OSWEGO, N.Y. — In his new book, Dr. Alok Kumar, a professor of physics at the State University of New York Oswego, describes and documents the development of scientific and mathematical concepts in South Asia centuries — and in some cases millennia — before they were rediscovered or adopted in Europe.
“Sciences of the Ancient Hindus” describes many discoveries and advances of the ancient inhabitants of the country now known as India. Maintaining that these people have been widely known as Indians primarily in the 250 years since the British colonized the region, Kumar prefers the name Hindus for the inhabitants of the Indus-Sarasvati region, which has variously been called Hind, Hindustan, Bharat and India.
What is now known as the Arabic number system did arrive in Europe from the Middle East, he notes, but it came to the Arabs from the Hindus. The concepts of zero, the atom, and Earth as a planet that moves through the universe all appear in Hindu science long before they were proposed in Europe, he explains, and the ancient Hindus developed detailed knowledge of human anatomy, devising cataract surgery and skin grafting, for example.
“Modern science and medicine would be unrecognizable, and far more primitive, without the immense contribution of the ancient Hindus,” he writes.
With this new book, Kumar aims to encourage appreciation of the multicultural nature of science and to make the modern world aware of the intellectual contributions of Hindu culture as earlier scholars have done for the contributions of the Chinese and Islamic cultures.
“The science of ancient India is a subject of great richness, far too often overlooked, that deserves a central place in the history of pre-modern science, a role now advanced by this excellent work,” said Scott L. Montgomery, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington in Seattle and the author of many books, essays and scholarly papers on the history of science. “Alok Kumar has provided an enormous service to the scholarly and teaching communities with this well-researched, wide-ranging, yet simply written volume.”
Kumar uses original documents translated from Sanskrit and cites accounts of contemporaneous Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Arab, Roman and other sources crediting the scientific contributions of the Hindu people.
Kumar’s colleague, Dr. Ronald A. Brown, emeritus professor of physics at SUNY Oswego, said, “The demonstrated accuracy of the factual documentation given by Kumar is undeniable. The book fills a gap in the history of science that preceded the work of the ancient Greeks, to form a more detailed and complete picture of the earliest beginnings of science and mathematics.”
In May, Kumar’s article “Transmission of Indian Science and Philosophy” appeared in “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam,” published by Oxford University Press. The article deals with the transmission of knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and philosophy from India to the Islamic world in the Middle East.
Kumar’s many other scholarly publications include the reference book “Science in the Medieval World,” which he translated with Sema’an I. Salem and which the University of Texas Press published in 1996. His next book, written with Montgomery, is “A History of Science in World Cultures: Voices of Knowledge,” to be published in 2015 by Routledge.
He has received fellowships from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the USA’s NASA. Born and educated in India, Kumar has been teaching in American higher education for more than three decades. He has received the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the SUNY Oswego President’s Award for Scholarly and Creative Activity and Research.
Published earlier this year by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, “Sciences of the Ancient Hindus” is available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.