Colonel James Todd (British East India Company) said of India “Where else can we look for sages like those whose systems of philosophy were prototypes to whose works Plato, Thales & Pythagorus were disciples? Where do I find astronomers whose knowledge of planetary systems yet excites wonder in Europe as well as the architects and sculptors whose works claim our admiration, and the musicians who could make the mind oscillate from joy to sorrow, from tears to smile with the change of modes and varied intonation?”
Indian culture and nationalism have been evolved and fostered over the millenia by India’s ancient rishis, who at the banks of holy rivers of Saptasindhu and Saraswati had composed the Vedic literature – the very foundation of Indian civilization. The term “rishi” or “rsi” originally denoted the composers and singers of Vedic hymns. However, the rishi is also a “sage” to whom the Gods revealed the Vedas (knowledge of the eternal truths about the Creator, His creation and means to preserve it).
The three chief classes of Rishi are the Brahmarshi, born of the mind of Brahma, the Devarshi of lower rank, and Rajarshi or Kings who became Rishis through their knowledge and austerities, such as Janaka, Ritaparna, etc. The Shrutarshi are makers of Shastras, as Sushruta. The Kandarshi are of the Karmakanda, such as Jaimini. Sapta rishis are two Sanskrit words meaning “Seven Sages”. Some of the great Rishis (sages) of India are:
Ved Vyasa is the most important rishi in the Hindu pantheon of religions, for he is the one who compiled the Vedas. He is also the author of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and the important characters in many Puranas.
Markandeya was an ancient Indian Muni (sage) and he is known as author of religious Hindu texts. It may be a surprise to many people that Markandeya was a devotee of both Lord Vishnu (vaishnavas) or Lord Shiva (shaivas). Markandeya is one of the Chiranjeevin – the immortals in Hinduism. On the basis of his interactions of people known in Hinduism, it is sure that Markandeya lived through more yugas. He is sometimes called Maha Muni (Great Sage) and he is the author of important Hindu scriptures like Markandeya Purana, which says that sage Jaimini, the disciple of Ved Vyasa, asked Markandeya to explain to him some difficult parts of the Mahabharata. Rishi Markandeya composed the ‘Devi Saptashati’ or the seven hundred hymns extolling the virtues of the Divine Goddess at the shakti peetha in Nashik.
Charaka (600 BCE)
Acharya Charaka has been crowned as the Father of Medicine. His renowned work, the “Charak Samhita”, is considered as an encyclopedia of Ayurveda. Acharya Charaka revealed through his innate genius and enquiries the facts on human anatomy, embryology, pharmacology, blood circulation and diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis, heart disease, etc. In the “Charak Samhita” he has described the medicinal qualities and functions of 100,000 herbal plants. He has emphasized the influence of diet and activity on mind and body. He has proved the correlation of spirituality and physical health contributed greatly to diagnostic and curative sciences. He has also prescribed an ethical charter for medical practitioners two centuries prior to the Hippocratic oath.
Was a master Astronomer and Mathematician, born in 476 CE in Kusumpur (Bihar). In 499 CE, he wrote a text on astronomy and an unparallel treatise on mathematics called “Aryabhatiyam” He formulated the process of calculating the motion of planets and the time of eclipses. Aryabhatta was the first to proclaim that the earth is round, it rotates on its axis, orbits the sun and is suspended in space – 1,000 years before Copernicus published his heliocentric theory.
He is also acknowledged for calculating p (Pi) to four decimal places: 3.1416 and the sine table in trigonometry. Centuries later, in 825 CE, the Arab mathematician, Mohammed Ibna Musa credited the value of Pi to the Indians, “This value has been given by the Hindus.” And above all, his most spectacular contribution was the concept of zero without which modern computer technology would have been non-existent.
Sushruta (600 BCE)
Born to sage Vishwamitra, Sushruta is the father of surgery. 2600 years ago, he and health scientists of his time conducted complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, Rhinoplasty (restoration of a damaged nose), 12 types of fractures, 6 types of dislocations, urinary stones and even plastic surgery and brain surgery. Usage of anesthesia was well known in ancient India. Author of the book “Sushruta Samhita”, in which he describes over 300 surgical procedures and 125 surgical instruments, including scalpels, lancets, needles, catheters and rectal speculums; mostly designed from the jaws of animals and birds. He has also described a number of stitching methods; the use of horse’s hair as thread and fibers of bark.
Also known as Bharadwaj Gotra, a descendant of rishi Angira (vedic sage who wrote most of the Atharva Veda). Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana (in the epic Ramayana) met many rishis and sages including Bharadwaja.
Acharya Bharadwaja had a hermitage in the holy city of Prayag, authored the ” Yantra Sarvasva ” which includes astonishing and outstanding discoveries in aviation science, space science and flying machines. He has described three categories of flying machines: (1) One that flies on earth from one place to another. (2) One that travels from one planet to another. (3) And one that travels from one universe to another.
An ancient rishi, the Saptarishi. He was the father of the Devas, Asuras, and all humankind. He was the son of Marichi and Aditi.
Patanjali (200 BCE)
Called the father of Yoga. The Science of Yoga is one of several unique contributions of India to the world. It seeks to discover and realize the ultimate Reality through yogic practices. Acharya Patanjali , the founder, hailed from the district of Gonda (Ganara) in Uttar Pradesh . He prescribed the control of prana (life breath) as the means to control the body, mind and soul. This subsequently rewards one with good health and inner happiness.
Acharya Patanjali ‘s 84 yogic postures effectively enhance the efficiency of the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, digestive and endocrine systems and many other organs of the body. Yoga has eight limbs where Acharya Patanjali shows the attainment of the ultimate bliss of God in samadhi through the disciplines of: yam, niyam, asan, pranayam, pratyahar, dhyan and dharna.
Kanad (600 BCE)
Founder of Atomic Theory. As the founder of “Vaisheshik Darshan” – one of six principal philosophies of India – Acharya Kanad was a genius in philosophy. He is believed to have been born in Prabhas Kshetra near Dwarika in Gujarat. He was the pioneer expounder of realism, law of causation and the atomic theory. He has classified all the objects of creation into nine elements, namely: earth, water, light, wind, ether, time, space, mind and soul. He says, “Every object of creation is made of atoms which in turn connect with each other to form molecules.” His statement ushered in the Atomic Theory for the first time ever in the world, nearly 2,500 years before John Dalton . Kanad has also described the dimension and motion of atoms and their chemical reactions with each other. The eminent historian, T.N. Colebrook , has said, “Compared to the scientists of Europe, Kanad and other Indian scientists were the global masters of this field.”
Kapila (3000 BCE)
Called the Father of Cosmology. Acharya Kapil was born in 3000 BCE to the illustrious sage Kardam and Devhuti. He also gifted the world with the Sankhya School of Thought. His pioneering work threw light on the nature and principles of the ultimate Soul (Purusha), primal matter (Prakruti) and creation. His concept of transformation of energy and profound commentaries on atma, non-atma and the subtle elements of the cosmos places him in an elite class of master achievers – incomparable to the discoveries of other cosmologists. On his assertion that Prakruti, with the inspiration of Purusha, is the mother of cosmic creation and all energies.
He calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart; Time taken by earth to orbit the sun: (5th century) 365.258756484 days. Born in the obscure village of Vijjadit (Jalgaon) in Maharastra, Bhaskaracharya’s mathematical works called “Lilavati” and “Bijaganita” are considered to be unparalleled. In his treatise “Siddhant Shiromani” he writes on planetary positions, eclipses, cosmography, mathematical techniques and astronomical equipment. In the “Surya Siddhant” he makes a note on the force of gravity: “Objects fall on earth due to a force of attraction by the earth. Therefore, the earth, planets, constellations, moon, and sun are held in orbit due to this attraction.” Bhaskaracharya was the first to discover gravity, 500 years before Sir Isaac Newton.
Chanakya (370–283 BCE)
Chanakya or Vishnu Gupta or Kautilya (his gotra) was a teacher to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta – the first emperor in the archaeologically recorded history to rule the complete Indian Subcontinent.
He authored the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthasastra. Chanakya is considered as the pioneer of the field of economics and political science and his work is thought of as an important precursor to Classical Economics. Chanakya’s works predate Machiavelli’s by about 1,800 years. Chanakya was a teacher in Takshashila, an ancient centre of learning.
A Hindu philosopher who lived during the reign of the Gupta Empire (4th – 6th century AD), is believed to be the author of the Kama Sutra. In the second chapter , Vatsyayana describes 64 kama-kalas, or ways to make love. These are not 64 positions, but the categories of different modes of lovemaking, namely ’embracing, kissing, scratching, biting, the positions, moaning, the woman playing the man’s part, and oral sex.’ As each of these modes of sex is supposed to have eight different particular manifestations, there are thus sixty-four ways in which a man or woman could be said to be having sex in its broadest sense. But kama-kalas are not just tools for successful love making, they also lie at the heart of what constitutes an educated man.
The famous poet and the author of the epic Ramayana.
Panini (600 BCE)
Panini is known for his Sanskrit grammar, particularly for his formulation of the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit syntax and grammar known as Ashtadhyayi (“eight chapters”), the foundational text of the grammatical branch of the Vedanga, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of Vedic religion.
Nagarjuna (100 CE)
Born in the village of Baluka in Madhya Pradesh, his dedicated research produced maiden discoveries and inventions in the faculties of chemistry and metallurgy, like “Ras Ratnakar”, “Rashrudaya” and “Rasendramangal”. As the author of medical books like “Arogyamanjari” and “Yogasar,” he also made significant contributions to the field of curative medicine. He was appointed as Chancellor of the famous University of Nalanda.
One of the Saptarishis. He was the Maanasa-putra (“a brain child”) of Brahma. He possessed the divine cow known as Kamadhenu and the Kamadhenu’s child Nandini. Vashishtha is the author of some parts in the Rigveda.
An ancient rishi, a great philosopher of the Mimansa school. He was the son of wandering rishi Parashara, and a disciple of Veda Vyasa.
Varahamihira (499-587 CE)
Varahamihir’s book “panch siddhant”, noted that the moon and planets are lustrous not because of their own light but due to sunlight. In the “Bruhad Samhita” and “Bruhad Jatak”, he has revealed his discoveries in the domains of geography, constellation, science, botany and animal science. In his treatise on botanical science, Varahamihir presents cures for various diseases afflicting plants and trees.
Some of the other sages were:
- Astika (the son of Manasa and Jaratkaru, the Vyasa of the twenty-seventh Dwapara)
- Atri (A legendary scholar and a son of Brahma – a Sapta Rishi)
- Bhrigu (One of the Saptarishis and one of the Prajapatis (and Maanasa Putra – a brain child) that Brahma created as facilitators of creation)
- Kraustuki (Markandeya’s disciple)
- Kripacharya (an important character in the Mahabharata; one of the Chiranjivin (the “immortals”).
- Marichi (The son of Brahma and also one of the Saptarishis)
- Narada (A divine sage (son of Brahma) in the Vaishnava tradition)
- Paráshara (A Rigvedic Maharishi and author of many ancient Indian texts. He was the grandson of Vasishtha and the author of some verses in the Rigveda)
- Prahlada (amahajana – that is, a “great devotee”, in the puranic Vaishnava traditions).
- Pulatsya (One of the ten Prajapatis – sons of Brahma, and one of the Saptarishis. He was the spiritual vibration through the power of which some texts of the Puranas were written)
- Shukra (son of Bhrigu)
- Vaishampayana (the original teacher of the Black Yajur-Veda)
- Yajnavalkya (A legendary ancient sage, a pupil of Vaishampayana)
There are several notable female rishikas who contributed to the composition of the Vedic scriptures. The Rig Veda mentions Romasha, Lopamudra, Apala, Kadru, Visvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Yami, Indrani, Savitri, and Devajami. The Sama Veda adds Nodha, Akrishtabhasha, Sikatanivavari and Gaupayana.
India’s other contributions to the world:
- India’s greatest gift to Humanity – Mathematical innovations include ZERO; use of DECIMAL NUMBERS and DICE.
- Budhayana explained in the 6th century, the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem, long before the European mathematicians.
- Algebra, trigonometry and calculus came from India; Quadratic equations were by Sridharacharya in the 11th century; The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were (10 to the power of 6) whereas Hindus used numbers as big as (10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 BC during the Vedic period. Even today, the largest used number is Tera 1012 (10 to the power of 12).
- By 1,500 BC, Indians used figures like square, circle, rectangle, angles, triangle, fractions, algebraic formulae and astronomy and metaphysics.
- The art of Navigation was born in the river Sindh 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word NAVGATIH. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit ‘Nou’.
- The earliest reservoir and dam for irrigation was built in Saurashtra. According to Saka King Rudradaman I of 150 BC a beautiful lake called ‘Sudarshana’ was constructed on the hills of Raivataka during Chandragupta Maurya’s time.
- Originated in India – Pharmacology, brain surgery, medicine, artificial colors and glazes, metallurgy, re-crystallization, chemistry, textile production, hydraulic engineering, water powered devices, etc.
There are several success stories like Rabindranath Tagore (1913 Nobel Prize in Literature), CV Raman (1930 Nobel prize for Raman effect), JC Bose’s discovery of microwaves by 1895 and Prof. Jagdeesh Bose (USA based IEEE has proved what has been a century-old suspicion in the world scientific community that the pioneer of Wireless communication was not Marconi).