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4/17/2011 Contributions of Ancient India to the W…

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Contributions of Ancient India to the World of Science 1 Article Tools


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This paper is written to commemorate Indian Arrival and Heritage Month. In Ontario, the month Advertisement
of May is celebrated as South Asian Heritage Month, and May 5 South Asian Heritage Day."
Across Canada, May every year is observed as Asian Heritage Monthh 1838, the ship The
Hesperus took its first cargo of immigrants from British India to British Guiana to work in the
sugar plantations following the abolition of African slavery. At the present time, many
immigrants come to Canada from Guyana, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent and
Ontario - Toronto elsewhere. Though different in mindset and outlook, we have a common history and share
Member Since Feb 18 similar goals. What we need at the present time is to take pride in ourselves as we examine
2002 our collective past. In this respect, this paper is dedicated to all South Asians, fellow citizens
Contact and others who share these ideals as we celebrate Asian Heritage Month.

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Countries with ancient civilizations like China, Egypt, Greece, India, Iraq and Israel can look
back with pride at the valuable contributions their ancestors have made to the world body of
knowledge. Historical records suggest that what is now regarded as “science” in earlier times
followed methodologies that were different as compared to those now considered as “modern
science”. In those days, methods for acquiring knowledge were not clearly defined. In addition,
early scientists/philosophers were separated by distance and language. Consequently, the
development of a common scientific approach had to await the interaction of cultures and
commerce amongst peoples of Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe.

Asia had already reached varying level of sophistication in


scientific thought and achievement. By the 15th century,
however, a Renaissance reached western Europe and ushered
in the “Age of Enlightenment”. This infusion of knowledge
from distant lands proved to be a giant leap for science. With
the use of Greek, and thereafter Latin as the common
language for reporting, scientists could now share the results
of their investigations with colleagues far and wide. This led to
the development of a formalized scientific methodology, since
known the “scientific method”.

Modern Science

The scientific method is an objective process based on rational thinking. This is facilitated by
recognized experimental design and making logical conclusions, plus a thorough peer review of
the results. When viewed from this vantage point, science becomes reproducible and
predictable.

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]-->Today, scientists are engaged in various lines of investigation.


Some are of theoretical interest (e.g., Are there life forms in other solar systems?); however,

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4/17/2011 Contributions of Ancient India to the W…
research tends to be more specific (e.g., Are solar powered cars cost effective?), or of practical
benefit (e.g., Developing a vaccine for the Bird Flu virus). In contrast to ancient times when
reports were written in dialects or regional languages, today the language of science is usually
English. Its vehicle of transmission are printed Scientific Journals and other media, the most
popular of which is electronic transmission via the Internet.
<!--[endif]-->

Seeds for Modern Scientific Thinking in Ancient India

Records show that some of the early Indian minds were more concerned with developing
philosophical paradigms that were grounded in reality rather than abstract concepts. In those
early days, theories on mathematics, logic, grammar, medicine and other natural phenomena
were recorded in books not normally considered scientific texts.

The Vedic civilization, centred on the Indo-Gangetic Plain, was the foundation of Hinduism
and the associated Indian culture as we know it today. “Veda” means “knowledge”. During the
Vedic Period (1500–500 BCE), Sanskrit texts such as the Vedas were composed. The early
scholars and scientists recognized the importance of knowledge and science. Thus, Vedic
scholarship embraced archaeology, astronomy, history of science, physics, mathematics,
logic and various other disciplines (http://www.ece.lsu.edu/k ak /a3.pdf). In fact, nearly every
branch of human endeavour including science was addressed. According to Grant Duff, the
nineteenth-century British historian:

“ Many of the advances in the sciences that we consider today to have been

made in Europe were in fact made in India centuries ago.”

(http://bronze.ucok .edu/passport/india/history.html)

Scientific Studies at Takshashila, the World’s First


University

As early as 700 BCE, research in over 60 disciplines was conducted at the World’s
FirstUniversity at Takshashila, located in northwest India. At the height of its glory, this
university boasted an enrollment of 10,500 students, many from far away Arabia, Babylonia
(Iraq), Greece, Syria and China. The results of early scientific investigation were incorporated
within the domain of Hindu religious studies. The inclusion of non-religious information into
religious texts was uniquely Indian.

The tradition for inquiry across India was mentioned by Hieun Tsang, the Chinese chronicler
who travelled the country extensively during the 7th century CE. In his memoirs he described
the merchants of Benaras as being mostly "unbelievers". He wrote of intense polemics and
debates amongst followers of different Buddhist sects. Yet, instead of undermining the faith of
Indians, the newly acquired scientific information complemented the growing body of knowledge
as debates focused on the value of the real-world versus the spiritual-world. In their attempts to
prove the primacy of a mystical soul or "Atman", early Indian thinkers would often go to great
lengths to describe competing rationalist and worldly philosophies. These did lead to developing
new hypotheses, extending and elaborating existing theories, and furnishing proofs and
counter-proofs. In effect, debates and discussions led to the emergence of deductive and
inductive logic—the very foundation on which our present day scientific method is based.

Selected Scientific Contributions of Ancient Indians

A. Mathematics

1. The Concept of the Zero

The earliest inscription of Zero was a record on Sankheda Copper Plate found in Gujarat, India
(585 – 586 CE). This paved the way for the decimal system that simplified counting and
calculations. It is noteworthy that it was the traders who transmitted Indian knowledge and
skills to the West. Since transactions were made easier using the Indian decimal system, they
quickly translated Indian mathematics into Arabic and introduced the decimal system to
Islamic North Africa. In subsequent writings in the West, the Indian decimal system become
known as the "Arabic number system," not because the Arabs had invented it, but because

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the Europeans obtained it from the Arabs! In recent times, this decimal system has paved the
way for the binary system now used in computers.

2. Geometry and Trigonometry

The word Geometry seems to have emerged from the Indian word ‘Gyaamiti’ which means
measuring the Earth. Although Euclid (a Greek) is credited with its invention in 300 BCE, the
concept of Geometry developed in India from the practice of making fire altars in square and
rectangular shapes. Also, the Theorem now attributed to Pythagoras (the square of the
hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides) was
elucidated earlier by Baudhayana an recorded in the Treatise, Baudhayana Sulba Sutra (6th
century BCE).

The word Trigonometry is similar to ‘Trik onamiti’ meaning ‘measuring triangular forms.’ The
Sanskrit text, Surya Siddhanta (4th century CE) describes details of Trigonometry which were
introduced to Europe by Briggs in the 16th century.

3. The Value of Pi (n)

The ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is known as Pi. The text Baudhyana
Shulba Sutra mentions this ratio to be approximately equal to 3. Aryabhatta in 499 CE worked
out the value of Pi to the fourth decimal place as 3.1416. In 825 CE the Arab mathematician
Mohammed Ibna Musa says that “This value has been given by the Hindu (Indians).”
Present day calculations give its value of Pi as 3.1415926535…

India, the land that provided them with the nurturing


environment of freedom to explore the vast realm of science?

© roop_910., all rights reserved.

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