I am all for Indianization of education, we need to know and celebrate our history and ancient sciences. Ours is the land which gifted the world with ‘zero’ and modern mathematics. Our astronomers precisely calculated cosmic events much before Antikythera mechanism was developed by the Greeks. So I am clearly not against learning mathematics the Indian way, however advocating the so called ‘Vedic mathematics’ as a replacement for traditional arithmetic cannot be called as an act of nationalism. It is sheer ignorance.
The Term ‘Vedic’ Sells:
Vedic astrology, Vedic mathematics, Vedic medicine and any product or service that carries the term ‘Vedic’ sells, not only in India but around the globe. A particular section of our education industry is exploiting this and are selling books and math concepts as vedic mathematics, at the end of the day this is nothing but a well organized scam. Several well meaning educated individuals are also promoting this.
I appreciate the strong desire among a lot of Indians to work for Indian traditions (Here I am not referring to the lunatic right wing fringe). But I don’t get where in the Vedas these so called Vedic math techniques are found? The so called Vedic mathematics has no relation whatsoever to our Vedas. I am not demeaning the vedas here, vedas and upanishads are treasure troves of knowledge and spirituality, but what is being sold as vedic mathematics has nothing to do with vedas.
It all started with the book Vedic Mathematics written by a highly respected mathematician Bharati Krishna Tirthaji and the book was published in 1965. I bought this book around 8 years back, I liked it and hav even referred this book to several friends of mine. The book contains several interesting techniques for mental calculation of complex math. However even Tirthaji in his book admits that the title is misleading and the book has nothing to do with vedas (in short it was a marketing gimmick). He also mentions in page 35 that none of the formulas or methods mentioned in this book is in vedas. Now a string of books titled vedic mathematics is hitting the stores and there are several coaching centers and online tutorials teaching the so called vedic mathematics. These people have sold millions of copies of these books by just adding a single term ‘VEDIC’. Now there is a right wing fringe in India (I am a right winger too) striving hard to bring in the so called ‘vedic mathematics’ and ‘vedic astrology’ in to main stream education. These people are completely ignorant about the vedas and our ancient mathematics.
The standard arithmetic algorithms actually originated from India. We gave the world modern mathematics; it is clearly recorded in the world history that Indian mathematicians traveled to Baghdad to teach mathematics, Ayurveda, science and astronomy. Brahmagupta’s work (Brahmasphutasiddhanta) is widely considered as the mother of modern maths and astronomy. The famous Abbasid caliph Al Mansur of 8th Century, who founded Baghdad in the banks of river Tigris, and made it a center of learning. The caliph and his successors invited scholars from important learning centers of India like Ujjain and Kachipuram. Kankah, a mathematician of the late 8th Century visited Baghdad and used Brahmagupta’s work to explain mathematics and astronomy. He explained Indian mathematics and also explained the Arabs that the earth and moon are spherical and that the moon reflects the light from the Sun (the Arabs laughed at it, that is a different issue altogether). However all the work of Brahmagupta was translated into Arabic by the name Hisab al Hind. The learning center in Baghdad was called as al Kwarizmi, meaning of House of Wisdom. Gerbert d’Aurillac of 10th century and later Pope Sylvester II imported these arithmetic techniques from the Caliph and Latinized the term ‘al Kwarizmi’ as aligorithmus, which later became algorithm in Engligh.
The primitive Greek and Roman number system and arithmetic was no match for the Indian system. The Indian number system with its place value was much ahead of its times and people who used abacus for counting couldn’t handle it at first. They even foolishly tried to create an abacus for the Indian number system. The pope for a long time believed and taught that the Indo-Arabic number system had some sort of magic in it, which made mathematics easy.
Later, merchants who traveled to Arabia and India used our number system, because it was more efficient. Finally Fibonacci who traded in Arab and Islamic Africa learned the Indian system and translated Hisab al Hind. These algorithms and mathematics are found in several ancient Indian texts like Patiganita, Ganita Sara Sangraha, Brahmasphutasiddhanta and Lilavati. What the world today studies as mathematics is the Indian mathematics. Those who advocate “Vedic mathematics” as a replacement for our own traditional Indian arithmetic, are actually degrading our greatness. They are ignorant and are spreading ignorance.
Are These ‘Vedic Mathematics’ Books Useless?
These are also Indian mathematical techniques, used mostly by masons, carpenters and goldsmiths for doing mental calculations quickly. These techniques can help those students who prepare for competitive exams, where saving a few seconds in every problem can go a long way in shaping the career of someone. Therefore Tirthaji’s system could be used as a teaching aid (there are several other teaching aids to improve the speed). However we should prevent the use of public money and energy in propagating a system that was purely created as a marketing gimmick.
Focus on Reviving Vedas and Upanishads:
If we want to revive our tradition, vedas and upanishads then we need to focus on research in those areas. While we promote a wrongly labelled ‘Vedic mathematics’, we still ignore the actual mathematics that exist in the Vedas. The first documented mention of decimal place value system is in Yajurveda. Rig veda explains trignometry in detail while explaining the ways of creating a Ygnyakund. Rig veda also explains the theory of probability in detail. Indian classical music is a great example of using permutations and combinations. The Kubera kolam, Yantras and Sri Chakras are mathematical marvels explaining great concepts. Sampling techniques are explained in Mahabharata.
We need to teach our kids mathematics from Vedas and not the so called ‘Vedic Mathematics’.
Note: If you spot an error or have a different opinion, don’t hesitate to comment below.