History of Science in Early South Asia

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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • May 16, 2022

    Speaker: Madhu K. Parameswaran, Assistant Professor, Department of Dravyagunavijnanam, Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier Ayurveda College (URL)
    Title: Influence of the Suśrutasaṃhitā on the Structure and Contents of the Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha: Insights from the Ongoing Critical Edition of Five Selected Chapters from the Sūtrasthāna of the Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha
    Abstract: The Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha (AS) and the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya (AHS), two texts ascribed to Vāgbhaṭa mark the conclusion of an important period in the history of Indian medicine known as the period of the text compendia (saṃhitākāla). While drawing influence and materials from the earlier Carakasaṃhitā (CS) and the Suśrutasaṃhitā (SS), the AS and AHS show remarkable ingenuity in restructuring and editing text materials. The similarity in the structure of the sections (sthānas) in SS and AS often leads scholars to assume that the structure and design of AS is predominantly inspired by the SS. Based on an ongoing critical edition of the AS, this talk tries to address this issue along with a host of other issues regarding the influence of the SS on the structure and contents of the AS.

  • April 18, 2022

    Speaker: Eric Gurevitch, PhD candidate
    South Asian Languages and Civilizations and
    Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science
    University of Chicago
    Title: Diseases of the eye: Debating the physiology of vision across medicine and philosophy in medieval India
    Abstract: Philosophy mattered in medieval India. Philosophers were employed in royal courts and mediated scholarly life and disputes across sectarian and disciplinary lines. At the heart of philosophic disputes were questions of perception, and these often revolved around the physiology of vision. This presentation examines how philosophers made appeals to medical practices and how medicine was invoked in new contexts. It focuses on two 11th-century scholars who argued for the inadequacy of the standard account of visual extramission as given in philosophic, medical, and literary texts written in Sanskrit. These scholars looked back to 500 years of philosophic disputes as well as to medical practices and argued that the eyeball worked in a very different manner than was often assumed. The presentation aims to tell a more plural history of perception in pre-colonial South Asia and does so by moving across scholarly genres and disciplines. The presentation will be aimed at both generalist and specialist audiences and all are welcomed to join in and participate.

  • March 21, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Cristina Pecchia, Austrian Academy of Sciences (URL)
    Title: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and the Carakasaṃhitā.
    Abstract: Gangadhar Ray (1798–1885) was the editor of the first printed edition of (part of) the Carakasaṃhitā, that appeared in 1868 in Calcutta and seemingly became the basis of several successive editions of the text. His edition of the Carakasaṃhitā and commentary on it, the Jalpakalpataru, can be counted among the important achievements of his scholarly life. The presentation aims to analyse Gangadhar’s philological activity concerning the Carakasaṃhitā, that also represents a piece of traditional scholarship from 19th century South Asia. In the absence of documentary evidence, we will mainly be examining the text of the Carakasaṃhitā transmitted in manuscripts and printed books associated with Gangadhar’s name. We will explore the context made up of texts – in Ganeri’s words the “intertextual context” – that actors involved in this transmission inhabited, we will look at what variants can reveal about philological practice, and reflect on the larger topic of philology in colonial South Asia as a chapter of Indian intellectual history.

  • February 21, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Philipp A. Maas, Associate Professor, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (URL)
    Title: The cultural identity and religious orientation of early classical Ayurveda
    More than once in the history of Indological research, scholarly opinions regarding the original cultural milieu and religious orientation of Ayurveda have altered. Initially, scholars regarded Ayurveda as an off-shoot of Vedic Brahmanism. In the 90s of the last century, Ken Zysk strongly challenged this view by arguing that Ayurveda’s apparent affiliation to Vedic Brahmanism merely reflects the endeavor of Ayurvedic physicians to create acceptance in a society committed to Vedic norms and values. According to Zysk, ayurvedic medicine was initially developed in Buddhist and cognate ascetic milieus. In 2007, Johannes Bronkhorst advanced Zysk’s line of argument. Bronkhorst hypothesized that the rational-empirical medicine of Ayurveda was a distinctive feature of the culture of Greater Magadha, a region that he identified as Ayurveda’s cultural homeland. In the present reading session, we reconsider Bronkhorst’s hypothesis based on selected passages from the earliest preserved medical Sanskrit compendia, the Carakasaṃhitā (CS) which distinctively reflect physicians’ religious orientations and cultural identity. The session starts with an analysis of the two origin myths of Ayurveda and Rasāyana in CS Sūtrasthāna 1.13–40 and Cikitsāsthāna 1.4.3f. Both passages programmatically position Ayurveda in its contemporary cultural and religious environment by integrating religious ideas that Bronkhorst identified as characteristics of Vedic Brahmanism and the religion of Greater Magadha. Taking into consideration additional textual materials from the CS and Strabo’s Geography, I suggest, however, that the cultural and religious hybridity of the CS does not exclusively result from the Brahminization of medical knowledge of Greater Magadha. Various medical currents of thought merged in the ayurvedic school of Punarvāsu Ātreya to form a specific religious and social group with a distinct identity and worldview. This group mythologically located its region of origin in the mountains of the Himalayas rather than in the cities of greater Magadha.
    Text passages:

    • CS Sū 1.3–23 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 1–6)
    • CS Sū 30.21 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 186)
    • CS Sū 30.29 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 189)
    • CS Vi 8.54, l. 20–25 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 270)
    • CS Ci 1.4.3–4 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 387)
    • CS Ci 1.4.51–53(ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 389)

    (Sanskrit text edition available at https://archive.org/details/Caraka1941)
    Strabon, Geographika 15.1.70; Transl. Bronkhorst, Johannes. Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. Handbuch Der Orientalistik. Abt., Indien 19, 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007, p. 78:
    "In classifying philosophers, [the writers on India] set the Pramnai (i.e., Śramaṇas) in opposition to the Brachmanes (i.e., Brahmins). [The Pramnai] are captious and fond of cross-questioning; and [they say that] the Brachmanes practice natural philosophy and astronomy, but they are derided by the Pramnai as charlatans and fools. And [they say that] some [philosophers] are called mountain-dwelling, others naked, and others urban and neighbouring, and [the] mountain-dwelling [philosophers] use (i.e., wear) hides of deer and have leather pouches, full of roots and drugs, claiming to practice medicine with sorcery, spells, and amulets."

  • January 17, 2022

    Speaker: Prof. Dominik Wujastyk, University of Alberta
    Title: New findings from the Suśruta Project
    Abstract: Exploring the early history of medicine in South Asia through the ninth-century Nepalese recension of the Compendium of Suśruta. We will discuss the rise of the importance of the figure Dhanvantari in the ayurveda tradition.  We will also discuss the differences found in the ninth-century treatise when compared with the printed versions of the Compendium as that have informed general knowledge about the work since the late nineteenth century.  We will focus on the surgery on the ear and nose, and on the dangers of poison

  • December 20, 2021

    Holiday!  No session today.

  • November 15, 2021

    Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Copenhagen (URL)
    Phañjikā: An Early Cruciform Game at a Late Medieval Indian Court

    The cruciform game of caupaṛ, adopted by the British as Ludo in the late 19th century, is often referred to as the national game of India. In the late 16th-century Ain-i-Akbari, the Mughal court historian Abul Fazl wrote that "[f]rom times of old, the people of Hindustan have been fond of this game." The question, however, remains as to how old those "times of old" actually were. The earliest certain references to the game are found in Bhakti poetry and Sufi romances from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, but now a hitherto unexplored chapter from the 12th-century Mānasollāsa adds new evidence. It reveals the existence of what appears to be an elaborate form of the game played at the court of King Someśvara III (r. 1127-38) of the Western Cāḷukya Empire.

    This paper traces the early history of caupaṛ and engages with key passages from the chapter on phañjikā, or the game of five, in Mānasollāsa 5.16. It reconstructs the layout and rules of the game as far as possible, and discusses the clearly amorous purposes to which it was put. Phañjikā was primarily played by women and young boys to while away time in the palace, but when the king joined the game it took on the character of a lover's game. The same is true of caupaṛ in later textual and visual sources, thus further closing the gap between the two games.

  • October 18, 2021

    Prof. Emeritus K. G. Zysk, University of Copenhagen (URL)
    Topic: Mesopotamian and Indian Bird Omens
    This paper explores the relationship between bird omens that occur in both the Sanskrit Gārgīyajyotiṣa Aṅga 42 and the Akkadian Šumma Ālu and related Cuneiform tablets. After an overview of the Sanskrit omens and their source, the study proceeds to compare the Indian and Mesopotamian bird omens with special reference to the omens of the crow in an attempt to show that the Akkadian omens was the archetype of the Sanskrit omen verses. The paper concludes with a list of contents of Aṅga 42, followed by the Sanskrit text and translation of verses 6-29 on the crow. 

  • September 20, 2021

    A. J. Misra, Marie Curie Fellow, University of Copenhagen (URL)


    Persian Astronomy in Sanskrit: A Comparative Study of Mullā Farīd’s Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī and its Sanskrit Translation in Nityānanda’s Siddhāntasindhu
    Starting from the late medieval period of Indian history, Islamicate and Sanskrit astral sciences exchanged ideas in complex discourses shaped by the power struggles of language, culture, and identity. The practice of translation played a vital role in transporting science across the physical and mental realms of an ever-changing society. The present study begins by looking at the culture of translating astronomy in late-medieval and early-modern India. This provides the historical context to then examine the language with which Nityānanda, a seventeenth-century Hindu astronomer at the Mughal court of Emperor Shāh Jahān, translated into Sanskrit the Persian astronomical text of his Muslim colleague Mullā Farīd. Nityānanda's work is an example of how secular innovation and sacred tradition expressed themselves in Sanskrit astral sciences.
    This article includes a comparative description of the contents in the second discourse of Mullā Farīd's Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī (c. 1629/30) and the second part of Nityānanda's Siddhantasindhu (c. early 1630s), along with a critical examination of the sixth chapter from both these works. The chapter-titles and the contents of the sixth chapter in Persian and Sanskrit are edited and translated into English for the very first time. The focus of this study is to highlight the linguistic (syntactic, semantic, and communicative) aspects in Nityānanda's Sanskrit translation of Mullā Farīd's Persian text. The mathematics of the chapter is discussed in a forthcoming publication. An indexed glossary of technical terms from the edited Persian and Sanskrit text is appended at the end of the work.
    My paper on Persian Astronomy in Sanskrit is downloadable below.


  • April 19, 2021

Group Conveners

  • labrooks's picture

    Lisa Brooks

    Lisa Allette Brooks is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta and the recipient of the Dorothy Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Prize, as well as a 2022-2023 AAS Pipeline Fellowship. Lisa’s current project, Leech TroubleTherapeutic Entanglements in More-Than-Human Medicines, is a historical and textual study of human-leech medicine in South Asia and a comparative ethnographic study of leech therapy in contemporary ayurvedic medicine and biomedicine. Lisa’s work has been published in the Asian Review of World HistoriesMedical Anthropology QuarterlyAsian Medicine and in the edited volume Fluid Matter(s) by ANU press (eds. Kuriyama and Koehle). Lisa co-edited a special issue of Asian Medicine, “Medicines and Memories in South Asia” 15.1 (2020) and is the South Asia book review editor for the journal Asian Medicine and reviews editor for History of Science in South Asia. In 2021 Lisa completed a PhD in South and Southeast Asian Studies with Designated Emphases in Science and Technology Studies, and in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at UC Berkeley. Lisa'a interests include multispecies medicine, histories of health, healing, and embodiment, queer and feminist science studies, and sensory studies.



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