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Ragoonatha Charry and His ‘Scientific’ Pañcāṅga

  • T. V. Venkateswaran
Conference paper
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings book series (ASSSP, volume 54)

Abstract

The early part of the nineteenth century witnessed the widespread circulation of printed pañcāṅga (traditional Hindu calendars or almanacs) in the Madras presidency. Computed using the vākya algorithms, these pañcāṅga were full of errors, such as local circumstances of eclipses. Chinthamani Ragoonatha Charry, hailed as the first Indian to make modern astronomical discoveries and an employee of the Madras Astronomical Observatory, advocated the reform of the traditional South Indian pañcāṅga. Unhappy about the errors in the traditional pañcāṅga, during the 1870s he took it upon himself to publish ‘scientific’ pañcāṅga in Tamil and Telugu, two principle languages of the presidency, drawing upon the computations of modern astronomy. These almanacs confirmed to the ritual demands of the traditional pañcāṅga even while drawing upon elements of the almanacs published by the British settlers in the Madras Presidency. Charry’s pañcāṅga not only provided the computation of traditional elements, such as tithi, nākṣatra, yoga and karaṇa, but also elaborated on stellar phenomena, particularly those which are visible to the naked eye, and gave accurate predictions for solar and lunar eclipses, occultations, and so on. Convinced by the arguments advocated by Charry and the accuracy of his predictions, two major religious sects—the Smārta sect of Kanchi Kamokoti Mutt and the Aiyangar subsect owing allegiance to Jeears of Ahobila Mutt—supported his ‘scientific’ pañcāṅga.

Hitherto, Indian colonial science studies have focussed on the engagement between Europeans and Indians either as a process of philosophical rationalisation reconciling old and new forms of knowledge, or as a cross-cultural negotiation within Indian responses to Western science. Positing that the engagement during the colonial period was both philosophical and practical, this paper presents the context and an overview of the pañcāṅga reform attempted by Ragoonatha Charry. As such, it is a contribution to the debate on Indian modernity.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • T. V. Venkateswaran
    • 1
  1. 1.Vigyan PrasarNew DelhiIndia

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