All posts by Vrinda Bailur

Ancient India’s Contributions to Math

The Indian civilization, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has a strong tradition of math, science and technology. In ancient times, India was a place of great mathematicians. According to research, India was actively contributing to the field of math centuries before, teaching the world how to count. Many of the old Indian thoughts and methodologies have shaped and strengthened the foundations of mathematical calculations.

The Fibonacci sequence is a set of numbers in which each consecutive number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. Pingala mentions these Fibonacci numbers in relation with the Sanskrit tradition of prosody, and it first appears in Indian mathematics as mātrāmeru. Mathematicians Virahanka, Gopala, and Hemacandra later gave ways for producing these numbers, long before the Italian mathematician Fibonacci brought the interesting sequence to Western European mathematics.

Some of India’s mega-epics, such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as philosophical works like the Bhagavad Gita, were all poetry. In fact, the Mahabharata has around 1 lakh shlokas in its original poetry form.

As we can see, Pingala 2500 years ago described the Fibonacci Series and its extension, Pascal’s Triangle, as part of Chandas Shastra, with reference to Matra-Meru, and the concept has been utilized by Sanskrit poets for more than 2000 years.

Sanskrit poets, as well as Indian classical musicians (including Hindustani and Carnatic genres), have contributed to this tradition. For example, here’s an intriguing presentation (video embedded below this paragraph) of rhythms in Konnakol form, which is a type of Carnatic music, and you can see how it aligns with Pingala’s Chandas Shastra, which we now refer to as the Fibonacci Series.

Another important mathematical finding was The Chakravala method of Algorithms. The chakravala technique is a cyclic algorithm that can be used to solve indeterminate quadratic equations, such as Pell’s equation. It is usually assigned to Bhāskara II (c. 1114–1185 CE), however some say it was created by Jayadeva (c. 950–1000 CE). Jayadeva noted that Brahmagupta’s method for solving these types of equations could be generalized, and he went on to describe this general method, which was later developed by Bhāskara II in his Bijaganita treatise. The Chakravala technique was named after the Sanskrit word chakra, which means “wheel” and refers to the algorithm’s circular nature. No European performance at the time of Bhāskara , or much later, exceeded its amazing height of mathematical intricacy, according to C.-O. Selenius.

Many mathematical discoveries were made in India, some of which you may know about, while others not so much, these discoveries include; the Binary numbers, ruler measurements, the decimal system, numerical notations, the concept of zero, and much more. These are just a few that I loved researching about. It’s incredible to think that without modern technology, these mathematicians and scientists could achieve such heights that their discoveries are still known and are used today.

This article is part of a series titled “The Ancient Mysteries”

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Is Ravana the first aviator, a myth or a fact?

Many think the Wright Brothers invented the first plane in 1903 but the truth is that demon-king Ravana was the first known person in the world to fly an aircraft around 7,000 years ago.

When explaining the purpose of research conducted based upon the ancient architecture that startles its audience to News18, Shashi Danatunge, ex-Vice Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority stated, “King Ravana was a genius. He was the first person to fly. He was an aviator. This is not mythology; it is a fact. There needs to be detailed research on this. In the next five years, we will prove this”.1

If Ravana was the world’s first aviator, the Ramayana also claims that Hanuman, the Hindu monkey-god, could fly without the use of a ‘pushpaka vimanam’ or a Ravana-style aircraft. This raises the question of whether The Vimana was a myth or a reality. According to Valmiki Ramayana, it describes Ravana riding “The great golden aerial chariot, Pushpaka”.2 Ravana had acquired aviation skills and built his own aerial vehicle. The Tourism Ministry has taken up the challenge of proving that aerial chariots were in fact a reality, as mentioned in Hindu mythology.

Ravana does have an aerial vehicle in the original Sanskrit version of the Ramayana in which he abducts Princess Sita, although there is no evidence of its mechanics or that it resembles a bird (or peacock) in design. Indeed, vimanas, or “flying castles,” are a common visual metaphor in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts from South Asia, some of which date back more than 2000 years.

Martin Wickramasinghe wrote The Dandumonara Kathava, a little children’s book based on one of these famous folk stories. The peacock’s design is depicted in these stories: its wings flap to create lift, and the operator “peddling” (padinav) from his pilot seat controls pitch and direction with three ropes (tied to ailerons?). While the Sinhala term for this device (dandu-monara, or “wooden peacock”) is unique, the core story topic and the notion of the bird-machine can be found in numerous regional literature and oral traditions across India. The dandu-monara appears to be a representative of a wider literary genre in Sanskrit literature that deals with mechanical contraptions, including human and animal machines, which are found in the Pañcatantra (an old collection of folktales) and the Kathasaritsagara (“Ocean of the Streams of Stories”).

The Samarangana Sutradhara, a technical treatise written by the poet-king Bhoja (fl. 1025), includes a chapter on machines that blurs the lines between magical and technical in its descriptions of elaborate plumming, automatically refilling oil lamps, motorized menageries, robotic soldiers, and alchemically enabled combustion engines. There are several particular directions on how to build flying aircraft in the text:

laghudārumayam mahāvihaṅgaṃ dṛḍhasuśliṣṭatanuṃ vidhāya tasya udare rasayantramādadhīta jvalanādhāramadho’ sya cāti pūrṇam, Having built a great bird made of light wood, with a fine, tightly knit outer covering, and placing within its belly a mercury mechanism (rasa-yantram) functioning as a receptacle for a blazing fire,

tāruḍha puruṣastasya pakṣadvandvoccālaprojjhitena anilena

suptasvāntaḥ pāradasyāsya śaktyā citraṃ kurvannambare yāti dūram

Through the power of that mercury (pāradasya śaktyā) and the force of the air released from the wings [of the bird] flapping in unison, a man mounted atop it may travel a great distance through the sky, painting pictures [amid the clouds], his mind altogether serene.

–Bhoja’s Samarangana Sutradhara, chapter 31, verses 95 and 96 (Translation)

These Ancient Hindu inventions gave courage and assured that mankind could evolve and enhance technology to further aid the world and its people. The first-ever flying vehicle existed some 7000 years ago, it was called “The Vimana”, a couple of thousands of years later the Wright brothers invented the first plane. Some examples of recreated technologies in this day are; targeted missiles back in ancient India they were known as “Astra’s” and test-tube babies, the first test-tube babies were known to be Gandhari’s 100 sons, the Kauravas, and many more.

These technologies would, later on, be discussed further in the next articles. Hope to see you soon!

This article is part of a series titled “The Ancient Mysteries”

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– Henry, Justin. 2019. “Ravana’s Mechanical Flying Peacock.” Council of American Overseas Research Centers.

– Lakshmi, Rama. 2015. “Indians invented planes 7000 years ago — and other startling claims at the Science Congress.” The Washington Post. nes-7000-years-ago-and-other-startling-claims-at-the-science-congress/.

– Moorthy, Saathiya. 2020. “Ravana the aviator, mythology or science? – South Asia Journal.” South Asia Journal.

– Satish, DP. 2020. “Sri Lanka Says Enough Facts to Prove Ravana Was 1st to Use Aircraft, Asks People to Help With Research.” News18, July 19, 2020. aft-to-fly-asks-people-to-help-with-in-depth-research-2723371.html

– “Sloka & Translation.” n.d. Sloka & Translation | Valmiki Ramayanam. Accessed February 6, 2022. 3.

– “Sri Lankan government asks people to submit proof that Ravana used the first aircraft.” 2020. Deccan Herald. t-proof-that-ravana-used-the-first-aircraft-863219.html