598AD, before the scientific revolution, before Alfred the Great, before gunpowder, before the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, before the Tang dynasty, before the Ottoman empire, a man is born into India’s great Classical Period, an individual that would plant the seeds of mathematics and astronomy that grew to shape the future of the world we know today. That man was Brahmagupta.
Over a thousand years later we find ourselves at a peak of technological revolution, wireless technology, quantum physics and space exploration. Integral to this growth are the fields of mathematics and astronomy, both of which Brahmagupta prevailed. Brahmagupta’s religious devotion guided him towards the world of astronomy, a subject that is entwined with the study of the Vedas.
Brahmagupta’s understanding of the numerical system breached his contemporary academics. The first book that he published was titled ‘Brahmasphutasiddhanta’ (Correctly established doctrine of Brahma) which focused around both astronomy and mathematics. Brahmagupta was the first ever to use 0 as a number, before his time it was used primarily as a place holder – for example it was used to distinguish between 101 and 110. Brahmagupta took mathematics a step further by using 0 as an integer, he used 0 as a whole number; this had never been theorised before. He described the number 0 as the conclusion of one number subtracted from itself. This bold move was so controversial that the number 0 was initially banned as heresy. In addition to this Brahmagupta correctly theorised that addition or subtraction with 0 leaves a number unchanged and multiplications of anything by 0 equals 0. Following this Brahmagupta devised rules for manipulating positive and negative numbers, all of which we still use today. As well as this his compiled works included calculating square roots, solution methods for linear and quadratic equations, rules for finding the sum of series. Brahmagupta also laid the foundations of two major fields of Indian mathematics: mathematics of seeds (equations) and mathematics of procedures (algorithms), additionally, what is now known as Brahmaguptas formula; working out the area of quadrilateral inside a semi-sphere.
Brahmagupta’s second book was focused around the practical application of Indian astrology, Khandakhadyaka (Edible bit, morsel of food) covered topics such as the longitudes of the planets, the three problems of diurnal rotation, lunar and solar eclipses, risings and settings, the moons crescent, the moons shadow and conjunctions of the planets. Brahmagupta was one of the pioneers that concluded that the Earth was in fact round, he proved his theories with persuasive calculations, this is just one of the examples of the impressive astronomical calculations that Brahmagupta put forward in his life works; ideas that were not yet accepted as main stream astronomy. Additionally, Brahmagupta calculated the solar year which he worked out to be 365 days 6 hours 5 minutes and 19 seconds, a calculation which comes incredibly close to our modern agreement of the duration of a solar year.
Brahmagupta’s work not only had a huge influence in the development of the academic world in India but also had a great impact on the Islamic and Byzantine mathematics and astronomy, and as time went on, the influence grew world wide with echoes of his intellect reaching into every aspect of our modern world. Brahmagupta reminds us today of the importance of devout hard work, academic discovery and following your passion. When we reflect on great minds like these we must stop and ask ourselves, where would we be today if these individuals did not complete their duty to reach their individual potential? Brahmagupta will be remembered as one of the worlds greatest minds, and for that we honour him.