The Discovery of Zero- India’s Mathematical Marvel


Aryabhata’s Mathematical Legacy: Discoveries and Influence

India’s contribution to the field of Mathematics is far from ‘Nil.’

And yet, all Indians can say with a sense of pride, that it is ‘Zero!’

The discovery of Zero can be traced as far back as the 5th century, when an Indian Mathematician known as Aryabhata used the number in the Decimal System. Needless to say, this is an achievement that Indian citizens have always celebrated with a sense of pride.

That being said, apart from the discovery of the number Zero, Aryabhata’s contributions to Mathematics are vast and diverse. In this article, we have compiled a list of Facts about Aryabhata, that will be sure to inspire the next Aryabhata. Or perhaps even Ramanujan!

But first, a closer look at Aryabhata’s Contributions to Mathematics, that go well beyond the Discovery of the Number Zero.

Aryabhata’s Contribution to Mathematics and Astronomy

Aryabhata’s contributions to the field of Mathematics and Astronomy are vast and diverse. Here are some of those brilliant discoveries that have helped put India high on that pedestal in the International Scientific Arena.

The approximation of π

One of the best-known achievements of Aryabhata, was his approximation of the value of π, correct to three decimal places. This was the best approximation that had been made till his time.

Cool Fact: Aryabhata does not mention how he discovered this value. However, in the second part of ‘Aryabhatia’ he mentions,

‘Add four to hundred, multiply by eight, and then add 62000. By this rule the circumference of a circle with a diameter of 20000 can be approached.’

He concluded that the Earth is round

Today, we know well that the Earth is round. However, back in Aryabhata’s time, the debate between the earth being round or flat, was an eternal one.

Aryabhata made his views felt strongly, in this regard. He was able to accurately conclude that the Earth is round and that it revolves around its axis. This, despite the fact that there were no precise astronomical instruments at the time. Further, he also tied this fact to the existence of Day and Night.

The Discovery of Zero and the Place Value System

In his popular treatise ‘Aryabhatia’, Aryabhata uses a system of representing numbers. This system sees him give values to numbers 1,2,3,..100, using 33 consonants of the Indian alphabetical system.

The French mathematician Georges Ifrah claims that the Numeral System and Place Value System were well known to Aryabhata. She bases her supposition on the fact that the invention of his alphabetical counting system would have been impossible without ‘Zero’, or the place value system.

He explained the Shining Moon and Planets

Aryabhata developed a Geocentric Model to better explain the Solar System. In it, the Sun and Moon are borne by epicycles that rotate around the earth.

Despite utilising this model, Aryabhata correctly described how the moons and planets have no light of their own, and rather glow as a result of the Sun’s reflection.

Cool Fact: He also dispelled the wrong assumption that eclipses are caused by the shadows cast by the Earth and the Moon. What’s more, he even revealed the true causes of eclipses!

A boost to Trigonometry

Aryabhata’s contributions extended to the field of Trigonometry, too. He came up with a table of Sines known as ‘Ardha-jya’, that means ‘ Half Chord.’

This was the first such known table in the history of Mathematics, one that was used as a standard table in ancient India.

Facts about Aryabhata

Now that we have touched upon some rather spectacular contributions of Aryabhata, here’s a look at some facts about the great man most people know only as The Inventor of Zero.

  • Aryabhatia is the most famous treatise by Aryabhata. Among other things, this astronomical treatise is a treasure trove of information like the position of the planets in Space and the nature of the Solar System.
  • He influenced the creators of the Jalali Calendar. In the year 1073 CE, a group of astronomers in the Islamic world introduced the Jalali calendar. This calendar was based on none other than Aryabhata’s calculation!
  • His second most influential treatise is the Arya-Siddhanta. A major work on astronomical computations, this has been lost over the ages.
  • He was an avid learner. It was at Nalanda University that Aryabhata studied the Upanishads and other philosophical texts. He also studied the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages.
  • India’s first satellite was named after him. It is only fitting that the legendary Aryabhata should have received this honour. The satellite ‘Aryabhata’ was assembled near Bangalore, but launched from within the Soviet Union by a Russian-made rocket on April 19, 1975.
  • A satellite was not the only thing named after him. In 2009, ISRO Scientists discovered a bacteria species in the stratosphere, and named it Bacillus Aryabhata.
  • He introduced two systems of estimating time. One was the Audakiya system (from sunrise to the next sunrise). The other was the Ardharaatrika System (from midnight to the next midnight.)
  • He devised the ‘Kuttaka’ method. This was used to solve Diophantine Equations. It was also known as the ‘Breaking Into Pieces’ method.
  • His astronomical calculation was eerily correct. Aryabhata calculated the circumference of the Earth to be 39968.05 km. This is extremely close to the modern-day calculation of 40072.66 km.
  • He used the term ‘Asana’, when talking about the value of ‘Pi.’ It means ‘approaching’, and indicates that the value is an approximation.
  • He used a fine example to explain how the rotation of the earth causes the apparent motions of the Stars. The example was that of a person in a moving boat, to whom a stationary object appears to move in the other direction.
  • He was bestowed the title, ‘Father of Indian Mathematics.’ This was on account of his significant contributions to the fields of Mathematics and Astronomy.

At EuroKids we believe that Aryabhata is an inspiring personality for all aspiring mathematicians. It is important that we teach our children about him and other such personalities, so that they can learn from their achievements.