The most encouraging thing about the book The Imperishable Seed how Hindu Mathematics Changed the World and Why this History was Erased is that it is written by a young academician, Dr Bhaskar Kamble, with impeccable credentials. More importantly, he comes from the generation that was sceptical about Hindu knowledge system or simply did not know about it. He confesses that the moment of truth was when he heard a lecture in Berlin in 2010 that India knew Pythagoras theorem much before Pythagoras. Like any engineer brought up in the Macaulay education system, his first reaction was, ‘Ha, typical uneducated right wing Hindu propaganda! […] an article by 18th century mathematician John Playfair shook me deeply.”
Thus, this is a genuine seeker’s hard work who realised the beauty of Hindu mathematics a little late in life. Another important marker is that he has not shied away from calling the knowledge what it is – Hindu. He hasn’t tried to camouflage his work for better acceptance globally as ‘Indian’ or “Indic” mathematics. We need this unapologetic approach to own up our forefathers’ own strengths if we wish to see Bharat at the top as a global intellectual power. He makes it clear that when he talks of Hindu mathematics, he means “mathematics of Sanskrit scholars, followed by the Buddhists and the Jains. The word ‘Hindu’ was initially used to designate the people of Jambudwipa and is a geographical term… Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism all follow certain common features and all can be said to belong to category of ‘Dharmic’ tradition.”
In his book, author Dr Bhaskar Kamble makes it clear that when he talks of Hindu mathematics, he means mathematics of Sanskrit scholars, followed by Buddhists and Jains
There are many books on Bharatiya knowledge system, Hindu mathematics and science of late. It began with the first post-independence path-breaking work of a Gandhian Dharampal that was swiped away from the bookshelves by Nehru and his camp followers. In recent years, we have seen more and more scholars coming up with books that reinforce the strength of ancient and medieval Hindu civilisation, its knowledge systems and correcting our history written by our colonials and faithfully copy-pasted by our so-called historians.
How is Prof Kamble’s work different from others so far? The most important aspect of Dr Kamble’s work is that he links the success of our rishi scientists to their deep spiritual connection. He explains how the Hindu concept of Para and Apara Vidya actually gave them new insights into their research and quest for knowledge and led to new findings. He sees an integral world view of Hindu philosophy and science as the cause. As he notes, “My aim to provide an overview of all major facets of mathematics and the deeper knowledge system from which it arises.” On page 53, he quotes Mahavira in his Ganitasarasangrah: “The science of numbers is used in all transactions whether earthly or Vedic, medication or business, in the science of love, in the art of cooking, in economics and statecraft, in music and medicine, in theatre, architecture and all such things […] all there is in the three worlds, moving or unmoving, all that cannot be described without mathematics….” He shows that key reason why Hindu civilisation understood the mathematics and science of astronomy so clearly was that it had an inclusive integral view of life as against the exclusivist world view and forced universalism of Christianity and Islam.
He (author) hasn’t tried to camouflage his work for better acceptance globally as ‘Indian’ or “Indic” mathematics. We need this unapologetic approach to own up our forefathers’ own strengths if we wish to see Bharat at the top as a global intellectual power
He says, “One of his important aims is to preserve the connection to the matrix of this civilisation and to present the information in this context. It is important as there has been an increasing tendency to strip and commercialise the lucrative parts of Hindu civilisation – such as Yoga and Ayurveda and rebrand them into Western ideas – either explicitly Christian such as the so-called Christian yoga or secularised and modernised versions such as New Age spirituality, mindfulness, relaxation response etc.”
He trashes the canard spread by Western mathematicians that what Hindu mathematicians provide has no proof and mathematical explanation and that theirs are just observations, by citing original sources to show how our mathematicians were actually giving their proof of concept too, how the rishis and later mathematicians never failed to acknowledge the contribution of their earlier researchers; much different from how west has purloined Hindu mathematics without acknowledgement. He does quote many western scholars who have acknowledged the origin of different branches of mathematics, and formulae and theories to Hindus and debunked the Western claim of intellectual copyright; though these views were not mainstreamed.
I find this book refreshing because it is not just a book about Hindu mathematics. It is not a dry mathematician expounding on our mathematical genius. He doesn’t stop at picking up authentic sources to show how our knowledge went to west via trade routes or Arabic translations by Arabic mathematicians. Dr Bhaskar Kamble goes a step further and tells us how the traces of Indian origin were carefully removed from our knowledge by the ‘great’ mathematicians of the West whom we pay tributes every day when we call the equations and methodologies in their names. He shows how every branch of mathematics has roots in Hindu genius. In this book he peeps into the realm of arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, algebra, calculus and combinatorics.
Another aspect of this unapologetic writing is that the author goes on to analyse the purpose of this intellectual robbery and arson. He tries to explain why and when we lost the intellectual rigour. He also explains why there is, and still is, ignorance about Hindu contribution to mathematics and other knowledge systems. He traces the role of Islamic invasion, the British invasion and Macaulay, not in a rhetoric manner but with fact-based arguments. He exposes the supposed greatness of Greek mathematics and the ‘Golden period of Islam.’ He delves into close interaction between ancient Greek and Indian civilisations, specially in relation to mathematics.
Prof Kamble doesn’t just trace the path of Hindu mathematics on to the world stage but also traces the history that led to its eclipse. Thus, the canvass of this book is much wider than the name of the book would suggest. It is not just a book on Hindu mathematics. It doesn’t bore a reader with limited interest in mathematics with only mathematical expositions but carries in it, the author’s observations and his explanation of philosophical and historical linkages.
Shri Subhash Kak, in his foreword, rightly notes that “this book is the announcement of Bharat’s independence in the field of mathematics, the queen of the sciences. Hindu mathematics changed the world in fundamental ways by providing some of the most revolutionary ideas on which contemporary mathematics and science is based.”
It is a philosophical exposition written in a way that keeps a non-mathematical mind also engaged and fascinated. For a hard-core mathematician like Prof Bhaskar Kamble, this is a great achievement and he needs to be complemented for this well written book.