Personal life of Indian Mathematical Genius Aryabhata

Indian mathematician Aryabhata is a major figure in both Indian science and mathematics. Due to the domination of western scientific tradition he does not get the recognition that he deserves. In my opinion Aryabhata should be given the title of “Father of Trigonometry”. But when Indians themselves do not call him that then how can we expect others. When we were taught Trigonometry, we were never told about his contributions to the subject. The achievements of Aryabhata are so far and wide that they cannot be covered in just a 10-minute video. So, we will talk about his scientific and mathematical achievements in future articles. In this article we will talk about the man himself and his personal life.

As has been the case always with Indian historical figures, very few records are available about Aryabhata’s personal life. Indian tradition has never emphasized much on personal glory and therefore people in our culture never placed too much focus on getting credit and have mostly focused on their work. This is the reason why great men in Indian civilization have left so little information about themselves.

The first thing that we must all know about Aryabhata is that there are at least two mathematicians with the name Aryabhata in Indian Mathematical Tradition. First Aryabhata is the author of Aryabhatiya, which is a seminal work in Indian mathematical tradition. The second Aryabhata is the author of Maha-Aryasiddhanta composed about 5–6 centuries after Aryabhatiya. This second Aryabhata is a relatively minor figure in Indian Mathematics as his work Maha-AryaSiddhanta is not an original work but just a commentary.

Now with regards to the first Aryabhata, who is the author of Aryabhatiya, there is some confusion amongst the scholars. Some scholars say that there was no other Aryabhata before him while other say that there was one more Aryabhata before him. This confusion arises due to the references made by Brahmagupta and Al Biruni. In his work Al Biruni mentions about an Aryabhata who was elder to the Aryabhata who wrote Aryabhatiya. Similarly, in his work Brahmasputasiddhata Brahmagupta has severely criticized the ideas mentioned in Aryabhatiya. But then in his later work Khandakadyaka Brahmagupta shows a lot of respect to Aryabhata. Implying that maybe in his second work Brahmagupta is referring to the eldest Aryabhata. In any case whether there are two Aryabhatas or three Aryabhatas in Indian Mathematics, the Aryabhata we are interested in is the one who wrote Aryabhatiya.

Time of Aryabhata

In Aryabhatiya, Aryabhata mentions that he was 23 years old 3600 years into Kali Yuga. Since we know that Kali Yuga started in 3102 BCE means that Aryabhata was 23 years old in 499 CE. Based on this statement we can say that Aryabhata was born in 476CE. Now, a lot of time people mention that Aryabhatiya was written in 499 CE, when Aryabhata was 23 years old. We have to be careful in making this conclusion though because Aryabhata never says that he wrote Aryabhatiya in 499CE, he only says that in 499CE he was 23 years old. He might have written Aryabhatiya at a different time.

Place of Aryabhata

There is also controversy regarding the place of birth of Aryabhata. In Arybhatiya Aryabhata mentions he is a native of Kusumapura. Based on Hindu and Buddhist texts Kusumapura is the same a Pataliputra or modern-day Patna. Many scholars however contest this and say that Kusumapura was just the place where he lived, while his actual birthplace is Asmaka. This is based on the fact that Bhaskara. in his work, refers to Aryabhata as “Asmakiya”, which means someone who belongs to the Asmaka Country

Scholars believe that this Asmaka is the modern day Kodungallur located on Malabar Coast in Kerala. The reasoning given here is that Asmaka in Sanskrit stands for Stone and Kodungallur was previously called Kotumkallur, which stands for city of Hard Stones. To strengthen their point, these scholars claim that a lot of commentaries on Arybahata’s work have come from Kerala. Now I am not really sure how strong of an argument this is to make claims that Aryabhata was a native of Kerala. To me this is too much of an extension. Origin of the modern name ‘Kodungallur’ has multiple interpretations:

  • From ‘koṭuṁ-kall-ūr’, meaning ‘place of the grand stone’, because of a huge stone that the Chera king Cheran Chenguttuvan brought from the Himalayas to establish a shrine dedicated to the legendary Tamil woman Kannagi.
  • From ‘koṭuṁ-kōl-ūr’, meaning the ‘city of good governance’.
  • From ‘koṭuṁ-kāḷi-ūr’ because of the existence of temple dedicated to goddess Kali.
  • From ‘koṭuṁ-kolai-ūr’, meaning a ‘bloody killing field’, because of a 16th-century battle between Zamorin of Calicut and Kingdom of Cochin which was fought here.

And as for the commentaries, there are many commentaries coming from other places also. In my opinion the argument that Aryabhata was from Kerala seems quite weak.

Connection with Nalanda University

Whether Aryabhata was born in Kusumapura or Kodungallur Kerala, one thing we know for sure is that Aryabhata prepared Aryabhatiya at Kusumapura.

In Aryabhatiya, one verse mentions that Aryabhata held the title of Kulapa, which means the head of an institution in Kusumapura. Now we know that Kusumapura was Pataliputra, and since we know that Nalanda University was in Pataliputra, some have speculated that Aryabhata might have been the head of Nalanda University. Another thing that we know is that Aryabhata also had an astronomical observatory set up at the Sun Temple in Targana which is situated about 30Km from Patna

Aryabhata’s Legacy

It is believed that Aryabhata died in 550 CE at the age of 74. His work has inspired many subsequent mathematicians and scientists firstly in Indian and then abroad. After the Islamic invasion of India, his works traveled westward and first inspired the Muslim scholars and subsequently European scholars. Now although we named our first satellite after him and also gave name to a bacterium living in the stratosphere on him, Aryabhata is a relatively unknown name outside India. In fact, Indians themselves do not know about the contributions of Aryabhata. In the subsequent articles on Indian mathematics we will talk about the scientific contributions of Aryabhata.

Originally published at https://stoicsadhu.com on April 4, 2020.

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Rahul Yadav

Rahul Yadav

Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India

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