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Carbon Dating Reveals the History of Zero Is Older Than Previously Thought

Author: Brigit Katz
Publication: Smithsonianmag.com
Date: September 14, 2017
URL:      https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/dating-ancient-indian-text-gives-new-timeline-history-zero-180964896/

An ancient text called the Bakhshali manuscript has bumped zero’s origin story back by 500 years

In 628 A.D., the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta wrote the first-ever text describing zero as a number. But new research shows that mathematicians in the region had been toying with the concept of zero long before then—far longer, in fact, than experts previously believed. As Timothy Revell reports for the New Scientist, carbon dating of an ancient text called the Bakhshali manuscript has bumped zero’s origin story back by 500 years.

The Bakhshali manuscript, which was discovered by a farmer in 1881, is a mathematical text consisting of 70 leaves of birch bark. Etched onto its pages are hundreds of dots denoting zeroes. The text does not contend with zero as a number in its own right; instead, it uses the dots as “placeholders” noting the absence of a value—as a way to distinguish 1 from 10 and 100, for instance.

Based on factors like writing style and mathematical content, experts thought that the manuscript dated between the 8th and 12th century, according to a press release from the University of Oxford, where researchers recently carbon dated the Bakhshali text for the first time. But the results of the carbon dating showed that some of the manuscript’s pages were inscribed between 224 A.D. and 383 A.D.

The new timeline for the manuscript makes the text considerably older than a ninth-century inscription on a temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, which was previously believed to be the oldest example of zero being used as a placeholder in India.

Indian thinkers were not the first to deploy placeholders; Babylonians and Mayans also used symbols to denote the absence of a value. But India was where the placeholders developed into the concept of zero as a number that could be used in calculations, as laid out in Brahmagupta’s text, according to Hannah Devlin of the Guardian. In fact, the dot symbol that appears in the Bakhshali manuscript ultimately evolved into the "0" we know today.

The introduction of the number zero dramatically changed the field of mathematics, giving rise to everything from calculus, to the notion of the vacuum in quantum physics, to the binary numerical system that forms the basis of digital technology.

“Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and is a key building block of the digital world,” says Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, according to the press release. “But the creation of zero as a number in its own right, which evolved from the placeholder dot symbol found in the Bakhshali manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics.”

The Bakhshali manuscript has been housed in Oxford’s Bodleian library since 1902. But come October 4, this remarkable text will go on display at the Science Museum in London, as part of a major exhibition on scientific, technological and cultural breakthroughs in India.

 

-Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.
 
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.