Pradeep Pattanayak

Today is the birthday of the great astronomer and mathematician of Odisha, Pathani Samanta, whose full name with honourifics was Mahamahopadhyaya Chandrasekhara Singha Harichandana Mahapatra Samanta. 

The moon, stars, planets, and other celestial objects light years away from the Earth have been fascinating to us. We have always been curious to know about them. The more we acquire knowledge about them, the more they attract us. 

As a child, Pathani Samanta too got fascinated by these celestial bodies. 

On December 13, 1835, Pathani Samanta was born to Bishnumali Devi and Samanta Syamabandhu Singha, the king of a princely state in modern-day Odisha.   

There is an incident after which his name got the title ‘Pathani’.

According to the legend mentioned on the murals of the Pathani Samanta Planetarium, the royal couple had lost several children before the birth of Samanta. Hence, they were afraid of losing him. So, after his birth, they immediately donated him to a Muslim Fakir. In those days, it used to be a common practice for parents to donate the newborn baby to someone, especially a Muslim Fakir, or sell it to a temple to avoid evil eyes on their children. Following this, Samanta’s parents did so. From that day onwards, he was called ‘Pathani’.

From a very young age, he developed a love for gazing at stars. He was home-schooled by his father. His guru helped him learn Sanskrit and Mathematics.

Soon the royal library became his second home. When he was just 11 years old, he already started reading several Sanskrit ‘granths’ on how to predict the position and movements of stars. 

Then Indian astronomy was more focused on foretelling. But he deviated from that and with a scientific approach, he started calculating the minutest details applying his mathematical knowledge. Though modern types of equipment were available then, he used everyday materials like wood and bamboo to make mana yantra (measuring instrument). With this yantra, he could measure the height at which a bird flies, the height of a tree, and the distance and height of a mountain from a fixed position. 

When he was 23 years old, he already started making meticulous observations, pointing out discrepancies and correcting them. In the next 11 years, he put together all his observations, research, and calculations in one single book.  It was called Siddhanta Darpana. Written on palm leaves, the book was completed in 1869. 

Thirty years later, Professor Josges Chandra Ray of the then Cuttack College published it after getting financial assistance from the King of Athmallik and the King of Mayurbhanj. In 1870, the Puri King Gajapati Maharaj awarded him the title ‘Harichandan Mohapatra’. The title ‘Mahamahopadhyay’ was conferred upon him by the British government in 1893 for his correct prediction of the place and time of a solar eclipse visible only in Britain. He was also given a monthly pension of Rs 50. 

Every Odia should feel proud of Pathani Samanta and his book ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ as it was mentioned in the prestigious British journal ‘Nature’ and the American journal ‘Knowledge’. 

Samanta married Sita Devi, daughter of King of Angul in 1857 and he passed away on June 11, 1904.