Indian Sage Kanad Gave Atomic Theory 2,600 Years Ago, Not John Dalton

by Sankalan Baidya
atomic theory of acharya kanad

From atomic theory to astronomical treatise, from mathematics to medicine, ancient Indians have given world the knowledge that far surpasses the intellect of western scientists and learned men. And yet for long, the West has always tried to take credit for everything. They even came up with the Myth of Aryan Invasion that supposedly shaped the Indian culture. All the western people did for millennial is just belittle the grandeur or Indian culture, calling it a country of hermits and sages who were capable of nothing but philosophical blabbering.

The truth however is that when the rest of the world was roaming around in caves, making wall murals out of dried flower dyes, the Indian culture built strong empires, unlocked the mysteries of universe and played around with medicine. Let’s not beat around the bush and head straight for the topic – the Atomic Theory.

For centuries we have been taught in schools that the Atomic Theory was first introduced by John Dalton. But that’s not really true. Almost every Indian in this world (whether he or she lives in India or abroad) knows the term ‘Paramanu’. This was a term coined by an ancient Indian sage who became popular by the name Acharya Kanad.

That wasn’t his real name. His real name was Acharya Kashyap who was born c. 600 BCE. Acharya Kanad, who was a philosopher and a sage didn’t coin the term Paramanu out of philosophical or whimsical thoughts. He, in fact, came up with the entire Atomic Theory nearly 2,400 years ahead of John Dalton (1766-1844).

Kashyap Becomes Acharya Kanad

The chain of events that led to the incredible theory of Paramanu by Acharya Kanad is pretty interesting. Kashyap, who was born in Prabhas Kshetra (close to Dwarka in modern day Gujarat) once went to Prayag for pilgrimage. That’s where he noticed that pilgrims from various parts of India littered the roads with rice grains and flowers. These rice grains and flowers were from the Pragay temple.

The littered rice immediately caught Kashyap’s attention and he was fascinated by the small grains. He started picking up the rice grains one by one. His act was unusual and caught attention of the surrounding people who asked the reason why he was picking the grains that not even the beggars bother pick up.

To this question, Kashyap came up with a very interesting answer. He said, ‘While a single grain is really worthless, approximately a hundred of these grains will make a decent meal for one person. In same way, several of these meals will nicely feed an entire family because several people make up a family. Eventually, the entire mankind on this planet is made up of many families. So, a single rice grain is no less in value than the gold or other riches of this world‘.

It was a surprising theory for people and they started calling Kashyap as Kanad, a name derived from the Sanskrit word, Kan, which in English translates into ‘the smallest particle’.

Kashyap was so fascinated by his theory and the world that could be conceptualized using the smallest particle that he eventually started writing about his theory and ideas. Not just that, he also started teaching people about the same, which is why people started calling him Acharya Kanad which means, the teacher of small particles.

Acharya Kanad’s Atomic Theory: Concept of Paramanu

The time when Kanad understood the importance of the smallest particle, he was yet to fully unravel his atomic theory. This happened one day when he was walking with food and was continuously breaking them into smaller and smaller particles until a stage reached where he was no further able to break the particles into smaller pieces. That’s when he came up with the idea of a particle that cannot be further broken down. That’s when he coined the term Paramanu for this indivisible particle.

Acharya Kanad said that the entire universe is made of particles or Kanas and when matter is gradually broken down, a stage reaches where further division was impossible, i.e. the matter will be broken down into paramanu. According to Kanad, the particle was so very minute that it was impossible for any human organ to sense it.

Kanad further expanded the theory stating there are five basic types of paramanus in this world. Each type coming from the Panchamahaboot or the five elements – air, water, fire, earth and ether. He also explained that based on the substance from which the paramanu comes, the property of the paramanu changes.

Not just that, Kanad even explained that an object that weighs less underwater will weigh more in air. According to him, the density of paramanus or atoms in water is more than density of paramanus in air. Which is why, when an object is placed under water, a part of the object’s weight is nullified by the greater density of paramanus in water, allowing us to feel only the partial weight of the submerged object.

He further explained that when the same object is taken in air, lesser weight of the object is countered by the low density of paramanus of air. As a result of this, we feel greater weight of the object and hence, it feels heavier. Thus, even though in a very loose sense, Kanad even foreshadowed Archimedes.

Coming back to paramanus, Acharya Kanad explained that each paramanu has this urge to combine with another paramanu. When two paramanus from same object comes together, what we get is dwinuka or a binary molecule. This dwinuka, according to Kanad possesses the same properties of the two paramanus of the same object that combine together.

According to him, when paramanus from different matter can combine together in this material universe and give rise to different types of dwinukas, resulting in the formation of different types of substances or matter. Kanad also said that an object can go through different chemical changes if factors such as temperature are altered. He cited examples of a fruit ripening or an earthenware becoming black when temperature gradually changes.

This atomic theory by Acharya Kanad came to existence long before even Alexander reached India. It is highly likely that Greek philosophers reached India after 330 BCE and learned about Kanad’s ideas of atomic physic, which then gradually propelled into the west. It is true that Kanad’s atomic theory was abstract and imaginative with no scientific experiment for validating the same. However, his ideas agree with modern day physic.

What John Dalton did was just gave a scientific experiment to only prove the theory that came to existence well over two thousand years even before John Dalton was born. And, we are taught that John Dalton gave the atomic theory to world! When will the egocentric west learn to stop defending their established institutions and start giving proper credit to others?

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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