Surya Siddhanta - Theory of Solar System in Vedic Cosmology

The Sürya-siddhänta treats the earth as a globe fixed in space, and it describes the seven traditional planets (the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn) as moving in orbits around the earth. It also describes the orbit of the planet Rähu, but it makes no mention of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. The main function of the Süryasiddhänta is to provide rules allowing us to calculate the positions of these planets at any given time. Given a particular date, expressed in days, hours, and minutes since the beginning of Kali-yuga, one can use these rules to compute the direction in the sky in which each of the seven planets will be found at that time. All of the other calculations described above are based on these fundamental rules.

The basis for these rules of calculation is a quantitative model of how the planets move in space. This model is very similar to the modern Western model of the solar system. In fact, the only major difference between these two models is that the Sürya-siddhänta’s is geocentric, whereas the model of the solar system that forms the basis of modern astronomy is heliocentric.

To determine the motion of a planet such as Venus using the modern heliocentric system, one must consider two motions: the motion of Venus around the sun and the motion of the earth around the sun. As a crude first approximation, we can take both of these motions to be circular. We can also imagine that the earth is stationary and that Venus is revolving around the sun, which in turn is revolving around the earth. The relative motions of the earth and Venus are the same, whether we adopt the heliocentric or geocentric point of view.

In the Sürya-siddhänta the motion of Venus is also described, to a first approximation, by a combination of two motions, which we can call cycles 1 and 2. The first motion is in a circle around the earth, and the second is in a circle around a point on the circumference of the first circle. This second circular motion is called an epicycle.

It so happens that the period of revolution for cycle 1 is one earth year, and the period for cycle 2 is one Venusian year, or the time required for Venus to orbit the sun according to the heliocentric model. Also, the sun is located at the point on the circumference of cycle 1 which serves as the center of rotation for cycle 2. Thus we can interpret the Süryasiddhänta as saying that Venus is revolving around the sun, which in turn is revolving around the earth. According to this interpretation, the only difference between the Sürya-siddhänta model and the modern heliocentric model is one of relative point of view.

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