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Computer beware, vedic maths is here, says guru

Computer beware, vedic maths is here, says guru

Author: Vithal C. Nadkarni
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 31, 2000

The lecture on vedic mathematics at the Nehru planetarium Vijay Ashar comes as an eye-opener to the jam-packed audience.

"One did not imagine that ancient Indians had such an amazingly compact and powerful system of calculation," says 38-yearold Lola Vikram from the audience. "Thanks to Mr Ashar, we now know better."

The system of mathematics Ms Vikram and her friends are enthusing about is a set of 16 algorithms and 14 sub-algorithms in Sanskrit meant for performing simple and complex computations (see box). "Set down in the form of sutrasor aphorisms, it was created for an age that relied more on memory than paper and pencil," Mr Ashar explains.

"With deceptively simple techniques, one can shorten tediously long calculations in a manner that seems almost miraculous to the uninitiated person," he continues. "But in retrospect, this is only to be expected from a culture that invented the zero and the decimal system and revolutionised the entire world of mathematics."

A retired professor of statistics and decision-making, who worked at IBM for many years, Mr Ashar has been conducting vedic maths workshops during his yearly visits to India. As he demonstrates short-cut techniques to zip through megadigit computations, he provides a tantalising glimpse into the probable secrets used by human calculating prodigies such as Shakuntala Devi.

Mr Ashar's lecture also "highlights what cynics call the gharki murgi phenomenon", says Suhas Naik-Satam from the Nehru Planetarium, "One tends to dismiss familiar, home-grown articles precisely because they're homegrown. We wake up to their value after foreigners approve of them. Vedic mathematics is a classic example of this trend."

The system was 'rediscovered' from the Vedas between 1911 and 1918 by Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha (1884-1960). "Bharati Krishna Tirthaji was a Shankaracharya of the Govardhan Pitham at Puri, who was also a noted scholar of Sanskrit, mathematics, philosophy and history. He was provoked when some scholars ridiculed certain texts called the 'Ganita Sutras' or mathematical aphorisms.

"After gaining insight with years of solitary meditation in the forests around Shringeri, the Shankaracharya was intuitively able to reconstruct the mathematical principles enshrined in the Atharva-Veda," Mr Ashar adds.

The Swamiji is reported to have written 16 volumes expounding the vedic system of mathematics. "But these were unaccountably lost and when the loss was confirmed in his final years, Swamiji wrote a single book, which was published in 1965, five years after his death," Mr Ashar explains.

"A copy of the book reached London a few years later and some English mathematician, like Kenneth Williams, Andrew Nicholas and Jeremy Pickles, became interested," he continues. "They extended the introductory material given in Bharati Krishnaji's book and developed many courses and gave talks on the system."

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