Two major world’s discoveries: the atomic theory and law of gravity were actually unveiled thousands of years ago in ancient India. However these two important scientific findings are left out from our history books.
Law of Gravity Discovered by Indian
In school we all have been told the story of how Newton was inspired to formulate “The Universal Law of Gravitation” when an apple fell from a tree. The world believes that Newton was the first to discover the gravitational concepts. You will be surprised to known that Indians knew the Laws of Gravity hundreds of years before Newton.
India’s contribution to the subject of gravity began with Varahamihira (505–587 CE), a Hindu astronomer and mathematician who thought of the idea of gravity but did not give it a specific name or meaning. Varahamihira claimed that there should be a force which might be keeping bodies stuck to the earth, and also keeping heavenly bodies in their determined places.
The second Indian who commented on gravity was Brahmagupta (598-670 CE). He was a Hindu astrologer and mathematician who held the view that the earth was spherical and that it attracts things. He even compared it to elements like water and fire. He also talked about ‘gravity’ in one of his statements saying:
Bodies fall towards the earth as it is in the nature of the earth to attract bodies, just as it is in the nature of water to flow.
The Sanskrit term for gravity is Gurutvakarshan, which is an amalgam of Guru-tva-akarshan. Akarshan means to be attracted. The term Guru-tva-akarshan can be interpreted to mean, “to the attracted by the Master”.
The 11th century saw the coming of another Hindu astrologer named Bhaskarachaya, also known as Bhaskara II.
Bhaskaracharya was one of the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of the 12th century. He is also considered as the greatest mathematician from the medieval era. He is known amongst the theorist for discovering principles on astronomy and calculus.
In his treatise Siddhant Shiromani he writes on planetary positions, eclipses, cosmography, mathematical techniques and astronomical equipment.
He continued the efforts of Brahmagupta and also contributed to ‘Surya Siddhanta‘, an astronomical text dated around 400 A.D.
In Surya Siddhant, he explains that earth has gravitational force (gurutvakarshan shakti). There is a mutual attraction between the planets and this allows them to hold themselves firmly in space.
Father of Atomic Theory – Acharya Kanada
Modern science credits the atomic theory to an English chemist and physicist named John Dalton (1766-1844). However, not many people are ware that a theory of atoms was formulated approximately 2,500 years before Dalton by an Indian sage and philosopher named Acharya Kanada (real name Kashyap).
Conception of Anu (the atom)
Kanad was walking with food in his hand, breaking it into small pieces when he realised that he was unable to divide the food into any further parts, it was too small. From this moment, Kanad conceptualised the idea of a particle that could not be divided any further. He called that indivisible matter Parmanu, or anu (atom).
Acharya Kanad proposed that this indivisible matter could not be sensed through any human organ or seen by the naked eye, and that an inherent urge made one Parmanu combine with another. When two Parmanu belonging to one class of substance combined, a dwinuka (binary molecule) was the result. This dwinuka had properties similar to the two parent Parmanu.
Kanad suggested that it was the different combinations of Parmanu which produced different types of substances. He also put forward the idea that atoms could be combined in various ways to produce chemical changes in presence of other factors such as heat. He gave blackening of earthen pot and ripening of fruit as examples of this phenomenon.
Acharya Kanad founded the Vaisheshika school of philosophy where he taught his ideas about the atom and the nature of the universe. He wrote a book on his research “Vaisheshik Darshan” and became known as “The Father of Atomic theory.”
In the West, atomism emerged in the 5th century BC with the ancient Greeks Leucippus and Democritus. Whether Indian culture influenced Greek or vice versa or whether both evolved independently is a matter of dispute.
Kanad is reporting to have said: ”Every object of creation is made of atoms which in turn connect with each other to form molecules.” His theory of the atom was abstract and enmeshed in philosophy as they were based on logic and not on personal experience or experimentation. But in the words of A.L. Basham, the veteran Australian Indologist, “they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.”