Wednesday Seminar – Brahmagupta through the lens of Pruthudaksvamin

Mathematics is the language of the universe. The Indian civilisation with its enormous focus on living with and learning from nature had developed highly sophisticated mathematical methods to decode and communicate the essentials of the universe.

The faculty, research scholars and students of CVV had an opportunity to tap into some of this civilizational wisdom on 4th March 2020, at the Wednesday Seminar. The speaker was Ms. Lakshmi. S., a Ph.D. scholar who is researching the works Brahmagupta, a 7th century mathematical genius who made seminal contributions to the number series. Ms. Lakshmi is examining Brahmagupta’s work ‘Brahmasputasiddhanta’ through the commentary of Pruthudaksvamin – a 9th century commentator who bought Brahmagupta’s works with the ambition of finding new ways of teaching Mathematics by drawing upon the creative genius of the Indian mathematical tradition.

The main objective of the presentation was to explain the way Brahmagupta approached the number series. Pruthudaksvamin brings this to light by deploying examples from daily life which make the ideas relatable and practical.

Ms. Lakshmi began the seminar by bringing to light the ubiquity of Mathematics all around us even when we don’t recognise it – the fractal patterns of nature to the organic formulation of number series in every context that has a count. With examples of the Fibonacci in the fern leaf to the triangles in every geometric shape, she helped the audience appreciate just how pervasive Mathematics is in our daily experience.

The audience was also exposed to the mathematical orientation and exposition from the Vedas that shows a continuity of thought and method from the Vedic times to the times of Brahmagupta. As they explored the number series and the square roots and sum of squares through the words of Pruthudaksvamin, aided by Lakshmi’s expert commentary, the most striking dimension was the idea of ‘visualising Mathematics’. This idea has deep potential to solve the pressing problem of pedagogical stagnation that has affected the way Mathematics is taught in Indian schools.

This idea of visualisation which helps one imagine a number series as geometric shapes aided by the rich oeuvre that the text weaves, mesmerised the audience. Imagine seeing a series of numbers as a rectangle and what such transformation can do to the way Mathematics is studied, understood and applied!

From the idea of transformation, she also facilitated an exploration of the idea of ‘efficacy’ that is a principle characteristic of Brahmagupta’s work – What is the best way to stack truckload of oranges, what is the Mathematics of stacking up cannon balls, what can we learn about the number series from the way the pots are arranged on the head of a rural Indian woman, etc. As the audience explored such questions, they understood the power of Mathematics and the importance of an inter-disciplinary and an application, maker-centric approach to studying Mathematics.

The session concluded with a reflection on the possible areas of future research, how such seminal texts can inform the thinking around nature centric product design, how to re-orient early Mathematics education into an experiential and immersive experience, and the habits that can help us develop the ability to transform numbers into shapes.

Lakshmi’s passionate exposition rekindled interest in Mathematics for some and stoked curiosity in the treasure trove at the intersection of Mathematics and Sanskrit amongst others. The audience went back a little less apprehensive and a lot more excited about re-engaging with Mathematics using a new set of eyes as it were.