History of Science, History of Text

Volume 238 of the series Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science pp 137-157

Ancient Sanskrit Mathematics: An Oral Tradition and a Written Literature

  • Pierre-Sylvain FilliozatAffiliated withE.P.H.E.

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The originality of India’s mathematical texts is a consequence of the refined culture of the scholars who produced them. A few examples display clearly some salient features of the habits of exposition and the methods of thought of ancient and medieval Indian mathematicians. The attitude of the traditional learned man, called “pandit”, is the same, whether he works on literary or technical matter. Propensity to orality, use of memory, brain work are his specific qualities. Composition in verse form, use of synonymous words, metaphorical expression, which are unexpected processes for the exposition of technical matter, have been the rule in all the vast Sanskrit mathematical literature. The present article analyses a technique of memorization of the text of the Vedas, the earliest exposition of geometry rules in the context of Vedic rites of building brick altars, the numeration system, the arithmetical and geometrical concept of square.