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Aryabhatta – A Man beyond his years


Saffron robes, a vermillion mark delicately painted on the forehead, a string of beads around the neck and a finger pointed to the sky. This is not the image that comes to mind when we think of a mathematician and astronomer. Today’s story is about Aryabhatta, a well-known mathematician who was a pioneer in bringing a change in the field of mathematics and astronomy. 

Aryabhatta was born during the Gupta Age around 476 AD which is also considered to be the golden age of mathematics and ancient Indian learning. The capital of this kingdom of Magadha (modern Bihar) Patliputra, was a great centre of learning, the famous university of Nalanda was situated here and it is widely speculated that Aryabhatta might have been head of the astronomical observatory. He was only about 23 – 24 years old when he composed his most distinguished work known the Aryabhatiya. It is also said that he authored a number of other works that have been lost the value. Although it is widely known that Aryabhatta developed the zero. In his books, he never actually uses the digit. Contrary to popular belief Aryabhatta did not invent the zero but came up with the concept of zero.

The aspect of mathematics that he worked upon is arithmetic, algebra, quadratic equations, trigonometry and sine table. He also gave the formula a plus b the whole square. He was essentially responsible for the birth of modern trigonometry, in fact, modern names “sine” and “cosine” are mistranscriptions of the words jya and kojya as introduced by Aryabhata.

Besides making a contribution to mathematics Aryabhatta also made several discoveries in the field of astronomy. In those days it was a common belief among people that the earth was the centre of the universe. This concept is known as Geocentrism.  In his book, Aryabhatta introduced the concept of Heliocentrism. Aryabhata promoted the notion the earth spun on its own axis and the sun revolved around the earth and not the other way around. This belief was deemed a heresy in most parts of the world until well past the Middle Ages.

He was the first person to say that Earth is spherical and it revolves around the sun. He stated that the moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight. Instead of the prevailing cosmogony where eclipses were believed to be caused by pseudo-planetary nodes Rahu and Ketu, he explains eclipses in terms of shadows cast by earth or those shadows that fall on earth. 

It is indeed incredible how Aryabhatta could explain both lunar and solar eclipse so accurately. He also calculated the circumference and diameter of the earth and the radius of the orbits of 9 planets.it is astonishing to think that one man was responsible for so many of the mathematical instruments we use or the geographical facts that are common knowledge today. India’s first satellite was named Aryabhatta as a tribute to the man whose knowledge knew no bounds just like the limitless space. Aryabhatta – a man beyond his years