Racist Subversion of Mathematics

10 April 2019 | 4 minute read

Above: A fragment of the famous Bakshali manuscript.

A deplorable attempt to misuse mathematics history to save a sinking race-based theory

Mathematics in India by Kim, Plofker (2009). Princeton University Press. Price $39.50 (HB).

The history of Indian mathematics has been a major area of study for nearly two centuries, beginning with Sir Henry Colebrooke’s 1817 translation of Bhaskara’s Lilavati, culminating in the monumental two-volume History of Hindu Mathematics by B.B. Datta and A.N. Singh published in 1935. Following their work, C.T. Rajagopal and K. Mukunda Mura found in 1944 that the Kerala School led by Nilakantha Somayaji had treated problems in calculus at least two centuries before Newton and Leibniz.

Given this history, where was the need for a book like Mathematics in India which adds nothing new to our knowledge? In a lengthy Introduction the author justifies her book by claiming that it “…discusses the historical setting and some of the chief historiographic difficulties surrounding Indian mathematics…”

What are these presumably new ‘historiographic difficulties’ that the book purportedly resolves? This, as laid out in section 1.2 under ‘History and South Asia’ is supposed to be of “The Indo-Iranian newcomers …perhaps in the late second millennium they composed the earliest Vedic hymns in the Old Indo-Aryan that had evolved from Indo-Iranian.” The author would have us believe that the language of the Rig Veda (‘the earliest Vedic hymns’) is not Vedic Sanskrit but something called Old Indo-Aryan, a branch of Indo-Iranian.

These ‘Indo-Iranian newcomers’ are none other than the infamous Aryans, and this new historiography is but a restatement of the scientifically and historically discredited Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)! It seems that Western academia will simply not allow the Aryan myth to die though what it has to do with mathematics is unclear. This should put us on guard that there is a hidden agenda at work behind this supposedly new-old historiography of Indian mathematics. This soon comes to the surface.

Numbers as found in the Bakshali manuscript that should answer all questions

Indian math from Fabricated Greek sources (left)

The author begins by questioning the well established fact that Kerala mathematicians had solved problems in calculus before Newton and Gregory. Soon she makes an even more daring claim— that the zero is not an Indian invention but brought to Indian by Chinese monks. This won’t wash as history. As far back as 662 AD, Sebokht, the Bishop of Qinnesrin in North Syria wrote of the Indians’ “…valuable method of calculation; their computing that surpasses description. I wish only to say that this computation is done by means of nine signs.”

Actually the real breakthrough was not the zero but the assignment of place values which happened in India and nowhere else. As the French-Moroccan scholar Gerorges Ifrah observes in his monumental The Universal History of Numbers: “The measure of genius of the Indian civilization, to which we owe our modern system, is all the greater in that it was the only one in all history to have achieved this triumph.” So much for the Chinese monks bringing the zero. This is clear from the numeral string found in the Bakshali manuscript, just displayed above.

The real motive in writing the book appears to be to attribute India’s scientific contributions also to foreign sources, just as the Aryan myth attributed the Vedas and the Sanskrit language to foreign invaders. The author’s teacher, the late David Pingree (1933 – 2005) had created an elaborate corpus of pseudo-Greek texts based on Indian records. These reconstructed texts according to him were the source of Indian mathematical texts that he had used to reconstruct them! This is circularity, nothing but reduction ad Absurdum, a logical fallacy and fantasy.

The author(image) is only following her late teacher’s agenda. Considering this subversive agenda, it is not surprising that she makes no mention of the published works of the late Abraham Seidenberg, B.B. Datta or this writer who have carefully compared the Vedic mathematics of the Sulbasutras, which Seidenberg called ritual mathematics and showed how all ancient mathematics- from Egypt Old Babylon and Greece can be traced to ancient Indian mathematics.

Western Indology is now in a sorry state. Within the last few years, both Cambridge University and the Berlin Institute of Indology (founded in 1813) closed down their programs. Even Harvard is cutting down its programs with theologians from its Divinity School teaching Sanskrit courses. Mathematics in India reflects this sorry state of Indology rather than the state of mathematics in ancient India.

Bhibhuti Bhushan Datta (left), author of the monumental Ancient Hindu Geometry which gives a more accurate and competent account of ancient Indian mathematics.

N.S. Rajaram is a mathematical scientist and historian and philosopher of science.

One Reply to “Racist Subversion of Mathematics”

  1. Excellent rebuttal. Please keep publishing such retorts. We need a wide body of work with scientific basis to hit back at lies and untruths peddled by a section of writers in the west, who are not taking kindly to India’s rise and thus pour scorn on its historic achievements whenever possible.

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