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Al-Biruni’s India – HISTORY AND GENERAL STUDIES

      • Al-Biruni (973 - 1048) was a Persian scholar and Polymath from the Khwarezm region.
      He is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a historian and chronologist.
      Bīrūnī does not appear to have been interested in the genre of astronomical writing in which Ptolemaic planetary models were considered as describing both the apparent motion of the planets and the physical spheres responsible for the kinematic forces acting upon them; this genre included Ptolemy’s own Planetary Hypotheses and a number of later works usually containing the word hayʾa in their titles. The main concern of the authors was either to explain the Ptolemaic models, and thus to explain planetary motion as resulting from the motion of physical spheres, or to suggest new models for resolving the apparent contradiction between the physical and mathematical assump­tions underlying the Ptolemaic models. Recent studies of these works are revolutionizing modern understand­ing of the role of Islamic astronomy in what later came to be known as Copernican astronomy, for the develop­ment of non-Ptolemaic models can be viewed as fore­runners to Copernicus’ own work. (E. S. Kennedy and I. Ghanem, eds., The Life and Work of Ibn al-­Shatir, Aleppo, 1976, contains a collection of recent, pre-1976, studies dealing with planetary theories; D. King and G. Saliba, eds., From Deferent to Equant, Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences 500, 1987, p. xxvi, lists six recent works by G. Saliba.)

    • In religion he was a Shi’ite Muslim, but with agnostic tendencies. His poetical works seek to combine Greek wisdom and Islamic thought.
    • He spent a large part of his life in Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan, capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. In 1017 he traveled to the Indian subcontinent and authored “Kitab Tarikh Al-Hind” (History of India) after exploring the Hindu faith practised in India.
      Attractedby Indian culture, he learnt Sanskrit and studied several books concerning Hindu philosophy and culture. His curious mind and master eyes did not spare even the Puranas and the Bhagwat-Gita. He travelled far and wide and wrote a masterly account of India in his book Tahqiq-i-Hind. This also known as Kitabul Hind (1017-31 A.D).

      He is given the titles the “founder of Indology”. He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations. Most of the works of Al-Biruni are in Arabic.

    Kitab Tarikh Al-Hind and Aims of Writing it

    • Al-Biruni’s Kitab-ul-Hind is simple and lucid. It is divided into 80 chapters on subjects such as religion and philosophy, festivals, astronomy, alchemy, manners and customs, social life, weights and measures, iconography, laws and metrology.
      Bīrūnī’s attempts to record and classify all previously known methods for astrolabe projections, as well as methods that he himself proposed, in his comprehensive book on the astrolabe (Ketāb fī estīʿāb al-wojūh al-­momkena fī ṣaṇʿat al-aṣṭorlāb) can perhaps also be included in the domain of applied mathematics. The problem of projections as such must have engaged his imagination, for he included some geographical map projections in another of his works Maqāla fī-tasṭīḥ al-ṣowar wa tabṭīḥ al-kowar, ed. A. S. Saʿīdān, Derāsāt 4, 1977, pp. 7-22). In all his writings Bīrūnī called atten­tion to original concepts, though usually only in passing. In Ketāb fī estīʿāb, for instance, in discussing an astrolabe invented by his contemporary Abū Saʿīd Aḥmad Sejzī (ca. 339-415/951-1024), who had assumed for the purpose that the apparent daily rotation of the celestial spheres resulted from the motion of the earth, rather than of the celestial spheres themselves, he commented briefly that, though the motion of the earth is quite possible, the problem was one for natural philosophers, rather than for mathematicians, among whom he counted himself.

      He extensively quotes from vast corpus of Sanskrit literature, like Patanjali, Gita, Puranas, Samkhya philosophy etc.
    • Al-Biruni adopted a distinctive structure in each chapter, beginning with a question, following this up with a description based on Sanskrit traditions, and concluding the chapter with a comparison with other cultures.
    • He expresses his objective with simple eloquence: “I shall not produce the arguments of our antagonists in order to refute such of them, as I believe to be in the wrong. My book is nothing but a simple historic record of facts.
      In the domain of numerical analysis and approximative techniques, Bīrūnī’s ability to conceptualize in functional terms is equally clear. His calculation of the sine and tangent functions and their tabulation in the Qānūn (bk. 3, chap. 7-8) required him to develop an interpolation scheme involving second-order differences, for he was aware of the failure of a simple linear interpolation to account for extreme variation in func­tional values. It is curious that Bīrūnī did not adopt the similar, though not identical, method developed by Brahmagupta (b. ca. 598) in the Khaṇḍakhādyaka; he must have been aware of it, for he quoted from Brahmagupta’s book in his own works several times (see Qānūn, ed. Hyderabad, p. 175 and passim). That he understood the power of his own second-order method of interpolation is apparent from his comment that it could be applied to all other tables.

      I shall place before the reader the theories of the Hindus exactly as they are, and I shall mention in connection with them similar theories of the Greeks in order to show the relationship existing between them.
      Elsewhere in the Qānūn (bk. 6, chap. 10; bk. 7, chap. 8) Bīrūnī showed similar sophistication in handling functional relationships by manipulating the equations of the sun and the moon so that the functions would always be positive; in contrast these relations varied between positive and negative in Ptolemy’s (fl. 150) Almagest and Handy Tables. Bīrūnī also calculated the side of a nonagon, a problem resulting from his attempt to trisect an angle in order to compute the value of the sine of 1° (Qānūn, bk. 3, chap. 3); his calculations yielded the third-degree equation 1 + 3x = x3. He then solved the equation by inspection: root x = 1;50,45,47,13 (i.e. 1.846051929), which is correct to the third sexagesimal fraction (i.e. 1.84605). Theoretical consider­ations of this kind apparently stirred Bīrūnī’s imagin­ation, for he composed a book on the extraction of roots, unfortunately not extant. The most important aspect of this work, however, lay in Bīrūnī’s ability to go beyond the strictly geometric approach of the Greeks to tackle the problem of trisecting an angle and in his recognition that algebraic solutions have the desired precision.

    • Al-Biruni attempts to understand the Hindu culture in its own terms, letting the subject matter speak for itself. The concern to record facts as they are, without any prejudgments, is one of the most significant aspects of Al-Biruni’s methodology.
      Theoretical concepts. Bīrūnī’s major contribution to astronomy is al-Qānūn al-masʿūdī fi’l-hayʾa wa’l-nojūm (Masʿudic canon of astronomy), covering the same ground as Ptolemy’s Almagest but introducing new material. Most of Bīrūnī’s original theoretical concepts are to be found in this work. Like the Almagest, the Qānūn contains theoretical derivations of astronomical parameters, as well as tabular functions to facilitate the computation of planetary positions. It thus differs from the works of most of Bīrūnī’s predecessors and contemporaries who were concerned only with constructing astronomical tables (zīj) suitable for computation of planetary positions, usually without any discussion of the derivation of the parameters upon which the tables were based.

    • An example of Al-Biruni’s analysis is his summary of why many Hindus hate Muslims. He explains that Hinduism and Islam are totally different from each other. Moreover, Hindus in 11th century India had suffered through waves of destructive attacks on many of its cities, and Islamic armies had taken numerous Hindu slaves to Persia which, claimed Al-Biruni, contributed to Hindus becoming suspicious of all foreigners, not just Muslims.
      According to him, India was divided into a number of kingdoms such as Kashmir, Sindh, Malwa and Kannauj. He talks of various kinds of castes and distinctions in the society. Another point of society is that early marriage was common and women who lost their husbands were condemned to perpetual widowhood. Parents arranged marriages for their children and no gifts were settled, though the husband made a gift to his wife which became her stridhana.

      Hindus considered Muslims violent and impure, and did not want to share anything with him.
    • It is clear that India at that time was not an ideal place for a foreigner like Al-Biruni whose intention was to study this new culture with a view to establishing friendly relations between the two cultures, Hinduism and Islam. Al-Beruni wrote his work on India to provide, in his own words, “the essential facts for any Muslim who wanted to converse with Hindus and to discuss with them questions of religion, science, or literature.
      In trigonometry his major contributions are to be found in Ketāb maqālīd ʿelm al-hayʾa (compendium on astronomy), in which he concentrated mainly on the applications of spherical trigonometry in astronomy and provided a detailed classification of spherical triangles and their solutions; in Ketāb fī efrād al-maqāl fī amr al-ẓelāl (exhaustive treatise on shadows), in which he developed the familiar trigonometric definitions further and applied them to such religious practices as determining times of prayer and finding the direction of Mecca; and in the third book of the Qānūn, in which he propounded trigonometric theorems equivalent to those related to the sums and differences of angles. It was in this last context that he developed his solution to the algebraic equation of the third degree (see below) as part of an attempt to compute the sine of 1°; the iteration method used in this calculation is no less sophisticated than methods developed by theoretical mathematicians. Furthermore, in these works, Bīrūnī not only defined all the trigonometric functions used today but also discussed methods of computing them from a circle with radius R = 1 (still used for this purpose); he also applied fully developed methods of second-order interpolation to computation of the intermediary values of these functions, thus demonstrating a clear understanding of functional relationships.

      ” According to Al-Biruni, dialogue with Hindus was necessary since there were many subjects that were intricate and obscure, which would be perfectly clear if there were more connection between Muslims and Hindus. Al-Biruni is the first scholar, at least in the Muslim world, whose interest in other religious traditions went beyond the then common tendency of treating the Hindus as heretics or polytheists, despite their apparently idolatrous practices.
      In addition to it, Alberuni is also credited to have translated many Sanskrit works into Persian and Arabic. Talking of Hindu in general, Alberuni complains of their complacency and ignorance of the outside world. He even finds faults with them for their want of sympathy and communication with other peoples whom they call mlechchas.

    • Over time, Al-Biruni won the welcome of Hindu scholars. Al-Biruni collected books and studied with these Hindu scholars to become fluent in Sanskrit, discover and translate into Arabic the mathematics, science, medicine, astronomy and other fields of arts as practiced in 11th century India.
      Although Bīrūnī did not write texts on algebra or geometry and his arithmetical works have not survived, he did introduce new mathematical concepts. For instance, in the Qānūn (bk. 3), in the course of a discussion devoted to the trigonometric functions used in astronomy, he defined the irrational number pi as the result of division of two other numbers (the circumference of a circle and the diameter), whereas his predecessors, including the Greek authors, had defined it as a geometric ratio. Elsewhere (bk. 6, chap. 8) he described the variation in the motion of the sun with respect to the earthly observer in mathematical language that modern historians of science have construed as among the earliest references to mathematical func­tional relationships (cf. Hartner and Schramm). In determining the mobility of the solar apogee, Bīrūnī followed his Muslim predecessors in departing from the traditional Greek astronomy of Ptolemy, but by means of more refined observational techniques he was able to go farther and to discover that the apogee has a motion of its own, distinct from the motion of precession.

      He was inspired by the arguments offered by Indian scholars who believed earth must be ellipsoid shape, with yet to be discovered continent at earth’s south pole, and earth’s rotation around the sun is the only way to fully explain the difference in daylight hours by latitude, seasons and earth’s relative positions with moon and stars.
      Bīrūnī’s lack of concern with philosophical matters is apparent in his treatment of Sejzī’s assumption about the earth’s motion. In addition, he seems to have been content to apply himself to solution of the mathematical and astronomical problems that presented themselves to him, seeking only to achieve greater precision in the derivation of parameters and thus to obtain a better understanding of the relevant phenomena. His main contribution must thus be seen in the comprehensive­ness of his work, as in his book on astrolabe construc­tion, and in his continual attempts to formulate concepts like prayer times in mathematical terms. His attraction to sophisticated computational problems thus led him to consideration of more general theoret­ical questions.

    • He read the major Indian religious and astronomical texts; in his account he highlights parts of the Gita, the Upanishads, Patanjali, Puranas, the four Vedas, scientific texts (by Nagarjuna, Aryabhata, etc), relating stories from Indian mythology to make his point. He also compares Indian thought to the Greek thought of Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and others, and at times with Sufi teaching.
      A further comment of Alberuni is also worth-noting. He observes that the Hindus did ‘not desire that a thing which has once been polluted should be purified and thus recovered’. Thus, the above portrayal clearly shows that all was not well with India. Society as the least compact. Caste tensions were prevalent. There was no sense of cause; the disintegrating tendencies were already serious.

    Barriers obstructed Al-Biruni in understanding India

    • Al-Biruni, discussed several “barriers” that he felt obstructed in understanding India.
    1. The first amongst these was language. According to him, Sanskrit was so different from Arabic and Persian that ideas and concepts could not be easily translated from one language into another.
      Applied mathematics. In mathematical geography Bīrūnī developed a new technique for measuring the difference in longitude between two given cities: He computed the longitudinal difference between Bagh­dad and Ḡazna at 24;20°, differing from the modern value by only eighteen minutes. In the same vein he described a method for calculating the circumference of the earth different from those preserved in Greek sources, though it may have been invented during the caliphate of al-Maʾmūn (198-201/813-17).

    2. The second barrier he identified was the difference in religious beliefs and practices.
    3. The self-absorption and consequent insularity of the local population constituted the third barrier.
    4. He was aware of these problems so Al-Biruni depended almost exclusively on the works of Brahmanas, often citing passages from the Vedas, the Puranas, Bhagavad Gita, the works of Patanjali, the Manusmriti, etc., to provide an understanding of Indian society.

    On Religion and Religious beliefs of India

    • Alberuni extensively quotes Sanskrit literatures to discuss the Hindu belief in God. He says that the Hindus believe with regard to God that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end.
      Alberuni was born at Khiva in 973 A.D. and he was two years younger than Mahmud of Ghazni. His original name was Abu Rehan Muhammad bin- Ahmed. He came to India in the war-train of Mahmud and lived here for many years. He was a great philosopher, mathematician and historian.

    • He observes the belief of the educated class different from that of uneducated class. The former strives to conceive abstract ideas and to define general principles while the later is happy with the derived rules without going into details.
      The disorganized people of the country finally surrendered themselves to foreign invaders. Alberuni was able to observe the condition of India very minutely. He wrote what he saw here.

      For the uneducated class, Al-Biruni finds most of their views on the concept of God are simply abominable. But he goes on to argue that similar errors occur in other religious traditions.
    • He sums up the Hindu definition of God in the following words: “They call him Isvara i.e. self-sufficing, beneficient, who gives without receiving. They consider the unity is really a plurality of things.
      The most recent survey of Bīrūnī’s works and biographical sources is that of E. S. Kennedy, “Al-Bīrūnī (or Berūnī), Abū Rayḥān (or Abūʾl Rayḥān) Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad,” in Dictionary of Scientific Biography II, New York, 1970, pp. 148-58, and should be consulted by any serious reader. A considerably shorter essay by G. Saliba in Dictionary of the Middle Ages II, New York, 1983, pp. 248-51, covers some issues not treated by Kennedy and should also be consulted. The main bibliographical essay is still that of D. J. Boilot, “L’œuvre d’al-Beruni. Essai bibliographique,” Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales 2, 1955, pp. 161-256; 3, 1956, pp. 391-96.

      The existence of God they consider as a real existence, because everytjing that it exist through him.”
    • He further enlists differing Hindu opinions for example on such philosophical concepts as action and agent. According to Hindu belief, the spirits or the soul do not differ from each other in substance but have an identical nature. However, their individual characters and manners differ as bodies with which they are united differ.
    • He also discuss at length the Hindu convepts of paradise and hell. The Hindu call the word “loka” i.e. paradise, the low “nagarloka” i.e. world of the serpents, which is hell besides they call it naraloka, and sometimes also “patala”, i.e. the world of men. He quotes Vishnu Purana to elucidate the Hindu traditions of a large number of hells, of their qualities and their names and the special hell for each kind of sin. Hindus are known to consider swarloka (paradise) as a higher state where a man lives in the state of bliss due to his previous good deeds.
      Ninety-five of 146 books known to have been written by Bīrūnī, about 65 percent, were devoted to astronomy, mathematics, and related subjects like math­ematical geography (Kennedy, p. 152). The mathemat­ical portions of his works were invariably devoted to applied, rather than theoretical, mathematics; neverthe­less, in the process of solving problems, Bīrūnī did sometimes indulge in theoretical discussions. Similarly, although his main concern in astronomy was for computations, he also devoted attention to theoretical problems. The following assessment of Bīrūnī’s contri­butions is based on his work in applied mathematics and on the theoretical portions of his astronomical works.

      On the contrary, they consider migration through plants and animals as a lower stage, where a man dwell for punishment for a certain length of time.
    • He also discusses the concept of Moksha. He makes a very interesting parallel between Patanjali’s definition of ‘Moksha’ and the term of Sufi for the ‘knowing’, being and his attaining the ‘state of knowledge’.For Sufis also there is believe that a human being has two souls - an eternal one, not exposed to change and alteration, and another, a human soul, which is liable to bring change.

    Criticisms

    • To Al-Beruni the Hindus were excellent philosophers, good mathematicians and astronomers, though [out of a certain self-confidence] he believes himself to be superior to them, and disdains to be put on a level with them. He does not conceal whatever he considers wrong and unpractical with them, but he duly appreciates their mental achievements … and whenever he hits upon something that is noble and grand both in science and in practical life, he never fails to lay it before his readers with warm-hearted words of approbation. Speaking of the construction of the ponds at holy bathing-places, he says: “In this they have attained a very high degree of art, so that our people (the Muslims), when they see them, wonder at them, and are unable to describe them, much less to construct anything like them.”
    • According to Al-Biruni, not only was the available literature on Hinduism insufficient, it was also misleading, which was a more serious violation of being truthful to truth (al-haqq). He complains, “Everything which exists on this subject in our literature is second hand information which one copied from the other, a farrago of materials never sifted by the sieve of critical examination.” This, according to Al-Biruni, was inconsistent with the ethical framework provided by the Scriptures of both Christianity and Islam. He illustrates his argument by referring to the Qur’an and the Bible. The Qur’an reads, “Speak the truth, even if it were against yourselves.”
    • Al-Biruni was critical of Indian scribes who he believed carelessly corrupted Indian documents while making copies of older documents.
    • He admired the Hindu civilisation but was critical of the attitude of the scholars and the dichotomy between the scientific awareness and ignorance that existed side by side among the Hindus. He condemns the hypocrisy of Brahmin Scholars, who inspite of knowing the scientific explanation of various natural phenomenon preferred to mislead the masses and keep them steeped in ignorance and supersitious.

    The salient features of Indian society as mentioned by Alberuni in Kitab al-Hind

    (1) Caste system

    Alberuni in his Kitab al-Hind beautifully sums up theories and practices of Indian caste system.

    Chatuh-varna system

    He discusses the origin of the four varna (Chatuh-varna) system in the basis of the Purusha-Sukta hyms.

    On the theoretical issues raised in this article see W. Harmer and M. Schramm, “Al-Bīrūnī and the Theory of the Solar Apogee. An Example of Originality in Arabic Science,” in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie, London, 1963, pp. 206-18. A. Jouschkevitch, Les mathématiques arabes (VIIIe-XVe siècle), Paris, 1976. E. S. Kennedy et al., Studies in the Islamic Exact Sciences, Beirut, 1983. R. Rashed, Entre arithmétique et algèbre, Paris, 1984.

    (a) The highest caste are the Brahmaṇa were created from the head of Brahma.
    (b)The next caste are the Kshatriya, who were created from the shoulders and hands of Brahma.
    (c) After them follow the Vaisya, who were created from the thigh of Brahma.
    (d) The Sudra, who were created from feet of Brahma.

    The four castes do not live together with them in one and the same place.
    Each of the four castes, when eating together, must form a group for themselves, one group not being allowed to comprise two men of different castes. Since it is forbidden to eat the remains of a meal, every single man must have his own food for himself.
    Between the Vaisya and Sudra, there is no very great distance. Much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings.

    Antyaja

    After the Sudra follow the people called Antyaja, who render various kinds of services and are not part of ‘Chatuh-varna’ , but are considered as members of a certain craft or profession. There crafts included: shoemaker, juggler, the basket maker, the sailor, fisherman, the hunter, the weaver etc. They live near the villages and towns of tge four castes, but outside them.

    Untouchables

    The untouchables like Hadi, Doma, Chandala, and Badhatau are also not part of Chatuh-varna. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleansing of the villages and other services. They are considered like illegitimate children; for according to general opinion they descend from a Sudra father and a Brahman mother; therefore they are degraded outcasts.

    Hindus are said to be differ among themselves as to which of these castes is capable of attaining ‘moksha’. According to some, only Brahmanas and Kshatriya are capable of attaining moksha as others cannot learn the Vedas. Alberuni reports that according to the Hindu philosophers, moksha is attainable by all the castes and by the human race.

    Comparison

    Al-Biruni tried to explain the caste system by looking for parallels in other societies. He noted that in ancient Persia, four social categories were recognized (a) knights and princes; (b)monks, fire-priests (c) lawyers, physicians, astronomers and other scientists; and (d) peasants and artisans.
    He attempted to suggest that social divisions were not unique to India. At the same time he pointed out that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety.

    Al-Biruni disapproved of the notion of untouchability.

    (2) Indian customs and manners

    Indian customs, manners, festivals are also vividly portrayed by Alberuni. Some customs described by Alberuni are the following:

    (1) People divide the moustache into single plait to preserve it. They allow nails to grow long, glorifying their idleness, since they do not use them for any work.
    (2) The Hindus throw away eaten plates if they are earthen.
    (3) They have red teeth due to chewing of arecanuts with betel leaves and chalk.
    (4) They sip the stall of cows, but they do not eat thrir meet.
    (5) Men use turbans and trousers.
    (6) The man wears article of female dress; they use cosmetics, wear ear-rings, arm-rings, golden seal-rings on the right finger as well as on the toes of the feet.
    (7) Men take advice of woman in all consultations and emergencies. They do not ask permission to enter house but when they leave it, they ask permission to do so.
    (8) They write title of the books at the end of it, not at the beginning.
    These customs amuses and sometimes horrifies Alberuni.

    (3) Indian festivals

    Alberuni enlist all the important festivals without much comment on them. He mentions: 2nd Chaitra (a Kashmiri festival), Guru tritiya, Vasanta etc.
    He takes an important note of the fact that most of the festivals are celebrated by women and children only.

  • On Science of India

    • Alberubi was among the first scholar to study India and the Hindu scientific literature. Alberuni was impressed most by the Indian knowledge of astronomy, metrology, arithmetic and geography which he mentioned in Kitab al-Hind.

    Astronomy

    • He makes observation that science of astronomy is thr most popular wih the Indians because in various ways it is connected with their religion and that is why Indian astronomer should also be a good astrologer.He mentions the planets and their motions, the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the motion and different stages of the moon. He also describes the composition of the Earth and the Heavens as given in the Hindu sculptures. He discusses various astronomical terms such as kalpa, adhimasa etc and analyzes them. He makes comparison between Geek science of astronomy and the Indian.
    • Alberuni discusses the five Siddhantas (standard books) on the Indian astronomy:

    (a) Surya Siddhanta
    (b) Vasishtha Siddhanta
    (c) Pulisa Siddhanta
    (d) Romaka Siddhanta
    (e) Brahma Siddhanta

    Meterology

    • In meterology, Alberuni enlists contemporary weights and measures like Suvarna, tola, Masha and Yava, Kala, Pada, Kudava, Prastha, Adhaka, Dropa and Surpa.
    • An interesting comparison has been made between tola and the Arabic Mithkal and Alberuni also worked out the equivalent weight of the two.

    Arithmetic

    • In arithmetic, Alberuni’s interest lies in the Indian order of numbers. He mentions the eighteen orders of numbers listed in Sanskrit literature.
    • Alberuni quotes the famous Indian astronomer Brahmagupta on the science of numerical writing. Brahmagupta wrotes: “If you want to write one, express it by everything, which is unique, as the earth; two by everything which is double,as, e.g. black and white; three by everything which is three-fold.”

    On Geography

    • Because of his travels, he was able to see different geographic features first-hand, and come up with theories as to how they are connected. By analyzing the different types of soil particles in the Ganges River from its source to the Bay of Bengal, al-Biruni formulated theories about erosion and how land forms are shaped, particularly noting the role of water in this process.
    • He makes extensive use of Puranic tradition to discuss Indian knowledge of geography. He begins with the Indian concept of Madhyadesha (area around Kannauj) i.e. middle of India. Distance between Kannauj and various parts of the country are noted such as Mathura, Shanesvara, Prayag, Banaras, Patliputra, Kashmir etc.
    • He also gives a detailed account of the routes to Nepal, Tibet, Malwa, Gujarat, North West India and some parts of Soithern India. References are made of South-East Asia and those of the Chinese Sea. An account of Varshakala (the monsoon season) in India is given He lists various rivers of India as given in Vayu Purana and Matsya Purana and great knots of the mythical Mt. Abu from where these rivers flow.
    • He discovers fossils of ancient sea animals in the mountains that cut India off from the rest of the world - the Himalayas. It seems unlikely that lowly sea snails and other shellfish would travel thousands of miles inland and up the side of a mountain, so al-Biruni came to the conclusion that the Himalayan Mountains must have been under the ocean at one point, and moved to their present location over millions of years.

    Chemistry

    • He refers to chemistry mainly in the context of alchemy. He condemns such ideas though he concedes the efficacy of some metals and chemicals for medicinal purposes. He had idea of Ayurvedaa and was aware of the Charak Samhita though not of Sushruta Samhita. Consequently, he has nothing to say on the art of surgery.

    Criticism of Science in India

    • Although Alberuni regarded the Hindus as excellent philosophers, good mathematicians and astrologers, he considers his own knowledge superior. To prove his point of superiority he takes to the method of comparing Greek theories because of their being near akin and of their strictly scientific character as contrasted with those of the Hindus. He identifies Indian knowledge of alchemy (Rasayana) almost with witchcraft and Hindus with socerers.
    • He says : “The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khorasan and Persian, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar.”
    • Alberuni ascribed the decline of Indian science to the arrogance and growing insularity of the brahmans.

    …………..

    Kitab al- Hind as a source of Indian history: Critical Analysis

    • Al-Biruni’s Kitab Al-Hind is in many respects a valuable source to study Indian culture and history. His research methodology is innovative and the data provided is generally accurate. Whereas the compilation date of his work, namely around 1030 A.D., is known to us, his field of investigation, that is to say the territory covered by his research as well as his sources, is still subject to doubt.
    1. First, he rarely makes mention of where his visits took place, or when they did;
    2. Second the Kitab-al -Hind itself is lacking in positive evidence;
    3. Finally, sometimes difficulty arises in distinguishing the historical events from the legendary ones.
    • The definition of his field of investigation is however crucial for the purpose of using the Kitab al -Hind as a historical source in an appropriate manner.
    • Biruni travelled from Uzbekistan, his birth-place, to the East under the protection of Mahmud, the Ghaznavid ruler. Biruni’s mobility depended thus on the conquered boundaries of Mahmud’s empire. Therefore, a distinction between the conquered and unconquered world is needed in order to assess the depth of his information as well as the methodology he employed for gathering information.
    • The majority of scholars considers that Biruni’s travels were confined to the boundaries of the Ghaznavid dominion. The question of whether Biruni travelled indeed beyond the conquered borders is however less relevant than knowing whether he really needed to pass across these boundaries in order to collect information.
    • Kashmir Valley was not included in the Ghaznavid empire as he explicitly indicates two unreachable locales, namely Kashmir and Varanasi. Yet he gives generous information on the Kashmir Valley: he describes at length geographical, ethnic and social features; he names cities and mountains; he lists itineraries leading to the Kashmir Valley and he mentions customs of Kashmir’s inhabitants; he knows which alphabets and scripts were in use; and he presents detailed accounts of religious practices and of astronomy. As compared to any other region of India, the Kashmir Valley is perhaps the one described in most minute details in the Kitab al-Hind. The amount and accuracy of information given by him about this area suggests first that its isolation has to be reconsidered, and second that his information did not rest on direct observation.
    • Indeed, it is possible to draw out from the Kitab al-Hind how he obtained his information. For instance, in another extract, he describes certain mobility between people of Kashmir Valley and other areas of India in strictly religious sense and deals with visits to different places of pilgrimage in Kashmir by outsiders. Also he describe how he interacted with Kashmir by giving account of circulation of written documents between the conquered and unconquered (Kashmir) world. His expression “the people of Kashmir whom I have seen‟ indicates that he met informants from Kashmir. Also there is evidence of a scholarly exchange of books between Biruni and a Kashmiri.
    • We learn then that Biruni acquired information thanks to a certain interaction and mobility between the different regions of India which generated circulation of written and oral data. Kashmiri scholars probably helped him in gathering information. Apart from that, intellectual interactions were equally encouraged by different dynasties of India.
    • One could expect that direct observation would constitute the main method of Biruni with regard to the conquered land. This expectation is however not confirmed by a closer look at the Kitab India. On the contrary, direct observation is rare in the Kitab al-Hind. Direct observation does not appear to have been the main method of Biruni; as in the case of Kashmir Valley, oral informants and written sources provided data regarding his field of investigation.
    • Moreover, in other portions of the Kitab al-Hind , Biruni gives the names of two of his sources, Jivasarman and Sripala which informed him about Kashmir and Multan respectively.
    • A large amount of written sources was equally available to Biruni. He was acquainted with these works either through the accounts of Brahmins or quotations found in books that he read, such as the Vedas, the Smriti of Manu, or many Puranas.
    • He also translated or began translations of several Sanskrit texts into Arabic, such as the Kitab Sank, the Kitab Patanjal, the Brahmasiddhanta, the Pulisasiddhanta, the Brhatsamhita and the Laghujataka. Biruni keeps silent regarding the origin of his written sources’ authors, except for three of them: Durlabha from Multan, Utpala from Kashmir and Vijayanandin from Varanasi. Since Kashmir and Varanasi were out of reach, Biruni had probably the books brought from these two places. Similarly, Biruni could have collected books from Multan, without even having visited this city.
    • To summarise, the majority of the information found in the Kitab al -Hind seems to be based on first hand and second hand literature, mainly from the Puraṇas, Gita,the Kitab Sank and the Patanjal for information related to physical or mythical geography, religion, culture, history and philosophy and Siddhantas, Tantras and Karaṇas for information related to astronomy and astrology.
    • Biruni’s work is based on a vast literature in comparison to his predecessors, whose accounts were generally based on observations and hearsay.

    Mahmud Ghazni’s policy helped Al-Biruni

    • Mahmud’s policy with regard to science played a role in Biruni’s discovery and knowledge of Indian society. Promotion of scholarship was essential for rulers at that time. The presence of poets or scholars at the court of the sultan added to his prestige and reputation. In a sense, the writers contributed to create sultans’ best image at the time. To possess within one’s court numerous scholars and artists also constituted a sign of prosperity and power, and ultimately helped to assert one’s authority over its dependent dynasties and in relation to the Caliphate.
    • Moreover, Mahmud encouraged scholarship. He brought Biruni from Khwarezm to his court at the same time as he attracted the poet Firdawi and the physician and philosopher Ibn Sina, who however refused to join his court.
    • Furthermore, Mahmud needed people fluent in Indian languages in order to help him in his military raids and negotiations in al-Hind. In this context, it seems more than probable that Indian pandits and books had been brought to Ghazna or to Kabul where Biruni spent some years; which corroborates the preceding remarks concerning the origin of his source of information. It also emerges from the Kitab al-Hind that Biruni had familiarized himself with various fields of Sanskrit literature.

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    Q. Discuss the salient features of Indian society on the eve of the campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni, with particular reference to the observations made by Al-Biruni.

    Ans: See the section of solved previous years questions

    Q. Attempt a critical essay of the Indian Science and Civilization in the light of Alberuni’s writings.What merits and drawbacks, do you find in his account?

    Ans: See the section of solved precious years questions

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    • 2. www.yourarticlelibrary.com/biographies/biography-of-alberuni-389-words/4477/
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    • 3. www.iranicaonline.org/articles/biruni-abu-rayhan-iii
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