India’s Contribution to Mathematics

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Mathematics is given a high place in sciences, like the crest of a peacock among its colored plum, in India’s ancient treatises. Vedanta Jyothisa, an ancient treatise on Mathematics and astronomy mentions this.

Ganitham is the Indian term for Mathematics. The word Ganitham has in it the phrase Gana, meaning weighty, heavy. The field of Mathematics has always been weighty and heavy.

The Lord of Mathematics in Indian tradition is Ganesha, Ganapathy. The term Gana also means numbers.

ganesha in india

Ganesha, The Lord of Mathematics

Zero

Mathematics has developed to what it is today, due to zero. This zero, Shunya, was one of India’s significant contribution to the world of Mathematics.

Many Millennia ago, the ancient Indian Rishis understood and expressed Zero as Shunya. Infact, the concept of Shunya existed in India, right from the time of Creation. The symbol of zero was expressed in Bakshali document, 200-300 years, before Aryabhatta, as a dot, namely Bindu. Bindu is a point of singularity, from which the whole of creation arose. Bindu is not exactly nothing, but consists of everything.

The English word Zero draws its origin from the Indian word Shunya as it travelled from India westwards.

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There is no figure, shape or letter for zero in the Roman numerals, as the concept of zero was not known to the Europeans till the 1500s

When Zero was introduced to Europe, everyone asked what this number was.

Zero before anything is nothing but after anything is something.

This number created lot of doubts and confusion in the minds of the people which is why a French writer in 1500s wrote:  “0” a sign which creates confusion and difficulties.

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Those who could understand the concept of 0 became scholars overnight. Zero acquired a profound significance.

Indian numerals and Zero officially gained acceptance over Roman Numerals in 1543.

Nothing came from India i.e. Zero came from India. It is only after the acceptance of Indian numerals including zero that science in Europe grew in leaps and bounds.

Infinity

Apart from zero, infinity also has its origin in India. From one abstract concept of zero, Shunya, the Indian mind reached out to the abstract on other end of the spectrum which is the concept of Anantha, Infinity.

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The symbol of zero today is 0, but its mark in Indian thought is a Bindu, a dot. The Bindu is not exactly nothing. It consists of everything.

Prior to Creation, the five primordial elements were present inside this Bindu, the mark of zero. After the Big Bang, this Bindu which is also known as Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic womb, blasted open and all the elements spewed out. The growth of the universe from the minutest, Shunya to the universal, Anantha was instantaneous. The space then became immeasurable. This is the concept of infinity, Anantha, meaning that which is beyond measure.

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In Indian thought, infinity is symbolized by a coiled serpent known as Anantha, on which rests Lord Vishnu. Anantha was in the medieval age, widely used in sculpture, paintings, poetry, literature, handicrafts and textiles all over India. Infact Anantha symbol was a regular motif from medieval times.

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In 1655, John Wallis, the British Mathematician was looking for a symbol of infinity. At this time, India was regularly exporting textile goods to Arabia, known as Indine. The Anantha motifs would have travelled with these textile goods to Europe, and John Wallis might well have come across the Anantha symbol on one of these textiles.

Back in India, there was a definition of infinity practiced and recited everyday in homas conducted. This verse is found in Satpataha Brahmana and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. (show the visual of the slokas)

The Indian concept of Infinity, the root of the symbol of infinity were derived from this basic understanding of infinity, by our ancients.

Metrics

Right from the Veda which were recited in certain metres, i.e beats or counts, this civilization has been going about life with a rhythm.

The very word “rhythm” itself comes from the root rtha meaning pattern, cycle. From rtha comes the word rthu meaning seasons, which are patterns in Nature, the rhythm of Nature.

With rhythm in its blood, counting and measuring was not far behind. Also with trade and a structured economy, as the prime means of prosperity, science of measuring and counting was fairly advanced in India. This is evidenced by the many measuring weights found in the archaeological sites of the port of Lothal and others across India, in the warehouses and foundries of erstwhile Indus Valley (Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization) cities and many more.

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The words Yojana for measuring distance and Yuga for measuring time, can be found, as way back, as in the Rig Veda, last compiled 5100 years ago.

Geometry

What we know as Geometry today has come down to us from Gyaamiti of our ancients. Gyaamiti was the body of Mathematics, Ganitham that dealt with lines and shapes. It was also known as Rekha ganitha.

Rekha means lines, borders, that which binds space. The evidence of Gyaamiti, Rekha Ganitha through the times can be seen from its application in

  1. Architecture
  2. Ship building
  3. Port building
  4. Water harnessing projects
  5. Town planning and drainage system
  6. Astronomy

Gyaamiti or Geometry comprised of the science behind shapes such as,

  1. Plane figures – Kshetra
  2. Cubic figures – Ghana
  3. Pile of Bricks –Chiti
  4. Saw Shaped – Krakachya
  5. Shadows  – Chaya

Geometry which is ascribed to Euclid the Greek was prevalent in India as Gyaamiti. Usage of Gyaamiti in Indian civilization goes back to 3000 BCE.

Algebra

The method of dealing with numbers and quantities known as Algebra today, can be traced to the Indian body of knowledge called Bija Ganitham. [ बीज गणितं ]

Bija means seeds. Bija Ganitham is that part of Ganitham that reduced the problem, situation being studied, to expressions in terms of basic entities or seeds. It involved the relations between them . – what in modern terminology are referred to as variables and alphanumeric equations.

As the story goes, when this branch of Mathematics travelled to Arabia, the Bija got transposed as Jaba, perhaps due to the opposite direction of reading followed in Arabic script.

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This body of knowledge and the word Jaba, out of reverence, came to be called Al Jaba, Al standing for anything holy in Arabic.

When the knowledge of Mathematics travelled from Arabia to Europe, this Al Jaba ended up as Algebra.

Trigonometry

Trigonometry of today was practiced as “Trikonamiti” in Indian Tradition.

Trikona comes from Tri for three and kona means corners. Corners give rise to angles. Trikona means that which is concerned with “three angles” or a triangle.

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We have the famous sun temple of Konarak.  Here in this word Konark we have the concept of Kona, meaning angles. The whole temple is about angles.

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It’s not only the Konarak temple every temple has got an angle to it. Infact every structure has many angles to it.

We also have a word drishtikona, for perspective.

The science of trikona, triangle has been   known as trikonamitti from time immemorial.

This trikonamitti has been used from vedic times for building the homa kunda, fire altars.

The classic example of the use of Tikonamiti, Trigonometry was the measurement of the height of Mount Everest, Sagar Mathe, by Andrew Waugh using theololite.

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Andrew Waugh was assisted in this effort by Pandit Nain Singh from India.

Algorithm

What we call today as the concept of Algorithm can be traced back to the Arabian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi better known as Al Khwarizmi.

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Al Khwarizmi wrote about the concept of Indian technique of calculation based on decimal notation numbers. This book was read by the medieval European mathematician Adelard in 12th century CE and translated as the book “De Numero Indico”.

While the name algorithm has its roots in the name of the Arabic mathematician Al Khwarizmi, the concept and content of algorithms has its roots in the Indian numerals and Indian Mathematics, ganitham.

On a lighter vein, perhaps Algorithm should now be rebranded as Alganitham.

A Healthy Contribution

Thus we see that the Indian civilization has given forth a very healthy contribution to the field of Mathematics and from thereon to science. The present fields of Mathematics used in the world are a contribution of the Indian mind.

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