Mnemonics in Ancient India

Mehta, Shailendra mehta at
Fri Sep 15 01:00:46 UTC 1995

Francois Quiviger wanted to know if there was a history of mnemonics for India.
I suspect there ought to several mini-histories available by now, though most
of it would be in the Indian languages. Two small bookleta which detail part of
a Jain tradition are available in Hindi from Prakrit Bharati in Jaipur. They
might have some references to other works. 

The first details several schemes for memorization which are rather old. The
writer was a Shatavadhani sadhaka, who, as the name indicates had a hundred
special skills including the ability to remember a list of several hundred (or
thousand) items, listening to a passage in a foreign language and reciting it
back verbatim, the ability to do long mulitiplication in the head using
algebraic short cuts, and so on. In a public forum he could sit and listen to
these one hundred challenges presented to him in sequence. This would take
several hours. He could then provide the responses to these challenges, also in
sequence over the next several hours. He indicates, incredible though it might
seem, that there were Jain monks who  were known to be Sahsravadhanis. If I
remember correctly the author's name was Dhirajbhai Shah. He had written the
original in Gujarati. I had reviewed the manuscript of the Hindi translation
which was then published in Jaipur. I remember one particular difference
between the Indian and Western techniques (as described in books such as those
by Yates). It was the heavy emphasis that the Indian techniques placed on
developing ekagrata. 

The other booklet was more historical in nature and was written by a Jain monk
who was also a Shatavdhani. It too was published by Prakrit Bharati in Hindi
but the title and the name of the author escapes me. I remember being
disappointed when I first read it since, unlike Dhirajbhai Shah, he gave away
few of his secrets.

Shailendra Raj Mehta
mehta at

PS. There was a thread a few weeks ago, dealing with the economic development
or lack of it in various time periods in Indian history. If there is still some
interest in this topic, I would like to post a few random remarks on this
subject. Comparing Kautilya,  Abul Fazal, Fracis Buchanan and William Digby
yields several interesting perspectives. In particular, the analysis by Shireen
Mousavi of the Mughal period is stunning to say the least. Let me know if
someone is interested. 

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