Physics in Ancient India3: The Buddhist philosophers who came later rejected either as an element and replaced it with life, joy, and sorrow.

Since ancient times Indian philosophers believed that except Akash (ether), all other elements were physically palpable. Hence, it comprised of minuscule particles of matter. The last minuscule particle of matter which could not be subdivided further was termed Parmanu.


The word Parmanu is a combination of Param, meaning beyond, and any meaning atom. Thus the term Parmanu is suggestive of the possibility that, at least at an abstract level Indian philosophers in ancient times had conceived the possibility of splitting an atom which. This is what we know today, the source of atomic energy. This Indian concept of the atom was developed independently and prior to the development of the idea in the Greco-Roman world.

Physics in Ancient India3

The first Indian philosopher, Kanada in the 6th century B.C, formulated ideas about the atom in a systematic manner. Another Indian philosopher, Pakudha Katyayana who also lived in the 6th century B.C. was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. He also propounded ideas about the atomic constitution of the material world.

These philosophers considered the Atom to be indestructible and hence eternal. The Buddhists believed atoms to be minute objects invisible to the naked eye. These atoms could come into being and vanish in an instant. The Vaisheshika School of philosophers believed that an atom was a mere point in space.

Indian Theories About the Atom

Indian theories about the atom are greatly abstract and enmeshed in philosophy. This was because they were based on logic and not on personal experience or experimentation. Thus the Indian theories lacked an empirical base. But according to A.L. Basham, the veteran Australian Ideologist “they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.”

Physics in Ancient India3: Kashyapa 

The Vaisheshika School of philosophy contributed to the development of ideas about the atom. A brilliant philosopher by the name Kashyapa (later called Kanada) is credited with having propounded the concept of the atom for the first time. According to legend, Kashyapa lived in the 6th century B.C. From his childhood days, Kashyapa displayed a keen sense of service. Minute things attracted his attention.

Physics in Ancient India3
Concept of Atoms was actually formulated by Acharya Kanada

The story goes that once as a young boy, he had accompanied his faith a pilgrimage to Prayaga. There he noticed that thousands of pilgrims were flocking the town littered its roads with flowers grains of rice. These flowers and grains of rice were offered at the temples by the river Ganges. While everybody else was busy offering prayers or bathing the Ganges, the young Kashyapa started collecting the grains (Kana) of rice that littered the streets.

This strange behavior of Kashyapa astonished many of the passers-by. These onlookers were curious and started wondering who he could be and why was he acting in a strange manner. Soon a crowd collected around the young Kashyapa who continued collecting the grains. Kashyapa was, however, oblivious of the attention he was attracting.

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