The Pancasiddhantika by Varaha Mihira occupies a marked position of its own in Indian astronomical literature. The work is a treatise on mathematical astronomy and it summarises five earlier astronomical treatises, namely the Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasistha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta. It is a compendium of Vedanga Jyotisa as well as Hellenistic astronomy (including Greek, Egyptian and Roman elements).
Pancasiddhantika belongs to the class of the so-called karanagranthas i.e., compendious astronomical treatises which do not set forth the theory of the subject at comparative length as the Siddhantas do, but merely supply a set of concise and often only approximately correct rules which suffice for the speedy performance of all the more important astronomical calculations.
It however contains a few chapters whose contents lie outside the limits of a mere karana and resemble the corresponding chapters of the best known Siddhantas; notably the chapter which describes the general constitution of the universe, and the 15th chapter called Jyotisopanisad. And it of course decidely distinguishes itself from all ordinary karanas by the fact that it does not base on any one particular Siddhanta, but undertakes to reproduce the more important doctrines of five different Siddhantas.
The present book is the first newly recomposed edition of Pancasiddhantika with side by side original Sanskrit text, Sanskrit commentary Pancasiddhanta-prakasika' and English translation of G.Thibaut.
The Pancasiddhantika by Varaha Mihira occupies a marked position of its own in Indian astronomical literature. As a rule works treating of that branch of science claim either to be directly revealed, as f i. the Surya Siddhanta in that form which has come down to our time; or else to base in all essential points on some older work of divine origin, as f. i. the Siddhantas by Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya, both of which are reproductions, however greatly amplified and improved, of an old Paitamaha Siddhanta. One of the consequences of this is, that these works claim for themselves direct or derived infallibility, propound their doctrines in a calmly dogmatic tone, and either pay no attention whatever to views diverging from their own, an else refer to such only occasionally, and mostly in the tone of contemptuous deperciation. The latter attitude is assumed f. i. by Brahmagupta who indeed devotes a special chapter to the task of reviewing those astronomical systems which were opposed to the teaching of the Brahma Siddhanta, but who would have rendered that part of his work much more valuable and interesting, had he been less anxious to criticize and ridicule than to impart information. The astronomical writers, it is true, therein only exemplify a general mental tendency which displays itself in almost every department of Hindu Literature; but mere dogmatic assertion appears more than ordinarily misplaced in an exact science like astronomy and the absence of all appreciative reference to the views of preceding authors is particularly vexatious, when we have to do with a branch of Hindu Learning which shows clear traces of having been remodelled under the influence of Greek teaching.
To the general rule the Pancasiddhantika forms a striking exception. As far as we can judge at present, Varaha Mihira was the only one among Hindu writers on astronomy who thought it worth while to give an exposition of all the more important forms of astronomical doctrine which were current at his time. Not that he was unable to judge of relative value of the systems which offered themselves to his examination; for, as we shall see further on, he knew very well in what order of merit the five Siddhantas whose teachings he summarizes are to be arranged. But he seems ready to acknowledge that even inferior systems deserve a certain amount of attention, as long as they continue to occupy in certain circles a position of authority; and he appears not to be altogether incapable of taking a purely intellectual interest in examining the various, more or less perfect methods which may be applied to the solution of scientific problems. At the same time he seems to have no hesitation to acknowledge the connexion of the modern phase of Hindu astronomy with Greek science. Although not directly stating that the Hindus learned from the Greeks, he at any rate mentions certain facts and points of doctrine which suggest the dependence of Indian astronomy on the science of Alexandria; and, as we know already from his astrological writings, he freely employs terms of undoubted Greek origin. The Pancasiddhantika thus becomes an invaluable source for him who wishes to study Hindu astronomy from the only point of view which can claim the attention of the modern scholar, viz. the historical one.
Regarding its form Pancasiddhantika belongs to the class of the so-called karanagranthas i.e. compendious astronomical treatises which do not set forth the theory of the subject at comparative length as the Siddhantas do, but merely supply a set of concise -and often only approximately correct-rules which suffice for the speedy performance of all the more important astronomical calculations. It however contains a few chapters whose contents lie outside the limits of a mere karana and resemble the corresponding chapters of the best known Siddhantas; notably the chapter which describes the general constitution of the universe, and the 15th chapter called Jyotisopanisad. And it of course decidely distinguishes itself from all ordinary karanas by the fact that it does not base on any one particular SiddhAnta, but undertakes to reproduce the more important doctrines of five different Siddhantas.
These five Siddhantas, named by Varaha Mihira in the first chapter, are the Paitamaha, Vasistha, Romaka, Pauliga and Saura Siddhantas. Varaha Mihira there also states his view as to their order in importance, assigning the first place to the Surya Siddhanta, placing next the Romaka and Paulisa Siddhantas as about equally correct, and declaring the two remaining works to be greatly inferior to the three mentioned. In agreement with this estimate very different amounts of space are allotted to the individual Siddhantas in the body of the work, the Surya Siddhanta and Paulisa Siddhanta being treated at some length, next to these the Romaka, and very little attention being paid to the Paitamah Siddhanta, and, although this is a point somewhat difficult to decide, to the Vasistha Siddhanta.
In addition to the general character of the five Siddhantas, this difference of treatment is owing to a special cause, mentioned by Varqaha Mihira in the first chapter viz. his wish to devote the Pancasiddhantika chiefly to the task of setting forth the calculation of solar eclipses, the most difficult problem attacked by Hindu astronomers. The Paitamaha Siddhanta at any rate was altogether incapable of furnishing any rules to that end; and so perhaps also the old Vasistha Siddhanta.
I now proceed shortly to discuss the teaching of each of the five Siddhantas as represented by Varaha Mihira. This, however, requires the preliminary settlement of two questions.
In the first place we must attempt to ascertain with accuracy which chapters of the Pancasiddhantika are devoted to each of the five works in question. -This is a task be set by considerable difficulties, as we have no commentary to assist us, and as the indications to be met with in the text as well as in the colophons of the chapters, as exhibited by the two Manuscripts at our disposal, do not, in all cases, enable us to arrive at definite conclusions.
I begin with those chapters, fortunately constituting the majority, which allow themselves to be referred to their respective sources with confidence. -The very short twelfth chapter is, in its colophon, called Paitamaha Siddhanta, and is in its first stanza declared by Varaha Mihira himself to base one the teaching of Pitamaha; it is the only chapter in the whole work which is concerned with that Siddhanta. -The eighth chapter treats, according to its colophon, of the calculation of solar eclipse according to the Romaka Siddhantas; and that this really is so, we again have no reason to doubt, as the first stanza refers to the Romaka by name, and as, moreover, the contents of the chapter agree with the statements made in the first chapter about the yuga and the ahargana of the Romaka Siddhanta. -The ninth, tenth and eleventh chapters undoubtedly-summarize the doctrines of the Surya Siddhanta, as is stated in the colophon, indicated in the first stanza of chapter IX, and borne out by the general agreement of the contents of the three chapters with the Surya Siddhanta as known at present. The sixteenth chapter contains, according to the colophon and to stanza 1, the rules of the Surya Siddhanta for finding the mean places of the planets; and the seveteenth chapter which teaches how to calculate their true places we may without hesitation refer to the same Siddhanta.
Among the remaining chapters of the work I at first single out those in which Varaha Mihira apparently does not intend to reproduce specific features of one particular Siddhanta, but rather to summarize doctrines held by all the more advanced astronomers of his time, and most probably set forth, with greater or less variations, in three of his five Siddhantas, viz., the Surya, Paulisa and Romaka Siddhantas. To this class of chapters, in which we discern more of the individual Varaha Mihira than in the remainder of the work, I feel inclined to reckon three or perhaps four sections. In the first place the thirteenth chapter, designated in the colophon as `trailokyasamsthana', which gives a popular exposition of the sphericity of the earth and the different aspects of the celestial sphere which are due to difference of terrestrial latitude. The mode of treatment of these questions is no doubt Varaha Mihira's own, as also the interesting criticisms passed on some astronomical schools. In the same way the fourteenth chapter, which is chiefly engaged in showing how certain results may be obtained not only by calculation but more directly by observation and the inspection of certain mechanical contrivances, appears, on the whole, to be Varaha Mihira's own, although the more scientific of his five Siddhantas no doubt treated of those topics in a similar manner. The same remarks apply to the fifteenth chapter which is even more distinctly individualistic, and contains interesting references to other astronomers. I am more doubtful about the position of chapter IV. which in the colophon is merely counted as such, with any special designation. The matter of the chapter corresponds to what in the best known astronomical work is set forth in the so-called triprasnadhikara, with the addition, however, of rules for calculating the table of sines (which ordinarily are given in the spastadhikara). It is not improbable that here also Varaha Mihira sums up, in his own fashion, whatever he found of value in the corresponding chapters of the Romaka, Paulisa and Surya Siddhantas. On the other hand, as the fourth chapter follows and precedes chapters specially devoted to the Paulisa Siddhanta, it is not impossible that its contents are meant to sum up the teaching of the Siddhanta only. The decision in this case is however of no very great importance, as the rules given in the fourth chapter on the whole closely agree with the general Siddhanta doctrine.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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