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Science
Last Updated: January 06, 2011
Amartya Sen on Indian Maths’ Origin


Kattankulathur (Tamil Nadu), January 6 Eminent economist Dr Amartya Sen, who is at present chairing the interim governing council formed to revive the Nalanda University of the yore, on January 4 told the gathering at the 98th Indian Science Congress that those who are looking for the origin of Indian Mathematics in the Vedas would be “completely barking the wrong tree.”

Though the Athervana Veda has references to mathematics, there is nothing of interest in the Vedas to really connect it with Mathematics, the nobel laureate said. He said he was not going to speak about economics and spoke at length about the work of the ancient university touching upon “Buddhist intellectual impact” in India and China and hinted at the presence of links therein for the origin of Indian mathematics.

“One of the connections on which evidence of intellectual connections between China and India is plentiful is the impact of Buddhists in general and of adherents of Tantric Buddhism in particular, on Chinese Mathematics and Astronomy in the seventh and eighth centuries,” he said.

The Nalanda university located historically in present day Bihar and which at its peak taught 10,000 students 700 years ago was violently destroyed in an Afghan attack led by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 “shortly after beginning of Oxford university and shortly before the initiation of Cambridge.” The university had taught medicine, public health, architecture, culture, religion, history and law to students drawn from India and abroad.

According to Dr Sen, Tantric texts originated in Sanskrit and were translated into Chinese. “Tantrism became a major force in China in the seventh and eighth centuries and had followers among Chinese intellectuals of the highest standing. Since many Tantric scholars had a deep interest in mathematics, Tantric mathematicians had a significant influence on Chinese mathematics as well,” he pointed out.

Citing historian Joseph Needham’s observation he quoted that the greatest of Chinese astronomer and mathematician being a Tantrist should offer clue to the possible significance of this form of Buddhism (Tantric Buddhism) for all kinds of observational and experimental sciences.

“Calendrical studies in which Indian astronomers located in China in the eighth century along with Yi Xing (Chinese mathematician and a Buddhist monk) were particulary involved made good use of the progress of trigonometry that had already occurred in India by then. “The movement east of Indian trigonometry to China was a part of a global exchange of ideas that also went West around that time,” he said.

“What is absolutely clear is that this Buddhist foundation made much room for the pursuit of analytical and scientific subjects within the campus of Nalanda University,” he said.

Nalanda stood for scientific temper, intellectual arguments and was open to accepting students from abroad. “If seeking of evidence and vindication by critical arguments is part of the tradition of science, so is the commitment to move knowledge and understanding beyond locality. Science has to fight parochialism, and Nalanda was firmly committed to just that,” he said delivering a special lecture.

(Courtesy: http://www.thestatesman.net/index.php?id=354585&option=com_content&catid=36)

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