Friday Review

Tracing Sanskrit-Science link

IIT Bombay Prof. Ramasubramanian. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Prof. K. Ramasubramanian, son of Mahamahopadyaya R. Krishnamurthi Sastrigal, former Principal of Sanskrit College, Chennai (who was honoured with the President’s Award last year) was in the city recently for the celebration of 900th birth anniversary of the great Indian mathematician of 12th century, Bhaskaracharya. He delivered a special lecture on the ‘Lila of Leelavati’.

Currently employed in IIT Bombay, Prof. Ramasubramanian has a Masters degree in Theoretical Physics besides a Bachelor’s degree in engineering.

I met Prof. Ramasubramanian at his father’s modest home on Sanskrit College Street. Some excerpts from our conversation.

On the lectures he gives at IIT Bombay, he said, “On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I give a discourse on Bhagavad Gita, with Sankara Bhashyam. On Monday evenings, I deal with Vairagya Sathakam, since I have completed Neethi Sathakam. On Tuesday evenings, I speak on Adi Sankara’s Satha-sloki and on Wednesdays I take up miscellaneous stotras. Recently, I started giving a discourse on Sankara-ashankara-bhashya-vimarsha by Bellamkonda Ramaraya Kavi. Ramaraya is considered a scholar and a genius, who died young like Adi Sankara and Vivekananda, and has several works to his credit. On Thursday evenings I dwell on Narayaneeyam and on Fridays, Viveka-cudamani. These are lectures attended by a few faculty members and students who are seriously interested in Sanskrit literature and Indian philosophy.”

On his interest in Sanskrit and philosophy, he said, “I had a passion for Sanskrit and Shastras from my childhood days. But I could not study them systematically till I completed my Masters in Physics. Soon after my M.Sc., I had the opportunity to enrol myself in a 14-semester programme in Advaita Vedanta, that had been started by the Shastra Poshaka Sabha in Tenali, under the guidance of the Sringeri Acharya. For the exams, I studied under my father. The final viva was conducted by the Sringeri Acharya in the presence of a senior pundit. On the successful completion of it I was awarded the title of `Vidwat Pravara'.”

On when and how he joined IIT Bombay, he explained, “I joined in 2004, and this was purely by providence. I was invited to give a lecture at IIT in connection with a workshop on Indian Astronomy. After the lecture, some faculty members asked me if I was interested in joining IIT, so that I could offer courses that would make the students aware of the Indian contribution to the field of science. I gave my consent in a month’s time, and soon after that I received a communication to join the institute straightway.

Prof. Ramasubramanian clarified that he is part of the Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit which aims to bring the science-related materials (in Sanskrit) to the fore. His job was not only to teach, but included research and publication of unpublished material in the form of a manuscript.

His research work primarily focused on trying to bring out the major contribution made by Kerala astronomers and mathematicians between 14th and 16th centuries, referred to as the golden age of Indian mathematics. His major publications, along with his research collaborators, include preparation of detailed mathematical notes on Jyesthadeva's Yukti-bhasha in two volumes, and a translation along with mathematics notes of Nilakantha Somayaji's Tantrasangraha, jointly published by Springer, U.S. and Hindustan Book Agency, New Delhi.

He has also given an online course on Development of Mathematics in India, as a part of NPTEL activity with Professors Sriram and Srinivas. He also added that the contents of this course will be brought out as a book shortly. His book on ‘Karana Paddati,’ a classic text on astronomy, is in the pipeline.

According to Prof. Ramasubramanian, all the texts on mathematics and astronomy in India have been composed in Sanskrit and in the form of verses. This was done deliberately to help readers remember. He further added that the mathematicians, after explaining a procedure to solve a problem also gave illustrative examples from day to day experience. This, according to him, made mathematics learning fun.

On a different note, Prof. Ramasubramanian said that it was important for the younger generation to be made aware of their rich scientific and technological heritage.

“After the first Sanskrit Commission was appointed in 1956, the second one was constituted in 2014, in which I was a member, to take stock of the existing facilities for Sanskrit studies in India and also suggest measures to integrate it with the studies in other disciplines such as Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Medicine and Law,” he pointed out.

“While interpreting the ancient works, we should be extremely cautious not to exaggerate anything… Our aim should be to present the facts as they are!” he clarified.

For his work, the professor was awarded the Maharshi Badarayan Vyas Samman by the President of India in 2008. He is a member of the Europe-based International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS), and also a National Commission Member of the History of Science division of the Indian National Science Academy.

For a cause

According to his father, Prof. Ramasubramanian donated the equivalent amount of the Maharshi Badarayan Vyas Samman award money of Rs. one lakh to Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Trust, even before he received the award!


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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 10:36:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/interview-with-prof-ramasubramanian/article6886634.ece

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