How Did the Rishis Know?

A prominent Indian scientist suggests that ancient Vedic scholars were able to intuit mathematical facts like the speed of light

BY: Interview with Dr. Subhash Kak

Dr. Subhash Kak, an authority on ancient Indian science and technology, is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Louisiana State University. Originally from Kashmir, Dr. Kak has authored ten books and over three hundred journal articles in areas as varied as neural networks, quantum physics, artificial intelligence, and the philosophy and history of science. This article is excerpted from a longer interview by Rajeev Srinivasan with permission of Rediff.

In your research, where have you been most amazed? Where, in other words, were the serendipitous and wholly unexpected 'Eureka' experiences?

My discovery that the organization of the Rigveda was according to an astronomical plan was a truly 'Eureka' experience. It came upon me rather suddenly, but once everything fell into place it was clear that I had been led to it by the many direct and indirect references in the Vedic texts.

The 'Eureka' of it was the realization that I had the key to unlock the ancient mystery of the Veda. Ritual and mythology made sense! And it opened up a hidden chapter of Indian science with the greatest implications for our understanding of India and the rest of the ancient world.

You have done considerable research on the structure of the fire altars in Scriptural ritual (The Astronomical Code of the Rigveda, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi), and you have demonstrated that there was a very formal and mathematical basis to the construction of these. Could you explain?

Vedic Indians were scientific. They believed in laws of nature. They represented their astronomy in terms of the altar constructions. One problem they considered was that of the synchronization of the lunar and the solar years: the lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year and if we add a round number of days every few years to make up for the discrepancy, we find we cannot do it elegantly unless we have a correction cycle of 95 years or its multiples. This 95-year cycle is described in the earliest Vedic prose books.

The altars were to be built to slightly larger dimensions each year of the cycle to represent the corrections. There were other symbolic constructions. Like building a square altar (representing the sky) with the same area as a circular altar (representing the earth), which is the problem of squaring the circle. This led to the discovery of the earliest geometry. They were aware that the sun and the moon were at 108 times their own diameters from the earth.

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