Fuzzy Vedic 'science' II

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Oct 24 17:09:35 UTC 2000

(on S. Kak's astronomical code, ctd.)

        Interestingly, Kak joins this theory with observations about the
piling up of bricks of the Agnicayana altars. It certainly cannot be
doubted that the altar is identified, in the typical fashion of the
post-Rgvedic Brahmana texts, with Prajapati, the sponsor of the ritual and
the year and that some calculations are connected with that. However, there
was no Agnicayana yet at the time of the RV. Even the Mantra collection
used for this ritual are late and form a third layer in the collection of
the post-Rgvedic Yajurveda Samhita texts; the same it true for the
discussion of the ritual in the Brahmana style texts. Any combination of
the numbers of bricks in the Agnicayana with the order and number of hymns
and Mantras of the RV therefore is not cogent, to begin with.
        To find astronomical reasons behind this arrangement requires
extra-ordinary ingenuity on the part of the original, contemporary
composers and arrangers of the RV -- or the decipherer, S. Kak.  That they
should constitute an original Rgvedic ``astronomical code'', -- based on
the  post-Rgvedic(!) arrangement of the RV-Samhita and the later,
post-Rgvedic(!) construction of the Agnicayana fire-altars-- is simply
impossible. It also does not help the scheme that the knowledge of this
code is said to have disappeared very shortly after the composition of the
        Further, Kak`s scheme suffers, even if one takes its rather
involved numerical schemes for granted, from inconsistency, such as the
arbitrary use of multiplication factors that deliver the desired results
for the various courses of the planets (which are not even attested in
Vedic texts, see M. Yano, forthc.). In fact, references to astronomical
data in the RV are generally very vague, and limited to a few facts of
direct observation by the naked eye (Pingree 1973, 1981, Witzel 1972, 1984,
1986, Plofker 1996, Yano forthc.).
        More details could be added. To mention just the most elaborate
one, K. Plofker's (1996) discussion of Kak's attempt in the section
``Probabilistic Validation'' (1994: 106--107)
        This mathematical demonstration would not even have been necessary
because of the derived, secondary nature of hymn  numbers in Sakalya's
redaction of the RV (see above). Or, in the same vein, when it is alleged
by Kak that the combined number of hymns in the fourth, sixth, eighth, and
ninth books of the  RV was  chosen to be 339 because that number is roughly
equivalent to ``the "number of disks of the sun or the moon to measure the
path across the sky... [or] sun-steps'' (Kak 1994: 100), one must
immediately note, not only that RV 9 is a late book (Oldenberg 1888,
Proferes 1999), but that these books have the following additional hymns
(Oldenberg 1888): 4.57-58; 6.74-75; 8.96-101, 9.112-113, not to mention
quite a few additional hymns *inside* these very books. This simple
observation renders Kak's whole scheme numerically impossible.
        In short, the whole matter boils down to over-interpretation of
some facts that are internally inconsistent.

>I am sure you are not in the same league of India-bashing....
>Let us fight inobjective scholarship, but not a people!

If one re-reads my note calmly it will be apparent that it was written
about fuzzy math, not about the Indian people ...

Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:  http://www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs

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