“After a tiring day full of lectures and discussions we were asleep. A messenger came and woke us up. Our immediate presence was sought at the University ground. The drowsiness went away as Bhata Ji entered the compound. He gave a formal description of the sky that day, reviewed what we learnt throughout the course and warned off of keeping the lamps lit while taking observations. As it was important to know the reference points in the sky, we were instructed to bring some wood the next day to make an instrument for the measurements. We kept gazing the sky on our way back to quarters. Bhata Ji took us to Khagaul for observations the next day. As a basic test of introductory Kala-Kriya and Gola, students were instructed to accurately calculate the duration of eclipse using the instrument they made and the lessons taught. The night before the next eclipse we went to Taragana, another observatory setup by Bhata Ji, which was closer to the campus. All of us were nervous as we slept, our result was just a few hours away.”
Suddenly I heard a loud voice, “Eclipse has happened Beta, wake up!”, My mother shouted as she prepared for cleaning the house, “It is bad to sleep during the eclipse” she said. I woke up and realized it was a dream.
It was 22nd July 2009. Astronomers had predicted the longest solar eclipse of 21st century. Every Astronomy enthusiast was upbeat, so was I. I ran to the terrace and saw it happen. A blanket of darkness swept the city and a sudden pause of nature made it even more dramatic. Awestruck by the precision of modern science and flabbergasted by the thought that people for the “first time” did it in my neighbourhood, centuries ago with the same precision. I couldn’t help but compare the two times.
India’s quest for knowledge in the past and the present are poles apart. We have not introduced any major scientific breakthrough to the world over centuries. India is probably passing through the longest eclipse of knowledge. The beginning of this “knowledge eclipse” lies in the past, in the ruins of Nalanda, in destruction of Indian educational institutions, in the unstable economy and in an ignorant polity. The end of the same undoubtedly requires a conscious reversal to the roots coupled with enabling environment and innovations.
Many students of Bhata Ji may have failed the test. But all of them must have been happy to see the withdrawing darkness and their land coming out of this temporary slumber. Mother was right, “It is bad to sleep during the eclipse”, this sleeping nation needs to wake up, look for what it has got and fix itself.
Name: Ankit Kumar Pandey
Description: Ankit is deeply interested in History of Science in India. He is pursuing M.Sc Physics at University of Delhi.