Skip to main content



(b. India; fl. Baghdad [?], ca. 775-820)


Kanaka appears in the Arabic bibliographical tradition as Kankah al-Hindī. In the astrological compendium Kitāb al-Mughnī, written by Ibn Hibintā about 950, there is a passage (Munich Arab. 852, fols. 69v-70) which is alleged to be a quotation from Kankah. Al-Bīrūnī in his Chronology (ed., p. 132; trans., p. 129) states that Kankah was an astrologer at the court of Hārūn al-Rashīd (786-809) but attributes to him two specific predictions concerning the fall of the ʾAbbāsids and the rise of the Buwayhids, the first of which was in fact made by Māshāllāh about 810 and the second by Māshāllāh’s epitomizer, Ibn Hibintā (see E. S. Kennedy and D. Pingree, The Astrological History of Māshāʾallāh [Cambridge, Mass., 1971], pp. 56-59, 67-68). It is possible, then, that al-Bīrūnī had only Ibn Hibintā’s work before him and somehow confused the references in it to Māshāllāh and Kankah with al-Rashīd. But al-Jahānī (fl. 1079) attributer to Kankaraf the same beginning of various cycles used in astrological histroy that was emploued by Māshāllāh (f. ZI); perhaps, then, they were associates. It is true that Abū Maʿshar, in his Kitāb al-ulūf (see D. Pingree, The Thousands of Abū Maʿshar [London, 1968], P. 16), which was written between 840 and 860, states that Kankth was an authority on astronomy among Indian scientists “in ancient times” —that is, long before al-Rashīd’s caliphate—but Abū Maʿshar is a notorious liar, so the question cannot be answered on the basis of his statement. One may tentatively conclude, then, that Kanaka was in Baghdad during the reign of al-Rashīd and was an associate of Māshāllāh. There has recently been located in Ankara a manuscript of an astrological histroy of the caliphs entitled Kitāb Kankah al-Hindt (Book of Kankah the Indian). This histroy stops in the reign of al-Maʾmūn (813-833).

Among the biographers Ibn al-Nadīm (Fihrist, P. 270) contents himself with listing for astrological treatises which he claims were written by Kankah: Kitāb al-nāmūdār fi al-āʿmār (Book of the Nāmūdār [Used for Determining the Lengths of] Lives”), Kitāb asrār al-mawālīd (“Book of the Secrets of Nativities”), Kitāb al-girānāt al-kabīr ( “Great book of Conjunctions”), and Kitāb al-girānāt al-şaghir ("Small Book of Conjunctions"). These works all dealt with topics of great interest to early ‘Abbāsid astrologers.

In addition the Indian astrologer Kalyānavarman, who wrote his Sārāvali in Bengal about 800, refers (Sārāvali 53, 1) to Kanakācārya as an authority on the nativities of plants and animals. If this Kanakācārye is identical with Kankah, as is suggested by Ramana-Sastrin, he must have written something on astrology in Sanskrit about 750-775 and may subsequently have traveled to Baghdad. There is, however, no real evidence to connect the two.

If, then, one is willing to accept the traditions of the ninth and tenth centuries as referring to a historical personality, Kankah emerges as an Indian astrologer who practiced his art at Baghdad toward the end of the eighth and in the early ninth centuries but whose works in Arabic fall within the ʿAbbāsid tradition of astrology (derived from Greek and Iranian sources); and the existing fragments appear to display no specifically Indian traits.

Later Arab scholars, especially in Spain, constructed elaborate theories regarding the role of Kankah in the history of science; because their fables have been accepted by modern Western historians an article on Kanaka is included here. There were two sources for the development of the Kanakah legend: the story of an Indian embassy to the court of al-Manṣūr as related by Ibn al-Adamī (ca. 920) in his Niẓām al-ʿiqd (see fragment ZI of al-Fazārī), and that of Mankah al-Hindī, a physician who is alleged to have traveled from India to Iraq and to have translated Shānāq (Cāṇakya) from an Indian language into Persian (or Arabic) during the time of Hārūn al-Rashīd for Ishaq ibn Sulaymān ibn ʿAli al-Hāshimī (the most complete account seems to be that of ibn abī Uṣaybi‘a, III, 51-52).

Ibn al-Adamī associates the translation of the Zīj al-Sindhind that serves as the basis of the works of al-Fazārī, Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭāriq, and others with an unnamed member of an embassy sent from Sind to Baghded in 773. This passage from Ibn al-Adamī is quoted by Ṣāʿid al-Andalusī of Toledo (Kitāb ṭabaqāt al-umam, ed., pp. 49-50; trans., p. 102) in 1067-1068; his next biographer, Ibn al-Qiṭri (pp. 265-267), who died at Aleppo in 1248-1249, quotes some of Ibn al-Adamī’s story in his article on Kankah but without actually connecting Kankah with the Zīj al-Sindhind. Apparently Abraham ibn Ezra (ca, 1090-1167) was the first to identify Kankah with Ibn al-Adamī’s unnamed scholar (in the preface to his translation of Ibn al-Muthanna’s Fīʿilal zīj al-khwārizmī [see fr. Z2 of Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭāriq] and in Liber de rationibus tabularum, p. 92); there is no real basis for this invention, although it is dutifully repeated by Steinschneider, Suter, and Sarton.

The confusion of Kankah with Mankah sometimes leads to the attribution of medical knowledge and writings to the former— for instance, by Ibn abī Uṣaybiʿa (III, 49). This tradition also is without basis. Finally, pure fancy has produced a fabulous Kankah al-Hindī in alchemical literature. His fantastic exploits are recounted in pseudo-al-Majrītʿti’s Ghāyat al-ḥakīm (ed., pp. 278 ff.; trans., pp. 285 ff.). These stories have no place in serious history.

Kanaka’s significance, then, is as a name to which either serious accounts of the transmission of Indian science to the Arabs or alchemists’ Dreams of ancient philosopher-kings can be conveniently attached. He was so easily subjected to this treatment because, in fact, nothing reliable was known about him.


Standard reference works on the history of science contain notices of Kanaka, but they follow the fictions of Ibn Ezra. The authorities to which I have referred are the following: Abraham ibn Ezra, De rationibus tabularum, edited by J. M. Millás Vallicrosa as El libro de los fundamentos de las Tablas astronómicas (Madrid-Barcelona, 1947); and his trans. of Ibn al-Muthanna, edited by B. Goldstein as Ibn al-Multhanna’s Commentary on the Astronomical Tables of al-al-Khwārizmi (New Haven, 1967); Abū Maʿshar, “AKitāb al-ulūf,” in D. Pingree, The Thousands of Abū Maʿshar (London, 1968); al-Bīrūnī, Chronology, edited by C. E. Sachau as Chronologie orientalischer Voelker von Albēūnī (Leipzig, 1878), translated into English by Sachau as The Chronology of Ancient Nations (London, 1879); al-Fazārī, in D. Pingree, “The Fragments of the Works of al-Fazārī,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 29 (1970), 103-123; Ibn abī Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ, 3 vols. (Beirut, 1956-1957); Ibn Hibintā, “Kitāb al-anbā, MS Munich Arab. 852; Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, G. Flügel, ed., 2vols. (Leipzig, 1871-1872); Ibn al-Qifṭī, Ta’rikh al-ḥukamāʾ, J. Lippert, ed. (Leipzog, 1903); al-Jahānī, Latin trans. by Gerard of Cremona, J. Heller, ed., in māshā’allah’s De elementis et orbibus coelestibus (Nuremberg, 1549), fols. Ni-Zii. Kayāṇavarman, Sārāvalī, v. Subrahamanya Satri, ed., 3rd ed. (Bombay, 1928); pseudo-al-majriṭi, Ghāyat al-ḥakim, H. Ritter, ed. (Hamburg, 1933), translated into German as “Picatrix.” Das Ziel des Weisen von Pesedo-Mağrīṭī, by H, Ritter and M. plessner (London, 1962); Māshāllāh, in E.s. Kennedy and D. Pingree, The Astrological Hitory of Māshāʾallāh (Cambridge, Mass., 1971); V. V. Ramana-Sastrin, “Kanaka,” in Isis, 14 (1930), 470; Şāʿid al-Andalusī, Kiṭāb tabaqāt al-umam, L. Cheikho, ed. (Beirut, 1912), translated into French as Tabaqāt alumam (Succession des Communautés religieuse) by R. Blachère (paris, 1935); and Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭaʿriq, in D. Pingree, “The Fragments of the Works of Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭaʿriq,” un Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 27 (1968), 97-125.

David Pingree

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kanaka." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 23 Aug. 2017 <>.

"Kanaka." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (August 23, 2017).

"Kanaka." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.