Vedic Mathematics: Our Lost Treasure
“What has India given to this World?”
“Yes it’s nothing… But this nothing is probably the greatest invention in the history of Mathematics… The number ZERO”
(The earliest encryption of Zero on Sankheda Copper Plate which dates back to 6th century A.D was found in Gujrat.)
When we think of India our heart melts for the spicy chicken tikka masala of North India, the Pav Bhajis of West India, the idli-vada-dosas of South India or the fish curry of East India. We take pride in the sacrifice of Mahatma Gandhi; the bravery of Bhagat Singh and Netaji; the administration under Lal Bahadur Shastri. Our hopes and aspirations root from being the world’s largest democracy; believing in secularism and demographic dividend of our youth power.
We have produced Nobel Laureate scientist like CV Raman; writers like Rabindranath Tagore; classic directors like Satyajit Ray; business tycoons like Dhirubhai Ambani and tech giants like Vinod Khosla…
Indeed these are facts to enhance the glory of our nation…
But amidst all these accomplishments we seem to ignore one of the biggest contributions by our people to this world. It is the impact made by many Indian geniuses in the field of Mathematics. Yes, we do know the fellow called Srinivas Ramanujan who died young but had baffled some great scholars during his time; the Indian American mathematician named Harish Chandra; the saintly dressed Aryabhatta and Bhaskara about whom we had read in the school text books…
But now let us go back to the ancient India 2500 years ago and 1000 years before Aryabhatta. The Vedic Age was ending and Indians were way ahead in counting than the rest of the world. While the Ancient Greek didn’t think of any number more than 10,000 (a number they called myriad), Indians were making calculations in crores.
There is a poem in Bhaskara’s Lalitavistara which starts with young Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C) being asked to name all numbers up to “lakh,” which means 100,000. But he continues beyond the lakh to “kôti,” which equals , and through increasing powers of 10 to 10^421. Such large numbers had names, but the names were not standard, and it is difficult to say which is which in the poem.
In the next stanza, young Buddha enumerates units of lengths up to a“yôjana,” which is about 9 miles, and then apparently he also names the number of atoms in a yôjana. Lalitavistara cites the number as 384,000 × 10^7.
It was around this time that Adi Shankaracharya, a Hindu philosopher from Kerala laid the foundation of four monastic institutions in four corners of India which he called Maths. These were not just meant to be religious places but also encouraged the growth and development of the so called Vedic Mathematics inspiring people to think and question. Sadly, with the rise of many new kingdoms and shift of focus to develop culture and build monuments, most of the works were lost and people lost enthusiasm.
It was late in the mid 1900s that Bhārati Kṛṣṇa Tīrthaji, the Shankaracharya of Govardhan Math of Puri rediscovered this unique way of mental calculation. He was awarded the title of Saraswati by Madras Sanskrit Association and had completed masters degree in seven subjects. He travelled across India and lived as a hermit in forests to focus on his work in Mathematics and also gain spiritual wisdom. In course of time he discovered 16 Sutras after studying the Vedas each of which lists a technique of mental calculation. In 1958 Tirthaji went to the West and delivered speeches in many prominent universities, becoming the first Shankaracharya to go abroad. His works were applauded and he also made news in the New York Times.
Now, it is very likely that you have never used Vedic Mathematics in your regular academic curriculum. It provides some simple methods to do complex mathematical calculations in a very short time. For example you can multiply 997 and 996 in less than 10 seconds using Vedic Maths.
Below is a presentation explaining one technique of Vedic Mathematics:
The first publication of these techniques came in 1965, about five years after his death in the book named Vedic Mathematics. Although Prof. S. G. Dani of IIT Bombay pointed out that the contents of this book have nothing in common with the mathematics of Vedic period and such name was given to draw public attention, but this controversy is insignificant.
Now, Thirthaji didn’t have any paper to his name. So in 2009 when an American pharmacist Albert Clay discovered the same method (or copied it), he immediately patented his work. “There may not be anybody else in the world who knows how to do this but me,” Albert Clay had said after registering his formula titled ‘How to Multiply Any Number by Any Number in Your Head’ in the US copyright office. As a result this indigenous approach of calculation was officially credited to the West.
It was at this time when Gaurav Tekriwala entered into picture. He is the President of Vedic Maths Forum India but legally wasn’t allowed to teach it to Indian students without taking permission from Clay. He reacted strongly after he came to know of Clay’s intention and filed a case to regain the right to Vedic Maths. He also launched a campaign in his blog seeking legal assistance and funds for the purpose. With his determination and support from people he won the legal battle and the court rejected Clay’s copyright claim.
Critics say that Vedic Maths is not real maths but just tricks to solve maths. But the thing to be concerned about is that in spite of its origin in India it is the Western countries who have made better use of Vedic Mathematics. Our education system has crippled our thinking and discourages us to learn things outside syllabus. The result is most of our students begin to dislike this subject in school. It is not justified that a teaching receives more appreciation from foreign land than from its own place…
Fortunately I came across this video via Indiblogger after Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. This sums up the beauty of Vedic Mathematics in 10 minutes.
Reference: India fights for Vedic Maths Copyright