Seminar on Intellectual Traditions of Ancient India: Day 1

A three day National Seminar on Intellectual Traditions of Ancient India was organized by the…

A three day National Seminar on Intellectual Traditions of Ancient India was organized by the Center for Ancient History and Culture (CAHC), Jain University Bangalore, starting on 27th of August. It started with an inaugural address by Prof. Iyengar on the importance of bringing India’s ancient traditions to the modern generation.  Prof. Sudershan Rao, the Chairman for the Indian Council of Historical Research, was the chief guest and spoke on the necessity of scientific temperament in historical research. Prof. Subbarayappa took the audience through a brief journey on the differences between the metaphysical traditions of Indian Rishis, starting from the Vedic idea of “rta”, the pre-Socratic philosophical ideas, and ancient Chinese metaphysics.  Founder Chairman Dr. Chenraj Roychand encouraged young students to participate in this three day seminar.

The first exposition was delivered by Prof. Michael Danino on “Harappan Roots of Some Indian-Knowledge Systems”. The Indus-Saraswati civilization is believed to have disappeared without a trace leaving no impact on the subsequent Gangetic civilization.  However considerable evidence now exists to prove that the later Indic civilization was a continuation of Harappan roots. Similarity of architectural measurements, town-planning, water-management, yogic postures in Harappan seal, iconography of deities, etc prove without a doubt that there exists a strong link between the Harappan times and the later Hindu civilization. For example, nearly 200 Swastika terracotta symbols have been found in the Indus-Saraswati  sites. We still have to wait for deciphering of the Indus script to get a more comprehensive idea about the Indus culture, however certain strong clues and evidences point easily to a civilizational continuum.

The next session by Professor K. Ramasubramanian from IIT Bombay was on the “Beauty and Richness of Sanskrit Grammar”.  He gave a brief introduction on history of Sanskrit and its formalization by the legendary Panini in his Astadhyayi. Expertise in Vyakarana or Sanskrit grammar was considered even by astronomers like Bhaskara as mandatory for gaining proficiency in any Shastra.  He engaged the audience with an example of wordplay through Chitrabandha, demonstrating its use in the compositions of Vedanta Desikan. He touched upon the Maheshwara Sutras, Vak Purusha, and how Sanskrit can be useful for machine translations and text processing. However, Prof Ramasubramanian cautioned that this would require a tremendous synergy between linguists and experts in computer programming. He clarified that Sanskrit, contrary to popular misconception, is not a context-free language. Infact, no human language can be context-free.

Post lunch session started with (Retd.) Professor of Mathematics, Dr. Padmavathamma’s lecture on the “Importance of Mathematics in the Jaina Tradition“. Many Jaina mathematicians had made a stellar contribution to the field of Indian mathematics by simplifying complicated ideas, freeing mathematics from religion and rituals and making an independent study of the same. Mahaviracharya composed the Ganitasarasangraha as a compendium of mathematical ideas which was first translated in 1912 by Professor Rangacharya. Many other Jaina texts like Tiloyapannatti touch upon various aspects of mathematics and cosmology.

Professor Ramasubramanian took another brilliant session on “Calculus inlaid in prose and poetry”.  In ancient India mathematics was presented in the style of sutras like the Sulbasutras.  However from the 5th century mathematics has been transmitted in the form of metrical compositions which were passed down orally from one generation to another. The composers were such experts in language and mathematics that they could effortlessly transmit knowledge of Infinite Series, Pi,  and various Trigonometrical functions through the medium of enchanting and exquisite verses., at times even using double entendre!  Without a thorough study of the history of these commentaries, many have tried to object to the idea that Calculus had its birth in India.  The subject evolved over centuries from Aryabhatta to Brahmagupta, ontu Bhaskara and Madhava between 12th to 14th century, finally culminating in the works of Jyesthadeva and Sankara Variyar in the 16th century.  Some scholars suggest that these works from the Kerala school were transmitted via Jesuits to Europe and this influenced the development of calculus in Europe.

Finally the day ended with a delightful puppet-play by the Dhaatu Puppet Theater group from Bangalore on a story from the Upanishadic times, giving a glimpse of the Gurukula system and the great scholastic debate between the young Astavakra and Vandi in the court of King Janaka.