"Science" in India

Subrahmanya S. subrahmanyas at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 26 01:55:58 UTC 2000

Now that M.Witzel has turned the turret towards
S.Kak, I thought it would be good for others on this
list to also see Kak's posting. Just so that there
is not a one sided barrage.

Also, for those interested there is a fairly recent
paper on "genetic evidence" at
under Files


=======<posting by Subhash Kak>========================

My attention was just drawn to the opinion of a certain
gentleman on another list that early Indian astronomy
was nonsense and a construct of misguided, nationalist,
expatriate Indians. Now such remarks, which are without a
reasoned basis, are normally best ignored (because there
are a lot of cranks making all kinds of statements---
anything you can think of--on the Web and one can't respond
to all of them). But this opinion helps us position several issues
that will be useful to many people on these lists,
which is why I have chosen to comment on it.

First, consider the charge that the field
is a construct of nationalist, expatriate
Indians and, therefore, of suspect motivation. This is
simply not true. Look at the nationalisty issue:
Amongst the contributors are non-Indian luminaries such as
Roger Billard (France), van der Waerden (Germany),
Graham Millar (Canada). Amongst Indians, those
who have contributed significantly are scholars such as
T.S. Kuppannna Sastry, K.V. Sarma, K.S. Shukla, none of
whom probably ever left India (assuming that doing so
would somehow taint them as has been suggested). There
are also many expatriate Indians who have contributed.
This taint that the field is "Indian" reminds me of how
during the Hitler era, Nazis in Germany went around
writing in magazines that relativity theory was bad science
and unworthy of being taught in German schools
because it was "Jewish"!

The second point is about how scholarly arguments are
contructed and published. Scholarly journals send papers
out for review to other scholars, so there is scrutiny
before and, certainly, after publication. This doesn't mean that there
is no difference of opinion, but a consensus emerges
about what arguments are sound and supported by textual
and other evidence. The narratives of early Indian astronomy
have gone through the gauntlets of the reviewers of journals
as diverse as Mankind Quarterly, Science, Royal Astronomical
Society (UK), Royal Astronomical Society of Canada,
Vistas in Astronomy, Current Science, Indian Journal of
History of Science, Adyar Library Bulletin, ABORI, Puratattva
and so on. They have also been reviewed by the reviewers and
editors of anthologies and encyclopaedias. To check out
the contributions of just one of the
contributors (your's truly) to this scholarly enterprise, see


(if you don't have access to the Web, ask me in a private
mail to send you the list by e-mail)

I must also point to B.N. Narahari Achar's extremely important
papers that have recently appeared in the Indian Journal of
History of Science (published by the Indian National Science

I am aware of just one small review (an opinion on
a book) five or six years ago which found fault with
one of the expositions published at that time. But editors
of history of astronomy and Indic studies journals and other
scholars did not find that particular opinion to be
weighty and the program has gone forward. As you can
see just from the list above, the publication rate in
this field has picked up a great deal in recent years and
major review essays have been commissioned.

This is not to suggest that things are cast is stone. They
never are in the scholarly world. But to challenge the
body of scholarship, the challengers will have to write in
peer-reviewed scholarly journals. For one not to do it
and still claim that the field is wrong shows naivete
at best. And when non-experts, who have no record of
work in this field do so, that's a sure way to invite ridicule.

It is perhaps this kind of thickheadness and unending
repetition of old arguments that made eminent
scholars like Edmund Leach and Shaffer and Lichtenstein
to throw up their hands in despair and scream "racism"
(see my www.sulekha.com article for the quotes).

The other explanantion could be that the gentleman
I referred to in the beginning of this post is
not using common sense or is not aware of
the scholarly method. But in the least, a professor's
right to "profess" comes with its attendant reponsibility,
and when that responsibility is not exercised it can only
bring disrepute to the university and the department.

So there are several lessons in this episode for us
who are interested in the field as researchers or
just observers of the goings-on. You can't settle
an argument or declare victory by a sweeping claim.
Ask for evidence. Ask for the adhikAra (qualification)
from the person making the post.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any specific questions
regarding Vedic and early Indian astronomy and its
relevance to the findings from archaeology and Indian
chronology, do not hesitate to ask me. If I don't provide
a detailed answer, I'll surely point the reference
with the detailed answer to you.

-Subhash Kak

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