More Proof that India Was the Hero of Zero
Making much ado about nothing may not seem a very profitable exercise. But zeroing in on an important clue to a historical mystery is anything but a zero-sum game, as India’s gain by the recent carbon dating of the Bakhshali manuscripts by Oxford University to the 3rd century CE will not be anyone’s loss. In any case, many experts have long averred that ancient civilisations as geographically distant as the Babylonians and Mayans had independently conceived of a nonnumeral “placeholder” for their calculations, though it was an Indian mathematician, Brahmagupta, who finally gave this non-entity, so to speak, its current orbicular depiction in the 7th century CE. Now it seems other Indians a few centuries before Brahmagupta not only had an idea of the notion of zero, they included it as discernible dots in handy mathematical ready-reckoners such as the Bakhshali birch bark cache, in verse that too. Whether this culminated in the zero as we know it as a result of the ancient Hindu contemplation of the void or shunyata — as many experts contend after studying other texts — will always be a matter of research if not debate. But a revival of the ancient Indian practice of explaining mathematical concepts in verse could certainly prove to be a worthwhile way to make the subject more interesting to current students.