**HOW WEST STOLE BHARAT AND TURNED IT TO INDIA-**

In India, emphasis was not on military organization but in finding enlightenment. Indians, as early as 500 BCE, devised a system of different symbols for every number from one to nine, a system that came to be called Arabic numerals, because they spread first to Islamic countries before reaching Europe centuries later.

What is historically known goes back to the days of the Harappan civilization (2,600-3,000 BCE). Since this Indian civilization delved into commerce and cultural activities, it was only natural that they devise systems of weights and measurements. For example a bronze rod marked in units of 0.367 inches was discovered and points to the degree of accuracy they demanded. Evidently,such accuracy was required for town planning and construction projects.Weights corresponding to units of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 have been discovered and they obviously played important parts in the development of trade and commerce.

It seems clear from the early Sanskrit works on mathematics that the insistent demand of the times was there, for these books are full of problems of trade and social relationships involving complicated calculations. There are problems dealing with taxation, debt and interest, problems of partnership, barter and exchange, and the calculation of the fineness of gold. The complexities of society, government operations and extensive trade required simpler methods of calculation.

When we discuss the numerals of today’s decimal number system we usually refer to them as “Arabian numbers.” Their origin, however, is in India, where they were first published in the Lokavibhaga on the 28th of August 458 AD.This Jain astronomical work, Lokavibhaga or “Parts of the Universe,” is the earliest document clearly exhibiting familiarity with the decimal system. One section of this same work gives detailed astronomical observations that confirm to modern scholars that this was written on the date it claimed to be written: 25 August 458 CE (Julian calendar). As Ifrah

The origin of the modern decimal-based place value system is ascribed to the Indian mathematician Aryabhata I, 498 CE. Using Sanskrit numeral words for the digits, Aryabhata stated “Sthanam sthanam dasa gunam” or “place to place is ten times in value.”The oldest record of this value place assignment is in a document recorded in 594 CE, a donation charter of Dadda III of Sankheda in the Bharukachcha region.

The earliest recorded inscription of decimal digits to include the symbol for the digit zero, a small circle, was found at the Chaturbhuja Temple at Gwalior, India, dated 876 CE.This Sanskrit inscription states that a garden was planted to produce flowers for temple worship and calculations were needed to assure they had enough flowers. Fifty garlands are mentioned (line 20), here 50 and 270 are written with zero. It is accepted as the undisputed proof of the first use of zero.

The usage of zero along with the other nine digits opened up a whole new world of science for the Indians. Indeed Indian astronomers were centuries ahead of the Christian world.The Indian scientists discovered that the earth spins on its axis and moves around the sun, a fact that Copernicus in Europe didn’t understand until a thousand years later—a discovery that he would have been persecuted for, had he lived longer.

From these and other sources there can be no doubt that our modern system of arithmetic—differing only in variations on the symbols used for the digits and minor details of computational schemes—originated in India at least by 510 CE and quite possibly by 458 CE.

The first sign that the Indian numerals were moving west comes from a source which predates the rise of the Arab nations. In 662 AD Severus Sebokht, a Nestorian bishop who lived in Keneshra on the Euphrates river, wrote regarding the Indian system of calculation with decimal numerals:

“ ... more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians, and of their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description...”

This passage clearly indicates that knowledge of the Indian number system was known in lands soon to become part of the Arab world as early as the seventh century. The passage itself, of course, would certainly suggest that few people in that part of the world knew anything of the system. Severus Sebokht as a Christian bishop would have been interested in calculating the date of Easter (a problem to Christian churches for many hundreds of years). This may have encouraged him to find out about the astronomy works of the Indians and in these, of course, he would find the arithmetic of the nine symbols.

The Indian numerals are elements of Sanskrit and existed in several variants well before their formal publication during the late Gupta Period (c. 320-540 CE). In contrast to all earlier number systems, the Indian numerals did not relate to fingers, pebbles, sticks or other physical objects.

In India, emphasis was not on military organization but in finding enlightenment. Indians, as early as 500 BCE, devised a system of different symbols for every number from one to nine, a system that came to be called Arabic numerals, because they spread first to Islamic countries before reaching Europe centuries later.

What is historically known goes back to the days of the Harappan civilization (2,600-3,000 BCE). Since this Indian civilization delved into commerce and cultural activities, it was only natural that they devise systems of weights and measurements. For example a bronze rod marked in units of 0.367 inches was discovered and points to the degree of accuracy they demanded. Evidently,such accuracy was required for town planning and construction projects.Weights corresponding to units of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 have been discovered and they obviously played important parts in the development of trade and commerce.

It seems clear from the early Sanskrit works on mathematics that the insistent demand of the times was there, for these books are full of problems of trade and social relationships involving complicated calculations. There are problems dealing with taxation, debt and interest, problems of partnership, barter and exchange, and the calculation of the fineness of gold. The complexities of society, government operations and extensive trade required simpler methods of calculation.

**Earliest Indian Literary and Archaeological References**When we discuss the numerals of today’s decimal number system we usually refer to them as “Arabian numbers.” Their origin, however, is in India, where they were first published in the Lokavibhaga on the 28th of August 458 AD.This Jain astronomical work, Lokavibhaga or “Parts of the Universe,” is the earliest document clearly exhibiting familiarity with the decimal system. One section of this same work gives detailed astronomical observations that confirm to modern scholars that this was written on the date it claimed to be written: 25 August 458 CE (Julian calendar). As Ifrah

^{2}points out, this information not only allows us to date the document with precision, but also proves its authenticity. Should anyone doubt this astronomical information, it should be pointed out that to falsify such data requires a much greater understanding and skill than it does to make the original calculations.The origin of the modern decimal-based place value system is ascribed to the Indian mathematician Aryabhata I, 498 CE. Using Sanskrit numeral words for the digits, Aryabhata stated “Sthanam sthanam dasa gunam” or “place to place is ten times in value.”The oldest record of this value place assignment is in a document recorded in 594 CE, a donation charter of Dadda III of Sankheda in the Bharukachcha region.

The earliest recorded inscription of decimal digits to include the symbol for the digit zero, a small circle, was found at the Chaturbhuja Temple at Gwalior, India, dated 876 CE.This Sanskrit inscription states that a garden was planted to produce flowers for temple worship and calculations were needed to assure they had enough flowers. Fifty garlands are mentioned (line 20), here 50 and 270 are written with zero. It is accepted as the undisputed proof of the first use of zero.

The usage of zero along with the other nine digits opened up a whole new world of science for the Indians. Indeed Indian astronomers were centuries ahead of the Christian world.The Indian scientists discovered that the earth spins on its axis and moves around the sun, a fact that Copernicus in Europe didn’t understand until a thousand years later—a discovery that he would have been persecuted for, had he lived longer.

From these and other sources there can be no doubt that our modern system of arithmetic—differing only in variations on the symbols used for the digits and minor details of computational schemes—originated in India at least by 510 CE and quite possibly by 458 CE.

The first sign that the Indian numerals were moving west comes from a source which predates the rise of the Arab nations. In 662 AD Severus Sebokht, a Nestorian bishop who lived in Keneshra on the Euphrates river, wrote regarding the Indian system of calculation with decimal numerals:

“ ... more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians, and of their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description...”

^{ 3}This passage clearly indicates that knowledge of the Indian number system was known in lands soon to become part of the Arab world as early as the seventh century. The passage itself, of course, would certainly suggest that few people in that part of the world knew anything of the system. Severus Sebokht as a Christian bishop would have been interested in calculating the date of Easter (a problem to Christian churches for many hundreds of years). This may have encouraged him to find out about the astronomy works of the Indians and in these, of course, he would find the arithmetic of the nine symbols.

**The Decimal Number System**The Indian numerals are elements of Sanskrit and existed in several variants well before their formal publication during the late Gupta Period (c. 320-540 CE). In contrast to all earlier number systems, the Indian numerals did not relate to fingers, pebbles, sticks or other physical objects.

The development of this system hinged on three key abstract (and certainly non-intuitive) principles: (a) The idea of attaching to each basic figure graphical signs which were removed from all intuitive associations, and did not visually evoke the units they represented; (b) The idea of adopting the principle according to which the basic figures have a value which depends on the position they occupy in the representation of a number; and (c) The idea of a fully operational zero, filling the empty spaces of missing units and at the same time having the meaning of a null number.

The great intellectual achievement of the Indian number system can be appreciated when it is recognized what it means to abandon the representation of numbers through physical objects. It indicates that Indian priest-scientists thought of numbers as an intellectual concept, something abstract rather than concrete. This is a prerequisite for progress in mathematics and science in general, because the introduction of irrational numbers such as “

The Indian number system is exclusively a base 10 system, in contrast to the Babylonian (modern-day Iraq) system, which was base 60; for example, the calculation of time in seconds, minutes and hours. By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system (based on 60, not 10). Despite the invention of zero as a placeholder, the Babylonians never quite discovered zero as a number.

The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals.They added the “space” symbol for the zero in about 400 BC. However, this effort to save the first place-value number system did not overcome its other problems and the rise of Alexandria spelled the end of the Babylonian number system and its cuneiform (hieroglyphic like) numbers.

It is remarkable that the rise of a civilization as advanced as Alexandria also meant the end of a place-value number system in Europe for nearly 2,000 years. Neither Egypt nor Greece nor Rome had a place-value number system, and throughout medieval times Europe used the absolute value number system of Rome (Roman Numerals). This held back the development of mathematics in Europe and meant that before the period of Enlightenment of the 17th century, the great mathematical discoveries were made elsewhere in East Asia and in Central America.

The Mayans in Central America independently invented zero in the fourth century CE.Their priest-astronomers used a snail-shell-like symbol to fill gaps in the (almost) base-20 positional ‘long-count’ system they used to calculate their calendar. They were highly skilled mathematicians, astronomers, artists and architects. However, they failed to make other key discoveries and inventions that might have helped their culture survive. The Mayan culture collapsed mysteriously around 900 CE. Both the Babylonians and the Mayans found zero the symbol, yet missed zero the number. Although China independently invented place value, they didn’t make the leap to zero until it was introduced to them by a Buddhist astronomer from India in 718 CE.

The development of this system hinged on three key abstract (and certainly non-intuitive) principles: (a) The idea of attaching to each basic figure graphical signs which were removed from all intuitive associations, and did not visually evoke the units they represented; (b) The idea of adopting the principle according to which the basic figures have a value which depends on the position they occupy in the representation of a number; and (c) The idea of a fully operational zero, filling the empty spaces of missing units and at the same time having the meaning of a null number.

^{4}The great intellectual achievement of the Indian number system can be appreciated when it is recognized what it means to abandon the representation of numbers through physical objects. It indicates that Indian priest-scientists thought of numbers as an intellectual concept, something abstract rather than concrete. This is a prerequisite for progress in mathematics and science in general, because the introduction of irrational numbers such as “

*pi*,” the number needed to calculate the area inside a circle, or the use of imaginary numbers is impossible unless the link between numbers and physical objects is broken.The Indian number system is exclusively a base 10 system, in contrast to the Babylonian (modern-day Iraq) system, which was base 60; for example, the calculation of time in seconds, minutes and hours. By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system (based on 60, not 10). Despite the invention of zero as a placeholder, the Babylonians never quite discovered zero as a number.

The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals.They added the “space” symbol for the zero in about 400 BC. However, this effort to save the first place-value number system did not overcome its other problems and the rise of Alexandria spelled the end of the Babylonian number system and its cuneiform (hieroglyphic like) numbers.

It is remarkable that the rise of a civilization as advanced as Alexandria also meant the end of a place-value number system in Europe for nearly 2,000 years. Neither Egypt nor Greece nor Rome had a place-value number system, and throughout medieval times Europe used the absolute value number system of Rome (Roman Numerals). This held back the development of mathematics in Europe and meant that before the period of Enlightenment of the 17th century, the great mathematical discoveries were made elsewhere in East Asia and in Central America.

The Mayans in Central America independently invented zero in the fourth century CE.Their priest-astronomers used a snail-shell-like symbol to fill gaps in the (almost) base-20 positional ‘long-count’ system they used to calculate their calendar. They were highly skilled mathematicians, astronomers, artists and architects. However, they failed to make other key discoveries and inventions that might have helped their culture survive. The Mayan culture collapsed mysteriously around 900 CE. Both the Babylonians and the Mayans found zero the symbol, yet missed zero the number. Although China independently invented place value, they didn’t make the leap to zero until it was introduced to them by a Buddhist astronomer from India in 718 CE.

**
**

**Zero becomes a real number**

The concept of zero as a number and not merely a symbol for separation is
attributed to India where by the 9th century CE practical calculations were
carried out using zero, which was treated like any other number, even in the
case of division.

The story of zero is actually a story of two zeroes: zero as a symbol to represent nothing and zero as a number that can be used in calculations and has its own mathematical properties.

It has been commented that in India, the concept of nothing is important in its early religion and philosophy and so it was much more natural to have a symbol for it than for the Latin (Roman) and Greek systems. The rules for the use of zero were written down first by Brahmagupta, in his book “Brahmasphutha Siddhanta” (The Opening of the Universe) in the year 628 CE. Here Brahmagupta considers not only zero, but negative numbers, and the algebraic rules for the elementary operations of arithmetic with such numbers.

“The importance of the creation of the zero mark can never be exaggerated.This giving to airy nothing, not merely a local habitation and a name, a picture, a symbol, but helpful power, is the characteristic of the Hindu race from whence it sprang. It is like coining the Nirvana into dynamos. No single mathematical creation has been more potent for the general on-go of intelligence and power.” - G. B. Halsted

A very important distinction for the Indian symbol for zero, is that, unlike the Babylonian and Mayan zero, the Indian zero symbol came to be understood as meaning nothing.

As the Indian decimal zero and its new mathematics spread from the Arab world to Europe in the Middle Ages, words derived from sifr and zephyrus came to refer to calculation, as well as to privileged knowledge and secret codes. Records show that the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number.They asked themselves,“How can nothing be something?” This lead to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum.

The word “zero” came via the French word zéro, and cipher came from the Arabic word safira which means “it was empty.” Also sifr, meaning “zero” or “nothing,” was the translation for the Sanskrit word sunya, which means void or empty.

The number zero was especially regarded with suspicion in Europe, so much so that the word cipher for zero became a word for secret code in modern usage. It is very likely a linguistic memory of the time when using decimal arithmetic was deemed evidence of dabbling in the occult, which was potentially punishable by the all-powerful Catholic Church with death

The story of zero is actually a story of two zeroes: zero as a symbol to represent nothing and zero as a number that can be used in calculations and has its own mathematical properties.

It has been commented that in India, the concept of nothing is important in its early religion and philosophy and so it was much more natural to have a symbol for it than for the Latin (Roman) and Greek systems. The rules for the use of zero were written down first by Brahmagupta, in his book “Brahmasphutha Siddhanta” (The Opening of the Universe) in the year 628 CE. Here Brahmagupta considers not only zero, but negative numbers, and the algebraic rules for the elementary operations of arithmetic with such numbers.

“The importance of the creation of the zero mark can never be exaggerated.This giving to airy nothing, not merely a local habitation and a name, a picture, a symbol, but helpful power, is the characteristic of the Hindu race from whence it sprang. It is like coining the Nirvana into dynamos. No single mathematical creation has been more potent for the general on-go of intelligence and power.” - G. B. Halsted

^{5}A very important distinction for the Indian symbol for zero, is that, unlike the Babylonian and Mayan zero, the Indian zero symbol came to be understood as meaning nothing.

As the Indian decimal zero and its new mathematics spread from the Arab world to Europe in the Middle Ages, words derived from sifr and zephyrus came to refer to calculation, as well as to privileged knowledge and secret codes. Records show that the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number.They asked themselves,“How can nothing be something?” This lead to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum.

The word “zero” came via the French word zéro, and cipher came from the Arabic word safira which means “it was empty.” Also sifr, meaning “zero” or “nothing,” was the translation for the Sanskrit word sunya, which means void or empty.

The number zero was especially regarded with suspicion in Europe, so much so that the word cipher for zero became a word for secret code in modern usage. It is very likely a linguistic memory of the time when using decimal arithmetic was deemed evidence of dabbling in the occult, which was potentially punishable by the all-powerful Catholic Church with death

**Glorification of the Decimal Number System**

The Indian numerals and the positional number system were introduced to the Islamic civilization by Al-Khwarizmi, the founder of several branches and basic concepts of mathematics. Al-Khwarizmi's book on arithmetic synthesized Greek and Indian knowledge and also contained his own fundamental contribution to mathematics and science including an explanation of the use of zero. It was only centuries later, in the 12th century, that the Indian numeral system was introduced to the Western world through Latin translations of his arithmetic.

Michel de Montaigne, Mayor of Bordeaux (France) and one of the most learned men of his day, confessed in 1588 (prior to the widespread adoption of decimal arithmetic in Europe), that in spite of his great education and erudition,

*"I cannot yet cast account either with penne or counters."*That is, he could not do basic arithmetic.

^{6}

Dantzig notes in regards to the discovery of the positional decimal arithmetic,

*"… it assumes the proportions of a world-event… without it no progress in arithmetic was possible."*

^{7}

Pierre-Simon Laplace, the famous 19th century mathematician, explained:

*"The ingenious method of expressing every possible number using a set of ten symbols (each symbol having a place value and an absolute value) emerged from India. The idea seems so simple nowadays that it's significance and profound importance is no longer appreciated. It's simplicity lies in the way it facilitated calculation and places arithmetic foremost amongst useful inventions. The importance of this invention is more readily appreciated when one considers that it was beyond the two greatest men of Antiquity, Archimedes and Apollonius."*

^{8}

Ifrah describes the significance of this discovery in these terms:

*"Now that we can stand back from the story, the birth of our modern number-system seems a colossal event in the history of humanity, as momentous as the mastery of fire, the development of agriculture, or the invention of writing, of the wheel, or of the steam engine."*

^{9}

Indian mathematicians used their revolutionary number system to advance human knowledge at great speed. The

*Sthananga Sutra*, an Indian religious work from the second century AD, contains detailed operations that involve logarithms to the base 2. Modern texts credit the discovery of logarithms to the Scottish mathematician John Napier, who published his discovery in 1614. Indian knowledge of logarithms thus precedes Napier's discovery by more than 1,000 years.

**Panini's Systematization of Sanskrit & The Binary Number System**

Panini's precise systematization of the Sanskrit language in the 4th or 7th century BCE is widely considered as a forerunner of the Backus Normal Form (discovered by John Backus in 1959), which forms the basis of the current computer language. Panini is recognized as one of the foremost geniuses of ancient India and is credited with the systematization of Sanskrit as a language. Panini's work was so thorough that no one in the past 2,000 years has been able to improve on it. He codified every aspect of spoken communication, including pronunciation, tones and gestures. NASA scientist Rick Briggs, as part of his NASA research, showed that Sanskrit is the most perfectly suited, unambiguous, language for programming Artificial Intelligence.

^{10}

Pingala (300 to 200 BCE), a well-recognized Jain mathematician, although not strictly a mathematician but a musical theorist, is credited with first using the Binary numeral system in the form of short and long syllables, making it similar to Morse code. He and his contemporary Indian scholars used the Sanskrit word sunya to refer to zero or void. He is also credited with discovering the "Pascal triangle" and the binominal coefficient. Basic concepts of the Fibonacci numbers have also been described by Pingala.

**The Binary Number System Discovered in Europe 2,000 Years Later**

Two thousand years later in 1679, the prominent mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, prompted by such huge mistakes as Columbus finding the West Indies in the Americas when in fact he thought he was in Japan, decided to stop human error with a better numerical system. In the process he invented the binary number system which allowed the representation of all numbers with only ones and zeros.

A simple diagram illustrates this easily. Our habit is to think in tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. However, the number nine written in binary is 1001. The first column (from the right) counts how many ones, the second, how many twos, then how many fours, eights etc. Thus nine in binary is one eight, no fours, no twos and one one [1001].

**The Decimal Number System Spreads to Muslim Countries**

Usage of the decimal number system spread to Muslim countries where scholars were amazed by it's usage and simplicity. By 776 AD the Arab empire was beginning to take shape. The Arabic world, in comparison to Europe, was much more accepting of the Indian system — in fact, the West owes it's knowledge of the scheme to Arab scholars. Arabian scholars were always prepared to give Indian scientists credit for their number system. An early Arabian work states that,

*"We also inherited a treatise on calculation with numbers from the sciences of India, which Abu Djafar Mohammed Ibn Musa al-Charismi developed further. It is the most comprehensive, most practical, and requires the least effort to learn; it testifies for the thorough intellect of the Indians, their creative talent, their superior ability to discriminate and their inventiveness."*

^{ 11}

On the other hand, the Europeans response to the extraordinary cultural and scientific achievements of India during the British occupation of India, was to postulate the Aryan Invasion Theory — that India's wondrous heritage came from Europe. Although this theory remains a controversial issue, more recent archaeological, linguistic, genetic and other evidence has effectively shown that there is no substantiation for this Aryan Invasion Theory. The earliest known use of the Indian decimal number system in Europe is in a Sicilian coin of 1134; in Britain the first use is in 1490.

Around the middle of the tenth century, Al-Uqlidisi wrote Kitab al-fusul fi al-hisab al-Hindi, which is the earliest surviving book that presents the Indian system. In it Al-Uqlidisi argues that this system is of practical value:

*"Most arithmeticians are obliged to use it in their work: since it is easy and immediate, requires little memorization, provides quick answers, and demands little thought ... "*

^{12}

In the fourth part of this book Al-Uqlidisi showed how to modify the methods of calculating with Indian symbols, which had required a dust board, to methods which could be carried out with pen and paper. This requirement of a dust board had been an obstacle to the Indian system's acceptance. For example As-Suli, after praising the Indian system for it's great simplicity, wrote in the first half of the tenth century:

*"Official scribes nevertheless avoid using [the Indian system] because it requires equipment [like a dust board] and they consider that a system that requires nothing but the members of the body is more secure and more fitting to the dignity of a leader."*Al-Uqlidisi's work is therefore important in attempting to remove one of the obstacles to acceptance of the Indian nine symbols. It is also historically important as it is the earliest known text offering a direct treatment of decimal fractions.

Another reference to the transmission of Indian numerals is found in the work of Al-Qifti's

*Chronology of the Scholars*written around the end of the 12

^{th}century. This publication quotes much earlier sources.

^{13}

It was not simply that the Arabs took over the Indian number system. Rather different number systems were used simultaneously in the Arabic world over a long period of time. For example there were at least three different types of arithmetic used in Arab countries in the eleventh century:

1 - A system derived from counting on the fingers with the numerals written entirely in words—this finger-reckoning arithmetic was the system used by the business community

2 - The sexagesimal system with numerals denoted by letters of the Arabic alphabet

3 - The arithmetic of the Indian numerals and fractions with the decimal place-value system.

*Kitab al Jabr wa'l-Muqabala (Rules of Restoring and Equating)*dating from about 825 AD.

^{14}

Although the original Arabic text is lost, a twelfth century Latin translation,

*Algoritmi de numero Indorum*(in English

*Al-Khwarizmi on the Hindu Art of Reckoning*), gave rise to the word

*'algorithm'*deriving from his name in the title. Furthermore, from the Arabic title of the original book,

*Kitab al Jabr w'al-Muqabala*, we derive our modern word 'algebra.'

^{15}

"The imam and emir of the believers, al-Ma'mun, encouraged me to write a concise work on the calculations

*al-jabr*and

*al-muqabala*, confined to a pleasant and interesting art of calculation, which people constantly have need of for their inheritances, their wills, their judgements and their transactions, and in all the things they have to do together, notably, the measurement of land, the digging of canals, geometry and other things of that kind."

^{16}

Al-Khwarizmi developed this numerical system further with quadratic equations, algebra, etc. — enabling science, mathematics and astronomy in Islamic countries to develop dramatically. However, on the other side of the Mediterranean, Christian Europe doggedly continued with the awkward Roman numerals for centuries.

**The Pope & Fibonacci Try to Introduce the Indian Decimal Number System into Europe**

It is astonishing how many years passed before the Indian numeral system finally gained full acceptance in the rest of the world. There are indications that it reached southern Europe perhaps as early as 500 CE, but with Europe mired in the Dark Ages, few paid any attention. The first surviving example of the Indian numerals in document form in Europe was, however, long before the time of al-Banna in the fourteenth century. The Indian numerals appear in the

*Codex Vigilanus*copied by a monk in Spain in 976.

^{17}

Significantly, the main part of Europe was not ready at that time to accept new ideas of any kind. Acceptance was slow, even as late as the fifteenth century when European mathematics began it's rapid development, which continues today.

During this time counting tables were used by "bankers" in medieval Italian cities for exchanging currencies. If they cheated their table would be broken and this banker was then know as

*rukta*or broken

*(banka-rukta)*, an early version of the modern word

*'bankrupt.'*

That the European monks depicted Indian numerals in a variety of orientations is clear evidence that they did not understand the usefulness of place-value number systems. Calculations in Europe were still made on calculation boards. Among the first uses of the Indian system in Europe was the introduction of Indian numerals for checker board calculations by Gerbert d'Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II in 999. When he encountered Indian numerals in Arabic manuscripts held in a Spanish monastery, he introduced round tokens with Indian numerals to his calculation board.

^{18}

The early Christian world view was largely a product of Aristotelian conceptions, where the Earth was the center of the universe, set in motion by an "unmoved mover," or God. Because there was no place for a void in this cosmology it followed that the concept of zero and everything associated with it was a godless concept. Eastern philosophies however, rooted in ideas of eternal cycles of creation and destruction, had no such qualms.

Leonardo of Pisa, also known as Fibonacci, the young son of an Italian diplomat, who is now regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, discovered the "Arabic numerals" in the port of Bijaya, Algeria. The Indo-Arabic system was re-introduced to Europe by Fibonacci, in his 1202 CE book,

*Liber Abaci (Book of the Abacus or Book of Calculating)*, which was a showcase for the Indian numerals, with emphasis on it's usage by merchants.

^{19}

Although this work persuaded many European mathematicians of the day to use this "new" system, usage of the ten digit positional system remained limited for many years, in part because the scheme continued to be considered "diabolical," due to the mistaken impression that it originated in the Arab world, in spite of Fibonacci's clear descriptions of the "nine Indian figures" plus zero.

^{20}

^{21}

Nicolas Copernicus, said to be the founder of modern astronomy, in his great work De Revolutionibus, published not long before his death in 1543, presented his "heretical" idea that the earth rotated on it's axis and traveled around the sun once yearly. This went against the philosophical and religious beliefs that the Catholic Church and all of Europe had held during medieval times.

^{22}

Both were tortured extensively, Bruno for daring to go even beyond Copernicus to claim that space was boundless and that the sun and it's planets were but one of any number of similar systems. Bruno, after eight years in chains, was burned at the stake—his life a testimony to the drive for knowledge and truth that marked the incredible period of the Renaissance.

The old and frail Galileo was put in prison for the duration of his life. Nearly four hundred years later the Catholic Church grudgingly admitted that Galileo was right.

The usage of this streamlined decimal number system of counting was not easily accepted in the rest Christian dominated Europe either. Florence, Italy, banned the usage of this new number system in 1299 CE. Such attitudes forced the continued universal usage of the awkward and difficult Roman numerals.

However, use of the calculation board and of the abacus coexisted with the Indian number system for centuries. Because most people in medieval Europe were illiterate (in addition to superstitious) and the Indian calculation method required the writing down of numbers, the abacus remained the preferred tool in commerce and administration. Science, on the other hand, adopted the Indian place-value number system early.

^{23}

The parallel use of competing systems for calculation and measurement is not an unusual occurrence. The use of the Fahrenheit temperature scale by the public of the USA and the Celsius temperature scale by the scientists of the USA is another current example. Scientists like Copernicus, Brahe and Kepler understood the superiority of the Indian number system over the Roman numbers and used it for their detailed observations and calculations. Medieval publications demonstrate the use of the Indian method parallel to the use of the abacus and calculation boards during their time.

When James Cook in 1776 planned the voyage that brought him to Australia, the financial commitment was comparable to the commitment made by the USA and the USSR to get a man to the moon. Yet the Colonial Office prepared his budget with tokens on a checker board.

The use of the abacus or calculation board for administrative purposes continued in Europe until 1791, when the French National Assembly, which was set up through the French Revolution two years earlier, adopted the Indian calculation method for France and banned the use of the abacus from schools and government offices. Government offices in England continued to calculate taxes on calculation boards for another decade.

The Catholic Church had always regarded charging interest on loans as sinful but with the Reformation in the late Middle Ages, the Church became business friendly, dropping it's rejection of capitalism. With this new interest in capitalism and the necessity of calculating interest and compound interest, the old Roman numeral system failed badly and the new system was finally accepted. This also allowed European ships to sail afield once they were able to calculate their position consistently and easily.

Finally, the Copernican revolution shook European mathematics free from the shackles of Aristotelian cosmology. René Descartes in the 17th century invented his cartesian coordinate system of positive and negative numbers with zero at it's center. This combined algebra and geometry and led the way to calculus and a complete acceptance of the decimal number system in the western world.

^{24}

**Other Scientific Contributions of India**

Subsequent phases of developments in mathematics are found, along
with ritual practices, in Vedic texts and in the

*Puranas*. Calculations for the precise building of ritual altars were important, for obvious reasons. Arithmetical principles such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, cubes, squares and roots were developed during these periods, they are referred to in the*Narad Vishnu Purana*(1000 BCE). Geometric principles are found in the*Sulva Sutras*, authored by Baudhayana (800 BCE) and Apasthamba (600 BCE).
In 510 CE, the Indian mathematician Aryabhata explicitly described
schemes for various arithmetic operations, even including square roots and cube
roots — schemes likely known in India earlier than this date. Aryabhata's actual
algorithm for computing square roots is described in greater detail in a 628 CE
manuscript by a faithful disciple named Bhaskara I. Additionally, Aryabhata gave
a decimal value of pi = 3.1416. Ifrah further confirms that Aryabhata's works
would have been impossible without the usage of zero and the place-value
system.

^{25}India pioneered almost every field of mathematics, from the numeral system and arithmetical principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, to the invention of zero and the notion of infinity, to the power and place value and decimal systems, geometry and many of the theorems traditionally attributed and named after the Greeks or other Europeans.

This author has taken the liberty of directly quoting from some of the references given here, such as the quotations by some scholars or historians and, when necessary actual descriptions of the mathematical notations (rather than paraphrasing them). I am indebted to the original authors for their scholarly writings, without which justice could not have been done in narrating the contributions of Indians in Mathematics through history.

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