May 17, 2023 Inderpreet Kaur Academics
The History of Mathematics
Whenever we talk about the history of mathematics, names of great scholars like Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta and Bhaskara II come to our mind. India’s contribution to Mathematics is well known to everyone. The decimal number system, the concept of zero as a number and negative numbers were its gifts in addition to its inputs into arithmetic, algebra and trigonometry. Nowadays, some schools in Gurgaon are focusing more on mental calculations. The roots of mental calculation can be seen in our ancient culture in the form of ‘Vedic Math’.
Timeline and contribution by Indian scholars and mathematicians:
- Period of Harappa Civilization: The history of mathematics is closely related to civilization. The earliest known urban Indian culture was first identified in 1921 at Harappa in Punjab and then, one year later, at Mohenjo-Daro, near the Indus River in Sindh. We do know that the Harappans had adopted a uniform system of weights and measures. An analysis of the weights discovered suggests that they belong to two series both being decimal with each decimal number multiplied and divided by two, giving for the main series ratios of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500.
- Period of Sulbasutras: The next footprint in the history of mathematics was left by the Indo-Aryans peoples from the north. This brings us to the earliest literary record of Indian culture, the Vedas which were composed in Vedic Sanskrit, between 1500 BC and 800 BC. At first, these texts, consisting of hymns, spells, and ritual observations, were transmitted orally. Later the texts became written works for use by those practicing the Vedic religion.
The Sulbasutras are appendices to the Vedas which give rules for constructing altars. If the ritual sacrifice was to be successful then the altar had to conform to very precise measurements. The people made sacrifices to their gods so that the gods might be pleased and give the people plenty of food, good fortune, good health, long life, and lots of other material benefits. For the gods to be pleased everything had to be carried out with a very precise formula, so mathematical accuracy was seen to be of the utmost importance.
All that is known of Vedic mathematics is contained in the Sulbasutras.
- Period of Aryabhatta: Aryabhatta was an extraordinary teacher and scholar who had immense knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. He suggested the heliocentric theory which proved that the sun is located in the center of the solar system and all the planets revolve around it. He made this discovery way before Copernicus made this discovery in the West.
The contributions made by Aryabhatta are still used in today’s times.
- Aryabhata’s astronomical calculating methods are used in the Islamic world to calculate dates for calendars.
- Trigonometric tables are used to compute numerous Arabic astronomy tables.
- Aryabhatta’s definitions of cosine, sine, versine and inverse sine impacted the development of trigonometry mathematics. Moreover, he was also the first to give sine and versine (1 cos x) tables in 3.75° intervals from 0° to 90°, with 4 decimal places of precision.
- The contemporary terms ‘sine’ and ‘cosine’ are mistranslations of Aryabhata’s phrases jy and koji.
- Period of the Mauryan Empire King Asoka: One of the most famous rulers of the Mauryan Empire (King Asoka 272-232) gives us an insight as to how early on the Hindu people were using the number system we use today. King Asoka built stone pillars in every major city in India, many of which still stand today. It is on these stone pillars we find the earliest examples of the Hindu-Arabic number system that is currently used. It is not only on these pillars that you can find written numbers, on the walls of a cave at the top of Nanaghat hill (near Pune) are numerous inscriptions of numerals. A more complete list of these numerals can be found in another cave, with these writings dated in the first or second century C.E.
As the horizon of mathematics is growing from ancient to modern, the list of scholars and contributors is never-ending in the historical development of mathematics. We have seen change and growth in terms of mathematical logic, quantity, structure, order, and arrangement. Not only in India, but Mathematics has also existed in different cultures around the world, and it is important to understand the contribution of various scholars around the globe. While many ancient mathematicians are unknown due to a lack of historical records, their scientific discoveries remain vital.
The top schools in Gurgaon are connecting the learners to their roots in mathematics by giving them opportunities to research more about ancient mathematics. This initiative is helping learners to connect the dots between advanced learning scenarios and ancient mathematics.
At Vega Schools, we strongly believe in imparting the importance of our learners understanding and appreciating the strong roots of mathematics that emulate from our history and culture.