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How ancient India laid modern society's foundation

India is the planet's largest, oldest and -- if you exclude the 19th and 20th centuries -- wealthiest civilization. The influence of ancient Indian history on the modern world is due to the many manifestations of Indian genius and the fact that the language people used was so logical that it nourished critical thinking on the fundamental unity underlying mankind's diversity.

     Up to the 17th century, the wealth in India was more than twice that of the rest of the world combined. So many of the foundations of modern society -- science, medicine, mathematics, metaphysics, religion and astronomy -- originated in India. We can call India the cradle of human civilization, the birthplace of speech, the mother of history and numerous languages, the grandmother of legends and traditions.


Indians invented zero and the number system, one of the greatest innovations in history. The decimal system, the value of pi, algebra, trigonometry, calculus and many mathematical concepts were all born in India. The largest number Greeks and Romans used was 10 to the power of 6; well before 5000 B.C., Indians used numbers as big as 10 to the power of 53. 

     Albert Einstein was once quoted: "We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discoveries could have been made." 


Sushruta was the father of medicine -- the first to invent the art of performing surgery with anesthesia. The first school of medicine, Ayurveda, was based on a systematic knowledge of plant-derived medicines and is practiced effectively even today. Detailed knowledge of anatomy, embryology, digestion, metabolism, physiology, genetics, immunity, psychology and etiology can be found in many ancient Indian texts. 


Some of Europe's greatest discoveries were first made in India thousands of years earlier, before Europe even existed. Gravity, for example. It was not Isaac Newton, but an Indian named Brahmagupta, who explained gravity, 1,000 years before the British Empire emerged. Ancient Indians had a profound knowledge of the origin and age of the universe and Earth, the circumference of the Earth and other planets. Mathematician Bhaskaracharya accurately calculated the time it takes our planet to orbit the sun to be 365.258756484 days, well before Western astronomers.  

     The Indian system of astronomy is by far the oldest. It was the source from which the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Jews derived their knowledge. The motion of the stars on the tables of Giovanni Cassini and Tobias Mayer, used in the 19th century, do not vary by even a minute from Indian calculations made 4,500 years before. Indian tables give the same annual variation of the moon as discovered by Tycho Brahe -- a variation unknown to the schools of Alexandria and the Arabs.


Four of the world's major religions -- Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism -- originated in India. India's literary, artistic and philosophical contributions to the world are far greater than those of any other civilization in history. 

     Almost all religious, philosophical and mathematical theories taught by the Pythagoreans were known in India in the sixth century B.C. Indian sages of philosophy were the prototypes of Greece -- to whose works Plato, Thales and Pythagoras were disciples. The priests of Egypt and the sages of Greece drew directly from India. Nearly 2,500 years ago, Pythagoras went from Samos to the Indian Ganges to learn geometry.

     Indians also invented yoga -- the art of unifying the mind and body. Today, it is practiced for its health benefits all over the world. The Chinese learned yoga, martial arts and Buddhism from India. Chess, snakes and ladders, buttons, high-grade steel manufacturing, the art of navigation, playing cards, the gymnasium, the university, rocket artillery, almost every geometrical instrument, the cultivation of cotton and jute, mining, the concept of gross domestic product -- all have roots in India.

     If there is one place where all of humanity's dreams have found a home from the very earliest days of existence, it is India. Modern Indians should understand the original scientific culture their ancestors developed, make use of modern technology to demonstrate their in-born abilities, and strive for breakthroughs that will help all of society. And modern writers may need to rewrite the scientific history books after consulting Indian experts. 

Tejraj M. Aminabhavi is All India Council for Technical Education Emeritus Fellow and a recipient of the Nikkei Asia Prize in 2013.


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