Kerala scholars developed calculus 100 yrs before Newton

Not only large numbers, many modern mathematical concepts ranging from calculus to infinity were developed by ancient Indian scholars.

“New discoveries on Indian mathematicians are coming out as more written material in Sanskrit are being explored. Indian manuscripts are treasure trove for learning,” Kim Plofker, a mathematical historian from the Union College in New York told Deccan Herald at the International Congress on Mathematicians here on Friday.

While Indian scholars conceptualised zero in the 3rd century AD, concepts akin to exponents and logarithms were known in India in the mid-first millennium.
A manuscript found in AD 800 showed Indian mathematicians had no trouble in handling rational numbers in which the numerator has 19 digits and denominator 17 digits.
The hymns of “Yajur Veda” has numbers that invoke successive powers of ten up to a trillion whereas Jain scholars used a technique called multiple-multiplication to handle numbers ranging from 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 45.
“Handling large numbers were unique to India. Ancient scholars used large numbers to relate to nature. It was a scholastic fashion deeply ingrained in the intellectual community,” commented S G Dani at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.

Unread manuscripts
“Compared to the west, the Indian tradition is so under-studied. Hundreds of texts are still to be read. Even in Harvard, there are unread manuscripts kept inside boxes,” Plofker said.

In many areas, there were parallel developments. Calculus is a classical example. More than a century before Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz perfected the calculus system —a popular form of mathematics—a tiny group of scholars led by Madhava who lived on the banks of the Nila river in Kerala independently developed the same mathematics.
But unlike the European calculus, the Kerala school could not spread much to the rest of the world because of a series of invasion by the Portuguese, Dutch and English in the 16th and 17th century during which the Malabar coast and Nila delta was a bloody battleground, said P P Dinakaran from the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune.

The Kerala school, which developed advance mathematical concepts for 300 years, remained virtually unnoticed till 1970s. Though some recognition has come in the last three decades, there are still many unknowns.
DH News Service

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get the top news in your inbox
GET IT
Comments (+)