Seminar on Intellectual Traditions of Ancient India: Day 2

Day two of the seminar on Intellectual Tradition of Ancient India (ITAI) started with a…

Day two of the seminar on Intellectual Tradition of Ancient India (ITAI) started with a talk on the “Origin and Growth of Astronomy in India” by professor Mayank Vahia.

The origin and development of astronomy has been an important landmark in the evolution of the human brain and culture. The growth of astronomy in India can be divided into the four distinct phases of early astronomy, settlement astronomy, astronomy of civilization and modern astronomy. The early phases marked the recording of the movement of the Sun and its relation to seasons, followed by the second stage where calendars were made, and constellations and zodiacs were identified. The next phase of astronomy started with Aryabhatta, which was highly mathematical as well as precise. Later came modern astronomy.

In the next session on “Rediscovering the Saraswati River“, professor Michel Danino spoke on the history of the Saraswati River which was regarded both as a goddess and a river in the Rig Veda. The river disappeared in the post-Vedic period, but in 1855 the dry bed of the river was identified and it currently known as the Ghaggar-Hakra basin. From 1940, archaeological explorations have found hundreds of Harappan sites in the Saraswati’s basin. Further evidence points to a connection between the disappearance of the Saraswati and the break-up of the Indus-Saraswati civilization.

Professor Kannan, in the third session spoke on the Chandas. Ancient Indian poetry dates back to the vast and accented literature of the Veda-s. Chanda-shastras became a celebrated part of Vedanga. Pingala, sometimes identified as the younger brother of Panini of 5th century, contributed immensely to this branch. He spoke of the various kinds of meters in Sanskrit poetry and their ramifications and arrangements.

The next session was on “Combinatorial Techniques in India: Chandas and Sangita” by Professor M.D. Srinivas. In the 8th chapter of his Chandashastra, Pingala introduces six prataya-s for studying combinatorics of Vedic and classical Sanskrit meters. These played a major role in the development of combinatorics not only in prosody but in music as well. Pingala’s “meru” as explained in the commentaries of Halayudha of 10th century, is the earliest known version of the Pascal triangle.   It was a beautiful session on the various intricacies of Ancient Indian musical meters and rhythms.

Professor Alex Hankey took the next session on “Biophysics of Meditation in the Light of Complex Biology.” He spoke on the pancha-koshyas, consciousness, samadhi and how other Indian traditional yogic ideas have found resonance in complexity biology and information-flow studies. He spoke engagingly on various effects of mediation on the mind-body and how modern psychology is far behind in comprehending these yogic processes.

The day ended with a beautiful Avadhanam performed by Dr. R Shankar. Avadhanam is an ancient Indian art-form which required tremendous multi-tasking ability, creativity, linguistics, concentration power and memory. The poet who performs an avadhanam is known as an avadhani. A panel of equally talented poet-scholars, called pracchaka-s pose questions pertaining to different creative domains for which the avadhani is expected to provide spontaneous answers in the form of verses.

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