New PDF release: Astronomy in India, 1784-1876

By Joydeep Sen

Overlaying the interval from the basis of the Asiatick Society in 1784 to the institution of the Indian organization for the Cultivation of technological know-how in 1876, Sen explores the connection among Indian astronomers and the colonial British.

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While acknowledging that this kind of ‘palmistry’ was ‘not yet extinct in Europe’, he noted that in India, it ‘constitutes an art and in their opinion a profound science’, and that Indians ‘connect it with the real pursuit of astronomy’. One such horoscope in the name of Mulhar Row, a local ruler, came into Walker’s possession. 54 26 Astronomy in India, 1784–1876 The European exploration of Indian astronomy and astrology was also shaped by exposure to physical objects such as instruments. One notable example was a water clock in the form of a cup, recognized as having an important function for Indians in discerning auspicious times for various rites and observances.

In relation to sketches of the naksatras appended to his article, Jones mentioned his Hindu draughtsman. Though he was not complimentary about him, he nonetheless used his renderings in describing to his audience the division of the zodiac. Elsewhere, he alluded to Davis handing him a copy of a passage which the latter’s pandit had supplied. 29 Though Davis also stressed the need for assistance in translation, he appeared to doubt the extent of local knowledge when talking about his copy of the Surya Siddhanta, claiming that the ‘obscurity of many technical terms made it some times difficult to be understood even by the Pandit I employed’.

A. 37 In general, the consensus was that the Ayurvedic system had degenerated from a more glorious past, having become caught up with religion. Just as Playfair and Jones considered the possibility of working closely with Indian astronomers, European physicians demonstrated openness to learning from their local counterparts. There was an effort to make use of the insight of Vaids and 22 Astronomy in India, 1784–1876 Hakims through observation and conversation. In that first edition of Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta, the editor made it clear that Europeans would gain little from following ‘the imperfect science of the Baids or Hakeems of India’.

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