Denigration and Reclamation of the Kerala Work on Infinite Series

  • An engrossing Atharva Conversation between Prof M D Srinivas & Prof Ramanathan on Atharva Forum YouTube channel. Decolonise your mind w.r.t history of Indian Maths. 

In this Atharva Conversation Dr M.D. Srinivas and Prof V Ramanathan of IIT (BHU) have an in-depth discussion on the seminal discovery of the infinite series for π. The infinite series for π by the astronomer-mathematicians of Kerala was brought to the notice of modern scholarship, for the first time, in the book Kalasankalita of John Warren, published from Madras in 1825. This was soon followed by the detailed account presented in the pioneering articles of Charles Whish, which were published during 1827–1834. However, the work of the Kerala School was totally ignored by the Western scholars for more than hundred years. This was mainly because Whish’s paper and the Kerala work on infinite series were denigrated and suppressed by the British academic establishment so much so that even reputed Indologists such as Albrecht Weber, and George Thibaut, and renowned historians of mathematics such as David Smith chose, not to say anything about the work of the Kerala School even when they referred to the articles of Whish in their scholarly writings. 


It was only in 1926 that Bibhutibhusan Datta wrote an article on the “Hindu Values of π” where he included the details of the infinite series discussed in the Kerala works as reported in Whish’s 1834 article.  The decade of 1940s saw the publication of the Mathematics part of Yuktibhasa, the great Malayalam work of Jyeṣṭhadeva (written around 1530 CE), by Ramavarma Thampuran and Akhileswarayyar, and the series of articles in English by C T Rajagopal and co-workers which discussed the proofs of various infinites series contained in the Yuktibhaṣa.


These publications signalled the emergence of a new era in the history of Indian mathematics. The work of these pioneers was carried forward during the next six decades by the monumental work of K V Sarma, who published about a score of original texts (many of them focussing on the methodology of Indian mathematics and astronomy) and a comprehensive account of all the Kerala scholars and their (published and unpublished) works.


As a result, it is now well established that the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, founded by Madhava in the 14th century, came up with two of the major discoveries, namely calculus and non-geocentric planetary models, a couple of centuries before they were to become the hallmarks of the modern European scientific revolution in the16th and 17th centuries.

Prof M.D. Srinivas on, an excerpt: Currently, there are several important source-works of the Kerala school–even some works composed by legendary figures such as Madhava, Paramesvara, Nilakaṇṭha, Jyeṣṭhadeva, Putumana Somayaji, Śankara and Acyuta–--which are yet to be edited and published. Further, even among the fifty major works (and about thirty small tracts) which have been published in the last 150 years (1874–2021), only about a dozen have been translated; and even among them, there are only about half a dozen works which have been studied in depth to explicate their full technical content.

It will be befitting to the legacy of the great savants mentioned above, that our young scholars imbibe their great dedication, perseverance and love and respect for our tradition, and carry forward their mission to ensure that the entire corpus of works of the Kerala school is rigorously and comprehensively studied and brought to light. In this way, they would ensure that the great achievements of the Kerala school of Astronomy and Mathematics are not only accorded their due place in the history of science, but also serve as a source of ideas and inspiration for a resurgent Indian science in our times.


Click on Link to watch this Atharva Conversation

Denigration and Reclamation of the Kerala Work on Infinite Series: Prof M D Srinivas & Prof Ramanathan   1 hour 54 minutes.


M.D. Srinivas is at the Centre for Policy Studies in Chennai. He was formerly with the Department of Theoretical Physics at the University of Madras. He is actively involved with the projects of the KV Sarma Research Foundation in Chennai.


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Also read

1. Emergence of a New Era in the History of Indian Mathematics

2. Talks on Maths in Metrical Form

3. Renowned Mathematicians of India

4. A brief history of Indian Maths

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