In the realm of physics, remarkable contributions have been made by
Indian scientists. Some hint at the theory may be contained in the views
of Uddalaka Aruni, preserved in the Chandogya Upanishad. Uddalaka says:
"matter was at first a chaotic mass, like the juices of various trees
indiscriminately blended together in honey. In order to develop
names-and-forms, to discriminate things from one another, or to set them
in order, the universal spirit came not in its universal form but as the
living, principle, and entered into Fire, Water and Earth. After
separating their component but qualitatively distinct parts (dhatus), it
made numerous new combinations of them. By propounding the theory of
combination and separation of particles, Uddalaka anticipated the atomic
theory of Kannada.'
(image source: Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America. Inc - 2002 calendar).
Kanaada, the founder of the Vaisesika system of philosophy, expounded
that the entire matter in this world consists of atoms as many in kind
as the various elements. Kanaada's atom would then correspond to the
modern atom. He said:
"The cause of creative motion is believed to be adrsta, unseen moral
force which guides the destiny of souls according to their karma and
requires them to be provided with properly equipped bodies and an
appropriate objective world for the experience of pleasure and pain. It
is due to the operation of this metempirical force that atoms start
moving to get together in order that they may be integrated into
countless varieties of things."
Some Jain thinkers went a step further. They thought that all atoms are
the same kind and variety emerged because they entered into different
combinations. Kanaada taught that light and heat are variations of the
Vacaspati interpreted light as composed of minute particles emitted by
substances and striking the eyes. This is a clear anticipation of the
corpuscular theory of light, which was proposed by Newton but rejected
till the discovery of the proton.
Modern physics confirmed that the sun's rays travel in a curved way, but
not in a straight line. Our ancestors told that the sun's chariot was
drawn by seven horses tied by snakes. As the movements of the snakes are
crooked and curved, so also the sun's ray. The phenomenon is described
in a metaphysical poetic line bhujagana mita sapta turaga. The chapter
on light says that there are seven colors in the white ray of the sun.
Artharveda says that there are seven types of sun's rays, sapta
The law of gravitation discovered by Brahmagupta anticipated Newton by
declaring "all things fall to the earth by law of nature; for it is the
nature of the earth to attract and keep things."
(source: Hinduism and Scientific Quest - By T R. R. Iyengar p. 153-154
and History of Science and Technology in Ancient India - by Debiprasad
Chattopadhya volume II p. 297-299). For more information refer to the
chapter 'Advanced Concepts).
Kannada was an expounder of the law of causation and of the atomic
theory. He classified all the objects of creation into nine elements,
namely: earth, water, light, wind, ether, time, space, mind and soul.
According to his theory every object of creation is made of atoms, which
in turn are joined with each other to form molecules. His statement
ushered in the Atomic theory for the first time in the world, early 2500
years before John Dalton. Kanaada has also described the dimension and
motion of atoms and their chemical reactions with each other.
T. N. Colebrooke, has said: "Compared to the scientists of Europe,
Kanaada and others Indian scientists were the global masters in this
(source: Calendar 2002 - VHP of America).
Umasvati, who lived in the first century A.D. suggested that atoms of
opposite qualities alone combined and the atoms attracted or repelled as
they were heterogeneous or homogenous. Commenting on these theories, A.
L Basham remarks: "Indian atomic theories were not of course, based on
experiment, but on intuition and logic..."
Gravity was considered a peculiar cause of primary descent or
falling...In the absence of counter-balancing cause, as adhesion,
velocity or some act of volition, descent results from this quality.
Thus a coconut is withheld from falling by adhesion of the foot-stalk,
but this impediment ceasing on maturity of the fruit, it falls. The
penetrative diffusion of liquid was explained by capillary motion and
the conduction of water in pipes was said to be due to the pressure of
air. They were familiar with an accurate method of calculating velocity
which facilitated the measurement of the relative pitch of musical tones
with great precision. They anticipated the Pythagorean law of vibration
of stretched strings. viz. the number of vibrations varies inversely as
the length of the string.
The believed that energy was indestructible and thus anticipated the law
of conservation and energy. Heat and light were viewed as only different
forms of the same essential substance. One of the scientists succeeded
in suggesting a scientific explanation of the phenomenon of ebullition
and rarefaction in evaporation. They were familiar with refraction and
chemical effects of light rays, causes of translucency, opacity and
shadows. They evolved the formula that the angle of incidence was equal
to the angle of reflection.
They discovered that a magnet possessed the power of attracting iron.
Bhoja, a writer of the eleventh century, therefore, suggested that iron
should not be used in the construction of a ship to avoid the danger of
being drawn into a magnetic field by magnetic rocks. They also
discovered the mariner's compass centuries before its discovery in
Europe. (for more information refer to chapters War in Ancient India and
Seafaring in Ancient India). It was called matsya-yantra and consisted
of an iron fish which floated in a vessel of oil and pointed at the
(source: Main Currents in Indian Culture - By S. Natarajan p. 68 - 69
Indo-Middle East Cultural Studies Hyderabad 1960).
The Indians came closest to modern ideas of atomism, quantum physics,
and other current theories. India developed very early, enduring atomist
theories of matter. Possibly Greek atomistic thought was influenced by
India, via the Persian civilization. The Rig-Veda, is the first Indian
literature to set down ideas resembling universal natural laws. Cosmic
law is connected with cosmic light, with gods, and, later, specifically
with Brahman." It was the Vedic Aryans... who gave the world some of the
earliest philosophical texts on the makeup of matter and the theoretical
underpinnings for the chemical makeup of minerals. Sanskrit Vedas from
thousands of years before Christ implied that matter could not be
created, and that the universe had created itself. Reflecting this, in
his Vaiseshika philosophy, Kanada (600 B. C) claimed that elements could
not be destroyed. Kanada's life is somewhat a mysterious, but his name
is said to mean "one who eats particle or grain" likely referring to his
theory that basic particles mix together as the building blocks for all
matter. Two, three, four, or more of these elements would combine, just
as we conceive of atoms doing. The Greeks would not stumble on this
concept for another century."
(source: Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science - By Dick
Teresi p. 1 - 8 and 159 and 174 -239). For more on Dick Teresi refer to
chapters Quotes301_320, GlimpsesVI and GlimpsesVII ).
Historian A. L. Basham has written:
"The atomic theories of ancient India are brilliant imaginative
explanations of the physical structure of the world..."
Further progress was made in knowing the qualities and functions of
earth, water, heat, sound etc. Especially in sound the ancient Indians
reached great heights very early. The octave was divided into 22 shrutis
(quarter-tones) and their proportions were measured with great accuracy.
Their love of accuracy and precision is testified by their tables of
weights, and measures. The measurement of time was, for example, based
on the unit of time taken by a wink (nimisha).
(source: Ancient Indian History and Culture - By Chidambara Kulkarni
Orient Longman Ltd. 1974. p. 272).
J R Oppenheimer and Atom bomb in modern times
Only seven years after the first successful atom bomb blast in New
Mexico, Dr. Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project, who was familiar with
ancient Sanskrit literature, was giving a lecture at Rochester
University. During the question and answer period a student asked a
question to which Oppenheimer gave a strangely qualified answer:
Student: Was the bomb exploded at Alamogordo during the Manhattan
Project the first one to be detonated?
Dr. Oppenheimer: "Well -- yes. In modern times, of course.
Charles Berlitz goes on to quote a number of passages from the
Mahabharata that describe the impact of a weapon that I suspect must be
the brahmaastra, although he neither names the weapon nor cites those
sections of the text from which his quotations are drawn (he lists
Protap Chandra Roy's translation of 1889 in his bibliography):...a
single projectile Charged with all the power of the Universe.
An incandescent column of smoke and flame As bright as ten thousand Suns
Rose in all its splendor......it was an unknown weapon, An iron
thunderbolt, A gigantic messenger of death, Which reduced to ashes. The
Entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas....the corpses were so
burned As to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out; Pottery
broke without apparent cause, And the birds turned white. After a few
hours all foodstuffs were infected......To escape from this fire. The
soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their
One is reminded of the yet unknown final effect of a super-bomb when we
read in the Ramayana of a projectile:
...So powerful that it could destroy
The earth in an instant -
A great soaring sound in smoke and flames...
And on it sits Death...
(source: Doomsday 1999 - By Charles Berlitz Doubleday ASIN: 038515982X
p. 118-122). For more on Oppenheimer, refer to Quotes21_40 and