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   Ram Nath Kak
    Sarojini Kak
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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Subhash Kak is a Renaissance figure 

By Neeraj Santoshi

My first brush with Subhash Kak was many years ago when I read his haiku poems in Hindi section of Koshur Samachar. They had the fragrance of Zen poems and reminded me of the poetry of Zen masters like Basho and Issa which I had read  long  back. I can still remember some of the poems, though   I am bad at remembering poetry.

It was later that I came to know that this 58 year old Kashmiri Pandit  in America  not only  writes soulful poetry but he  has  also  made great contributions in information-theoretic aspects of quantum mechanics  and worked on models of the brain from pattern processing point of view  . Besides authoring over 200 journal papers, numerous essays, and fifteen books, his scientific contributions include one of the earliest patents on speech scrambling and a patent on instantaneously trained “neural networks”, which has found applications in time-series prediction and has also been used in the design of a meta-search engine.

But what fascinated me more was that this Scientist-Sanskrit scholar   had  made original contributions in our understanding  of the ancient  history of India , which  has  forced the historians to  have a rethink on our ancient history. His researches have explored the connectedness of Vedic and Vedantic ideas with the latest insights of modern physics and neurosciences. He made it known  to  the world  that in certain fields like grammar and  consciousness studies , our forefathers  had  made astonishing advances , which are  yet to be understood fully by the people of this 21st  century. 

A  mere look at  the list and titles of  his books will say much about his wide  range  of  interests and  depth of his researches . His books  include Patanjali and Cognitive Science (1987), India at Century's ,  (1994) , In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, (1995, 2001), The Astronomical Code of the Rgveda  (1994 ), Computing Science in Ancient India (2001),  The Wishing Tree: The Presence and Promise of India  (2001) , Gods Within: Mind, Consciousness and the Vedic Tradition  (2002) , The Asvamedha: The Rite and Its Logic  (2002) , The Nature of Physical Reality  1986, The Prajna Sutra (2003) , The Architecture of Knowledge: Quantam Mechanics, Neuroscience, Computers and Consciousness ( 2004), Advances in Communications and Signal Processing  (1989,with W.A. Porter),  Advances in Computing and Control (1989 , with W.A. Porter and J.L. Aravena). His Poetry books incude :The Conductor of the Dead (1974), The London Bridge (1977) The Secrets of Ishbar (1996) Ek Taal, Ek Darpan (1999), The secrets of Ishbar: Poems on Kashmir and other landscapes, Vitasta (1996)

I am also surprised that the so-called Pandit intelligentsia do not talk much  about  his work or invite him here for  lectures and  honour this great son of the soil.  May be they are “busy in their politics and saving culture by just regularly popping out press statements.” 

I must share with readers how I myself discovered “the wonderful world of Subhash Kak”. Some years ago, before  having  known much about Subhash Kak, I read some leaves from  the autobiographical book Autumn Leaves of his father Ram  Nath Kak, who  had served at  various places in  Kashmir as a senior veterinary officer.   I  immensely liked its cover that features golden brown leaves of Chinar in autumn,  which remind me of their husky   smell and my smell-associated childhood memories.  Reading it, I felt as if a grandfatherly figure was telling his grandson in exile about his varied experiences of life, journeys to far off places in Kashmir  and his own tale on various events. In the concluding part of the book, Ram Nath Kak  mentions about  his son, Subhash  Kak whose  interest in ancient India  and research makes him feel a proud Kashmiri  Pandit, a true son of  soil who  has continued  the intellectual  pursuits and quest for  truth  of  our ancient seers like Abhnavagupta, Anandavardhana  and synthesized ancient  ideas  with the cutting edge researches in modern science. 

Later when I got net connection at home, I  searched more about him in the cyberspace and found a wealth of  information about him and his work. I downloaded   most of  his researches papers, which total about 400 pages on my PC  and is almost a treasure house on ancient  wisdom  for me.   

It may be mentioned here that Subhash Kak, born on March 26, 1947 in Srinagar, was educated in several schools in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, and obtained a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Jammu and Kashmir University in 1967, after which, he joined IIT Delhi and completed his Ph.D in 1970 on information and communications engineering. He has researched on cryptography, random sequences, coding, artificial intelligence, and neural networks. After working for a major period from 1970 to 1979, at IIT Delhi, with brief stints at Imperial College, University of London, Bell Laboratories, and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, he finally moved to the Louisiana State University as a professor in 1979. Over the years, he became interested in the history of ancient science in India, early mathematics and linguistics.

This practicing electrical engineer wanted to be a writer in his school days, but it  was  his mother that persuaded him   to  join an engineering college. But later he had  no  regret on this account. On the contrary he found that literary and scientific arenas were not all that different. To me he truly represents the essence of a scientist and a mystic put together or a stage where there is not  much difference between a scientist  and a mystic    

Kak’s interest in ancient science developed when he delved into Panini's 2500-year-old grammar, a work of astonishing subtlety and depth. His study of the ancient texts, made things  clear  to him and he announced to the world that the “paradigm in which ancient Indian history had been examined was wrong”.  His findings on ancient  India has given  “a centrality to India in world history”.

His famous book with George Feuerstein and David Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization , emphasizes that India was the cradle of the very first civilization, not Sumer in Iraq or other civilization. He claims that India has had cultural continuity for at least 10,000 years  and it  was in India first that artistic, scientific,  philosophical and religious impulses arose  , giving  India a  sort of  centrality in the history  of  mankind .

One of his most famous assertions is the suggestion   that the modern computer science term for context-free languages, the Backus-Naur Form, should more accurately be called the Panini-Backus. Panini’s 6th century BC grammar provides 4,000 rules that describe the Sanskrit of his day completely and is acknowledged to be one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time

In his famous research paper on “Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science”, Subhash Kak says that his analysis was meant to highlight several formal features of Panini’s grammar that have direct parallels in computer science, adding, “What might be other features of the grammar that have not yet been rediscovered in computer science remains to be seen”. Kak points out that the great variety of language mirrors, in many ways, the complexity of nature. “What is remarkable is that Panini set out to describe the entire grammar in terms of a finite number of rules. Frits Staal (1988) has shown that the grammar of Panini represents a universal grammatical and computing system. From this perspective it anticipates the logical framework of modern computers”, he says.   He further adds that these fundamental investigations that have bearing on linguistics, knowledge representation, and natural language processing by computer require collaboration between computer scientists and Sanskritists. He says that it would allow the Sanskrit departments to complement the programme of the computer science departments and hopes, that a graduate of Sanskrit could make useful contributions to the computer software industry as well, particularly in the fields of natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Kak has established that as per the cryptological analysis, the Brahmi script of the Mauryan times evolved out of the third millennium Sarasvati (Indus) script, which was perhaps the first true alphabetic script. He points out that the worship of Sarasvati as the Goddess of Learning remembers the development of writing on the banks of the Sarasvati river. He maintains that it appears that the symbol for zero was derived from the fish sign that stood for “ten” in Brahmi and this occurred around 50 BC to 50 AD . Besides , this he has also made major breakthroughs in deciphering the Indus script, on which he  has  worked for more than a decade.

On the intellectual  arthritis of  Indian scholars, he  has a point  to  make. In an interview to the  in 1999 , Subhash Kak says , “It is only the India of the past fifty years that has turned its back on its own heritage and our scientists literally know nothing about our intellectual history, excepting the distorted second-hand accounts written by colonial historians and their Indian followers”.

Stressing the wisdom of our seers, Subhash Kak points out that one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, Erwin Schrodinger, was directly inspired by Vedanta in his creation of quantum mechanics, a theory at the basis of all our developments in most fields of  science today including computers.

One of his major contributions is his startling discovery that the organization of the Rigveda was according to an astronomical code. He developed the key to unlock the ancient mystery of the Vedas, opening  up a still unopened chapter of Indian science.

Kak has also worked on the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization and proved that the Sarasvati did in fact exist, and  flowed down to the sea, parallel to the Indus, before a major earthquake in about 1900 BC separated its two tributaries, the Satluj and the Yamuna, which merged with Sindh and the Ganga. He  reasons that after the economy around the Sarasvati river collapsed due to the drying up of the river, people moved to the east , northwest and to the south.

He also dared to announce that famous German indologist Max Muller was “absolutely  wrong”. He says that the Max Mueller chronology of the Vedas must be rejected and that the Rig Veda must be dated back not to 1500 BC, but to about 3000 BC.

Subhash Kak also argues against the Aryan Invasion theory, stressing that  there is no evidence of a break in Indic tradition, going back to 10,000 years. He also argues that the Aryan-Dravidian divide simply doesn't exist, and that the superficial differences between North and South India are cosmetic and outcome 19th century’s racist discourse.

One is amazed about the aspects of  ancient life he  has  researched.  Consider his research on the structure of the fire altars in scriptural ritual, which  he has  elaborated in his book The Astronomical Code of the Rigveda. He   says  that ours rishis represented their astronomy in terms of the altar constructions. He emphasizes that our  ancient seers were aware that the sun and the moon were at 108 times their own diameters from the earth., and this symbolism is  reflected by the 108 beads of the rosary , symbolizing spiritual journey towards enlightenment.

In the book edited by him and Dr TRN Rao Computing Science in Ancient India,   he  talks about  advances  ancient Indians had  made in mathematics . He talks   about the value pi to many decimal places, Sayana's accurate calculation of the speed of light, hashing algorithms, the binary number system of Sanskrit meters,  mathematical logic (Navya Nyaya), and adds in the same book that most advanced calculus, math and astronomy arose in Kerala several centuries before Newton.

Kak also points about that the 13th century AD scholar Sayana, prime minister at the court of the Vijayanagar Emperor Bukka I, calculated the speed of light to be 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha, which surprisingly does come to 186,536 miles per second!

About his views on the Kashmir issue and Kashmiri Pandits, he says in an interview  to Times Of India ,( dated Feb. 27th)   “Personally, I am for political movement in Kashmir, but I don't see how it can be made as long as Pakistan pushes in Afghan and Punjabi mercenaries into the valley for acts of terror. As a Kashmiri myself, I think the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley and their continuing massacres by bands of terrorists is one of the horrors of modern times, to be equated to the massacre of the Armenians early in the last century in Turkey and that of the Jews and the Roma in Nazi Germany. I believe history will judge the West-- in particular Bill Clinton's presidency-- harshly for looking the other way while this horror has continued”.

Even from thousands of  miles I  can feel  his quest  for  his roots and ultimate home of truth. Perhaps that has  led him to  go deep into  ancient  mysteries and  has led him  to translate Vasugupta’s  8th century AD Shiv Sutras , the 78 aphorisms of Shiva´ in the modern idiom, making  it more readable and understandable across the globe .  

His quest for his roots is more deep than just academic and scholarly interest in Kashmir.   In an article “This Side of Paradise”, published in one of the publications dated November 11, 2001, which I read online, he pours out his heart and questions his search in USA.

“The landscape of my childhood memories lay defiled and I sought a place for myself where I could be connected to new sacred ground. America, in spite of its vast spaces, lacked the sanctities that spring from the magic of childhood not merely one's own, but also of forefathers. Even more, America was the region of worldly contest. Now that war has come to the shores of America, its certainties appear naive, and the contest has lost its excitement. Strangely, after it has become like all other lands, I know why I didn't find the place I sought here. I couldn't find it because it lay all along in the world of my own heart”.

When I read these lines I was reminded of his father who died in Honolulu in 1993. In the last part of the Autumn Leaves his father says, “ I cannot return to Kashmir to smell its air, to walk its bazaars. I recall that last time we were there I took Babuji on a shikara ride on the Dal Lake in moonlight and the beauty of the moment brought such a flood of memories to Babuji that he could not restrain his tears”.

Today, his son Subash Kak may not be able return to Kashmir, but we are  proud that he  has  kept its fragrance , its essence  , its  spirit alive  in his heart and not only that, he spread it to the whole of the world.

Subhash Kak



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World Kashmiri Pandit Conference, 1993
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