Lucy in the sky...

In the end, it turned out that the choice of Varanasi as a place to go see the total solar eclipse yesterday was just plain lucky...

It was my first, and in all probability my only- but one could not have asked for more... The nailbiting start- as a fortuitous wind blew away the clouds that threatened to provide an impenetrable cover- leading to a totality that was clearly visible, not as dark as I had imagined though one could see a star twinkle, and then the diamond.

Nothing I had read prepared me for the absolute wonder of the moment... not all the dry facts of natural philosophy can take away the sense of awe that a phenomenon on this scale inspires... There are photographs and images aplenty on the net, but nothing is like it really is... probably not even the LSD inspired hallucinations sung about by the Beatles. The corona, visible in the picture above, feels much larger... and more intense. And then the moment of the diamond... To be in Varanasi, with thousands viewing the eclipse while standing waist deep in the Ganga, while thousands more chant on the shore... the combined effect of faith, history and science is magical!

Taregna, the village in Bihar where Aryabhatta invented the concept of shunya or 0 (arguably one of the most important contributions of Indian mathematics) was less lucky. Overcast for the most part, the most palpable part of the eclipse was totality, when the sky went dark. Unlucky, considering that a large number of people had gone to view it there, and also ironic, since Aryabhatta was one of the first to make accurate predictions of when eclipses would occur.

The Indian National Science Academy has, for many years now, been making an important effort in studies of the History of Indian Science. In 1976 they published the Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata, text with English translation by K S Shukla and K V Sarma, and the text with Hindi translation by R N Rai. Further the commentaries of Bhaskara and Someswara, and those of Suryadeva Yajvan were also published, edited respectively by K V Sarma and K S Shukla. It is entirely possible that these four books are still in print, though laying ones hands on copies may be more than just difficult.

On the other hand, the Aryabhatiya can be downloaded free from the Million Book project. Here. This is the Walter Clark tranlstion (print copies are still available) and is based on the 1874 text by Kern published at Leiden. "The Aryabhatiya claims to be the work of Aryabhata, and gives the date of the birth of the author as 476 A.D. If these claims can be substantiated and if the whole work is genuine, the text is the earliest preserved Indian mathematics and astronomical text bearing the name of an individual author, the earliest Indian text to deal specifically with mathematics and the earliest preserved astronomical text from the third or scientific period of Indian astronomy."