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India's Contribution to World Science

Updated on May 12, 2014


We write numbers from smallest to biggest, with the aid of 10 Symbols, including Zero. the uniqueness of this system used all over the civilized world, lies in the fact that each symbol. from one to nine, has a fixed value and also an infinite number of positional values. The Zero, that material 'nothing' has the magic power to raise any number ten-fold when placed at the end of it.

In this method of numeration, called the decimal place value system, the tens, hundreds and thousands are not represented by different signs but by the same digit, signs placed in different positions. Only then does position become significant. It alone shows which are tens, which are hundreds and which are thousands. Such a system needs only ten signs, the digits from 1 to 9 and zero or at least a blank space.

Origin of Numbers

The unique system of numeration originated in ancient India. the concept of and the symbol for the zero is one of the grandest creations of Indian genius. Not only this decimal place-value system but also symbols (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 0) are of Indian origin. These numerals used with English and other foreign languages are often called 'Arabic Numerals" because Europeans took them from Arabs. In fact their roots are in India; they have evolved directly from our old Brahmi numerals.

Early man, like child of today, began to count his material possession with the help of his fingers. This is the origin of our counting System based on the ten-decimal system.

The origin of Numerals
The origin of Numerals | Source

The Indus Script still remains undecipherable, but the groups of vertical strokes inscribed on the seals probably represent numerals. The early vedic Aryans might not have used any script. When the new system came into being, no new symbols were coined; for the numbers 1 to 9 the same old Brahmi numerals remained in use and for the zero a dot or a small circle was used. This is why we can trace the continuous evolution of our present numerals from the Ashokan period.

Soon probably through trade connections, the knowledge of positional notation reached south east Asia and also western Asia. Thus, we find in the Sanskrit inscriptions from south east Asia the Shaka years 605,608 and 735 expressed in the decimal place-value system and in numerals taken from India.

Middle Eastern Numerals
Middle Eastern Numerals

Ancient Numerals and Universal Recognition

Most probably the early Islamic Arabs took the Indian numerals, developed form the old Brahmin signs from Alexandria Syrian scholars.

In Arabic these numerals are mentioned as Gubar (dust) numerals. This is because in ancient India, calculations were often don't on dust spread on a wooden board, and therefore arithmetic was known as Dhooli-Karma. the Gubar numerals and the new decimal place- value system were adopted throughput the Arabic world. mostly by mathematician Al-Khowarismi(825 A.D) used these Indian numerals in his works, which was later translated into Latin. there from the 10th centuary A.D, european scholars began to translate Arabic works, based on Sanskrit and Greek sources, into latin. they adopted not only the decimal-[place value principle but also the Gubar numerals, which were of Indian origin. The Italian mathematician Leonardo 'Fibonacci' played a great role in propagating the Indian numerals in Europe. The first chapter of his monumental work Liber Abaci (1202 A.D) deals with the reading and writing of numerals in the 'Indorum' (Indian ) system.

A large number of mathematicians have praised the Indian system of calculation in the most eloquent words. Paying tribute to the Indian contribution, the well known historian of mathematical investigations has contributed most to the principle of position in writing numbers.

If anything of Indian is truly international, it is the method of expressing all numbers with tens symbols. This may rightly be regarded as India's greatest gift to world culture.


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