10 wonderful facts about Ancient Indian Astronomy

Ancient Indian Astronomy Facts

What comes to our minds first whenever we come across something related to astronomical events and our parents or elderly would say something like God may not be happy with us or like do not step outside when there is an eclipse underway. This might make you a little uncomfortable or you may start to believe them to be mythical and may judge them in a certain different way. This happens to most of us, am I correct Indians..? What is the backend process for such customs and is there any correlation with which I could be assured perhaps not to step out into the eclipse event

So what is up with the astronomy in the ancient period. Where it has been mentioned to be assured of the written proof and how the simplistic Indians learnt about these customs. Well we knew something of all of the modern astronomy but not in the same form and detail as it is available now. As far as we have discovered to be the best source of astronomy of the ancient period is the Lagadha’s Vedānga Jyotiṣa (c 1400 BCE) which is a calendar with no reference to eclipses or planets. One more most important thing we have to keep in  mind is that the text were all orally transmitted by memory for generations before they were scripted on palm leaves in the Sanskrit language. We know them by the name of vedas, puranas, and shastras. The oldest of them is the Rig Veda which dates back 1700 BCE  to 900 BCE in which they were composed. However according to Kochhar R it’s earliest portions probably contain memories of still earlier time.

Although it is said that the texts may have undergone some changes by the scholars in the CE periods but according to R N Iyengar the ancillaries such as the Sūtras and the Pariśiṣṭas are preserved unchanged in their original form with practically no variation with time.

The story of Asura falling from sky

We may have heard the stories that a demon fell from sky and went underground, if not us then maybe our elders must have heard somewhere, we can now safely conclude that this may have been the meteorite fall. Similarly when it was said that an Asura covered the Sun, we may suspect this event to be an eclipse.


Our scriptures have maintained a sense of precision in every aspect. It may happen whether we are able to distinguish between what we know now and what we do not know, gives us a formative conclusion for the particular aspect. One such aspect is about the spiritual jiva-atma(embodied soul). It is referred to us as the life force or consciousness within a living entity. Once we are grown up or have developed a sense of consciousness, we may experiment with ourselves that there was someone who have been observing things right from our birth, our teenage and now. It has witnessed all the righteous and the bad deeds, and still it is being observed within ourselves by that which we call it the Jiva-atma.

The Jivas are not created and are distinctly different from the created unconscious matter. The gunas are inculcated into them which depend on their karma. This allows the jivas to interact with the material sense objects .

Rahu and Ketu 

Coming back to the eclipse part, in Hindu mythology we have heard the story about the demon trying to eat up the sun and moon. Well not going into the story again, and revealing the demon to be named as Rahu and Ketu, were known to be the two invisible planets which were the enemies of Sun and Moon who at a certain time period ( during conjunction or opposition) swallow the sun or the moon causing the eclipse.

Later when further developments were made, Rahu and Ketu were defined as the ascending and descending nodes of the ecliptic and equator. When the sun and the moon come together at these points we get we get solar eclipse at ascending node and lunar eclipse at descending node. Their mathematical equations are set up by the time of Arybhatta (about 500 AD) and eclipses are accurately calculated thereafter.

Nav Greha

Refer – Chander Mohan     In the vedic era there are seven heavenly bodies mentioned viz Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn which move faster then their neighbouring starts in the sky, along with rahu and ketu, have been termed as Nav Grahas or nine heavenly bodies. The vedic names of these are as follows :

ancient india


Names of the Parts of a day

Refer – Chander Mohan     At some places in Vedic literature there is a mention of the day time being divided into two parts called `Purvahand and Uprahand`.  At some other places there is mention of day time being divided into four parts, each part being called a ‘Prahar’. Names of four Prahars are: Purvhan, Madhyan, Uprahan and Sanyhan. At some places there is mention of a day being divided into fifteen parts, each part being called a ‘Mahurat’. All these terms are in use in India even now. However their meanings have changed a bit. The word `Mahurat`  is now used to denote the auspicious time for the start of an event or a function.



Refer – Chander Mohan      In vedic literature the word Tithi has not been used in the same context as it is now used. In Aatriya Brahmna (32.10) it is defined as the time between setting of the moon and its next rising. However now it is used to denote the time taken by the moon to travel 12º relative to the sun (making 30 tithis in a lunar month). In Samvidhan Brahmna (216, 218, 313) words such as Shukul Panchmi, Krishna Panchmi, Shukul Chaturdashi, Krishna Chaturdashi etc. appear.

These days at times a tithi is skipped. However that was not so in Vedic times. There is no reference to a tithi being skipped in Vedic literature. However there is reference to Panchdash (fifteenth) tithi at some places. For instance in Tratiya Brahmna (1.5.10) moon is called ‘Panchdash’ as it waxes for fifteen days and then wanes for the next fifteen days. However there is no clear indication that tithis were in common used even during the times of Brahmanas.

Concept of Yuga 

yuga cycle is a cyclic age in the Sanatan Cosmology which lasts for 4320000 years and repeats four yugas ( satya yuga, treat yuga, dvapara yuga and kali yuga). Not going into the details how they are calculated the main aspect which we can draw from the yugas is the humanities general moral and physical state within each yuga decreases and the kali yuga the last one in which it is believed to have been started in 3102 BCE, at the end of this period the moral and virtues will be at their worst, a cataclysm and a re-establishment of dharma will occur to usher the next cycle’s satya Yuga.

ancient india


Ancient Indian measuring systems

Well for all of the below mentioned information the credit goes to Shailaj Kumar Shrivastava. Below I have mentioned the two measuring systems for length and time and for which you might have heard some terms before from your elders :-

Length Measurements

The smallest unit of length was parmanu.The elements of measurement system and definition

of some of the units of length and their conversion may be written as :-

8 parmanu = 1 rajahkan (dust particle coming from the wheel of a chariot)

8 rajahkan = 1 liksha (egg of lice)

8 liksha = 1 yookamadhya

8 yookamadhya = 1 yavamadhya

8 yuvamadhya = 1angul (approximate width of a finger) = 2 cm = 0.787402 inch

8 angul = 1 dhanurmushti = 16 cm = 6.299 inch

4 angul = 1 dhanugraha = 8 cm = 3.14961 inch

12 angul = 1 vitasti = 24 cm = 9.44882 inch

2 vitasti =1 aratni or hast (or haath) = 48 cm = 18.8976 inch

4 aratni (haath) = 1 dand or dhanush = 192 cm = 6.299 feet

10 dand = 1 rajju = 19.2 meter = 62.9921 sq.ft

2 rajju = 1 paridesh = 125.98 feet

2000 dhanush = 1 krosh = 4199.475 yard = 3840 meter (approx) = 3.84 km

4 krosh (goruta) = 1 yojan ≈ 9 miles ≈15 km (approx)

The Mughal measurement system measured length and land in terms of gaz and beegha with

the following relationship.

1 girah= width of 3 fingers (Anguli)

1 hath = 8 girah

1 gaz = 2 hath

1 kathi = 55/6 hath

1 pand = 20 kathi

1 beegha = 20 pand

1 beegha = 20 vishwa

1 viswah = 20 viswansah

The gaz was widely used till the introduction of the metric system in India in 1956. In June 1864, the government of India recommended inch, foot, yard and mile for linear measurement and acre for area measurement with their conversion are given as:-

1 mile = 8 furlongs = 1760 yards = 1.61 km

1 furlong = 220 yards

1 acre = 4840 sq. yards = 1/10(furlong) 2

1 sq.yard = 9 sq. ft.

1 sq. mile = 640 acres

1 hectare ≈ 2.47 acres = 10000 sq. m. (approx)


1 permanu = 26.3μs

2 permanu = 1anu = 52.67 μs

3 anu = 1 trisrenu = 158 μs

3 trisrenu = 1 truti = 474 μs

100 truti = 1 vedh = 47.4 ms

3 vedh =1 love = 0.1s

3 love = 1 nimesh = 0.43s

3 nimesh = 1 kshan = 1.28 s

5 kshan = 1 kashta = 6.4s

15 kashta = 1 laghu = 1.6min.

15 laghu = 1 nadika (danda) = 1 ghadi = 60 Pal= 24 minute.

2 nadika = 1 mahurat = 2 ghadi =30 kala = 48 min.

30 mahurat = 1 day and 1 night = 24hrs = 24 hora

7 day and seven night = 1 saptah

2 saptah = 1 paksh

2 paksh = 1 lunar month

2 month = 1 ritu

3 ritu = 1 ayan = 6 months

2 ayan = 1 human year = 12 month = 365 days = 1 varsh

100 varsh = 1 shatabdi = 1 century

10 shatabdi = 1 sahasrabda

432 sahasrabda = 1 yug (kaliyug)

For larger unit of time, the year is taken as the unit and has the following multiples:

1 kaliyuga = 4, 32,000 human years

2 kali yugas = 1 dwapar yuga = 864000 human years

3 kali yugas = 1 treta yuga = 1296000 human years

4 kali yugas = 1 satya yuga = 728000 human years

10 kaliyugas = 1 mahayuga = 4,320, 000, human years

1000 mahayuga = 1 kalpa = 4,320, 000,000 human years = 1 day of Brahma


Rigveda On creation 

We may or may not have heard the story of creation but that’s a different part of the story. What may be of interest is the Nasadiya Sukta Hymn which is not a cosmological theory but contains the cosmological questions about the nature of the universe and how it began.

Darkness there was at first, by darkness hidden;

Without distinctive marks, this all was water;

That which, becoming, by the void was covered;

That One by force of heat came into being;

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?

Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?

Gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.

Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whether God’s will created it, or whether He was mute;

Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not;

Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,

Only He knows, or perhaps He does not know.

— Rigveda 10:129-6



We think multiverse is pretty much the modern concept but please do not be surprised to know that it has been mentioned in the ancient Indian scriptures which dates back hundreds to thousands of years. They say that there are innumerable number of universes of different sizes having their own brahma. Our universe is described as amongst the smallest one with brahma having only four heads. Below are some exerpts taken from Wikipedia :-

Every universe is covered by seven layers — earth, water, fire, air, sky, the total energy and false ego — each ten times greater than the previous one. There are innumerable universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called unlimited.

— Bhagavata Purana 6.16.37

Because You are unlimited, neither the lords of heaven nor even You Yourself can ever reach the end of Your glories. The countless universes, each enveloped in its shell, are compelled by the wheel of time to wander within You, like particles of dust blowing about in the sky. The śrutis, following their method of eliminating everything separate from the Supreme, become successful by revealing You as their final conclusion.

— Bhagavata Purana 10.87.41

The layers or elements covering the universes are each ten times thicker than the one before, and all the universes clustered together appear like atoms in a huge combination.

— Bhagavata Purana 3.11.41

And who will search through the wide infinities of space to count the universes side by side, each containing its Brahma, its Vishnu, its Shiva? Who can count the Indras in them all–those Indras side by side, who reign at once in all the innumerable worlds; those others who passed away before them; or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given line, ascending to godly kingship, one by one, and, one by one, passing away.

— Brahma Vaivarta Purana

Every thing that is any where, is produced from and subsists in space. It is always all in all things, which are contained as particles in it. Such is the pure vacuous space of the Divine understanding, that like an ocean of light, contains these innumerable worlds, which like the countless waves of the sea, are revolving for ever in it.

— Yoga Vasistha

You know one universe. Living entities are born in many universes, like mosquitoes in many udumbara (cluster fig) fruits.

— Garga Samhita


At the end we just want you to know that there have been some specific researches in the Indian context but a tremendous amount of research is still needed to in order to achieve missing gaps which is a result of the our past invasions. Sanatan is itself a huge collection of knowledge and at some particular time some needed days to burn down what we had collected throughout thousands of years. Had it be preserved till this date, the world would have been in a better situation for sure.

Please do comment your own views and we would really appreciate the effort.

4 thoughts on “10 wonderful facts about Ancient Indian Astronomy”

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