The Centre for the Study of Indian Science (CSIS) – University of Copenhagen

The Centre for the Study of Indian Science (CSIS)

Centre for the Study of Indian Science

About the centre

CSIS is founded at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) as an important research wing of the long and well established discipline of Indological studies at the University of Copenhagen. It is the natural result of the 19 years of research and study into Indian science, mainly medicine and prognostication, at the section for Indology at ToRS, which from 2017 will no longer be a major subject taught for the degrees of BA and MA at the University of Copenhagen.

The establishment of CSIS is an important step because it maintains a strong and well recognised research presence of Sanskrit and Middle Indic Languages in Denmark and marks a new emphasis in Indological studies in the direction of Indian science as a whole, including all three traditional branches of Jyotiḥśāstra and classical Āyurveda.

The current research focuses on the a study of classical Indian science from the perspective of the History and Philosophy of Science, using the Thomas Kuhn’s well-known theory of paradigm shifts to chart the map of India’s traditional systems of science and medicine. In this way, classical Indian science is brought into the discourse of the history of western and middle-eastern science, with which it has many affinities.

In order to be comprehensive in its coverage the Centre will house scholars whose interests lie in one the branches of Jyotiḥśāstra and/or classical Āyurveda. The traditional three limbs of Jyotiḥśāstra are prognostication (saṃhita), computation (gaṇita, gola), and astrology and horoscopes (horā). Classical Āyurveda includes the collections of medical information under the names of Caraka, Suśruta and Vāgbhaṭa.

Research projects

At present the Centre houses the following projects according to the traditional branch of science:

Medicine

Prof. Kenneth Zysk, ToRS, Director CSIS, and Prof. Tsutomo Yamashita (Kyoto Gakuen University, Kyoto, Japan), visiting scholar externally funded from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

This project, which began in 2015, entails a text-critical edition, translation, and study of an early treatise and commentary on Indian medical system of potency-therapy. Since potency medicine is a big business in the classical medical market in India, the project provides previously unknown information about this branch of Indian medicine. The core work will be a edition and translation of the chapter on potency-therapy (vajīkaraṇa) from second century BCE medical compendium of Caraka, along with the earliest extant commentary by Jajjaṭa in about the seventh century CE. The study part of the work examines the continuity and change in the knowledge of potency and the means to remedy impotency through the literature and identifies and explains any shifts in the classical paradigm of Indian medicine (Āyurveda).

Prognostication

Prof. Kenneth Zysk, ToRS, Director of CSIS.

This project focuses on a paradigm shift in the Indian system of palmistry. It continues from the researcher’s recent study of Indian physiognomy[1] and focuses on one of its sub-branches, known as “the science of the lines” (rekhāśāstra) or palmistry, where both internal development and external influence are evident in both written and visual forms. The textual examination begins with the Gārgīyajyotiḥśāstra, the earliest text of Jyotiḥśāstra, dating from the beginning of Common Era, to the Hastasañjīvana, the first independent treatise on palmistry composed in the seventeenth century. From the earliest time an indigenous form of palmistry developed, which used symbols on the palms to indicate different prognostications. By the tenth century, lines, indicative of western forms of palmistry, began to replace the symbols as means for telling a person’s future. Visual representations of the palmistry survive from the eighteenth century and contain versions of lines or symbols or a combination of both. The project examines the continuity and change in the Indian palmistry both in the written sources in Sanskrit and a series of visual representations collected by Zysk in order to explore the connection between text and image and pin-point the exact time and place for the shift from images to lines. 

Computation

Dr. Toke Lindegaard Knudsen. Marie Curie Fellow. ToRS.

This project focuses on a paradigm shift in Indian astronomy. It continues from the researcher’s recently published study of Indian astronomy[2] and explores the shifts in cosmological thinking among the Indian astronomers. Like their mediaeval Western colleagues from Galileo (1564-1642) onward, Indian sciences were face with a dilemma of how to reconcile the cosmos as understood from the perspectives of religion and science. Around 1500 CE, the astronomer Jñānarāja began a programme to find a solution for the different representations of the cosmos in India: one offered by the Indian astral sciences and the other by the group of Hindu religious texts. By reinterpreting passages from the sacred texts and rejecting or modifying tenets from the astronomical tradition, Jñānarāja forwarded an argument that the two cosmologies were harmonious. From where and how did Jñānarāja come to his conclusion will be examined from a group of astronomical texts in Sanskrit from 1200-1500 CE.[3] Since the same problem occurred at about the same time in both mediaeval western science and Indian science, this project will explore the two approaches for solving the problem and the possible cross-fertilisations that may have led to shifts in thinking in both places.

Prognostication

Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, PhD student, School of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen.

This sub-project explores the paradigm shift in the function prognostication in the Indian scientific tradition. The PhD thesis focuses on the prognostic predecessors of the modern-day children's game of Snakes & Ladders in order to understand how a tool for prognostication was turned into religious educational material and finally into a children’s game enjoyed the world over. It studies the structures in over a 100 exemplars of the game jñān caupaṛ (i.e. the game of higher knowledge) or Snakes & Ladders from different religious communities in northern and western India in order to identify the shifts in the paradigmatic shifts prognostication to gaming. His work entails a detailed catalogue and philological analysis of the boards, which will be introduced by a study of the paradigm shifts.


[1] K. G. Zysk, The Indian System of Human Marks.

[2] The Siddhasundara of Jñānarāja (John’s Hopkins University Press, 2015).

[3] These texts include the following: (1) the Brahmasiddhānta; (2) the Somasiddhānta; (3) the Vasiṣṭhasiddhānta; and (4) the Romakasiddhānta.

Advisory board

Collaborator

The History of Astronomical and Mathematical Sciences in India (HAMSI) Working Group.

Researchers

NameTitlePhoneE-mail
Knudsen, Toke LindegaardAssociate professor  E-mail
Zysk, Kenneth GregoryProfessor +45 51 30 26 24E-mail