Heliocenteric Theory Of Gravitation

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
Revision as of 14:12, 30 May 2013 by Dinesh Kumar (Talk | contribs)

By Shri Sudheer Birodkar

Heliocentrism is the astronomical model in which Sun is the centre of solar system and earth and other planets revolve around it. This knowledge of heliocentric theory of gravitation evolved first in ancient India.

Heliocentrism in Sanksrit scripts

There is an old Sanskrit Sloka (couplet) which is as follows:

Heliocenteric Theory Of Gravitation
Sarva Dishanaam, Suryaha, Suryaha, Suryaha.
Heliocenteric Theory Of Gravitation

This couplet means that there are suns in all directions. This couplet also describes the night sky as full of suns. This indicates that ancient astronomers had arrived at the important discovery that the stars visible at night are similar to the Sun visible during day time. Or, the sun is also a star, though the nearest one. This understanding is demonstrated in another sloka which says that when one sun sinks below the horizon, a thousand suns take its place.

In the Surya-Siddhanta, the following appellations have been given to the sun: "He is denominated the golden wombed (Hiranyagarbha), the blessed; as being the generator". He is also referred to as "The supreme source of light (Jyoti) upon the border of darkness he revolves, bringing into being, the creator of creatures". The Surya-Siddhanta also says that "Bestowing upon him the scriptures (Vedas) as gifts and establishing him within the egg as grandfather of all worlds, he himself then revolves causing existence"[1]

Gravitation as per ancient astronomers

This apart, many astronomers had formulated ideas about gravity and gravitation. Brahmagupta in the 7th century had said about gravity that "Bodies fall towards the earth as it is in the nature of the earth to attract bodies, just as it is in the nature of water to flow". About a hundred years, another astronomer Varahamihira had claimed for the first time perhaps that there should be a force which might be keeping bodies stuck to the earth, and also keeping heavenly bodies in their determined places. Thus they knew of the existence of some force that governs the falling of objects to the earth, their remaining stationary after having once fallen and as also determining the positions which heavenly bodies occupy.

The Sanskrit term for gravity is Gurutvakarshan which is an amalgam of Guru-tva-akarshan. Akarshan means to be attracted. Thus, the fact that 'the character of this force was of attraction' was also recognized. This apart, it seems that the function of attracting heavenly bodies was attributed to the sun.

The term Guru-tva-akarshan can be interpreted to mean, 'to the attracted by the Master". The sun was recognized by all ancient people to be the source of light and warmth and Aryans deified the sun. The sun (Surya) was one of the chief deities in the Vedas. He was recognized as the source of light (Dinkara) and source of warmth (Bhaskara). In the Vedas he is also referred to as the source of all life, the centre of creation and the centre of the spheres.

The last statement is suggestive of the sun being recognized as the centre of the universe (solar system). The idea that the sun was looked upon as the power that attracts heavenly bodies is supported by the virile terms like Raghupatiand Aditya used in referring to the sun. While the male gender is applied to refer to the sun, the earth (Prithivi, Bhoomi, etc.,) is generally referred to as a female. The literal meaning of the term Gurutvakarshan also supports the recognition of the heliocentric theory as the term Guru corresponds with the male gender, hence it could not have referred to the earth which was always referred to as a female.

Heliocentrism as per ancient astronomers

Many ancient astronomers had also referred to the concept of helio-centrism. Aryabhata has suggested it in his treatise Aryabhattiya. Bhaskaracharya has also made references to it in his Magnum Opus Siddhanta-Shiromani.

It has to be conceded that the heliocentric theory of gravitation was first developed in ancient times (i.e. around 500 B.C.) by Greek astronomers. What supports the contention that it could have existed in ancient India before the Greeks is that in Vedic literature the Sun is referred to as the 'centre of spheres' along with the term Guru-tva-akarshan. Thus the heliocentric idea could have existed in a rudimentary form in the days of the Rig Veda around 1000 B.C. and was refined further by astronomers of a later age. Astronomers like Aryabhatta and Varahamihira who lived between 476 and 587 A.D. made close approaches to the concept of Heliocentrism.


  1. Surya-Siddhanta, translated by Ebenezer Burgess
  • Sudheer Birodkar, "Ancient India's Contribution to World Culture". Reprinted with permission.