Mayank Vahia

Origin and Growth of Astronomy in India

A study of origin and growth of astronomy provides a unique window to study the intellectual
growth of a civilisation. In the present talk, we will discuss the development of astronomy from
the megalithic period to the present. We will show how the growth of astronomy can be divided
into distinct phases, each of which has their own characteristics and significant cultural impact.

Prof. Vahia’s main contribution is in 3 different areas such as Space Astronomy instrumentation and High-Energy Astrophysics Studies in the Origin and Growth of Astronomy in India and Science Education and Popularisation. Prof. Vahia was a co-investigator in the experiment – ANURADHA flown on NASA’s Space Shuttle Space Lab 3 Mission in 1986 and two major astronomical telescopes flown on Indian satellites, namely IXAE (1996) and SOXS (2003). In Astronomy Astrophysics, he has also contributed to the understanding of the charge particle interaction in solar flares as well as X-ray emission from a whole host of astrophysical objects. His most recent and significant contribution is his initiation of the project “Archaeo Astronomy in Indian Context” which has been a path breaking work in understanding the origin and growth of astronomy in the Indian context. This programme has identified several potentially astronomical observatories amongst south Indian Megaliths, identified the structure and grammar of the Indus script and has mapped the growth and decay patterns in Harappan Civilisation. The programme has also taken major initiatives in understanding the Astronomy in the Kashmir region and other places.

Mayank Vahia has also contributed to Science Popularisation by initiating and running Indian
Astronomy Olympiad Programme for more than ten years and has ensured that Indian
performance is amongst the top 3 internationally over the entire period, and in the last 7 years
Indian team’s performance was the best amongst all the participating nations. He also initiated
Science Popularisation and Public Outreach programmes of TIFR including involvement of a
whole spectrum of communities from School and College students to Ph.D. students and general public. He was also Director of Nehru Planetarium for a year from January 2000 to January 2001. He has been the Chairman of the Bombay Association for Science Education from 1996 to 2008. This fully voluntary organisation is involved in improving science communication between Scientists and School and College science teachers. He was also General Secretary of Indian Physics Association from 2004 to 2008 and National Coordinator for the Indian celebrations of the World Year of Physics. Apart from his affiliation with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for 30 years, he is associated with the Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences Mumbai, University, Manipal Advanced Research Group of the Manipal University and Kashmir University.  He has published more than 150 research papers and has given over a hundred public lectures, apart from organising several national and international conferences.