Study on Shulbasutra Tradition Presented

March 2, 2010
School of Arts and Sciences, Amritapuri

Ancient Sanskrit texts, such as Aryabhatta’s treatises on mathematics, are the subject of study and research in several of the best universities around the world. Now this research is being conducted at Amrita University as well.

ShulbasutraBr. Sivanandan D S of the Amrita School of Arts and Sciences recently presented a paper titled The Continuity of Shulbasutra Tradition as Evident in the Agnichayana Ritual of Kerala – A Critical Study at the International Conference on Sanskrit and Intellectual Heritage.

The conference, organized by the Department of Sanskrit, University of Kerala, during February 22-24, 2010, attracted the participation of scholars from research and educational institutions in the US, Iran, Poland as well as India.

Shulbasutras are ancient mathematical treatises that primarily deal with geometry. The geometrical expositions of Shulbasutras are original in nature and of physical and metaphysical value. Why was the study of geometry prevalent in ancient India?

In Vedic India, religious ceremonies and sacrifices were performed on raised brick platforms or altars. The knowledge in Sulbasutras was used in the design and construction of these altars, with ropes and pegs. The very words Shulba (rope) and Sutra (aphorisms) indicate this.

Br. Sivanandan’s paper examined the Kerala Vedic tradition, in particular, two relatively recent fire rituals, and found many similarities with the principles mentioned in the ancient Shulbasutras texts, indicating a continuity of tradition from ancient times till today.

Shulbasutra“I presented the similarities and main differences between the original text and practices followed in Kerala,” he stated. “The measurement of the altars is the same, the size of the bricks used is the same. Yes, some local adaptations are noticed.”

Br. Sivanandan studied two Agnichayana rituals, the first conducted in Thrissur District in 1956 and the second in Panjal in 1976. Both fire rituals lasted 12 days each. The image shows the falcon fire altar of 1956 Agnichayana. The altar was in the shape of a falcon.

The altars had five layers with two hundred bricks in each layer, as specified in the Sulbasutras. The measuring instruments mentioned in Shulbasutras were compared, as also the units for measuring linear dimensions.

The adherence to these texts and the continuity of the Shulbasutra tradition was demonstrated. In all, 25 research papers were presented. The session was chaired by Dr. C M Neelakandhan, Head, Dept. of Vedic Studies, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady.

“School children are taught that the study of geometry originated in Europe,” stated Br. Sivanandan. However, such texts establish that geometrical principles were known in ancient India. Not only that, this knowledge has been passed down unbroken through generations.”

Erudite scholar Dr. George Cardona, Professor of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania was also present.

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