The Indian contribution to world advancement has been largely unacknowledged and unappreciated. Ancient Indians made significant discoveries that still serve as a guiding light today. The intellectual prowess of Indians and their advancements in various fields were widely regarded as a source of pride. A diverse range of fields from science to math to astronomy to medicine to architecture to drama have been impacted by the intellectual contribution of Indians. The contributions made have benefited the global community in a way that continues to be at the center of present scientific development. In reality, foreigners have misappropriated the knowledge they discovered to dismiss our knowledge and claim it as their own.
Mathematics and Indians go hand-in-hand, and there are countless examples of this. There is no doubt that India has had a profound impact on the world of mathematics. As Albert Einstein, once famously quoted, “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”
Western world’s reluctance
In reality, the western world has never been as science-friendly as it portrays itself to be today. Who hasn’t heard about Galileo being imprisoned for following science as a deviant? The Abrahamic faiths have always been dominated by religious dogmas, and rebelling against them was considered blasphemy. As per Sanatan Dharma, questioning has been a fundamental component of our Dharma and encouraged. The attitude of encouraging healthy discussions and debates enabled our ancestors to discover path-breaking scientific discoveries.
There have also been contributions from Indians in fields such as calculus, trigonometry, arithmetic, negative numbers, etc.
Dating back as far as 1200 BC, mathematics was considered a part of the Vedas. Numbers were expressed as powers of ten in Vedic texts. Using powers of ten as a representation for numbers contributed to the development of decimal place values. As early as the third century B.C., there was evidence of Brahmi numerals. The numeral system is based on these numbers, which serve as a guiding light worldwide.
Numerous references have been found for zeros that have an irreplaceable existence in the scientific and technical world. The recently dated first recorded zeros, which were documented in the Bakhshali manuscript, were just simple placeholders, to help distinguish 100 from 10. Aryabhatta’s contribution to the mathematical world enabled proper financial accounting and transparency in the record details. Zero basically helped democratize mathematics.
It was not surprising that Westerners found it difficult to use zero, negative numbers, or pi. Nearly all aspects of science rely on calculus to measure rates of change. Modern physics is built on the foundation of calculus. The importance of zero and its application was first realized by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Additionally, he applied the negatives in a systematic manner to develop calculus by the late 17th century. But the work Leibniz accomplished was already done by Bhaskara, 500 years ago.
The contributions of Bhaskar to algebra, arithmetic, geometry, and trigonometry are also noteworthy. For example, he developed the solution to certain Diophantine equations, which took Europe many centuries to figure out.
A system alien to European culture was that of negative numbers, which Brahmagupta fully functionalized. His definitions of positive and negative numbers were categorized as fortunes and debts, respectively. Brahmagupta also derived that “a debt multiplied by a fortune is a debt” – a positive number multiplied by a negative number is a negative number. Indian mathematics and scholars proved to be far ahead of western ones Mathematicians in Europe refused to accept negative numbers as valuable. There was a widespread belief that negative numbers were strange. According to them, numbers are created solely for counting, and negative numbers cannot be counted. As a result of western dominance and biased narratives, Indian’s talent, research, and works have been pushed into oblivion.
It was in the 7th century that the Brahmasputha Siddhanta published the first written proof for working with zero. Brahmagupta mentioned in his text the equations for solving quadratic equations and computing square roots. The relevancy of this can be adjudged by the fact that it is still taught to children, worldwide.
The renaissance in the west is what sparked the growth of scientific temperament in the west. A few western and Arabic mathematicians though have recognized Indian mathematicians’ skills and credited them for the same.
A Spanish monk Vigila mentioned in his book Codex Vigilantus “subtle talent of the Indians” & “all other races yield to them in arithmetic and geometry”. The oldest extant numerals in Europe (without 0) are in his Codex Vigilanus 976 CE, via Muslims in Spain, who got them from Gerbert of Aurillac. Arabic mathematicians, inscriptions, and manuscripts have highlighted that Arabic numbers originated from India. Books like Al-Khwarizmi, and Al-Kindi have specific mentions regarding the use of Hindu numbers. Al-Biruni, who came to India hundreds of years ago, stated “The numerical signs which we use are derived from the finest forms of the Hindus signs”.
Now is the time for India to regain its former glory and be given the due recognition it has long deserved. Indian mathematicians have been key to today’s technological advancements, as they formed the foundation. There was always a higher level of sophistication in Indian culture compared to the culture of Europe in the dark ages. The likes of Ramanujan, Mahalanobis, Ashutosh Mukherjee, C R Rao, Mangala Narlikar, Shakuntala Devi, and T. A. Sarasvati Amma, etc. have contributed greatly to our understanding. Indians have made an enormous contribution to the world over the past centuries, and they fuel the world’s growth that continues today. There is no denying the fact that Indians are still major contributors to the field of science and mathematics, and it is all the more imperative to emphasize this.