Geography – Bhusastra

The subject geography is called Bhusastra in the Indian languages. Bhu meaning earth and Sastra, the science of it.
The earth is called BhugolaGola means round. From the terminology itself it is clear that from ancient times, through the medieval times the Indians clearly knew the earth to be round.
That the earth was round and not flat, was known to us from time immemorial. It is there in our literature and sculpture.
In contrast, in Europe the thought was the earth to be flat, till the 15th century when Galileo showed the earth to be round.
Some of the other concepts of Geography or Bhu sastra in India are:

  • Rotation 

That the earth rotates on its own axis and revolves around the sun is clearly stated in the Rig Veda and also by the eminent scholars like Aryabhata and Brahmagupta.

  • Pole 

    The concept of :
    1. The Pole running through the centre of the earth.
    2. The concepts of North Pole and the South Pole, attributes of climate and topography at the North and the South Pole.
    3. The area of the poles is distinctly mentioned in the Sama Veda and Atharva Veda and also by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Lalacharya and others.

  • Atmosphere 

The geography of the earth is not limited to the surface of the earth alone but also includes the atmosphere. Lalacharya in his work “Sishyadhi vrudhi Tanta” speaks of the 7 atmospheric layers above the earth. They being:

    • Avaha
    • Pravaha
    • Udhwaha
    • Samvaha
    • Suvaha
    • Parivaha
    • Paravaha

  • Time Zone

The Indian Standard Time Meridian passes through Allahabad 82.5 mast of Greenwich Meridian which passes through London. The Greenwich Meridian concept was formed when the world was Eurocentric and the English power being dominant world over.
In the days of yore, when the Indian civilization was looked up to for its knowledge the Meridian of the world was in India. The Meridian then passed through Ujjain. In commemoration of this, we have the shrine of Maha Kaala Eashwar, the Great Lord of Time, at Ujjain.
Kaala, indicating the concept of time. It is indeed interesting to note here that Ujjain is located at the junction of this Meridian and the Tropic of Cancer. It is not only the Indian geographers who speak of this Ujjayni Zero Meridian but also the Greek geographers like Ptolemy mention of Ujjain in their maps as `Ozene'.
In the 17th century Raja Jai Singh built his observatory called Yantra Mahal in the line of this meridian.

Aryabhata in his text Aryabhatiyam Chapter-4, Verse-13, speaks of the 4 cardinal cities on the earth along the equator. In that verse he states that, “When it is sunrise in Lanka, the same Sun sets in Siddhapura. It is noon in Yavakoti and midnight in Romaka”.
From this, it is clear that the 4 different time zone periods on the earth and their respective position of day and night was well understood by the scholars of India 1500 years back itself.

After Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Lalacharya, Bhaskara, Sankaranarayana repeatedly speak of the Indian Zero Meridian of Ujjain and the Time Zone concept of the world with the Indian Meridian as its centre.

  • Latitude and Longitude: 

The concept of Latitude and Longitude which are in fact imaginary lines has been expressly stated by the leading Indian thinkers like Aryabhata, Lalacharya and Vateswara. They give specific term for these lines. For example the equator is called “Vishuvathvrutta”.

  • Measurements:

The different measurements of the earth like 

  • diameter
  • equatorial circumference
  • surface area of the earth

and their linear measurements are given with surprising accuracy of detail.
In conclusion, Albiruni who came to India in 1030 CE in his magnum opus book Kitabul Hind expresses his amazement at the knowledge of India in various subjects. With regard to the subject geography or Bhu Sastra, Albiruni expresses his amazement at the intrinsic knowledge of:

    • the concepts of spherical earth
    • the poles and their properties
    • the concept of rotation and revolution and the attendant heliocentric theory
    • The existence of atmosphere and its extension
    • The Indian concept of time zone and its applications to lands that has not been visited at all, like the other side of the earth.
    • The sizes of various continents and the knowledge that they are spread out in other parts of the world.
  • Gravity: 

The term gravity and the concept of identifying gravity is attributed to Sir Isaac Newton when he observed an apple falling down in the early 1700's.

Etymologically the word gravity probably has its root in the Samskrt Indian term Gurutva and Gurutva Karshana i.e the force that attracts.

The concept of Gurutva is discussed in our texts like Upanishads by Adi Shankara and later in 1100 CE by Varahamihira and Bhaskaracharya in 1114 CE, among others. 

From this it is obvious that this understanding of the force of gravity was known to Indians for nearly 5000 years and successive eminent scholars have written about the concept of gravity in their scientific works repeatedly.
From the above information, it is clear that the Indians right from ancient times through the medieval times had good understanding of the geography of this world and used this understanding in their scientific workings and in their travel. Through this multimedia presentation on the geography of India or Bhu Sastra , let us relish this knowledge of India.