'Burning Glasses' in Ancient India?

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at umich.edu
Fri Apr 21 20:56:44 UTC 1995

You may look up references to the 'suuryakaanta' and 'candrakaanta' 
'maNi's.  The first one is supposed to emmit fire when in contact with 
the rays of the sun, and the second is supposed to exude some sort of 
liquid when touched by the moon-rays.  The 'suuryakaanta' may be a 
naturally formed lens used to start a fire.
	Madhav Deshpande

On Fri, 21 Apr 1995, James L. Fitzgerald wrote:

> 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
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