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The Idea of Parmanu- Acharya Kanad

  • Vedas

In our science classes, we used to learn about atoms and molecules. We learnt about several atomic theories, first proposed by John Dalton in 1803. But did you know about Acharya Kanad’s notion of Parmanu proposed before Dalton’s theory? Do you know how his ‘anu’ became the ‘amu’ of Dalton’s theory?


‘Parmanu’ is a Sanskrit word which means ‘atom’. The concept of Parmanu found in many ancient texts was first given by Acharya Kanad, the father of the Indian Atomic Theory. It is a crucial concept in Indian philosophy for many philosophers from Jain and Buddhist communities.

The Vedic texts mention the existence of Parmanu, which are indestructible and indivisible particles. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra (Vaiseshika sutra), a Vedic text, describes the Parmanu as the smallest particle of an element that cannot segregate. His theory states that all matter comprises atoms, which are indestructible and indivisible. He named this indivisible particle ‘anu’ that later became ‘amu’, as per Dalton’s theory.

The Parmanu are of different sizes and weights and are in constant motion. This idea of Parmanu has significance in the field of modern physics. It helped the development of the atomic bomb and nuclear power.

What is Vaisesika Sutra mentioned above?

Vaiśeṣika Sūtra by Acharya Kanad (Sage Kashyapa) is an ancient Sanskrit text on the footing of the Vaisheshika school of Hindu philosophy. In the 1950s, the sole manuscript of the Vaiseshika sutra became recognized, and this manuscript became a part of a bhasya via means of the fifteenth-century Sankaramisra. Scholars had doubted its authenticity due to inconsistencies and quotes from varied religions like Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature claiming to be from the Vaisheshika Sutra.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, new manuscripts of Vaiśeṣika Sūtra got extracted in remote realms of India. These modern manuscripts are pretty different from historical literature. Like several important texts and scriptures of Hinduism, Vaiśeṣika Sūtra also suffered interpolations, mistakes in transmission and distortion over time.

Kanad’s Postulates of Parmanu

Kanad’s postulate of the atom revolved around the notion of motion. Also, he deduced it to be spherical, so it lies in all dimensions, and its centrality follows invariance principles. Vaisheshika Sutra text states that 

  • Firstly, there exist four kinds of atoms (earth, water, light and air), space (akasha), time (kāla), direction (Disha), the infinity of souls (Atman), and mind (manas).
  • Secondly, every object of creation constitutes atoms (parmanu) connected to form molecules (anu). Parmanu is undying, and their molecular structure comprises the empirical material world.
  • Thirdly, individual souls are eternal and interpenetrate material bodies for a time.
  • And finally, There are six categories (padārtha) of knowledge — substance, quality, activity, generality, particularity, and inherence.

In all, he was the first philosopher who deduced the foremost description of parmanu in terms of scientific evaluation. His explanation of atman, akasha, Kala and Disha was the laid foundation of the Sutra. Sutra had no mention of god and Hindu philosophy leading to its acceptance by the atheist.

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