A Classical Tech Policy Bridge between Past and Present


Statue of Hindu Deity Shiva as Nataraja outside CERN Source: Universe Today

Part I

Many have argued that we are in the Age of Industrialization 4.0, where interaction occurs via cyber-physical systems. We are just a few miles behind that emerging trend and a potential new future for humankind – what will be termed the Industrial Revolution 5.0, involving both cyber-physical and cognitive systems! With these two revolutions taking place, the author is eager to investigate what links can be identified between past and present to understand how ancient technology and policies have contributed to the comparatively massive scientific development of the modern era.

To draw a symbolic link between the ancient and the modern, India gifted a statue of Nataraja to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in 2004. In the Hindu religion, the Dancing God Lord Shiva is known as Nataraja, which symbolizes the force of life, or Shakthi. The belief is that Lord Shiva danced to create and uncreate the universe. Indian sculptors have created visual images of the Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja in stones and bronzes since 7th century AD. In modern times physicists have, rather neatly, used advanced technology to simulate the patterns of cosmic dances across the sky. This metaphor connects ancient thoughts with modern technology establishing the head of our “bridge” between past and present.

When tracing backward, the author further feels the need to emphasize the unwritten and perhaps less acknowledged humankind’s history. What we know tends to derive from what historians glean from written sources. We do not think as much about the unwritten histories of people from the past. The author wants to take us through some of this “unknown data,” during which we might term “technology policy” was one of the critical aspects of an ancient public administration. In the 21st century, our assumptions may be that without technology, life ceases to exist. However, it is not the case. So, what is the connection between our collective memories before Christ, after his birth, and up to the present?


Big Data, the Elderly Poet, and the Ancient Kingdom


One of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, is quoted as having said:

“We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”


The word “Avvaiyar” refers to a respectable elder court poetess of the kingdoms during the Sangam period and age of empires[6th Century BC to 13th Century AD] in India. The “Avvaiyar” name was a term given to several court poetesses of this time and can feel their enduring presence well beyond the Sangam period, so significant was their impact. Avvaiyars were also the messengers between the Tamil kings, often bringing peace among them through their wisdom. A notable Avvaiyar wrote poems on governance, and Aathichudi is one such famous piece popular among Tamil textbooks in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Avvaiyar wrote Aathichudi in Tamil alphabetical order, and the 7th alphabet speaks about எண், எழுத்து இகழேல் (Enn, Ezhuthu Igalel), which translates to “Do not underestimate the power of numbers [data] and letters [reports/literature].”


To live longer and spread her Tamil work, king Adhiyaman offers a rare fruit to Avvaiyar Source: Wikimedia

She quotes the importance of data and stresses that one ought not to be ignorant of numbers and reports. These ancient kings consulted these court poetesses and poets on warfare, education, and dealing with natural disasters. The availability of data would no doubt have contributed towards preparedness for any adverse situations of their times.

In this author’s opinion, the big data revelation of recent times is remarkably similar in its terminology to that used during the Avvaiyar period. “Known is a drop, unknown is an ocean”! Though the Avvaiyar may be considered a data bank of knowledge for her times, the poet element of that role conveyed to her society the beauty of mass and recorded knowledge. It is a tenet of modern society that data analysis helps us make the right decisions. Yet the Avvaiyar kept extensive logs of relevant observations in their manuscripts, which aided in sophisticated analysis and planning. This form of data analytics and proto-computation conducted by these royal advisors may remind us of the data collection and systemic analyses of today’s systems.

King Thondaiman showing Avvaiyar his collection of weapons and listening to her wise words, SourceKathakids.com

Fast-forwarding to the 1990s, a 20.6 km crater on the planet Venus was name“Avvaiyar” by the International Astronomical Union, a testament to the enduring legacy of these ancient proto-data scientists’ influence on the scientific consciousness.

It is frankly awe-inspiring that these ancient people recorded their data in clear manuscripts and from it can be seen that a Ministry of Water and Irrigation of the 2nd century AD formulated a coherent policy for irrigation and water conservation during those times, for example. During this time, Grand Anicut, or Kallanai, one of the world’s oldest water regulating structures designed to boost irrigation in India’s delta regions, was constructed during the reign Great Chola Emperor “Karikala Cholan and is still in use today!


Philosopher – Physicist – Political Scientist – Management Consultant

Sculpture of “10 Sages of the World” unveiled at MDIS. Source: Channel News Asia, Singapore

At the beginning of the 20th century, Albert Einstein conducted research work on the fundamental connection between “space, time and action.” It translates to Kaalam, Idam, and Seyal in Tamil. On the same note, these three words denoting science and technology were conceived 2000 years ago by Thiruvalluvar, a celebrated Tamil poet, and philosopher. He also wrote 1330 Kurals (couplets) on topics ranging from ethics and politics to economic matters and love. He wrote in his 484th couplet:


ஞாலம் கருதினுங் கைகூடுங் காலம் கருதி இடத்தாற் செயின் The pendant world’s dominion may be won, In fitting time and space by action done



This couplet has several interpretations. Thiruvalluvar explained that a human could conquer the world/universe through meditation if he does it at the right time and place. Einstein’s theory of relativity and his other findings on the relationship between space and time, prediction of black holes existence, also affirmed that there is no beginning or end to the universe and proved atoms’ existence. The couplet anticipated the wide-ranging implications of Einstein’s foundational work in mechanics and relativity.

Various Kurals have the same analogy. Thiruvalluvar relates it through focused meditation [consciousness], Anu[Atom], gravity, absolute space as force interpreting with astronomical sciences, physics, maths, and other philosophical understanding of physical sciences and planets. These were widely used and studied in ancient kingdoms for their astronomical research. Its perennial nature is applicable for all the time and people similar to Einstein’s theory in modern science and technology policies.

In 1937, Luther Gulick, an American political, social scientist, and Lyndall Urwick, a management consultant, presented a concept through the acronym POSDCORB, widely used in management and public administration. It explains the work of a leader, with responsibilities ranging from planning to budgeting. The modern Public administration skills, which are part of governance, technology, and policies, were spoken 2000 years ago in Thirukkural. Kural 471 speaks of planning, Kural 382, and 383 speaks of organizing skills for leaders, Kural 504, 517, 582, 568, 677, 663, 478, and 487, respectively, speak about the rest of the administrative elements of a King and public administrator. Thiruvalluvar has also discussed theRight forethoughtin Kural 469. Thus, Kural devised day-to-day administration with ethically imbibed administrative policies combined with applied technology during the ancient past warfare, informing us of the future’s ethics.

The Influence of the Past


Ancient policies on technology and science served people’s purposes and connected to the countrymen from nook and corner. According to UNDP [1997] and former UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan, good governance is prioritizing the poor, addressing women’s causes, strengthening democracy, promoting capacity, and transparency in public administration for a nation’s holistic development. Ancient good governance included the characteristics above which Thiruvalluvar addressed in a widespread manner 2000 years ago. Such principles were the forerunners of the 21st-century government.

Ethics and morality were components of ancient policies, leading to a degree of responsibility in innovations and technological governance. Tech enthusiasts ought to look back from time to time while searching for inspiration to make our society more technologically responsible. Without Ancient discoveries, modern industrialization ceases to exist. The values followed in ancient public policies remain relevant to the present generation.

Thus, government action today ought to consciously connect us with the past. They say life was simple in the olden days, but as the above links show, neither the past nor the present are ever as simple (or as distinct) as they seem.


Originally Published in Sparktogether.io on September 29,2020 by Gowtham Daas

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