As B.B. Dutta writes: “The use of symbolsletters of the
alphabet to denote unknowns, and equations are the foundations of
the science of algebra. The Hindus were the first to make
systematic use of the letters of the alphabet to denote unknowns.
They were also the first to classify and make a detailed study of
equations. Thus they may be said to have given birth to the modern
science of algebra.”
The great Indian mathematician Bhaskaracharya (1150 C.E.) produced
extensive treatises on both plane and spherical trigonometry and
algebra, and his works contain remarkable solutions of problems
which were not discovered in Europe until the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. He preceded Newton by over 500 years in the
discovery of the principles of differential calculus.
A.L. Basham writes further, “The mathematical implications of
zero (sunya) and infinity, never more than vaguely realized by
classical authorities, were fully understood in medieval
India”.
Earlier mathematicians had taught that X/0 = X, but Bhaskara proved
the contrary. He also established mathematically what had been
recognized in Indian theology at least a millennium earlier: that
infinity, however divided, remains infinite, represented by the
equation oo /X = oo.” In the 14th century, Madhava, isolated in
South India, developed a power series for the arc tangent function,
apparently without the use of calculus, allowing the calculation of
pi to any number of decimal places (since arctan 1 = pi/4). Whether
he accomplished this by inventing a system as good as calculus or
without the aid of calculus; either way it is astonishing.
Spiritually advanced cultures were not ignorant of the principles
of mathematics, but they saw no necessity to explore those
principles beyond that which was helpful in the advancement of God
realization.
By the fifteenth century C.E. use of the new mathematical concepts
from India had spread all over Europe to Britain, France, Germany,
and Italy, among others.
A.L. Basham states also that: ”The debt of the Western world to
India in this respect (the field of mathematics) cannot be
overestimated. Most of the great discoveries and inventions of
which Europe is so proud would have been impossible without a
developed system of mathematics, and this in turn would have been
impossible if Europe had been shackled by the unwieldy system of
Roman numerals. The unknown man who devised the new system was,
from the world’s point of view, after the Buddha, the most
important son of India. His achievement, though easily taken for
granted, was the work of an analytical mind of the first order, and
he deserves much more honor than he has so far received”.
Unfortunately, Eurocentrism has effectively concealed from the
common man the fact that we owe much in the way of mathematics to
ancient India. Reflection on this may cause modern man to consider
more seriously the spiritual preoccupation of ancient India. The
rishis (seers) were not men lacking in practical knowledge of the
world, dwelling only in the realm of imagination. They were well
developed in secular knowledge, yet only insofar as they felt it
was necessary within a world view in which consciousness was held
as primary.
In ancient India, mathematics served as a bridge between
understanding material reality and the spiritual conception. Vedic
mathematics differs profoundly from Greek mathematics in that
knowledge for its own sake (for its aesthetic satisfaction) did not
appeal to the Indian mind. The mathematics of the Vedas lacks the
cold, clear, geometric precision of the West; rather, it is cloaked
in the poetic language which so distinguishes the East.
Vedic mathematicians strongly felt that every discipline must have
a purpose, and believed that the ultimate goal of life was to
achieve selfrealization and love of God and thereby be released
from the cycle of birth and death. Those practices which furthered
this end either directly or indirectly were practiced most
rigorously. Outside of the religioastronomical sphere, only the
problems of day to day life (such as purchasing and bartering)
interested the Indian mathematicians.
Author: Chandan Priyadarshi  Follow the writer on twitter.com/cpdarshi
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