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Transmission of Indian astronomy to China, Korea and Japan

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Transmission of Indian astronomy to China, Korea and Japan

  1. 1. Sky as a bridge: Transmission of Indian astronomy to China, Korea and Japan Rajesh Kochhar President IAU Commission 41: History of Astronomy Hon. Prof. Panjab University Mathematics Department Chandigarh Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, Punjab rkochhar2000@yahoo.com ICOA-8 Hefei, China, 26-28 March 2014
  2. 2. Ancient cultural tradition of the Indian subcontinent (India for short) is characterized by a combination of three important factors: (i) antiquity, (ii) continuity, and (iii) interaction with the outside world.
  3. 3. There are two distinct phases in Indian astronomy: (i) Vedic astronomy and (ii) Siddhantic astronomy. The oldest astronomical text in India is Vedanga Jyotisha the earliest portions of which could be as old as 1400 BCE. Indian astronomy remained static for a very long time.
  4. 4. From 1st century BCE to 5th century CE new Greco-Babylonian inputs were received from the northwest. These included an accurate luni-solar calendar (the Shaka (Saka) calendar ) and concepts of zodiac and week days.
  5. 5. The pioneering name in the modernization of Indian mathematical (or Siddhantic) astronomy is Aryabhata (b. 476 BCE) who composed his concise but influential work Aryabhatiyam [simply meaning Aryabhata’s] in 499 CE.
  6. 6. Siddhantic astronomy focused on calculating eclipses and planetary orbits. In a tradition spanning more than 1000 years India produced a number of eminent mathematician- astronomers who set up and solved new equations,
  7. 7. and suitably adjusted the parameters so that calculated planetary positions could match the observed sky. /
  8. 8. India’s interaction with East Asia was on two distinct lines. Interaction with China, and through it with Korea, Japan and Vietnam, was driven by Buddhism and characterized by translation of Buddhist and other texts.
  9. 9. Interaction with Indonesia and Thailand ( not being discussed here) was by sea from the Indian east coast. There was no direct contact with Japan, only though China and Korea.
  10. 10. Buddha personally was firmly against astrology, but by the time Buddhism was exported to East Asia, astronomy/ astrology had become part of it. Unlike the traditional Chinese focus on portents, Indian mathematical astronomy could prepare horoscopes for the benefit of individuals.
  11. 11. Transmission to China Transmission of astronomy to China began in the 1st century CE during the Later Han period (25–220 CE) and continued into the politically unstable Three Kingdom period (220-265 CE).
  12. 12. Indian inputs to China continued intermittently even after that, with the most detailed incorporation of Indian astronomy coming during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE).
  13. 13. It needs to be appreciated that Indian and Chinese histories of astronomy are interlinked. An investigation of India-inspired developments in Chinese astronomy requires familiarity with the state of astronomical knowledge in India at that time.
  14. 14. At the same time China is important for obtaining a better understanding of developments within India. This is so because India’s own sources have inherent limitations. Reference to Chinese sources may help overcome them to an extent.
  15. 15. Nature and limitation of ancient Indian source material India’s intellectual tradition has been oral. Permanent writing material was not used. And there was no system of counting years.
  16. 16. Astronomy texts were not designed as self-contained self-study library books. Their comprehension required familiarity with the context and help of commentaries which in many cases are no longer extant.
  17. 17. Astronomical results were recorded in terse metrical poetry, in imitation of the sacred Rigveda. However unlike the sacred texts which were frozen in time, astronomy (and healthcare) texts underwent constant revision. A text not considered relevant at any time would be forgotten for ever,>
  18. 18. except for excerpts incorporated in other texts. Some time only the names of texts or authors have been preserved without any other information.
  19. 19. Chronology remains a severe handicap in case of ancient Indian literature. Astronomy fares a little better than other disciplines because time in inbuilt into astronomical calculations. Still, there are many texts and developments which cannot be dated.
  20. 20. In other words, it is not possible to construct a connected historical account of ancient astronomy (or science in general) in India. Celebrated texts record the end results but various stages of development preceding them may not be known at all or known only sketchily.
  21. 21. Buddhist intellectual tradition followed a different route. Buddhists wrote down their texts and preserved them. In many cases they can be assigned reliable time bracket, by reference to external sources.
  22. 22. Thus East Asian records with firm dates can help fix the chronology of Indian developments which Indian sources themselves may not be able to do. Instructive illustration of this come from healthcare.
  23. 23. The celebrated medical texts, Charaka.samhita and Sushruta.samhita, are known to India only in their final definitive un-dated form. We know about state of Indian healthcare in India in 4th century CE from the well-known Bower manuscript which came from Kucha, now a county in the Aksu prefecture in mid-western Xinjiang province.
  24. 24. Also, an influential Indian healthcare text Ashtanga.hrdya.samhita composed by Vagabhata can be confidently dated 7th century or a little earlier on the basis of implicit reference to it in the work of the well-known Chinese pilgrim I-tsing who was in India from 672 CE till about 688 CE.
  25. 25. A valuable aid in the discussion of the text’s contents is its Tibetan edition prepared between 1013-1055 CE (Vogel 1965, pp. 8, 18). Vagbhata is the first Indian physician to assign astronomical causes to illnesses.
  26. 26. Vagbhata claimed that diseases which originated during different stellar (nakshatra) conjunctions followed different courses. It would be interesting to see how the Tibetan edition handles this statement.
  27. 27. Rahu and Ketu: Changing meaning In ancient times, the planets with their predictable orbits represented cosmic order and were a source of comfort. On the other hand, phenomena like comets and meteors appeared without warning and thus represented divine wrath.
  28. 28. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist sacred literature treats eclipses as a calamity caused by a demon. He is called Svarbhanu in the Rigveda, but later texts use the name Rahu. The Pali Buddhist texts tell us that the Moon and the Sun freed themselves from the grasp of Rahu by invoking Buddha’s name (Chandima Sutta, Samyutta-nikaya 2.9; Suriya Sutta, Samyutta-nikaya 2.10).
  29. 29. Similarly the Buddhist Sanskrit text Shardula. karana.vadana, a portion of which was translated into Chinese in 265 CE, treats Rahu as a calamity. For later reference we may note that the term ketu was used as a common noun to denote a number of phenomena involving light and smoke. It could thus refer to comets and meteors.
  30. 30. Mathematical theory of eclipses was propounded in India in 499 CE by Aryabhata. According to this theory, solar and lunar eclipses occur when the Moon is at either of its orbital nodes. These theoretical points move in a direction opposite to that of the planets and complete an orbit in the rather short period of 18.6 years.
  31. 31. One would have expected the astronomers to declare that since the cause of eclipses was now understood, there was no need for a demon. However to maintain continuity with the sacred tradition, the demon was not banished but made mathematically amenable. It now did not appear suddenly but came by appointment!
  32. 32. The mathematical theory of eclipses was immediately taken note of in astrological literature, by Varahamihira. The two nodes were classified as planets, implying that they were now amenable to mathematics. Since they were hypothetical they were dubbed shadow planets. They could have been given entirely new names.
  33. 33. But to maintain continuity with sacred literature, old terms were given new meaning. The name Rahu, already associated with the eclipses, was given to the ascending node. Another name was needed for the descending node.
  34. 34. The old common noun ketu was picked up for the purpose ( why, we do not know). The two nodes are 180 degrees apart so that specifying one fixes the other. It would thus have sufficed to include just one of them. Both were listed as planets no doubt to bring the planetary number up to nine which was considered sacred.
  35. 35. To sum up so far, 6th century CE onwards, Rahu and Ketu represent shadow planets. Ketu is in addition used to denote meteor/ comet. Before 6th century CE, ketu is only comet/ meteor while Rahu is the eclipse-causing demon.
  36. 36. Chinese sources Rahu as Luo-hou makes its first appearance in the translated Matanga-sutra, that is Mo-deng-jie-jing, which was rendered into Chinese by Zhu Lu-yan and Ziu-Qian in 230 CE (sutra numbered 1300 of Taisho Tripataka).
  37. 37. According to Lee and Chen (2000), ‘In this sutra, Luo-hou and “comet” are the two hidden ones of Nine luminaries (jiu-yao)’. I suspect this interpretation is anachronistic. The term nine luminaries should not appear before 6th century CE.
  38. 38. A literal translation of the original Chinese passage would be most welcome. It can then be compared with the Sanskrit original Shardulakaranavadana.
  39. 39. China’s systematic introduction to Indian astronomy began in the early 8th century. Remarkably, the Indian inputs did not reamin an add-on, but were successfully assimilated. ( See various papers by Michio Yano.)
  40. 40. An astronomer of Indian descent Qutan Xida [Gautam Siddha] prepared an astronomical treatise, Jiu-zhi-li in 718 CE. The elements of this Treatise in turn were employed by the well known Chinese astronomer Yi- Xing (687-727 CE) in his famous calendar Da-yan-li.
  41. 41. Astrological treatise of the Kaiyuan Period is also attributed to Qutan Xida. Consistent with the Indian tradition Jiu-zhi-li designates Rahu as the ascending node and Ketu the descending. For some reason, Shen Kuo (1031-1095) in his Meng-Xi Bi Tan interchanges the nomenclature of ascending and descending nodes.
  42. 42. Far more significant was the contribution of Indian Buddhist monk, Jin Ju Zha. His work ‘Formulae forwarding of calamities according to the Seven Luminaries’ contains detailed ephemerides of Rahu and Ketu . These
  43. 43. were incorporated into the calendrical calculations of the Tang dynasty Yuanhe era, Year I ( 806 CE). As already noted, naming the two nodes separately is not necessary because they are 180 degrees apart. Jin Ju Zha’s work recognizes this and introduces a modification.
  44. 44. While employing Rahu to denote the ascending node, he boldly decided to use Ketu to denote lunar apogee (Niu 1995). This is significant because in Indian astronomical texts ( as distinct from the astrological ones) the term ketu does not appear. This is for good reason.
  45. 45. Once ascending note had been fixed there was no need to discuss the descending node. Since meteors/ comets were not predicable phenomena ketu in the other sense would be irrelevant in a Siddhantic text. The Chinese use of the term ketu in a mathematical sense was thus an innovation.
  46. 46. An influential astrological text in China was Hsiu-yao ching ( ‘the canon of mansions and planets’) translated from an Indian work by Amoghavajra in 759 CE. A more detailed account was given in the 9th century treatise Ch’i-yao jang-tsai-chuch (‘formulae for avoiding calamities according to the seven luminaries’).
  47. 47. Taisho Tripitaka compiled by the Japanese during 1924-1934 CE is the most popular edition of the Sanskrit sutras translated from Sanskrit into Chinese from late 2nd till 11th century CE. Niu Wei-Xing has published extensively on astronomy in these sutras.
  48. 48. While interpreting Indian influences in Chinese astronomy, scholars should not fall in the anachronistic trap. First of all as literal a translation as possible of the original Chinese text should be provided. Next, the interpretation of Chinese sources should be attempted in the framework of knowledge prevalent in India at that time and not later.
  49. 49. Let me say a few lines about Buddhist cosmology which in fact needs a separate detailed treatment. Cosmology Buddhist cosmology was inspired by India’s geography. At the centre of the Earth stood Mount Sumeru around which revolved the
  50. 50. geocentric planets and the cosmic sphere. Sumeru was thus an abstraction of the Himalayas and the Earth’s spin axis.
  51. 51. In conclusion From the point of view of Indian history scholars would be interested in obtaining help from China on two important counts.
  52. 52. (1) What can we learn from Chinese sources about Indian astronomy prior to Aryabhata (499 CE). ( As I mentioned, very little is known about transition from the Vedic astronomy to the Siddhantic.)
  53. 53. (2) What gaps can be filled with help from Chinese sources in the development of post- 499 CE Siddhantic astronomy?
  54. 54. References Kochhar, Rajesh (2010) ‘Rahu and Ketu in mythological and “astronomological” contexts.’ Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 287-297. Lee, Eon- Hee and Chen, Kwan-Yu (2000) ‘A study of the motions of Rahu and Ketu.’ Proc. 3rd Intl Conf on Oriental Astronomy (ed: M. Hirai), pp. 93-96 ( Fukuoka: Fukuoka University of Education Press).
  55. 55. Nakayama, Shigeru ( 1969) A History of Japanese Astronomy: Chinese Background and Western Impact (Cambridge: Harvard University Press). Niu, Wei-Xing (1995) ‘An inquiry into the astrological meaning of Rahu and Ketu.’ Chinese Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 259- 266.
  56. 56. Niu, Wei-Xing (1997/98) ‘Astronomy in the sutras translated into Chinese.’ Studies in the History of Medicine and Science, Vol. 15, No. 1-2, pp. 119- 129. Vogel, Claus (1965) Vagabhata’s Astangahrdyasamhita: The first five chapters of its Tibetan Version ( Wiesbaden: Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft).
  57. 57. Thank you

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