I have just spent two weeks in India on business to attend a conference that IMPA (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics) co-hosted in Bangalore. I took the opportunity to visit the renowned Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Bombay and to visit Goa, the old capital of the Portuguese empire in the East.
Indian mathematics dates back to 1200 BC and its achievements are remarkable. Hindus discovered zero (regardless of the Babylonians and the Mayans) and also comes from them the symbol 0, which we use to represent this number: their first known use was in the Bakhshali manuscript, written in birch bark fragments around the 3rd century.
This important advance allowed them to create the decimal positional system to represent numbers. The central principle ("from place to place, each is ten times the former") already appears in the Aryabhatiya, written in Sanskrit at the end of the 5th century by mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata (476 – 550). Transmitted to the West by the Arabs, and popularized by Fibonacci, the Hindu decimal system freed Europeans from odd Roman numerals, becoming standard across the globe.
While this was happening, mathematics in India kept advancing. In the 7th century, they were already working with negative numbers, having correctly identified their respective operating rules as "negative times negative gives positive".
What they did not do was figure out the solving formula of the degree 2 equation … My colleague in Bombay was surprised when I said that in Brazil it is called the "Bhaskara formula": there were two important mathematicians of that name in the 7th centuries. and 12, but no one in India associates any of them with the formula (which was already known to the Babylonians around 1800 BC). To the best of our knowledge, this nonsense is a Brazilian invention.
Today, India remains one of the most developed countries in mathematical research, occupying a place in group 4 of the International Mathematical Union, the second most important. This is partly due to the prestige of Mumbai's Tata Institute, historically the first center of excellence in mathematics in the developing world.
Founded in 1945 with the support of the Tata family of entrepreneurs, one of the most important in India, the institute is fully funded by the Indian federal government. In the 1950s, it relied on the support of J. Nehru, the founding prime minister of independent India, to secure its own headquarters, a beautiful campus in the traditional Navy Nagar district, among Indian military facilities.
In mathematics, Tata has an especially strong tradition in the important area of algebraic geometry. The institute also has departments of physics, chemistry, biology and computing (India's first computer was built in Tata in 1957). I will continue next week.
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