A temblor from
ancient Indian treasure trove?
By Abhay Vaidya
The Times of India News Service
PUNE: Ancient Indians invented zero. Sanskrit is the
world's most 'scientific' language. Ayurveda experts claim they have
cures for many diseases allopathy is still struggling to find
answers for. Here is another one that should make people sit up and
take notice of the wisdom of an old civilisation: predicting
A model to predict earthquakes, developed by a California-based
scholar of Chinese origin, uses the concept of "earthquake clouds",
something that has been dealt with in detail in the 32nd chapter of
Varahamihira's Brihat Samhita.
The greatness of philosopher, mathematician and astronomer
Varahamihira (505-587 AD) is widely acknowledged. The Ujjain-born
scholar was one of the Navaratnas in the court of King Vikramaditya
Chandragupta II. His works, Pancha-Siddhantika (The
Five Astronomical Canons) and Brihat Samhita (The
Great Compilation), are considered seminal texts on ancient Indian
astronomy and astrology.
Now, maybe it's time to look at his work more closely.
S N Bhavsar, a Vedic scholar associated with the Physics
Department at the Pune University, is drawing the scientific
community's attention to the elaborate references to earthquakes,
their causes and predictability in Brihat Samhita.
What has astonished scientists and Vedic scholars here and has
renewed interest in the Brihat Samhita, are references
to unusual "earthquake clouds" as precursor to earthquakes.
The 32nd chapter of the manuscript is devoted to signs of
earthquakes and correlates earthquakes with cosmic and planetary
influences, underground water and undersea activities, unusual cloud
formations, and the abnormal behaviour of animals.
"I find it rather odd that the description of earthquake clouds
in Brihat Samhita matches the observations made by
Zhonghao Shaou at the Earthquake Prediction Centre in Pasadena,
California," said B D Kulkarni, head of the National Chemical
Laboratory's Chemical Engineering Division.
Over the last ten years, Zhonghao Shou, a retired chemist based
near Caltech in California, has been using satellite imagery and
other scientific tools to fine-tune his theory of "earthquake
clouds" as precursors to earthquakes. Shou who is attracting
scientific attention, but is yet to be accepted by the scientific
community, says he has predicted 39 quakes since 1990.
Shou has a website (http://members.nbci.com/EQPrediction) and
says that ancient Chinese and Italians also tried to predict
earthquakes on the basis of peculiarly-shaped clouds.
According to Shou, earthquake clouds are formed when underground
water is converted into water vapour by the heat generated in the
epicentric area of a fault rock, which is undergoing constant stress
When this vapour escapes to the surface and rises through the
atmosphere, it forms a cloud. "The shape of the gap and surface
current may endow the cloud with a special configuration like a
snake, a wave, a feather, or a lantern, which will be able to be
distinguished from weather clouds," says Zhou.
Zhou says that earthquake prediction is possible by identifying
such clouds as "an earthquake generally occurs within 49 days of the
first appearance of the cloud".
As Bhavsar pointed out, Varahamihira, too, speaks of unusual
cloud formations, a week before the occurrence of an earthquake.
Varahamihira categorises earthquakes into different kinds and
says that the indications of one particular kind will appear in the
form of unusual cloud formations a week before its occurrence: "Its
indications appearing a week before are the following: Huge clouds
resembling blue lily, bees and collyrium in colour, rumbling
pleasantly, and shining with flashes of lightning, will pour down
slender lines of water resembling sharp clouds. An earthquake of
this circle will kill those that are dependent on the seas and
rivers; and it will lead to excessive rains."
These observations are available in the English translation of
the two-volume Brihat Samhita with the original
Sanskrit texts, exhaustive notes and literary comments by M
Ramakrishna Bhat. The book has been published by the Delhi-based
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
"Please do not treat these observations as gibberish and trash it
as some Indian scientists are prone to do," Bhavsar urged. He said
it was painful to Vedic scholars when ancient Indian knowledge was
discarded as nonsense by some.
"What needs to be acknowledged," he said, "is that 1500 years ago
a celebrated astronomer-astrologer-mathematician sought to study
earthquakes on the Indian subcontinent. He drew correlations between
terrestrial earth, the atmosphere and planetary influences. He
described earth as a mass floating on water and spoke of unusual
cloud formations and abnormal animal behaviour as precursors to
"All in all, this should be accepted as nothing but astounding."