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Bengal School of Astronomy

Bengal School of Astronomy
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Foreword   In this monograph the author Professor A. K. Chakravarty attempts to compile a history of astronomical studies in Bengal. The idea came to his mind by finding 'a rich collection of old manuscripts on astronomy written by astronomers of Bengal' while visiting The Asiatic Society in connection with working on another project. However, subsequently when he actually takes up the project, his observations are as follows: 'No manuscript ...

Foreword

 

In this monograph the author Professor A. K. Chakravarty attempts to compile a history of astronomical studies in Bengal. The idea came to his mind by finding 'a rich collection of old manuscripts on astronomy written by astronomers of Bengal' while visiting The Asiatic Society in connection with working on another project. However, subsequently when he actually takes up the project, his observations are as follows: 'No manuscript on a comprehensive course of astronomy by any astronomer of. Bengal has been handed down to us, no manuscript bears any evidence that astronomical science was ever any course of study in Bengal, nor is there any reference to any such work or author in any of these manuscripts. In short, none of these manuscripts bears any evidence of any serious study of astronomical course in Bengal.' A little later the author mentions, 'Not only in astronomy, we find the same dismal picture in other branches of natural science also. A science temper or science quest was conspicuous in Bengal by its absence.

 

'But the situation changed with surprising strides after the advent of the Britishers in Bengal, particularly some gifted Baptist Missionaries and Civilians of the Company. In a short time, Bengal, without any heritage of any science temper, took interest in almost all branches of modem science and joined global studies in science.'

 

It is a fact that the modem science education started in the country during the colonial period and the-Bengal was perhaps a little ahead than most other parts of the country. The present monograph traces the history of astronomical studies in Bengal in particular and science education in general.

 

Preface

 

Around 1985, while I was working as an advisor: in Astronomy and Mathematics to the NISTADS Project Science & Technology in Ancient India under Professor D. P. Chattopadhyaya, I would often visit The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. I was amazed to find there a rich: Collection of old manuscripts on astronomy written by astronomers of Bengal, and then it occurred to me to compile a history of astronomical studies in Bengal, because this field is still unexplored. Professor Chattopadhyaya also encouraged me to take up such a project. But then I was ': too busy with my NISTADS works to take this new project. After completion of my NISTADS works in 1993, I took this work of compiling a history of astronomical studies in Bengal.

 

The first problem I faced in this work was that all these manuscripts are written in 17th or 18th century Bengali character, but the language is Sanskrit. Further also, in most cases, the writings have faded out, pages have become discoloured, brittle, and often tom out, in several cases, pages here and there are missing. However, with the help of some experts in reading manuscripts, I could decipher most of these manuscripts.

 

I must mention here that The Asiatic Society sanctioned me some financial support to meet the cost of deciphering these manuscripts, an assistant who all along worked with me, and other relevant expenses. I could not have completed this work without this financial help from The Asiatic Society. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to The Asiatic Society for rendering me this financial support. After starting the work with everything ready at hand, I was, at first, disappointed to some extent. A major part of these manuscripts relates to computation of annual calendars based on the well-known astronomical text Suryasiddhanta. In other words, these manuscripts contain some set rules in the form of a ready reckoner without any elaboration or deduction of the principles involved. No manuscript on a comprehensive course of astronomy by any astronomer of Bengal has been handed down to us, no manuscript bears any evidence that astronomical science was ever any course of study in Bengal, nor is there any reference to any such work or author in any of these manuscripts. In short, none of these manuscripts bears any evidence of any serious study of astronomical course in Bengal.

 

Some other manuscripts relate to, what is called Samhita Skandha of Astronomy. It is neither astronomy, nor horoscopy, but relates to only day to day domestic life like prescribing auspicious time for socio-religious purposes. The contents of this branch of literature deal with the matchings of bride and groom, initiation of a child to letters etc. Not only in astronomy, we find the same dismal picture in other branches of natural science also. The Late Professor Sukumar Sen is known to have said once that all the manuscripts on chemical science that he could collect relate only to preparation of fire-arms for child's play, a subject which is neither chemistry, nor alchemy. A science temper or science quest was conspicuous in Bengal by its absence.

 

But the situation changed with surprising strides after the advent of the Britishers in Bengal, particularly some gifted Baptist Missionaries and Civilians of the Company. In a short time, Bengal, without any heritage of any science temper, took interest in almost all branches of modem science and joined global studies in science. We have devoted two chapters to this topic. Most of the quotations as will be found in our work are English translations of the original in Bengali, but in all cases, we have taken care to remain as faithful to the original as possible. I was greatly helped by my colleague Professor S. K. Banerjee in these translations and I express my gratitude to Professor Banerjee for this help. In a few cases, we have reproduced the original also so that a Bengali knowing reader may assess the standard of Bengali science literature that developed in that period mostly in the hands of some British Missionaries.

 

I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, and to Mrs. S. J. Mills, Librarian/Archivist, Regent Park College, Oxford, for kindly helping me with photocopies of documents, letters, reports etc. relevant to my work and permitting me to reproduce them. I also acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. P. T. Nair, an acknowledged expert in early Calcutta. Dr. Nair, despite his own pre-occupations, spared some of his valuable time to revise the entire manuscript and thereby he improved the work by adding new information. Finally, I thank my assistant, Sri Rupak Bhattacharya for working so sincerely.

 

Contents

 

Foreword

v

Preface

vii

Chapter One

 

Age of classical astronomy in Bengal

1

Chapter Two

 

Astronomical Studies in Rural Bengal in company's time

32

Chapter Three

 

Studies in modern astronomy begin in Calcutta

54

Chapter Four

 

Science temper develops among the natives of Bengal

83

Appendix

112

Bibliography

116

Index

117

 

Sample Pages















Item Code: NAG081 Author: A.K.Chakravarty Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2013 Publisher: The Asiatic society ISBN: 9789381574102 Language: English Size: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch Pages: 127 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 284 gms
Price: $22.00
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