existence as an aggregate of five constituents as follows:

a) Corporeality or physical form (“rupa”),

b) Feelings or sensations (“vedana”),

c) Ideations (“samjna”),

d) Mental formations or dispositions (“samskara”),

e) Consciousness (“vijnana”).

He argued that as the human existence requires all five of the above constituents and each of them in isolation will not form the self or soul without the help of the others, the Buddha termed this state as “nonself” or “nonego”.

4) KARMA:

Despite this notion of “nonself” or “nonego”, the Buddha taught that one carried one’s Karman from one life to the next. For example, good conduct is believed to bring pleasant and desirable results and bad conduct to lead to an evil result and repeated evil actions. This formed the basis for moral conduct to improve one’s lot.

However, the belief in “nonself “(i.e. absence of belief in a soul), while believing in repeated births and improving or worsening Karman have been attacked by non-Buddhist Philosophers. They question how a rebirth can take place without a permanent subject to be reborn. This argument remains unsettled.

5) FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:

The Buddha formulated his “Four Noble Truths” to pave the way to removing the human misery. He described these tenets as follows:

a) The truth of misery (“dukkha”),

b) The truth that the misery originates from the craving for pleasure,

c) The truth that this misery can be eliminated,

d) The truth that this elimination results from a methodical way that must be followed. This depends on an understanding of the evolution of a person’s psychosocial development.

6) THE LAW OF DEPENDENT ORIGINATION:

This law explains how every condition is interdependent on another prior condition. He stated that the original condition is ignorance (avijja); next is the cooperating karmic agents (i.e. mental qualities, dispositions and habits); then consciousness and then “name and form” (the naming and materiality of things). The next in line are the five sense organs and the mind; these in turn “condition” contact. This contact leads to the psyche, mental or emotional responses to sense objects (vedana). These objects lead to craving, the grasping for and attachment to the objects. This attachment determines “bhave” (or coming into existence) and hence “jati” (birth). The birth ultimately leads to old age, misery, death and so on…. The Buddha includes the present day ignorance to the cooperating karmic agents from inheritance from the past. Solitary meditation by the Buddhist aspirant is an essential and fundamental means to understand this dependent origination. Likewise, present day karmic charge is believed to project into the future. Thus the dependent origination takes men into space and time, with the consequence of birth and death cycles.

7) EIGHTFOLD PATH:

The Buddha contemplated this “Eightfold Path” as the means to escape the above cyclical events. Ethical conduct has a major role in this purification process. With sincerity, reinforced by continued meditation, the Buddhist aspires to be liberated. The essentials of the “Noble Eightfold Path” are:

i) The right mode of seeing things (right view),

ii) Right thinking,

iii) Right speech,

iv) right action,

v) right mode of living,

vi) right effort in every mode of being,

vii) right mindfulness,

viii) right meditation or concentration.

8) NIRVANA:

Every Buddhist aspires to be rid of the delusion of ego, free oneself from the fetters of this world, and thus overcome the repeated rounds of rebirths. This state of “Enlightenment” is a goal, not a “heavenly world or paradise”. To put it another way, the Buddhists aim to extinguish the fire that accompanies living; the fire of illusion, passion and craving. They search for not just the cessation of this fire but for the eternal, the immortal. Nirvana is thus explained as an ideal state, as ultimate bliss. 

     For more details about the Buddha and Buddhism, including many of his innumerable quotations, please visit: www.indiancentury.com/hist5.htm , www.indiancentury.com/buddha.htm and   www.indiancentury.com/essentials.htm

3)  MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY:

 This is the period during which the roots of mathematics were laid down.  Thus, the invention of zero as a separate entity, without which concept, no useful mathematics is possible.  The evolution of the Indian numerals, which has roots in the Brahmi numeral system, takes place also during this period.  Many other concepts of mathematics, such as the arithmetic and algebra, as well as laying the foundation of trigonometry all occurs during this period.  Of course, with great mathematicians like Aryabhata and much later, of Madhava and his followers, through developments such as the place value system (Aryabhata) and the infinite series (Madhava and his students), Indian mathematicians would develop mathematics to great heights.  In fact, Madhava may have developed Calculus, two or thee hundred years before Leibnitz and Newton.

The earliest reference to a zero was made by the Indian scholar Pingala (200 BCE).  Besides laying the foundation of the modern numeral system, the Indian ("Hindu") numeral system, in the 5th century CE Aryabhata came up with the place value system and that made mathematical notations easy and also to count large numbers.  Later Indian inventions take us through further useful notions such as the decimal system, power system, the negative numbers and fractions.  Aryabhata made many more contributions to mathematics are in the fields of algebra, plane and spherical trigonometry as well as quadratic equations, sums of power series and a table of sines.  He also calculated the value for Pi, accurately to the fourth decimal space, in his own unique way.

In Astronomy also, early Indians had contributed greatly.  The earliest concepts in astronomy date back to at least 4,000 BCE or even as early as 11,000 BCE.  Atareya Brahman, in 7th or 8th century BCE sated " The Sun never rises.  When people think the sun is setting, it is not so; they are mistaken".  Yajnavalkya believed that the earth was round and the the sun was the "centre of the speres", with the recognition that the sun was much larger than the earth.  By the first century BCE, Indians had come up with the notion that the earth and all other planets were spherical bodies and the stars were just like the sun but much farther away.  Yajnavalkya also calculated the distance between the earth and the moon as being 108 times the diameter of the two bodies (the current estimate is 110.6 times).   Around this time, the Indian astronomers also measured the circumference of the earth as being 5,000 'Yojanas' (one Yojana is 7.2Km) and this close to the currently accepted value.

The next period of rapid development occurred during the so-called "Siddhantic" period, starting with Aryabhata.  This period is widely considered a golden age of Indian astronomy.  Aryabhata's contributions were many.  The most recognized and consequential ideas of Aryabhata in astronomy were  that the earth rotated on its axis, thus giving rise to the illusion of the heavens orbiting the earth.  He was a proponent of the Indians' Heliocentri theory.  He recognized that the moon shines by the reflection of the sun's light and he explained correctly why solar and lunar eclipses occur.  He proposed that the orbits of the planets are not circular but ellipitcal; this notion predates Kepler who is credited with this discovery, by more than a Millennium.   Aryabhata also came up with the first astronomical constant, the relationship between the earth's rotations to those of lunar rotations.  His calculations were accurate and corresponds to the currently accepted value.

Varahamihira (Born 475 CE) proposed that there is an attractive force that keeps objects on the surface of the earth and that the same force also is responsible for keeping the celestial bodies at their respective places and in orderly orbits.  This recognition of the force of gravity predated Newton but also a Millennium!

For further reading of these two topics, the reader is directed to the appropriate section in the website: www.indiancentury.com/math.htm and indiancetury.com/astronomers.htm

 

YOGA AND MEDITATION:

Yoga and Meditation enjoy wild popularity all over the world now and it is easy to forget the fact that only rishis (the yogis) of ancient India practised them with any regularity.  While forms of both had been practised by the rishis from time immemmorial in India, only around 5th century BCE were codified and refined by the sage Patanjali.  The current popularity of both systems, especially in the West stems from the recognition that they are beneficial for health in human beings.  The diseases that they help alleviate are increasing in number with time but hypertension, asthma, arthritis of the spine and for certainmental disorders are well recognized by modern medicine.  Here below, we will give a brief description of the system as developed by Patanjali.  For further details, please visit: www.indiancentury.com/yoga.htm , www.indiancentury.com/practice.htm and www.indiancentury.com/yoga-well-being.htm

MEDITATION IN THE INDIAN TRADITION:

Meditation generally means the process of concentrating the attention of one’s mind exclusively on something, usually on some spiritual or religious reality, in order to achieve mental peace and tranquility. The credit of developing meditation as a systematic means of attaining realization of the oneness of the individual soul (jeevatma) and the Absolute Soul (Paramatma) goes to the Rishis (yogis) of ancient India. 

The Rishis developed these systems, with the intent of achieving oneness of the individual soul (“Jeevatma”) and the Absolute Soul (“Paramatma”).  The highly developed systems of Yoga and Meditation that we are now practicing, all over the world were refined and codified the sage Patanjali in the 5th century BCE.   The Patanjalis’ Yoga Sutra details the codification of the theory and practice of meditation, based on the authentic Vedic traditions.  While both Yoga and Meditation have millions of adherents in all continents, most people have a misguided view, with disproportional emphasis placed on just the Yoga positions only.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra contains 196 sutras, divided into four chapters as follows:

  • Samadhi (awareness) in which, the classical definition of Yoga is given
  • Sadhana (practice) of Yoga in which, the ethical code of yamas and niyamas is given,

dealing with the physical and mental preparation to help concentration

  • Vibhuti (supernormal power) of meditation.  Practitioners can experience the ability

to acquire the knowledge of the future, levitation, clairvoyance, invisibility etc.

  • Kaivalya (liberation). Deep meditation can lead to establishing the soul’s true nature

(pure consciousness) 

 Patanjali laid down eight “astangas” (limbs) of the practice of Yoga as follows:

  • Yamas: These are five restraining rules of conduct for the yogis
  • Nyamas: These are five positive duties of behavior for the yogis
  • Asanas: These are the postures for meditation
  • Prahanayama:  This deals with the regulation or control of breath
  • Prathahara: Withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind
  • Dharana: This is practice of concentration of the mind
  • Dhyana: This is the state of pure thought and absorption of meditation
  • Samadhi: This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness in meditation

 

 MEDICINE AND SURGERY:  CHARAKA AND SUSHRUTA: 

CHARAKA, CHARAKA SAMHITA AND AYURVEDA ( 300 BCE) 

“A physician who fails to enter the body of a patient with the lamp of knowledge and understanding can never treat diseases.  He should first study all factors, including the environment, which influence a patient’s disease and then prescribe treatment.  It is more important to prevent the occurrence of disease than to seek cure.”  This is a quote from Acharya Charak, found in Charaka Samhita. 

 Charaka (or Caraka) is widely known as the Father of Indian Medicine and the author of the compendium in Ayurveda, that bears his name (Charaka Samhita).  This compendium’s origin can be traced to the great sage and physician Atreya (date unknown), which was later revised by Agnivesa in 8th Century BCE. There were other versions written by renowned physicians, in succession, Bhela, Jatukarna, Parashara, Harita and Ksharapani.  It was the version that Charaka wrote after these eminent physicians that remains the basis of the indigenous Indian Medicine, the Ayurveda.  His compendium was later revised by Dridhabala in 6th century CE.

Charaka Smhita has 8 “Sthanas” (books) and contains a total of 120 chapters.  Agnivesa’s compendium was written in 46,000 verses; the students of Ayurveda are required to commit these verses to memory. Charaka’s Compendium is divided into eight branches as follows:

Sutra-Sthana (30 chapters that deal with general principles, philosophy, definitions, prevention by healthy living etc)

Nidana-Sthana  ( 8 chapters dealing with pathology)

Vimana-Sthana (8 chapters dealing with training of the physician, ethics of medical practice, pathology and dietetics)

Sharira-Sthana (8 chapters on embryology and anatomy)

Indryiya-Sthana ( 12 chapters on diagnosis and prognosis)

Chikitsa-Sthana (30 chapters dealing with therapeutics and Internal Medicine)

Kalpa-Sthana (12 chapters on pharmaceutics and toxicology)

Siddhi-Sthana (12 chapters describing successful treatment)

Dridhabala added 17 chapters on Chikisa sthana and he added Kala sthana and Siddhi sthana new to the compendium.

Charaka considered four parts to the medical practice; all four are essential for recovery of the patient.  These are, the patient, the physician, the nurse and the medicines (treatment).  He laid down codes of behavior for physicians in considerable detail.  A synopsis of these is given below:

"The physician must provide the knowledge and coordinate the treatment.  He must display compassion, cheer and confidence.  The physician must seek consent before entering a patient’s quarters, must be accompanied by a male member of the family when attending to a woman or child.  He should never indulge in extortion or enter into business activities with the patient.  He should speak with soft voice and never use cruel words.  Also, always maintain patient’s privacy."  Charaka also describes in detail the appropriate circumstances, tone and maintenance of privacy when another physician is consulted in the care of the patient."

These codes of behavior are reminiscent of the Hippocrate’s Oath that modern physicians take.  However, it is worthwhile to consider that Charaka’s “Oath” is at least two centuries older than that of Hippocrates.

NUTRITION AND DIET:

The value of diet and nutrition was elaborated by Charaka in Chapters 5,6,25,26 and 27 of Charaka Samhita.  A passage from the Samhita is given below:

The tastes are six: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent.  Properly used, they nourish the body.  Improperly used (either deficient or in excess), they verily lead to provocation of the Dosha.  These are three: Vayu, Pitta and Kapha.  When they are in their normal state, they are beneficial to the body.  When, however, they are disorganized, verily then afflict the body with diseases of diverse kinds.”

PHARMACY:

 Many chapters of the Samhita deal with identifying the flowers, seeds, toots, leaves, barks, stems and many plant juices, mountain herbs and many animal products, including milk, different types of honey, salts, stones etc.  Many recipes for preparing medicinal products are also given.  An example is given below:

ANU TAILA RECIPE: (Charaka Samhita 6. XXVI)

“Take a measure of sesame seeds.

Macerate them in goat’s milk

Then pound them in goat’s milk

Place the pounded product on a piece of clean cloth

Place the product and cloth over a vessel filled with goat’s milk

Apply mild heat to the vessel.  Let vapors from heated milk slightly boil the sesame past.

Mix the boiled paste with pulverized liquorice, adding an equal measure of goat’s milk

Press the oil out of the mixed product

Add this oil to the (standard) decoction of ten roots in the ratio of one to four

To this oil mix, add paste of Rasna, Madhuka and Saindhava salt in the ration of four to one

Boil all these together. Filter. Extract and collect the oil

Repeat the root-past-salt-oil combining and boiling process ten times

The resulting oil is called “Anu-taila””

We will end this section on Charaka and Charaka Samhita with a quote from the latter, on students’ responsibility upon assuming apprenticeship:

“ Thou shalt be a brahmacharya, wear beard and mustache, thou shalt always be truthful, abstain from meat and unclean diet, never harbor envy, never bear weapons, thou shalt do anything I say except if that may lead to another person’s death or to great harm or to a sin, thou shalt behave like my son, never be impatient, always be attentive, behave with humility, act after reflection, and always seek whether sitting or standing the good of all living creatures.”

 SUSHRUTA (OR SUSRUTA) 

While there is considerable confusion about the period in which Susruta (also called Sushruta) lived and practiced surgery, there is no question about his achievements in the field of surgery. This is because he left a great treatise on surgery, collectively called "Sushruta Samhita". Reports of the age of Sushruta vary from 900 BCE to 100 CE. The most authoritative of these is popularly called the "Bower Manuscript", and it places his age to the 8th century BCE or earlier. If this is accurate, Sushruta lived and practiced surgery around 150 years before Hippocrates, who is widely considered the Father of Medicine by Western scholars. This fact will make Sushruta the Father of Surgery, not only in Indian Medicine but internationally. The "Bower Manuscript", written in Sanskrit language, was discovered by Lieutenant H. Bower, in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan. It mentions Susruta, and Susruta Samhita and is widely considered by scholars as authoritative.

  

Susruta Samhita, a comprehensive compendium on surgery written by Susruta, is known to have been translated into the Arabic language as "Kitab-i- Susrud" in the 8th Century CE on the order of Caliph Mansur; the latter was then translated into Latin. It deals in considerable detail with not only many fields of surgery but also with many allied fields as well; thus, descriptions are made of anatomy and embryology, obstetrics, anaesthesiology, preparation of patients for surgery and many surgical instruments. Also included are the descriptions of 1120 illnesses and the application of inspection, palpation and auscultation in diagnosing those illnesses. Many of the surgical procedures described by Susruta and the use of anesthesia for preparing the patients, predate such procedures in the West and the rest of the world by almost two millennia! Susruta even described in some detail the code of conduct of practitioners of medicine and surgery. This is quite akin to the famous "Hippocratic Oath", which forms the basis of the code of conduct for practitioners of Western medicine. Scholars who have followed Susruta's contributions in the fields of plastic surgery and even neurosurgery come away with admiration for this great surgeon of antiquity. I will enumerate some of the significant contents of Susruta Samhita below:

  • Surgical Procedures: There are detailed descriptions of the surgical techniques for making incisions and excisions, for probing and extraction of foreign bodies, teeth extraction, use of trocars for draining abscesses and fluid from hydroceles and the peritoneum. Other surgical procedures were prostatectomy, hernia surgery, and surgery for intestinal obstruction.
  • Orthopedic procedures: Treatment of joint dislocations {sandhimukta) and treatment of fractures (kanda-bhagna). Also, other aspects of orthopedic treatments such as traction, manipulation and stabilization and even use of prosthetics have been described by Susruta.
  • Obstetrical Procedures: Most prominent among the obstetrical procedures is the so-called "Caesarean section" for difficult deliveries. Of course, this procedure was described by Susruta centuries before Caesar was delivered!  It should be called “Susruta section” to give credit where credit is due!
  • Plastic surgical procedures: Susruta described various techniques in plastic surgery, such as sliding graft, rotation graft and pedicle graft. Reconstruction of nose (often injured or lost in wars or cut off as a form of punishment for certain crimes) or 'rhinoplasty' is one of the plastic surgical procedures for which Susruta is famous.
  • Urological procedures: Susruta described the varieties of urinary system stones and methods of extraction of the stones.

 

  • Medical ethics: The students were required to take a solemn oath of conduct at the onset of training; this training lasted 6 years. It is worth noting here that this oath of conduct preceded the "Hippocratic Oath" by at least one or two centuries. These injunctions went farther than the Hippocratic Oath, in that, the teachers were required to abide by strict code of conduct as well. A partial list of the required actions in the solemn oath of the students included:" .... renounce lust, anger, greed, ignorance, vanity, selfishness, envy, rudeness, miserliness, falsehood, sloth and all other acts that bring a man to disrepute. At the proper time, you must clip your nails and trim your hair, and put on the saffron robe of the student. You must live the truthful, disciplined life of a student and obey and respect your teacher. At rest, asleep or awake, at meals, at study and in all your acts, at all times you must be guided by my instructions. All actions should be pleasant and beneficial to me, otherwise your knowledge and study will be ineffective and you will never achieve fame". (The foregoing is a quotation from the article on Susruta in South African Medical Journal: B. Singh and Swami Saradananda, Ethics and surgical training in ancient India- a cue for current practice: SAMJ 98:3, March 2008)

 

  • Physiotherapy, preparation for surgery and anesthesia: These were used as part of the armamentarium of surgeons by Susruta. It is noteworthy that the use of such procedures predated their use in the West by almost two Millennia. It is mind-boggling to realize that Susruta performed intricate surgeries, which included not only plastic surgery but also operations on the eye and even neurosurgery.
  • The following are selected quotations from Susruta Samhita, to highlight the style and substance of his teachings. They will also show that at least a Millennia before Galen and Vesalius, this master surgeon practiced surgery rooted in scientific knowledge of anatomy. He wrote, " .... the practice can be started only after having read and thoroughly studied the science of medicine; having seen and performed the operation himself; having passed the appropriate tests and thence obtained the permission of the governing authority". "He who knows theory only but is not so good in practical work, gets bewildered on being confronted with a patient, in the same way as a coward feels on the battlefield".

 

  • On the qualities of a good surgeon, he explained : "Boldness, swiftness, sharpness of instruments, no sweating or trembling of hands and confidence are the qualities of a surgeon at the time of operation". "The surgeon who knows the structures of all the body cannot be misled into errors of anatomical ignorance". He continued:" ... only he can be considered an expert surgeon who is well versed in the practical and descriptive anatomy. Therefore, one should start the procedures after clearing away the doubts by actually seeing the surgical anatomy concerned and consulting the appropriate literature". " A person who studies one branch of science cannot arrive at proper conclusions, therefore, a physician should try to learn as many sciences as possible". " In order to broaden your knowledge and outlook, you should study the subject regularly, take part in scientific debates and discussions, observe the allied sciences and take training from specialists of those branches."

 

The following are Susruta's instructions about the students learning the craft of surgery: 11 the art of making specific forms of incisions should be taught by cuts in the body of a pushpaphala (a type of gourd), a watermelon or a cucumber ... the art of making cuts in an upward or downward directions should be similarly taught. The art of making excisions should be practically demonstrated by making openings in the body of a bull water bag or in the bladder of a dead animal. The art of scraping should be instructed on a piece of skin on which the hair has been allowed to remain. The art of venisections should be taught on the vein of a dead animal or with the help of a lotus stem. The art of extracting by withdrawing seeds from the kernel of a nimbi or jack fruit. The art of bandaging or ligaturing should be practically learnt by tying bandages around the specific limbs or members of a full-sized doll of stuffed linen. The art of cauterizing or applying alkaline preparations should be demonstrated on a piece of soft flesh. Lastly, the art of inserting syringes and injecting enemas into the regions of the bladder or into an ulcerated channel, should be taught by asking the pupil to insert a tube into a lateral fissure of a pitcher full of water or into the mouth of a gourd."

Finally, I will end with an appropriate quotation from the authors of the article in South African Medical Journal (see Bibliography below), as it pays tribute to Susruta's vision, which transcends time. 11 “The philosophy behind the training and teaching of surgical skills to surgeons in the era of ancient India resonates with modern trends in surgical education, and is strongly reminiscent of present- day courses such as basic surgical skills and laparoscopic workshops~ thus underscoring the view that innovations are seldom truly original”. The accountability of the teacher for unacceptable practices~ and of the doctor to "the government" is analogous to the role of present-day professional controlling bodies, thus demonstrates a remarkable vision and deserves great admiration.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND TO VIEW PICTURES OF SUSHRUTA OPERATING ON PATIENTS, AND FOR THE MANY SURGICAL INSTRUMENTS HE INVENTED, PLEASE CHECK THE WEBSITE: www.indiancentury.com/sursruta.htm