The history of robotics and machinery in ancient India remains a fascinating topic, often overlooked in modern narratives. However, the ancient texts like Artha Shastra, Samarangana Sutradhara, Valmiki Ramayana, Vyasa’s Mahabharatha, Vaimanika Shastra – Yantra Sarvasva (seemingly of doubtful origin), and Yantrarnava provide intriguing descriptions and mentions of robots and machines, showcasing the depth of knowledge and ingenuity present in ancient Indian society.
King Bhojadeva and the समराङ्गण सूत्रधार samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra
At the heart of this exploration is King Bhojadeva, a distinguished ruler of the Paramara dynasty, renowned for his erudition and multifaceted talents. His opus magnum, the Samarangana Sutradhara, encompasses various subjects such as Vastu, architecture, yantra vidhanam (machines), town planning, and more.
Chapter thirty-one of the समराङ्गण सूत्रधार samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra is dedicated to Yantra Vidhanam, providing insights into the creation and utilization of mechanical contrivances. While the text may not reveal all procedures and techniques, Bhojadeva’s reasons for such secrecy will be explored in detail.
The chapter’s contents shed light on the advanced robotics and machines that were part of everyday life in ancient India. From automation in agriculture to the construction of elaborate temples and palaces, the ancient people displayed remarkable proficiency in employing machines for various tasks.
Yantras and Vimanas
The Samarangana Sutradhara also delves into vimanas, ancient flying machines, offering intriguing insights into early concepts of aviation and aeronautics in India.
The Skill of Traditional Experts
Unlike the present era where robot-making knowledge is widely accessible, ancient India kept the craft of constructing robots and machines a well-guarded secret, exclusively entrusted to traditionally trained skilled experts. We explore the reasons behind this selective dissemination of knowledge.
The Dual Meaning of “Samarangana”
The word “समराङ्गण samarāṅgaṇa” itself holds dual meanings – “Samara (समरः)” signifying battle and mortal beings (स+मरः) and “Anganam (अङ्गनम्) ” representing a place, yard or a house. So, समराङ्गण samarāṅgaṇa altogether a battlefield or a house or dwelling place for a mortal being. We focus on the latter meaning to understand the remarkable developments in robotics and machinery in ancient homes and society.
Summarily, समराङ्गण सूत्रधार samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra provides a captivating glimpse into the advanced knowledge and creativity that flourished in ancient India concerning robotics, machinery, and aeronautics. King Bhojadeva’s work reflects a sophisticated understanding of mechanical contrivances and their applications, from daily life to grand architectural feats. As we delve into the pages of this ancient text, we come to appreciate the ingenuity and mastery of the past, inspiring a deeper appreciation for the roots of robotics and machinery that continue to shape our world today.
The Yantra-vidhāna Chapter of समराङ्गण सूत्रधार samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra – A Summary
As mentioned above, the thirty-first chapter of the renowned समराङ्गण सूत्रधार samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra, authored by the erudite King Bhojadeva of the Paramara dynasty, delves into the fascinating world of mechanical contrivances or yantras. Although the chapter provides only a glimpse of the procedures and crafting of yantras, it offers valuable insights into the advanced knowledge and developments in robotics and machines during ancient times.
Salutations to Lord Shiva
The chapter commences with heartfelt salutations to Lord Shiva, the Vanquisher of cupid (Kamadeva), and the divine creator of the universe and all beings. King Bhojadeva attributes the essence of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha to this sacred source.
(धर्मार्थकाममोक्षाणां यदेकमिह कारणम् dharmārthakāmamokṣāṇāṃ yadekamiha kāraṇam.- 31.2)
Deciphering the Concept of Yantras
In the samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra, the term ‘yantra’ is unveiled, and its significance is explained. Yantras are mechanical contrivances designed to control the movement of beings, guiding them away from mere whimsical pursuits. The word yantra comes from the root-sound ‘yam’ meaning ‘to control’. These ingenious creations, in a true sense, serve as tools of control and inspiration for beings to act in accordance with a higher purpose.
यदृच्छया प्रवृत्तानि भूतानि स्वेन वर्त्मना।
नियम्यास्मिन् नयति यत् तद्यन्त्रमिति कीर्तितम्॥
yadṛcchayā pravṛttāni bhūtāni svena vartmanā.
niyamyāsmin nayati yat tadyantramiti kīrtitam..31.3
An instrument or apparatus that controls beings moved off wantonly by their own path, truly is is called Yantra or Mechanical contrivance.
This verse highlights the concept of a yantra or mechanical contrivance as an instrument that controls and guides beings in their actions, steering them away from mere whimsical pursuits and directing them towards a purposeful path.
स्वरसेन प्रवृत्तानि भूतानि स्वमनीषया।
कृतं यस्माद् यमयति तद्वा यन्त्रमिति स्मृतम्॥
svarasena pravṛttāni bhūtāni svamanīṣayā.
kṛtaṃ yasmād yamayati tadvā yantramiti smṛtam..31.4)
Elements and Bija (Seeds) of Yantras
The chapter elucidates the fundamental elements underlying the construction of yantras – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These elements are referred to as “Bijas,” symbolizing the foundational components that infuse life into the mechanical contrivances.
- The Role of Mercury
Mercury, an essential element revered in ancient India for its unique properties, finds a prominent place in the discussion. King Bhojadeva highlights Mercury’s significance and classifies it as a constituent material falling under the Earth element due to its Parthiva (earthen) nature.
- Yantras as Instruments of Control and Inspiration
Yantras served as powerful instruments of control and inspiration, directing beings towards purposeful actions driven by inspiration and intention. These mechanical contrivances exemplify the synergy between ancient knowledge and technological advancements.
- Secrecy and Limited Insight
While the chapter offers a glimpse into the world of yantras, King Bhojadeva points out the reasons for not providing a complete insight into their construction. The preservation of such knowledge was kept exclusive to traditionally trained skilled experts, safeguarding the sanctity of this profound science.
As we explore the essence of yantras and their significance in controlling and inspiring beings, we gain a deeper appreciation for the ingenuity and wisdom of our ancestors. The mention of elements and the significance of Mercury further emphasizes the harmonious relationship between ancient knowledge and technological advancements. Although much remains veiled in secrecy, the Samarangana Sutradhara serves as a remarkable testament to the exceptional advancements in robotics and machines during the ancient times, inspiring us to delve further into our historical heritage.
To be continued…
Read the first article here: https://rishihood.edu.in/artificial-intelligence-and-robotics-a-journey-through-ancient-indian-texts/
For further details on Robotics in Ancient India Project visit: https://rishihood.edu.in/chs/robotics-in-ancient-india/
– Prof. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, Centre for Human Sciences