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Sulba Sutras & the Indic Approach to Engineering — 1

source: http://vigyanprasar.gov.in/digital-repository/posters/maths-indian-heritage/

How great is the science which revealed itself in the Sulba, and how meagre is my intellect! I have aspired to cross the unconquerable ocean in a mere raft". 
-Bibhutibhushan Datta, Science of the Sulbas.


In this short introductory post, we share the motivation behind the study of Ganita in ancient Indian works such as Vedanga Jyotisha and Sulba Sutras, before delving deeper into the geometrical science of the Sulbas in Part-2. This self-study gives us a rough understanding of traditional Indic Engineering and its methods. We further develop these ideas in the third and final part and apply it toward solving challenging contemporary problems.


The Sulbasutras are comprehensive reference manuals to plan, align, measure, compute, layout, and construct structurally stable Vedic Altars required for the proper performance of Yagnas. The Sulbas belong to the Srauta Sutra section of the Kalpasutras, which are one of the six Vedangas attached to the Vedas.  The Sulbas provides the required spatial and directional parameters for constructing the altars while the time-keeping calculations in the Vedanga Jyotisha decide the temporal parameters of the Yagna. The position vector coordinates consisting of orientation, location, and time (dik-desa-kaala) can be decided using these texts.

Sulba primarily means measurement [1], which is done using the measuring cord called the Rajju, although sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably. An early Hindu term mentioned in the Sulba Sutras is Sulba Vijnana, roughly the ‘science of the Sulba’, measurement science, or the geometrical sciences [1], which also became known later as kshetraganita [2]. Part-2 has a more complete discussion of these terms.

Seven Sulba Sutras are available today, and the three earliest Sulbas are listed below (earlier first), noting that the dating of the early Sulba to 800 BCE is tentative and only provides the latest date when the Sulbas were compiled. The organization of these three Sulbas are given below [1].

Baudhayana Sulba Sutra

This is considered the world’s earliest systematic treatise on Geometrical Sciences, but like the Vedanga Jyotisha, contains pre-existing ideas from more ancient Vedic works that date back to the 2nd-3rd millennium or earlier. Interestingly, the pythagorean theorem is first stated by Baudhayana.

The Sulba content also serves as the oldest known reference text for Engineering.

Chapter 1: 116 sutras
Topics: measures, geometrical rules of altar construction, relative positions and magnitudes of the various Vedis.

Chapter 2:  86 sutras
Topics: spatial relations in the constructions of the agnis (Vedic fire altars),
and the construction of the two simplest agnis, i.e., Garhapatya and Chandas (Veda mantras replace bricks).

Chapter 3: 323 sutras
Topics: Seventeen different kamyagnis, which involve complex and highly specific constructions.

Apastamba Sulba Sutra

6 sections, 21 chapters and 223 sutras in total.

This work also discusses the methods of construction.

Katyayana Sulba Sutra

7 sections, 90 sutras. 48 verses.
The content is partly in sutra form and part verse. Additional topics include attributes of Sulba expertise, and the rules of ethical conduct for those involved in altar construction.

The other available Sulba works include those of Maanava, Maitraayana, Vaaraaha, and Vaadula.

Available commentaries on the three Sulbas (likely date: post Aryabhata)
BS: Dvarakanatha Yajva, Venkateshvara Dikshata
AS: Kapardiswami (before 1150 CE), Karavindaswami, Sundararaja (prior to 1600), Gopala
KS: Rama Bajapeya (1449 CE) who made new contributions and improved the accuracy of √2 up to 7 decimal places, and Mahidhara (1589 CE, Banaras, based on Rama’s work).

Why Study the Sulbas?

The Sulbasutras have been popular as a mathematical research area since the 19th century CE. There exist several works by acclaimed scholars that summarize the mathematical content and astronomical connections of the Sulba texts through books and video lectures, and can be found within the reference section at the end of the post.  Here, we study the Sulba content to try and delineate an Indic approach to Engineering and where it differs from the western method.

Our primary references for this effort are the seminal 1932 work of Bibhutibhushan Datta on the Sulbas [1], the 1979 book of ancient Indian Geometry by Saraswati Amma [2], the 1997 publication of Kapila Vatsyayan’s work on Indic Art [3], and several other textual and non-textual resources. Bibhutibhushan Datta (who later became Swami Vidyaranya) and Saraswati Amma were Sanskrit scholars in addition to their mathematical expertise. Barring exceptions, scholarly works adopt a reductionist ‘secular mathematical’ view of the Sulbas, ignoring its Vedic basis as simply irrelevant, or dismissing it as pre-rational mystic rituals.


  • What is the wrong with adopting such a Euro-centric approach? Why move toward an Indic perspective?
  • What is the practical benefit of studying the content of such ancient Hindu texts?

The responses to these questions given by learned Indian scholars inspired us to ask similar questions of our own professional domain:

  • Is there such a thing as a traditional Indic approach to Engineering? If so, what are the principles of this Indic Engineering Practice? How is it even relevant today?

We turn to Dharampal for answers.

Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala

In his writings [11], Dharampal explains the value and need for studying ancient Indian texts from an Indic perspective: “One understands others only from one’s own perspective. Attempts to live and think like the others, to transport oneself into the Chitta and Kaala of others, lead merely to delusion… In fact, the process of understanding the Indian Chitta and Kaala cannot possibly begin without some understanding of the vast corpus of literature that has formed the basis of Indian civilisation and regulated the actions and thoughts of the people of India for millennia

...If we wish to affirm the validity of Indian consciousness, of Indian Chitta and Kaala, we can do so only by establishing the Indian way of life in the present-day world. And, this re-assertion of India in the present context is the major task today which Indian scholarship, Indian politics, Indian sciences and technologies, Indian arts, crafts and other diverse skills must accomplish. 

Dharampal emphasizes the time-criticality and practical requirements of this task.

what is urgently needed is not high scholarship, but a rough and ready comprehension of ourselves and the world. We need a direction, a vision, a conceptual basis, that is in consonance with the Indian Chitta and Kala, and through which we can proceed to understand the modern world and the modern times

Keeping this challenging goal in mind, we have studied the technical aspects of the Sulba Sutras not in isolation, but relative to and serving its primary objective.


The overarching objective of the Sulba Sutras is to establish the proper construction of Vedic altars in order to ensure the correct performance of Yagna, which unites mankind to the devatas [4]. The keywords listed below give us a limited but useful idea of the Sanskrit non-translatables employed in this context of Yagna.

Agni: Fire altar constructed using layers of bricks of different types and dimensions.

Citi: A layer of Agni

Vedi: The raised area where the Yagna is performed, including the agni and where the participants are seated.

Yagna sala layout. Source: Square and Circle of Arts (1997)

Syena (Falcon-shaped) fire altar. [3].
It is known that these profound Sanskrit terms associated with Yagna have multiple meanings relating to transformation, consciousness, and knowledge. Hence, Agni is not simply fire, Citi is not merely a brick layer, and Vedi is not only a raised platform. The Sulba Sutra is not just a collection of results from geometrical science, and Yagna is not the same as sacrifice in the western sense [4]. The writings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who popularized transcendental meditation, point to the deeper role of the Sulba Sutras that includes a description of consciousness itself [12]. Therefore, to better understand the Sulbas, we have to study the transformative power of Yagna.

Indic Engineering Practice as Yagna

Integral Versus Fragmented Knowledge

The Vedic Cosmology is embedded in every aspect of the altar constructions. Every grain of sand, brick, citi, and the altars of various shapes correspond to some aspect of the cosmos. These correspondences or Bandhus bind the universe in an integral unity. Rajiv Malhotra coined this term in his book ‘Being Different [4]: “The integral unity of the whole manifests itself in the parts, and they in turn aspire to unite with the whole; this principle is reflected in every domain of dharmic knowledge, including philosophy, science, religion, ethics, spirituality, art, music, dance, education, literature, oral narratives, politics, marriage rituals, economics, and social structures. Each domain of dharmic knowledge is itself a jewel in Indra’s Net, and reflects all the others. In other words, the same underlying principles are represented in these specialties in different ways.”.

Prof. Subhash Kak in his path-breaking work [5] states that the agnicayana altars symbolize the universe; the five layers of the Ahavaniya represent the earth, space, and sky through the first, third, and fifth layer, with the intermediate layers linking these elements. He asserts that knowledge is gained through altar construction. The knowledge obtained through Yagna is integral and not fragmented since the traditional Indic approach is not to “disentangle and differentiate conceptually different entities & notions, but to realize their connections (bandhus) [5]”.

For example, the circadian biological cycle is synced with earth’s rotational cycle through Ritam (from the Rig Veda, nature’s ordering principle [4]). The press release for the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology starts with “Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet“, and concludes with “indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.“.  The deficiency in the inherently fragmented western approach is apparent in this ‘new’ finding based on inner and outer correspondences.  In contrast, in ‘Being Different‘, Rajiv Malhotra gives examples of Ayurveda’s integral unity. Ayurveda, an Upaveda of the Vedas emphasizes the importance of adopting the right, sustainable lifestyle for an individual.

Science rooted in a vedic framework can lead to sustainable solutions to many such important problems. The Indic engineering system designed and built to work in harmony with Ritam will benefit both man and environment, while also serving a higher, transcendental objective. The traditional Indic practitioner would not look at his/her field in isolation but could draw inspiration, ideas and methods from seemingly unrelated disciplines, which in reality are interlinked knowledge systems that are integrally united [4].

Lacking this deeper dharmic unity,  western attempts to unify separate fields of knowledge is evident in new-age ideas such as ‘combinatorial creativity‘, and the ‘generalized specialist’. Professional certifying examinations in the west tend to reward practitioners having a T-shaped skillset in the workplace and reduce the proportion of ‘one legged men in ass-kicking contests‘. Despite such efforts, the splintered view of knowledge, which tends to be profitable in the short-term, is not only dominant but gaining ground in western higher education, culminating in ‘fragmentversities‘.

Certitude and Uncertainty

Indic scholars have presented many more examples of such Bandhus in the altar construction: Kapila Vatsyayan [3] mentions that in certain constructions, there are 108,000 lokamprna bricks corresponding to the number of muhurtas in a basic 360-day Vedic year. There are 396 yajumati bricks in some constructions which corresponds to the 360 days + 36 intercalary days of a Vedic calendar. Similarly, certain Kamyagnis have a surface area of 108,000 (sq.) Angulas [5].

In the Chandasciti, Vedic mantras are considered equivalent to and replace the consecrated bricks, where the construction is no longer physical, but at the level of consciousness [12]. An altar of mantras is a representation of the Rig Veda. Correspondences are established using Ganita Sastra and Sulba Vijnana, resulting in accurate calculations and precise measurements. However, such decisive alignments and careful stacking of bricks do not signify a quest for an unnaturally perfect order. The altar construction reflects nature’s geometry that balances smoothness (certitude) and roughness (uncertainty).

The role of uncertainty is recognized and incorporated into the altar through the sprinkling of sand and interspersing the orderly chant of Vedic mantra with inarticulate sounds. Yagna combines order and chaos [4].  The amicable sharing of sacred space by doubt and surety suggests an early Indic grasp of the fallibility of the scientific claim, and the unavoidable imprecision in calculation and measurement. We can see the tangible value of this ‘bandhutva’ with uncertainty in the results of the Sulba sutras in part-2. On the other hand, without uncertainty, there can be no useful science. Engineering in the Sulbas also views uncertainty as an opportunity to innovate. This will be covered in part-3.

This 'concession' to fallibility is not a weakness, but a contributor to Bharata's dynamism and civilizational continuity through its demonstrated ability to continually reform and transform from within and be reborn. This is Bharata's own Natyam through the ages; a Yagna performed on India's sacred geography, its altar constructed on a cosmic level using bricks from Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala. Every Bharatiya who participates in this Yagna is transformed, thereby transforming the national consciousness.

Sulba Vijnana: From Art to Engineering

Toward obtaining a more comprehensive view of the Sulba science, we learn from the art perspective of the Sulbas and Yagna presented by renowned art scholar Kapila Vatsyayan, and is summarized below. If Yagna is a basis for Indian art, architecture, and sciences, then the vijnana of the Sulbas will be reflected in all these fields, and the engineer will be able to learn a lot from such art.

  1. Elements of Geometry and Algebra emerge from the Bandhus, the system of correspondences established during the Yagna

The Indian way of viewing nature, and their inclination to look for Bandhus [4] is nicely captured by Vatsyayan ji when she states that “anything that is visible can have layers of meaning, and also has validity for itself… the visible is not just visible but is the very aid to the invisible.” During the Yagna, a link is created between finite and infinite, between the precisely measured that are defined by name and form (namarupa) and that beyond definition and the formless (pararupa and arupa).

Bandhus in the form of geometrical metaphors can be identified here. Fundamental geometric entities starting from a single ‘dimensionless’ point (Bindu), the one-dimensional line that emerges from a moving point, the two-dimensional figures such as triangle, square, and circle that emerge from moving lines, etc. are all symbols having multiple meanings.  Sophisticated principles from the Vedas and Upanishads are contained within the circle and its geometrical properties [3]. Bindu also denotes a center or origin, and all notions of time and space are comprehended through itAnother Bandhu described by Vatsyayan ji is in the form of the botanical metaphor of the seed or Bija [3], which motivates Bija Ganita (algebra), the earliest notions of which are to be found in the geometrical methods of the Sulba Sutras.

Every math student in the world is replicating the first step of Vedic Yagna when they draw the perpendicular X-Y axes on graph paper, intersecting at the origin with the X-Y axis arrowhead pointing eastward. Vedic Altar construction begins by identifying the east-pointing E-W line (Praci) using the instrument Sanku [14]. The basic geometrical construction of the Sulbas is the perpendicular bisector, yielding the north-south line.

2. The geometrical and algebraic ideas that emerge from the Sulbas are transferred to the sacred Indian artforms.

Vatsyayan ji traces the methodology (viniyoga) of human movement evolved in Indian arts to its interconnections with the vidhi of the yagna. She notes the importance of trigonometry and geometry to science as well as art, and states that the system of solving linear equations by moving from one known to many unknowns represents both a mathematical and artistic understanding.  This algebraic layer “gives the Indian arts the capacity to concretise the notions of the one and the many as also abstract and concrete, the measurable and beyond measure finite and infinite” [3]. Thus, Indic art reflects the findings of the Sulba Sutras. Kapila Vatsyayan remarks that a careful study of the Sulba Sutras can tell us exactly how those Sulba principles were transferred into the artistic domain.

In her award-winning research paper at the third Swadeshi Indology conference (Chennai 2017), danseuse and aerospace engineer Prakruti Prativadi has discussed Bharatanatyam as Yagna. She has reviewed the necessary conditions for a recital to qualify as a Bharatanatyam performance. When the sacred artistic recital is of high caliber and the audience too is receptive to the performance, the performer and the audience unite as participants in a Yagna [8]. 

"The purpose of Bharatanatyam is not only to produce an aesthetic effect but to transform the consciousness of the onlooker to experience the Paramatma through Rasa." [10]. The participants are thus reborn.

Ganita’s place value systems and Sanskrit itself are algebraic in nature [4]. In the decimal place value system, the value of a digit such as ‘1’ is variable and can be any integral power of 10 (1, 10, 10², 10³, …) and is fixed only when its place is specified. Similarly, a Sanskrit word or verse can have a whole range of meanings. The Sanskrit Pandit can narrow down the appropriate meaning depending on the context of usage [4]. A misunderstanding here can produce silly interpretations (e.g. “Beef in the Vedas“).

Professor Amartya Kumar Dutta at the Indian Statistical Institute in his excellent survey of ancient Ganita prior to the common era [13], quotes Swami Vivekananda on the decimal system. This quote by Swamiji highlights the integral unity of Ganita and Sanskrit: “… the ten numerals, the very cornerstone of all present civilization, were discovered in India, and are, in reality, Sanskrit words.”. Where does Sanskrit end and Ganita begin, and where does Ganita end and Sanskrit begin!

3. Engineering as an integral discipline emerges from Sulba Vijnana (with Ganita from Vedanga Jyotisha as pre-requisite).

From the artistic domain of Bharatanatyam, the connection can be made to Silpa Sastra and sacred architecture and sculpture: Vatsyayan ji quotes the renowned danseuse Balasaraswati who explains how a Bharatanatyam recital is structured like a great temple [3] affirming that both Indic art and sacred architecture are based on a system of correspondence established through Vedic yagna.  Sulba Vijnana is used in the construction of Hindu Mandirs. The calculating expertise comes from Ganita, the science of computation. The Sulba Sutras along with Vedanga Jyotisha form the basis of Engineering as an integral discipline.  Indian history is full of amazing feats of engineering that stand out for the harmony of construction with nature.

Reclaiming the Sacred Space

The present rupture [7] in India’s epistemological continuity has resulted in a significant number of Indian elites transporting themselves to live in the socially profitable Chitta and Kaala of the West [11]. The situation is direMany of us have lost the depth of insight available to our ancestors by limiting ourselves to living with this reductive, fragmented mindset. The Indic practitioner’s effortless and refined improvisation in-context while remaining anchored in the Raaga and Taala of Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala is achieved through Shraddha and Saadhana. Without this anchor, there is an overemphasis on text and theory over embodied knowing [4], with contextual ethics [4] giving way to moral relativism. The net result is a rootless, jarring remix of uninspiring engineering and myopic profiteering.

There are multiple paths to recovery, and we discuss one such path. As Dharampal pointed out [11], rather than weep over the lakhs of manuscripts that are lost to us, we can learn from what is already available. The several Sulba works, Jyotisha redactions, and the Natyasastra text, and the various commentaries, and dozens of books on these topics are all available online. By incorporating these Indic methods into our professional practice and daily life, we can slowly relocate our westernized selves back into India’s Chitta and Kaala.

A long and circuitous journey has to be undertaken by the hard-working Karthikeyas in order to return home to Shiva and obtain the Jnana-phala. Blessed are those Vinayakas who are already in the right space and time!

Understanding the principles of Indic art and dramaturgy can give engineering students a more rounded view of their discipline. Like a genuine Bharatanatyam performance, the sculpting of Devi’s Murthi, or constructing a Kovil/Mandir, Indic Engineering takes up a project as a sacred task that transforms the consciousness of the participants and end users, yielding sustainable, dharmic development. This goal can be achieved if the project is in harmony with Rtaaccepting only shubh labh (as opposed to unbridled profit), with all the stakeholders functioning as an integrally united team based on the dharma of collaboration.

There is no I or U in team, but there must be IU.

The construction of Rama Sethu in the Ramayana forever serves as the ideal to emulate. Even the tiny squirrel that contributed its expertise to the Sethu was transformed by Sri Rama’s divine touch.


(Partial list only. Full list will be shared along with Part-3).

  1. Bibhutibhushan Datta (Swami Vidyaranya). The Science Of The Sulba: A Study In Early Hindu Geometry. University of Calcutta. 1932.
  2. Saraswati Amma. Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. 1979.
  3. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  4. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  5. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda (Third Edition). 2011.
  6. Rajiv Malhotra. Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity. Harper Collins. 2014.
  7. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, The Calendar, and Time (Second Edition). 2010.
  8. Prakruti Prativadi. Rasas in Bharatanatyam: First in a Series on Indian Aesthetics and Bharatanatyam. Creative Space. 2017.
  9. N.R.I Pathi. Dharmic Development. Andhra Cultural Portal. 2014.
  10. Prakruti Prativadi. The Bharatanāṭyaṃ Yajña. Swadeshi Indology-3 Information Handout. 2017.
  11. Dharampal. Collected Writings in 5 Volumes. Other India Press. 2000.
  12. John Price. Applied Geometry of the Sulba Sutras. Department of Mathematics, Maharishi University of Management, Iowa. 2000.
  13. Amartya Kumar Dutta. Was There Sophisticated Mathematics During Vedic Age? in ‘An anthology of disparate thoughts at a popular level‘. ISIREA, Kolkata, 2016.
  14. K. Ramasubramanian. The Origin and Growth of Mathematics in India. R C Gupta Award Lecture, IIT Bombay. 2010.
Thanks to the ICP editor for his valuable suggestions and patiently reviewing this work.

Book Review: Being and Becoming

Being and Becoming‘ is the title of a contemporary fiction novel by Indian-American author Phalgun Prativadi. Set in the background of the US healthcare industry, the story is about a gifted physician-researcher, Dr. Arya Krish, who is drawn into a battle with a powerful and manipulative giant medical business group, Alpha Corp. You can read the synopsis and excerpts on the book website. The storyline connects two cities, Washington DC, where the main protagonist resides and where his office at Beacon Medical Institute is located, and Bengaluru, which is an HQ for managing his philanthropic projects in India.  The plot unfolds into an escalating chess-like tussle between the shadowy Alpha Corp and Krish, culminating in a fascinating end-game in the final chapter.

The author, with his first-hand knowledge of the US healthcare industry, is able to expertly communicate key aspects of the ongoing clash in the US today between medical care professionals and their patients versus the combined influence of big-hospitals, big-pharma, big-insurance, and big-lobbying (it is Washington DC after all). The author notes that “Ultimately, the insurance company got to decide what happens to the patient. It was an insidious takeover, corrupting the politicians in their favor, and desensitizing the public to their blatant power grab. And, the norm was being declined a certain treatment, facility, or medicine because the insurance company decided it wasn’t worth paying for, while at the same time influencing how much the damn thing costs!“.

Another takeaway is the insightful observation about the approach followed by medical residents (physicians-in-training):these physicians in training all wound up conforming to a single arbitrary but consistent and effective mode of operation. Lately, it seemed to him that they all looked and sounded the same, that none of their individuality came through in their behavior or interactions.” Some may contrast this efficient monoculture backed by first rate infrastructure in the US, with the excellent clinical ability, patient-history taking and examination skills, and diverse methods adopted by Indian doctors to overcome the limitations of equipment shortage.

It is interesting to note the use of a few Sanskrit non-translatables such as Shakti. Introducing a few more would have been handy, but the decision is understandable given the constraints and focus of this genre.

Being and Becoming

As Dr. Krish plots his fightback against Alpha Corp, a manthana emerges within Dr. Arya Krish as he introspects and attempts to reconcile his ‘being’ with what he was ‘becoming’ in this process.  Dr. Prativadi has addressed this inner conflict from a mostly Indic perspective.  This ICP post introduces us to the literary theory and dramatics within classical Indic Literature.  This exploration of inner-space within the novel is refreshing and different from the usual fare, where such discussions tend to get intellectualized using western philosophy and simplistic two-valued logic. The West has studied the being-becoming conundrum by building upon the ideas developed in Ancient Greece by thinkers like Plato, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and others. Such works resolve the issue in the favor of one position or the other, or propose an uneasy and synthetic unity [2] between such opposing poles. In any case, the anxiety latent in this conflict never really goes away.

Such dualities exist all around us. For example, in India, we often hear the phrase “Nation comes first whereas Religion is personal and comes next, and practiced inside the home“. This is taken as a positive way of ‘managing’ diversity, whereas in reality, it admits to a potentially irreconcilable conflict between organized religion and one’s duty to their nation, and that one can at best achieve a compromise without ever resolving the resultant anxiety. Similarly, it is not uncommon for western STEM professionals to be ‘scientists’ inside the lab, while embracing religious or atheistic dogma outside it, again manufacturing a tense unity between two separately independent worlds.  Such a synthesized unity is prone to fissure. On the other hand, this is a non-issue for the diverse dharma traditions of India [2]. Following a dharmic path naturally and always serves the nation as well as science in the most genuine manner.

In India, such pairs of opposites have received the attention of Rishis since the earliest of times and their resolution results in a harmony that rids us of such anxiety. In his book ‘Being Different’ [2], Rajiv Malhotra remarks:

in dharma traditions, integral unity can be discovered and experienced through spiritual practices such as yoga. Since both ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’, body and mind, spirit and matter, individual and collective, are mere manifestations or aspects of an integral whole, it becomes natural to start the quest for ultimate truth using what is at hand, namely the embodied self. Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the Isha Upanishad explains nine pairs of opposites and how they are resolved within the integral unity”.

Thus, the Indic solution to this challenge radically differs from the western and embraces an integral rather than a synthetic unity. For example, Sri Aurobindo writes on ‘Being and Becoming’ [3]:

Everything depends on what we see, how we look at existence in our soul’s view of things Being and Becoming, One and Many are both true and are both the same thing: Being is one, Becomings are many; but this simply means that all Becomings are one Being who places Himself variously in the phenomenal movement of His consciousness. We have to see the One Being, but we have not to cease to see the many Becomings, for they exist and are included in Brahman’s view of Himself. Only, we must see with knowledge and not with ignorance…”

On the whole, I enjoyed reading the book, which is the author’s first. The author has skillfully narrated an interesting story without making it a long read, and the plot moves forward briskly. To learn more about the novel and purchase it, please visit the book website. It is also available on Amazon and other retailers.

It is an exciting time to be a reader. There is a new generation of Indian writers who are grounded in India’s deep culture, which allows them to explore the world using an Indic lens and freely express themselves based on their own, authentic Indian experience.

About the Author

Phalgun Prativadi, M. D., is a practicing physician in the United States. He grew up in Maryland and graduated from Penn State, and is currently an infectious diseases physician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has previously authored articles for websites such as Hinduism Today. ‘Being and Becoming’ is his first full-length novel, and he hopes to continue the story in the future.

Click here to Buy this Book!

  1. Phalgun Prativadi. Being and Becoming. Dog Ear Publishing. Kindle Edition. 2016.
  2. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  3. The Collected Works of Sri, Aurobindo: Isha Upanishad, Vol. 17. 2003.

Classical Indic Literature V: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry 3

Those of you familiar with our Post on Madan Utsav are no longer wondering whether Bharatavarsha had its own Festival of Love. But what if we told you there were not one but two festivals where lovers honoured and celebrated each other, and secret prayers for romance to fructify were offered to the Gods.

Sharad Rtu (autumn) is famous throughout India as the season of moonlight. The very sight of the full moon itself brings many thoughts of Sringara rasa.

Therefore, in honour of the ancient Kaumudi Utsav—celebrated on Ashvina Purnima, we give you Part 3 in our Set on Romantic Sanskrit Poetry.

While most of your are familiar by now with the peerless Mahakavi Kalidasa, today’s poet is uniquely talented in the art of Sringara Kavya. From the supple and spritely verses sauntering in the sophistication of simplicity, we give you the very pangs of separation incarnate.

Today’s installment on Classical Indic Literature features that beautiful work of Bhavabhuti called the Uttararamacharita.


Bhavabhuti’s patron is thought to be Yasovarman of Kannauj, and is thus dated to the 8th century CE. Though there are debates as to Bhavabhuti’s correct time period, it is known that his ancestral home was Padmapura in the Dakshinapatha. Udumbara was the surname of his family, which was of the Kasyapa gotra. Udumbara may also correlate to the present Amraoti of Maharashtra, which was previously called Audambaravati, city of fig trees. Nevertheless, this family was of the Taittiriya school of the Krishna Yajurveda. Five generations prior was also a Mahakavi in the family. Bhavabhuti’s grandfather was Bhatta Gopala and his father was Nilakanta. Some hold that Bhavabhuti’s actual name was Srikantha, with Bhavabhuti as his title. His mother was Jatukarni. His tutor, Jnananidhi, was considered a master scholar. This Jnananidhi schooled him in the Vedas, the traditional systems of philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. Bhavabhuti was certainly well acquainted with the Upanishads. Thus, along with being a master poet, Bhavabhuti was a master scholar himself. [1]

There is some indication that he was considered a rival of Kalidasa (if not in fact contemporaneous with him). Other non-contemporaneous rivals mentioned in the Bhojaprabandha include Bana and Mayura, and the Goddess Bhuvanesvari said to have anointed Bhavabhuti the best. Irrespective, if Kalidasa excelled at depicting Romance (sringara), Bhavabuti was an expert portrayer of Pathos (karuna) and Heroism (veera). Karuna is especially seen through the sympathetic portrayal of the separation of Sita and Rama,in the Uttararamacarita. If Kalidasa is “the Grace of Poetry”, Bhavabhuti is the “Master of Loquence”[1]. If the former is more idealistic and romantic, the latter is more realistic and varied.

Bhavabhuti was a great stylist and had a wonderful command over language; he was skilled in adjusting the sound of his verse so as to be an echo to the sense. [1,19]

The great author is known to have written three dramatic works: These are Mahaviracharita, Malati-Madhava, & Uttararamacharita.

The chief merit of Bhavabhuti’s plays, apart from questions of languages, lies, however, in their high moral tone. Even in describing ordinary human love, Bhavabhuti never wanders into the sensuous; he has probed the depths of romantic passions without descending to appeals to mere lust. He maintains a dignified gravity throughout; his ideal of a lover is one who obliterates self [1, 19-20]

Mahaviracharita is considered to be the earliest and covers the life of Sri Rama from his childhood to his later victory over Ravana and return to Ayodhya. Malati-Madhava is a love story in 10 acts. Uttararamacharita deals with the separation of Sita and Rama.


Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Some times people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

The Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana is one that leaves feminists aflutter in fury, but more importantly, leaves devotees and romantics alike afflicted with the pangs of pathos. One cannot help but shed tears, not only for Sita, who after all her suffering, was fated to be slandered by idle gossip, but also for Ram, who had to uphold the rigid Dharma of the Treta Yuga, and banish his beloved pativrata.

If the wife of mere Caesar had to be above suspicion, is it any wonder that the Chakravartin of Ayodhya’s had to be as well? Such laws have no place in our time of easy lies and facile gossipy gupshup. But even those of us who loathe cruel kimvadanthi can’t help but be deeply unhappy at the doom these two transcendental lovers were fated to suffer. Even the great Bhavabhuti, who authored the Mahaviracharita that celebrated Rama’s prowess, asked Vidhaatha, “Is this how you end it?“.

Determined to set things right, Bhavabhuti decided to give an ending he believed to be worthy of such a Divine Couple.

A nataka (drama) in 7 parts, the Uttararamacharita, like its predecessor, the Mahaviracharita, is a work that celebrates an episode from the Ramayana. The naayaka (hero) is a dheerodaatta (generous & self-sacrificing) and the naayika is a sveeya (one’s own rightful lover). While there is no pratinayaka (villain), the vastu (plot) is considered historical. [1, 22] While the earlier work is steeped in veera rasa, the later one is replete with soka as its sthayibhaava. While we feel the pathos of the protagonists through Karuna rasa, we also get ripples of romantic Sringara Rasa—the king of the rasas.

Sringara Rasa, as discussed in our previous article, is divided into Sambhoga and Viprayoga. While the former deals with lovers-in-union, the latter deals with lovers-in-separation. Quite possibly the epitome of viprayoga sringara was personified by that epitome of Dharma: the Divine Couple of Sita-Rama.

As such, Uttaramaracharita is very much work on viprayoga. Much maligned by misandrist feminists today, Bhagavan Ram’s deep-seated pain is searingly catalysed into our being, by Bhavabhuti kavi.

An interesting point that exposes the agendas of the “many Ramayanas crowd” is that if all Ramayanas are equally valid, then so is the Uttararamacharita—anyways based on the Uttara kanda. So either only Valmiki Ramayana is valid or the entire industry of India-hating feminists must accept the Uttaramacharita where Rama is not only reunited with Sita, but where the Goddess Ganga herself justifies Rama’s action as King who accepted the popular will.

In any event, one cannot help but be moved by the agony in Raghava’s heart. He who laid low the haughty brahma-rakshasa Ravana, now stood powerless once more before the high burden of Dharma.

The crown prince of Kosala could give up his rightful throne as if it were a speck of dust, but how could the King of Kosala banish his beloved wife, whom he rescued from Ravanasura? His duty as a king came before his duty as a husband, but that he nevertheless suffered the pain of parting becomes apparent in Bhavabhuti’s opus. Selection I alone is proof of this.

Those of you with commercial preferences for the crass persianised pidgin poetry of Bollywood may first require an immediate primer on real Romance. For the rest of us, however, the more sophisticated sensibilities of Sringara Sanskrita Kavya are more appealing to aesthetes and connoisseurs with more refined tastes.

Before we begin with the Poetic selections, in honour of the occasion, here is a brief overview of the Kaumudi Utsav.

Kaumudi Utsav

The sanskrit word kaumudi comes from the term for moonlight. As you will read in the selections below, such beauteous comparisons are not infrequent in Classical Indian Literature. They bring to mind wondrous thoughts of sleepy serene vales and dreamy autumn nights, when great love is painted on the canvas of existence.

It is in fact still celebrated in many parts of India, notably Assam, as the end of the Monsoon. Ashvin Purnima is known as Kojagiri Purnima and Sharad Purnima elsewhere. Appropriately, the Sharad Purnima itself is dedicated to none other than Goddess Lakshmi.

So without further ado, we bring you the love story of the Uttama Purusha through the Poetry of Bhavabhuti’s Uttaramacharita.


I.Tatkaalam Priyajana viprayoga janmaa

Teevro’pi pratikruti vaanchhaya visodah |

Duhkhaagnir manasi punar vapachya maano

Hrunmarma vrana iva vedanaam karoti || A.1,Sl.30

The fire of grief arising from the separation of my beloved, however fierce, was at that time borne by me through the desire for retaliation; but now, reviving in my breast, it causes agony like a wound festering in the vital part of my heart . [1,9]


II.Iyam gehe Lakshmiriya mamruta varthirnayanayo-

Rasaavasyah sparsho vapushi bahulaschandana-rasah |

Ayam baahu kante sisiramasrno mauktikasarah

Kimasyaa na preyo yadi parama sahyastu viraha || A.1, Sl. 38

She is the very Lakshmi of my house, and a pencil of nectar to my eyes;

Her touch is a thick sandal-paste to my body; this her arm twined round my neck is as cooling and as smooth as a pearl-string; what about her would not be pleasing, but separation from her is exceedingly unbearable. [1,11]



Dadhatee vilolakabaree-kamaananam|

Karunasya moorthiratha va sareerini

Virahavyatheva vanameti Janaki || A.3.Sl.4

The daughter of Janaka, her countenance charming owing to its pallid and emaciated cheeks and her loosened braids waving about, coming to the wood like the very image of pity, or rather lie the pain of separation incarnate. [1,26]


IV.Sramaambu sisiree-bhavath prasruthamandha mandhaakini

Maruttha-ralithaalak-aakula lalaata chandra dhyuthi |

Akunkuma-kalankithojjvala-kapolamut prekshyathe

Niraabharana sundara sravana paasa mugdham mukham || A.6, Sl.37

I remember her face, as it was cooled by the perspiration caused by fatigue

with its beautiful moon-like forehead overhung with her tresses, disheveled by the gently blowing breezes of the Mandakini

with its cheeks bright, not being marked with saffron-paint and engaging with its well-formed ears, charming in their unadorned state. [1,71]


V.Ethaani te suvachanaani saroruhaakshi

Karnaamruthaani manasascha rasaayanaani A.1, Sl.36

These thy words, O lotus-eyed one, cause the withered flower of my life to bloom,

[they] Gladden me, lull all my senses into peace, serve as nectar to the ears and as a sovereign balm to the heart.[1,11]

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VI.Advaitham sukha dukha yoranu gunam sarvaasavasthasu ya-

Dvisramo hrudayasya yathra jarasaa yasminna haaryo rasah |

Kaalenaa varanaatya yath parinathe yath premasare sthitham

Bandra tasya sumaanu shasya kathama pyekam hi tat praapyate || A.1, Sl.39

Blissful is that fortunate man who, somehow, obtains that one thing—pure matchless…

love—which is the same in happiness or misery, which adapts itself to all conditions, where the heart finds its solace, the flavour of which is unaffected by old age, and which matures, as time removes the veil of reservedness, into permanent deep affection.[1,12]


VII.Tvam jeevitam tvamasi me hrudayam dvitiyam

Tvam kaumudi nayanayor amrutam tvamange

A.3, Sl.26

You are my very life, you are my second heart; you are the moonlight to my eyes and ambrosia to my limbs. [1,34]

  1. Kale, M.R.The Uttararamacarita of Bhavabhuti. Delhi: MLBD.2010
  2. Winternitz, Moriz.History of Indian Literature. Vol 1.Delhi: MLBD.1996
Acknowledgement: My gratitude to the young man who once more lent his voice to give life to these lyrics. An example to other young men on how to respect young ladies.

Vedanga Jyotisha & Indology

The method of simply assuming results, once one is persuaded that they are true, rather than trying to prove them, has all the advantages of thievery over honest toil.
- Bertrand Russell quoted in The Origins of Astronomy [5].


This short article is a prequel to the ICP post on Vedanga Jyotisha (VJ). The prior post contains the answers to the questions from Indologists that are listed in this article.

Vedanga Jyotisha

Epistemological Continuity

Scholars from within the Indic tradition successfully decoded the complex VJ text available in the form multiple rescensions, after 150 years of attempts by researchers from all over the world [1]. Their rigorous analyses, made possible by their multi-disciplinary expertise in Sanskrit, Jyotishastra, Ganita Sastra, and astronomy, have helped debunk many unsubstantiated claims regarding Indic sciences and VJ. Their research work can also enlighten contemporary eminent historians in India who remain unaware of the deep connection between science and Vedas. The findings about VJ clearly establish that its scientific innovations arise from Rta and Vedic Yagna, and its calendar recalls earlier Indic traditions [2].  The inter-connected developments in astronomy and other sciences also coincided with the growth of Ganita (‘science of computation’). This progress was part of an independent and continuous Indic tradition [5, 11] that spanned more than 3300 years, from the VJ and Sulba Sutras, to the genius of Madhava and Srinivasa Ramanujan. We have discussed Ganita Sastra and its epistemological continuity in this ICP post. Due to the integral unity [9] of dharma traditions, we also find this continuity in multiple other fields including Indic artmusic, dance, etc.

Indologists Study Vedanga Jyotisha

The previous post concluded with three findings that are pertinent to this post:

  1. The date range for VJ (1150 – 1550 BCE).
  2. The location of VJ (Northern India / Kashmir).
  3. Necessary qualifications to study VJ in its original form [1]:
    • a) Expertise in Sanskrit,
    • b) knowledge of Western/modern astronomy, and
    • c) an understanding of the concepts/practices of Hindu astronomy.

The absence of one or more of these three qualifications is likely to nullify the research effort and end in frustration [1].

Indology is a peculiar field. Sportspersons, scientists, and actors love their work, take pride in the history and traditions of their respective fields, and generally take their field forward. However, many career Indologists loathe the subject they study: Indic history and culture, and their research effort is directed toward producing results that can bring both down.

Summary of Claims

We reviewed the various assertions made by some (not all) western Indologists regarding VJ and ancient Indic astronomy and compiled a representative set of ten claims to discuss.

  1. The Vedic Indians possessed only a crude calendar.
  2. The Indics borrowed ‘Nakshatra’ from Mesopotamia.
  3. The Vedic calendar had no systematic intercalation.
  4. The date for VJ is 600 BCE or later.
  5. VJ content was created in Mesopotamia.
  6. Aryans brought astronomy and VJ ideas to India.
  7. Indian Astronomy was borrowed from Mesopotamia.
  8. The superiority of European time-keeping.
  9. The water clock is a Mesopotamian invention that Indics borrowed.
  10. Indic sciences exhibit a lack of originality, are repetitive, and non innovative.

Christopher Hitchens fans would say “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence“. On the other hand, these claims have been systematically studied and countered by multiple researchers, which allows one to dismiss them with evidence. For brevity, we have reviewed the arguments in [5], [3], and [1] to produce a limited response to each of these claims.

Claim 1

The Vedic Indians possessed only a crude calendar.


Many of the ideas in VJ are present in prior Vedic calendars. It is sophisticated for its time, and its mean measurements of lunar cycles and parameters, as well as the start time of the Yuga (a fundamental time unit of VJ), are remarkably accurate. The computations performed required expertise in modulo arithmetic, and the rule of three was employed as a subroutine. The invariant Nakshatra coordinate system, the Javadi table, the self-organizing and self-correcting Yuga based calendar, etc. indicate the depth of thought that the Vedic Indians put into the VJ.  The Javadi table is a thing of beauty that emerges from Rta. We found hidden inside this table, a full-period linear congruential (pseudo random number) generator that enumerates the ecliptic longitudes of all the full and new moons in a Yuga. VJ combined observational astronomy and Ganita (computation). The resultant balancing of order and chaos is characteristic of the Indic method [9] that is anything but crude.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 2

The ancient Indians borrowed Nakshatra from Mesopotamia.


The commonality of certain prominent Nakshatras across cultures is unsurprising since everyone shares the same sky. In particular, it has been shown that the importance of Krittika nakshatra (star group ‘Pleiades’) is special to not just one or two cultures, but to peoples across all continents [3]. The Vedic lists of Nakshatras start with Krittika and the Rta basis for this choice is that the seasonal year begins when the sun in this Nakshatra sector (in Vasanta ऋतु, spring season). Krittika is relatively easy to observe and is important for a variety of reasons tied to the seasonal cycles of agricultural planning, food gathering, etc., and not because one culture found it first and shared this ‘IP’ all over the world.

Nakshatras (as stars or star-groups) are fundamental to the Vedic calendar as summarized in the Vedanga Jyotisha post. On the other hand, the Nakshatra coordinate system of the VJ is a uniquely Indic development that is not found elsewhere. In VJ, the Nakshatras identify wide ecliptic sectors that yield an invariant ecliptic reference system, and not the stars themselves [3], as misunderstood by some western Indologists.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 3

The Vedic calendar had no systematic intercalation


In our post, we summarized the findings of researchers on intercalation in VJ, and discussed the intercalary months (adhimasa or adhikamasa) employed by Vedic calendars, and how the VJ Yuga is a self-organizing system derived from Rta that contains built-in error-correction.  VJ authors knew that the seasons must be synchronized with the sidereal year [3]. Such corrections prevented cascading errors (something that the European Julian calendar carried forward for more than a millennium until it was repaired for theological reasons by Catholic priests to safeguard the history-centrism [9] of their religion). The maximum error possible in the Vedic calendar has been calculated and shown to be bounded. Over the centuries, updated calendars and astronomical results were produced by the Indian astronomers and Ganita scholars.

The Indic method is systematic and is characterized by the Sanskrit non-translatable term abhiyukti (~algorithm) which is not entirely mechanical, but is comfortable with approximations, exceptions and non-mechanical corrections. This aspect can be seen continuously in Ganitasastra from the VJ to Aryabhata, from Madhava to Ramanujan.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 4

VJ date is 600 BCE or later.


The astronomical time-stamp present in the VJ itself, a statistical analysis of the Nakshatra system, and other data enable us to narrow down VJ to a date range 1150-1550 BCE. It must be remembered that the VJ recalls earlier traditions that go further back in time. The 600 BCE or later date may have been proposed by Indologists so that it would be later than the earliest available Mesopotamian texts on astronomy (700 BCE), in order to satisfy their assumption of transmission from a Mesopotamian source.

Summary: This Claim has to be rejected. VJ dates several centuries prior, and is itself a culmination of results from previously existing traditions.

Claim 5

VJ content was created in Mesopotamia


Indologists latched on to the 3:2 ratio of the longest to the shortest day given in VJ to make this claim. This claim has been well-studied in [3]. The ratio depends on the latitude where these observations were made, and multiple locations qualify. However, most Mesopotamian areas are excluded, except for a couple of cultural centers in West Asia. Furthermore, a mathematical analysis reveals locations in the latitude range of 25N to 30N to be the more likely candidates, increasing the likelihood of an Indic origin, and significantly weakening claim 5.  Furthermore, mention of this ratio shows up in Mesopotamian literature after 700 BCE, long after VJ’s latest possible date.

Summary:  Unsubstantiated claim that has to be rejected. Kashmir is a likely candidate. Mesopotamian locations are unlikely.

Claim 6

Aryans brought astronomy and VJ ideas to India.


Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), invented by Max Muller in the 19th century has been thoroughly debunked (historians have noted that the racist Aryan theory has been cynically exploited by two totalitarian regimes guilty of large-scale crimes against humanity: the British Raj and the Third Reich). There is no mention of such an invasion in Vedic text or Itihasa. Furthermore, the location and date of VJ, as well as its epistemology, considerably diminishes the chances of a non-Indic origin of VJ. There is a vast amount of work done by Indic scholars on this topic. The interested reader is referred to ‘Breaking India, by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan.

Summary: AIT today is a discredited theory, albeit one that has considerable propaganda value in contemporary Indian ‘vote bank’ politics, and thus the debate is unlikely to end soon. The only sure way to ‘prove’ AIT today is to assume that AIT is true and then find data (genetic models are popular in recent times) that agree with this assumption. Quite Easily Done.

Claim 7

Indian Astronomy was borrowed from Mesopotamia.


Again, the time period of VJ and prior Vedic calendars, and the secure epistemology of Indic astronomy, makes this a remote possibility. There are several differences between ancient Mesopotamian and Indic astronomy since the latter is rooted in Rta, which is Satya in action. For example: A seven-day week is recognized as a Babylonian artifact, and is not found in Vedic text. Note that a 7-day week is not clearly tied to Rta whereas ahoratra (day-and-night), Pakshas / lunar phases, and ऋतु (seasons) have naturally occurring periods that are observable (pratyaksha). They represent Rta, and are used within ancient Indic calendars.  Per [3], the earliest mention of a seven day week in Indic literature is 484 CE, nearly two millennia after VJ. Research shows that the Hindus developed their own calendar and astronomy, and in many areas, were several centuries ahead of their time. (For example, see Ahargana in claim 8).

Summary: There was little need to borrow astronomical concepts from Mesopotamia or Greece since Indic astronomy was epistemologically secure [5] and advancing quite nicely. Ancient Indics had developed strong traditions in both algebra and geometry [5], a claim that few others (if any), can make. It may have been counter-productive to import alien concepts since it would require the Indics to force fit them into the Indic approach based on pramana, which is no easy task. In fact, a leading Indian scientist has argued that although this Indic policy of rejecting foreign paradigms (that lacked pramana) had positive outcomes, not re-working and adapting them into the dharma framework proved costly later.

Claim 8

The superiority of European time-keeping.


From the 18th century CE, European time-keeping and astronomy made rapid progress and took the lead. However, time-keeping there was not always as well developed. We can mention a couple of examples.

a) The Julian calendar (~45 BCE) produced a cascading error that could not be fixed until the Gregorian reform in 1582 CE. This effort relied at least partially on Indian time-keeping methods, using text from the Indian west coast obtained by visiting European missionaries during this time period. Once the Gregorian reform victory was secured for the church, Roberto De Nobili, the Italian Jesuit missionary in India (in 1610 CE) launched a diatribe against VJ to discredit the source text [11].

b) The Julian day number (not to be confused with the Julian calendar) was first created in Europe in 1583. This system calculates the elapsed time from a fixed date, Julian 1/1/4713 BCE. In comparison, Aryabhata’s Ahargana (‘heap of days’) method [5] for tracking elapsed time was already in use for a thousand years. Without a reliable method for time-reckoning, accurate time-stamping of historical events and record keeping is difficult.

Formidable numerical and calculating challenges had to be overcome by ancient cultures that did not yet possess Ganita. Commenting on the Indologists who ignored these epistemic gaps, Kosla  Vepa [5] remarks:”[ancient Europeans] had no symbols or numbers larger than a thousand. Most Indians have been persuaded by the Colonial power into believing that Indian chronology is faulty and wanting (compared to whom?). Such an assumption is belied by the fact that it is the Indian records that they depended on to decipher what the Greeks did according to David Pingree. We will illustrate the inherent contradictions in their stance towards Indian historical record keeping in the chapter on knowledge transmission, where we examine a half a dozen instances of similar contradictions…”

Time-keeping (from small intra-day units to the largest time units) has been a part of Indian civilization for a long time, and evident in the earliest texts. The importance of history to Indic civilization cannot be understated.

Vedic Cosmology — The Dharmic View of Time

Summary: The claim is rejected since the data suggests otherwise. It makes more sense to reverse the claim and find out whether the ancient Indic methods could be considered dominant based on the available data.

It would not be out of place to recognize the Indics as the original time-keepers of the cosmos.
Claim 9

The water clock is a Mesopotamian invention that Indics borrowed.


Indic water clock designs were different from the Mesopotamian ones. Ohashi’s informative paper (see [3]) on this topic debunks this claim and shows that post-Vedic water clocks were different from Mesopotamian ones. Furthermore, Narahari Achar [7] identified passages in Vedic text that suggest the usage of water clocks in Vedic times were also different in design.

Summary: This claim has to be rejected for lack of evidence.

Claim 10

Indic sciences exhibit a lack of originality, are repetitive, and non-innovative.


The VJ post shows that the exact opposite is true. This claim sounds childish now, after all the evidence meticulously uncovered by researchers, but such claims were taken seriously and parroted by multiple western Indologists in essays and books.  There is a long list of Indologists who spent years learning from Sanskrit Pandits and thereafter U-turned and denied, diluted, or damned with faint praise, the original accomplishments of the ancient Indians, without pretence of objectivity.

Summary: It is time to reverse the gaze and study why, who, and from where the motivation for such sustained hostility to Indic civilization emerges from.

Many churlish claims were made by a researcher named David Pingree. It is worth studying his approach as a representative specimen of Euro-centric bias.

Who was David Pingree?

Professor Pingree was a mathematical historian at Brown University in the US, and much of his professional career involved the study of scientific material in ancient Sanskrit texts. After spending decades wading through Indic works to create his magnum opus, ‘a census (not just a sample) of  the exact sciences in Sanskrit’, he opined that the Indics really did not come up with anything noteworthy and borrowed everything either from Europe (ancient Greeks), and if not Greeks, then from Mesopotamia. Interestingly, the volume of relevant manuscripts available from these ‘sources’ is minuscule compared to the massive amount of ‘borrowed’ material in Sanskrit that Pingree literally had to take a census of [5].

Pingree makes an implicit assumption that designates Indians as knowledge consumers and Greeks/Mesopotamians as knowledge producers. Thereafter, one can always speculate about how this transmission took place and find data that fits this assumption. Such Indologists would claim, without hard evidence, that many valuable results in Sanskrit texts were borrowed. If by chance, Indic priority was undeniable, then the claim would be that the G/M discovered it independently [5]. Pingree was neither the first, nor the last indologist to indulge in such narrative building exercises. The Aryan Invasion fiction is a necessary tool in this Eurocentric propaganda since it provides the Indologist a safe fall-back that ‘in any case, the Indic science and math came from the Aryan master race who invaded India’. The discussions in [5] and [3] thoroughly expose the methods employed by Pingree and other Euro-centric indologists.

It was an uphill task for Pingree to begin with as there are few, if any, primary sources of these claimed Greek results, and the earliest texts relevant to these claims belong to the Common Era [5]. As far as verifiable evidence of Greek-to-Sanskrit transmission to support these claims, there is none. However, in recent times, there is information regarding potential transmission in the reverse direction. In order to create a plausible picture from scant data, some Indologists have employed a technique called speculative reconstruction [5].

Some Indologists may have missed the lesson on 'etaddhasti darshana iva jatyandhah'. Different people can look at the same data and arrive at entirely different conclusions that suits their preconceptions. 

Speculative Reconstruction

A grand narrative promoted by Euro-centric Indologists requires a glorious, ancient Greek past where almost everything important in science and math today originated there (or independently discovered there, if someone else got lucky and did it first). Researchers like Pingree have devoted entire careers, producing results that further this goal. They have succeeded spectacularly, if one looks at all the theorems, results, and entire areas in mathematics that are attributed to Europeans in textbooks, starting from the Pythagoras theorem and Euclidean geometry to Fibonacci series to Newton’s calculus and McLaurin/Taylor series. It is as if no worthwhile mathematics ever happened outside the Judeo-Christian domain (!). These historians of math have often employed speculative reconstruction (SR) to guess the original result from partial data. SR combines imagination with contemporary math to form a conjecture about what was done thousands of years ago.

Recently, researchers have used such methods to try and push back the date of trigonometry in ancient Mesopotamia by creatively reinterpreting an ancient manuscript: Plimpton 322.  Other western experts saw through this as a marketing exercise. A key counter-argument to such claims is that exceptional “3000 years ahead of xyz” events is unlikely to occur in a vacuum. Showing the continuity in epistemology throughout that time period, and establishing a historical context for the result goes a long way in making such claims credible and reduces the chances of being dimissed as hype.

SR in itself may be a useful academic tool, but its value as confirming historical evidence is nil since it is speculation. Some Indologists have employed multiple layers in SR, i.e., they have rejected part of the historical data as mistakes committed by the author thousands of years ago and then generated new data ‘to correct the error’ and essentially produce what they assumed. An outrageous example is the ‘chord table of Hipparchus‘ where SR was used to claim that Aryabhata borrowed his R-sine difference table from this [5].  This claim has been exposed by Indic researchers by showing how SR works and then explaining the original Ganita in Aryabhatiya and its commentaries.

Final Note

Of all the subjects we studied in school, Mathematics was regarded as the least subjective.  As a historian of mathematics in a top US university, why did Pingree adopt such an utterly biased approach when it came to Indology? To understand his motivation, let us turn to his PhD work. One of his graduate advisors was Daniel Ingalls.

Ingalls visited India and learned Sanskrit, became a celebrated professor of Sanskrit in the US, and authored several works on Sanskrit literature. The names of the students who did their PhD work under Ingalls read like the who’s who of Hinduphobic Indologists: Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock, John Stratton Hawley, and others. Daniel Ingalls has received relatively limited attention from Indic scholars so far, since the spotlight has been grabbed by the infamous bunch of students he spawned . He served as an espionage agent during WW2, when he was required to spy on Indians in Kabul. His closest Indian friend was the Marxist DD Kosambi. His student, Padma Shri Sheldon Pollock,  has progressed further and is the darling of both Indian marxists and Islamic fundamentalists. Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy’s son Rohan Murty, provided more than USD 5M to fund his subversive work.  More than 50 students got their PhD under Ingalls and teach in major universities.  The co-authors of the Harvard tribute to Ingalls that we have excerpted here includes Diana Eck and Micheal Witzel, well-known for their Hinduphobic writings.

Ingalls’ life-story deserves to be thoroughly researched since he succeeded in learning Sanskrit from the Pandits in India, and eventually produced an army of Sanskrit-aware western-supremacist scholars who, until recently, have hijacked and poisoned the discourse in India, and have been rewarded by the Indian government, media, and industrialists for this effort.

Juan Pujol Garcia (codenamed Garbo) was a spy and a dedicated double agent against the Nazis in WW2. His contribution toward the allied D-day deception is considered critical. He received major military awards from the Nazis and the British.The Germans paid for his fictional network of 27 Nazi spies. Once, one of these spies was killed, and the Nazis generously paid out a pension to his equally fictional widow. By the end of the war, German intelligence was actually funding British intelligence, paying several hundred thousand USD.

  1. KV Sarma and Kuppanna Sastry. Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadha In its Rk and Yajus Rescensions. With the Translation and Notes of Prof. T. S. Kuppanna Sastry. Critically edited by K. V. Sarma. Indian National Science Academy. 1985.
  2. Subhash Kak. Astronomy and its Role in Vedic Culture. Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol. 1. The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part 1, edited by G.C. Pande. ICPR/Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 2000.
  3. Prabhakar Gondhalekar. The Timekeepers of the Vedas: History of the Calendar of the Vedic Period (From Rgveda to Vedanga Jyotisa). Manohar Publishers. 2013.
  4. K. Ramasubramanian. Perspectives on Indian Astronomical Tradition. HH Dalai Lama Premises. Dharmasala. 2016.
  5. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, the Calendar, and Time. Lulu.com. 2011.
  6. Narahari Achar. Enigma of the Five Year Yuga of the Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (33). 1998.
  7. Narahari Achar. A Case for Revising the Date of Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (35). 2000.
  8. John Playfair. The Works of John Playfair (Vol. 3).. with a memoir of the author. Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co. 1822.
  9. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  10. Sudha Bhujle and MN Vahia. Possible Period of the Design of Nakshatras and Abhijit. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 2006.
  11. C. K. Raju. The Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16 c. CE.  Pearson Education. 2007.
  12. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. 2011.
  13. Subhash Kak. The Wishing Tree: Presence and Promise of India. iUniverse Inc. 2008.
  14. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and The Circle of The Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  15. R. N. Iyengar. A Profile of Indian Astronomy before the Siddhāntic Period. ISERVE Conference, Hyderabad, India. 2007.
  16. Kuppanna Sastry. The Main Characteristics of Hindu Astronomy in the Period Corresponding to Pre-Copernican European Astronomy. Indian Journal of the History of Science (Vol 9). 1974.
Thanks to N.r.i.pathi garu for his patience and encouragement.

Literature: Dattilam of Dattila

As an appropriate aside to our recent article on the History of Sangeeta, is a Post on a particular work of Literature said by some to pre-date the work of the great Bharata Muni himself.

The Dattilam of Dattila is an oft-cited but little known work on Ancient Indian Music that, even more than the music theory it covers, is critical for what it actually represents.


In his seal for brevity, Dattila becomes so laconic in his descriptions that they often read like obscure mathematical formulae. Fortunately, Bharata and also later authors have given details enabling us to interpret Dattila meaningfully. [1, 143]

Not much is known about the eponymous author of the Dattilam.  Though the composer ends with a standard colophon announcing his name, he does not provide the traditional background and lineage one is used to encountering in such works. Like Bharata before (or after) him, he is more concerned with the content.

One of the reasons for the ambiguous speculation regarding Dattila’s contemporaneity with Bharata is because Bharata muni himself refers to the text Dattilam. At the same time, one of the one hundred sons list by him includes a Dattila. Was this a namesake of the original or the original himself? All this leads to the conclusion that it is best to avoid assertion where nothing is concrete.

Nevertheless, we know Dattila and his text are indeed authentic and influential as none other than the great Acharya Abhinavagupta refers to him and even quotes from the Dattilam. [1, 49]

The author sets out to describe not only what gandharva is but its purpose as well. He tells us of 18 jatis (proto-melodies) and 7 gitikas (structured song forms) and the importance of pada (words) and taala (beat pattern).

We see many of these common elements in Natya Sastra as well indicating the common tradition from which both Dattila and Bharata were working from.



The work begins with the traditional invocation to deity. It too ultimately is constructed upon the foundation of the Saama Veda.

Consisting of 244 slokas, Dattilam is divided into a preamble, two sections, and twelve chapters, with topics ranging from technical aspects of tala and varna to methodology suggested by others. It is a terse and aphoristic treatise, that reads as a manual for experts, rather than an introduction to students. As the translator of the current edition himself notes, it not only requires the use of later texts (such as Natya Sastra or Sangeeta Ratnakara) but also begs a commentary. So concise is the text that a number of scholars have suggested that it is only part of a greater work. Irrespective…

The Dattilam is a very suitable starting point for research into the theory of ancient Indian music, as it is a concise compendium of almost all the musical terms. [3, 5]

The manuscriptology behind the Dattilam is an interesting story in and of itself. Found in a collection sponsored by Travancore’s Royal Family, it was discovered by the curator, Pandit K. Sambasiva Sastri. The manuscript he came upon was attached to a copy of the Sangeetasamayasaara. It is said to have been written in Sanskrit with Malayalam script.

The first translation into English was by a Dutch scholar named Nijenhuis. A subsequent one also conducted by a Dutchman, with the present one completed by Mukund Lath. All of them are in effective agreement however that…

Dattilam assumes a series of purvacaryas, preceding masters, and specifically names three: Narada, Kohala and Visakhila. [1, xii]

This is an important point as it establishes the existence of a tradition prior to even Bharata muni (who himself refers to previous musical masters). Dattila, does not refer to Bharata, leading to the conclusion that they were both from the same time period, or Dattila was likely senior. While Natya Sastra is presently dated to 400-100 BCE, the Dattilam is at least as older if not older.

Further evidence adduced to this point is that the text is seen as rather independent of Bharata. Nevertheless…

gandharva stands for ‘music’—all music. But the gaandharva Dattila speaks of was a specific body of music, a sacred form. It was conceived as akin to a musical yajna, and like a yajna, it could result in transcendental merit (adrsta) leading to svarga. [1, xiii]

As such, whether it is Bharata or Dattila, it is clear that the sacred is not only the origin of music, but very much immanent in the Indic musical tradition.

Another point of interest is Dattila’s reference to various regions and musical aspects attached to regions. He makes frequent mention of jatis called udeecyava (meaning from the north), and also refers to andhri (Andhra), takka raga (from NW Punjab), maalavi (from Malava/Malwa), kambhoji (from ancient Kambhoja), gaudi (from Gauda/Bengal), and gandhara jatis, in verses 70-79. [1, 117]

Other concepts beyond jati discussed include varna. “Varna was the general term used to indicate musical or melodic movement over notes.” [1, 125] Varnas are inextricably linked to padas (words) in a gita (song). In contrast, a jati is of pure note structure, laying the foundation for later ragas. Tala (a term meaning beat or beat pattern) is also discussed. It is a time measure based on beats ensuring the note (svara) was saamya (in equilibrium).

Dattilam is a fine example of a saastric text and is of living value to us in that respect. It has striking affinities of approach and spirit with many other saastras, such [a]s those of Paanini on grammar, Pingala on the science of metrics and Tandu on the dance-form taandava. [1, xiv]



I. [Pranamya paramesaanam] Brahmaadhaamscha gurumstatha |

Gaandharva-saastra-sankshepah saarathoyam mayochyathe || sl. 1

[After having made my obeisance to the Supreme Lord] and to all the gurus, the first of whom is Brahmaa, I shall now enunciate in its essence the saastra concerning gaandharva in a concise form.  [1, 1]

II. Gandharvam naaradaadibhyah pratthamaadhau svayambhuvaa |

vidhidan-naaradenaatha prithivyaam-avathaaritam || sl.2

The origin of gaandharva

Svayambhoo (the self-born one) gave gaandharva to Naarada and other sages. Narada, then, duly brought it down to this earth. [1,1]

III. Padasthah svarasamghaathas thaalena sumithas thathha |

Prayuktas-chaavadhaanena gaandharvam-abhidheeyathe || sl.3

What is gaandharva

A group of svaras, well-measured through taala and set to padas (words) when rendered with due attention (avadhaana) is called gaandharva. [1,1]

IV. Sruthayotha-svaraa graamau moorchanaas-thaana-samyuthaah |

Sthaanaani vruttayaschaiva sushkam saadhaarane thathha || sl.6

Jaathayaschaiva varnascha naana-alangkaara-samyuthaa |

Esha svara-gathodhreshah samskhepenaatha nirnayah || sl.7

Next, micro-intervals(sruthi), notes (svara), the two-tone systems (graama), scales (moorchanaa) consisting of series of notes (taana), the registers (sthaana), styles (vrtti), pure instrumental music (sushka), and the two ways of overlapping

modes (jaati) and ways of ornamentation (varna) connected with various graces (alamkaara). This is a mere description of the things relating to the notes…[3,2]

V.  This exposition is no more than a pointer towards the system of the earlier acaryas. The knowing expert (sudhee) should look up their views and reach his own conclusions if he still has any doubts. sl. 244

Iti Dattilam samaaptam

Dattila (thus) composed a saastra known by the name Dattilam [1, 47]

Click here to Buy this Book today!!!

  1. Lath, Mukund & Ed. Kapila Vatsyayan. Dattilam. Delhi: IGNCA.1988
  2. Prajnanananda, Swami. A History of Indian Music. Volume 1. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. 1997
  3. Nijenhuis, Emmie te. Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music. Utrecht. 1970

Literature: Paaka Darpana

Continuing Food Week here on the Indic Civilizational Portal is a work of Literature mentioned in our preceding Post on Classical Indic Cuisine.

The Paaka Darpana of King Nala of the Nishadas is the oldest available text on Indian Cookery.  Although we already conducted a brief expository on it, it’s important to—pardon the pun—flesh out the details of this little known composition.

Any mention of Culinary Literature is incomplete without discussion of the Paaka Darpana. Meaning ‘Culinary Mirror’, it is an ancient work with modern applications. It helps us understand not only what unites Indian cooking—real Indian cooking—from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, but also gives insight into what many Ancient Bharatiyas actually ate.


The legendary lord of the Nishaadas, Nala is a famed hero mentioned in the Mahabharata as the other half of that Pauranic Power Couple Nala & Damayanti.

It is said that he was extremely good looking, truthful, brave, just and endowed with eight boons. [1]

Nevertheless, as is famously recounted in the Naisadheeya or Naisadha Charita of Sriharsa , Nala (like another famous Mahabharata character) was not good at dice. He lost his kingdom in a wager with his brother Pushkara, and he too had to go into exile. It was in these circumstances that he became a chef in the Royal Kitchen of Rtuparna, King of Ayodhya. To preserve his real identity, Nala took the name Bahuka, and explained the Art of Cuisine to Rtuparna.

Interestingly enough, Nala later mentions his name in the Paaka Darpana and describes his travails. Damayanti is also discussed as is her later svayamvara.

King Nala himself is a member of the Nishada tribe. While the tale he is best known for is for another time, some of the slokas in this work give us insight into not only his surface-qualities, but also his substantive ones as well.

The king (Rtuparna), addressing Nala, asked him many questions regard-ing the dietics and regimens to be observed in various seasons. He puts forth many epithets to Nala…O, supreme one amongst the expert cooks having parexcellence knowl-edge of the science of cookery, authority of science of cooking, all round expert of sorts, of cooking procedures, O observer of auster-ity, O, proficient O, personified lion among the elepha[nts]. O, Baahuka (Nala), kindly exhibit the procedure of consumable articles, beneficial to everybody, to be taken in various seasons.” [1, 79]

The traditional seasons per the Indic Science of Time-Keeping are “the seasons of spring (Vasanta), summer (greeshma), early rains (praavrt), rains (vaarshikaa), autumn (saarad) and winter (hemanta) are observed in fore-noon (purvaahna), midnoon (madhyaahna), afternoon (aparaahna), evening (pradosha), midnight (ardharaatra) and dawn (pratyushas) respectively.” [1, 79] It’s clear the great Nala of the Nishaadas has a solution for every season.

Whatever your tastes, however, it’s quite clear what he had in mind for good food was the Royal Rajbhog and all the intricacies of its preparation. However, the composition itself explicates the breadth of his knowledge more than any would-be biographer could do.


Credited to Nala of Nishada rajya, Paaka Darpana is a Sanskrit work. It contains 761 slokas and is divided into 11 chapters.

In this wo[]nderful book the author has described the recipes of vegetable & non-veg. preparations. Dishes prepared from Neem, Mandan, Guduchi, Jackfruit etc. become cures also besides being very tasty, the dishes are made fragrant before being served.[2,1]

A manuscript exists at the Saraswati Bhavan Library of Sampurnanand Sanskrit University at Varanasi.

  • Chapter 1: By far the longest chapter (half the work), it introduces the topic and deals with the five key categories of food: pulses, rice, and meat.
  • Chapter 2: Discusses the various seasons and the food regimens to be observed. The influence of Ayurveda is obvious here.
  • Chapter 3: Treats the item of Bhaksyaraaja and various other dishes containing Egg
  • Chapter 4: Focused on Phirni (kheer). Interestingly, different varieties of Paayasa are mentioned, as well as syrups such as Paanaka (Sri Rama‘s favourite).
  • Chapter 5: Surveys the process pertaining to the preparation of different varieties of soft beverage, particularly their storage.
  • Chapter 6: Presents the various processes and properties of different soups (yoosa)
  • Chapter 7: Discusses the aspects of various Ghee preparations (Ghrtannapaaka) & Cereals.
  • Chapter 8: Lehya (lickable) foods, such as the mango, are mentioned
  • Chapter 9: Surveys the process of cooling water, giving fragrance, and preparing delicacies
  • Chapter 10: Ksheera-paaka, or general cooking of mixed dish milk preparations
  • Chapter 11: The last chapter overviews the processes of creating curd from milk

As a matter of interest, the original manuscript does not have these 11 paricchedas, and was found as one continuous composition (without punctuation).

Nala describes the various qualities of a cook (sooda ) and expert chef (soodaraat), which the reader can review among the selections. Nevertheless, the Nishaada king also describes the qualities of a proper waiter. Here is the gist below:

The waiter-at-meals (parivesaka) should attend to ablu-tions…followed by cleanliness of the feet and hands. He should be a fulfiller of culinary desires, attentitive to mind, firm/adherent, familiar with the timing of the meals of the king. Thereafter, he should serve the meals and food-prepara-tion in set order having come to know the appropriate time set for a king and considering its wholesomeness. [1,9]

The importance of cleanliness is quite apparent from the outset. Uniquely the cleanliness specified is not only a physical one, but a mental and even spiritual one. While the feasibility of ensuring such a level of saucha may indeed stretch credulity in our era, the emphasis on hygiene should, nonetheless, be feted and emulated. Whether chef or waiter or sommelier, one who furnishes food for others should take care to honour their trust.  There is an implied guarantee of cleanliness.

In the same chapter, Nala also outlines the work in slokas 28-32, albeit in greater detail than the list at the top:

The first section of the treatise deals with boiled rice (odana) with its various preparations; second one appraises the variet-ies of pulse (soopa); third one describes the clarified butter (sarpis); fourth one presents various varieties of recipes (vyanjana); fifth one depicts several preparations of meat (maamsa) and vegetables (shaaka); sixth one narrates a number of preparations of semi-hard food (bhakshya); seventh one introduces the preparations of Paayasa (rice cooked in milk with sugar added to it); eighth one elucidates an elixir (rasaayana); ninth one describes the preparation of syrup (paana) with its varieties; tenth one considers the varieties of soup (yoosa); eleventh one contemplates the food and its varieties processed by clarified but-ter; twelfth one exhibits the lickable (lehya) articles with its varieties; thirteenth one focuses the various beverages (paaneeya); thirteenth con-fines to several preparation of milk (ksheera); fifteenth one puts forth various preparation of curd (dadhi) and the last sixteenth one states the various preparations of butter-milk (takra).” [1,9]

Thus, one can see from this exegesis an inclusion of not only common staples such as rice, supplemented by vegetables, but also different types of meat.

Meat Recipes

Meat (maamsa) is reviewed with precision, particularly with regard to preparation and cleaning. Many different exotic meats are also discussed (it is not known if Nala’s tribal background influenced the selection). These range from curries to rice dishes. The most important however is referred to as simply maamsodana.

Preparation process of Maamsodana (Pulaava)—The cook skilled in processing should fill up the 3/4 part of the cauldron (Sthaali) by the water hereafter it should be kept on fire place (stove or chulha). When water becomes heated the well-washed rice should be dropped in the quantity of one fourth of the [vessel]. When the Sali rice becomes semi-cooked, meat either, completely cooked or semi-cooked in the form of minute pieces alike rice should be mixed along with salt. This cooked rice should be fired with clarified ghee. After disappearance of watery residue, it should be put on the coalfire (Angar). Afterwards the coconut water and new ghee should also b[e] mixed and should be scented with the flower of screw pine (Ketaki). Hereafter the pieces of Parpata should be dropped and it should be made scented through the product of Camphor and Musk (Kastooree).” [1,22]

A rice dish known as chitrapaaka is discussed, and a full recipe given (sl.86). It is to be prepared in a special non-metal vessel known as Pugapada. It is mixed with salt, musk and ketaki flower, camphor, saffron and water. Lemon, mushroom, coriander, ringer and onion are also to be included. Option of adding meat after all this is prepared exists as well.

There are many, many other recipes including those for kukkutamaamsatailodana (chicken pulao with asafoetida, sl.100), sooksmaamsoddana (minced chicken pulao, sl.103), etc.

As such, many of the items he mentions are not only non-traditional to modern Hindus, but also notable for lacking any dishes with cow meat. Thus, even a tribal king with even fewer restrictions than so called “savarna” Kshatriyas, did not advocate beef.  Therefore, we can see an integral unity in this myriad diversity.

The cow remains sacred for all Dharmic peoples.

Slokas 341-344 also discuss different spices. It appears the addition of ginger and garlic is nothing new to Indian cookery, as there is clear mention of it here.  But shakaharis and sattvik chefs need not fear. There are also a number of vegetarian main courses mentioned as well.

Vegetarian Recipes

Preparation of pulses is discussed in great detail with the mixing of turmeric and asafoetida. Different types of pulses are also described such as horse-gram (kulattha), black-gram (masa), flat bean (nispava) in sl.121. Pulse itself is described as an alleviator of pitta and a promoter of health [1, 27]. Thus, we again see the background influence of Ayurveda here.

Shigruphalam (drum-stick), plantain (kadhalee), audambara (Indian fig), tiktaalaabu (bitter gourd),  are all vegetarian options and their dishes all discussed as well. For sake of familiarity, a recipe for a brinjal (vrnthaakam) dish will be described here:

Method of preparing the vegetable of Brinzal and its properties. The lovely young fruit of brinzal should be taken and its upper portion should be cut by a sharp-edged knife. After cutting the brinzal into two parts, it should be dropped into a pot filled with water. The round brinzal fruit should be cleansed by the water and it should be dipped into the water medicated with ginger. It should be mixed with asafoetida, Kaayaphala (Kaidarya) and coriander powder. It should be added  by the pieces of garlic and ginger and it should be kept on fire. The round brinzal fruit cut into pieces should be kept in hot water for a while and it should be brought out of the water. After making the paste of spices containing black pepper coriander, cumin seeds (jeera) mixed with ripe tamarind and curd should be pasted on the pieces of brinzal fruit and it should be fried in cow’s ghee (clarified butter). After taking it out, it should be made fragrant with the camphor. Hereafter it should be kept in clean pipe of puga-putta boiling ghee. After taking out it should be eaten.” [1, 38] It is praised as “an alleviator of Tridosha” and an enhancer of strength. [1, 38]

But the best of all vegetarian dishes is described as Bhakshyaraaja, King of the Edibles:

The cook should take on part of the pieces of raw wheat along with the one part of fragrant article in order to cook it properly. The well cooked pulse of Bengal gram (canaka) taken as half part and one part of fat and one part of the flat bean (Nispaava) along with the five pieces of co[co]nut, fruit mixed with cardamom (elaa) and salt in appropriate quantity. All the above substances should be cooked properly and the butter ex-tracted from the scented milk should be mixed in boiled milk. after mixing all these, the pills should be prepared like seeds of lemon and these should be kept in pugapatta. These pills, after some time should be again cooked and dropped in the ghee. This preparation is called Bhakshyaraaja.” “It is celebrated as an alleviator of vaata and pitta, promoter of digestive power, palatable, and a strength promoter.” [1, 86]

In terms of vegetarian items of regional interest, Odias would be interested to hear about the preparation of the Kalinga fruit (sl. 444). Kashmiris might relish the description of Lotus flower, Padma-patra-shaaka (sl.477), as a dish.

Rasa & Ayurveda

The editor’s note gives a detailed discussion of rasabhinivritti (Manifestation of taste) and expounds  on how “Location (desa) plays a great role in manifestation of various tastes in one substance, e.g.grapes and pomegranates growing in the Himaalayas are sweet in taste whereas those growing elsewhere are sour“. [1, 11] Taste which manifests immediately is referred to as rasa, while that which manifests later and slightly is called anurasa.  Nala himself specifically mentions 8 demerits in food, along with various characteristics of starch.

Medicinal aspects are also discussed, such as how to alleviate pain from a scorpion-sting. This circles back to the overall connection to Ayurveda. Although naturally Nala being not just an ordinary cook, but a royal chef is expected to be mindful of taste, the centrality of nutrition and health is apparent. Incidentally, seasonal regimes (for purposes of health) are avidly described in chapter 2. Special care is taken to assert the need for more caution during the changing of seasons.

Nala himself recommends certain meats in certain seasons, suggesting deer in spring, goat in summer, chicken in rainy season, fish in autumn, pork in winter, and sparrow in late winter (sl.31).

Of course, no discussion of the composition would be complete without mention of the desserts. While foreign attribution of all things Indian may be popular (even phirni!), here is King Nala’s recipe for Kheer, better known as Ksheerapaaka.

Milk, unmixed with water, should be kept in a milk vessel. it should be cooked in slow heat in cauldron and stirred with ladle…Milk which has become drinkable is to be added by the jack-fruit. in the milk, which has become more solidified, the ginger should be added by another fruit. Later on the flowers of Punnaga should also be added to it. the milk known as ghatika is to be added by the mango fruit along with ghee and honey. In this way, the flower of pomegranate and rice should be added, when the milk becomes in ‘Sarkara’ form, banana fruit is to be added along with sugar.” [1,109] It is described as glorified by the Gods and alleviates the disorders of Tridosha.


Ekaaki naishadhah kadaachit kalinaashanah |

Rtuparnasya nagaree raajaanamidhamabraveet || sl.1

Long ago, having reached the city (Ayodhyaa) of Rtuparna, Naisadha (king of Nisadha county as Nala) the persecutor of Kali (the demon who rules in Kali Yuga) alone spoke thus to the king. [1,1]


(Panchavidha bhojanasya bhedhaah) Bhakshyam bhojyam tatha lehyanchoshyam peyam payogatham |

Bhedham rasaanaam shannaancha shuddha-samskaara-bhedhathah | sl.4

(I know the food-stuff classified into five categories viz., bhakshya [semihard food like sweet-ball (laddu) etc.] bhojya (soft food like rice, pulse etc.), lehya (relishable or lickable articles like sauce), cosva (suckable articles like sugarcane, pomegranate etc.) and peya (drinkables or beverages like fruit-juice, wines etc.) possessing either the six tastes (sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent and astringent) on the basis of preparation and processing. [1,2]


“Bhujyathe yena yatnena tasyaarogyam bhaved bhruvam |

vaatajam pittajam rogam sleshmajam hanthi sarvadaa ||

Sakrunnishevanenaiva tripuram tryambako yathaa || sl.6

Person, who relishes the aforesaid dishes (citrapaaka) with care and prepared by me, gets positive sound health. If this preparation is taken even once, alleviates the diseases caused by Vaata, Pitta and Sleshman as Lord Siva (Tryambaka) had killed the demon Tripura.” [1,3]


Asminnaarthe mayo’kaari grantho leka hithaaya cha|

loka paala-prasaadena paakadarpanaaamathah||

Tasyaava-lokanenaiva drsyanthe vividhaah kriyaah |

Soodasya lakshanam thaavad vakshye samkshepatha prabho || sl.22

O lord (prabhu) king Rtuparna. I have composed a trea-tise entitled Paakadarpana in this regard by the grace of gods (lokapaalas) for the benefit of people. All the process of (cooking) would be conspicuous by going through it. Now, I shall narrate the characteristics of cook (sooda) succinctly).


Svadesamsabhavah prajnha sarva-lakshana-laksithah |

Sadaachaara-samaayuktho visishta-kulasambhavah ||

Shaantho daantho daanasheelo raajapoojyo shuchismathah|

svadaaraniratha shuddhah paradaaravivarjithah ||

Bhitha-bhaashee sadaa daathaa dayaaluscha subhasitah |

Dhaathujno desakaalajno vayo’vasthaadhividh budhah||

The cook (soodha) appointed in a particular place, must belong to that habitat. He should be intellectual, endowed with all the required merits and characteristics, possessing the moral and ethical values, hailing from a respectable family, qu[iet], subdued, generous, honored by the royal families, pious, smiling, devoted to his wife, averted from other’s wife, holy, speaking measured words, liberal, com-passionate, soft spoken, familiar with various metalic utensils, conversant with place and seasons and detector of age and phases of life and also wise. [1,8]

Image result for paka darpana nala


Sarveshaam praaninaam praanam-annam prathama-muchyathe |

Brahma-roopamidham samyak-trishashti-rasa-roopakam ||

Doshashtakena rahithamaahared-annam-uttamam || sl.37

Food is primarily said as sustainer of vital force (Praana) of all living beings. Food, containing the sixtythree types (on the basis of combinations and permutations) of rasa (tastes) is factually personi-fied as Brahma (creator of the universe). The best food is that which is devoid of eight types of impurities. [1, 10]


Soodha-vedamakhilam susooksmayaa savidaa samavalokya sarvathah|

paaka-roopam-abhidheya-maa-daraadhyo bibarthim hrdhayena soodhaaraat || sl.498

Attainment of the post of expert cook. The best cook is one, who, having gone through cookery very attentively and pre-cisely from all the aspects; possesses the knowledge of all sorts of cooking by heart. He is also known as the king of the cooks. [1,78]


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  1. Madhulika, Dr. & Ed. Jayaram Yadav. Paka Darpana. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia. 2013

Vedanga Jyotisha

The Great King Suchi of Magadha
His calendar was a royal mess
because the equinoxes precess
until he learned 'the lore of time' from Sage Lagadha.


Jyotihsastra is the ancient Indian ‘science of light’ [2]. It includes within it the field of astronomy, which was known as Nakshatra Vidya (the science of the stars). Jyotihsastra is used for dik-desa-kala nirnaya (triprasna), i.e. to determine (direction, location, time) [4]. The Vedanga Jyotisha is an ancient text focused on Jyotisha, one of the six Vedangas. The Vedic texts, including the Upavedas and Vedangas, are harmoniously interlinked into an integrally united knowledge system. No one part of this system can be properly understood through an isolated study [1]. A key purpose of the Vedas is the performance of Yagnas correctly and on time. Time-keeping is the goal of Vedanga Jyotisha.

We resume our study of Ganitasastra at ICP through an inquiry into Jyotihsastra. This post is not an exhaustive restatement of facts. Instead, we try to understand the motivation and intuition behind the Ganita features of Vedanga Jyotisha (VJ). The Shulbasutras, which are part of the Kalpa Vedanga are also rich in Ganita, and will be discussed separately.

College students asked a professor 'Sir, what is time?' who replied "I can tell you what is the time, but I cannot tell you what is time"[4].

Vedanga Jyotisha

VJ is the earliest extant Indic work on time-keeping in the form of a handbook that is devoted to Kalavidhanasastra, the science of time-keeping. It provides the calculations associated with a lunisolar calendar derived from the Brahmanas and the Vedic Samhitas. VJ is not a self-contained treatise and any missing definitions, unstated assumptions, etc., are to be inferred from prior Indic sources and commentaries [1].

Vedanga Jyotisha has absolutely nothing to do with Phalita Jyotisha or Astrology [11]. 

The VJ was compiled around 1350 BCE (between 1150-1550 BCE) and is attributed in its verse to Lagadha, and key ideas in the VJ have been shown to belong to the Vedic texts and derived from earlier periods. VJ is in verse form while the other 5 Vedangas (Nirukta, Chandas, Kalpa, Vyakarana, & Siksha) are in Sutras indicating that it is the earliest of the six [1]. VJ was neither the first nor the last word in Indic time-keeping and astronomy as the Indians continued to make pioneering contributions to Ganita and Jyotihsastra over three millennia. These techniques enabled the Indics to produce a stable working calendar that could be employed for diverse purposes, and was sought after by the rest the world. The ancient Indic calendar traveled to China, and many other places [11].

VJ is available in the form of two ‘rescensions’ denoted as Rigveda Jyotisha (Arca Jyotisha, RVJ, 36 verses, earlier version) and Yajurveda Jyotisha (Yajusa Jyotisha, YVJ, 43 verses), which significantly overlap. Deciphering these rescensions turned out to be a challenging task. This effort started in the 1830s, culminating in the authoritative work of Prof. Kuppanna Sastry [1] in the 1980s who succeeded in meaningfully explaining all verses. Virtually every contemporary study of VJ cites his scholarship.

Time-keeping traditions of India

Vedic Cosmology — The Dharmic View of Time

We will devote considerable space discussing the unbroken traditions of astronomy and time-keeping that preceded Vedanga Jyotisha.

The Indic approach to discovery quite naturally arises from Rta, the cosmic order that is an expression of Satya, the ultimate reality. This cosmic order is experienced at every level from the microcosm to macrocosm. Time is sacred in this cosmology, and we have the kalachakra representing cyclic time, and it is intuitive that elapsed time can be tracked using precisely recurring rhythms of different durations that abound in nature. 18th century British scientist John Playfair who studied Hindu time-keeping in a manuscript obtained from Thailand, wrote an extensive treatise and was amazed by the Indic conception of cyclical nature [8]. He made several other important observations, which can be found within the cited references.

The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom. 
- Physical Measurement Lab at NIST

Our solar system is quite flat, and hence the moon and most of the planets are located in a narrow region around the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun in the sky during the day. This is really convenient for observation since it eliminates the need to focus on the innumerable luminaries that are away from the ecliptic. The moon’s path is within 5% of the ecliptic. The Ancient Indics kept time based on the periodicity of the (apparent) motion of the sun and the real motion of the moon. The study of planetary movements was not necessary to achieve this goal and does not concern VJ.

why isn't there a solar eclipse every New Moon night?

Careful observation was a critical component of Vedic astronomy and this became the hallmark of the Indic approach to discovery and obtaining valid knowledge in general, where all schools of dharma unanimously accept Pratyaksha Pramana [11]. From the perspective of accurate time-keeping required for Yagnas, kalavidhanasastra is a pratyaksha sastra [4], and is not deduced from a ‘black box’ math model.

By the early Rig Vedic period, one or more calendars were already in use for managing day to day activities. Time-keeping is critical for agricultural planning, e.g. to coordinate activities associated with the beginning and end of seasons, and continues to be important to the Indian economy [11].

The earth's equatorial plane is tilted at an angle of 23.5° with respect to the ecliptic plane. This results in varying seasons and daylight hours.

The Vedic people knew about the solstices and employed a six-season calendar which is special to India (it included a rainy seasonVarsha Rtu with months Nabha and Nabhasya). Obviously, the ability to accurately predict the arrival date of monsoons has always had significant economic value in India. The twelve tropical months along with their seasons in the Yajurveda are [2]:

Madhu, Maadhava in vasanta (spring),
Sukra, Suci in greeshma (summer),
Nabha, Nabhasya in varshaa (rainy),
Isa, Urja in sarada (autumn),
Saha, Sahasya in hemanta (winter), and
Tapa, Tapasya in sishira (freezing).

In 2004, agricultural operations were mistimed in India. Why? The monsoon was officially considered 'delayed' in the government calendar. In reality, it arrived on time per the traditional Indic calendar [11].

The trinity of adhidaiva, adhibhuta, and adhyatma are integrally united via Bandhus in the Vedic knowledge system [2, 9].  There exists a deep and ancient connection between Yagna (‘ the workshop where Bandhus are forged between the microcosm and macrocosm’ [9]) and time-keeping. Knowledge of the luminary phases was used to ensure that the monthly (Darshapuranamaasa) and seasonal (Chaturmasya) Yagnas were performed at the correct times [3]. The Atri family priests had the knowledge required to predict solar eclipses. By the time of the Yajurveda, the Hindus knew that a solar year was slightly more than 365 days. And importantly from a VJ perspective, a five year Yuga was already known, along with the need for two intercalary months to complete a Yuga [1].

pic source. By careful and patient daily observation of the sun at the same time in the sky, one can find out when the solstices occur (‘when the sun stands still’).

Prajapati as Time

Prajapati the creator is central to Vedic tradition. In his book ‘Being Different’, Rajiv Malhotra quotes the Rig Veda: “yajna is the very navel of the universe. It was Lord Prajapati who first fashioned yajna, and through it he wove into one fabric the warp and weft of the three worlds (Rig Veda I,164,33-35).” [9]. Prajapati creates and embodies a self-sustainable, self-correcting universe using the correspondence principle of bandhuta to achieve a balance between homogeneity and heterogeneity [9]. Prajapati is time, the very creator of the Vedas, signifying that the knowledge within the Vedas has no beginning or end [2]. He is Rta, the cosmic rhythm moving in a spiral, which indicates the Kalachakra, cyclical time [14].

Prajapati and Yagna are central to Vedanga Jyotisha, and receive the first respects in the starting verses of the VJ. The natural periodic events such as seasons, days, etc. are the five limbs of Prajapati, who personifies and presides over the five-year Yuga [1]. The separated faculties and limbs of Prajapati unite to form the infinite diversity of the universe, and the Yagna becomes a time-design to unite this multiplicity and continue the cosmic rhythm [14]. This five year Yuga is mirrored in Yagna through the constructed five-layered Agnicayana altar [6]. The Aahavaniya altar is built using 396 bricks that represent the days of the year: 360 to represent the Vedic ritual year and an additional 36 to represent the thirteenth (intercalary) month [3]. Many such bandhus arise through Yagnas [2]. The five-year Yuga is also a feature of Jain astronomy [6].

VJ states that those who correctly understand the effect of time on movements of the luminaries in the sky can fully grasp the impact of the Yagnas. One who truly understands the Vedas and Vedanga Jyotisha can experience transcendental bliss. These verses underline the integral unity [9] of the outer-material and inner-spiritual realms. We can see this dharmic concept re-asserted two thousand years later in the initial verses of Aryabhatiya, and more recently in Ramanujan’s approach as well.

The Indics were more than pattern seeking enthusiasts; they sought within patterns the deepest unity underlying nature’s diversity, and from this emerged the Yuga.  Yaga, Yoga, and Yuga (or the 3 Ys, with apologies to Modi ji) – all have a root meaning ‘to unite’. In [13], Prof Subhash Kak notes: “the ancient Indian calendar is an attempt to harmonize the motions of the Sun and the Moon…. Yoga may be seen as the harmonization of the motions of the inner planets of the body.  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra speaks of how meditation on the Sun reveals the nature of the world-system and meditation on the Moon and the Polestar reveals the arrangement and the motion of the planets and the stars. Such assertions imply that turning inward can provide insights.”.

Nakshatras in Vedic Tradition

Since the most ancient time, Hindu astronomy adopted the sidereal system. This was done implicitly using Nakshatras (stars or asterisms) in the Vedic period, and explicitly in the VJ, as well shall see later [16]. The Vedics used 27 Nakshatras in the vicinity of the ecliptic to track the lunar passage where the moon takes 27.32 days to return to a fixed reference point (sidereal lunar month). To identify the Nakshatra location of the sun, a heliacal rising and setting of a Nakshatra seems to have been employed, i.e., a Nakshatra may be visible near the horizon just before sunrise or sunset.  Texts point to a multi-disciplinary approach to Jyotisha employing a Nakshatra Darsha (expert observer/astronomer) and Ganaka (a calculation expert). The term ‘Nakshatra Vidya’ is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad [2].

Mentions of Nakshatra observations in ancient texts are useful because they allow us to date these events using the earth’s precession rate. For example, Kuppanna Sastry quotes the Satapatha Brahman, mentioning that ‘the asterismal group Kritika never swerve from the east while others do’, which was also confirmed by the commentator Sayana. This yields a date of around 3000 BCE. Independent studies using modern astronomical simulation software and mathematical calculations (statistical best-fit models) indicate that the Nakshatras were closest to the path of the moon around 3000 BCE [10]. Subhash Kak has written extensively on the astronomical codes embedded within the Vedas [12].

It is clear that long before Vedanga Jyotisha, there was significant progress in time-keeping. It confirms the epistemological continuity in Indic sciences, including Astronomy and Ganita since the most ancient of times [5].

Epistemological continuity is also evident in other India's diverse traditions including art, music, dance, etc.

These prior developments are the foundation on which VJ’s calendar stands.  Let us see how VJ improves upon the prior work.

Vedanga Jyotisha’s Methods

VJ introduced an analytical time-tracking (deterministic) framework that works in tandem with astronomical observations of the real, uncertain world. Hence VJ’s Ganita calculates the timings of lunar and solar events, while also retaining and working in sync with the traditional pratyaksha sastra.  The Ganaka can make predictions, and the Nakshatra Darsa can visually confirm the degree of accuracy of these estimates, and corrections effected as needed. The diagram below illustrates how the VJ methodology can be useful in taking the science of time-keeping forward and provide increasingly accurate answers to triprasna.

Contemporary time-keeping adopts a similar approach. The atomic clock serves as an unnaturally perfect model for daily usage, but is corrected by nature. Without the latter, the model-based time would very slowly but surely drift away from reality.

The most recent leap second was added on December 31, 2016.

Nakshatra-sector Coordinate system (NCS)

Nakshatras (as stars or star groups) have been an integral part of Indic culture and some of them serve as exemplars. Dhruva (a northern pole star) and the Vashishta-Arundati (Mizar-Alcor) pair are good examples.

Prior to the VJ, the Nakshatras were used to denote visible stars or constellations (27 or 28 in number) dotting the moon’s path. Hence, it was limited by visibility.  Furthermore, these Nakshatras served as approximately fixed positions for time-keeping but were not truly invariant due to earth’s precession (‘precession of the equinoxes’). The designated pole star, for example, changes over time and cycles every 25,920 years (about a 1° shift every 71.6 years).

The Ancient Indics must have been aware of the impact of earth’s precession on the Nakshatra locations because, by the time of the VJ, the nakshatra-sectors were taken as 27 equal sections of the ecliptic (about 13.3° wide) rather than specific stars or asterisms in the background [3]. This change yields multiple benefits.

  • The NCS is an invariant and uniquely Indic coordinate system that comes with a clearly specified origin (zero-point) that gives us a fixed starting coordinate. It is unaffected by the earth’s precession. The NCS resembles the modern-day ecliptic coordinate system calculation of the celestial longitude (since the moon’s path is very close to the ecliptic, tracking longitude was practically sufficient) [3].
  • The NCS represents a virtualized analytical framework that allows the time-keepers to algorithmically enumerate the ecliptic sector locations of all the full and new moons in a Yuga, as well as the position of the sun. This was not possible in prior Vedic traditions since theirs was a purely physical coordinate system indentified by stars and asterisms along the moon’s path. This VJ system is free of visibility issues [3]. The VJ specifies a coordinate system using an ingenious ‘Jāvādi arrangement‘. Of course, pratyaksha continues to guide accurate time-keeping.
  • This NCS helps us carry out the VJ calculations unambiguously.


The VJ Yuga is a time cycle of 5 years of 366 days each. A five year Yuga was already present in Vedic tradition. The Yuga is an integral unit of time-keeping in the Vedanga Jyotisha and all calculations are given based on this Yuga and the NCS.  VJ assumes 12 synodic months in a synodic year plus two intercalary months (adhimasa or adhikamasa) over a Yuga to harmonize the lunar and solar calendars, giving us a total of 62 synodic months in a Yuga.  The VJ specifically includes the adhimasa as synodic months #31 and #62 of the Yuga.

A VJ Yuga is completed when the sun and moon are observed to return to the pre-specified origin region of the NCS. This is the key definition in the VJ. Here is Sri Kuppanna Sastry’s description [1]:

In other words, the Yuga begins when the Sun and the Moon are observed together in the Sravistha Nakshatra sector of the ecliptic [3].

The Parameters of a Yuga (YVJ)

Tracking the movements of spherical objects rotating and revolving around other moving spherical objects can be tricky. Here is a ‘coin rolling on a coin’ puzzle, where the inner circle serves as a fixed frame of reference. If the inner circle also rotates, then the answer is relative to the chosen frame of reference.

How many rotations will the smaller coin make when rolling around the bigger one? (source: https://plus.maths.org)

Earth-Sun System (days and years)

Saavana durations represent the time of the (apparent) motion of the sun relative to the earth as the frame of reference. Each saavana year in VJ lasts 366 days, giving a total of 1830 civil days in a Yuga. In reality, this frame of reference is itself slowly revolving around the sun in the same direction, and therefore saavana calculations ignore the resultant additional earth rotation (one per year). Sidereal periods are calculated with respect to a fixed reference point (e.g. distant star). The sidereal year includes this ‘missing’ rotation, giving us 367*5 = 1835 sidereal days in a Yuga. VJ’s Nakshatra Darshas would’ve observed 1835 risings of a Nakshatra (an invariant ecliptic sector) in a Yuga.

Earth-Moon System (months and fortnights)

The moon is ‘tidally locked‘ to the earth. The actual time the moon takes to go round the earth (sidereal lunar month) is the time it takes to complete a full rotation around its own axis. So one side of the moon always faces us as if it never rotates, and we never get to see the mysterious far side of the moon (photographed for the first time in 1959).

"And if the dam breaks open many years too soon 
And if there is no room upon the hill 
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too 
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon". - Pink Floyd.

Let us calculate the number of moon rises and the number of sidereal lunar months in a Yuga. This visible side of the moon will be partially or fully observable on all sidereal days except the new moon days, of which there are 62 (one per synodic month). This gives us 1835-62 = 1768 moonrises in a Yuga, and 1830/1768 saavana days per moon rise on average.

Similar to the earth-sun system, the earth-moon system also yields an extra rotation per year depending on the frame of reference. Due to the earth’s revolution, the moon takes a couple of days extra to complete the synodic month (~29.53 days) relative to the earth. There will be 62+5 = 67 sidereal lunar months in a Yuga.

Since there are 27 sectors of the ecliptic, the moon visits 67*27 = 1809 Nakshatra sectors in a Yuga. Therefore, the moon traverses one sector in 1830/1809 = (1 and 7/603) Saavana days. The sun apparently visits 27*5 = 135 Nakshatra sectors, spending 13 and 5/9 days in a sector.

We now examine some of the larger units used in the VJ to keep time.

Larger Time Units

Saavana day: measured from sunrise to sunrise. The VJ takes the civil year to be 366 days long. Each day is divided into 124 Bhaagas (day-parts). 31 parts make a pada.

Tithi: This is a fundamental unit of the VJ equal to (1/30) of a synodic month. Hence a lunar month lasts 30 tithis, and the VJ assumes 360 tithis or 12 synodic months in a year in harmony with Vedic tradition.  Thus, a Yuga has 1860 tithis and 1830 saavana days. From this, we can calculate the VJ mean value for a tithi = 1830/1860 or 61/62 of a day.  The duration of a tithi depends on the moon’s orbit and is a variable quantity (+/- 15% the mean value), with the tithi at sunrise representing a day’s tithi [3]. Sometimes, the same tithi can mark two successive sunrises or a tithi can be lost between two sunrises. Tithi was already used in prior traditions. In the Rig Veda, atithi is a guest – one who arrives without a tithi, i.e. without prior notice [15].

A tithi can go AWOL
It can be a really close call
All ye star-crossed suitors beware
Date your Nakshatras with care!

Given the diversity of India, its calendars are also diverse. Reckoning dates for dharmic events can be tricky even in 2017. This informative subtitled video asks ‘When is Ugadi?’. Yugadi ~ start of a new yuga (new year), Hevilambi, per current Hindu lunisolar calendars.

There are also variations such as Amanta/Amavasyat versus Purnimanta calendars depending on whether the start of a month is from a new moon or full moon.

Rtu (season): Its duration is 62 tithis long, and therefore a Yuga will have 30 rtus, and 6 rtus a year. An important and unique feature of the Indian calendar is the use of six seasons including the all-important rainy season, the most celebrated and joyous of all rtus. The monsoons are governed by the annual wind patterns influenced by the Coriolis force [11]. The first rtu of the Yuga is Sishira rtu (winter).

The VJ also specifies the duration of rtu using the NCS (4 and 1/2 Nakshatra sectors per Rtu). Knowing the start date of a rtu is also important because of the Chaturmasya rite that has to be performed.

Ayana (solstice): Ayanas divide the sidereal year into two halves. There are 10 ayanas in a Yuga.

Paksha: half a synodic month, equal to 15 tithis. The bright half is the Shukla Paksha and the dark half is the Krishna Paksha. A Yuga has 62 Shukla and 62 Krishna Pakshas.

Parva: The Yuga is divided into 124 Parvas. Therefore it is equal in duration to a Paksha. The Parva Raashi (R) is the accumulated heap of Parvas since the start of a Yuga and is quantified as follows [3]: R = 2(12(y-1)+m) + p + K,

where  y = current year of the Yuga, m = elapsed months in the current year,  p is the elapsed parvas in the current month, K is an conditional correction factor (2 per 60 elapsed parvas) to adjust for intercalation.

Visuva (Equinoxes): The day when the sun apparently starts to move south or north and they occur at the mid points of each of the 10 Ayanas in a Yuga.

The interval between two successive Visuvas will be 124/10 Parvas = 12 Parvas and 6 Tithis. Hence the time elapsed in a Yuga until the N-th Equinox can be obtained by multiplying this inter-Visuva number by (N-1) and simplifying.

Bhaamsa (Amsa): To track the position of the sun and moon, every ecliptic sector is also divided into 124 equal Bhaamsas, mirroring the Parva time division of the Yuga. Hence, there are 27*124 Bhaamsas that spans the 360°. The Bhaamsa after p parvas is the remainder obtained after dividing 11p/124 [3]. The VJ rescensions state an equivalent conditional and arithmetic rule that anyone can use, similar to the previous expression for parva raashi R.

Kalaa: A day is divided into 603 parts. This number is chosen so that the time taken by the moon to traverse one of the 27 nakshatra sectors (1 and 7/603 days) = 610 Kalaas, a whole number.

VJ gives many ingenious algorithms (abhiyukti) to keep track of the number of Parva, Bhaamsa, Paksha, etc. that have passed since the start of the Yuga. The interested reader is referred to Prof. Kuppanna Sastry’s work.

Intra-day Units of Time Keeping

Researchers point to 4 different kinds of times tracked by VJ [3] apart from the cosmic time. We point these out while listing the different time-keeping units.

Akshara (2 Maatraa) ~ 0.57 seconds. Time taken to pronounce a long vowel. This  time-unit is interesting and suggests the existence of a long and well-established oral tradition.

Kaastaa (5 Aksharas) ~ 1.15 seconds.

Kalaa revisited (124 Kaastaas) ~ 2 minutes, 23 seconds. Kalaa establishes a link between the rate of speech to the average rate of lunar motion.

Naadika (10.05 Kalaas) ~ 24 minutes. Mechanically-kept time using a water clock. Passages in the Vedas [7] suggest the use of a particular water clock of the ‘overflowing type’.

Muhurta (2 Naadikas) ~ 48 minutes. Solar time based on the Sun’s apparent motion. Amazingly, the ancient muhurta measure has been preserved and passed through several generations and is used in India the exact same way, to this day.

Length of local daylight time in Muhurtas = (12 + 2N/61), where N is the number of days after the winter solstice.  Since there are 183 days in an Ayana, the maximum increase is 6 Muhurtas. Using this, the ratio of the longest to shortest day is 18/12 = 3:2. This number depends on the latitude, and therefore helps us identify the source location of VJ.

Ahoratra (30 Muhurtas) ~ ‘day and night’, or 24 hours.

Bhaaga: The local time given in 124-th parts of a day starting from sunrise. Thus we see three divisions of ‘124’ in the VJ: Parvas in a Yuga, Bhaamsas in a Nakshatra sector, and Bhaagas of a day.

Note how a speech rate is linked to lunar time, then to mechanical time, and solar time. These physical temporal cycles of varying durations are ultimately united with the cyclical cosmic time through periodic Yagna performed at the right times.



The VJ approach to specifying numerical constants is pretty elegant. The high-level parameters, which are fewer in number, are enumerated. For the myriad of lower level constants that proceed down to the intra-day level, it cleverly specifies algorithms based on a linear estimate (mean motion), using rules derived from modulo arithmetic. By specifying any three independent parameters of a Yuga, all other Yuga parameters can be calculated as derived values [1].  YVJ rescension’s second verse is famous for asserting the position of Ganita as the pinnacle of sciences [1].

VJ’s methods demonstrate ancient Indic abhiyukti. They do not provide a proof of correctness, but are to be validated by pramana. When a Ganaka’s analytically predicted quantity is in conflict with observation (pratyaksha), it is the model result that is discarded, and this also forces the model to improve.

Rule of Three: Linear Estimate

The VJ uses mean motion (average rate) as a first-order approximation within its calculations using the “rule of three“.

For example: Suppose we have a known average increment for a quantity ΔQ over a time period Δt, we can calculate an average rate of change = ΔQ/Δt. What will be the accumulated value of Q after T time units? A linear estimate will simply multiply this rate by time to obtain Q = (ΔQ/Δt)*T.  The VJ states the rule of three in verse, so that it can be used repeatedly as a subroutine: calculate an average rate and multiply the increment by this rate to generate the desired output.

Modular arithmetic

The VJ works with periodic quantities that get reset to 0 after reaching a maximum value. Doing calculations with such quantities requires expertise with modular arithmetic. 3000+ years before Gauss introduced formal modular arithmetic in 1801, the Hindus were actively applying modular arithmetic for calculating a variety of elapsed and remaining time values and the positions of the full and new moons over a Yuga.

Javadi Table

The Javadi arrangement is an important contribution from a Ganita and VJ calendar perspective. It represents a virtualized (independent of stars in the background) invariant ecliptic coordinate system with a zero point taken as the new moon near the Winter Solstice, which is tied to the start of a Yuga [3]. Javadi ~ Jau Adi, i.e., arrangement of Nakshatras starting from Jau (Ashvayujau) [1]. The position of the sun and new/full moon can be located unambiguously by the Javadi name of the Nakshatra sector and Bhaamsa within that sector. The table exhibits compact data organization and a circular ordering of the NCS data so that Sravistha represents Nakshatra sector 0 (or 27).

Simple Coordinates

From the Yuga parameters and the NCS, the ‘distance’ between successive full (new) moons can be calculated as follows:

The moon passes through 1809 Nakshatra sectors in a Yuga. There are 62 full moons and 124 pakshas in a Yuga. There, the distance between two full moons is 1809/62 = 29 and 22/124 Nakshatra sectors, and a paksha length is half this value (14 and 73/124). By partitioning a sector into 124 bhaamsas, we obtain a simple  (sector, bhaamsa) coordinate system using the original Vedic ordering of Nakshatras = (N_original, B) of new and full moons, where N_original and B are whole numbers.


The ganita properties of the full and new moon’s bhaamsas are interesting and we did not find much discussion on this, so we make an attempt here. A brief ganita description is in the appendix at the end of the post. Let us start from a new moon at bhaamsa B(0) = 0, and add 73 bhaamsas to obtain B(1) = 73 for the first full moon, and further 73 bhaamsas to get the bhaamsa B(2) of the second new moon, and so on.  We can observe the following patterns:

  1.  The full or new moon will be wandering around, visiting each and every bhaamsa number exactly once. A full or new moon will never be seen twice in the exact same location (bhaamsa) of the ecliptic within a Yuga. When it does so at bhaamsa 0 in the Sravistha sector, the Yuga is reborn (reminiscent of Kolam patterns).
  2. The 62 full moons of a Yuga occur at odd numbered bhaamsas, and new moons at even bhaamsas (if we start the Yuga at bhaamsa zero). At the full moons, the Sun’s coordinates will be 13.5 Nakshatras apart, i.e 13 sectors and 62 bhaamsas away.
  3. The nakshatra sector and bhaamsa are themselves linked, so if you specify just the bhaamsa, you can obtain the corresponding N_original value:
N_original = 5B mod 27 
N_original is remainder we get when we divide 5 times its bhaamsa by 27.

Of course, one can also calculate the N_original values directly as an independent check in case the input bhaamsa values are off. The VJ authors next transform the original Nakshatra sector list into the Javadi arrangement. It simplifies the required Ganita a bit (B instead of 5B).

Javadi Coordinates

The Nakshatra sector numbers can be transformed into a certain Javadi arrangement (N_original→N) using the following equation:

N = 11 N_original mod 27

Successive (original) Nakshatra sectors are 11 sectors apart in the Javadi arrangement. Conversely, successive sectors in the Javadi arrangement are 5 sectors apart in the original table. The Javadi arrangement starts from Ashvini and the final list is shown below [1]. The Sanskrit verse form of the Javadi representation is depicted at the top of this post.

Bhaamsa Generation Algorithm

This transformed N is related to B in this Javadi arrangement through a simpler modular equation compared to N_original. The (N, B) Javadi coordinates for all full and new moons of a Yuga can be iteratively generated (see appendix) and are shown in the plot below (X-axis = Javadi nakshatra sector indices, Y-axis = bhaamsa numbers). These coordinates would repeat every Yuga.

Javadi coordinates in terms of (Nakshatra-sector index, Bhaamsa) for all full and new moon in a VJ Yuga

The first full moon in a Yuga is at B = 73, which gives us a remainder N = 19 when divided by 27⇒ coordinates (19, 73). Therefore, the full moon occurs in the Magha sector per the Javadi table. The next full moon will be at bhaamsa B = 73+22 = 95. Applying N = 95 mod 27 ⇒ N = 14, i.e. Uttaraphalguni (14, 95).  Multiple full moons (2 or 3) can fall in the same Nakshatra sector, but always at different bhaamsas. For example, the next and only other full moon (38-th) in the Magha sector will occur when B = (73-54) = 19. The two full moons that occur in Magha are circled in light-blue in the above picture. Note that the 3 new moons along the Y-axis at Sravistha (X = 0) are at least 54 bhaamsas (about 5.8°) apart.

Ecliptical Coordinate System

The (N, B) from Javadi are equivalent to an ecliptic longitude. These results have been compared with those generated using the modern ecliptic coordinate system, and they are quite close [3]. Tracking the bhaamsas empirically is important and this can be done mechanically using a water clock. The Javadi table is deterministic and assumes fixed synodic month duration [3], so that every Yuga starts at coordinates (0, 0). This is not so in reality, and in the next section, we can see the maximum error that is possible. Since the origin is shifted, so will the calculation for every successive full moon. While the full moons may occur in the same Nakshatra sector, the bhaamsas will be off unless the origin-shift is accounted for. The Javadi table can be used as an approximate framework/guide for the Yagna calendar and supplemented with direct observation.

We have only discussed only a few of the high-level VJ calculations. For a detailed discussion, refer to [1].

Accuracy of some VJ calculations

Mean Tithi

VJ Value = 61/62 of a saavana day.

Modern estimate of an average synodic month ~ 29.5306 days

Modern value of tithi ~ (29.5306 * 12)/360  ~ 354.367/360

Absolute Error = |354.367/360 – 61/62| < 0.05%

A Yuga has 1860 tithis, so accumulated error ~ 0.896, or less than a tithi per Yuga [2].

Mean Moonrise Rate

VJ value = 1830/1768 ~ 24 Hours 50.4864 minutes [2], i.e., the moon rises about 50.4 minutes later every day. This agrees with the modern average moonrise value really well.

Start time of a Yuga

The new moon at the start of a new Yuga may not be exactly at bhaamsa 0 of the Sravistha sector. It has been shown that up to 46 bhaamsas error can accumulate over a period of 500 years [3]. Since the moon traverses a Nakshatra sector (124 bhaamsas) in 610/603 saavana days, using the rule of three, we find that the moon traverses 46 bhaamsas in 9 hours. This is less than the minimum gap (54 bhaamsas) between successive full or new moons in the same Nakshatra sector. The maximum possible cumulative error in the start time of a Yuga after 100 Yugas is 9 hours [3].

Yuga: Self-Organizing System

In general, the VJ seems to be relatively more accurate while calculating lunar periods compared to solar periods [2]. Over the next two millennium, the Hindu lunisolar calendars were significantly upgraded. The Ancient Indics were aware of the uncertainty in the true motions of the sun, earth, and moon, and the need for corrections. The Indian comfort with uncertainty [9] is perhaps reflected in the fact that the civil calendar was deliberately set up as a simple, convenient, and approximate framework for the astronomical (Yagna) calendar. The discrepancy between the arithmetic and astronomical calendar can be fixed using an intercalary day at the end of the Yuga [1]. They also synchronized the sidereal and tropical year using appropriate corrections. Beyond these basic corrections, the lunar-solar year gap can accumulate over Yugas. It has been discovered by researchers [1, 3, 6] that the properties of the VJ Yuga yields a self-correcting system that automatically cancels out these errors.

Lunisolar correction

Five tropical years at 1350 BCE = 5*365.1734 ~ 1825.9 days

Duration of a Yuga = 62 * 29.5306 ~1830.9 days

Difference ~ −5 days per Yuga or roughly one extra day per tropical year.

If this discrepancy is allowed to accumulate over 6 Yugas (sometimes 7), the total gap will be approximately a synodic month. A Nakshatra Darsha doesn’t even need to know the Ganita behind this. He/she simply sees the sun and moon together in the Sravistha sector to signal a new Yuga. The unnecessary intercalary month 61 is automatically skipped, which resets the accumulated error.

Some corrections were made by observation of the moon phase. At the new moon the moon rises and sets with the sun. If the moon rises just after sunrise, it indicates a time near new moon. Such observations enabled the Vedics to develop the rules required for an accurate timing of the Yagnas since certain Yagna performers would incur a penalty if they erred in the timing [1]. Thus Vedic Yagna is the creative driving force that inspires this self-correcting calendar. A self-harmonizing Yuga seems natural in Prajapathi’s self-organizing universe.

Date and Source of VJ


Embedded within VJ’s verses is an astronomical date-stamp about Sravistha. If α-delphini is taken as the Yogatara (principal star) of Sravistha, then between 1550 BCE and 1150 BCE, the nakshatra Sravistha and the sun would have been close at the winter solstice, i.e., the Nakshatra rises and sets heliacally at the winter solstice, and this is not possible for dates outside this period [3]. If a certain other star other than α-delphini is chosen as the Yogatara, the date gets pushed back beyond 1800 BCE [7]. Kuppanna Sastry’s ganita calculations using the earth’s precession rate, and based on the observation of the VJ author that the winter solstice was at the start of the Sravistha segment, yields dates in the range [1150, 1400] BCE. Statistical analysis of the Nakshatra system shows that a maximal proportion (80%) of the Yogataras occupy their respective Nakshatra sectors in [1300 +/-300] BCE, indicating the finalization of the NCS during this period [3]. From [5], we find mention of a date of 1255 BCE when King Suchi of Magadha, a student of Lagadha [6] set forth VJ and dated it by including an astronomical note about the summer solstice. When combined with other independent considerations such as the visibility of the Saptha Rishi (Ursa Major) from Bharatvarsha, the timing of Yagnas in conjunction with seasons, full moon, and prescribed Nakshatras, we obtain a date range [1400 +/- 300] BCE for Vedanga Jyotisha [3].


Multiple works show that the Nakshatra (star) system was most likely designed around 3000 BCE [2, 3, 10]. There is clear evidence of a continuous unbroken epistemology of time-keeping from the Rigveda Samhitas to the Vedanga Jyotisha.

Independent researchers have studied the 3:2 ratio of longest to shortest day, which is only possible around a certain latitude. This includes locations in far-northern India as well as other places. The calendar with a rainy season is also special to India. By also taking into account VJ’s date, several locations get eliminated from consideration, and Kashmir appears to be a likely location of the VJ author among the feasible candidates. This has been an independent conclusion reached by multiple scholars.

The Challenge of Vedanga Jyotisha

Kuppanna Sastry has listed three fundamental requirements for a scholar who wants to study and interpret Vendanga Jyotisha in its original Sanskrit verse [1]:

  • Sound scholarship in Sanskrit
  • Knowledge of Western Astronomy
  • Full understanding of the concepts and practices of Hindu Astronomy


Those who have been frustrated in this task have lacked one or more of the requirements stated above. It is not necessary for one person to have all three skillsets. We have a precedent from 3000 years ago, when Nakshatra Darshas and Ganakas combined their skills to take Indic science and technology forward. Today, traditional Vedic Pandits grounded in Sanskrit and Hindu cosmology, and STEM professionals can work as a team to overcome new challenges in many areas. The first and third requirements involve dharmic tradition, which requires shraddha and sadhana, something every team member must imbibe. The Swadeshi Indology initiative serves as an inspiring example in this regard.

Several luminaries have contributed their expertise toward explaining the time-keeping ideas of Jyotihsastra. This post summarizes the student notes compiled while learning from and exploring these truly enlightening works, which are listed in the references below.

'If you were in Darkness, what would you want more than anything else; what would it be that every instinct would call for? Light, darn you, light!' - Nightfall, Isaac Asimov.

  1. KV Sarma and Kuppanna Sastry. Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadha In its Rk and Yajus Rescensions. With the Translation and Notes of Prof. T. S. Kuppanna Sastry. Critically edited by K. V. Sarma. Indian National Science Academy. 1985.
  2. Subhash Kak. Astronomy and its Role in Vedic Culture. Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol. 1. The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part 1, edited by G.C. Pande. ICPR/Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 2000.
  3. Prabhakar Gondhalekar. The Timekeepers of the Vedas: History of the Calendar of the Vedic Period (From Rgveda to Vedanga Jyotisa). Manohar Publishers. 2013.
  4. K. Ramasubramanian. Perspectives on Indian Astronomical Tradition. HH Dalai Lama Premises. Dharmasala. 2016.
  5. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, the Calendar, and Time. Lulu.com. 2011.
  6. Narahari Achar. Enigma of the Five Year Yuga of the Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (33). 1998.
  7. Narahari Achar. A Case for Revising the Date of Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (35). 2000.
  8. John Playfair. The Works of John Playfair (Vol. 3).. with a memoir of the author. Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co. 1822.
  9. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  10. Sudha Bhujle and MN Vahia. Possible Period of the Design of Nakshatras and Abhijit. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 2006.
  11. C. K. Raju. The Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16 c. CE.  Pearson Education. 2007.
  12. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. 2011.
  13. Subhash Kak. The Wishing Tree: Presence and Promise of India. iUniverse Inc. 2008.
  14. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and The Circle of The Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  15. R. N. Iyengar. A Profile of Indian Astronomy before the Siddhāntic Period. ISERVE Conference, Hyderabad, India. 2007.
  16. Kuppanna Sastry. The Main Characteristics of Hindu Astronomy in the Period Corresponding to Pre-Copernican European Astronomy. Indian Journal of the History of Science (Vol 9). 1974.
Appendix & Acknowledgements
Acknowledgments: Thanks to N.r.i.pathi garu for encouraging me to write this post, and for his Baahubali-esque patience and valuable feedback.

The bhaamsas of the full or new moon are generated using the recurrence relation:

B(k+1) = B(k)+73 mod 124.

This is an example of a linear congruential generator (LCG) that is commonly used in computer simulation models. The sequence of bhaamsas visited by the full or new moon in a Yuga are pseudo-random numbers. Since 73 and 124 are relatively prime, this LCG is guaranteed to have a full period (124) that exactly spans a Yuga. The Hull-Dobell theorem (1962) proves the result for the general case. It is also easy to see that if B(k) is even, then B(k+1) will be odd, and vice versa. We can simply generate the bhaamsas to verify this.  The following algorithm generates the chronological sequence (N(k), B(k)) of all new and full moon positions of a Yuga in Javadi coordinates:

1. Initialize: k = 0, B(0) = 0.
2. N(k) = B(k) mod 27. If B(k) is even, it is a new moon, else full moon.
3. B(k+1) = B(k) + 73 mod 124.
4. if k=123 stop. Else, k=k+1; go to step 2.

Classical Indic Literature V: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry 2


In honour of Madan Utsav, Bharat’s true Festival of Romance, we bring you the second installment in our special set of articles from our Continuing Series on Classical Indic Literature.

Today we present to you our long planned Romantic Sanskrit Poetry 2.

This post features the famous Kavya of Mahakavi Kalidasa called Meghaduta.

Those of you following ICP would recall our inaugural Post on Romantic Sanskrit Poetry featuring Abhijnaanasaakuntalam. While the ‘Recognition of Sakuntala’ was a drama featuring beautiful poetry, Meghaduta is a lovely, lyrical poem that is pure romantic reverie. Perhaps no padya captures the longing of a husband for his wife like the ‘Cloud Messenger’. Indeed, if there were ever any question of Kalidasa’s poetic greatness, Meghaduta put it all to rest.

Mahakavi Kalidasa

What is there to be said about Kalidasa that has not already been said? Quite a bit actually.

Kalidasa is a courtly poet, but his knowledge of the human heart and his understanding of the complex play of human motivation, are profound. A keen observer of nature in all its varied aspects—he sees with a painter’s eye and speaks with a poet’s tongue—he is at the same time a learned writer who wears his enormous learning lightly and with grace. [2]

Clearly there is a lesson in this legendary poet’s own approach. As alankara-sastra expert Acharya Dandin frequently decried, there is a proclivity toward pedantry, particularly in those subscribing to the school of Gauda. Mere show of learning is no real accomplishment. It is in the application of learning, to craft useful things which improve human life or via lucidly lyrical literature that lights up the soul. Along with learning, there is grace.

Kavi kula guru Kalidasa may have delighted us with his delightful dramas and romantic rupakas to remember. Abhijnanasaakuntalam, Vikramorvaseeyam, and Malavikaagnimitram may entertain us with their splendid stories. But if there is a piece that showcases the true genius of Ujjain’s most ardent devotee, it the one dedicated to a cumulus amicus. Meghaduta is that kavita that not only captures our heart but captivates our imagination.

“Kalidasa’s accomplishment is distinguished not only by the excellence of the individual works, but by the many-sided talent which the whole achievement displays. He is a dramatist, a writer of epic and a lyrical poet of extraordinary scope. In his hands the language attained a remarkable flexibility, becoming an instrument capable of sounding many moods and nuances of feeling; a language limpid and flowing, musical, uncluttered by the verbal virtuosities indulged in by many writers who followed him; yet, remaining a language loaded in every rift with the rich ores of the literary and mythical allusiveness of his cultural heritage. By welding different elements to create new genres, his importance as an innovator in the history of Sanskrit literature is clearly established.” [2,1]

The biography of that best of Kavis, Kalidasa, is a tale in and of itself—indeed, it is worth of a book, an article, a cinema, or several. Correspondingly, the writer who intertwined legend with history and delightful fancy with moral principles, led a life of similar meeting points. By the present foreign paradigm, he is dated to the 4th century CE, but it is more likely that he belongs to the 1st Century BCE instead.

The foregoing discussion is enough to justify the truth and the vitality of the age-long tradition that the poet belongs to the days of the glorious King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini—the founder of the Samvat era (57 B.C.) [1, vi]


Great Plays of Kalidasa

  • 8 works of his have come to us today.
  • 3 dramas, 2 epics, 2 lyrical poems, and 1 descriptive poems. [1]

Kalidasa would set standards of excellence in poetry for millennia. He imbues with life:

“Men of great stature, power and valour, and women of uncommon beauty and grace met by the heroes of epics and romances are often asked with admiring wonder if they are beings of divine origin: yaksas, gandharvas, apsaras. Apsaras, ‘born of the Waters’—the waters of creation (see note 8), are, like yaksa-yaksees, associated with life and fertility and seen as beneficent powers” [2,29]

To better prepare for married life, it is important to not only learn how to become eligible, but also marriageable. The courtly aesthetic is important not only in kingly courts, but in the courtship of couples. It is here that our hero of poesy truly excelled. He inspired generations of not only litterateurs and litterateuses, who frequently referred to him, but women and men of the elite, princesses and princes, wives and husbands,  to great romantic deeds in the itihaas of shringaar. But why take my word for it, hear from another great poet of antiquity.

Bana author of the Kadambari exclaimed:

Who is not delighted when Kalidasa’s perfect verses spring forth in their sweetness, like honey-filled clusters of flowers?”[1]

Indeed, who is not delighted. But if you have yet to dip your tongue in the madhu-madya of Mahakavi’s poetry, then start with Meghaduta.

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Sringara (Romance) is also Part of our Culture. Perhaps no Poem says Sringara like Meghaduta. From its dazzling descriptions of the Indian Subcontinent to its pleasing poetry recounting its people to its captivating kavya capturing sentiment, it is truly the poem for the true Romantic.

Describing the separation of a semi-divine Yaksha from his wife, we learn of this heavenly being’s banishment to Earth for 1 year. With no friend or beverage in which to drown his sorrows, this servant of Kubera turns to a gracious Cloud whom he beseeches to be his messenger. Duta-kavya can be considered a genre of poetry in and of itself, dating back to the Ramayana, and Rama’s anointment of Hanuman to be his messenger to Sita. In fact, the Meghaduta itself alludes to Valmiki’s great epic with frequent mentions of its characters and place names. The nayaka (hero), like Rama, is not resentful of the originator of his banishment, and bears his exile with heroic forbearance. It is certainly inspired by the Adi-kavya, and possibly an outright homage to it. And it certainly aspires to its himalayan heights of resonant rasa.

“The chief goal of drama is to produce rasa, the aesthetic emotion, evoked by the appropriate mood built cumulatively through not only words, but also by mime and gesture, music and dance, costume and jewellery” [2,7]…and oh, does Kalidasa evoke it, not only in his dramas, but in this descriptive poem.

The Court Poet of Vikramaditya and the first poet among Romantic kavis not only sources scintillating Sringara rasa but stylises soka as the sthayibhava.

He uses the “stately” mandaakraanta metre in his messenger poem. With its 17-syllabled lines, it is considered the archetypal chanda for love-poetry and longing. Indeed, through its cadence, it conveys the loneliness and yearning of the yaksha. If that is the mood, then the ambience is dream-like, like the very cloud with which it is eponymous.

The Meghaduta is divided into the Purvamegha (earlier cloud, as in the cloud’s journey to Alaka puri) and Uttaramegha (latter cloud, the narrative when the journey to Alaka ends).

The Purvamegha has 63 slokas and the Uttaramegha has 52 for a total of 115.

While this article will concentrate on the Uttaramegha, which most superbly captures the vipralambha sringara (love-in-separation) of the a-namika yaksha and yakshi as well as the exhilaration of Alakaa-puri,  outstanding descriptions of the Indian Subcontinent’s landscape is given in the poem’s earlier half, the Purvamegha.

In the Poorvamegha the poet reveals the Yaksa facing a cloud, clasping a towering peak of Himaalayas, whom he thinks of making the bearer of a message to his lorn wife; for he was cursed by Kuvera his Lord, to be severed from his wife for dereliction of duty. He makes an offering of Kutaja flowers and water to the cloud.” [1, iii]

It is a sophisticated work of an veteran poet and arguably ranks with Kumarasambhavam in its maturity. Connections with the Ramayana aside, it stands out for the originality of approach and the breadth of geographic treatment. Indeed, this descriptive poem provides a veritable  tour of Bharatavarsha and connects the sacred and super-human with the everyday and historical.

In this poem, Kaalidaasa gives us a glimpse of Kailaasa, and the Himaalayan regions. His eye in a fine frenzy rolls over the ridges, cliffs, scarps, valleys, dales, glades and the gritty upland of that mountain. He delineates the story of a bereaved Yaksa in crystal-clear vignettes that are remarkable for their precision and romantic charm.” [1,iii]

Mountains, rivers, valleys & cities, all are veritably painted by his padya for our manasa. Although apsaric Alakaa is the abode of the hour, Avantika’s favourite penman is loath to lose an opportunity to dedicate his penmanship to it.

Ujjayini was the city of his heart and he is delighted to sing of her glories and the romantic loves of her maidens. [1, vi]

Kalidasa’s reference to Ujjain in Meghadutam

 “to Ujjayinee glowing in splendor like a brilliant piece of Paradise

Come down to earth with traces of merits of dwellers in Paradise returning, the fruit of their good deeds almost spent.” [2,5]

For pedantic grammar-gyaanis and assorted Panchatantra murkha-panditas, an appropriate note regarding translation courtesy Chandra Rajan:

“Kalidasa’s poetry like much of Indian art is stylized. The Stylization is not a rhetorical procedure but part of the self-awareness with which the verse shapes itself. The translation therefore, has to be faithful, has to somehow contrive to be stylized and readable; to steer clear of a literalness of rendering as well as an identification of readability with contemporaneity.” [2,xvii]

In our time of jaded ennui and de rigeur poseurs, the Mahakavi revives the romantic with this refreshing tale of a lovelorn lover. Rather than the woman pining over the man, we find the husband pining over his wife.

The [cloud’s] message must be delivered at midnight, for the Yaksa’s fair and chaste wife passes sleepless nights, leaves her bed, sits in the highest window in the palace until the long to come daybreak comes. She is in no mood to enjoy the moonlight since she is neither fully awake nor asleep. Her lips go parch-dry, her hair grows coarse from want of oil; and her sleep is disturbed by tears so that she cannot dream of reunion. Such is the pitiful sight of the disheveled pining wife of the Yaksa that even the cloud would not fail to grow tender…The cloud is requested to bring back on his return a message from his beloved wife”  [1, xii]

C.R.Devadhar muses how interesting a sequel to Meghaduta would be, and what the return message from the Yaksa’s wife would be—perhaps there is a poem there to be composed by a skilled poetess yet to write…

And here, our journey into the author and his composition ends, and the selections from his celebrated poem begin. We now step into the heavenly realm of Himalayan Alakaa.

 Alakaa is a world created by our dreams and desires where time stands still and whose ways are untrodden by the unimaginative; where ‘sensual music’ fills the nights to overflowing under the moonlight (Megh.66,68). [2,26]

Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

I. Tanvee syaamaa sikhari dasanaa pakva bimbaa daroshtee

Madhye kshaamaa chakita harirgipre kshargaa nimma naabhah |

Srorgee-bhaaraa-dalasa-gamanaa sthoka-nabhra sthanaabyaam

Ya tatra syaadhya vathivishaye srushtiraadhyova dhaathuh || UM.Sl.19

There resides my wife, the Creator’s prototype of a luscious woman, slender and youthful, with pointed teeth and lips red like bimba fruit, a thin waist and a glance like that of a startled deer; she has a deep navel, with a measured gait owing to the weight of the hips, and she is slightly stooping from the weight of her bosom. [1, 31]



II. Thaam jaaneethaah parimitha-kathaam jeevitam me dvitheeyam

Dooreebhoothe mayi sahachare chakravaaki-mivaikaam |

Gaadotkashtaam gurushu diva-seshveshu gacchatsu baalaam

Jaathaam manye sisira mathhithaam padhmineem vaanya-roopaam || UM.sl.20

In her recognize my very life, sparing in her speech and cut off from me like a chakravaaka [bird] from the spouse. Her heart overflows with longing as days pass heavily; I think she droops like a younger creeper in Winter’s rigour. [1, 31]


meghaduta1 Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi


III. Noonam yasyaah prabala-rudeetochoo nanetram priyaayaa

Nihsvaasaa-naama-sisiratayaa bhinna-varga- dharoshtam |

Hasta-nyastam mukha-masakalvyakti lambaala-katvaa

Dindor-dainyam tvadanu-sararga-klishta-kaante -bimbatim|| UM.sl.21

My darling’s eyes are swollen red by constant tears, the color of her lips fades by her burning sighs; her face rests upon her palms, hid by her long tresses. Indeed, she looks like the waning Moon enwrapped in the night’s folds. [1, 32]



Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

IV. Nih-svaasenaadhara-kisalaya-klesinaa vikshipantheem

Suddha-snaanaat parushamalakam noonamaa-ganda-lambam |

Matsambhogah kathamapi bhavet-svapnajo’peethi nidraa

Maakaankshantheem nayanasa-lilot-peeda-ruddhaa-vakaasaam || UM.sl.28

Her delicate lips are scared by her fervid sighs. She spills her hair, grown rough and dry since she washes them in pure water without oil or scent. She longs for my embrace even though it be in a dream. But tears well up and destroy the relief which sleep could afford. [1, 34]


The message:

V. Srangenaangam-suthanu tanunaa gaada-taptena taptam


Dheergocch-vaasam samadhi-katarocch-vaasinaa dooravartheem

Sankalpai-stair-visaati vidhinaa vairirgaa ruddha maargah || UM.sl.39

Obstructed by an angry and inexorable Fate, the distant one [your husband] seeks to unite with you, to mingle tears with tears, arms with arms, pining bodies, anxious heart to heart, sigh with sigh—such are his wishes. [1,38]

Artwork by Artist Nana Joshi

VI. Syamaasvanga chakhita-hareergipre-ksharge drshtipaatham

Vaktrachaayaam sasini sikhinaam bahambaareshu keshaan

Utpasyaami prathanushu nadheevee-chishu bhroovilaasaan

Hanthai-kasmin kvachidhapi na te chandi syaadrsya masthi || UM.sl.41

I can detect a little of your form in supple vines

Your glances in the eyes of a startled doe, your face in the moon

Your tresses vie with peacock’s plumage

Your eyebrow’s graceful curve in the stream’s small waves [2, 38]

But do not frown…for in no object, is there full likeness, of you [1,39]


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DevadharKalidasameghadutaofkalidasa meghdoothindi

  1. Devadhar, C.R. Works of Kalidasa: Volume II. Delhi: MLBD. 2010
  2. Rajan, Chandra. The Complete Works of Kalidasa: Volume 1 (Poets). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2005
  3. Wilson, H.H. The Megha-Duta: The Cloud Messenger. London: Thurner & Co. 1867
Acknowledgement: My thanks again to the young voice actor for enacting this poetry recitation on short notice. 

Acknowledgment: The outstanding artwork by artist Nana Joshi can be found on this website. The poem was verily brought to life by these chitras.

*Minor Proofing for some translations

The Mind of Margayya

(source: tribuneindia.com)

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami (1906-2001), the creator of Malgudi was one of India’s greatest storytellers and thinkers. Writing under the shortened name R. K. Narayan, a small sample of his works include Swami and Friends, Bachelor of Arts, Guide, and Gods, Demons, and Others. His equally illustrious brother Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Laxman (RK Laxman) brought Malgudi to life with his magical illustrations. The siblings were recipients of the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor. The popular 1980s TV series Malgudi Days, directed by the great Kannada artist Shankar Nag was based on the works of RK Narayan, and the 1965 Hindi movie Guide, a favorite of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was based on his book. 

The Financial Expert

RK Narayan’s 1951 work ‘The Financial Expert‘ [1] is universally regarded as a classic, and has been the subject of several excellent reviews from a western literary perspective, by both Indian and western writers. The book was made into a successful Kannada movie ‘Banker Margayya’ starring actor Lokesh in 1983, which went on to win multiple awards.

(source: shareyouressays.com)

Here, we explore some of the themes in this WW2-era Malgudi story using an Indic perspective, and in doing so, are rewarded with insights that would not be obtainable using a purely western lens. In particular, we discover that the timeless lessons in Neeti and Dharma that used to be orally transmitted from generation to generation in India are embedded within the ‘Financial Expert’.


In ‘Financial Expert’, RK Narayan brilliantly encodes in simple English the sophisticated nuance and wisdom of Indian Itihasa and Purana, even as he unravels the multiple threads of thought running through Margayya’s mind. Margayya, like many a character in itihasa, undergoes intense penance in order to acquire some special power. His aim is to please Goddess Lakshmi, so that she will bless him with wealth and financial success. The story of Margayya’s journey from 14D Vinayak Street to 10 Market Street and back is rich in the symbolism and subtle suggestion that characterizes Indian art.

Margayya was named Krishna at birth, and his professional name (pronounced ‘Marg-Ayya’) reminds us of Arjuna’s charioteer who showed the way (Marg) of Dharma in the Mahabharata. Margayya employed his financial Ganita prowess to game the system. He presented the peasants within a 100-mile radius of Malgudi a financial roadmap that enabled them to secure a endless sequence of cash loans from the Central Cooperative Land Mortgage Bank (est. 1914). The ‘Cooperative Bank’ part was an oxymoron as it neither co-operated with its poor shareholders, nor performed its banking duties with a sense of seva. Margayya, aged 42, made a living by aggressively filling this gap from his service location under a banyan tree right opposite the co-op, much to their irritation. Imagine a smarter Alan Greenspan in a topi, torn shirt, and brown dhoti.

Margayya wanted to progress beyond this tension-ridden low-end job. A tipping point is reached when the stained-dhoti clad financial jugaad master is humiliated by the rich, boorish bank secretary dressed in European attire, top to bottom. We can see in Margayya’s subsequent reactions, the self-loathing, and frustration, sense of inferiority, and confusion that infested many Indians in the 20th century. A transition of people who were progressively less grounded in the forest civilization [2] traditions of Dharma and harmony that India embraced during its prosperous history; a mindset increasingly attracted to a desert civilization’s zero-sum modes of survival and self-preservation that appeared more pragmatic in a once-flourishing land, but now looted and scorched by the British Raj, abounding only in scarcity.

Margayya’s Rise

Margayya’s natural entrepreneurial drive was in sync with the Vidura Neeti that promoted the virtue of self-employment. His mind constantly tinkered with ideas for startups. He wanted to secure the financial future of his wife Meenakshi, and son, Balu. When Margayya witnessed impoverished townspeople using an unclaimed corpse to extract small-change from passersby for a funeral (and booze), and when he observes people risking life and limb to earn a few paise, he is struck by the power of money. “People did anything for money. Money was men’s greatest need, like air or food…Money alone is important in this world. Everything else will come to us naturally if we have money in our purse.“.  Here, he appears to gain some intuition about Chanakya’s words (dharmasya moolam artha). Indeed, a prosperous and developed nation is best equipped to preserve and propagate Dharma and harmony, else the rule of the desert will reign.  His goal from the day he quarrels with the co-op secretary is to reach the top of the wealth pyramid and through this wealth, acquire everything else. And right there, Margayya parted ways with Vidura and Chanakya and followed his own path and rules.

Like a Yogi, but for all the wrong reasons, Margayya constantly meditated on money and through this manthana emerged all kinds of discoveries. His analysis enabled him to delineate the subtle differences between money, riches, wealth, and fortune. Wealth, in particular, contained elements of transcendence as well as Jugaad.  “Riches any hard-working fool could attain by some watchfulness, while acquiring wealth was an extraordinary specialized job. It came to persons who had on them the grace of the Goddess fully and who could use their wits“.  If Ramanujan‘s amazing ganita results were achieved through the blessings of Lakshmi as Namagiri Amman in his dreams, Margayya’s self-serving schemes too (in his mind) were due to the blessings of Lakshmi. Through the mind of this ‘financial mystic’, we get to see the infinite recursive patterns hidden within ‘interest’.

There was probably no other person in the whole country who had meditated so much on the question of interest. Margayya’s mind was full of it. Night and day he sat and brooded over it. The more he thought of it the more it seemed to him the greatest wonder of creation. It combined in it the mystery of birth and multiplication…Every rupee, Margayya felt, contained in it seed of another rupee and that seed in it another seed and so on and on to infinity. It was something like the firmament, endless stars and within each star an endless firmament and within each one further endless … It bordered on mystic perception. It gave him the feeling of being part of  an infinite existence.

Such was Margayya’s devotion to the process of managing interest rates and accumulating wealth, that he was even able to give up his old addiction to snuff so that he could pursue his ‘yoga’ on all four cylinders which would free him from all worldly wants. A side-effect of this one-track meditation is Margayya’s general cluelessness and disdain for topics unrelated to his money, and therein lie the seeds of his downfall.

Margayya’s Fall

Margayya failed in his Nara dharma [3] and did not understand that dharma is the most important of the Purusharthas [4]. As explained here, Chanakya wrote:

Margayya is never really happy throughout the story. He obtains wealth and power, but is never able to conquer his senses, and always yields to moha, lobha, and krodha, which ultimately combine to ruin him.

Margayya has no use for the Dharma that accords to the elder brother the respected position of a second father [3], being far more interested in grabbing his share of the family property. He is quite sad that the Hindu Samaj prevented a complete takeover of the house and had to make do with a half-share (“he would willingly have seen his brother’s family perish without water by closing it to them, but public opinion prevented the exercise of his right.”).

He has no use for Saraswati and learning, which is dismissed as a derivative product that can be purchased on-demand (“‘A man with whom the Goddess of Wealth favours need not worry much. He can buy all the knowledge he requires.“. The dharmic concept of profitability, Shubh Labh, is rejected in favor of amassing wealth regardless of all consequences to others, to his family, and even to himself.

He has no qualms about misusing kama and rejecting dharma in order to hoard wealth and acquire power.  Moha blinds his eye like a Dhritharashtra to his son’s faults, and in any case, he convinces himself that a single-minded pursuit of Artha is the key that unlocked all the doors in this world for himself and his family. Every minute of his life is invested in this material quest, and it begins to acquire almost a spiritual quality. In short, Margayya’s misunderstanding of the priorities and implications of the Purusharthas leads him astray. Grihasthashrama Dharma takes a back seat. Moral relativism and a materialist clamor for rights overrides duties, replacing Hinduism’s contextual Dharma ethics [2] at every decision making fork in Margayya’s life journey.

Ultimately, Margayya begins to make money by the sackful. The more he made, the more it consumed him, until this activity completely drained him of his capacity to think straight. In a momentary lapse of reason, the coldly calculative Margayya is replaced by an angry, panic-stricken father. He loses control of his senses and strikes out against Dr. Pal, the very instrument that brought him all the wealth, and in one stroke, Dr. Pal ensures that all those earnings are taken away. Without the firm guidance of Dharma, Margayya the path finder himself loses his bearings, and returns to square one, financially bankrupt. There is some recognition in the end by Margayya of what he lost in his obsessive pursuit and why. The readers get a story filled with lessons from Dharma traditions.

The book has several memorable characters, but for brevity, we’ll focus here on Margayya’s friend, Dr. Pal.

Dr. Pal, Social Scientist

First, a brief introduction to Dr. Havelock Ellis (1859-1939). He was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Unlike India, where Kama was always recognized as one of the Purusharthas and celebrated in poetry, song, dance, painting, and sculpture, the Europeans in Dr. Ellis’ time were repressed by the strictures of Victorian morality. Ellis boldly shattered several taboos although he was indifferent to the dharmic/adharmic impact of his work. He appears to have been a proponent of Eugenics and oddly okay with the Nazi sterilization program. Freud appears to have borrowed some ideas from Ellis for his psychoanalytical theories [5].

Dr. Pal is the instrument that befriends, makes, and finally breaks Margayya (It’s unclear how he became “Dr”). He is a journalist and an author and a sociologist who is influenced by Ellis’ work. Like India’s eminent journalists, authors, and social scientists today, Pal too is a scientific expert.

He mashed together Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra and Dr. Ellis’ liberating ideas to create a scientific cocktail and distilled this wisdom into an illustrated book titled ‘Bed Life’. Margayya here represents the mentally colonized and under informed native who is overawed by ‘modern science’ label that claims to enhances and elevates an ancient Indian treatise. Margayya’s Lobha overcomes his instinctive disgust for Dr. Pal’s work and he benefits immensely from the proceeds obtained by publishing this bestseller (renamed ‘Domestic Harmony’ to avoid legal scrutiny and obscenity lawsuits).  Margayya’s growth is seeded by the ill-gotten gain obtained from this salacious ‘digestion’ of Kamasutra.

Long before Wendy Doniger invaded the sacred traditions of dharma [8], propagating Freudian pseudoscience and Hinduphobia, we have the duo of Dr. Havelock Ellis and Dr. Pal. It is remarkable how RK Narayan’s 1951 novel anticipates contemporary India where educated people flock to devour Wendy Doniger’s latest sleazy pulp fiction that tramples upon their own heritage and indigenous knowledge systems [9].

Dr. Pal is the western-influenced free-thinking rebel for whom ‘anything goes’. Later, he brings to Margayya the steady supply of clientele required to sustain the latter’s Ponzi scheme. Dr. Pal is a double-edged weapon that Margayya tries to control. Despite Margayya’s best attempts to keep Dr. Pal away from his family, his corrosive influence begins to consume Margayya’s married son, and drives him to debauchery. At this point, Margayya loses his composure and beats up Dr. Pal who hits back by completely ruining Margayya, thereby completing the karmic cycle.

Lighter Side: Margayya versus Modi

Margayya loved cash, and only cash. “‘What am I to do with property?’ he said. ‘I want only money, not brick and lime or mud,’ he reflected when he reconverted his attached property into cash. Margayya seems happy only when he is counting cash. “…. the moment he reached home, he counted the notes again, bundled them up in tidy little batches, the lovely five-rupee and ten-rupee and the most handsome piece of paper – the green hundred-rupee note” . 

British India One Hundred Rupee Note (source: rbi.org)

Per RBI records, the thousand rupee note was introduced in 1938, withdrawn prior to independence, and reintroduced in 1954 [6]. It is possible there wasn’t a significant percentage of high denomination notes (500/1000) in circulation during a time when these amounts were princely sums. Margayya’s Ponzi scheme attracted so many greedy and shady investors that nearby banks began to lose their deposits. However, no one in his office had any clue about his net worth. Margayya would’ve preferred higher denominations to hundred-rupee notes since he was running out of space for his cash stash at home (“there were currency bundles stacked up a foot high all over the floor.“).  We’ve read in the newspapers how certain Indian co-op banks operate in present times, and why they’ve become a target for tax evasion investigators.  Modi with his demonetization and push for a less-cash society could’ve badly dented both Margayya and the Malgudi co-op.

RK Narayan’s Writing

It is interesting to compare RK Narayan with Shashi Tharoor, another Indian writer whose English novels are popular. RK Narayan’s works are popular all over India for their relatively straightforward rendering and simple English, while Tharoor’s target audience appears to be the westernized elite in and outside India.

It is not surprising that Tharoor chose to focus on, and expressed contempt  for Narayan’s simple English, and was frustrated by RK Narayan’s indifference to a language that colonized Indian minds. Mocking his English as a ‘translation’ is actually a compliment, because when I read RK Narayan, it is like reading a timeless story in my mother tongue about our civilization, people, and way of life. On the other hand, the well-written prose in Tharoor’s ‘Great Indian Novel’ based on the Mahabharata gives it kerb appeal, but cannot mask its alienating lack of authenticity.

A purely intellectual view of itihasa is reductionist and guaranteed to fall short. While Tharoor has spoken eloquently about India’s heritage and its wisdom, he remains confused about the differences between religion and Dharma, and intellectual versus the adhyatmic [2]. An entire generation of mentally colonized Indian writers in the last few decades, armed with excellent English, and indoctrinated in the Euro-centric humanities remains proudly clueless about the sacred art traditions of Bharatvarsha. Even if they wrote in an Indian language, it would still sound foreign. In contrast, RK Narayan as a child imbibed India’s Itihasa and Sanskriti from his grandmother. Perhaps it is this learning that is reflected in his stories.

There is no independent existence for, and artificial demarcation between, the secular/outer world and the sacred/inner realm in the ‘Financial Expert’. This reflects India’s unified view of reality. Preserving this integral approach [10] gives RK Narayan’s simple prose its powerful universal appeal.  Injecting sophisticated western structures would actually interfere with, and diminish this impact. Just as Ananda Coomaraswamy noted in The Dance of Siva [7] that inserting western harmony in order to ‘enhance’ a sangeetam recital would be unnecessary and detrimental. Indeed, this integral perspective indicates that RK Narayan’s writings are part of a long, unbroken artistic tradition that follows the Natya Sastra (itself rooted in the four Vedas).

Bharata’s Natya Sastra [12] is the most influential ancient exposition on dramaturgy, performing arts, and aesthetics in the world [2], which was accessible to all sections of the society without geographical or linguistic restrictions. Rajiv Malhotra notes (emphasis mine) that the Natya Sastra “treats ‘natya’ as the total art form, including representation, poetry, dance, music, make-up and indeed the whole world. It is an organic and integral view encompassing the Vedic rituals, Shaivite dance and music, and the epic tales. The eight traditional rasas (love, humour, heroism, wonder, anger, sorrow, disgust, and fear) mirror the real world and come together in pursuit of the ‘purusharthas’ (human goal).” One can find all traditional rasas within the pages of the ‘Financial Expert’. We will end with RK Narayan’s own words in his 1964 book Gods, Demons and Others [11], where he shares his views regarding literature. He emphatically affirms the integrally unified perspective of Natya Sastra over a synthesizing approach (emphasis mine):

Everything is interrelated. Stories, scriptures, ethics, philosophy, grammar, astrology, astronomy, semantics, mysticism, and moral codes – each forms part and parcel for a total life and is indispensable for the attainment of a four-square understanding of existence

Literature is not a branch of study to be placed in a separate compartment, for the edification only of scholars, but a comprehensive and artistic medium of expression to benefit the literate and the illiterate alike. A true literary composition should appeal in an infinite variety of ways; any set of stanzas of the Ramayana could be set to music and sung, narrated with dialogue and action, and treated as the finest drama, studied analytically for an understanding of the subtleties of language and grammar, or distilled finely to yield esoteric truths“.

  1. ‘The Financial Expert’,  R. K. Narayan. (Vintage International), Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  2. ‘Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism’, Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins, 2011.
  3. Nara Dharma‘, N.R.I.Pathi, Indic Civilizational Portal. 2016.
  4. The Purusharthas‘, N.R.I.Pathi, Indic Civilizational Portal. 2016.
  5. Havelock Ellis Wikipedia page
  6. RBI Monetary Museum, rbi.org.in.
  7. ‘Dance of Shiva: Essays by Ananda Coomaraswamy’,  Dover Publications. 1985.
  8. Invading The Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America’, Editors: Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas and Aditi Banerjee, Rupa & Co., Delhi. 2007.
  9. Hitchhiker’s Guide to ‘Invading the Sacred’, 2014.
  10. How Sumitranandan Pant Rediscovered Dharma‘, 2013.
  11. ‘Gods, Demons, and Others’,  R. K. Narayan. University Of Chicago Press. 1993.
  12. Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics‘, N.R.I.Pathi, Indic Civilizational Portal. 2016.


Thanks to n.r.i.pathi for the valuable feedback.

Classical Indic Literature V: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry

Rebuilding the National Character involves not only understanding what we need to do, or even why we are doing it, but why it is worth preserving at all.

Civilization is more than the mere sum of its principles, precepts, philosophies, and pasts. It extends beyond even an ideal or reciprocal duties. At its uttermost height, it is in fact, a sentiment. Bharatiya Sanskriti is very much about Dharma, Rta, and Satya, but that Satya that is at its heart, is also the timeless Truth of Prema.

For Indic Civilization, for any Civilization, to Revive itself, it must not only think, dream, and converse in its own language, it must also love and romance in it. Sringara (Romance) is also Part of Our Culture. For far too long have its masses been misguided by foreign thoughts ennobled by Indian implementations, or foreign thinkers using local rustics to change the meaning of our words. And for far too long have they reduced the Indian, the Indic, the Hindu Culture we know & love as only ascetic or erotic., when it is also Romantic. The very height of the Romantic in Classical India was the Sanskritic.

And which wordsmith could be more romantic than than that master of Simile, Mahakavi Kalidasa,and his eternal Kavya. For almost 2,000 years, this most perfect of poets has made even the most pedantic recognise that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.  Long before Shakespeare asked “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day“, the Court Poet of King Vikramaditya had become the utmost paragon of Upama, with comparisons that were as fresh and unique as the flowers that garlanded the Gods.

Ours was, and is, a civilization and culture of not only great warriors and devout women, but also charming gentlemen and passionate princesses. But as all things in Dharma, it is time, place, and manner that takes a natural feeling and ennobles it to a timeless aesthetic. And what can be more aesthetic than the romantic?

Therefore, without further ado, we bring you the first in an Anthology (accompanied by commissioned artwork), a concept that was a decade in the making…

…and the next installment of our Continuing Series on Classical Indic Literature: 

Romantic Sanskrit Poetry.


Ancient India had many timeless love stories. Katha, Kavya, Purana, and Itihasa are replete with lovelorn lovers, hopeless romantics hoping against hope, and eternal soulmates reuniting with each other across times and lifetimes. True, Rukmini & Sri KrishnaSita & Rama, and Siva-Parvati, are all famous Divine lovers. But even we mortals figured in our ancient tales, in love stories worthy of not only drama, and opera, but even cinema.

Quite possibly the most famous of such prema kathas comes from the Land of the Kurus. The sons of Bharata take their name from that Bharata was born to this couple, who entwined the legendary with the historical. The ancestors of the great Emperors of Hastinapura were the great Chandravanshi King and Conqueror, Maharaja Dusyanta & his lady love Sakuntala.


Mentioned in the Mahabharata, this courting couple was forever immortalised by Mahakavi Kalidasa. His famed drama was called Abhijnana-Sakuntalam: The Recognition of Sakuntala. This paramount of romantic poets produced a timeless tale of love, separation, and reunification. The composition was artful, the verses were tasteful, and the numerous productions of this play wonderful, across the centuries. Such were the Kailasan heights that Sanskrit Drama ascended to, that many thousands of years later, the famed German poet-philosopher Goethe exclaimed:

Willst du die Blüthe des frühen, die Früchte des späteren Jahres,

Willst du, was reizt und entzückt, willst du was sättigt und nährt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit Einem Namen begreifen;
Nenn’ ich, Sakuntala, Dich, und so ist Alles gesagt.

Wouldst thou the young year’s blossoms and the fruits of its decline

And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed,
Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said. [4]

So fascinated were foreigners by the Recognition of Sakuntala that there are 46 translations of this play in 12 European languages, going back to the first in 1789.  Indeed, in Europe, even a libretto was composed and Operas performed on it, at the height of the Colonial era. While it is nice to impress the videshi, however, it is better to take inspiration from the Bharatvasi. Sakuntala was forever ceremonialised by Raja Ravi Varma in his celebrated paintings. She is seen here with friends, artfully posing.

Shakuntala | Ravi Varma | Oil on Canvas |1870

Sakuntala has also been produced not only on stage (including a notable English language production in 1920) but on-screen many times starting with a silent film (also in 1920).  Yet so-called contemporary “national cinema” seems to have forgotten it (except back in 1947) for the time-worn recipes and veneers-of-lust masquerading as romance produced with parasika playwrights. Production values and marketing and black money may make it big at the box office, but it is the beating heart of a civilization and the sentiments and emotional verses it perfected, that make truly time-tested art.

The time has come for a new production of the great plays of Mahakavi Kalidasa, the foremost of which was the Recognition of Sakuntala. If compromised producers don’t have the fortitude, than the public at large should crowdsource a production with a talented director armed with artistic talent. This great Sanskrit drama could elegantly flow with Shuddh Hindi (or in my case, Telugu) dialogue that sets the stage for elegant Sanskrit verses, across scenes. Serenading with song may be well and good; charming with poetry is even better.

As Bollywood may not have the national interest at heart, perhaps it’s time for Tollywood to again step into the vacuum and inspire the nation. To do so, let would-be directors study the composition first.


A play in  7 acts, it begins with the traditional Prastaavana (Prologue) and Benediction (Nandi). Despite being a drama, Abhijnaanasaakuntalam is a veritable treasure trove of poetry with 34 slokas in the first act, 18 in the second, 26, in the third, 21 in the fourth, 31 in the fifth, 32 in the sixth, and 35 in the seventh…a grand total of 197 couplets.

This opus is interwoven with supple Sanskrit slokas, a multitude of characters, and the prominent theme of Sringara Rasa (Romantic sentiment).  “The drama ‘was meant for translating the whole subject from one world to another—to elevate love from the sphere of physical beauty to the eternal heaven of moral beauty’“. [1, xxiv]

The Nayaka (hero) is Dusyanta of the House of the Kurus and the Nayika is Sakuntala, daughter of Sage Viswamitra and the Apsara Menaka. She had been cared for by Saakuntas (birds) and was therefore called Sakuntala. She was later raised by Maharishi Kanva, and grew up into a beautiful woman. The recognition of Sakuntala has in fact come down to us in two versions. The traditional one is found in the Mahabharata. Kalidasa gives us another, however, that brings us a brilliant battle in the Heavens with Dusyanta assisting the Devas in their war against the Asuras.

There are total of 4 recensions (a Devanagari, a Bengali, a Kashmiri, & an Andhra one) and two variations of the story. Nevertheless, both of these versions retell the birth of Bharata Dausanti, better known as Sakuntala-putra Bharata. Though the original Bharata who gave his name to our Land was the son of Rishabha of the Ikshvaku Dynasty, for a period of time, it was called Nabhi-varsha (after a king of the same House). But Sakuntala-putra was so famed for his world conquest and righteous rule, that the name Bharatavarsha came into fashion once more.

Whichever version you prefer, there is surely a blockbuster movie in the making here. If only the right director, with the right vision, and right talent (and right finances!) comes along. But financial matters are for the bean-counters. The aesthete is more concerned with the achievement of the author, and the talent that created this work.

Mahakavi Kalidasa

The biography of that best of Kavis, Kalidasa, is a tale in and of itself—indeed, it is worth of a book, an article, a cinema, or several. Correspondingly, the writer who intertwined legend with history and delightful fancy with moral principles, led a life of similar meeting points. By the present foreign paradigm, he is dated to the 4th century CE, but it is more likely that he belongs to the 1st Century BCE instead.

The foregoing discussion is enough to justify the truth and the vitality of the age-long tradition that the poet belongs to the days of the glorious King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini—the founder of the Samvat era (57 B.C.) [1, vi]

It is not for nothing that Jayadeva (of Gita Govinda fame) referred to Kalidasa as “Kavi kula guru” (master of poets). Famous for his love of Ujjayini (in modern Madhya Pradesh) and praise of Vikrama, Kalidasa was and is the undisputed King of Kavya. Blessed by the Goddess from whom he takes his name, this ‘Servant of Kaali’ would go on to marry a princess and be considered one of the Navaratnas—Nine Gems of Avanti’s Court. “Ujjayini was the city of his heart and he is delighted to sing of her glories and the romantic loves of her maidens“. [1, vi] He would set standards of excellence in poetry for millennia.


Great Plays of Kalidasa

  • 7 works of his have come to us today.
  • 3 dramas, 2 epics, 1 lyrical poem, and 1 descriptive poem. [1]

Abhijnaana-Saakuntalam is arguably the most immortalised of all of Kalidasa’s compositions. While his other dramas (Malavika-Agnimitram & Vikramorvasiya) have also been celebrated on canvas, it was the story of the Signet ring that has captured  imagination throughout the centuries.

The weaving of beautiful poetry, in the form of slokas (Sanskrit couplets), into the rupaka (dramatic composition) gives the literary experience more resonance. With the exception of Meghaduta, Kalidasa’s other works of pure poetry don’t rise to the same love of pure romantic sentiment. Kumarasambhavam is one of his contributions to the Pancha-Mahakavyas (the other being the famous Raghuvamsa), but it is an epic work with a hint of the erotic. Sringara-tilakam is very much a freshman work, but one that nevertheless gives us periodic foreshadowing of future talent, even in his younger days. And Rtu-samhara is very much a celebration of the seasons in all their splendour. Though Sringara rasa predominates, it is more of a descriptive work.

But while it is important to prepare the palate before cultivated taste can be appreciated in the aesthetic arts, one should not linger too long. This exegesis on this play, this poet, and this poetry, was all for the purpose of better understanding Sringara-Sanskrita-Kavya: Romantic Sanskrit Poetry.

To better prepare for married life, it is important to not only learn how to become eligible, but also marriageable. The courtly aesthetic is important not only in kingly courts, but in the courtship of couples.

Bharatiya boys, you may want to take notes. And Bharatiya ladies…you’re welcome…


I.Sarvat aapsara sambhavaisha

Maanushishi katham va syaadrsya roopasya sambhava |

Na prabhaatha ralam, jyothi, roodhethi, vasudaata laath ||

Truly born from a heavenly apsara

For what woman could give birth to such a lovely form.

After all, the sparkling light of tremulous beams, does not rise from the surface of the earth. [‘but descends from the heavens’] A.1 sl.26


II.Kaamam priyaa na sulabha manasthu tabdaava darshanaa-srvaasi |

Akrutaarthe api manasije rati mubhaya-praarthanaa kurute ||

True, my darling is not easily attainable; yet my heart assumes confidence from observing the manner in which she seems affected.

Even though our love has not hitherto prospered, our mutual longing, nevertheless, causes delight. A.2 sl.1


III. (smitam krutva) Evamaatmaa-bhipraya sambhaaviteshta-jana-chittavrutti praartha-

Yitaa vidambyate  tadhyatha

(smiling) Thus is the lover beguiled, who judges of the state of his beloved’s feeling by his own desires. It is thus

Snigdham veekshitam anyato’pi nayane yatpreyantyaa tayaa

Yaatham yach cha nithambayor guruthayaa mandham vilaasad iva |

Ma gaa ithyu-paruddhayaa yad api saa saasooyamuktaa sakhee

Sarvam Thathkila matparaayam aho kaamee svataam pashyati ||

The tender look she cast, even while she directed her eyes elsewhere; her slow movement caused by the heaviness of her hips, as if for grace’s sake; the angry words she spoke to her friend who detained her saying ‘Do not go; ‘ all this was, no doubt, on my account! Ah! How does a lover discover his own (everywhere!).A.2 sl.2


IV. Chitre niveshye parikalpita sattva-yogaa

Roopa-uchchayena manasaa vidhinaa krutaa nu |

Stree-ratna srushtir-aparaa prathibhaathi saa me

Dhaatur-vibhutvam-anuchintya vapuscha tasyah ||

Was she conceived in a picture [painting] and then endowed with life?

Or was she moulded in the Creator’s mind from an assemblage of all lovely forms?

When I meditate on the power of Brahma, and my beloved’s lineaments, she appears to me a matchless creation of the most beautiful of women. A.2 sl.9


V. Anaaghraataṃ puṣpaṃ kisalayam aloonaṃ kara-ruhair

Anaaviddhaṃ ratnaṃ madhu navam anaasvaadita-rasam |

Akhaṇḍaṃ puṣyaanaaṃ phalam iva ca tad-roopam anaghaṃ

Na jaane bhoktaaraṃ kamiha samupa-sthaasyati vidhiḥ ||

She seems a flower whose fragrance is yet unsavoured,

A gem uncut by workman’s tool,

A branch no desecrating hands have wasted,

Fresh honey, untasted and cool.


No man on earth deserves her beauty,

Her blameless loveliness and worth,

Unless he has fulfilled man’s perfect duty—

And is there such a one on earth? A.2.sl.10



VI. Priye

Smruthi bhinnamoha tamaso dhishtayaa pramukhe sthithaasi me sumukhi |

Uparaa gaante sasinaha samupa gathaa Rohini yogam ||

Oh Beloved,

By the kindness of heaven, O lovely-faced one, thou standest again before me, the darkness whose delusion has been dispelled by recollection.

The star Rohini, at the end of an eclipse, rejoins her (darling) moon. A.7 sl.22


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  abhignanasakuntalam   shakuntala_hindi__1.1473417981DevadharKalidasa


  1. Devadhar, C.R. Works of Kalidasa: Volume I. Delhi: MLBD. 2005
  2. Ryder, Arthur W. Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala, and Other Works.New York, E.P. Dutton & Co.1914
  3. Rajan, Chandra. The Complete Works of Kalidasa: Volume 1 (Poets). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2005
  4. Goonetilleke, William. The Orientalist. Mumbai: Education Society Press.1985.p.101
  5. “Shakuntala”.IMDB. http ://www.imdb.com/find?ref_=nv_sr_fn&q=shakuntala&s=all
Ankitham: Dedicated to a 'Song Offering', who spent many a long & lonely night waiting to be sung and serenaded.

Acknowledgment: Gratitude to the amateur voice actor who brought these couplets to life & vibrant resonance—a Lothario in real life,no doubt.

Acknowledgment: My thanks to the Artist Archana,whose talent I'm sure, will blossom like the flowers she painted here.

Special Acknowledgment: My utmost appreciation for Nilambari. Her tireless work consulting on this effort and ever insightful counsel ensured this project finally materialised after years. Thank you.

*Minor Proofing for some translations