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Bhu Dev SHARMA - Origins of Math in Vedas

Bhu Dev SHARMA - Origins of Math in Vedas

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Published by: Kosla Vepa on Feb 25, 2009
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05/30/2011

 
For ‘Invited Talk at ‘
International Conference on Indian History’ – January 9 - 10, 2009
 
Origin of Mathematics in the Vedas
Bhu Dev SharmaProfessor of MathematicsJIIT University, Noida, UP 201307, Indiae-mail: bhudev_Sharma@yahoo.com
 ABSTRACT 
The current temper being scientific, from intellectual point of view, there is quite someinterest in tracing the history of mathematics and science. The scholarship has widened fromtracing the development to searching the origin of mathematics.The paper presents(a)
 
Scholarly views of origin of mathematics in India.(b)
 
Presence of Indian mathematicians in China(c)
 
 Direct internal evidence from the Vedas, that the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, ... 9, with 9 asthe largest single digit find mention in the Vedas;(d)
 
The Vedas refer to what in the modern terminology are called 'sequences of numbers’and fractions, both unit and others.
*******
 
1. Introduction
The current scholarly outlook can rightly be called scientific. Therefore contemporaryintellectuals have quite some interest in the history of mathematics and science. The paper pointsout how initially proposed theories by European scholars of mathematics, considering algebra andgeometry of Greek and / or Old-Babylonian origin came to be discarded as studies expanded toVedic works like
Shatpath Brahamana
and
Tattiriya Samhita
.It also brings out some references of Indian mathematicians spending time in China in eighthcentury and using Indian mathematics there for calendrical purposes.Further, though it is universally accepted that the present number system, called 'Hindu Numerals'originated in India. However, there is a lot of speculation as when and where did the so called'Hindu Numerals' first came to be recorded and used in Indian works.Going to the very roots, presenting direct internal evidence from Vedas, the paper presents thefollowing points:1. The numbers 1, 2, 3, ... 9, with 9 as the largest single digit find mention in the 'richaas' andmantras of the Vedas;2. There is enough evidence that a method to denote 'zero' was known to Vedic seers.3. The Vedas refer to what in the modern terminology are called 'sequences of numbers';4. That the idea of fractions, both unit and others, has also found clear mention in Vedas.
2. Theories of Origin of Mathematics in Greece and Babylonia
The European renaissance of 1300 – 1600 traced roots of everything to Ionian Greece, inparticular to sixth century BC. Following these lines, WWR Hall in 1901 wrote, “The history of Mathematics cannot with certainty be traced back to any school or period before that of IonianGreeks.”
 
In these early years of European intellectual growth, contributions of India were obviously notconsidered. After Sanskrit studies attracted some European scholars, this situation changed. In1875 G. Thibaut, a Sanskrit scholar with a view to inform the learned world about Indianmathematics, translated a large part of ‘
Sulvasutras.
’ In 1877 Cantor realizing the importance of Thibaut’s work, began a comparative study of Greek and Indian mathematics. Initially he concludedthat Indian geometry is derived from Alexandrian knowledge. However, some 25 years later, withgreater study, he concluded that the Indian geometry and Greek geometry are related. The processof assigning dates also picked up. Later Cantor eventually conceded a much earlier date to Indiangeometry.There then came another turn. In 1928 Neugebauer, published a paper in which he traced thatthe so called Pythagoras theorem was known well over a thousand years before Pythagoras, but in1937 made a hazard guess of geometry being of Babylonian origin.Seidenberg expanded the study of Vedic sources, including ‘
Shatpath Brahmana’
and
‘Taittiriya
 
Samhita
’ closely comparing ‘Greek and Vedic Mathematics’ as well as ‘Old-Babylonianand Vedic Mathematics, concluded as follows:“… geometric algebra existed in India before the classical period of Greece.”“A comparison of Pythagorean and Vedic mathematics together with some chronologicalconsiderations showed … [that] a common source for Pythagorean and Vedic mathematics is to besought either in Vedic mathematics or in an older mathematics much like it. The view that Vedicmathematics is a derivative of Old-Babylonian [is] rejected.”
3. Indian Mathematicians in China
Another interesting study has recently been brought out by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (TheArgumentative Indian, 2005). In a chapter on ‘China and India’, he mentions, “Several Indianmathematicians and astronomers held positions in China’s scientific establishment, and an Indianscientist, Gautam Siddhartha (Qutan Xida, in Chinese) even became the president of the officialBoard of Astronomy in China in the eighth century.”Sen further writes: “Calendrical studies, in which Indian astronomers located in China in theeighth century, … were particularly involved, made good use of the progress of trigonometry thathad already occurred in India by then (going much beyond the original Greek roots of Indiantrigonometry). The movement east of Indian trigonometry to China was part of a global exchange of ideas that also went west around that time. Indeed this was also about the time when Indiantrigonometry was having a major impact on the Arab world (with widely used Arabic translations of the works of Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta and others) which would later influenceEuropean mathematics as well, through the Arabs.”Sen points out, “Gautam (Qutan Xida) produced the great Chinese compendium of astronomy
Kaiyvan Zhanjing
– an eighth-century scientific classic. He was also engaged in adopting a numberof Indian astronomical works into Chinese. For example,
 Jiuzhi li
, which draws on a particularplanetary calendar in India (‘Navagraha calendar) is clearly based on the classical
Panchsiddhantika
, produced around 550 CE by Varahamihira. It is mainly an algorithmic guide tocomputation, estimating such things as the duration of eclipses based on the diameter of the moonand other relevant parameters. The techniques involved drew on methods that were established byAryabhata and then further developed by his followers in India such as Varahamihira andBrahmagupta.”
4. Number Evidence Directly from Vedas:
 
As we proceed to bring direct evidence of the presence of numbers in Vedas, it may be pointedout that our decimal system uses 10 digits, 1, 2, … , 9, 0, and represent numbers higher than 9 inmultiple of these digits. In this representation a digit has a place and a value. This place valuesystem has itself being a matter of great ingenuity of Indian mind.The famous dictum of RgVeda,
‘ekam sad vipra bahuda vadanti’
uses ‘ekam’ meaning ‘one’ asthe cardinal number.
Further
to search numbers in Vedas, let us refer to the the famous andfundamental stanza -
‘purush-sukta’
- of RgVeda:
 
s;hs;>
 x;I{;;* p;uo{;/ s;hs;>;Z;/ s;hs;>  p;;t;< = s; B;U  im;] iv;Sv;t;;e v;&  tv;; aty;it;{@ 
äx;
 ;V<  g;u  lm;< == p;uo{; Av;e  dg;] s;v;*  m;< y;d<  B;U  t;] y;cc; B;vy;m;< = Wt;;m;&t;tv;sy;e  x;;n;/ y;dáe  n;;Iit;r;e  hit; ==  At;;v;;n;sy; m;ihm;; at;;e jy;;y;;g;]Sc; p;U  o{;/ = p;;d;e Csy; iv;Sv;; B;ut;;in;,
iF;
 p;;dsy;;m;&  t;] idiv; ==
iF;
 p;;dU Qv;*  ] WsWtp;u  o{;/ p;;d;e Csy;e  h;CCB;v;;tp;un;/ = t;t;;e iv;{v;V<vy;k>  :;m;t;< , s;;x;n;;n;x;n;e aiB; ==  t;sm;;d< iv;r;#j;;y;t;, iv;r;j;;e aiQ; p;Uo{;/ = s; j;;t;;e aty;ircy;t;, p;Sc;;d< B;U  im;m;q;;e p;u  r/ ==  y;tp;u  o{;e  [; hiv;{;;, de  v;; y;Nm;t;nv;t; = v;s;nt;;e asy;;s;Id;jy;m;<, g;>  I{m; wQm;xx;ràiv;/ ==  s;pt;;sy;;s;np;irQ;y;/
iF; s;pt;
s;im;Q;/ k&  :t;;/ = de  v;; y;d< y;N] t;nv;;n;;/, abQn;np;u  o{;] p;x;u  m;< ==  t;] y;N] b;ih*i{; p;>  ;E Z;n;< , p;u  o{;] j;;t;m;g;>  t;/ = t;e  n; de  v;; ay;j;nt;, s;;Qy;; P{;y;Sc; y;e ==  t;sm;;êN;ts;v;*  hu  t;/, s;]B;&  t;] p;&{;d;jy;m;< = p;x;U  g;]st;;g;]  Sc;k>  :e v;;y;vy;;n;< , a;r[y;;ng;>;my;;Sc; y;e ==  t;sm;;êN;ts;v;*  hu  t;/, Pc;/ s;;m;;in; j;iNre = %nd;g;<]  is; j;iNre t;sm;;t;<, y;j;u  stsm;;d j;;y;t; ==  t;sm;;dSv;; aj;;y;nt;, y;e ke  : c;;eB;y;;dt;/ =g;;v;;e h j’;iNre t;sm;;t;< , t;sm;;jj;;t;; aj;;v;y;/ ==  y;tp;u  o{;] vy;dQ;u /, k:it;Q;; vy;k:Dp;y;n; = m;u  K;] ik:m;sy; k:;E b;;hU , k:;v;U  O p;;d;v;ucy;e  t;e ==  b;>  ;É[;;e Csy; m;u  K;m;;s;It;< , b;;hU r;j;ny;/ k&  :t;/ = ~O t;dsy; y;d< v;E  xy;/, p;d<  B;Y;g;] x;Uë;e aj;;y;t; ==  c;nëm;; m;n;s;;e j;;t;/, c;Z;;e s;U  y;;e  * aj;;y;t; = m;u  K;;idnëû;igíû, p;>  ;[;;è;y;u  r j;;y;t; ==  n;;By;; a;s;Idnt;irZ;m;< , x;I{[;;e* ê;E/ s;m;v;t;*t;=p;åY;] B;Uim;id*x; XeF;;t;< , t;q;; l;e  k:;g;] ak:Dp;y;n;< ==  v;e  d;hm;e  t;] p;u  o{;] m;h;nt;m;< , a;idty;v;[;*  ] t;m;s;st;u p;;re = s;v;;*I[; Op;;i[; iv;ic;ty; Q;Ir/, n;;m;;in; k&  :tv;;CiB;v;dn; y;d;st;e == Q;;t;; p;u  rst;;êm;u  d;j;h;r, x;k>  :/ p;>  iv;è;np;>  idx;ût;s;> / = t;m;ev;] iv;è;n;m;&  t; wh B;v;it;, n;;ny;/ p;nq;; ay;n;;y; iv;êt;e ==  y;Nen; y;Nmy;j;nt; de  v;;/, t;;in; Q;m;;*  i[; p;>q;m;;ny;;s;n;< = t;e h n;;k:] m;ihm;;n;/ s;c;nt;e , y;F; p;U  v;e  * s;;Qy;;/ s;int; de  v;;/ ==
 
Here, look at bold words, one clearly finds use of the words ‘sahasra’, ‘dash’, ‘tri’, ‘sapta’, etc. fornumbers.
5. Atharva-Veda Sukta On Numbers:
 Besides sporadic use of numbers in Vedic texts, there is a complete suktam in AtharvaVeda thatis devoted to numbers from 1 to 11, with all the names – eik, dvi, tri, chatur, panch, shad, sapt, ast,nav, dash, eik-dash – in proper order. These names of numbers are practically intact to the presentday. The use of base ten is also very clear in this suktam when 11 is referred to ‘eikadash’. Thesuktam is as follows:
 y;êek: v;&  {;;e Cis; s;&  j;;rs;;eCis; = y;id ièv;&{;;e Cis; s;&  j;;rs;;eCis; =

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