|Intro||6th-century Hindu polymath, author of Brihat samhita|
|Known for||Brihat Jataka|
|Is||Mathematician, Astronomer, Astrologer|
|Birth||505, Ujjain, India|
Varāhamihira (c. early 6th-century), also called Vārāha or Mihira, was a Hindu polymath who lived in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh, India). He was born in the Avanti region, roughly corresponding to modern-day Malwa, to Adityadasa, who was himself an astronomer. According to one of his own works, he was educated at Kapitthaka. The Indian tradition believes him to be one of the “Nine Jewels” (Navaratnas) of the court of legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya of Malwa. However, this claim appears for the first time in a much later text and scholars consider this claim to be doubtful because neither Vihiramihira and Vikramaditya lived in the same century nor did Varahamihira live in the same century as some of the other names in the “nine jewels” list such as the much older Kalidasa.
Varahamihira’s most notable work was Brihat Samhita, an encyclopedic work on architecture, temples, planetary motions, eclipses, timekeeping, astrology, seasons, cloud formation, rainfall, agriculture, mathematics, gemology, perfumes and many other topics. According to Varahamihira, in some verses he was merely summarizing earlier existing literature on astronomy, Shilpa Sastra and temple architecture, yet his presentation of different theories and models of design are among the earliest texts that have survived. The chapters of the Brihat Samhita and verses of Varahamihira were quoted by the Persian traveler and scholar Al Biruni.
Varahamihira is also credited with writing several authoritative texts on astronomy and astrology. He learned the Greek language, and praised the Greeks (Yavanas) in his text for being “well trained in the sciences”. Some scholars consider him to be the strong candidate as the one who understood and introduced the zodiac signs, predictive calculations for auspicious ceremonies and astrological computations to the Indian subcontinent from the Greek literature.
Varahamihira’s main work is the book Pañcasiddhāntikā (or Pancha-Siddhantika, “[Treatise] on the Five [Astronomical] Canons”) dated ca. 575 CE gives us information about older Indian texts which are now lost. The work is a treatise on mathematical astronomy and it summarises five earlier astronomical treatises, namely the Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta. It is a compendium of Vedanga Jyotisha as well as Hellenistic astronomy (including Greek, Egyptian and Roman elements). Varahamihira was the first one to mention that the ayanamsa, or the shifting of the equinox is 50.32 seconds.They [the Indians] have 5 Siddhāntas:
- Sūrya-Siddhānta, ie. the Siddhānta of the Sun, thought to be composed by Lāṭadeva, but actually composed by Mayasura also known as Mamuni Mayan as stated in the text itself.
- Vasishtha-siddhānta, so called from one of the stars of the Great Bear, composed by Vishnucandra,
- Paulisa-siddhānta, so called from Pulisa, the Greek, from the city of Saintra, which is supposed to be Alexandria, composed by Pulisa.
- Romaka-siddhānta, so called from the Rūm, ie. the subjects of the Roman Empire, composed by Śrīsheṇa.
Another important contribution of Varahamihira is the encyclopedic Brihat-Samhita. Although the book is mostly about divination, it also includes a wide range of subjects other than divination. It covers wide-ranging subjects of human interest, including astronomy, planetary movements, eclipses, rainfall, clouds, architecture, growth of crops, manufacture of perfume, matrimony, domestic relations, gems, pearls, and rituals. The volume expounds on gemstone evaluation criterion found in the Garuda Purana, and elaborates on the sacred Nine Pearls from the same text. It contains 106 chapters and is known as the “great compilation”.
He was also an astrologer.
His son Prithuyasas also contributed to Hindu astrology; his book Hora Sara is a famous book on horoscopy. Khana (also named Lilavati elsewhere), the medieval Bengali poet astrologer, is believed to be the daughter-in-law of Varahamihira.
The Romaka Siddhanta (“Doctrine of the Romans”) and the Paulisa Siddhanta were two works of Western origin which influenced Varahamihira’s thought. Paulisa Siddhanta is often mistakenly thought to be a single work and attributed to Paul of Alexandria (c. 378 CE). However, this notion has been rejected by other scholars in the field, notably by David Pingree who stated that “…the identification of Paulus Alexandrinus with the author of the Pauliśa Siddhānta is totally false”. Number of his writings share similarities with the earlier texts like Vedanga Jyotisha.
A comment in the Brihat-Samhita by Varahamihira says: “The Greeks, though impure., must be honored since they have shown tremendous interest in our science…..” (“mleccha hi yavanah tesu samyak shastram kdamsthitam/ rsivat te ‘p i pujyante kim punar daivavid dvijah” (Brihat-Samhita 2.15)).
Varahamihira improved the accuracy of the sine tables of Aryabhata.
He was among the first mathematicians to discover a version of what is now known as the Pascal’s triangle. He used it to calculate the binomial coefficients. He also records the first known 4×4 magic square.
Among Varahamihira’s contribution to physics is his statement that reflection is caused by the back-scattering of particles and refraction (the change of direction of a light ray as it moves from one medium into another) by the ability of the particles to penetrate inner spaces of the material, much like fluids that move through porous objects.