Archive for April, 2013

The life of Human Computer – Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi was born on 4th Nov 1939 in Bangalore. Her father was a circus artiste who worked as a trapeze and tightrope performer. She started displaying her genius while she was 3 and would assist her father in circus shows to do card tricks. By the age of 6, she had proved that she was a prodigy in mathematics by displaying her excellent memory and mental calculation skills in Mysore University. What followed that is history.

Shakuntala Devi amazed the whole world through her amazing mental calculation skills and has given performances world-wide. Her books like ‘Fun with Numbers’, ‘Puzzles to Puzzle You’, are a delight for both children and grown ups. She was rated as one in 58 million for her stupendous mathematical feats by one of the fastest super-computers ever invented —the Univac — 1108. In the year 1977, Shakuntala Devi mentally solved the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. In 1980, she again solved the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 that were randomly picked by the computer department of Imperial College in London. And this, she did in just 28 seconds. Her correct answer to this multiplication sum was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730. This incident has been included on the 26th page of the famous 1995 Guinness Book of Records. 

She has set her foot on every country in the world and made India look upon her with pride. On 21st April 2013, she faded away into infinity leaving behind her legendary and inspiring life.

Om Bharatagauravaaya Namah – Salutations to the one who is the pride of India!Image

Development of Mathematics in India

The birth of Mathematics in India can be traced back to the Vedas. Vedas are the storehouses of knowledge in India that contains knowledge on different sciences, mathematics, philosophy, and other subjects. Mathematical parts covered in the Vedic literature include topics like number systems, arithmetic, geometry, progression and astronomy.


The Vedas are not books written by any single author; rather it is a collection of all the knowledge that was revealed to different Rishis (seers) during their heights of contemplation and meditation. Initially, the knowledge was not available in a book-form; it was passed on from generation to the generation by word of mouth from the teacher to the student. Somewhere back in history, sage Vyasa (a great seer and visionary) took up the task to compile all the existing knowledge into four volumes – Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. The exact date of the Vedas is not known. Historians have tried giving rough estimates but it differs in view among different persons.


To study the Vedas, study of Vedangas (Veda + Anga, Anga means ‘parts of the body’) was necessary. Vedangas can be classified into six branches viz., Shiksha (phonetics), Kalpam (rituals), Vyakaranam (grammar),Chandas (Prosody), Niruktam (Etymology) and Jyotisham (Astronomy). Among these, knowledge of mathematics was covered mainly in Kalpam & Jyotisham, and also to some extent in Chandas.


Kalpam was further subdivided into four:

  1. Srauta Sutras – dealing with rituals such as Yagas & Yagnas (sacrifices)
  2. Grihya Sutras – rituals to be observed by a householder.
  3. Dharma Sutras – pertaining to law and order
  4. Sulva Sutras – dealing with guidelines of preparation of sacrificial altars (homa kundas) which also happen to be the most ancient treatises available on Geometry.

Jyotisham covered the science of astronomy (not astrology which came much later) which included mathematics. The birth of trigonometry and calculus was mainly through Jyotisham.


Mathematics (Ganitam) was never a different branch of science. It got developed as a different branch of study much later mainly from the knowledge in Sulva Sutras and Jyotisham. The ancient Indian mathematicians from the time of Aryabhatta-I (476-550 CE), gradually divided mathematics further into various branches like Arithmetic, Algebra, Trigonometry, Combinatorics, Astronomy, etc. in their treatises.

Spokes of the wheel acts as a sun dial to show exact time. Sun dials was an early development in India. The above sun dial is from the Konark Sun temple.