History of Science in Early South Asia

This group will focus on the kinds of research published in journals such as the Indian Journal of History of Science, the e-Journal of Indian Medicine: EJIM, Asian Medicine, and History of Science in South Asia. The working group will bring together scholars who study the history of science in South Asia before about 1800 and as discoverable from literatures in Sanskrit and other indigenous Indian languages. We take “South Asia” as an inclusive, non-political, socio-geographic term referring to the area from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, from Pakistan to Bangladesh, and of course India. Discussions on the influences of South Asian cultures beyond these borders is also welcome, for example Nepalese or Tibetan influences on China, Sri Lankan influences on the Maldives, or Indian influences in South-East Asia. We take “science” to be broadly conceived, and to include all forms of rigorous intellectual activity that adopt at least to some extent a quantitative and empirical approach, as in the German “die Wissenschaft,” that covers most forms of academic scholarship. Theoretical discussions of the meaning of “science” in the South Asian context are welcome. The group will meet monthly during the 2020-2021 academic year and focus in the first instance on group readings of premodern scientific texts in early Indian languages, especially Sanskrit. We plan to begin with readings in South Asian medical and alchemical literatures.

Please set your timezone at https://www.chstm.org/user

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Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

  • Monday, September 20, 2021 10:00 am to 11:30 pm EDT


  • Monday, October 18, 2021 10:00 am to 11:30 am EDT


  • Monday, November 15, 2021 10:00 am to 11:30 am EST


  • Monday, December 20, 2021 10:00 am to 11:30 pm EST


  • Monday, January 17, 2022 10:00 am to 11:30 am EST


  • Monday, February 21, 2022 10:00 am to 11:30 am EST


  • Monday, March 21, 2022 10:00 am to 11:30 pm EDT


  • Monday, April 18, 2022 10:00 am to 11:30 am EDT


  • Monday, May 16, 2022 10:00 am to 11:30 am EDT


Past Meetings

  • April 19, 2021

  • March 15, 2021

  • February 8, 2021
    • Presenter: Dominik Wujastyk, University of Alberta
    • Topic: Early Modern Eristic: Readings from the medical polemic Rogārogavāda by Vīreśvara
    • Bibliography

  • January 11, 2021

  • December 14, 2020

  • November 16, 2020
    • Time Buddy
    • Continuing the program from the previous session (see "Past Meetings," below on this screen).

  • October 19, 2020
    • Time Buddy
    •  Continuing the program from the previous session.

  • September 21, 2020
    • TimeBuddy - meeting time in different timezones.
    • Presenters: Kenneth Zysk (University of Copenhagen) & Tsutomu Yamashita (Kyoto University of Advanced Science)
    • Topic: Sanskrit Medical Scholasticism.  Readings from the Caraka Saṃhitā: Cikitsāsthāna 2.2 with Jajjaṭa’s Nirantarapadavyākhyā and other commentaries Sanskrit Medical Scholasticism

    The committee decided that the first meeting of the Working Group on the History of Science in Early South Asia should be dedicated to medical science and continue as much as is possible the projects that stem from the earlier working group on the Caraka Saṃhitā, begun some years ago in Vienna. In line with this, Tsutomu and I volunteered to chair the first couple of sessions of the workshop.
    The seminars will be devoted to the scholastic tradition of medical Sanskrit, as it pertains to the text of the Caraka Saṃhitā. We shall focus on the Caraka Saṃhitā, Cikitsāsthāna 2, which deals with Vājīkaraṇa or “Potency Therapy”. This chapter of Caraka’s corpus was chosen for two reasons. First, it is the first complete chapter that contains the commentary of Jajjaṭa, the earliest extant commentary available to us; secondly, it is the second in a set of two chapters or rather books, which together form a specific system of knowledge, which in all probability was incorporated into the corpus at an early date. The two chapters or books, Rasāyana and Vājīkaraṇa, which together deal with the prolongation and propagation of human life by the use of specialised medicines. Both chapters are constructed in the same manner, being divided into four separate parts (pāda) or chapters, indicating that structurally they derive from a common source.
    Since our study aims at the Sanskrit medical tradition of the Caraka Saṃhitā, we wanted to include all the extant Sanskrit commentaries on that text. We are in the process of editing the commentary of Jajjaṭa, which occurs only in 20th century copies of a single lost palm-leaf manuscript. Although a version of the commentary has already been published, it requires critical appraisal from the original sources. The other three commentaries also occur in published versions. For the sake of discussion, the commentaries have been broken up into two groups:

    •  Old: Jajjaṭa’s Nirantarapadavyākhya (7th-8th cent. CE), and Cakrapaṇidatta’s Āyurvedadīpikā (3rd quarter of the 11thc cent. CE)
    • New: Gaṅgādhara’s Jalpakalpataru (mid-19th cent.) and Yogīndranāth Sen’s Carakopaskāra (early 20th cent.)  

      In the seminars, we shall look at all these commentaries for a given set of verses, first in order to understand the text and how the system of commentary works with medical literature; secondly, to ascertain how the information was transmitted over time; and finally, what kind of historical and cultural information can be gleaned from them.
      Since the first part of the chapter Vājīkaraṇa has been published, we begin with the second part or chapter, called simply, “milk has been poured” (āsiktakṣīrika)” over it. Since most of the chapter contains medical recipes or formulae, we shall try to unpack precisely the step-by-step method by which the formula was prepared, which cannot be understood without the help of the scholastic tradition. Information will be distributed before the scheduled seminar. This is the first time for this kind of one-line seminar for most of us, so patience is required in the beginning. As background reading, I suggest that participants look at the following:

      Group Conveners


      • aklebanov's picture

        Andrey Klebanov

        Andrey Klebanov is a lecturer at the Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University, Japan. Klebanov has published on the history of Indian medicine and the history of medieval literary commentaries, with a focus on the use of manuscript sources.


      • wujastyk's picture

        Dominik Wujastyk

        Dominik Wujastyk is Professor and Singhmar Chair of Classical Indian Society and Polity, Dept. of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada.  Previous appointments include a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.  Wujastyk has taught and published on the history of science and medicine in ancient India and on Indian manuscripts and codicology .  Recent work has included research on the history of classical Indian medicine, yoga and alchemy.  He is the Principal Investigator of the recently launched Suśruta Project


      • kzysk's picture

        Kenneth Zysk

        Kenneth Zysk is Emeritus Professor of Indology and Indian Science, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Zysk has taught and published extensively on the history of science and medicine in ancient India. Recent projects include work on the history of medicine and medical theory in early India with a view to cross-cultural influences and on early forms of augury and prophecy in Indian astral science, with a focus on manuscript sources.


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