The Kerala School of Mathematics

Although it appears that original work in mathematics ceased in much of Northern India after the Islamic conquests, Benaras survived as a center for mathematical study, and an important school of mathematics blossomed in Kerala.
The Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics was founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama, sometimes called the greatest mathematician-astronomer of medieval India.
He developed infinite series approximations for a range of trigonometric functions, including π, sine, etc. Some of his contributions to geometry and algebra and his early forms of differentiation and integration for simple functions may have been transmitted to Europe via Jesuit missionaries, and it is possible that the later European development of calculus was influenced by his work to some extent.
The Kerala region of South India was home to a very important school of mathematics. The best known member of this school Maadhava (c. 1444-1545), who lived in Sangamagraama in Kerala. Primarily an astronomer, he made history in mathematics with his writings on trigonometry. He calculated the sine, cosine and arctangent of the circle, developing the world’s first consistent system of trigonometry. (See Hayashi 1997:784-786) He also correctly calculated the value of p to eleven decimal places. (Pingree 1981:490)
Madhava (14th C, Kochi) made important mathematical discoveries that would not be identified by European mathematicians till at least two centuries later. His series expansion of the cos and sine functions anticipated Newton by almost three centuries.
Historians of mathematics, Rajagopal, Rangachari and Joseph considered his contributions instrumental in taking mathematics to the next stage, that of modern classical analysis.
Nilkantha (15th C, Tirur, Kerala) extended and elaborated upon the results of Madhava while Jyesthadeva (16th C, Kerala) provided detailed proofs of the theorems and derivations of the rules contained in the works of Madhava and Nilkantha.
It is also notable that Jyesthadeva’s Yuktibhasa which contained commentaries on Nilkantha’s Tantrasamgraha included elaborations on planetary theory later adopted by Tycho Brahe, and mathematics that anticipated work by later Europeans.
Chitrabhanu (16th C, Kerala) gave integer solutions to twenty-one types of systems of two algebraic equations, using both algebraic and geometric methods in developing his results. Important discoveries by the Kerala mathematicians included the Newton-Gauss interpolation formula, the formula for the sum of an infinite series, and a series notation for pi.
Charles Whish (1835, published in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland) was one of the first Westerners to recognize that the Kerala school had anticipated by almost 300 years many European developments in the field.
Influence of the Kerala School: Joseph (Crest of the Peacock) suggests that Indian mathematical manuscripts may have been brought to Europe by Jesuit priests such as Matteo Ricci who spent two years in Kochi (Cochin) after being ordained in Goa in 1580.
Kochi is only 70km from Thrissur (Trichur) which was then the largest repository of astronomical documents.
Whish and Hyne – two European mathematicians obtained their copies of works by the Kerala mathematicians from Thrissur, and it is not inconceivable that Jesuit monks may have also taken copies to Pisa (where Galileo, Cavalieri and Wallis spent time), or Padau (where James Gregory studied) or Paris (where Mersenne who was in touch with Fermat and Pascal, acted as an agent for the transmission of mathematical ideas).


By Prachodayat Team

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