Sunday, April 24, 2016


It has been such a long time since I wrote on history. Today my fascination has been captured by Aryabhata. It started with a conversation I had with my father this morning. He reflected that all sculptures of Varaha, the boar avatar of Vishnu who lifted the Earth from infinite waters, clearly depict that the Earth was round.

I thought the theory that the Earth was round was known somewhere in the 1500s when Ferdinand Magellan travelled around the world and reached the point at which he started even though he never changed direction. I have recently been disappointed to know that was just a practical demonstration and that the fact was known much earlier by the Greeks.

Curious, I wanted to find out which was the earliest source that stated that the Earth was round in India and stumbled upon Aryabhata. Not only did he know that the Earth was round, he also gave an excellent approximation for the Earth's equatorial circumference. All by the age of 23!

This was a work written in the fifth century. Naturally, any likeness of his face has been lost to the sands of time. Precious few details remain from his personal life. He migrated to Patna for higher studies and there is some evidence to show that he was the head of a university.

Sanskrit writing. Image: Diggleburnz, via Flickr.

One of the most striking features that I find is his strict adherence to complex Sankrit poetic metre while stating facts and proofs. He must be an accomplished poet and his command over the language must've been high. It is heartening to see such precise rationality go hand in hand with elastic creativity.

It also makes you understand why some verses went thus:

"Add four to 100, multiply by eight, and then add 62,000. By this rule the circumference of a circle with a diameter of 20,000 can be approached."

This verse also propounded the value of pi to an accuracy of 4 decimals.

There is plenty of material online on what Aryabhata has written that would interest a mathematician. For a researcher like me, it was strong feeling of deja-vu to see him cite his sources to earlier Vedic texts.

He also challenged religious authorities in the Rahu-Ketu theory of eclipses and stated that shadows were responsible for the same.

I feel somewhere in the pace of modernity, we've forgotten the sheer wonder of nature. Driven as we are by applications, sending rockets and creating engineering marvels, we've left the wonders of the galaxy, the stars and the poetry that exists in the universe.

These days, the only time we are bothered about planets is astrology. True story by the way, when my mother tried to say no to an unfavourable proposal, the opposite party did not consider mismatch in education, character or temperament as a valid ground for declination but was completely convinced by a mismatch in horoscopes!

Stars are fusion reactors out there.
They may no longer be there,
as we see them frozen in time.
But to the child in me, that looks at the night sky,
They are twinkling marvels, just making me feel sublime.

Tonight, I plan to be drenched in star light once again. You?


  1. Our scriptures (and our elders) tried to capsule science as religion so that it would reach more people. Little did they know that the very process would make us seem superstitious and backward even though we are far ahead of the rest of the world

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Be it science or religion, I think it is rigidity that must be frowned upon. Hopefully, in today's society, critical thinking will reign supreme. Let's hope that moves us all positively in future! Cheers!