Earth's Rotation, its Globular Shape and Gravity
By Vinod Kumar
When we talk of the earth going around the sun as it
has always done, its globular shape, the different seasons, different lengths of
day and night, mind goes back to Galileo and Copernicus, scared to death,
holding the truth back lest the fury of the church falls upon them for letting
the world know the reality of nature. When one thinks of gravity one thinks of
Newton sitting under an apple tree watching an apple fall to the ground and
Newton proclaiming "Lo! there is gravity."
If I were to say Hindu philosophers talked and wrote
about gravity and the globular shape of the earth centuries before Newton and
Galileo and Copernicus, I would not only be dismissed as a "fanatical Hindu
communalist" by our 'all-knowing-secular intellectuals' but also incur
their wrath. And who wants that?
In order to state the truth and make it acceptable to
our 'all-knowing-secular intellectuals' let me seek the help of a Muslim scholar
from Central Asia. Who around 1030 AD wrote a very comprehensive book "Indica"
about India -- its literature, its philosophy, its religion, its culture, its
languages, its history, its geography, its customs, its sciences including
astronomy. I am talking about Abu-Raihan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Alberuni -- a
scholar and a devout genuine Muslim by all standards.
Before I go into what Alberuni wrote let us take some
time to find out more about this man -- Alberuni.
In the words of Edward Sachau -- translator of
"Mahmud marched into the country, not without some fighting, established
there one of his generals as provincial governor, and soon returned to Ghazna
with much booty and a great part of Khiva troops, together with the princes of
the deposed family of Mamun and the leading men of the country as prisoners of
war or as hostages. Among the last was Abu-Raihan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Alberuni.
This happened in the spring and summer of AD 1017."
"When he (Alberuni) was brought to Ghazna as a
hostage, he enjoyed the reputation of a great 'munajjim' i.e. "astrologer -
astronomer". By the time he wrote 'Indica' thirteen years later after his
involuntary immigration to Afghanistan, he was a master of astrology, both
according to the Greek and the Hindu systems.
"Alberuni felt a strong inclination towards Indian
philosophy. He seems to have thought that the philosophers both in ancient India
and Greece, held in reality the very same ideas, the same as seem to have been
his own i.e. of pure monotheism. He seems to have to have reveled in the pure
theories of Bhagavad-Gita. … There can scarcely be any doubt that the Muslims
of later times would have found fault with him for going to such length in his
interest for these heathenish doctrines" observes Sachau, but "still
he was Muslim, whether Sunni or Shia cannot be gathered from Indica. He
sometimes takes an occasion for pointing out to the reader the superiority of
Islam over Brahamanical India… He dares not attack Islam but attacks the
What was the object of his writing 'Indica'?
"The object which the author had in view and never for a moment lost sight
of, was to afford the necessary information and training to any one (in Islam)
who wants to converse with the Hindus, and to discuss with them questions of
religion, science, or literature, on the very basis of their own
Alberuni came to India with Mahmud and stayed there. He
learnt Sanskrit and Hindu literature and sciences and indeed wrote a very
comprehensive book about India of those days. As a Muslim he praises the
'wonderful exploits of Mahmud saying: "Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity
of the country, and performed those wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus
became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions" but as a scholar he
laments "this is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away
from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which
our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benares, and other places."
It seems from above that his study was done in area
which was under Mahmud's control, most likely western Punjab. But still what he
writes is very illuminating. Let us now see what wrote about our subject:
astronomy in India and gravity and the solar system.
Quoting from Brahamgupta's Brahamsiddhanta, Alberuni
"Several circumstances, however, compel us to attribute globular shape to
both the earth and the heaven, viz. the fact that the stars rise and set in
different places at different times, so that, e.g. a man in Yamakoti observes
one identical start rising above the western horizon, whilst a man in Rum at the
same time observes it rising above the eastern horizon. Another argument to the
same effect is this, that a man on Meru observes one identical star above the
horizon in the zenith of Lanka, the country of demons, whilst a man in Lanka at
the same time observes it above his head. Besides all astronomical observations
are not correct unless we assume the globular shape of heaven and earth.
Therefore we must declare that heaven is a globe, and the observation of these
characteristics of the world would not be correct unless in reality it were a
globe. Now it is evident that all other theories about the world are
Earlier philosophers like Aryabhata, Vasishtha and Lata
had also come to the same conclusion and Alberuni goes on to quote Varahmira:
"all things which are perceived by the senses, are witness in favor of the
globular shape of the earth, and refute the possibility of its having any other
On the subject of the rotation of the earth Alberuni
"As regards the resting of the earth, one of the elementary problems of
astronomy, which offers many and great difficulties, this, too, is a dogma with
the Hindu astronomers. Brahamgupta says in the Brahamsiddhanta: 'some people
maintain that the first motion (from east to west) does not lie in the meridian,
but belongs to the earth. But Varahmira refutes them by saying: If that were the
case, a bird would not return to its nest as soon as it had flown away from it
towards the west.' And, in fact it is precisely as Varahmira says."
Alberuni agrees with Varahmira that earth does not rotate.
Alberuni goes on to quote Brahamgupta:
"The followers of Aryabhata maintain that the earth is moving and the
heaven resting. People have tried to refute them by saying that, if such were
the case, stones would and trees would fall from the earth. Brahamgupta does not
agree with them, and says that that would not necessarily follow from their
theory, apparently because he thought that all heavy things are attracted
towards the center of the earth. He says: 'On the contrary, if that were the
case, the earth would not vie in keeping an even and uniform pace with the
minutes of heaven, the pranas of the times."
Alberuni does not agree with Brahamgupta and is unable
to understand the rotation of the earth and goes on to write:
"Supposing this to be true, and that the earth makes a complete rotation
eastward in so many breaths as heaven does according to his (Brahamgupta's)
view, we cannot see what should prevent the earth from keeping an even and
uniform pace with heaven."
Stubbornly he refuses to accept the theory of the
rotation of the earth and goes on to say:
"Besides, the rotation of the earth in no way impair the value of
astronomy, as all appearances of an astronomic character can quite as well be
explained according to this theory as to the other. There are, however, other
reasons which make it impossible."
Alberuni says he also has written a book on this
subject in which ' we have surpassed our predecessors' but does not tell what
his theories are?
On the question of gravity and other issues like top
and bottom, high and low, Alberuni quotes Brahamgupta and says:
"Scholars have declared that the globe of the earth is in the midst of
heaven, and that Mount Meru, the home of Devas, as well as Vadavamukha below, is
the home of their opponents; the Daitya and Dhanava belong to it. But his below
is according to them is only a relative one. Disregarding this, we say that the
earth on all its sides is the same; all people on earth stand upright, and all
heavy things fall down to the earth by a law of nature, for it is the nature of
the earth to attract and to keep things, as it is the nature of water to flow,
that of fire to burn, and that of wind to set in motion… The earth is the only
low thing, and seeds always return to it, in whatever direction you may throw
them away, and never rise upwards from the earth."
Varahmira explains it further:
"Mountains, seas, rivers, trees, cities, men, and angels, all are around
the globe of the earth. And if Yamakoti and Rum are opposite to each other, one
could not say that the one is low in relation to the other, since low does not
exist…. Every one speaks of himself, 'I am above and the others are below,'
whilst all of them are around the globe like the blossoms springing on the
branches of a Kadamba-tree. They encircle it on all the sides, but each
individual blossom has the same position as the other, neither one hanging
downward nor then other standing upright." He emphasized: "For the
earth attracts that which is upon her, for it is the below towards all
directions, and heaven is the above towards all directions."
Now these were the thoughts of Hindu philosophers as
recorded by Alberuni in the early part of the eleventh century and these had not
changed for centuries. Alberuni quotes heavily from Brahamgupta whose
Brahamsiddhanta was composed in AD 628. But it was Aryabhata, born in AD 476,
the first to hold that the earth was a sphere and rotated on its axis and that
the eclipses were not the work of Rahu but caused by the shadow of the earth
falling on the moon. His Aryabhatiya was composed in AD 499.
It is clear from above that it was over a millennium
before Galileo, Copernicus and Newton that the Hindu philosophers had formulated
the theories about the globular shape and rotation of the earth and gravity.