Thursday, February 18, 2016

Navagraha and the heliocentric theory

Most Hindu temples have a corner for the "vigrahas" representing nine heavenly “bodies”. Not only planets; they include Sun, Moon, Rahu and Ketu. The whole assembly is a model of the solar system as perceived by the builders of temples. The Sun is in the center, facing east. The others are facing different directions. This suggests that people who adopted this style of worship had accepted that the Sun was the central body. It also suggests that they recognized that each planet revolved around its own axis independently. Wikipedia offers an article on Navagraha Temples

Credit is given to Aristarchus of Samos for proposing a model of the solar system with planets going round the Sun, in the 3rd Century B. C.  The world seems to have largely ignored his model over many centuries. It was left to Nicolaus Copernicus to propose this model again in the 16th century and trigger off a revolution in scientific thought. The invention of the telescope and its use by Galileo in the 17th century to report the sighting of the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus settled the issue and made the Heliocentricism an accepted scientific theory.
The scientific world has not accepted any argument that Hindu astronomers had adopted the Heliocentric Theory before Copernicus. Can archeologists prove scientifically that the Navagraha corners as described above were built as parts of Indian temples earlier than the 16th century? This would have great significance and give a lot of credit to Hindu Astronomy.
Why all this fuss about Heliocentrism? It is because Heliocentrism did a lot to upset the traditional belief that religious texts were reliable sources of information about the nature of the universe. It promoted the scientific view that “sacred literature” is no substitute for scientific findings. It was a victory for believers in reason. The extraordinary precision with which heliocentric models could predict the movement of planets and the occurrence of eclipses using simple laws of motion and gravity earned a lot of respect for the scientific method.
We have to recognize that no such revolution took place in India, irrespective of the time of adoption of the heliocentric theory there.  Belief in astrology continues to have an influence over large numbers of people. Visit Prof Shivaji Sondhi’s article at  for a discussion on the thoughts of a former education minister of India and his efforts to provide funding for university courses in astrology. Mixing dubious beliefs with ancient knowledge that stands up to scientific investigation ruins our credibility. The baby gets thrown out with the bath water! Rejecting beliefs that fail repeated attempts at verification is as important as accepting verified knowledge.
A search indicates that at least one university in India advertises degree level courses in astrology. Visit  Their website says “Astrology, the study of the stars and their influence upon human life on earth, has been in vogue since Vedic times”. 
Yes, this institution is in the University Grants Commission’s list named “Total No. of Universities in the Country as on 14.12.2015” as item 549.

1 comment:

Srinivasan Ramani said...

There is evidence that Hindu Astronomers accepted the heliocentric theory before the time of Copernicus. Two relevant references are:

Indian-Astronomy and

The Heliocentric System in Greek, Persian and Hindu Astronomy
B. L. VAN DER WAERDEN, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

However, reliable archeological dating of a Navagraha temple would surely add to the strength of the argument. It is also worth reading about what Al-Biruni had written about:

Hindu Astronomy