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Hindu Books > History > Ancient India's Contribution to World Culture > Mathematics

Algebra- The Other Mathematics ?

In India around the 5th century A.D. a sys tem of mathematics that made astronomical calculations easy was developed. In those times its application was limited to astronomy as its pioneers were Astronomers. As tronomical calculations are complex and involve many variables that go into the derivation of unknown quantities. Algebra is a short-hand method of calculation and by this feature it scores over conventional arithmetic.

In ancient India conventional mathematics termed Ganitam was known before the development of algebra. This is borne out by the name - Bijaganitam, which was given to the algebraic form of computation. Bijaganitam means 'the other mathematics' (Bija means 'another' or 'second' and Ganitam means mathematics). The fact that this name was chosen for this system of computation implies that it was recognised as a parallel system of computation, different from the conventional one which was used since the past and was till then the only one. Some have interpreted the term Bija to mean seed, symbolizing origin or beginning. And the inference that Bijaganitam was the original form of computation is derived. Credence is lent to this view by the existence of mathematics in the Vedic literature which was also shorthand method of computation. But whatever the origin of algebra, it is certain that this technique of computation Originated in India and was current around 1500 years back. Aryabhatta an Indian mathematican who lived in the 5th century A.D. has referred to Bijaganitam in his treatise on Mathematics, Aryabhattiya. An Indian mathematician - astronomer, Bhaskaracharya has also authored a treatise on this subject. the treatise which is dated around the 12th century A.D. is entitled 'Siddhanta-Shiromani' of which one section is entitled Bijaganitam.

Thus the technique of algebraic computation was known and was developed in India in earlier times. From the 13th century onwards, India was subject to invasions from the Arabs and other Islamised communities like the Turks and Afghans. Alongwith these invader: came chroniclers and critics like Al-beruni who studied Indian society and polity.

The Indian system of mathematics could no have escaped their attention. It was also the age of the Islamic Renaissance and the Arabs generally improved upon the arts and sciences that they imbibed from the land they overran during their great Jehad. Th system of mathematics they observed in India was adapted by them and given the name 'Al-Jabr' meaning 'the reunion of broken parts'. 'Al' means 'The' & 'Jabr' mean 'reunion'. This name given by the Arabs indicates that they took it from an external source and amalgamated it with their concepts about mathematics.

Between the 10th to 13th centuries, the Christian kingdoms of Europe made numerous attempts to reconquer the birthplace of Jesus Christ from its Mohammedan-Arab rulers. These attempts called the Crusades failed in their military objective, but the contacts they created between oriental and occidental nations resulted in a massive exchange of ideas. The technique of algebr could have passed on to the west at thi time.

During the Renaissance in Europe, followed by the industrial revolution, the knowledge received from the east was further developed. Algebra as we know it today has lost any characteristics that betray it eastern origin save the fact that the tern 'algebra' is a corruption of the term 'Al jabr' which the Arabs gave to Bijaganitam Incidentally the term Bijaganit is still use in India to refer to this subject.

In the year 1816, an Englishman by the name James Taylor translated Bhaskara's Leelavati into English. A second English translation appeared in the following year (1817) by the English astronomer Henry Thomas Colebruke. Thus the works of this Indian mathematician astronomer were made known to the western world nearly 700 years after he had penned them, although his ideas had already reached the west through the Arabs many centuries earlier.

In the words of the Australian Indologist A.L. Basham (A.L. Basham; The Wonder That was India.) "... the world owes most to India in the realm of mathematics, which was developed in the Gupta period to a stage more advanced than that reached by any other nation of antiquity. The success of Indian mathematics was mainly due to the fact that Indians had a clear conception of the abstract number as distinct from the numerical quantity of objects or spatial extension."

Thus Indians could take their mathematical concepts to an abstract plane and with the aid of a simple numerical notation devise a rudimentary algebra as against the Greeks or the ancient Egyptians who due to their concern with the immediate measurement of physical objects remained confined to Mensuration and Geometry.

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Algebra- The Other Mathematics ?
Geometry And Algorithm
The Concept of Zero
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