SCIENCE IN THE VEDAS
A new and scientific way of looking at the Vedas results in an alternative model of the universe and creation
Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, with a Foreword by Subhash Kak (1999). Golden Egg Publishing, 1245 Dupont Street, P.O. Box 99045, Toronto, Canada M6H 4H7. 248 + xiv pages, Reviewed by N.S Rajaram.
Vedic Physics by the 33-year old Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy is an ambitious work by a physical scientist who - thanks to his upbringing in a traditional household - also had the benefit of a Vedic schooling from childhood. His goal is to show that the Vedas, in keeping with their name meaning 'knowledge', contain a good deal of scientific knowledge that was lost over millennia, which he seeks to recover by suitably interpreting them. In particular, he regards the Rigveda as a book on particle physics and cosmology that has much in common with modern physics, but sometimes more subtle, especially when it comes to explaining the origin and evolution of the universe.
Such a claim is of course not new; there is no shortage of books claiming that the Vedic seers had seen everything and modern science is only a rediscovery. The author makes no such claim. His position is that by following a path of discovery quite different from that followed by modern science, the Vedic sages had arrived at a model of the universe, supported by a theory of atomic and subatomic particles that bears some similarity to modern physics; but Vedic cosmology is quite different from modern theories of the universe. What lends credence to the author's claim is his comprehensive grasp of modern physics. This allows him to construct - possibly reconstruct - a Vedic model of the universe that avoids some of the difficulties of modern theories like the Big Bang.
This may sound similar to some other books on the subject like Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics, but there are important differences. For one, the author's grasp of the Vedic texts is surer, based on primary readings and often, original interpretations. Next, he offers some remarkable insights that go beyond contemporary knowledge of cosmology and even physics. Most
significantly, he reconstructs a theory of the universe that may be a serious competitor to modern theories like the Big Bang. In other words, he is not satisfied with a comparison between Vedic knowledge and modern science; his goal is it to shed new light on important problems of nature. His approach is based on a careful reading of Vedic texts combined with a firm grasp of science. And therein lies the book's strength.
Before going into the details of Mr. Roy's book, it is useful to have an idea of different approaches to the study of the Rigveda. The most widely known is the nineteenth century reading favored mostly - but not exclusively - by Western Indologists, which holds the Rigveda to be the record of 'Aryan invaders' from Eurasia and their conquest of India then populated by dark
skinned natives. This has justly fallen into disrepute though some Western academics and their Indian followers continue to cling to some variant of it if only because they have nothing better. It is not hard to see that two dominant nineteenth century European ideas - colonial conquests and racism - went into this interpretation though political and Christian missionary
interests also had major influence. The values underlying this version have fallen into disrepute, but their creation called 'Indology' continues to hold sway in academia, though it is rapidly crumbling.
When we turn to Indian interpretations, we run into problems of a different kind - break in tradition. Although we look at the four Vedas as from a single genre, there is considerable difference between the Rigveda and the other three. To take an example, the same verses from the Rigveda that appear in the Yajurveda are sometimes read and even interpreted differently.
Where the Yajurveda is generally treated as 'Karma-kanda' - or what may loosely (and incorrectly) be called 'ritualistic', the real meaning and purpose of the Rigveda remains something of a mystery. This is by no means a recent phenomenon. The ancient commentator Yaska (c. 3100 BC) tells us that even in his time scholars no longer had the intuitive grasp of the Vedic
hymns that the ancients possessed. For whatever reason, even before the third millennium, the true meanings of the Rigveda had been greatly diluted if not lost, and various artificial interpretations like Karma-kanda came to be imposed on them.
Another point to be kept in mind is the extreme sophistication of structure and language of the Rigveda. Even superficially seen, its metrical forms and linguistic structures are the most sophisticated the world has even known. To go with this, its language, far from being elaborate, is concise yet flexible - at times bafflingly so. As Sri Aurobindo observed, the Vedic language is "just and precise and sins rather by economy of phrase than by excess, by over-pregnancy rather than by poverty of sense." From this it is possible to see that the Rigveda records not the beginning of a civilization but a culmination, containing knowledge - or 'Veda' - coded in the form of what we call Rigvedic hymns. In other words, the language of the Rigveda could well be technical in nature, like what we find in a modern book on physics or mathematics. A convincing key to unlocking this body of knowledge
remains to be found. This is what the author in his book has set out to do.
In his words: "Most of the verses in the Vedas are mysterious. This is so because we don't know the actual scientific meaning of these verses. My aim in furnishing complete hymns is to give my learned readers as much information as possible, so that they can help in finding the lost Vedic science." His book is an admirable step in that direction, and, as this review seeks to explain, a great deal more.
The message of the book under review may be summarized as follows: one of the keys to unlocking the secrets of the Rigveda consists in reading many of the words like 'gau' and 'ashva' as well as names of gods like 'Marut' and 'Indra' as technical terms used in the natural sciences, and the hymns themselves as descriptions of laws of nature. In other words, the Rigveda contains a description of the forces of nature and the laws that govern them, written in cryptic even coded language. The author's goal is to
extract their meaning by making sense of important hymns that appear enigmatic or even incoherent when interpreted in a conventional way. Though his effort cannot be considered complete, it nonetheless sheds new light on important Vedic passages.
For example, in the Vedic literature we have frequent statements like 'agni was pashu' and 'pashus are agneya' that make no sense when read literally. The author, however, identifies 'pashu' with particle and 'agni' with energy. Then a whole series of Vedic passages including the ones just cited become comprehensible and even coherent. Similarly, he identifies Vayu with
field - one of the most important concepts in physics. Surya of course stands for light, and the seven horses yoked to Surya's chariot are the seven colors of the light spectrum. The word 'gau' (cow), which Yaska tells us also means light, actually refers to the particle state of light or the photon. Based on his approach, the author suggests that the great Rigvedic hymn 1. 123 by Dirghatamas, actually describes the creation and annihilation of particles, which some liken to Shiva's Dance of Creation. It should be emphasized that this brief description - necessarily simplified - does not do full justice to the author's interpretations.
This approach offers some interesting possibilities. The author observes: "Our universe is matter dominated. If matter and antimatter are created together in same amount, then we should find equal amount of antimatter. Whyis it we don't find much evidence of antimatter as far as we can observe? Are remote parts of the universe antimatter dominated? Did matter and
antimatter somehow get segregated in different corners of the universe? Scientists don't think so. Scientists believe that when universe was very young, for some reason a small excess of matter over antimatter was generated. As matter and antimatter annihilated each other, this small excess remained, and this small excess is our universe. The Vedas take a different view. According to the Vedas, matter and energy are constantly being created at the surface of the universe, and there is an imbalance in their creation. Matter and antimatter continually annihilate each other and the small excess of matter has accumulated over the age of the universe."
This is a profoundly different cosmic view, which the author supports with the help of Rigvedic passages including 2.20.7 and 6.47.21. The latter may be read as: "Everyday Indra removes half of the people, similar to the other half but black in color, born in his house." (The author uses the past tense, which I have rendered into the present following Panini's rule for the Vedic usage: chandasi lung lat litah.) The author goes on to observe:"Indra is considered responsible for killing the black people in the Rgveda. As matter and antimatter are attracted towards each other due to theopposite nature of electric charge resulting in annihilation, electric force is indeed responsible for this phenomenon."
So black refers to antimatter! In addition to the author's remarkably original reading of an obscure passage, it highlights the utter
superficiality of European Indologists and their Indian followers in giving such passages a racial meaning. If the author's insights can be supported, this is the kind of knowledge that was lost over the millennia. There is evidence however, that some fragments of it survived as late as the time of Sayana (1315 - 87). In his Rigveda Bhashya he gives a value for the velocity
of light that in modern units works out to 186,000 miles per second. So it is not easy to dismiss the author's interpretations as speculation, obtained by 'retrofitting' modern scientific findings on to the Vedas. In any event, the Vedic cosmology worked out by the author has important differences with modern theories of the universe.
After presenting his interpretation of Vedic passages in the light of modern physics, the author gives a lucid summary of modern theories (Big Bang and Steady State) followed by a discussion of the Vedic model. He points out some of the basic problems of the Big Bang theory, highlighting the following: singularity, horizon, flatness, age, monopole, entropy and antimatter. He discusses the same problems in the Vedic context and shows how they may be elegantly accounted for. This can be illustrated with the help of the singularity problem. In the author's words:
"Universe started with an explosion according to the Big Bang model. At time equal to zero, all the mass-energy was concentrated in a point. This is certainly an unimaginable feat, as the universe is immense. According to Pauli's exclusion principle, not even two electrons can occupy the same state, and here the whole universe is considered to be inside a point. ...
The situation is a direct result of the conservation of mass and energy [or mass-energy], the most sacred principle of physics. Considering that the universe is expanding, extrapolating backward in time, the universe was as small as a point. As mass-energy of the universe must be conserved, all the mass-energy must have been there at time zero as well. We should note that conservation of mass-energy is violated in this case as well. This is equivalent to saying that all the mass-energy was created at time zero. Mass-energy density of the universe was infinity at time equal to zero, which is called a point of singularity."
To get around this obvious difficulty, scientists have introduced an entity called 'inflation', which has mysteriously disappeared from the present universe. The singularity problem does not arise in the Vedic approach to creation. As the author observes: "Inflation has not solved the singularity problem, as inflation only produces part of the mass-energy of the universe, and as long as even a tiny amount of matter-energy was present at time zero, singularity problem will be there. The Vedas tell us that at time zero there was no mass-energy in the universe. It was a complete void. Space, mass and energy are continuously being created. As universe had zero mass-energy at time zero, the universe did not start with singularity."
This obviously violates the conservation principle. But Vedic cosmology has a conservation principle of its own that includes space along with mass and energy. It is a very subtle principle and yet stunning in its simplicity. The author describes it as follows:
"... the Vedas have returned to tell an even greater truth [than mass-energy equivalence]: equivalence of space, mass and energy. Space is no different from matter and energy. In the beginning there was no mass-energy in the universe because there was no space. Mass-energy is created due to expansion of the universe. The universe cannot expand without creating mass-energy and universe cannot contract without annihilating mass-energy. Thus the universe started with zero mass energy and will end up with zero mass-energy as well. Thus there was no singularity in the beginning and there will be no singularity at the end."
The author recognizes that since the universe is now in an expanding mode, we must be witnessing the creation of mass-energy in the universe. As evidence he points to gamma-ray bursts that scientists have observed but have no clue as to its source. In 1973 it was discovered that about three times a day, the sky flashes with a powerful burst of gamma-rays. The author
observes: "The gamma-ray bursts are intense, bulk of their radiation is in the range of 100,000 to 1,000,000 electron volts, implying a very hot source and its sources release more energy within minutes than sun will release in its entire lifetime."
Astronomers believe that these bursts are coming from distances that range from three to ten billion light years. Various explanations have been offered - from black holes to collapsing neutron stars - but none is satisfactory. It is possible to account for it using Vedic cosmology. According to Vedic science, mass-energy is continuously being created at the surface of the universe. This is related to the expansion of the universe. In the author's words: "As the universe is huge now, its expansion will
create immense radiation."
What is extraordinary is that these gamma-ray bursts - corresponding to the creation of mass-energy according to Vedic science - takes place three times a day. This is exactly the frequency given in the Rigveda in at least three passages. (3.56.6, 7.11.3, 9.86.18). The second of these tells us: "O Agni! We know you have wealth to give three times a day to mortals."
Another fundamental difference between the Big Bang model and the Vedic model is that the latter postulates rotation of the universe around an axis. This means it has a preferred direction, or, in the parlance of physics, the Vedic universe is non-isotropic. Here too the author invokes an unexplained scientific phenomenon in support - violation of parity observed in weak interactions. As the author observes:
"It is obvious that model of the universe should not contradict the nature of these interactions. Weak interaction has complete disregard for many conservation laws including parity... What is so special about weak interaction? Why is it that it does not obey conservation laws like other interactions? ... It has been more than forty years since the discovery of parity violation, but cosmologists have not taken into account what particle physicists have proved."
The author shows that this can be seen as an indirect proof of the rotating universe implied in the Vedic model. He then cites possible direct evidence also. He notes that observations by Borge Norland and John P. Ralston on the polarization of light from distant galaxies indicate that the universe is rotating. (This is on top of the well-known Faraday Effect. Since the rate
of rotation is slow, one has to look very far to find physical evidence of it.) Their results are disputed by other scientists for the reason that it violates the idea of an isotropic universe, but that is only to be expected. As the author notes: "Rotation of universe and continuous creation of matter and energy are two salient features of the Vedic cosmology."
This brings us to the author's reconstruction of the Vedic universe, which he summarizes as follows: "Like the Big Bang model, the Vedic model assumes that the universe started from a point and is expanding. However, unlike the Big Bang model, universe starts cold with zero mass-energy, and is rotating as well as expanding. There is a similarity with the Steady State model that
mass-energy is constantly being created. The difference is that [in the Vedic] the universe is not considered infinitely old, and the creation of mass-energy is only during the expansion phase of the universe. During the contraction phase, the mass-energy is annihilated, so that the universe ends without a singularity."
Clearly, the author's study of the Vedas combined with his knowledge of modern physics has allowed him to present an impressive synthesis of the two. There are some minor difficulties. His reading of the Vedas leads him to postulate the existence of particles not known to modern physics. His interpretations of the symbolism of the Harappan seals are speculative, and
sometimes wrong. We are of course on much firmer ground today - thanks to Jha's decipherment of the Harappan script, and the subsequent work of Jha and this reviewer. Also, it is a little puzzling that he should read the famous description of the Sarasvati River - giribhya a samudrat - to mean 'from the ocean', when the causative case (pancami vibhakti) suggests the
opposite. The book also has passages on the Puranas and the development of Hinduism that add nothing to it but interrupts the flow of reasoning that is central to its theme. But these are minor quibbles that do not seriously detract from what is beyond doubt a significant achievement.
We are now in the midst of a Renaissance of sorts in the study of ancient India, including the Vedas. More are less coinciding with the collapse of the colonial-missionary creation known as the Aryan invasion model of India, a new school of research - inaccurately called the Indo-American school - has been pursuing a path of study that combines ancient learning and modern
science. Freeing itself from the racial, political and religious biases that influenced Indology for more than a century, this new school has made significant contributions to the history of the ancient world. Among notable members of this school one may cite K.D. Sethna, David Frawley, Shrikanth Talageri, Natwar Jha and several others. Dr. Roy, the author of the book
under discussion, is a major new entrant to the field. He has opened an important way of looking at ancient texts - and possibly also the universe.
All told Vedic Physics is an impressive tour de force by a young scholar, offering fresh insights into the Vedas without compromising on the science. At the very least, it has opened new avenues for research, which one hopes will be pursued by scientists working closely with traditionally schooled Vedic scholars. This alone holds promise of a sane approach to problems if we hope to avoid the inanities - and the insanities - that have plagued Indology for over a century.
Website for the book is:
About the reviewer: Dr. N.S. Rajaram is a mathematician, linguist and historian of science based in Oklahoma City, USA and Bangalore, India. His books include Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization (with David Frawley) and The Deciphered Indus Script (with Natwar Jha).