History of Science in Early South Asia

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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • January 16, 2023

    Speaker: Dr Andrey Klebanov
    Title: Textual parallels between the compendia of Caraka and Suśruta: What can we learn from them?

  • December 19, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Vitus Angermeier, PI at the FWF Project "Epidemics and Crisis Management in Pre-modern South Asia", University of Vienna
    Topic:  Epidemiology in the Bhelasaṃhitā – the chapter on distinctions according to land and people
    Note: Dr Angermeier's presentation, "A contagion theory in the Hārītasaṃhita? The chapter on upasarga." originally scheduled for March 20,. 2023, has now been postponed until September.

  • November 21, 2022

    Speaker: Lucy May Constantini
    Title: Understanding Text in Relation to the Embodied Practice of Kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘: investigating alternative methodologies
    Kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ is a martial art with an allied medical system that originated in South India in the Malabar region of what is now the modern state of Kerala. Its long and complex history includes a revival from near-extinction in the early twentieth century when a few practitioners gathered and systematised what knowledge remained, both practice and text. Malabar kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ evinces a particular relationship between its inherited texts and lived practice. A kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ gurukkaḷ (lineage-holder) carries the responsibility of preserving and transmitting the lineage, and, regardless of any reverence for inherited manuscripts, the final śāstric authority of the kaḷari resides in the gurukkaḷ’s body and practice. As such, written texts only partially represent a kaḷari’s śāstra, which is only complete when informed by the experience of embodied practice. To date there has been little academic enquiry into the texts of kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘, in part because of the inaccessibility of kaḷari paramparā manuscripts, which introduces further complication.  

    This talk will present a brief survey of known kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ texts and discuss the methodologies I have evolved to collect and analyse discrete sections of otherwise closely- guarded texts from the CVN lineage that is the chief focus of my research. I will discuss these and their working translations, which are still evolving as part of my PhD project. This textual analysis has been guided by Dr. SAS Sarma at l'École française d'Extrême-Orient at Pondicherry.  

    My PhD is at the Open University in the UK, exploring the relationship between practice and textual traditions in kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership. This interdisciplinary research encompasses ethnography, drawing on a relationship since 2002 with CVN Kalari in Thiruvananthapuram, and the study of manuscripts in Malayalam and Sanskrit. My background is in dance and somatic practices, where my work investigates the confluence of my praxes of postmodern dance, martial arts and yoga.  

    You can read more about Lucy's PhD project here: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/lmc662

  • October 17, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Charu Singh, Dept. of History, Stanford University (from January 2023: Assistant Professor, Dept. History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
    Title: When science became vijñāna: Redescriptions of knowledge in colonial north India, 1915–1935.
    See attached papers, all in the zip file:

    • Charu Singh, "When science became vijñāna: Redescriptions of knowledge in colonial north India, 1915–1935."  Abstract.
    • Elshakry, M. (2010) “When Science Became Western: Historiographical Reflections,” Isis 101: 98–109. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652691.
    • Menon, M. (2021) “Indigenous Knowledges and Colonial Sciences in South Asia,” South Asian History and Culture. 13: 1–18.

    • Pollock, S. (2011) “The Languages of Science in Early Modern India,” in Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800. Durham NC and London: Duke University Press, pp. 19–48.

    Dr Singh will make a 30-minute presentation on the discussions and reflections on vijñāna in the Hindi-language science monthly that she studies, Vigyan. She requests that we combine this presentation with a group discussion on the readings above.  
    Dr Singh says: "In choosing programmatic work in the global history of science (Elshakry) with South Asian reflections on knowledge categories (Pollock, Menon), I'm hoping we can all together think through the problem presented by several cognates of "science" across premodern and modern South Asia. In addition, I'm hoping that the empirical evidence I will provide for one such knowledge category can serve as a case study for our discussion."

  • September 19, 2022


  • June 20, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Ranee Prakash, Senior Curator - Flowering Plants, Dept of Life Sciences. Natural History Museum, London
    Title: Ethnobotanical insights from an historical herbarium: the Samuel Browne collections from Early Modern India
    Abstract: TBA
    See the attached article for background,

    • Winterbottom, Anna, and Ranee Prakash. 2020. “Samuel Browne.” In The Collectors: Creating Hans Sloane’s Extraordinary Herbarium, edited by Mark Carine, 168–173. London: Natural History Museum.


  • May 16, 2022

    Speaker: Madhu K. Parameswaran, Assistant Professor, Department of Dravyagunavijnanam, Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier Ayurveda College (URL)
    Title: Influence of the Suśrutasaṃhitā on the Structure and Contents of the Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha: Insights from the Ongoing Critical Edition of Five Selected Chapters from the Sūtrasthāna of the Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha
    Abstract: The Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha (AS) and the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya (AHS), two texts ascribed to Vāgbhaṭa mark the conclusion of an important period in the history of Indian medicine known as the period of the text compendia (saṃhitākāla). While drawing influence and materials from the earlier Carakasaṃhitā (CS) and the Suśrutasaṃhitā (SS), the AS and AHS show remarkable ingenuity in restructuring and editing text materials. The similarity in the structure of the sections (sthānas) in SS and AS often leads scholars to assume that the structure and design of AS is predominantly inspired by the SS. Based on an ongoing critical edition of the AS, this talk tries to address this issue along with a host of other issues regarding the influence of the SS on the structure and contents of the AS.

  • April 18, 2022

    Speaker: Eric Gurevitch, PhD candidate
    South Asian Languages and Civilizations and
    Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science
    University of Chicago
    Title: Diseases of the eye: Debating the physiology of vision across medicine and philosophy in medieval India
    Abstract: Philosophy mattered in medieval India. Philosophers were employed in royal courts and mediated scholarly life and disputes across sectarian and disciplinary lines. At the heart of philosophic disputes were questions of perception, and these often revolved around the physiology of vision. This presentation examines how philosophers made appeals to medical practices and how medicine was invoked in new contexts. It focuses on two 11th-century scholars who argued for the inadequacy of the standard account of visual extramission as given in philosophic, medical, and literary texts written in Sanskrit. These scholars looked back to 500 years of philosophic disputes as well as to medical practices and argued that the eyeball worked in a very different manner than was often assumed. The presentation aims to tell a more plural history of perception in pre-colonial South Asia and does so by moving across scholarly genres and disciplines. The presentation will be aimed at both generalist and specialist audiences and all are welcomed to join in and participate.

  • March 21, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Cristina Pecchia, Austrian Academy of Sciences (URL)
    Title: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and the Carakasaṃhitā.
    Abstract: Gangadhar Ray (1798–1885) was the editor of the first printed edition of (part of) the Carakasaṃhitā, that appeared in 1868 in Calcutta and seemingly became the basis of several successive editions of the text. His edition of the Carakasaṃhitā and commentary on it, the Jalpakalpataru, can be counted among the important achievements of his scholarly life. The presentation aims to analyse Gangadhar’s philological activity concerning the Carakasaṃhitā, that also represents a piece of traditional scholarship from 19th century South Asia. In the absence of documentary evidence, we will mainly be examining the text of the Carakasaṃhitā transmitted in manuscripts and printed books associated with Gangadhar’s name. We will explore the context made up of texts – in Ganeri’s words the “intertextual context” – that actors involved in this transmission inhabited, we will look at what variants can reveal about philological practice, and reflect on the larger topic of philology in colonial South Asia as a chapter of Indian intellectual history.

  • February 21, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Philipp A. Maas, Associate Professor, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (URL)
    Title: The cultural identity and religious orientation of early classical Ayurveda
    More than once in the history of Indological research, scholarly opinions regarding the original cultural milieu and religious orientation of Ayurveda have altered. Initially, scholars regarded Ayurveda as an off-shoot of Vedic Brahmanism. In the 90s of the last century, Ken Zysk strongly challenged this view by arguing that Ayurveda’s apparent affiliation to Vedic Brahmanism merely reflects the endeavor of Ayurvedic physicians to create acceptance in a society committed to Vedic norms and values. According to Zysk, ayurvedic medicine was initially developed in Buddhist and cognate ascetic milieus. In 2007, Johannes Bronkhorst advanced Zysk’s line of argument. Bronkhorst hypothesized that the rational-empirical medicine of Ayurveda was a distinctive feature of the culture of Greater Magadha, a region that he identified as Ayurveda’s cultural homeland. In the present reading session, we reconsider Bronkhorst’s hypothesis based on selected passages from the earliest preserved medical Sanskrit compendia, the Carakasaṃhitā (CS) which distinctively reflect physicians’ religious orientations and cultural identity. The session starts with an analysis of the two origin myths of Ayurveda and Rasāyana in CS Sūtrasthāna 1.13–40 and Cikitsāsthāna 1.4.3f. Both passages programmatically position Ayurveda in its contemporary cultural and religious environment by integrating religious ideas that Bronkhorst identified as characteristics of Vedic Brahmanism and the religion of Greater Magadha. Taking into consideration additional textual materials from the CS and Strabo’s Geography, I suggest, however, that the cultural and religious hybridity of the CS does not exclusively result from the Brahminization of medical knowledge of Greater Magadha. Various medical currents of thought merged in the ayurvedic school of Punarvāsu Ātreya to form a specific religious and social group with a distinct identity and worldview. This group mythologically located its region of origin in the mountains of the Himalayas rather than in the cities of greater Magadha.
    Text passages:

    • CS Sū 1.3–23 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 1–6)
    • CS Sū 30.21 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 186)
    • CS Sū 30.29 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 189)
    • CS Vi 8.54, l. 20–25 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 270)
    • CS Ci 1.4.3–4 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 387)
    • CS Ci 1.4.51–53(ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 389)

    (Sanskrit text edition available at https://archive.org/details/Caraka1941)
    Strabon, Geographika 15.1.70; Transl. Bronkhorst, Johannes. Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. Handbuch Der Orientalistik. Abt., Indien 19, 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007, p. 78:
    "In classifying philosophers, [the writers on India] set the Pramnai (i.e., Śramaṇas) in opposition to the Brachmanes (i.e., Brahmins). [The Pramnai] are captious and fond of cross-questioning; and [they say that] the Brachmanes practice natural philosophy and astronomy, but they are derided by the Pramnai as charlatans and fools. And [they say that] some [philosophers] are called mountain-dwelling, others naked, and others urban and neighbouring, and [the] mountain-dwelling [philosophers] use (i.e., wear) hides of deer and have leather pouches, full of roots and drugs, claiming to practice medicine with sorcery, spells, and amulets."

Group Conveners

  • labrooks's picture

    Lisa Brooks

    Lisa Allette Brooks is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta and the recipient of the Dorothy Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Prize, as well as a 2022-2023 AAS Pipeline Fellowship. Lisa’s current project, Leech TroubleTherapeutic Entanglements in More-Than-Human Medicines, is a historical and textual study of human-leech medicine in South Asia and a comparative ethnographic study of leech therapy in contemporary ayurvedic medicine and biomedicine. Lisa’s work has been published in the Asian Review of World HistoriesMedical Anthropology QuarterlyAsian Medicine and in the edited volume Fluid Matter(s) by ANU press (eds. Kuriyama and Koehle). Lisa co-edited a special issue of Asian Medicine, “Medicines and Memories in South Asia” 15.1 (2020) and is the South Asia book review editor for the journal Asian Medicine and reviews editor for History of Science in South Asia. In 2021 Lisa completed a PhD in South and Southeast Asian Studies with Designated Emphases in Science and Technology Studies, and in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at UC Berkeley. Lisa'a interests include multispecies medicine, histories of health, healing, and embodiment, queer and feminist science studies, and sensory studies.



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