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The Archaic and the Exotic (Studies in The History of Indian Astronomical Instruments)

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Item Code: NAM739
Publisher: Manohar Publishers And Distributors
Author: Sreeramula Rajeswara Sharma
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788173045714
Pages: 320 (53 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The fifteen papers collected in this volume are related to the author's investigations into the history of astronomical instruments in India. This history, so far untouched by others, is dominated by two currents: on the one hand the resilience of certain archaic instruments that held sway for long, on the other the receptivity of Indian astronomers towards exotic instruments from other cultures. Hence the title: The Archaic and the Exotic.

The first part of the volume seeks to define the context in which the author's studies on Indian instruments are undertaken and emphasizes the need for a combined study of Sanskrit astronomical texts and the extant instruments, besides pictorial depictions of instruments, notably in Mughal miniature paintings.

The four papers in part II are devoted to an 'archaic' instrument, namely the sinking bowl variety of water clock, its history, its technical specifications and a ritual connected to its installation.

The astrolabe and the celestial globe are the exotic instruments received enthusiastically in India from the Islamic World. The five papers in part III deal with the history of the astrolabe in India: its promotion by Firuz Shah Tughluq, the dominant role played in its production by a family of instrument makers from Lahore under the patronage of the Mughal rulers, Sanskrit manuals composed on it, and certain individual specimens of Indo-Persian and Sanskrit astrolabes.

The last two papers, comprising part IV, deal with the history of the celestial globe in India and the globes crafted by two seventeenth-century instrument makers.


About the Author

Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma studied Sanskrit at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, and Indology at Philipps University, Marburg, and taught Sanskrit at Aligarh Muslim University until his retirement in 1997. Subsequently he has been editor of the Indian Journal of History of Science, and visiting professor at Kyoto University, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and at Harvard.

The main areas of his interest are the history of science in India and the intellectual exchanges between the Sanskrit and Islamic traditions of learning. He is currently preparing a descriptive catalogue of some 400 Indian astronomical instruments preserved in India and abroad.



The papers collected in this volume are related to my investigations into the history of astronomical and time-measuring instruments in India. This history needs to be reconstructed from literary sources as well as from actual specimens that are extant. The first paper in this volume dwells on the importance of cataloguing the extant specimens of pre-modern astronomical instruments produced in India and gives an overview of those preserved in various museums in India and outside. Among the literary sources, Brahmagupta's Brahmasphutasiddhanta offers the first systematic discussion of a large number of instruments and their use. The twenty-second chapter of this work which is exclusively devoted to instruments is analysed in the second paper. Questions of transmission from one culture area to another are discussed in the third paper entitled 'Perpetual Motion Machines and their Design in Ancient India.' Besides literary sources and actual specimens, there is yet a third source, viz., paintings. While looking at the astronomical instruments depicted in the Mughal miniatures, the fourth paper addresses the larger issue of exchanges between Sanskritic and Islamic traditions of astronomy and astronomical instrumentation. These four papers thus define the context in which my studies are undertaken.

The history of astronomical instrumentation in India is dominated by two mutually contradictory-yet complementary-currents: on the one hand the resilience of certain archaic instruments that held sway for long even after they had become obsolete; on the other, Indian astronomers' receptivity to exotic instruments from other cultures. Hence the title of volume: The Archaic and the Exotic.

The archaic is the sinking bowl variety of water clock called Ghati-yantra, from which ghadi, the name for watches and clocks in many modern Indian languages, is derived. This type of water clock is mentioned for the first time in a commentary written in Sri Lanka by Buddhaghosa in the first half of the fifth century and has been widely in use in all the Indian Ocean countries up to the beginning of the twentieth century. In India, there developed an interesting ritual about the setting up of this device for determining the auspicious moment for weddings, and a poignant legend grew about its non-function and the tragic consequences thereof. Even now the Ghati-yantra is employed in certain places of worship of the Hindus, Jainas and Muslims. The horological vocabulary in almost all Indian languages is still reminiscent of the age-old practice of measuring time with this sinking bowl and broadcasting it by striking on a metal gong. Four papers in part II deal with these and other aspects of the water clock.

The astrolabe and the celestial globe are the exotic instruments received enthusiastically in India from the Islamic World. Of these two, the astrolabe is the more versatile instrument. It was held in high esteem in all the cultures from Spain to India. Though it may have been introduced into India even earlier, its study received an impetus in the second half of the fourteenth century through the interest of Firuz Shah Tughluq. Under his auspices, astrolabe manufacture commenced at Delhi, and manuals were composed on its construction and use in Persian and in Sanskrit. The production of astrolabes reached its technical and artistic pinnacle in the Mughal period. Today there survive a very large number of exquisitely crafted Mughal astrolabes in several collections all over the world.

The Jaina monk Mahendra Suri, who composed the first ever manual in Sanskrit on the astrolabe at the court of Firuz Shah Tughluq at Delhi in 1370, was so impressed by the astrolabe that he called it Yantra-raja ("king of the astronomical instruments") in Sanskrit. From his time up to the end of the eighteenth century, at least a dozen Sanskrit manuals were composed on the astrolabe. Simultaneously astrolabes were also produced with Sanskrit labels and scales. Today, Indo-Persian astrolabes with Arabic/Persian legends and Sanskrit astrolabes form the bulk of extant Indian astronomical instruments. Five papers in part III deal with the history of the astrolabe in India: its promotion by Firuz Shah Tughluq in the fourteenth century, the dominant role played by a family of instrument makers from Lahore in the production of astrolabes under the patronage of Mughal rulers from Humayun to Aurangzeb, Sanskrit manuals composed on the astrolabe, and certain individual specimens of Indo-Persian and Sanskrit astrolabes.

India introduced an important innovation in the production of the celestial globe at the close of the sixteenth century. Prior to this time, globes were made first as two hollow hemispheres and then joined together. Qa'im Muhammad, an instrument maker from Lahore, adopted the ancient Indian technique of making metal images by the cire perdue process and cast the celestial globes in one piece. The history of the celestial globe in India is dealt with in the last two papers where I introduce, among others, an exceptionally fine celestial globe crafted by Diya' al-Din Muhammad in 1653. Preserved at Aligarh Muslim University, it became the starting point of my survey of Indian astronomical instruments.

For this survey, I visited, during the last decade and a half, more than a hundred museums and private collections in India, Europe and North America, where I identified and studied some 430 specimens of pre-modem Indian astronomical instruments. I am currently preparing a descriptive catalogue of these instruments. The catalogue will contain historical surveys of each instrument- type, its use and geographical spread, besides full technical description of each specimen, with art-historical notes and photographic documentation. I shall also discuss the relation between the theoretical prescriptions on instrument making in Sanskrit astronomical treatises and their actual execution; and the interplay between the Sanskritic and Islamic traditions of instrumentation. I hope the present volume of studies will serve as a companion to the forthcoming Descriptive Catalogue.

It is my pleasant duty to thank the editors of the Journals and Felicitation Volumes for publishing these papers and for giving permission now to reprint them in this volume. Here the papers are reprinted as they originally appeared in publication with different referencing style; hence some divergence will be found here in the style of citations.

In the course of my studies on astronomical instruments, I was immensely benefited by the writings of several scholars; others facilitated my access to instruments in museums and private collections; yet others offered scholarly advice and much needed encouragement. For their invaluable help, I express my deep sense of gratitude to all these heads of museums, scholars, colleagues and friends: Dr R.G.W. Anderson (formerly Director of the British Museum, London, and now Visiting Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge); Prof. S.M. Razaullah Ansari (President, Commission for History of Ancient and Medieval Astronomy, International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, Aligarh); Dr A.K. Bag (Editor, Indian Journal of the History of Science, and Advisor, History of Science Programme, Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi); Prof. Nalini Balbir (Mondes iranien et indien, Universite Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris); Dr Jim Bennett (Director, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford); Prof. Owen Gingerich (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass); Prof. David King (formerly Director of the Institut fur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universitat, Frankfurt); the late Mr. Francis Maddison (Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford); the late Prof. David Pingree (University Professor of History of Mathematics and Classics, Brown University, Providence); Dr A.K.V.S. Reddy (formerly Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, now Director General, National Museum, New Delhi); Prof. Emilie Savage-Smith (Professor of the History of Islamic Science, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford); Prof. Fuat Sezgin (Director of the Institute fur Geschichte der Arabisch- Islamischen Wissenschaften, Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universitat, Frankfurt); Pt. Om Prakash Sharma (Superintendent, Jantar Mantar Observatory, Jaipur); Dr W.H. Siddiqi (Officer on Special Duty, Rampur Raza Library, Rampur); Mr. Anthony J. Turner (President, Societe internationale de l'astrolabe, Le Mesnil-le-Roi); Prof. G.L 'E Turner (formerly of Imperial College, London); Dr Kapila Vatsyayan (President, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts Trust, New Delhi); Prof. Michio Yano (Dean, Faculty of Cultural Studies, Kyoto Sangyo University, Kyoto).

Finally, I must thank Mr. Ramesh Jain for agreeing to publish this volume under the imprint of Manohar; he and his staff deserve all praise for their unfailing courtesy and for the elegant production of the volume.




  List of Illustrations 9
  Preface 13
I The Context  
1 Indian Astronomical and Time-Measuring Instruments: A Catalogue in Preparation 19
2 Astronomical Instruments in Brahmagupta's Brahmasphutasiddhanta 47
3 Perpetual Motion Machines and their Design in Ancient India 64
4 Astronomical Instruments in Mughal Miniatures 76
II The Water Clock  
5 The Bowl that Sinks and Tells Time 125
6 Announcing Time: The Unique Method at Hayatnagar, 1676 136
7 Measuring Time with Long Syllables: Bhaskara I's Commentary on Aryabhatiya, Kalakriyapada 2 143
8 Setting up the Water Clock for Telling the Time of Marriage 147
III The Astrolabe  
9 Sultan, Suri and the Astrolabe 179
10 The Lahore Family of Astrolabists and their Ouvrage 199
11 The Safiha Zarqaliyya in India 223
12 Yantraraja: The Astrolabe in Sanskrit 240
13 Katapayadi Notation on a Sanskrit Astrolabe 257
IV The Celestial Globe  
14 From al-Kura to Bhagola: On the Dissemination of the Celestial Globe in India 275
15 Two Mughal Celestial Globes 294
  Index 309


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