A rejoinder

January 14, 2015 12:13 am | Updated 12:13 am IST

In his letter in this column (Jan.13), criticising my article, “ >Neglect of knowledge traditions ” (‘Open Page’, Jan.4), Professor D.N. Jha explains that his book only extends to the 6th century (in fact also early 7th on his own statement, see page 25) and therefore could not have mentioned Brahmagupta or Bhaskaracharya. Yet, it does mention Hsuan Tsang (7th century), Shankaracharya (8th-9th centuries), Al-Biruni (11th century) or examples of later art (Kailashanatha temple of 8th century); so why not Brahmagupta, who wrote his monumental Brahmasphutasiddhanta in 628 CE, regarded by experts as one of the fathers of algebra, and whose work considerably influenced Arabic mathematics?

My main argument, however, that Prof. Jha leaves the field almost untouched, stands. To use another example, Charaka and Sushruta are dealt with in one line each (page 146) and in a manner that provides the reader with strictly no information on their contributions; the word “ayurveda” is not even mentioned. His statement that “the science of medicine benefited much from India’s contacts with the Western world” is unsubstantiated, while the respected Indologist Jean Filliozat (in Expansion of Indian Medicine Abroad ) showed long ago that Ayurveda influenced the medical systems of the Greeks and the Romans and travelled to parts of South-East Asia; besides, Charaka Samhita was translated into Arabic and Tibetan, among other languages. I did not dilate on Prof. Jha’s wrong statement on Aryabhata for lack of space.

As regards benefiting “from the works of several scholars who have written on the subject”, I have indeed learned much from the works of stalwarts such as D.M. Bose, S.N. Sen, R.C. Gupta, K.V. Sarma, or more recent scholars such as B.V. Subbarayappa, M.D. Srinivas, M.S. Sriram, K. Ramasubramanian, S. Balachandra Rao, Kim Plofker, among others and apart from several primary texts. I claim no expertise in the field, but I maintain that the perfunctory and often inaccurate manner in which historians treat Indian knowledge systems creates a vacuum that leaves room for fancies, exaggerations or misinterpretations. Let the reader consult textbooks used in our departments of history in universities; surely we do not expect them to include “a detailed history of ancient Indian science”, but a few pages of solid and fair treatment is not an unreasonable demand. When no history of ancient Greece or Persia or China would be considered complete without a chapter on their advances in science and technology, why should there be different standards when it comes to India?

Michel Danino,

Coimbatore

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