The first part of “Is ancient India overrated?” received overwhelming response. So I decided to write the second part of the article. It should be noted that India has so diverse culture and great history that how much ever I praise India, it is less. From medical science to space science, Indians are the pioneers. But sadly, they are underrated and considered as a nation which promotes superstitious practices.
Let us focus on the contributions towards mathematics and science by the Indians.
The idea of Zero
One of the biggest contribution of India to mathematics is the invention of ‘Zero’. The concept of Zero and its integration into the placevalue system also enabled one to write numbers, nomatter how large, by using only ten symbols.
The adoption of zero by Indian mathematics in the 7th century allowed the first use of negative numbers and decimal fractions. The credit goes to Aryabhata from India.
The Decimal System
Once again, India’s contribution to the field of mathematics cannot be sidelined. It was India, who gave the ingenious method expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols- the decimal system. Zero and the decimal system was invented by Hindus in India long before the the Arab invaders were even born. Arab barbarians learned about zero and the numerals from Hindus when they invaded India and then adopted it as their own.
Indians, as early as 500 BCE, had devised a system of different symbols for every number from one to nine. This notation system was adopted by the Arabs who called it the hind numerals.
Centuries later, this notation system was adopted by the western world who called them the Arabic numerals as it reached them through the Arab traders.
The Fibonacci numbers and their sequence first appear in Indian mathematics as mātrāmeru, mentioned by Pingala in connection with the Sanskrit tradition of prosody. Later on, the methods for the formation of these numbers were given by mathematicians Virahanka, Gopala and Hemacandra , much before the Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced the fascinating sequence to Western European mathematics.
Binary numbers is the basic language in which computer programs are written. Binary basically refers to a set of two numbers, 1 and 0, the combinations of which are called bits and bytes. The binary number system was first described by the Vedic scholar Pingala, in his book Chandahśāstra, which is the earliest known Sanskrit treatise on prosody ( the study of poetic metres and verse).
Chakravala method of Algorithms
The chakravala method is a cyclic algorithm to solve indeterminate quadratic equations, including the Pell’s equation. This method for obtaining integer solutions was developed by Brahmagupta, one of the well known mathematicians of the 7th century CE. Another mathematician, Jayadeva later generalized this method for a wider range of equations, which was further refined by Bhāskara II in his Bijaganitatreatise.
Excavations at Harappans sites have yielded rulers or linear measures made from ivory and shell. Marked out in minute subdivisions with amazing accuracy, the calibrations correspond closely with the hasta increments of 1 3/8 inches, traditionally used in the ancient architecture of South India. Ancient bricks found at the excavation sites have dimensions that correspond to the units on these rulers.
A pioneering steel alloy matrix developed in India, Wootz steel is a crucible steel characterized by a pattern of bands that was known in the ancient world by many different names such as Ukku, Hindwani and Seric Iron. This steel was used to make the famed Damascus swords of yore that could cleave a free-falling silk scarf or a block of wood with the same ease. Produced by the Tamils of the Chera Dynasty, the finest steel of the ancient world was made by heating black magnetite ore in the presence of carbon in a sealed clay crucible kept inside a charcoal furnace.
Long before the birth of Hippocrates, Charaka authored a foundational text, Charakasamhita, on the ancient science of Ayurveda. Referred to as the Father of Indian Medicine, Charaka was was the first physician to present the concept of digestion, metabolism and immunity in his book. Charaka’s ancient manual on preventive medicine remained a standard work on the subject for two millennia and was translated into many foreign languages, including Arabic and Latin.
Now comes to Civilization
Gateway At Harappa: Indus Valley Civilization
India’s urban civilization is traceable to Mohenjodaro and Harappa, now in Pakistan, where planned urban townships existed 5000 years before. From then onwards, the ancient Indian architecture and civil engineering continued to develop and grow. It found manifestation in construction of temples, palaces and forts across the Indian peninsula and the neighbouring regions. In ancient India, architecture and civil engineering was known as sthapatya-kala, literal translation of which means the art of constructing (something).
During the periods of Kushan Empire and Maurya empires, the Indian architecture and civil engineering reached to regions like Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Statues of Buddha were cut out, covering entire mountain faces and cliffs, like Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Over a period of time, ancient Indian art of construction blended with Greek styles and spread to Central Asia.
On the other side, Buddhism took Indian style of architecture and civil engineering to countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, China, Korea and Japan. Angkor Wat is a living testimony to the contribution of Indian civil engineering and architecture to the Cambodian Khmer heritage in the field of architecture and civil engineering.
In mainland India of today, there are several marvels of ancient India’s architectural heritage, including World heritage sites like Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, Mahabodhi Temple, Sanchi, Brihadisvara Temple and Mahabalipuram.
A Brief Introduction to the Ancient Indus Civilization
The greater Indus region was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China. It was not discovered until the 1920’s. Most of its ruins, even its major cities, remain to be excavated. The ancient Indus Civilization script has not been deciphered.
Many questions about the Indus people who created this highly complex culture remain unanswered, but other aspects of their society can be answered through various types of archaeological studies.
Harappa was a city in the Indus civilization that flourished around 2600 to 1700 B.C.E. in the western part of South Asia.
Cities and Context
The Harappans used the same size bricks and standardized weights as were used in other Indus cities such as Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira. These cities were well planned with wide streets, public and private wells, drains, bathing platforms and reservoirs. One of its most well-known structures is the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro.
There were other highly developed cultures in adjacent regions of Baluchistan, Central Asia and peninsular India. Material culture and the skeletons from the Harappa cemetery and other sites testify to a continual intermingling of communities from both the west and the east. Harappa was settled before what we call the ancient Indus civilization flourished, and it remains a living town today.
There may have been another large river that ran parallel to and east of the Indus at some time in the past. The northern part of its now usually dry bed is called “Ghaggar” in India and “Hakra” in Pakistan.
Ancient Mesopotamian texts speak of trading with at least two seafaring civilizations – Magan and Meluhha – in the neighborhood of South Asia in the third millennium B.C.E. This trade was conducted with real financial sophistication in amounts that could involve tons of copper.
HARP and Indian excavations
Since 1986, the joint Pakistani American Harappa Archaeological Research Project (HARP) has been carrying out the first major excavations at the site since before independence in 1946. These excavations have the shown Harappa to have been far larger than once thought, perhaps supporting a population of 50,000 at certain periods.
Pak L. Huide