DC.5.01 — Sky as a bridge: Astronomical interactions in Eurasia through the ages

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Aug 10th at 8:30 AM until 9:00 AM

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Author(s): Rajesh Kumar Kochhar1

Institution(s): 1. Panjab University

Since the sky constituted common heritage for the whole humankind, astronomical thoughts, prescriptions, apparatus and tools developed in a particular cultural area were monitored by others and selectively assimilated. The fact that an artificial unit of time, the seven-day week, came to be used in the whole world is a powerful illustration of the world-wide transmission of astronomical ideas.
Historical facts here are interpreted in a framework, called Cultural Copernicanism which asserts that no cultural, geographical or ethnic area can be deemed to be a benchmark to be used to evaluate and judge others. This framework manifestly rejects Euro-centrism as well as anti-Euro-centrism. At the same time, astronomy is viewed as a multi-stage intellectual cumulus where each stage builds on the previous one and carries the subject forward.
Post-Alexandrian developments brought about a synthesis between classical Greek intellectual tradition and the accomplishments of the still older Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. The Greco-Babylonian inputs in turn vitalized Indian astronomy which along with cosmological ideas, travelled to East Asia (China, Korea, Japan in that order) and Tibet as part of the Buddhist package. Indian astronomical theory was noticed in the area now called the Middle East, but did not significantly influence local developments. The fact that the popular English term algorithm comes from a place name in Central Asia and that Europe designated Indian-origin numerals as Arabic numerals tells us about the role Muslim Cultural Zone has historically played in the intellectual development of Europe.
In an earlier era, transmission of astronomical knowledge and ideas in general occurred in an un-self-conscious manner. In relatively recent times, however, considerations of origins, borrowings and priorities were introduced as part of colonial historiography. Thus, in the early 19th century, when Urdu school text books were being prepared under British Indian auspices, Euclid was sought to be taught in a ‘pure’ form after carefully removing 'a great variety of explanatory notes, new demonstrations, and additional propositions' provided by al-Tusi in his celebrated commentary.