First in the series of articles that explores the various achievements from the Vedic era that influenced civilizations across the world.
Stephen Knapp(Sri Nandanandana Dasa) grew up in a Christian family, during which time he seriously studied the Bible to understand its teachings. In his late teenage years, however, he began to search through other religions and philosophies from around the world and started to find the answers for which he was looking. He also studied a variety of occult sciences, ancient mythology, mysticism, yoga, and the spiritual teachings of the East. He continued his study of Vedic knowledge and spiritual practice under the guidance of a spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
When we talk about the planet's earliest civilization, we are talking about the world's earliest sophisticated society after the last ice age. This means that according to the Vedic time tables, various forms of civilization have been existing for millions of years. But the first record of an organized and developed society was the Vedic culture that arose in ancient India with the Indus Sarasvati civilization, and then spread out from there in all directions around the world. Of course, ancient India, Bharatvarsha or Aryavarsha, spread out across a much vaster area than India does today, and was known for its great accomplishments.
It can be found that what became the area of India and its Vedic culture was way ahead of its time. This can be noticed in such things as industry, metallurgy, science, textiles, medicine, surgery, mathematics, and, of course, philosophy and spirituality. In fact, we can see the roots of these sciences and metaphysics in many areas of the world that can be traced back to its Indian or Vedic origins.
Furthermore, we often do not know of all the progress that had been made during the ancient times of India, nor do most people know all that ancient India gave to the world. So let us take a serious look at this.
One of the greatest and earliest developments that came out of the ancient Vedic culture was writing and language, such as Sanskrit. The name Sanskrit actually refers to a language brought to formal perfection, aside from the other common languages at the time, like Prakrit. How advanced Sanskrit was, compared to other languages such as English, is described by Kamlesh Kapur in her book Portraits of a Nation: History of India: Sanskrit language is composed of 50 sounds and letters in its alphabet. It has 11,000 roots from which to make words. The English language has 500,000 words. Sanskrit language has 1700 Dhatu (root verbs), 80 Upasargas (suffixes, prefixes), and 20 Pratyaya (declensions). It is believed that Sanskrit has roughly 74,000,000 words. In fact, using these rules and by adding prefixes and suffixes, Sanskrit can provide an infinite number of words whose meaning is completely determined by the grammatical process. (Kamlesh Kapur, Portraits of a Nation: History of India, Sterling Publishers, Private Limited, 2010, p. 401)
A. L. Basham, former professor of Asian Civilization in the Australian national University, Canberra, writes in his book The Wonder That Was India (page 390): One of ancient India's greatest achievements is her remarkable alphabet, commencing with the vowels and followed by the consonants, all classified very scientifically according to their mode of production, in sharp contrast to the haphazard and inadequate Roman alphabet, which has developed organically for three millennia. It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe.
Sir William Jones in Asiatic Researches, Vol. I (p. 423) also asserted the means by which the similarities in many languages, especially of the Indo-European group, is supplied by Sanskrit: Deonagri [devanagari] is the original source whence the alphabets of Western Asia were derived.
In this way, there are may scholars who have concluded that the source of many languages can be found in Sanskrit. The grammar of Sanskrit is also known to be without comparison. Sir William Wilson Hunter wrote in The Indian Empire: The grammar of Panini stands supreme among the grammars of the world, alike for its precision of statement and for its thorough analysis of the roots of the language and of the formative principles of words.
The numeral script from India is another of the greatest contributions to the world. What many people do not realize is that ancient India is the father of the great mathematical developments. What we enjoy today has come, primarily, from the early accomplishments that came out of the Vedic civilization. The difference in the systems of math in other parts of the world and what we find in the Vedic tradition is that Vedic mathematics had developed the system of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc., and the basis of carrying the remainder of one column of numbers over to the next. This made for easy calculations of large numbers that was nearly impossible in other systems, as found with the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and even Chinese. The Vedic system had also invented the zero, which has been called one of the greatest developments in the history of mathematics.
The Greek alphabet, for example, was a great hindrance to calculating. The Egyptians also did not have a numerical system suitable for large calculations, in fact it was a hindrance. For the number 986 they had to use 23 symbols. Even after the Greeks, the Romans also were in want of a system of numbers for mathematical calculations. China's pictorial script was also not ideal for such calculations. Actually, the mathematical systems of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, and even the Chinese, all using independent symbols, had advanced as much as they could until they received help from the numeral system from India. Only after they adopted the Indian system that was called Arabic numerals did they find what they needed. However, even the Arabs knew that this system came from India and called them Indian figures (Al‑Arqan‑Al‑Hindu) and the system of math was known as hindisat, or the Indian art.
The work of the Greek mathematicians Euclid and Archimedes helped bring about many new perspectives and insights, but later Carl Friedrich Gauss, the prince of mathematics, was said to have lamented how much more advanced science would have been if Archimedes in the third century BCE had not failed to foresee the advanced nature of the Indian system of numeration. Pierre Laplace, one of the world's greatest mathematicians from France, wrote: It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position, as well as an absolute value. We shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Appolonius. It was the Indian numerical system that finally set free the other forms of mathematics. By 500 CE, mathematicians of India had solved the problems that baffled the world's greatest scholars of all time.
In History of Sanskrit Literature (page 424), Professor MacDonnell writes, 'There is in the first place, the great fact that the Indians invented the numerical figures used all over the world. And it was also for this reason that Albert Einstein once said that we should be grateful to India who taught us how to count.'
As previously mentioned, Vedic mathematics made great strides in its connection with Vedic astronomy, which also developed to a large extent with the advancements of mathematics. Such advancements can only flourish amongst a people who are already greatly civilized and progressive. This also proves the great character of the Vedic literature, in which was recorded numerous descriptions of the astronomical positions of the stars and planets, which give indications of the time periods in which they were recorded.
Research scholars like Bailly and Charles Francois Dupuis (1742-1809) also claimed that the Hindu Zodiac is the earliest known to man, and that the first calendar was made in India around 12,000 BCE. This was stated in Bailly's Histoire de Astonomie Ancienne and the proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archeology, December, 1901, part 1. Even Professor Monier Williams relates in his Indian Wisdom (page 185): To the Hindus is due the invention of algebra and geometry and their application to astronomy.
British astronomer John Playfair also estimated that Hindu astronomy must go back at least to 5000 BCE. In fact, both David Frawley and Lokamanya Tilak found references in the Rig Veda that provide dates before 6000 BCE. (N. S. Rajaram, Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2006, p.134.)
The historian James Mill, in the History of British India (Volume II, p. 106-7), mentions how Professor H. H. Wilson relates that, The science of astronomy at present exhibits many proofs of accurate observation and deduction, highly creditable to the science of the Hindu astronomers. The division of the ecliptic into lunar mansions, the solar zodiac, the mean motions of the planets, the procession of the equinox, the earth's self-support in space, the diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis, the revolution of the moon on her axis, the dimensions of the orbits of the planet, the calculations of the eclipses are parts of the system which could not have been found amongst an unenlightened people. . . The originality of the Hindu astronomers is at once established, but it is also proved by intrinsic evidence, and although there are some remarkable coincidences between the Hindu and other systems, their methods are their own.
Architecture in India was an extremely rich form of expression and highly developed science, with a deep heritage of spirituality in it. It is evident that one of the primary purposes of much of the significant architecture was to display the prevailing spiritual consciousness of the people.
The center of all architectural development was the temple. The temple or Mandir was the earthly home of God, and like the launching pad for the devotee's consciousness to soar toward the Divine and the spiritual world. The murti or deity of the Divine would be placed in the temple sanctum, around which all temple activity would revolve. Such buildings were often elaborately decorated with stone, wood, plaster, etc. and carved or cut to depict the stories from the Puranas or other sacred texts. Temples were always the center of religious, social and educational activities, practically more so in ancient times than today.
Temple construction was very specific because of the higher purpose involved. The science of construction goes all the way back to the time of the Atharva Veda, which contains several hymns on the topic in its Shala-nirmana-sukta. Other hymns that discuss the ways of testing soil for construction, what should be avoided, or what materials to use are also found in the Matsya Purana (Adhyayah 253, verse 11), Vastu Shastra (verse 5), Bhrigu-samhita (Adhyayah 4), and Kashyapa-shilpah (Adhyayah 4).
Additional Sanskrit literature that contained references to architecture included Agni Purana, the Brihat Samhita and Arthashastra, and the Vastu Sashtra texts like the Maya-mata, Manasara, and Samarangana-sutradhara. These all included such points as the selection of stone, soil testing, making of bricks, mortar, the carving of the deities, and even the use of chisels and carving tools.
It was the Shulba Sutras that recorded the basis of the geometrical formulas used for the Vedic temples and altars. For example, the mathematical formulas explain how to make a square of the same area as that of a triangle, a circle of the same area as that of a square, and make a circle double, triple or one third of the area of a square. Without the formulas found within the Shulba Sutras, many of the architectural wonders we see across India today would not have been possible.
Vastu Shastra is another Indian science of arranging the interior of architecture so that the energies flow through the buildings for the occupant's best health, peace, harmony, wealth, etc. Vastu is especially used for Vedic temples and architecture, or Vedic homes. However, it has been shown well worth applying for secular buildings, too, and has also traditionally been applied to forts, apartments, houses, and nowadays offices as well.
Medicine and treatment of disease is a science in India which has an origin that is lost in antiquity. However, according to the Charaka Samhita, one of the earliest texts on ancient Indian medicine, it was Brahma, the secondary creator of the universe, who propounded the knowledge of Ayurveda, an upaveda of the Atharva Veda. Various branches of Ayurveda and treatment were formed, of which the main teacher/disciple lineages are traced to three original teachers: Atreya for internal medicine; Dhanvantari for surgery; and Kashyapa for gynecology and pediatrics. The teachers who provided the means to extend the teachings of these systems are Sushruta (generally accepted to be around the 6th century BCE) of the Dhanvantari tradition who codified surgical practices; Charaka (around the 1st century BCE) of the Atreya school, who codified the precepts and practices in internal medicine; and Vagbhata II (6th century CE) of the Kashyapa school, dealing with gynecology and pediatrics.
Medicine is primarily in the Atreya tradition, and the sage Charaka is famous for propagating this tradition with his Charaka Samhita, said to be the first and main book of Ayurveda.
Treatments like surgery are in the Dhanvantari tradition, from which the famous surgeon Sushruta propagated this tradition with his Sushruta Samhita. It is considered that in 600 BCE, Sushruta recorded complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, hernia, intestinal surgery, bladder stone removal, rhinoplasty or plastic surgery of the nose, and brain surgery, plus suturing. He also described the knowledge of the instruments needed for particular operations, types of forceps, surgical probes, needles, and cutting instruments.
In regard to surgery, what became known as plastic surgery had already been known in India for many years. However, as described in India's Glorious Scientific Tradition, by Suresh Soni (pp.183-84) one example of its affects were witnessed by two British doctors named Dr. Thomas Crasso and Dr. James Findlay. This was in 1793 when a person, a Marathi coachman named Kavaasji, had to have a new nose. The doctors watched and submitted an impressive report with pictures in the Madras Gazette, which was republished in the October, 1794 edition of Gentleman Magazine, London.
Obviously, this report created reactions at the time in the European medical world. The entire process for nose replacement, along with over 300 other surgical operations, had been given in the Sushruta Samhita. Nonetheless, the surgeons from all over Europe studied the above process, and after understanding the method, a 30-year-old surgeon named Dr. J. C. Carpew transplanted the nose of a man in 1814. This operation was also successful. This brought about a revolution in surgical treatment and it was given the name Plastic Surgery. All surgeons, including Dr. Carpew, unanimously agreed that plastic surgery was a gift from ancient India.
As we would expect, if the ancient area of India was known for its advancements in medicine and surgery, it would also have developed the means for progress in dentistry. There is evidence from the Neolithic site of Mehrigarh in Pakistan on 11 individuals from 7500 to 9000 years ago. This is along the main route between Afghanistan and the Indus Valley. This is mentioned in a report in the April 6, 2006 issue of Nature. They discovered drill holes on a least 11 molars from people buried in the MR3 cemetery. Light microscopy showed the holes were conical, cylindrical or trapezoidal in shape. A few had concentric rings showing drill bit marks; and a few had evidence of decay. There were no fillings, but tooth wear on the drill marks indicate that each of these individuals continued to live on after drilling was completed. It is noted that the instruments were small flint tipped wooden drills to fix the teeth.
Dr. Arthor Selwyn-Brown writes in The Physicians Through the Ages (page 274): "You will be agreeably surprised to know that dentistry in all its branches was well known and practiced by the old Hindu doctors."