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I heard "Tamil People found that the earth was round 2000 years ago. They named the planets 2000 years ago." Is this true?

The Tamil poet Manikkavachakar wrote about the earth in Tiruvacakam:

By lust bewilder'd;- in this earthly sphere caught in the circling sea of joyous life;-


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Show some research, where have you heard this? –  AskingStory Jan 8 '14 at 13:04
The only trustful references I can find say that this idea arrived around the 5th century AD, so roughly 800 years after Erathostenes in ancient Greece (see this article for example). So answer is no, they rediscovered it about 1500 years ago, not 2000 years ago. –  MBR Jan 8 '14 at 14:34
Eratosthenes had calculated the Earth's radius to within 16km of the actual value by about 225 BC (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_geodesy). Certainly any maritime civilization, like the Tamils, is likely to have noted ships being hull-down on the horizon, and drawn the obvious conclusion, fairly early on. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 8 '14 at 19:47
@PieterGeerkens - Nice. My answer better phrased, and boiled down to a comment. :-) –  T.E.D. Jan 8 '14 at 19:50
Are you sure that the Tamil phrase translated by "earthly sphere" in fact refers to the earth, as in the ground, and not the sky, and calls it a sphere and not a dome? Because in early western poetry, the sky is referred to as a dome over the earth even before the sphericality of the earth was discovered. This is because the horizon appears to be circular when you have a clear view of it on all sides. –  outis nihil Jan 10 '14 at 22:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 27 down vote accepted

It is actually a bit of a myth that everyone believed the world to be flat until Columbus. It is true that a lot of ancient societies believed that as a matter of cultural mythology. This was true both for the ancient Greeks as well as the ancient Indians.

However, any ancient navigator who looked to the horizon on the sea on a calm day could clearly see that it was curved, and that distant ships appeared to sink lower as they approached it. So educated men all over the world eventually realized they were sitting on some kind of giant sphere from a very early time. That time seems to be sometime after about the 5th Century BC in the Western world, and according your poet at least as early as the writing of Tiruvacakam in the subcontinent (5th-7th century AD). One would imagine far earlier than that though, as there was regular seaborne trade going on in that area as early as the Roman era.

For example, some people incorrectly credit Eratosthenes with the idea of a spherical earth, while what he really did was take that as a known given (which it was at the time) and tried to calculate its circumference.

So from a strict technical sense, yes you could say that the Tamil people probably knew the earth was round 2000 years ago. However, pretty much everyone else with access to a large body of water knew that too.

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By the same token, many ancient peoples also observed that the planets moved differently from the stars and named them early on. –  called2voyage Jan 8 '14 at 21:04
To complete the story: before Newton (late 17th century) a spherical Earth and a geocentric world were the best way to explain why objects have weight: "the Earth is a sphere sitting in the middle of the Universe, and all matter has a fundamental property to be attracted towards the center of the world." Actually, before Newton, this was the best "proof" against the heliocentric model, as it could not provide an explanation for gravity. So while heliocentrism was a fundamentally new view only appearing fairly recently (less than 500 years ago), the spherical Earth is known since ancient times. –  vsz Mar 17 '14 at 16:29
As mentioned about the example of earth round theory in the last paragraph, most of the scientific facts are like this. Even though there would be a single person or community who understood about that fact for the first time. –  AskingStory Apr 8 '14 at 18:48

The logic in the question is wrong, a Tamil poet mentioned about spherical shape of earth, so Tamil people invented that? The only true assumption you can be sure about from this poem is that Tamil people would have known about this fact 2000 years ago.

As Tamilnadu is a very small region in India there are chances that some others outside tamilnadu in India found this and the poet used the term long after it was invented. There are a lot of old languages in India. Tamil is one of them of course(as pointed out in the comments). But there are languages like Sanskrit which we need to consider. There are poems ,stories and puranas in that language too. Some of them are also mentioning about the spherical shape of earth.

For example, in Srimad Bhagavada(a holy book of Hindus), there is clear saying about the shape of earth. It is called 'BHUGOLA'(BHU means earth, GOLA means sphere in Sanskrit). There is a separate chapter for describing different planets including earth. This is surely older than the mentioned poem 'Thiruvasakam'. There are chances that Tamil people could have invented this, but the chances of other Indian people are also equal in finding this. Also in Hindu puranas, the Earth is considered as the mother of humans and a goddess, and the people who wrote these puranas clearly knew that earth was spherical.

This google search shows result for the specific chapter about earth, see here

It's just an example, there are many other places where it is mentioned. Please keep in mind that these books are not specifically talking about the shape of the earth, it is used like a usual term in some places. They are not claiming anything about who invented things...

Also FYI, please have a look at these facts too which can not be found using the common sense.

Two thousand years before Pythagoras, philosophers in northern India had understood that gravitation held the solar system together, and that therefore the sun, the most massive object, had to be at its center.

Twenty-four centuries before Isaac Newton, the Hindu Rig-Veda asserted that gravitation held the universe together.

The Sanskrit speaking Aryans subscribed to the idea of a spherical earth in an era when the Greeks believed in a flat one. The Indians of the fifth century A.D. calculated the age of the earth as 4.3 billion years; scientists in 19th century England were convinced it was 100 million years. Many questions, still to be asked.

Read about the book Srimad Bhagavata, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavata_Purana For basic additional info about other assertions: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Vedic_science and simple google search

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So the logic in your answer also wrong!! I appreciate the way that you want to correct OP, at the same time correct your statements too. Rather than answering the question you conveyed lot of false statements. Like Tamil is not the oldest language, Sanskrit language is way too older than Tamil, Since Sanskrit was used all over the India etc. Look at Proto languages. Basic Google search will give more information on this. When you considered Vedas with common sense, why don't you even not considered the possibilities of others who knew this way before them. –  Mathankumar Mar 18 '14 at 12:43
@Mathankumar: I was pointing on the scriptures older than Tiruvacakam. In wikipedia I found that these were written in between 7th and 11th AD. So the vedas are clearly older than this. Even if considering others knew earth is round(can't be sure anyway), the oldest written note would be there in Vedas or Puranas as far as I know. –  AskingStory Mar 19 '14 at 18:34
@AskingStory:I am sure that vedas are older than Thiruvasakam, but that is not enough to say that Sanskrit is older than Tamil. As far as I know, there is no real proof as to which is oldest among the two languages. Except for this I agree with you on your other points. –  Dharmaputhiran May 15 '14 at 11:35
@Dineshkumar,Mathankumar: I have edited the answer to correct my misunderstanding about sanskrit and tamil language.Thanks for pointing out. –  AskingStory May 15 '14 at 17:06

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