Astronomy in Indian scriptures

Astronomy in Indian scriptures

Astronomy and its related celestial content was found in many scriptures written thousands of years back. The planetary system, solar system, distance of every planet from earth were discovered and discussed many scholars in India.


Great Indian Astronomers
· Aryabhata (476 – 550 AD)

· Brahmagupta (598 – 668 AD)

· Bhaskara II (1114 – 1185 AD)

Rotation of the Earth
Gravity of the Earth
The Heliocentric theory
The Speed of Light
Lunar Eclipse
Moon – A Satellite of the Earth
Orbiting Planets – Concept of Gravity
Planetary Motion
The Elliptical Path of Planets
Great Indian Astronomers

A lot of the astronomical knowledge goes all the way back to the Vedic literature –

To the Samhitas
To the Brahmanas and
To commentaries on the Samhitas

The period ranges from 6000 BCE for a direct Rig-Vedic quote to 14th century AD for Sayanacharya’s commentary. How so much of astronomical knowledge came into being at such ancient times is a matter to be reflected upon. However, there are three names in the field of ancient Indian astronomy who proved their genius as leading astronomers in the Post-Vedic period. They are –

1. Aryabhata I – 5th Century AD

2. Brahmagupta – 7th Century AD and

3. Bhaskaracharya II – 12th Century AD

A brief synopsis on their contribution in the field of astronomy has been described as below:-

Aryabhata (476 – 550 AD)

Aryabhata, as per many researchers, had been the chancellor of the Nalanda University as he is referred to as Kulapa by some if his commentators.

Aryabhata had produced two important works:

1. Aryabhatiya in 499 A.D. (a compendium of mathematics and astronomy)

2. Aryabhata-siddhanta (on astronomical computations)

One measure of the importance of the Aryabhata’s work is the length of the time it has dominated the astronomical discourse amongst experts and also the number of commentaries and commentaries of commentaries it has engendered. Starting with Bhaskara’s commentary in 629 AD (Vallabhi in Saurashtra), there has been a series of scholarly works on Aryabhatiya. The presence of several works in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam also vouch for the nation-wide spread of his ideas.

Brahmagupta (598 – 668 AD)

Brahmagupta is revered both for his mathematical genius and his accomplishments as an astronomer. He made advances in astronomy and most importantly in number systems including algorithms for square roots and the solution of quadratic equations. Brahmagupta was the head of the astronomical observatory at Ujjain which was the foremost mathematical centre of ancient India. His works include:

1. Brahmasphutasiddhanta in 628 AD (substantially based on Aryabhatiya) and

2. Khandakhadyaka in 665 AD (literally meaning Sweetmeat because it is a user-friendly version of Aryabhatiya). Khandakhadyaka was written in two parts. In the second part Brahmagupta has evidently made it clear up to what extent his philosophy differs from that of Aryabhata. BothBrahmasphutasiddhanta and Khandakhadyaka were translated into Arabic (Zij-al-Arkand and AZ-Zij Kandakatik al-arabi) by Persian scholar Al-Biruni. These were later translated into Latin in 1126 AD from the Arabic version by Ya’qub ibn Tariq. Kepler’s theory of Parallax is a replicate of Khandakhadyaka.

Bhaskara II (1114 – 1185 AD)

Bhaskara II has been known as the greatest mathematician of medieval India. He contributed significantly to the mathematical and astronomical developments during the 12th Century. Bhaskara was also associated with the Ujjain school and is said to have been the head the astronomical observatory. Like Brahmagupta, Bhaskara was also a commentator of Aryabhata. Bhaskara’s principal work is Siddhanta Shiromani (Sanskrit for ‘Crown of treatises’) written in 1150 AD. It is in four parts:

1. Lilavati (Arithmetic)

2. Bijaganita (Algebra)

3. Grahaganita (Mathematics of the planets 365-Day Year)

4. Goladhyaya (Astronomy and Spheres)

Rotation of the Earth

Sanskrit Quote 1:

Anulomagatirnausthah pasyatyacalarn vilomagarn

yadvat I Acalani bhani tad vat samapascimagani lankayam II

{Meaning – Just as a person in a boat moving forward sees the stationary objects (on the bank) as moving backwards, the stationary stars are seen in Lanka (at the equator) as moving towards the west.}


Aryabhatiyam, Golapadah, Chapter 4, Sloka 9, Aryabhata (499 AD)


Bhasare —-> Bam —————-> Bani

Shines —-> That which shines – Star —-> Stars


At that point in time, the Indian astronomers worked with reference to a Hindu Equator running through Lanka – hence, the reference to Lanka.
For this work of Aryabhata, Someswara, one of his students has written a commentary. The commentary says, “The place Lanka is mentioned as an illustration. This principle is applicable universally”.
Aryabhata shows by a simple example that it is the earth that moves and that the stars are fixed and stationary.
In Sanskrit, there are no nouns as commonly understood. Each noun is derived from the function of the subject being described. The Sanskrit word for the earth is jagath – the one that moves. The word must have been coined while understanding the rotation of the earth or its orbiting the sun.
Western Reference:

The introduction of the Foucault pendulum in 1851 by a French physicist named Leon Foucault was the first public demonstration of the earth’s rotation. The Foucault pendulum used by Foucault for demonstrating the effect of the earth’s rotation became his trademark invention. The experimental machinery consisted of a tall pendulum free to swing in any vertical plane. Thus, Foucault made clear to the world how the actual plane of swing appeared to rotate relative to the Earth.

His second invention was gyroscope which is widely used today in flying vehicles and astronomical instruments. It is basically a rotating machine in the form of a cosmically mounted rotating wheel which acts as a resistor when turned in any direction. He invented gyroscope for demonstrating the motion of the Earth in a different manner. Again, Foucault was the first to gauge the speed of light and to assert that it travels slower in water than in air.

Sanskrit Quote 2:

Bhumirbhramyati buddha eva marutah

pratyagbhramostyadbhuto bhrarnyantyeva

sahasrayena yadi va jyotimsi sarvanyapi I

Avartayosyarnapambhrarnah paricita

murtirharasyastami ya sastyappayadlksito jayati

sa murtirnirastabhrama II

(Meaning – It is well known that the earth indeed rotates with the inward rotation of air and with its base and all the celestial lights. This rotation is known even as that of the water. That form of Appayyadikshita shines, which is known as the eighth form of Shiva.)


Sivotkarsa-manjari, Sloka 52 Nilakantha-diksitah (16’h Century AD)


Siva+Utkarsa+Manjari —> translate into ‘A bouquet in praise of Shiva’. The last sloka is traditionally used to provide the identity of the author and in extremely brief form the benefits of reciting the work – E.g., prosperity or often greater devotion to the Lord. In this work, Nilakanta Dikshita (a Minister of King Thirumalai Naicker) pays homage to his grand-uncle Appayya Dikshita by describing him as an incarnation of the Lord Shiva himself.

This quote merely indicates that the rotation of the earth was common knowledge in Dikshita’s time during 16th century AD.

Western Reference:

Leon Foucault’s demonstration in 1851 AD.

Gravity of the Earth

Sanskrit Quote:

Tatha prthivyamabhimanini ya devata prasiddha

saisa purusasya apanavrttimavastabhyakrsya

vasikrtyadha evapakarsenanugraharn kurvati vartata ityarthah II

Anyatha hi sarirarn gurutvat patet savakase vodgacchet II

(Meaning – Similarly, the deity i.e. earth exists by favoring, attracting, controlling by pulling down the vital function called Apana of the human. Else the body would fall due to its weight or would fly into the sky if left free.)

Source – Sankara’s Commentary (8th Century AD) on Prasnopanisad (Vedic Period). Chapter 3, Mantra 8.

The Heliocentric theory

Sanskrit Quotes:

Naivastamanamarkasya nodayah sarvada satah I

Udayastamanakhyarn hi darsanadarsanarn raveh II

{Meaning – There is, in truth, neither rising nor setting for the sun, for it is always there, and these terms (of rising and setting) merely imply his presence and disappearance.}

Dadhartha prthivimabhito mayukhaih I

{Meaning – (The sun) holds the earth from all sides with (his) rays.}

Mitro dadhara prthivimutadyam I Mitrah krstlh II.

(Meaning – The sun holds the earth and the celestial region. The sun is the attracting power.)


Visnu-purana, Book 2, Chapter 8, Sloka 15, Vyasah (Post-Vedic period)

Yajur-aranyakarn, Prasnah I, Anuvakah 8, Vargah 3 (Vedic period)

Yajur-Veda, Taittiriya-samhita, Kandah 3, Prapatakah 4, Anuvakah 10, Mantrah 34 (Vedic Period).

Western Reference:

Copernicus (1473 – 1543), a Polish astronomer, published in his book De reveloutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1543 AD, the theory that the sun is the centre of the universe and that the earth and other planets revolve around it. This is considered a defining moment in the history of science.

The Speed of Light

Sanskrit Quote:

Taranirvisvadarsato jyotiskrdasi surya I

Visvamabhasi rocanam I

{Meaning – Oh Sun! (You) overwhelm all in speed, visible to all, source of light. (You) shine pervading the Universe.}

Tatha ca smaryate yojananarn sahasrarn dve dve

sate dve ca yojane I Ekena nimisardhena

kramamana namoSstu te II

{Meaning – It is remembered (that) Salutations to Thee (sun), the traveler of 2,202 yojanas in half a nimisha.}


Rig-Veda-samhita, Mandalam 1, Suktam 50, Mantrah 4 (6000 BCE)

Sayanacharya’s Commentary (14th century AD)


1. The commentary on the Rig-veda by Sayana (c. 1315-1387), a minister and scholar par excellence in the court of King Bukka I of the Vijayanagar Empire in South India is well known.

2. Sayana’s computation of Speed of Light:

Distance travelled = 2202 Yojanas

1 Yojana = 9 miles 110 Yards = 9.0625 miles

= 21,144.705 miles

Time taken = 1/2 nimesha = 1/8.75 = 0.114286 seconds

Speed of light = 185,016.169 miles/seconds.

Modern Value = 186,282.397 miles /seconds.

3. This Sukta is attributed to the son of Kanva Maharshi and is prescribed for use in two different occasions – in Suryeshti sacrifice (a ritual to please the Sun God) and in Chaturmasya-yajna (a Vedic ritual).

Western Reference:

1. The speed of light was first determined in 1676 AD by a Danish astronomer Olaus Roemer. He was the first person to demonstrate that the speed of light is not infinite. He looked at the difference in the times that light from Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, takes to reach earth based on whether it is on the near side of Jupiter or the far side. Until Roemer’s invention, the light was taken to travel with infinite velocity. Even Newton assumed so.

2. In 1887 AD, Michelson and Morley established the velocity of light as 1, 86,300 miles/sec.

Lunar Eclipse

Sanskrit Quote:

Chadayati sasl suryam sasinarn mahan ca bhucchaya I

(Meaning – The moon covers the sun and the great shadow of the earth covers the moon.)


Aryabhatiyam, Golapadah, Chapter 4, Sloka 37, Aryabhata (499 AD)


1. Eclipses undoubtedly fascinated all ancient civilizations.

The oldest known record of a lunar eclipse took place at Ur in Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE.
In 1300 BCE, Chinese began a long series of observation of eclipses. Chinese astronomers recorded 900 solar and 600 lunar eclipses over a period of 2600 years.
The Babylonians used their long record of eclipses to see regular patterns of eclipses. By 700 BCE they could predict lunar eclipses.
2. Aryabhata went beyond observation and explained the cause of eclipse.

3. The snake ‘Rahu’ devouring the moon and people having a sanctifying bath after the eclipse to mourn the death of the moon is the ritual which has unfortunately been taken as the understanding of the civilization of the eclipse. Knowledge, very clearly, as can be seen from this quote and the rituals do not bind each other.

Western Reference:

Although not as well known, Halley also made important scientific contributions in his studies of eclipses. He is credited with the first eclipse map showing the path of the Moon’s shadow across England during the upcoming total eclipse of 1715 AD.

Moon – A Satellite of the Earth

Sanskrit Quote:

Ayangauh prsnirakramidasadanmataram purah I

Pitarafica prayantsvah I

{Meaning – The moon, being a satellite of the earth, revolves around its mother planet and follows it in its revolution round the self-luminous father planet (the sun).}


Rig-Veda, Mandalam 10, Suktarn 189, Mantrah I (6000 BCE)


The Vedic metaphor is indicative of a certain hierarchy:

Sun — Earth — Moon

which is substantially true.

24 hours and 50 minutes

Orbiting Planets – Concept of Gravity

Sanskrit Quote:

Akrstisaktisca mahi taya yat

khastharn guru svabhimukharn svasaktya I

Akrsyate tatpatativa bhati

same sarnantat kva patatviyarn khe II

{Meaning – The attracting (gravitational) force (is) the earth. That (earth) with the gravitational force of hers attracts towards herself the large objects in the sky. It seems as though she is falling. In space, with matching forces where will she (earth) fall.}


Siddhanta-siromanih, Bhuvanakosah 6, Bhaskara II (1150 AD)


This quote very clearly talks about the gravitational force of not only the earth, but of other heavenly bodies as well.

Western Reference:

The universal law of gravitation was propounded by Isaac Newton (1642-1727) 500 years after Bhaskara.

Johannes Kepler (December 27, 1571 – November 15, 1630), a key figure in the scientific revolution, was a German mathematician, astronomer, and an early writer of science fiction stories. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion, based on his works Astronomia nova (1609), Harmonice Mundi (1619) and the textbookEpitome of Copernican Astronomy.

Planetary Motion

Sanskrit Quote:

Kaksya pratimandalaga bhramanti sarve grahah

svacarena I Mandoccadanulomarn pratilomaiicaiva sighroccat II

{Meaning – The mean planets move on their orbits and the true planets on their eccentric circles. All the planets – whether moving on their orbits or on the eccentric circles – move with their own (mean) motion, anticlockwise from their apogees and clockwise from their perigees.}


Aryabhatiyam, Kalakriya-padah, Chapter 3, Sloka 17, Aryabhata (499 AD)


Manda = upper apsis of planet

Uccha = apex of an orbit of a planet

Sighra = the lower apsis (as opposed to manda)

Thus, Manda+uccha = apogee

Sighra+uccha = perigee

Pratiloma = contrary to the natural order = anti-clockwise.


Aryabhata stated this law in the 5th Century AD much before the first law of Planetary motion given by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1609 AD.

Mean Planet – Natural Satellite

True Planet – The Main Planet

Apogee – a heavenly body’s point of greatest distance from the earth

Perigee – the point of the moon’s orbit at which it is nearest to the earth.

The Elliptical Path of Planets

Sanskrit Quote:

Trinabhicakramajararnanarvarn yatrerna visva

bhuvanani tasthuh I

(Meaning – the elliptical path, through which all the celestial bodies move, is imperishable and un-slackened.)


Rig-Veda-samhita, Mandalam 1, Suktam 164, Mantra 2 (6000 BCE)


This quote is excerpted from the part describing the performance of the final rites of an Agnihotri – a person who has been doing the fire sacrifice as a daily ritual. This and the other quotes from the Vedas demonstrate how the ritualistic prescriptions are littered with secular knowledge.

The Sanskrit word for the Universe is Brahmanda – a very large egg. The elliptical shape of the movement of all planets is possibly the reason for the coinage.

Western Reference:

In the western astronomical tradition – up to the age of Copernicus (1473-1543), it was believed that the planets and the other celestial bodies had circular orbits. Later, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) proposed in 1609 that, the path of all the planets and other celestial bodies is elliptical.

ReferencesPublished On: 05-03-2014
A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage
Compiled by Bharatiya Bouddhik Sampada ‘Anand Vilas’
Published by Samskrita Bharati

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