'Burning Glasses' in Ancient India?

James L. Fitzgerald PA114508 at UTKVM1.UTK.EDU
Fri Apr 21 16:07:28 UTC 1995

Can those of you familiar with the history of technology in South
Asia (OPTICS in particular) help out with MBh 12.308.125?  Can
this couplet be referring to the existence of a 'burning glass?'
i.e., a lens used to start a fire?

The couplet reads:
yathaadityaan maNez caiva viirudbhyaz caiva paavakah/
bhavaty evam samudayaat kalaanaam api jantavah//MBh 12.308.125//

The context is that of an adhyaatma teaching arguing that persons
are composed of 30 components (kalaas) (components which exist in
successions of discrete states across time), and the most
contextually consistent way to translate this couplet would be
something like this:

"People come from the combination of their components just as
fire comes from the combination of the sun, a crystal, and some
twigs (tinder)."

Is anything known about the use or non-use of lenses in ancient
India that confirms or precludes this way of reading the first
verse of this couplet?

Other interpretations:  The first verse of the couplet is more
economically construed as saying that fire (generic fire, i.e.,
including light) comes from the sun, from gemstones (gleams and
sparkles), and out of plants, e.g., wood, but this construction
of the verse seems to render the simile pointless in the
context.  Deussen & Strauss construe the verse in this way,
grammatically, but they interject (inappropriately, I think, for
the half of the couplet referring to fire) that these entities
are "ganz verschieden" from the fire arising from them, as the 30
components are "ganz verschieden" from the beings that arise from
them.  NiilakaNTha preserves the theme of the context by
plausibly postulating that aaditya, maNi, and viirudh each refer
to a composite process:  the sun producing fire with the
suuryakaanta; "maNer lohasambhandhaat," "from the contact of
flint with iron" (Ganguli-Roy); and of course from wood by the
twirling of the araNis.  Edgerton, unfortunately, picked up with 126
in this passage (Beginnings of Ind. Phil., p. 331).

Any thoughts or information would be most welcome.  Thanks in
advance.  Jim Fitzgerald

James L. Fitzgerald               Home     8708 Kingsridge Dr.
Dept of Religious Studies                  Knoxville, TN 37923
University of Tennessee                    615-539-2881
Knoxville, TN 37996-0450                   email:pa114508 at utkvm1.utk.edu
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