India and the West

Goblet from Navdatoli, Malwa, 1300 BCE
Goblet from Navdatoli, Malwa, 1300 BCE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flow of Science and Mathematics

From India to Arabia and Europe

Dr Kenneth Chandler

Origins Of Vedic Civilisation

The european scholars who postulated the aryan invasion theory were biased, unscientific—and ultimately wrong. The Rig Veda was cognised by a people indigenous to India, probably sometime long before 3,000 BC.

So we move on to the next question. How did the Vedic Civilisation of India influence the civilisations of the Middle-East, Egypt, and Europe ? Evidence from a variety of sources shows that an influence of Vedic civilisation flowed west to the continent of Europe. As we will see, science and mathematics originated in India and came to Greece centuries later. Science and mathematics were probably introduced into Europe and Egypt from India, mainly through Persia, Arabia, and Mesopotamia.

Vedic and Indic Influences on Persian and Greek Civilisation

The Zend-Avesta of Persia took many names of deities from the Rig Veda, most notably Indra, and included Vedic deities in its pantheon. An archeological excavation in 1907 found clay tablets from early fourteenth century BC in Boghazköi, near the site of the ancient city of Troy on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, in what is now northwest Turkey. These tablets invoke the names of four Vedic deities—Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and Nasatyau—in sealing a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitani. A Vedic influence was definitely in eastern Mediterranean prior to the Trojan war, which occurred about a century later. This site is just up the coast from the Greek city states where the Pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece sprang up about eight hundred years later.

Indications of Vedic influence in the Zend-Avesta in Persia are found earlier than 1,600 BC, and in Greece as early as 1,400 BC. But there is much evidence of a link between the early Greeks and the more ancient Vedic civilisation of India, suggesting that Vedic culture flowed west to Persia and Europe.

* * * Maurice Winternitz, A History of Vedic Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 282-283.

Many of the Greek gods and goddesses are similar to those of the Vedic people, suggesting a strong historical connection. Both Vedic Indra and the Greek Zeus, called king of the gods, were associated with the unbounded power and called by the appellation “Thunderbolt.” Saraswati and Athena, female goddesses of sacred knowledge, both had similar roles as representing wisdom and nurturers of the creative arts. The Vedic Pushan and Greek Dionysus were both associated with youth, goats, and wine. Pushan was described as “goat-born,” Bacchus “half-goat.” The tenth Mandala of the Rig Veda relates that the young god Pushan stole the cattle of Indra, herded them backwards into a cave, and hid them somewhere inside in a mountain. Homeric hymns from the ninth century BC attribute exactly the same feat to the young god Dionysus, who put false feet on the cows, pointed backwards, and then herded them into a mountain cave, so the gods could not find them.

The Katha Upanishad of the Vedic tradition relates a metaphor in which the self is the lord of the chariot, the intellect the charioteer, the body the chariot, the horses, and the senses. “He who has no understanding…” the Upanishad say, “his senses are out of control, as wicked horses are for a charioteer.” Exactly same metaphor is found in Plato’s Phaedrus, which uses the image of a chariot moving through heaven and falling to earth when the self, the charioteer, allows the horses, representing sense and appetite, to get out of control.

The Vedic practice of performing sacrificial rites also has echoes in the religious practices of Greece and Israel. In the Odyssey, Odysseus makes sacrificial offerings of a bull to the gods, and in Israel, in the Old Testament, there are many descriptions of burnt offerings of animals to the gods. These practices have their roots in more ancient Vedic rites.

Fragments from Empedocles’ book on Purification give the same definition of health that the Charaka Samhita of the Vedic tradition did more than two thousand years earlier. Heraclitus defines “health” as a balance of the fundamental elements. There is also a link between the “angirasas” of the Rig Veda, who were higher beings – intermediates between gods and men and attendants of Agni, who is often described as a messenger between heaven and earth. They personify flames of fire as messenger to heaven. This view is borne out by the etymological connection of Sanskrit “angiras” with the Greek “angelos” (messenger).

Ancient legends in Greece speak of the early Pre-Socratics as traveling to India. Thales, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato were all fabled to have made the journey (although the legends are rarely given credibility). Commentators on the early Greeks from around the first and second century passed BC on these legends. While these journeys may or may not have taken place, it is not unthinkable, for there were well established commercial routes between India and Greece along the Silk Road, protected by Persian king, as well as between ports on the Red Sea that linked Greece with India in a thriving spice trade.

Plotinus in the third century AD set out from Alexandria (a city famed for its esoteric knowledge) on an expedition to India to gain more experiential knowledge of the transcendent. The expedition never completed the journey, so that Plotinus never arrived in India, but Plotinus believed that it was the place to learn about the transcendental unity of Being. It was not ideas or concepts from India but Vedic practices which brought to the Greek awakening of early sixth century BC a unique technique of transcending to experience pure consciousness. Plato writes about a “fair word” that a physician of Thrace gave to Socrates to enable him to become immortal and gain self-knowledge.

To be continued …

The first two verses of the Purusha sukta (Suk...
The first two verses of the Purusha sukta (Suktam/Sooktam), with Sayana’s commentary. Page of Max Müller’s Rig-Veda-sanhita, the Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans (reprint, London 1974). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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