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Pathani Samanta: The Great Astronomer of Odisha

The Jagannath Temple in Puri publishes an almanac in Odia every year which sets the date for every occasion throughout the year. Every puja, every celebration, every festival in Odisha is based on this almanac. This book on astrology (panjika) is considered essential for every devout Odia in and out the state.

This almanac itself is based on the calculations provided in the book Siddhanta Darpana which was written in 1899 by the renowned naked eye astronomer Mahamahopadhyaya Chandrasekhar Singh Harichandan Mahapatra Samanta, better known to us as Pathani Samanta. Siddhanta Darpana is a masterpiece of observational astronomy and the calculations made here by Pathani Samanta are very close to the modern values observed via telescopes. And all of this was done without any telescopes. But the question now arises, who is Pathani Samanta? In this post, we would try to chart out his life’s work and his genius as a way to answer this question.

courtesy WikiMedia

Beginnings

Very little is known of the early life of Samanta Chandra Sekhar. He was born in the royal house of Khandapara on the 13th of December 1835. Khandapara was a princely state in Odisha, in what is now the district of Nayagarh. He was nicknamed Pathani by his parents and thus came to known as Pathani Samanta.

He did not have much in the way of formal education. His early education consisted only of primary school level Odia and Sanskrit by a Brahmin teacher. However, his passion for astronomy was aroused in the same age by his father (or one of his uncles, we are not sure) who taught him to identify stars in the night sky. This passion prompted him to learn Lilavati, Bijaganita, Jyotisha, Siddhanta, Vyakarana and Kavya all by himself.

By age 15, he had learnt enough through the various Siddhantas and observations that the calculations and predictions of the Siddhanta had several discrepancies to the observed phenomena. Thus he began his own calculations based on those observations.

His Life’s Work

Isolated in the interior of Odisha, he had no knowledge of what the Western astronomers of the time were doing. He did not know their methodologies or instruments and he was lacking in instruments himself. So he sought to build some instruments himself.

He built is own instruments using wood and bamboo chips. These instruments were very simply built but extremely versatile and helped Samanta Chandrasekhar write down his magnum opus, the Siddhanta Darpana. The only instrument missing was a telescope, of which he had no knowledge.

The Siddhanta Darpana was originally completely in 1869 on palm leaves. Pathani Samanta wrote it in Sanskrit using the Odia script in the form of 2500 shlokas which encompass the concept of time and its measurement, motion of the celestial bodies, the relevant mathematics and the question of the origin of the universe.

Publication

The manuscript would have remained unknown except for Pathani Samanta’s chance acquaintance with Shri Mahesh Chandra Narayana, the principal of the Sanskrit College of Calcutta, who introduced him to Professor Jogesh Chandra Ray of Cuttack College (which became Ravenshaw College).

Under Prof. Ray’s supervision, Siddhanta Darpana was published in 1899 with financial support from the King of Athmallick and partly the King of Mayurbhanj. It was Prof. Ray’s 99 page English introduction which gave the Western world a glimpse of the genius of Pathani Samanta. The international magazines Nature and Knowlege both acclaimed the work in glowing terms.

Comparison With Earlier Works and Modern Observations

Siddhanta Darpana was the result of a lifetime of observations and calculations. The results of these calculations are very accurate and coincide closer to modern values than even contemporary Western works.

Remember that Indian astronomers took Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon’s nodes (Rahu and Ketu) as the navagraha.

Sidereal period of planets in days

PlanetSurya SiddhantaSiddhanta ShiromaniSiddhanta DarpanaEuropean value in 1899Modern value
Sun365.25875365.25843365.25875365.25637365.25636
Moon27.3216727.3211427.3216727.3216627.3216675
Mars686.9975686.9979686.9875686.9794686.97982
Mercury87.958587.969987.970187.969287.969256
Jupiter4332.32064332.24084332.62784332.58484332.589
Venus224.6985224.9679224.7023224.7007224.7008
Saturn10765.77310765.815210759.760510759.219710759.23
Moon’s Nodes6794.39486792.25356792.6646793.2706793.470

Inclination of orbits of planets to the ecliptic

PlanetSurya SiddhantaSiddhanta ShiromaniSiddhanta DarpanaEuropean value in 1899Modern value
o ” ‘ o ” ‘ o ” ‘ o ” ‘ o ” ‘
Moon4 30 – 4 30 – 5 09 – 5 08 48 5 08 33
Mars1 30 – 1 50 – 1 51 – 1 51 2 1 50 59
Mercury5 55 – 6 55 – 7 2 – 7 00 08 7 00 18
Jupiter1 0 – 1 16 – 1 18 – 1 18 41 1 18 18
Venus2 46 – 3 6 – 3 23 – 3 53 35 3 23 41
Saturn2 0 – 2 40 – 2 29 – 2 29 40 2 29 10

The orbit of the moon has irregularities. Earlier works by Indian astronomers have accounted for one or two of the irregularities but Pathani Samanta was the first of them to account for three irregularities in the orbit of the moon and calculated them to high level of accuracy. It is interesting to note that Tycho Brahe was the first to note the three irregularities and provide corrections.

The Solar System according to Pathani Samanta
The Solar System according to Pathani Samanta

There are many such examples of this kind available in the Siddhanta Darpana. The book also gives the methods and instruments used to get the observations, which were never given in earlier works.

Accolades and Life’s End

In life, Pathani Samanta lived a life of poverty. In 1870, the Gajapati of Puri conferred the title of Harichandan Mahapatra on him for services rendered when his prescriptions were adopted by the Jagannath Temple foor oobservance of rituals. The British Government gave him the title of Mahamahopadyaya in 1893 with a monthly pension of Rs 50.

Then his life’s work was published in 1899 in the form of the Siddhanta Darpana. But even that did not bring him any relief. He had developed dyspepsia with colic from the long nights of observations that he had been making his whole life. He died in pernury in 1904 from the complications of the stomach problems he had.

Conclusion

Today Pathani Samanta is a well known personality to the Odia people, who have named many institutions after him.

  • The Pathani Samanta Planetarium in Bhubaneshwar
  • The Pathani Samanta Auditorium in Nayagarh
  • The Pathani Samanta College in Nayagarh district
  • The Pathani Samanta Museum in Khandapada, Nayagarh where some of his instruments are preserved

The Government of Odisha grants the Pathani Samanta Mathematics Scholarship to identify talented students in Govt. run and Govt. aided schools via the Pathani Samanta Mathematics Scholarship Test (PMST) every year.

Pathani Samanta was a great observer of the stars and his contribution to our culture is immense, as it is his work on the Siddhanta Darpana that allows devout Odia people to maintain their daily rituals in accordance with the Jagannath Temple at Puri.

He was a great astronomer, and even if he died penniless and in pain, a century later, he is counted among the greatest of the Indian astronomers: Aryabhata, Varamihara, Bramhagupta and Bhaskara.

Sources

  • Samanta Chandra Sekhar: The Great Naked Eyed Astronomer by P.C. Naik, Pathani Samanta Planetarium, Bhubaneshwar and L. Satpathy, Institute of Physics, Bhubaneshwar, published in Bulletin of Astronomical Society of India XXVI 33-49 (1998). Archived at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1998BASI…26…33N
  • Odisha Review, January 2012: Legacy of Samanta Chandrasekhar

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