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The essays collected here are based on papers delivered at the Bhutas seminar held in Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, from August 24 to 27, 1992. The seminar was jointly sponsored by IUCAA and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi.

The ancient wisdom contained in the Vedas, Upanisadas, other sastras and the Ayurveda discusses the concept of matter in various forms. The word bhutas used here is to be taken as symbolising these concepts. The ideas include the nature of matter on the micro-scale as well as on the large scale, the nature of living matter, the origin of life itself, holistic medicine, Yogasutras, etc.

Modern science has brought in new perspectives. What is the ultimate micro-structure of matter? In the sequence of atoms-nuclei-quarks — is there an end-point? How, where and when in the universe did the various chemical elements form? Where is the frontier between physics and biology? What is the link between the ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ matter? What are the current ideas on the origin and evolution of life? How do they influence modern medical systems?

To what extent is there a commonality between the ancient and the modern streams of thought? The methods of seeking answers are different, but are questions basically the same? Can a dialogue between two systems with such manifest differences be successful?

This seminar was attempting such a dialogue. It sought to bring together intellectuals (who may not otherwise participate in a joint discussion) with the hope that the cross-fertilization of ideas would be productive.

The subject of the seminar covered both the Indian traditional ideas on matter and the modern scientific concepts. The scope was thus fairly wide covering such ideas as:

(i) Origin of matter

(ii) Nature of matter, its hierarchical structure

(iii) Transmutation from one form to another

(iv) Living and inert matter: commonalities and differences

(v) Evolution of living matter

(vi) Any other relevant aspect of matter not covered explicitly in (i)-(v).

On the scientific side there was participation by physicists, biologists, astronomers, chemists, geophysicists, etc., while on the traditional side scholars from humanities, holistic medicine, ancient Indian literature, Ayurveda, etc. participated.

The participants cooperated by not being very technical since the workshop was interdisciplinary in nature. They highlighted the basic concepts and march of ideas rather than specific details. The long discussion sessions were enjoyable for their liveliness and spontaneity.

There was a general agreement that the seminar was a success and such interdisciplinary dialogues should continue. There were certain action-points suggested:

  1. The database of ancient manuscripts should be made as complete as possible to enable scholars to use it for research purposes. The IGNCA may help sponsor this important activity.

  2. An objective assessment is needed about the state of knowledge in past in the various fields listed under the subject-matter of the seminar.

  3. Each of the topics listed above deserved extensive interdisciplinary discussions in their own right. As such further seminars could be initiated by the IGNCA and other interested institutions.

I am happy that the views of participants here will give the readers some glimpses of the depth and range of the subject-matter covered. I wish to thank all the contributors to this volume for their cooperation in submitting their articles promptly. Finally, I am grateful to Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and her colleagues at the IGNCA for making it possible to hold the seminar at IUCAA.


Jayant V. Narlikar

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