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Early Modern Exchanges in Sanskrit Astral Sciences

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EMESAS (Early Modern Exchanges in Sanskrit Astral Sciences)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-10-31

The early modern period of Indian history saw a major transformation in the intellectual traditions of Sanskrit sciences. For Sanskrit astronomers, the royal patronage of the Mughal courts (1526–1857) brought them in direct contact with their Persianate counterparts as they both jostled for imperial sponsorship. The Mughal emperors instituted translation projects that offered the opportunity of employment or endorsement to a newly emergent class of professional astronomers and bilingual interpreters. It is in this competing cosmopolitan world of Mughal India that Sanskrit astronomy truly begins to engage with Islamicate (Arabic and Persian) ideas. The complex discourses that followed were shaped by the power struggles of language, culture, and identity as medieval Islamicate astronomy was now cast into the language of Sanskrit mathematical poetry.

Within the global discourse of history of science, the Indian contribution remains marginally represented and insufficiently studied. While recent scholars have highlighted the mathematical developments in Indian astronomy of the early modern period (ca. 1500–1800), and others have written about the sociocultural context of the Indo-Persianate Mughal India, these studies have been largely composite and synoptic in their scope. An acute requirement has been the availability of critical and comparative studies of primary sources in Sanskrit and Indo-Persian astronomy of early modern India; in particular, of those Sanskrit texts that were highly influenced by Islamicate ideas of the time. The project 'Early Modern Exchanges in Sanskrit Astral Sciences' (EMESAS) has taken the first steps in this direction by studying an important corpus of Sanskrit and Indo-Persian texts from early seventeenth-century Mughal India and bringing out comparative critical editions (with annotated English translations and technical expositions) of selected chapters from these texts.

The aim of this project has been to identify and analyse certain 'knowledge elements' (like computational methods, geometrical arguments, astronomical suppositions, etc.) found in these texts that typify the process of transformation of Islamicate astronomy into Sanskrit. More generally, this project has offered new insights into the phenomenon of transmission and translocation of knowledge between cultures. By critically studying a well-defined corpus, this project has also shown how structural changes in the knowledge systems of a society are a transformative phenomena shaped by the cognitive, cultural, and linguistic diversity of its pluralistic past. This observation offers the cosmopolitan perspective that is needed today to fight historical revisionism, cultural parochialism, and zealous traditionalism.
The project EMESAS began by focussing its attention on one of the earliest Sanskrit translations of a Persian astronomical text. At the court of Emperor Shāh Jahān (r. 1628–58), the Hindu Pandit Nityānanda (fl. 1630/50) worked alongside the Islamic scholar Mullā Farīd (d. ca. 1629/32) to translate into Sanskrit the latter's Persian 'zīj' (a handbook of astronomical tables) the 'Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī' (ca. 1629/30), itself based upon the famous 'Zij-i Jadīd-i Sulṭānī (ca. 1438/39) of Mirzā Ulugh Beg. Nityānanda’s 'Siddhāntasindhu' (ca. early 1630s), like the 'Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī', is an enormous work that includes theoretical discussions on hermeneutics, logic, metaphysics, mathematics, and astronomy, along with a large number of astronomical, calendrical, and geographical tables. It remains the largest (and among the earliest) Sanskritic presentation of Islamicate astronomy known to us; however, neither the Persian nor the Sanskrit text had been edited, translated, or studied until now. In June 2021, the first publication of the project EMESAS presented, for the very first time, a comparative study of the 'Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī' and the 'Siddhāntasindhu', along with critical editions, translations, and technical analyses of select passages from both these works highlighting the linguistic (syntactic, semantic, and communicative) aspects of the translation process.

Along with this, the project EMESAS has also examined three seventeenth-century Sanskrit canons that discuss Islamicate ideas from various positions, namely, Nityānanda’s 'Sarvasiddhāntarāja' (1639), Munīśvara’s 'Siddhāntasārvabhauma' (1646), and Kamalākara’s 'Siddhāntatattvaviveka' (1658). Among these, Nityānanda's 'Sarvasiddhāntarāja' is an adaptation of his 'Siddhāntasindhu' where he restructures the Sanskritised prosaic presentations of Islamicate ideas seen in the latter text into the more refined metrical Sanskrit poetry of the former. In this process, Islamicate astronomical ideas─ideas like the concept of second declination of a celestial object or the division of the oucemene into climes─enter the discourse of Sanskrit canonical (siddhāntic) astronomy; however, all references to Islamicate sources are masked and replaced by stories of divine revelation, observational concordance, or mathematical acuity as motivation. The last part of the project EMESAS has studied, in great detail, the mathematical aspects of one such Islamicate concept described in all of the three aforementioned texts. The findings of the project EMESAS, in particular, the philological, philosophical, and mathematical processes by which Islamicate (Ptolemaic) astronomy entered the world of Sanskrit intellectual discourse of the seventeenth century India, have been presented in major international conferences.
The transmogrification of Islamicate astronomy to suit the linguistic and ontological paradigms of traditional Sanskrit science makes the corpus of the project EMESAS, in particular, Nityānanda's 'Sarvasiddhāntarāja' a unique experiment in syncretic epistemology. The project EMESAS has brought to the fore the questions of historicism, contemporaneity, and competition as it evaluated the reception of Islamicate theories (originating from the Marāgha and Samarqand schools) in Sanskrit astronomy of early modern India. The findings of this project have not only discussed certain mathematical concepts from Sanskrit astronomical texts, but have also contextualised these concepts within the sociocultural practices and philosophical thinking of seventeenth-century Mughal India. This project has since enabled me to lead a larger project into the 'Changing Episteme in Early Modern Sanskrit Astronomy' (CEEMSA, 24 months, Jan 2022–Dec 2024, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Grant No. AZ 21/F/21). On the back of the achievements of the project EMESAS, the project CEEMSA examines, in greater detail, the language, logic, and structure of some of the earliest arguments in Sanskrit astronomy, and in doing so, attempts to understand the changing episteme of an early modern cosmopolitan society in historical motion.
Mullā Farīd's Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī and Nityānanda's Siddhāntasindhu MSS