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Indian mathematics

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Indian mathematics and the numeral system is the forerunner of modern science , technology and mathematics.


We have to be grateful to the Indians for teaching us how to count without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.

-----Albert Einstein


It is a fact that before the advent of the Indian numeral system and algebra in Europe , the Roman numeral system was used , which could not have been used for cumbersome scientific calculations. They are even today counting 1 , 2 , 3 , etc to zero, after Sanskrit figures.

It was Indian mathematics, which provided the base for the growth of European science and technology to its present standards.

If it weren't for Indian mathematics, Europe would still would have been using the Roman numeral system, and in all probability , would still have been in the Dark Ages as well.

A scientific temperament existed in India, as can be understood by this quote of the Buddha 2500 years ago ...


Believe nothing, merely because you have been told it, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for your teacher. But whatever after due consideration and analysis you find to be conducive to the good , the benefit, the welfare of all beings, that doctrine , believe and cling to and take it as your guide.

- Buddha

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India's maths contribution on celluloid


Indian's contribution to the development of mathematics has largely been swept under the carpet in global history books.


But a BBC crew , led by an Oxford professor , was in the country last week to film a documentary revealing Indians created some of the most fundamental mathematical theories.


The West has always believed that Sir Isaac Newton, famous for developing the laws of gravity and motion, was the brainbox behind key branches of maths such as calculus.


In The Story of Maths, Dr Marcus Du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, claims Indians made many of these breakthroughs before Newton was born.


The Story of Maths, a four- part series, will be screened on BBC Four in 2008. The first part looks at the development of maths in ancient Greece , ancient Egypt and Babylon; the second focuses on India, China, and Central Asia and the rest look at how maths developed in the West. The India reel focuses on how several Indians developed theories in maths that were later discovered by Westerners who took credit for them.



"A lot of people think maths was a Western invention," said Du Sautoy." This programme is about how a lot of things were done here in India before they were discovered in the West. So the programme in in fact quite political because it shows how much we have ignored discoveries in the East," he said. Du Sautoys team of a director, a cameraman and a researcher left Mumbai on Monday.


In India , the team filmed on trains, inside sari stores, on the backwaters of Kerala and in rickshaws. "Its been fantastic filming in India as the visual backdrop is so rich ," Du Sautoy said.


Aryabhatta (476- 550 AD ), who calculated pi, and Brahmagupta (598-670A.D) feature in the film, which also showcases a Gwalior temple, which documents the first inscription of 'zero'.


"One of the biggest inventions in India was the number zero. Indians used it long before the West did,"said Du Sautoy. "When the West had Roman numerals there was no zero adn that is why they were so clumsy. On the other hand, Brahmagupta was one of the key mathematicians in the world becuase he invented the idea of zero. "



The documentary also features the history of Kerala-born mathematician Madhava (1350 - 1425 )who created calculus 300 years before Newton and German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz did, said Du Sutoy. "We learn that Newton invented the mathematical theory calculus in the 17th century but Madhava created it earlier," Du Sutoy said.



Chennai - born Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) also features in the film. He contacted English mathematician G.H.Hardy , who persuaded him to come to Cambridge . They began a collaboration between the analytical maths of the West and the intuitive maths of India, and together produced brilliant theories and amazing results. "



It was difficult for Ramanujan to travel to Britain because he was a Brahmin and not allowed to travel by sea. "He had to almost give up his religion but maths was also like a religion to him. He had no one to talk to in India because at that time no one was interested in his ideas, " said Du Sautoy.

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The significance of the development of the positional number system is probably best described by the French mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace (1749 - 1827) who wrote:


It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by the means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position, as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit, but its very simplicity, the great ease which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions, and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest minds produced by antiquity.

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