Vedic Science

Speed of Light in Vedas ?

Imagine that archaeologists, digging a thousand year old virgin site in Antarctica, come across an inscription deep underground that shows the sun, and next to it the numbers 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light.  What would the world do? More likely than not, this find will not be accepted by Scholars.  A fraud, they would say, committed for cheap fame.  The reputation of the archaeologists will be ruined.  If they didn’t hold tenure, they will lose their jobs.

Only lunatics will support them,  claiming that this proves that aliens have visited the earth from time to time. The high priests of the academy will say that even if the find was genuine it proves nothing; at best it is a coincidence.

But what an astonishing coincidence!  Just the right number out of an infinite different numbers!

The speed of light was first determined in 1675 by Roemer who looked at the difference in the times that light from Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, takes to reach earth based on whether it is on the near side of Jupiter or the far side.  Until then light was taken to travel with infinite velocity.  Even Newton assumed so.

But why are we talking about the absurd scenario of the archaeologists in Antarctica?  Because, we are confronted with a situation that is quite similar!

300px-Speed_of_lightI am an archaeologist of texts. I read old texts from the point of view of history of science.  One such book is the celebrated commentary on the Rigveda by Sayana (c. 1315 – 1387) a minister in the court of King Bukka I of the Vijayanagar Empire in South India.

In a hymn addressed to the sun, he says that it is “remembered that the sun traverses 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha”.

This statement could either relate to the speed of the sun or to that of light.  The units are well known.  For example, the Indian epic Mahabharata conservatively dated to 400 BC – 400 AD defines 1 nimesha to be equal to 16/75.3 seconds; 1 yojana is about 9 miles.  Substituting in Sayana’s statement we get 186,536 miles per second.

Unbelievable, you’d say! It cannot be the speed of light. Maybe it refers to the speed of the sun in its supposed orbit around the earth.  But that places the orbit of the sun at a distance of over 2,550 million miles.  The correct value is only 93 million miles and until the time of Roemer the distance to the sun used to be taken to be less than 4 million miles. This interpretation takes us nowhere.

What about the possibility of fraud? Sayana’s statement was printed in 1890 in the famous edition of Rigveda edited by Max Muller, the German Sanskritist. He claimed to have used several three or four hundred year old manuscripts of Sayana’s commentary, written much before the time of Roemer.

Is it possible that Muller was duped by an Indian correspondent who slipped in the line about the speed? Unlikely, because Sayanas commentary is so well known that an interpolation would have been long discovered. And soon after Muller’s Rigveda was published, someone would have claimed that it contained this particular “secret” knowledge. The fact that the speed in the text corresponds to the speed of light was pointed out only recently by S.S. De and P.V. Vartak.

Further support for the genuineness of the figure in the ancient book comes from another old book, the Vayu Purana. This is one of the earliest Puranas, considered to be at least 1,500 years old. (The same reference is to be found in the other Puranas as well).

In Chapter 50 of this book, there is the statement that the sun moves 3.15 million yojanas in 48 minutes. This corresponds to about 10,000 miles per second if considered as speed of light, and 135 million miles for the distance to the sun, if considered as the speed of the sun. Sayana’s speed of light is exactly 18 times greater than this speed of the sun! Mere numerology?

We must also not forget that the Puranas speak of the creation and destruction of the universe in cycles of 8.64 billion years, that is quite close to currently accepted value regarding the time of the big bang.

For the rationalists these numbers are a coincidence. Given the significance of these numbers, they’d look very carefully at the old manuscripts of Sayana’s commentary.

There are others who would say that consciousness, acting on itself can find universal knowledge. Look, they’d say, by examining biological cycles one can know the periods of the sun and the moon. So why shouldn’t it be possible to know other universal truths?

They’d add that ancient texts speak – and this is true – of embryo transplants, multiple births from the same fetus, air and space travel, slowing or speeding of time, weapons that can destroy the entire world. They’d say that it is more than ancient science fiction; it shows that the human imagination can envision all that can happen.

This brings us back to the question of whether the figure of 186,000 miles per second in Sayana’s book is a astonishing coincidence or a fraud, an example of the powers of intuition or a meaningless number.

What do you think? 

~ Subhash Kak


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  • Awesome information. Thanks for sharing. We need to do more research on these topics and figure our how have anti gravity etc. I believe all that is in the scriptures.

  • Amazing discovery well matched to the Veda scripture. What if research thesis Phd scientific analysis is made by forming a Veda Research Centre with laboratory etc and join the scientific main stream

  • many things which are either invented or discovered are said that it is already written in vedas.

    Is there anything else which has not been discovered or invented yet and it is in vedas?

    can someone announce such a thing?

  • Amazing information. With so many invasions and destruction, it is surprising that some people are still asking for evidences. The words in the texts are the evidence. Even today, the almanacs in India are produced accurately and matches with those produced by the West. This proves the quality of our calculations, without any doubt !

  • While it is interesting that the ancient literature has corroborated things we already “know”, the users above bring up a great point about as yet “undiscovered” knowledge. A Vedic Research Centre is an incredible idea. This would provide funding and grants for scholars to dig through ancient texts and validate their findings in modern scientific literature.

    There is a reason why curcumin is so incredibly popular now. Researchers like Dr. Bharat Aggarwal (Houston, Texas) have gone back to the Charaka Samhita and validated what was written there. The same needs to be done across the vedic texts.

    • I believe German scientists and NASA are already researching into ancient Sanskrit literature, and have been doing so for many years. Its only our own academics who think Sanskrit is a dead language, and all Sanskrit literature is fantasy.

  • Most of the commentators are spewing opinions and do not at all seem to have read the article. Niether patting our ancestors on their long dead backs is relevant, nor is asking for proof if they did. They did it, and the proof is right there before our eyes.

    A way of acquiring huge knowledge has been lost, and we are better off learning or re-discovering it, else we can keep reinventing the wheel all our life and calling it science.

  • I think that given information my about other planet or other galaxy or may be the information of alians came from different galaxy

  • No one can say my knowledge is final. I think knowledge is the result of action, reaction and thinking. So, whoever thinks, he or she or man should exercise to reach the fact and go through the way of interaction honestly. Let us try find truth and fact whenever, whereever we are! Please don’t mind!

  • Speed of light is 1,86,000 miles/second or 3,00,000 km/s as per modern science.

    We have to re-look at the earlier experiments which were used to arrive at these results. I am not doubting the results but only I think that the units of measurement and the accuracy of measurement will have a bearing on the results.

  • Actually, the text is pretty clear. It gives a known distance, and a known time. It doesn’t say 186,000 miles per second, but it gives a formula that pretty much matches up to that, so I’m more than willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.