The UNTAPPED WEALTH OF MANUSCRIPTS in INDIAN ASTRONOMY & MATHEMATICS

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Among the ancient Indian Sciences, Astronomy and Mathematics occupy a prime position along with the Sciences of Language and Health. All these Sciences are distinguished by an extensive textual tradition which goes back to the Vedic period and the tradition continued to flourish till at least the middle of the nineteenth century. A large part of the great manuscript wealth of India pertains to these and other sciences and technologies, which have played a crucial role in the history of our civilisation.

Unlike in the case of other ancient sciences, the vast corpus of manuscripts in Astronomy and Mathematics has been extensively surveyed and documented during the last fifty years, mainly due to the painstaking efforts of the eminent scholars Samarendra Nath Sen (1918-1992), Krishna Venkateswara Sarma (1919-2006) and David Pingree (1933-2005). We shall make use of their documentation to present (i) an estimate of the vast corpus of source-works in Indian Astronomy and Mathematics, and (ii) an assessment of what has been accomplished by modern scholarship over the last two centuries by way of editing and translating some of these source-works with a view to comprehend and elucidate their technical (mathematical-astronomical) content.

We find that of the estimated 9,000 source-works of Indian Astronomy and Mathematics (which are preserved in around 30,000 manuscripts), only about 150 texts were edited, and just about 30 texts translated during 1800-1947. During the last seventy years, another 300 texts have been edited and 66 texts have been translated, many of them with detailed explanatory notes.

While significant progress has been achieved by the modern scholarship in Indian Astronomy and Mathematics during the last seventy years, we are as yet far from achieving a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental concepts and techniques, theories and methodologies and even the historical development of Indian Astronomy and Mathematics.

This is mainly because:

1. Only 450 (or 5%) of the estimated 9,000 source-texts (which are available in manuscript form) have been edited and published so far.

2. Further, even among the 450 or so published works, only about 96 texts been seriously studied and explicated via translations and explanatory commentaries with a view to bring out their technical (mathematical-astronomical) content.

3. Most of these editions and studies have been brought out during the last seventy years or so; and this is largely due to the voluntary and dedicated efforts of a number of Indian scholars, as there has been little scope or support for such work in our institutions of higher learning.

There is thus an urgent need to reorient our national priorities and give due importance to the Preservation, Digitization, Listing and Cataloguing, Editing & Publishing, and Promoting Systematic Studies of the large corpus of source-works of the great tradition of Science and Technology in India. Training young scholars for undertaking all these tasks should indeed form an integral part of the courses and research conducted in our institutions of higher learning.

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