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The Physics of Vaisesika

The Physics of Vaisesika
Item Code: NAJ101
Author: Dr. C. S. R. Prabhu
Publisher: Sri Venkateswara Vedic University, Tirupati
Language: Sanskrit Text With Word-to-Word Meaning English Translation
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789381887264
Pages: 148
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 200 gms
About the Book

The origin of basic classical physical is usually attributed to the west from about 16th or 17th Century A.D. However, the great monuments all over the world provide the evidence which demonstrates the knowledge of basic classical physics it is not possible to execute such engineering feats.

What was the basic framework of classical physics of ancient Indian origin? The earliest reference to the principals of Physics is found in Vaiseshika Darshana, one of the six schools of India philosophy known as the Six Darshanas. The vaiseshika sutras of Kanada are the earliest khown source of discussion and analysis on the basic principles of classical physics. In this book an attempt is made to bring out the clear exposition of ancient classical physics, in terms of the three states of matter and various forms of energy with the qualitative description of their properties. The description of various laws of physics, as various types of motion, gravitation, electricity, magnetism and other force are all available in vaiseshika. The atomic theory of kanada is his highest contribution to ancient physics.


Vaisesika of Kanada, one of the six schools of Indian philosophical thought (the other five being Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Purvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa or Vedanta), concerns itself with the Physical Reality. It deals with the characteristics of the physical entities, their properties, their interactions, including forces and motions of various types. Vaisesika is called Padarthasastra or the Science of substances or material entities. It concerns itself with the modelling of the physical world in terms of its own laws of - fundamental physical entities, physical behaviour, finally culminating in the Atomic theory of the Universe. As basic Physics, Vaisesika formed the foundation of ancient applied sciences as Ayurveda (Medicine) and Silpasistra (Engineering).

Modem Science or Western Science, originating in Europe during 17th Century comprises many branches. Among the large number of branches of Science, Physics is commonly identified as the most exact. Physics is the study of the physical world, in all its forms and manifestations. Physics depends largely on Mathematics, as a tool for analysis. The quantitative aspects of the physical world are expressed in mathematical form - thereby enabling Physics to describe the physical phenomena in the most exact manner. Thus, Physics is the most exact of all the sciences.

Physics deals with the most fundamental entities of the physical world - Matter, Energy, Space and Time. All the sciences concern themselves with the physical world, whose building blocks (e.g. molecules, atoms, particles) are the subject of Physics. Thus, Physics is the most fundamental and exact of all sciences in the modem times. Physics has two parts: the Classical Physics and the Modem Physics. In the present context we are largely focusing only on the Classical Physics, on historical grounds.

While the Vedas contained knowledge of all subjects, Vaisesika is the branch of knowledge (Veda) corresponding to the physical world in the ancient times. Vaisesikadarsana is the oldest known text of a science which deals with physical world - in other words "Physics". Physics is the science of the physical world of the modem times and Vaisesikadarsana is the science of the physical world of the ancient times. Both Physics and Vaisesikadarsana have a single common interest i.e., the physical world. The constituent entities of the physical world, their qualitia (or properties) and their interactions (including force and motion) - these are the subjects common to Physics on one hand and the Vaisesikadarsana on the other. The title of the book "The Physics of Vaisesika" indicates that this book concerns itself with those aspects of Vaisesika system, which are concerned with the science of the physical world i.e., Physics.

As the first step in the development of any science is the identification of fundamental categories, Vaiseikasutras of kanada model the Physical Reality in terms of six fundamental categories of substances or entities: (l) Dravyas (physical substances in their atomic form); (2) Gunas (their properties) and (3) Karma (Motion) along with associated fundamental abstractions of (4) Samanya (generalization); (5) Visesa (specialization) and (6) Samavaya (Inherence) (though later scholars enhanced upto 7 or even 10 categories). Thus, "The Physics of Vaisesika" brings out the Physics in Vaisesikadarsana. Among 10 chapters of the Vaisesikadarsana only the first five, which are dealing with the subject of interest to Physics are covered in this book (in the fifth chapter we stop at a point where the discussions relating to the phenomena of the physical world end).

In five chapters, Vaisesika's view of the physical world is brought out clearly. It comprises the fundamental entities (Matter, Energy, Space and Time), their interactions through various forces (gravitation, electricity, magnetism, etc.), various types of motion in various states of matter. Vaisesika models the physical world in terms of the eternal atoms as the ultimate building blocks of the Universe - Atomic theory which continued till 18th century.

While historians of science were generally unaware of the contribution of ancient India to Physics, historically Vaisesika was merged, quite unfairly, with Nyaya (or Logic). While it is true that they both together have a lot in common, Vaisesika, the science of the physical world or Physics itself of the ancient world, had its own independent and exclusive status, which had been sometimes denied by the logicians (especially of the middle ages). While Nyaya concerns itself with epistemology or the earls of acquisitin of valid know- ledge, Vaisesika concerns itself with the ontological aspects- the constituents of the Universe itself. Sankhya also deals with the fundamental categories (as they arise in the space of mind) and therefore has some correspondence with Vaisesika (in the physical world).

While the Vaisesikasutras of Kanada are of very great antiquity of a period of very remote time (belonging to post Vedic but Pre-Puranic age), what is usually known as the "sutra Period", its extant commentaries belong to a period of recent origin (in the last two thousands of years only). Even though the time period of Kanada's Vaisesikasutras is not known with certainity, a Chinese tradition describes Kanada being of great antiquity of atleast about a millennium before Buddha.

Unfortunately, the series of successive commentaries of the earlier periods are not available to us anymore. There was a large time interval between original Vaisesikasutras of Kanada and the commentaries starting with Prasastapada (estimated 5th Century A.D.) (Who also had names as Prasasta Mati, Prasasta Deva, Prasastakara Deva, etc.). While we lost, most of the early commentaries (including one "Katandi", one Vrtti by Bharadwaja and one commentary by Ravana), the earliest text we have with us today is Prasastapada's own text known as "Padartha Dharma Sangrahah".


It is with great pleasure that I am writing this foreword to C.S.R. Prabhu's The Physics of Vaisesika. It consists of the translation of Kanada's sutras together with a commentary. This book fulfills the great need since the Vaisesika, which represents the earliest physics, is not well known to the Indian scientific community. The Vaisesika is a starting point that is somewhat different from Western physics in as much that it includes the observer in the framework.

In the Indian tradition, the six Darsanas are the cognitive windows through which one perceives reality. Of these, two are atomic perspectives of logic (Nyaya) and matter (Vaisesika); a further two are analysis and synthesis of creation at the physical (Sankhya) and psychological levels (Yoga); and the last two are analysis of lived life (Mimamsa) and the cosmos (Vedanta).

The Vaisesika defines seven categories of experience: substance, quality, action, universality, particularity, relation, and nonexistence. Each atom in the Vaisesika possesses size and mass and is distinct from every other atom. Atoms can vibrate in groups and form dyads, triads and so on, until the combinations reach a diameter of one-millionth of an inch, at which state the substances can be identified as earth, or air, or fire, or water. The atom is point-like, for it could be sub-divided otherwise.

The Vaisesika has categories not only for space-time- matter but also for attributes related to perception of matter. It starts with six nameable and knowable categories (Padarthas). The categories are: Dravya (substance), Guna (quality), Karma (motion), Samanya (Universal), Visesa (particularity), and Samavaya (inherence). The first three of these have objective existence and the last three are a product of abstraction and intellectual discrimination.

The Universals (Samanya) are recurrent generic properties in substances, qualities, and motions. The particularities (Visesa) reside exclusively in the eternal, non-composite substances, that is, in the individual atoms, souls, and minds, and in the unitary substances ether, space, and time. Samavaya is the relationship between entities that exist at the same time. It is the binding amongst categories that makes it possible for us to synthesize our experience.

The mind associates the non-substance categories with the substance. By doing so, it makes the observer central to the scheme. If there were no sentient beings in the universe then there would be no need for these categories.

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