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? Jan 8, 2014 at 13:04
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    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, 2014 at 14:34
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    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. Jan 8, 2014 at 19:47
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    @PieterGeerkens - Nice. My answer better phrased, and boiled down to a comment. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 8, 2014 at 19:50
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    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. Jan 10, 2014 at 22:53

4 Answers 4


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. Jan 8, 2014 at 21:04
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    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, 2014 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. Apr 8, 2014 at 18:48
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    @called2voyage: Our word "planet" comes, through Old French and Late Latin, from the ancient Greek word "planan", meaning "wanderer". This came from their meandering paths through the heavens. Apr 3, 2016 at 23:50
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    @vsz We must mention that Aristarchus of Samos believed in a heliocentric theory in the 3rd century BC. So the heliocentric idea was old. But the vast majority of scholars agreed there was more evidence in favor of the geocentric model, until the time of Copernicus. (And Copernicus knew of Aristarchus and credited him with the heliocentric theory.) Aug 21, 2018 at 21:07

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. Mar 18, 2014 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. Mar 19, 2014 at 18:34
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    As Tamilnadu is a very small region in India may be you need to read about Tamil kings.
    – Gopi
    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:24

The actual question is: did ancient Indians know about the spherical nature of the earth?

There are several illustrations of Lord Vishnu in Hindu scriptures, in His incarnation as Varaha (wild boar) carries the Earth as a Sphere over its tusks. In all ancient writings in India, we find references to Brahma-Andaa meaning "the infinitely large elliptical (egg) form of the Universe".

Thus, the fact the people of India believed the earth was a sphere is trivial, and literally a derived thought, from the fact they believed the Universe itself was an ellipsoid. So, the earth was a sphere in form in the minds of ancient Indians.

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    This would be improved by adding some source references and giving some historical context (i.e. when these Hindu scriptures were written and illustrated)
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 28, 2018 at 10:33
  • re "a derived thought, from the fact they believed the Universe itself was an ellipsoid" - Which is the cart, and which the horse. A priori, an ellipsoid Universe derived from a known spherical Earth seems much more likely than a known spherical Earth derived from a believed ellipsoid Universe. Aug 28, 2018 at 12:21
  • @ There is no Indian before Independence.
    – Gopi
    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:26

This is the answer that makes the only sense out of all the postings:

Brahma-Andaa meaning "the infinitely large elliptical (egg) form of the Universe".

Indians always believed EVERY PLANET and heavenly object was SPHERICAL. It is chanted in every Vedic ceremony, and then glorified. Hiranyagarbha is another world for the birth of the universe in the womb of manifested GOD (Ref: Chandogya Upanishad (3:19). It is central to every ceremony for Hindus since Rig Vedic times (2900 BCE). The fact is, Alexander returned back to Greece with 100,000 plus Indians to modernize science, as the tradition of India was primarily Oral Tradition (Ref: Alexander's contact with Dandirmis, from Taxila University and then Kalanos, a 'learned man' who was taken back with Alexander on his return from India). This simple act by Alexander resulted in discoveries by Archimedes, Ptolemy, Euclid and others a century of two later. (Ref: B. Richmond (1956). Time Measurement and Calendar Construction. Brill Archive. pp. 80–82. Retrieved 2011-09-18). Greeks were further handicapped as the Vatican did not allow consideration of a symbol for ZERO, and had to wait until the 12th century CE for proper ability for systematic computational study in mathematics.. Without a proper place value for ZERO, all astronomical calculations are just plain guess work.

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    I'm not quite sure what the attacks on Greece have to do with things - and as far as Greek astronomy is concerned, I'd point to the Babylonians.
    – user31561
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:19
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    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Oct 17, 2018 at 17:23

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