A National Seminar on the Scientific Heritage of India was held at Bangalore during 19 to 21 September, 19S6. This was organized by the Mythic Society in Collaboration with the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, Indian Institute of World Culture, Bangalore. About 40 papers were presented- in the seminar on various aspects of the scientific heritage of India.' There were sessions devoted to Astronomy, Mathematics, Medicine and Biological Sciences, Technology and Architecture and also a session on the Conceptual Methodologies and the Indian Approach to Science, Man and Society. Such national seminars have been periodically held-in this country. The Indian National Science Academy held the so called 'First National Seminar on History of Science in India* in Calcutta in 1961, and the Second National Seminar was held at Delhi in 1968. This had been followed by a number of seminars on history of individual subjects like Astronomy, Medicine, and Technology etc. The Indian National Science Academy has also set up the National Commission for History of Science in India in 1966 and also brings out a journal devoted to this subject, namely the Indian Journal of History of Science. The Academy has also published a series of books on Indian Scientific Heritage, notable among which is the Concise History of Indian Science' by D.M.Bose, S.N.Sen and B.V.Subbarayappa.
The Study of the scientific heritage of India has not really taken off in this country. Till recently it had been the case that only retired scholars and professionals addressed themselves to this subject. That such is the case even now, can still be seen by perusing the 33 projects which have been approved for the year 1985-86 under history of science research programme of the Indian National Science Academy as listed in the January 1986 issue of the Indian Journal of History of Science. However, there are indications that a new brand of younger scholars are coming up in the country, who are trying to take to the study of scientific heritage of India as a part of their professional work itself.- This was clearly in evidence at the Bangalore Conference. The proceedings of the conference highlighted several interesting features of the Indian tradition in sciences, which might have been known to the experts, but are not generally known otherwise. One astronomer gave a detailed analysis of the dates of ancient Indian works such as the various Vedic Samhitas, the various Vedanga Jyotishas, the anabharntha, and Jaina texts, based upon the astronomical events recorded in them. There was an interesting talk by a Japanese scholar on the Indian texts on astronomical instruments. Another: scholar outlined how texts such as ' Amarakosha are not merely compendia of names, but contain systematic knowledge and usefully organized information. He showed how Vanaushaohi Varga of Amarakosha gives not merely a list of names of about 360 plants but also a summary of the essential characteristics of these plants as would emerge by an etymological analysis of these names. There were two presentations which highlighted how the Europeans gathered the systematic knowledge of Botany from Indian Pandits in the 16th - 17th centuries. Particular mention may be made of the works of Garcia d'Orta (16th century) and the 12 volume treatise Hortus Malabaricus by the Dutchman, Van Rheede. The latter work which was printed during 1678 to 1693 contains certificates by four South Indian Pandits to the effect that the information contained in the book was in accordance with what was given in their sastras and verified by them in practice. It is important to know that Van Rheede1s was one of the few texts referred to by Linnaeus, the father of modern Botany. The presentations by various metallurgists revealed the sophistication achieved by Indian technology even in very ancient times. Mention may be made here of Indian techniques in Zinc and Copper metallurgy. A reference was also made to the various projects undertaken recently by Japanese and American Scientists on the study of the Indian techniques of iron and steel making.
There was a popular lecture one evening on 'Food and Nutrition in India. It highlighted; amongst other things, how modern nutrition science has only recently come to see the value of - the traditional Indian practices such as the use of liquid - oils for cooking, the use of green vegetables and curds and the emphasis on vegetarianism. The speaker further pointed out that even in very ancient works such as Sushruta Samhita and Arthasastra, prescriptions for balanced diets were made in quantitative terms and these seem to agree well with those of current nutrition science. The speaker also highlighted how the combination of rice and dal as found in Indian diet, maximizes the assimilation of proteins, The speaker listed-the various crops and foods as found in our most ancient texts such as Vedas etc, and argued that vegetarianism was possible here because of this extremely rich variety of foods available in this subcontinent.
What has been stated above is only a random sample of the main ideas presented in the conference by the various experts. By listening too many of these talks It was clear that the amount of information now available on various aspects of our scientific heritage is significantly larger than what it was 20 - 30 years ago. It also appears that currently many more scholars are working on various aspects of our scientific heritage. But what is very distressing is that there still appears to be no major effort made in this country to form a larger and comprehensive picture of our scientific heritage most of the scholars who are working on, it are working in total isolation and not as a part of any larger planned effort to arrive at a clear picture of our scientific heritage and use It in our current endeavors. There are very few institutions of any significance with facilities which even allow, let alone encourage, such a kind of work.
It is of course distressing that we still have only glimpses of our scientific heritage even after 40 years of independence. But this fact is itself linked to a larger problem which is that we are still not clear as to what actually is the relevance or otherwise of this heritage itself. Most of the scholars in this symposium were cautioning each other that a study of the scientific heritage of India should be undertaken with a truly scientific spirit and not with the purpose of glorification of our past. However, most of the papers presented at the meeting are themselves in the nature of individual investigations which give only scattered information (no doubt of a valuable nature), highlighting one significant achievement or another (be it in Astronomy, Botany, Metallurgy or Nutrition Science) of our forefathers. Much of this will remain mere empty glorification unless these investigations are taken up as a part of and in the context of a major national effort to really understand our scientific heritage in its entirety so that we are able to operate on the basis of it in today's world. For this purpose, each significant achievement (or shortcoming) of our tradition has to be understood in all its details and in all its relations with other achievements and shortcomings and in relation to our civilization’s larger goals, world-views, sociopolitical organizations etc. Further, it involves detailed and full-fledged investigation into the entire Corpus of our scientific literature, over 90 percent of which is in manuscript form and is not even catalogued in entirely it involves looking into the artifacts available today and the techniques still current among our artisans and other in-hesitators of our traditional technologies it involves detailed exploration of the theoretical and methodological basis of our sciences and technologies and their links amongst each other, much of which is not possible without a serious interaction with our traditional technologists/artisans, as also with our traditional pandits and scholars. All this can be done only if we are committed as a nation to really capitalize on our scientific and technological heritage.
It is only then that we can overcome the fact very much in evidence today, of mere, empty glorification (or equally empty condemnation) of our past, and instead start learning how to capitalize on our own scientific and technological heritage.
AYURVEDIC SCIENCE OF NUTRITION REPORT ON A MEETING AT KALADY
A weeklong meeting on the theme of 'Ayurvedic Science of Nutrition’, was held in Kerala during December 15-21, 1986. The Meeting was convened by the Lok Swasthya Parampara Samvardhan Samiti (LSPSS)* and sponsored (by six organizations**. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an (introduction to Ayurvedic principles of diet and nutrition. The lectures were given by Ayurvedic Acharyas from various parts of the country. The participants were mainly Allopathic Physicians, Research Workers in the area of Biochemistry, Nutrition and community health, rural health workers, students and faculty from home science colleges, and also Sanskrit scholars, historians and academics who had a general interest in the Indian tradition of Science and technology.
A number of Voluntary Agencies such as Social Work and Research Centre (Tilonia), Vigyan Slksha Kendra (Banda), Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre (Madras), Paiyanur Health Forum (Kerala) and Health-o-millions.
participated in the meeting. Also represented were Governmental Agencies such as the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha, Central Food Technological Research Institute, National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, as well as some Universities. A significant feature of this workshop was that the Ayurvedic Principles of diet and nutrition were presented in their own paribhashas (terms and definitions). After an initial period of adjustment the audience did indeed get used to the new terminology and it was understood that it may be neither possible nor desirable to attempt any instant interpretation of the indigenous science in terms of Western science and its categories. Thus even on occasions where Ayurvedic and Western science provided widely differing or conflicting prescriptions it was possible to have useful discussions on the subject. The subject matter that was covered can be outlined under the following broad themes. (1) Ayurvedic basis for understanding I human beings (includes elationship between Macrocosm, and Microcosm, principles of Tri-doshal Prakrti clinical examination in Ayurveda jetc), (2) Principles of Metabolism in Ayurveda (concept of Agni, the role of Agni in Digestion and its importance in treatment Ayurvedic understanding of hunger, indigestion etc), (3) Pharmaco dynamics in Ayurveda (effect of food and drugs in terms of Ayurvedic understanding, assessment of food value, classification of foods and evaluation of new foods recently introduced into the diet based on Ayurvedic principles), (4) Principles of planned diet, (5) Rationale for adjustments of diet, based on seasons etc., (6) Diet for mother and child care. In addition a few miscellaneous topics such as Geriatric diet,
honey, alcohols and sugars etc., were touched upon.
The workshop does indeed seem to have succeeded in questioning some preconceived notions about Ayurveda and its practices. For example, it became clear that the principles of Ayurveda could indeed be applied to approach a number of current day issues. In this connection there were several interesting discourses and discussions on a few themes. One theme was the evaluation of food material introduced into our diet recently based on Ayurvedic principles - such as Potato, Chilies and Jeven Glucose and Vitamin A drops There was also an interesting presentation evaluating the new edible oils such as Soybean oil, Palm oil and Vanaspati. Evaluation of water from various sources led to a I discussion of bore well water which is of recent origin.
There was a lot of interest and discussions regarding the evaluation of dietary practices currently prevalant amongst the people, particularly in|areas were the Ayurvedic viewpoint was at variance with the corresponding prescriptions of Western physicians and nutrition experts. For example, there Is a widespread practice amongst our people wherein the new born infant is not suckled by the mother for the first 2 to 3 days. From the point of view of Allopathy this is considered an unhealthy practice and it is being fought as a 'super-section'. The Ayurvedic Acharyas on the contrary came out fully in support of this practice. It was explained that from the Ayurvedic view point, a mother who has just delivered the baby was understood to be at very low ebb of her health, the milk produced by her initially was considered as similar to aam - (undigested material), which cannot be assimilated. Moreover the various systems of the new born infant are also just getting established and the custom of administering Yachaswaran (Vacha known was Sweet Flag or Vasambu, with Gold) was said to help in this process and to build up the Baby's immunity. Hence the breast feeding was advocated only after such a preparation for two to three days. Similarly there were also interesting discus-sions on certain themes which are a regular feature of the Ayurvedic theory but seem to be totally absent in the current Western understanding - such as the concept of Viruddh Ahar (i.e. the incompatibility of certain pairs of foods which are harmless when taken separately).
The workshop was rendered very lively and interesting thanks mainly to the efforts of the students from the Coimbatore Ayurvedic College who had prepared .thoroughly and worked hard to make it a success. The workshop consisted of yoga practice in the morning, clinical sittings with Ayurvedic physicians where one could have an assessment of one's own state of health and get medical advice, and sessions of Massage which was based on an ancient tradition of Kerala namely Cavitti Uzichal. There were also lecture demonstrations on some interesting topics such as Nadi Pariksha (examination of the Nadi as an aid to diagnosis), and Marma Cikitsa (an art of treatment by massing and manipulating certain vital spots in the body which are known as Marmas). In addition there were demonstrations of preparations of rasayanas, lehyas etc. ' and the audience was also regularly provided with, delicious Ayurvedic beverages! A; dictionary of technical Sanskrit terms commonly used had also been prepared for the occasion by Vaidya R.M. Nanal which provided to be extremely useful to the participants.
The concluding day was devoted entirely to discussions about specific activities to be taken up, by various participating individuals and organizations as a follow up to the meeting. These included recommendations to be submitted to Governmental Agencies, suggestion to be made to voluntary agencies, as well as projects and other efforts to be initiated in various areas of the country, preparation of a book which would serve as a basic introduction to the Ayurvedic principles of health and nutrition (for this purpose a team of Vaidyas and nutritionists has been constituted), and several research tasks which were decided upon. It was also decided that the LSPSS would be constituted into a registered body. A committee has been formed for the purpose of preparing a draft constitution and plan of action. It was decided that a meeting would held sometime in the middle of 1987 to formally constitute LSPSS and to decide 6n a programme of action,
Author:M.D. Srinivas & Balasubramanian.
* A summary of the proceedings of the Kalady Meeting will be published soon and the detailed proceedings will be published in due course. If you have any suggestions regarding activities that could be taken up by LSPSS, or individuals or organizations which could be involved in its work, please contact Vaidya Gangadharan, LSPSS (Lok Swasthya Parampara Samvardhan Samiti) Patanjalipuri, Coimbatore - 641 108,