‘Chai & why’ at TIFR to debunk ancient Indian math myths

‘Chai and Why’ on Sunday will focus on clearing misunderstandings surrounding ancient mathematics in India.

Written by Mihika Basu | Mumbai | Published: February 15, 2015 3:03:24 am

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s (TIFR) outreach programme ‘Chai and Why’ on Sunday will focus on clearing misunderstandings surrounding ancient mathematics in India and clarify how the so-called ‘vedic mathematics’ is neither ‘vedic’ nor does it qualify to be viewed as serious mathematics. Incidentally, a book authored by RSS activist Dina Nath Batra titled “Vedic Mathematics” was made a compulsory reading in government schools in Gujarat last year.

Prof SG Dani, who retired as a distinguished professor at TIFR and is at present a distinguished visiting professor at IIT Bombay, will conduct the session. Speaking with Newsline, he said vedic mathematics originated only in the 20th century with some presentations of Bharati Krishna Tirthaji, a former Sankracharyaa of Puri, and was later published as a book in 1965 after his death with the same name, and that the ‘sutras’ in Sanskrit, found in the book, have nothing to do with the Vedas, nor are they found in ancient Indian literature.

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Started in 2009, TIFR’s unique outreach initiative is a forum that enables informal discussions on scientific issues outside a traditional academic setting. Coordinator of ‘Chai and Why’ from TIFR, Prof Arnab Bhattacharya, said many simple mathematical concepts and facts that were now common, even among lay people, emerged over a long period in history and the talk in D G Ruparel College at 11 am on Sunday, would present historical snapshots tracing the developments in India in this respect.

“The book is not based on material from the Vedas and it is wrong that people are being made to believe that it should be treated as a work from the Vedas. The book comprises a set of tricks or short-cuts in elementary arithmetic and algebra, which can only be applied in certain situations and the overall efficacy of applying the methods is also questionable. Also, none of the schools of research and teaching in mathematics, which are at the forefront of modern research, give any legitimacy to vedic mathematics,” said Dani.

His talk will give an overview of ancient mathematics, which will include development of the number system in India, systematic formulation of arithmetic by Brahmagupta, mathematical and astronomical treatises of Aryabhata, Bhaskara and Narayana Pandit. “My talk will also discuss Shulbasutras (supplementary to Vedas) and the elaborate geometric principles mentioned in them, including the pythagoras theorem. Further, basic geometric principles and arithmetic in the works of the Jains, who flourished from around the middle of the 1st millennium BCE and the crucial period of mathematics in Kerala School of Maths during the 14th to 17th centuries when ideas akin to calculus flourished in India, will be other areas which will form a part of the discussion,” he said.

Further, while Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan, during the inaugural session of the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai last month, had claimed that while Indian scientists discovered the pythagoras theorem and beej ganit (algebra), they gave its credit to the Greeks and the Arabs, respectively. Dani said such claims were ‘misconstrued’, and a ‘tempered approach’ was needed for proper appreciation of history.


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