math

Free India from Left-Liberals sneering at its ancient history

A man of Indian origin recently won the Fields Medal. This is considered the Nobel, or the highest prize, for excellence in mathematics. Manjul Bhargava has path-breaking contributions as a researcher in mathematics, one of the biggest of these achievements is to have solved a 200-year-old mathematical problem.

How did he do this? Bhargava says he was able to do this by reading old Sanskrit manuscripts stored by his grandfather Purshottam Lal Bhargava who was the head of the Sanskrit department at the University of Rajasthan. There he found out about the work of the 7th century Indian mathematician Brahmagupta, and he realised, using Brahamagupta’s work that he could solve a problem unresolved for two centuries.You can read more about what exactly he solved here and I am not going into it because my point is different.

manjulEver since the Narendra Modi-led government took over the governance of India, there has been a lot of sneering about some textbooks which supposedly talk about achievements of ancient Indian science, including supposedly about stem cell research. There is no doubt that some of these claims are unverifiable but there is a larger point here.

The point relates to the endless tittering about ‘loony Hindutvadis’ and suggestions that to make any such claim, indeed about anything from ancient Indian science which might be relevant to today’s world is ridiculous, indeed communal. These disparaging remarks are — and usually always have been — made by ‘progressives’ who believe that that all that Indian tradition largely is dated, moribund, and full of ONLY venal rituals, like sati, and is best left abandoned, better still, buried.

But let us examine whether this classical Marxist-Maoist line (remember the Cultural Revolution in China which destroyed all of that country’s ancient heritage) is really true.

First let us start with Brahmagupta. Thankfully, we can talk about him here without fear of being labelled Hindu nationalist and communal because no less than a Princeton professor has mentioned him. Brahmagupta was one of the greatest mathematicians of all times and lived in the 7th century AD. He was the first to give the rules to compute with zero and the first to give the solution to the general linear equation. His two seminal books are Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta and Khaṇḍakhādyaka.

Colebrooke concluded that the algebra of the Indians was more distinguished than that of the Greeks.

Now the only reason Bhargava could access this was because of the knowledge of his grandfather in the Sanskrit language and its texts. Ironically, recently when a suggestion for special events dedicated to preserving and promoting Sanskrit was started, it was once again was targeted with special derision.

What is it about Sanskrit and indeed any of our ancient Indian texts that they are treated with such vitriolic disdain if it is ever suggested that they have anything of modern relevance or that they form the founding pillars of our civilisation?

Why is it that modern Indians are so reluctant to believe that the country that they live  in— and sometimes prosper — and whose benefits they enjoy, come from civilisational values that go back thousands of years? Why should that be embarrassing since this much is accepted by pretty much every Indologist who has ever researched this country? Why is it that when a suggestion comes that we must try and locate the lost river Saraswati, there is immediate bad-mouthing whereas for several years now ISRO has been on the same absolutely scientifically valid task?

Let us look at Sanskrit, a language few Indians understand or read or write any more — in fact some of the best Sanskrit scholars in the world are in America and therefore it is there interpretation of our texts, along with their ideology or worldview which, as is always true for all scholarship, influences their interpretation of our texts that dominate our discourse — and let us see what others have had to say about Sanskrit. William Jones, one of the great Orientalists during the Bengal Renaissance, wrote that he had found Sanskrit to be ‘more perfect that Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either’.

Henry Colebrooke, another strikingly diligent Orientalist, discovered that Brahmagupta, and then, from a period before the mathematician, the 6th century astronomer Aryabhata. And comparing Aryabhata’s work and that of the Hellenic Diophantus, Colebrooke concluded that the algebra of the Indians was more distinguished than that of the Greeks.

That there are enormous riches in ancient India has always been known — but the question is, will our feeble minds only accept it when it comes to us branded from the West like yoga?

Unfortunately, the riches of ancient India have got trapped in this country’s bitter communal debate — and it really does not need to. It is time to set our traditional knowledge free, perhaps, dare I say, even take pride in it. It won’t make you communal. It might, though, make you more confident.

(This article was first published on the author’s blog)

Hindol Sengupta is Editor-at-Large, Fortune India and author of four books Follow him on Twitter @hindolsengupta
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  • Arun Jetli

    The west believes in magic , magically one man Jesus was the son of God. Magically out of the clear blue skies Newton invented calculus.
    It is amazing that all the literature in the west has no interest in material history of the development of trigonometry and infintesimals in the Aryabhatta scool for a thousand years.
    CK Raju is a scientist who has it straight. India needs badly to study its ancient past. More CK Rajus needed

  • GopuDamodar

    Nobody has kept these facts hidden and to say that modern Indians are embarrassed by them is an absurd and unreasonable generalisation. In fact, I learnt about many of them when I was in school, thirty five to forty years ago. I also learnt Sanskrit in school till the 9th grade and we were taught Yoga as well. The author himself admits that ISRO has been searching for the source of the Saraswati for years. To make matters worse he decries our tendency to seek approval form the West and quotes European indologists in the same breath!

    It is becoming a fashion to now project the BJP and the Hindutva wadis as the sole saviours and protectors of India’s heritage. I think this is because as a party they did not have the political legacy that Congress had because they did not have any role to play in securing us our independence. However, since most Indians today were born after 1947 and do not have the same emotional relationship with the freedom struggle that their parents had, the BJP and its satellites are trying to appropriate India’s heritage to create a legacy of their own. Highly unnecessary as they have just won a decisive mandate.

    I am not a fan of the Congress, quite the otherwise, but successive Congress governments did not seek to bury our country’s past glory. In fact it is during their tenure that we acquired a reputation for living in the past! The fact is that several of our scientific institutes are indeed studying our ancient texts and trying to unearth the knowledge they contain. This has also been going on for years and did not start with this present dispensation.

    • Sree Charan R

      TRUE.

  • kalpak

    The only reason I find this blind hatred of western education system (a.k.a Macaulay system) is that it opened up education to all caste and creed of this land. What was a monopoly of a priviledged few, became open to all.

  • froginthewell

    Do you have a reference for “Bhargava says he was able to do this by reading old Sanskrit manuscripts stored by his grandfather Purshottam Lal Bhargava who was the head of the Sanskrit department at the University of Rajasthan.”?

    I am a Hindutva-vadi myself and hate the entire liberal (not just left-liberal) spectrum, but I am quite surprised to see this comment (the related-seeming reference in the link you have provided is about something Manjul Bhargava learnt as a child – almost every regional olympiad kid knows that particular fact, so it can’t possibly help anyone solve a 200 year old problem).

    • Sree Charan R

      To froginthewell ,here is the relevant link–
      https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140812-the-musical-magical-number-theorist/
      To replicate, what is said above,
      QUOTE
      Every few years, Bhargava’s mother took him to visit his grandparents in Jaipur, India. His grandfather, Purushottam Lal Bhargava, was the head of the Sanskrit department of the University of Rajasthan, and Manjul Bhargava grew up reading ancient mathematics and Sanskrit poetry texts.
      To his delight, he discovered that the rhythms of Sanskrit poetry are highly mathematical. Bhargava is fond of explaining to his students that the ancient Sanskrit poets figured out the number of different rhythms with a given number of beats that can be constructed using combinations of long and short syllables: It’s the corresponding number in what Western mathematicians call the Fibonacci sequence. Even the Sanskrit alphabet has an inherent mathematical structure, Bhargava discovered: Its first 25 consonants form a 5 by 5 array in which one dimension specifies the bodily organ where the sound originates and the other dimension specifies a quality of modulation. “The mathematical aspect excited me,” he said.
      UNQUOTE
      Note: NDTV made an interview of Manjul Bhargava sir, which is available online.( even though, initially I was surprised why they did it ?!? )
      Thank You.

      • froginthewell

        Dear Sree Charan, Thanks for your response. However, this quote only shows that Manjul Bhargava (rightly) acknowledges many of India’s contributions to mathematics, which is weaker than saying that “”Bhargava says he was able to do this by reading old Sanskrit manuscripts stored by his grandfather Purshottam Lal Bhargava who was the head of the Sanskrit department at the University of Rajasthan.”

        • Sree Charan R

          QUOTE As a child, Bhargava read in one of his grandfather’s Sanskrit manuscripts about a generalization of this fact, developed in the year 628 by the great Indian mathematician Brahmagupta: If two numbers that are each the sum of a perfect square and a given whole number times a perfect square are multiplied together, the product will again be the sum of a perfect square and that whole number times another perfect square. “When I saw this math in my grandfather’s manuscript, I got very excited,” Bhargava said.UNQUOTE
          (From the same source.This was the first and official interview that Manjul Bhargava gave after receiving his Fields Medal.)

          • froginthewell

            It was precisely this quote that I addressed in my comment above – it does NOT say that this fact helped him solve the 200 year old open problem whose solution fetched him the fields medal; it merely says that this fact excited him as a child. A good number of those who prepared for JEE learn this Brahmagupta fact by their 11th standard (I certainly knew it and had worked with this by my 11th standard). That is far from being even 0.0001% helpful to solve that 200 year old problem.

          • Sree Charan R

            1)These papers deals with the issue briefly.
            http://www.fq.math.ca/Scanned/36-2/swamy.pdf
            http://www.math.ucla.edu/~vsv/gamelin.pdf
            2)But, the point to be noted here is,it was the results of Brahmagupta that “hinted” (inspired) Bhargava Sir–as mentioned in that interview–to discover his 12 of composition laws in number theory.(In mathematics,intuition plays a very important role.)
            Brahmagupta’s research into number theory–and his conclusions– are crucial for this kind of research; which, apparently, are very new to modern thinking(but very old, indeed!).

            {{ Note: If your curiosity is “searching for new research subjects in Ancient Indian Mathematics(…and Science)” then,nothing to worry, we truly have many truths to (re-)discover!! [1]
            [1] Just an example–http://insa.nic.in/writereaddata/UpLoadedFiles/IJHS/Vol49_1_6_Sbhowmik.pdf
            QUOTE “In fine, it may be said that the Indian philosophy had already established a strong basis to assess the correctness of theorists. Time has come when we look back to ancient literature to unearth knowledge that was rediscovered thousands years before by our great ancestors. This undoubtedly will open new areas of research.” UNQUOTE }}

            BTW, Indian Journal Of History of Sciences is a very good repository for History of (Indian) Science–all of the articles are available online.

  • Jonam Bocaj

    Most liberals are not sneering at India’s great, ancient history but the hinduization of it… there’s a difference between being an Indian and a hindutva-wadi

    • Manjunath Venkataramana

      Liberals are indoctrinated to sneer. Looks like you are following up that path too. Knowledge is not communal. But the interpretation of knowledge can be influenced by communal thought. This is what is happening to ancient Indian knowledge. Liberals or those pathetically pseudo secularists who populate the media and the sick think tanks are basically left leaning communists in disguise. They dislike the country they are in, they dislike the culture of the country and everything that the country stands for. Dont get confused by identities…..knowledge cannot be hindu-ized or secularized…..its only “liberals” who see it that way in their own myopic and misguided ways

    • Shubhangi Raykar

      This belongs to the Hindus and is available to anybody

      • bollywood only copy except few

        here is answer to your reply from few days ago, Shiv Sena used to ban porkis and attack them but the immigrations problem and porkis and
        bangladeshis from bimaru states has caught up with Shiv Sena.Indian
        Democracy special appeasement ,Congress and Indian media are also to
        blame because they start blaming parties which attack these porkis and
        make them communal and book them when they in power.

    • Prashant S.

      Your comments are HILARIOUS and ARROGANT at the same time. Did the Christians and Muslims exist in Ancient India? The entire dharma system that flourished in Ancient India is completely rejected by the Bible and Koran followers. Ancient Indian philosophy aka Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism believe in Reincarnation, Karma, Immanence. These theories are outright rejected by Christians and Islamic followers. Now as more evidence appears which prove Reincarnation as a truth, what do the religious charlatans do? Simply appropriate the new findings as if they owned them.
      After exterminating the Greek, Latin, North American, African, Babylonian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian and Aboriginal traditions, the world of Islam and Christianity are trying to appropriate the Hindu traditions. There is something highly egoistic in these so called prophetic belief systems that will spell the doom of human life on this planet if these forces prevail over Hinduism.

      • bollywood only copy except few

        upvote

  • Super Commando Dhruv

    Good piece. But I do not agree when the author says that the best Sanskrit scholars in the world are in America. I think there are two factors that ought to be deliberated upon here.

    First, academics in India, especially in humanities, rather unfortunately derives its legitimacy from establishments abroad. Those acclaimed by chairs and academic circles abroad are scholars and their work scholarly. Reasons for this are many. Of these, to my mind, the most prominent are the lack of funds in the country and a general disregard for knowledge. Of course, because of any sort of independent academic establishment here in India which can vouch for itself, academics has become susceptible to ulterior agendas and highly sophisticated cultural colonialism. So even when there are extraordinary scholars of Sanskrit in India they are not visible and largely ignored because they are too “Indian” and do not serve the colonial narrative. I also feel the post-independence works in Sanskrit, despite being of great literary merit, have not been given due recognition because of the “secularism” project and to perpetuate the notion that Sanskrit is a dead language. Maybe the study of a “dead classical language” is a more lofty ideal and thereby more lucrative.

    Second, and this is not absolutely disjoint from the first, is that the English has become the dominant language of academics today. One must understand that the “Indian” Sanskrit scholars are not particularly proficient in this language. Their works are in Sanskrit itself or vernacular languages. This automatically reduces their visibility because they are shut out from the more visible “academic and scholarly” circles as the ones described earlier and there is zero governmental effort to ensure that such scholars are encouraged and recognized. Such scholars are also not “glamorous” enough for the press in the country. Take for example the case of Prof. Satya Vrat Shashtri who won the Jnanpith in 2009 for his works in Sanskrit, the only person to have done so. His scholarship is remarkable and the work he has done is simply mind boggling in terms of its volume and also its depth. He is a giant. But how many knew about him before he won the award? And this is the case when he wrote in English also. Sanskrit is alive in this country and there are a great many scholars out there. They need support and recognition.

    Indian academics has become a Siamese twin to the west. It needs to be surgically operated and made to stand on its feet. Genuine scholarship has to be promoted. Government grants are one way, CSR could be another. Translations to English of work in vernacular languages could also be a way. Though the government is taking some steps I believe and two days back scholars in Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Arabic were awarded.

    Lastly, I also want to flag the issue of who deserves to be called a Sanskrit scholar. Can a mathematician be one who writes about mathematics but has never solved a problem, can a physicist be one who writes about physics? So can someone who writes about Sanskrit, its history and all be called a scholar of Sanskrit? These foreign academicians who are often touted as the best scholars in Sanskrit in the world today write a lot about Sanskrit but never in Sanskrit. Sheldon Pollock has not published a single page of Sanskrit. He has written a lot about the language’s history, comparative stuff, etc but does that make him a scholar of Sanskrit? Prof. Satya Vrat Shashtri, on the other hand, has published several texts in Sanskrit. It would be instructive to survey the galaxy of Sanskrit scholars from ancient India and see what comprised the body of their work, its nature. It is important to know who is worthy of being called a Sanskrit scholar and who is called a Sanskrit scholar because we don’t know otherwise.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    “Four legs good, two legs bad”. But this is more the result of India’s own
    proclivity, since 1947, to raise up the worst in itself, Constitutionally,
    Politically and Bollywood wise and suppress the demanding higher standards of a
    persecuted minority to arrive at a nation that has more to be ashamed of than
    otherwise. A faithful repetition of Ashoka’s fratricidal and auto
    phagist Empire that cast India, as a patchwork of greedy, warring princes in his
    own image, to the wolves of every passing adventurer after he was done.

  • GK

    The leftists & AntiNationals demonized India and its rich Ancient Knowledge.!, I have gone through 360 degree to appreciate Ancient Knowledge..! Many Indians are blindfolded by the Crooks, AntiNationals & PAID Main Stream Media..!, Now I can see them better, where they are hidden..!

    • Glickman

      Bullshit.

      Ancient Indian knowledge might be in books and treatise but the bottomline is that today’s generation, the world at large and the so called educated “leftists” require more empirical proof rather than just some crackpots proclaiming here and there that such and such is so.

      You want the ancient knowledge to become public and accepted not just by some hard core nationalists but the world at large ? Well then you will have to follow a much more rigorous and scientific method of doing so. Publish your findings in international scientific journals of repute – let your stories be peer reviewed by fellow scientists, historians, mathematicians and scholers and if there is merit in it, it will come out.

      There is no international conspiracy led by indian lefties to suppress the full majesty of Indian ancient knowledge from becoming public. Stop being a conspiracy theory dick !!!

      • Sree Charan R

        Mind your language….and ignorance…
        { Just to give a “lively” example–
        These articles are from International journals, by Scientists; about the same topic that created such a controversy recently,Ancient Indian Aeronautics—
        http://www.academia.edu/5421900/HIGH_TECHNOLOGY_IN_ANCIENT_SANSKRIT_MANUSCRIPTS
        http://www.ijser.org/onlineResearchPaperViewer.aspx?Aero-Mechanics-in-Ancient-Aircraft.pdf
        http://www.ijeit.com/Vol%204/Issue%203/IJEIT1412201409_08.pdf
        Did any one–especially, the critics–bother to do honest research,’dig deeper’;instead of blabbering “populist opinions”? }
        Yes,there is a conspiracy(though there is no need to look into this in an “ideological” lens always.)
        There is a conspiracy, which is institutionalized; Racism which says that ‘Scientific knowledge is prerogative of only a particular culture,instead of celebrating all cultures’.
        There is definitely a need for genuine research;but only with Wisdom, not by agenda.
        Thank You

        • Shubhangi Raykar

          Where is the scientific aspect to’faith healing’ which now the padries who allure the masses ? A boy who was born with one kidney and his second good kidney was infected was taken to the church by the paid canvassers of Christianity on a Sunday. There was a psychological effect initially. The boy felt better. Of course he was asked to continue his medicines.Very soon the condition became worse and he stopped going. His mother gave her kidney to save the child. I feel like giving a lot of publicity to these tricks of the Evangelists.

      • Chitra Sharma

        Bullshit, glickman. your ignorance and stupidity is very evident from your stupid and egoistic comment above. Your masters have not been able to teach you humility and rationalism.

      • Chitra Sharma

        Glickman is an american christian bigot with little or no brains and lot of christian ego. He was brought up in a cultureless country which killed the original inhabitants like flies, to claim their land and enslaved blacks as part of his countries original culture of kill, capture destroy and claim.
        We shouldn’t be too worried about his senseless utterances, a large number of his countrymen have been involved in killing and maiming people in middle east, south Asia, south and central Americas. e has the same mindset.

      • GK

        If the original evidence have been destroyed , then they can claim their own theories..

    • Susheem

      I see the taming of NGO business has begun. When will the Modi Sarkar start investigating sources and uses of funds by big media houses.

      • GK

        Could be already on the way.. he don’t disclose all those outside..!

  • mdb

    We have lost many texts & top of it the teachers who knew it . Just as in mfg -be it muslin, clay-all purpose refrigerators, normal light , sewerage , civil structures- life sciences – that teach us to be fearless .karma that teaches us importance of honest hard work , avoidance of excess -in all fields esp sex selfless seva . yoga to keep body mind soul healthy . Contrast this with selfishness , love of physical pleasures and freebie culture of the west .. Wasted Generations. I was introduced to vedas because of internet . My life would have been more optimistic less of struggle dealing with false insecurities and fears if indian vedas upanishads were taught in school. Hope this government puts in a mechanism transparent & trust and the whole nation supports it . The difficulty is that we would want instant results — patience being out of fashion now. Let’s see how it goes . Thankfully a little prodding to this current generation to read the stuff that knowing which everything is known would make them digest it quicker & the creator shows grace to taste success quickly .

  • Sree Charan R

    We should not restrict Ancient Indian Science to “Zero,Ayurveda,Aryabhatta” story,though they are really great;instead we should also speak about the great contributions to Grammar,Music,Astronomy/Astrophysics,Architecture,Philosophy/Logic,Psychology and many more areas.
    The only reason for this neglect is ignorance about Indian(both Ancient and Modern)contributions to Science–it is like, there is a HUGE elephant in the room and people do not want to see it.The situation is like a boomerang–we have through the “Indian Thought” to the greatest distance possible; now it has only one option,to come back.And when it comes back, it will have a greater velocity and more effect, than what we can imagine.

    • Glickman

      great ..we should this and we should that ….but who is talking ? and who is listening ? The fact is that Indians lack the ability to package anything properly and present it to the world. Look at our cities. Look at our monuments – squalor dirt and garbage – If you treat your country like garbage, don’t mind if others do so too …..

      • Sree Charan R

        Please do not encourage this kind of arguments.Truth is–Indians have NEVER forgotten their heritage(probably this is against the “opinions” of ‘fashionable nonsense’ makers of today).The main reason is–not the lack of evidence,but people are biased and they have many ideologies to satisfy.There were always few “gatekeepers” who were responsible for the ignorance of today.And they, even though less in number, were overshadowed by the genuine scholars.Even the great scientists that India has produced (and continues to produce) were all proud and humble of the Ancient Indian Scientific Heritage(it is definitely far greater than what we are “conditioned” to believe..).Indians have always presented our case with utmost honesty; but there are no one to listen–very few people care about Truth today; and have recorded our history (in “traditional” documents), but “scholars” (so-called) do not acknowledge it– but that does not mean we have forgotten our History, just because few ideologues have misinterpreted it.
        Note: “We” can treat our India reverently and greatly.People are listening– at least,I am listening!!

      • Prashant S.

        Just to let you know that there is a Swacch Bharat mission on in Bharat. It has been packaged and presented properly for all citizens and agencies to adopt. However, many people are being encouraged to ignore it as this effort is being led by a “Hindu”, “Communal” PM! That is the state of a whole section of brainwashed people in India. They suffer from the Stockholm syndrome – they think that those who held them captive for a 1000 years are the people who should continue to hold them captive.

        • kyzylkumkohlrabi

          “They suffer from the Stockholm syndrome – they think that those who held them captive for a 1000 years are the people who should continue to hold them captive.” <– This is probably the most accurate way of portraying the situation of the Indian Left.

    • Shubhangi Raykar

      In the last 20 years or so German was given as an option to Regional language, Hindi or Sanskrit. Children were encouraged to offer German and this has resulted in not having even the basic knowledge of Sanskrit. When I and even my children were school childrenwe studied Sanskrit .

  • Sandeep Sai

    A good deal of information are presented here to counter the lies perpetrated by the left academia.
    The approval of the west even to give credibility to our own achievements is a sorry affair. Perhaps decolonisation is a slow process.
    Thanks to Manjul Bhargava.

    • Shubhangi Raykar

      Decolonization is indeed slow and deceptive process because neo colonization follows de colonization which is a political concept.

  • Aparna

    Short and such an effective article!