John Dalton (1766 – 1844) is the person remembered when we discuss about atomic theory. Dalton based his theory on the law of conservation of mass and the law of constant composition. In 1803, during a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, John Dalton, an English chemist gave his first public account of the atomic theory. He proposed that atoms of different elements could be distinguished by differences in their weights. His theory was based on ideas that All matter is composed of atoms cannot be made or destroyed and all atoms of the same element are identical.
But 2500 years ago an Indian sage and a philosopher had formulated the atomic theory, but this fact is less known. His name is Acharya Kanada. His birth name was Kashyap and it is said that he was born somewhere between 600 BC or 800 BC in Prabhas Kshetra near Dwaraka (Present day Gujarat), India. His father’s name was Ulka who was a Philosopher.
How Kashyap got the name Kanada?
Kashyap keenly observed even the smallest particle from his childhood. One day he had accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Prayaga. The road was filled with thousands of pilgrims and flowers were spread all across the road. But his eyes fell on the rice grains which were on the roads. These grains were offered at the temples by the shore of river Ganges.
Kashyap focused all his attentions on the grains and began to gather them one by one. Soon other pilgrims noticed this and were surprised because Kashyap looked like a boy from a reputed family. The curious crowd asked him that why is he doing all this? They also said that even beggars won’t touch these grains. Kashyap’s reply was amazing. The boy said “one grain in itself may seem worthless but a collection of some hundred grains make up a person’s meal. The collection of many meals would feed an entire family and ultimately the entire mankind was made up of many families. And for this reason, a single grain of rice was as important as all the riches in the world”.
He found out that the universe is made up of “kana” means atoms. He studied atomic theory and found the way atoms move and react with each other. In time, people started to call him “Acharya- the teacher”, hence the name Acharya Kanad.
Kanada discovered that “Anu” (atom) was an indestructible particle of matter. While he was walking with his food in his hand, he started to break the food into minute particles until he couldn’t further break. Hence he said matter cannot be divided further.
Later on he founded the Vaisheshika School of philosophy where he taught his discoveries and the basics of the universe. He is the author of “Vaisesika Sutras” or Aphorisms, which briefs about the atomic theory. He also said that atoms are everlasting because they are minute objects invisible to naked eyes.
He focused especially on Rasavadam, considered to be a type of alchemy. He also said that all living beings are composed of five elements that are water, fire, earth, air, ether. He even said that Gurutva (Gravity) was responsible for the falling of objects on the earth.
Kanada also said that life is an organised form of atoms & molecules and death as an unorganised form of those atoms & molecules. Indian theory on atom was based on logic and not on personal experience or experimentation.
A.L Basham, Australian Indologist said that “they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.
In the West, atomism emerged in the 5th century BC with the ancient Greeks Leucippus and Democritus. Whether Indian culture influenced Greek or vice versa or whether both evolved independently is a matter of dispute.
A magazine called “Kanada” is run by National Aeronautical Laboratory in Bangalore in dedication to Acharya Kanada.