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Did Ancient Indian Rishis Beat Newton to Gravity Moment? AICTE Brings in New Engineering Course

The engineering students are expected to carry out study and research Rishi Agastya and Rishi Kanad’s scientific works “before rejecting any claim as unscientific.”

Eram Agha | News18.comEramAgha

Updated:October 3, 2018, 10:55 AM IST
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Did Ancient Indian Rishis Beat Newton to Gravity Moment? AICTE Brings in New Engineering Course
Illustration by Mir Suhail.

New Delhi: Did ancient India have helicopters and electro voltaic cells? The All India Council of Technical Education, an autonomous body under the Human Resource Development ministry, wants budding engineers to find out the truth.

The engineering students are expected to carry out study and research Rishi Agastya and Rishi Kanad’s scientific works “before rejecting any claim as unscientific.”

For this purpose, AICTE has approved Bharat Vidya Saar published by Bharat Vidya Bhavan to be taught as an elective course under its model curriculum from the next academic session. This model curriculum will be adopted in more than 3,000 technical colleges in the country “to make technical students aware about the history of Indian science and philosophy.”

The publication and approval by the AICTE has drawn flak from the science community with Aniket Sule, Mumbai-based scientist and faculty member of Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, starting an online petition addressed to the chairman of AICTE Anil Sahasrabuddhe.

The petition dismisses the claims in the book as “pseudo-scientific” and demands for “a quick withdrawal of the books”. It fears that “gullible institutions may end up teaching such misinformation to thousands of students.”

Some of the claims in the book that have been termed “outlandish” by Sule are: ‘Rishi Agastya invented elctro-voltaic cell’, ‘Rishi Agastya gives method of electrolysis to produce Oxygen and Hydrogen from water’, ‘Rishi Kanad in Vaisheshik Sutra discusses types of motion as well as Newton’s laws of motion,’ ‘Vaimanika Shastra’ was written by Rishi Bharadwaj about 5,000 years ago’, ‘Vaimanika Shastra is authoritative text on not just construction on airplanes but also on navigation’, ‘Aviation fuels and pilot preparation’, ‘The speed of light has been accurately mentioned in Rigveda’, ‘The theory of gravitation was first mentioned in Rigveda.’

Rishi Agastya invented elctro-voltaic cell and gave the method of electrolysis to produce oxygen and hydrogen from water. “The Vaimanika Shastra was written by Rishi Bharadwaj about 5000 years ago. It is authoritative text on not just construction on airplanes but also on navigation, aviation fuels and pilot preparation. The speed of light has been accurately mentioned in Rigveda. The theory of gravitation has been first mentioned in Rigveda. The Rishi Kanad in Vaisheshik Sutra discusses types of motion as well as Newton’s laws of motion,” the petition says.

Sule’s petition met with a counter online petition from Shashibala from Bharat Vidya Bhavan, who is also one of editors of the book, over protecting the “Right to Know Indian Knowledge Systems.”

The counter petition was signed by Sahasrabuddhe, who is also the chairman of AICTE and of Ashok Pradhan director of the Bhavan. Sahasrabuddhe has supported the volume as “finding the middle path in exploring the Indian knowledge traditions.”

Bharat Vidya Saar and the ‘scientific appeal’

There is not much controversy about the other sections mentioned in the two volumes published as they cover philosophy, linguistics etc. But the controversy has erupted over the first part having a section Adhunik Vigyan evam Bharatiya Gyan Parampara (Contemporary Science and Indian Knowledge Systems).

Taking note of AICTE’s recent initiative about introduction of an elective course on ‘Ancient Knowledge Systems’ as part of its model curriculum, Sule writes in the petition about how concerned the undersigned researchers and educators are.

The petition by Sule informs the editors of the of scholarly works, which are recognized not just among Indian academics, but also internationally, “Although the work on this area in India is far from being complete, we have seen excellent works produced by Indian scientists in the past. Just as examples, we can cite efforts by Indian National Science Academy (INSA) to produce critical editions of several Siddhanta texts or the series of books produced by Centre for Studies in Civilizations.”

The scientist appealed to Sahasrabuddhe in the petition, saying, “All these claims stem from misunderstanding or deliberate mistranslation of philosophical verses or ascribing an ancient origin to verses composed in the last century,” and that “several of these claims have explicitly been debunked over the years by respected academics.”

He mentioned the paper written by members of Aeronautical Engineering faculty of IISc in 1974, debunking all the claims in the book Vaimanika Shastra. The scientific fraternity is seeing the AICTE approved book as effectively damaging future academic careers of students. Thus, making it “imperative that AICTE withdraws endorsement of this shameful book at once,” said the petition.

Protect scientific Sanskrit texts, urge Indic editors

Soon after Sule’s petition, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and one of the authors Shashibala started an online petition titled, ‘Right to Know Indian Knowledge Systems.’ Bharat Vidya Bhavan said that it is going to launch a course to make the students of science and technology aware about Indian knowledge systems written by great sages and yogis of India.

“These texts have always been ignored due to invasions and colonisation of India,” said director of the Bhavan Ashok Pradahan and quoted Macaualay’s speech on destroying the “Knowledge heritage on ancient India.” He added, “Great scholars have worked over this project with limited resources and created this course that received AICTE approval.”

The petition states that those questioning the Bharat Vidya Saar course for engineering students are, “Haters of Indian heritage and culture.” “Please do your bit and sign the counter petition to protect India’s ancient knowledge. We need to answer the haters of Indian culture,” it says.

Speaking to News 18, Sahasrabuddhe said, “The Indian Knowledge traditions have not been studied so far, people have dogmatic approach towards it and reject it without carrying out study and research. With this course we want a middle path – the students who are interested can delve into the great repository of Indian knowledge traditions and explore about the scientific discoveries made in ancient India.”

Shashibala said, “There should be more than one view in the world of academics, and these volumes will just add that point of view that has been rejected and ignored so far.”

Her petition said that Bhartiya Vidya Saar “is misleading to automatically equate anything ‘Hindu’ with ‘Hindu-tva’, the right to know the history of Indian thought belongs to all those with an interest in Indian history. Indian scriptures are treatises for the constant development of knowledge over the years, with analytical commentaries.”

The petitioners added that they do not oppose western and other oriental systems, but it instead “aims at syncretic thought, it is desirable that freedom of expression may be given to all disciplinary frameworks and systems.”

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