Indians often wonder how things would be, had the great centres of learning like Nalanda, Takshashila and Vikramshila would still be around, flourishing. These and more fell to the invaders from time to time, and only a small part of the glory exists today.
How would Indian civilization be different today had Nalanda University not been destroyed?
A simple, straight, innocent but incomplete answer would be -
Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji was a warrior with weapons, who upon encountering the mighty Nalanda, saw thousands of savants who intellectually were centuries ahead of anything he had experienced. Nalanda was using the formal Vedic systems of learning since 5th c. A.D., like Takshashila and Vikramshila. Khilji had two choices - bow his head, learn from them, exceed them in knowledge. Or, burn them down. In ca.1193 AD, he chose to end Nalanda. And had this monster not done so, this University would be better and bigger than the Harvards and Stanfords of this world. India would have had a big education brand to flaunt globally, and so on and so forth.
Modern day ruins of Nalanda, and a reconstruction of the University seal -
Khilji and the end of the Buddhist monks -
BUT Such an answer will be not only superficial, it will be a grave injustice to the ancient Indians who built a magnificent civilization second to none.
I remind you of the recent studies (by Western scholars) that have proven beyond doubt that India, and China, were the two richest civilizations at the start of the Christian era, measured by sheer size of GDP. I take it as a starting point for my detailed answer. To get a real answer, we must start by asking a question here.
- How did India become that rich at that time? Simple, huge success in world trade and agriculture, among other things.
- To do world trade and agriculture successfully, what would Indians have needed at that time? Simple hard work and luck? No. We needed to navigate the seas properly. We needed to predict climate patterns. And that needed lots of arithmetic and maths. Lots of trigonometry. Lots of astronomy. And lots of science. All this was done, used, monetized through trade and successful agriculture, and a great civilization was nurtured.
- And in this answer, I will not even delve into the 1000+ sites wonder called the Sindhu Ghati sabhyata (The Indus Valley Civilisation).
- Today’s students are typically told that “Congrats! India invented the Zero”. That’s it. Accept the congrats and get back to studying western maths and science.
- By implication, some genius in India, one fine morning, invented a freakish number called “zero” and the world transformed. Is this idea even remotely believable?Would anyone in ancient India invent the zero without having already worked on all associated knowledge that the zero was required in the first place to solve problems in? Are we not told that part of the story ever because it might turn turtle all prevalent assumptions of superiority bred out of colonialism?
- If only we researched well on Brahmagupta, we’d find the rich literature underpinning so much of later-claimed wisdom. (Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta)
- Astronomical calculations in the Shatapatha Brahmana (ca. 4th century BC) use a fractional approximation of 339/108 ≈ 3.139. That is the π we know. (Read more here)
- The historical truth is - India has been the birthplace of major aspects of mathematics including arithmetic, trigonometry, calculus, and probability. Places like Nalanda (and many more) were nurturing grounds of the deepest knowledge known to mankind then.
- We not only invented the zero, but also the fundamental place value decimal system, that was ages ahead of the foolish Roman number system. As a proof, try writing 1788 in Roman numerals. Answer - MDCCLXXXVIII ! So with the Greek system.
- And all that knowledge was taken to the Arab world first, then to Europe, and re-exported back to India starting the 16th century, painted as “the original”, and we are still stuck with it like God’s word from heaven. So just as Nalanda was destroyed, every other authentic source of knowledge in India was ravaged, torn apart, burnt down, and the jist was all taken abroad. We lost our languages, our science, our self-respect. We assumed that everything sophisticated has a “Western” origin.
- The term "algorithm" itself comes from algorism, the technique of performing arithmetic with Hindu-Arabic numerals developed by al-Khwārizmī. (Latinized form of al-Khwārizmī's name is Algoritmi)
- Remember, Nalanda is symbolic to this answer. It represents what Bharatiyacivilisation then was - a grand culmination of centuries of science, mathematics, philosophy, evolution and material success.
- Ancient Indians developed science as a WHOLE by merging concepts, ideas, and objects from all facets of Indian cultural experience – mythological, puranic, literary, religious, etc. and harvested them to generate number-connoting words. This is in stark contrast to the value-less, objective, cold education provided today. In fact, if some teacher were to attempt it today, he’d be imprisoned citing secular values. Ha ha!
- An example is the Bhutasamkhya system (Read more here). Here is an image of a typical Sanskrit verse used for mathematical calculations -
- Translation of the verse: "Gods (vibudha : 33), eyes (netra : 2), elephants (gaja : 8), snakes (ahi : 8), fires (hutāśana : 3), three (tri : 3), qualities (guṇa : 3), vedas (veda : 4), nakṣatras (bha : 27), elephants (vāraṇa : 8), and arms (bāhavaḥ : 2) - the wise say that this is the measure of the circumference when the diameter of a circle is nava-nikharva (900,000,000,000)." So, the translation of the poem using thebhūtasaṃkhyā system will simply read "2827433388233 is, as the wise say, the circumference of a circle whose diameter is nava-nikharva (900,000,000,000)". That is, divide 2827433388233 (the number from the first two lines of the poem in reverse order) by nava-nikharva (900,000,000,000) to get the value of pi(π). This calculation yields the value π = 3.1415926535922. This is the value of π used by Madhava in his further calculations and is accurate to 11 decimal places.
- So, the answer to your question is - Had Nalanda not been destroyed, we would have been a self-respecting society today, not the mess we are.
- It is not about one physical university destroyed. It is about a fundamentally different thought process and approach to the Cosmos itself, including all in it, the living, the non-living, the maths, the science - everything.
- Indian thought (Vedic, Buddhist etc.) is not based on blind faith. For example, Buddhism accepts only two valid means of knowledge: pratyaksha (empirical) andanumana (inference). Note that science does the same, only that “science”, i.e. modern western science, came centuries after Buddhism.
- Shoonyavada can be compared with mathematics, and Paticca samuppada(conditioned coorigination) with physics. Shoonyavada is Buddhist mathematics. Consider 3+3=6. Is it valid knowledge? Typical response: 3 Apples and 3 Apples make 6 Apples. But that is pratyaksha pramana (empirical proof) - accepted in Buddhism, and nearly all systems of Indian philosophy. And yes, in science too!
- The most respected (and much used by Indian test-setters!) Pythagoras theorem isnot valid knowledge for right-angled triangles drawn on the curved surface of the earth to determine latitude and longitude. Ha ha! So every so-called deductively proved theorem is hiding in its womb regions it is not valid at all!
- The image below (excerpted from Prof C K Raju’s work) indicates this problem clearly -
- But I do not say this. Formalists accept that mathematical theorems are only true relative to the hypotheses. Since the hypotheses of formal math are metaphysical (surprise! surprise!), their validity can never be ascertained. Let this come from THE authority.
- Bertrand Russell says - In [formal] mathematics we never know whether what we are saying is true . A deductively proved theorem is not valid knowledge, for logic is not universal. With a diff erent logic, di fferent theorems may be proved relative to the same hypotheses.
- The bosses of western philosophy (science) - Aquinas, Kant, Russell etc. - seemingly were ignorant of the multiplicity of logics.
- Indian tradition from pre-Buddhist times was aware of it.
- Examples -
- Chatushkoti (चतुष्कोटि) [Read more here] diff ers from the 2-valued logic used in formal mathematical proofs, or
- Anekantavada (अनेकान्तवाद) [ Read more here], a part of Jain philosophy, or
- Syadvaad (स्याद्वाद) [Read more here] which is conditioned predication
- Baudhayana Sulabh Sutras [Read more here] which were Vedic Sanskrit texts, explicitly states Pythagorean proposition using square roots. Really?
- दीर्घचतुरश्रस्याक्ष्णया रज्जु: पार्श्र्वमानी तिर्यग् मानी च यत् पृथग् भूते कुरूतस्तदुभयं करोति ॥ A rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together.
- The lines are to be referring to a rectangle, although some interpretations consider this to refer to a square. In either case, it states that the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the sides. If restricted to right-angled isosceles triangles, however, it would constitute a less general claim, but the text seems to be quite open to unequal sides. If this refers to a rectangle, it is the earliest recorded statement of the Pythagorean theorem (several hundred years before mighty Pythagoras said it).
- There is significant level of proof that perhaps Newton was not the first to discover the laws of motion. This is open to debate from both sides and is still fiercely contested. We await deeper analysis and more proofs.
I can go on. The gist is - we have lost what was originally ours, and are clinging to the imported wisdom as the only truth. We have lost all originality. And the burning down of Nalanda is the last great visible symbol of that.
I am no expert on ancient science, just a curious and open-minded student who ends up discovering things the formal system avoids mentioning in totality.
p.s. For those interested in reading more, check up the works of Prof. C. K. Raju.
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Some interesting sources for more reading -
- Kanad and atoms - Read here!
- Pythagoras theorem - (a) Grey claims of ownership, (b) Baudhayana Sutras
- Massive body of Indian maths thousands of years prior to western colonialism - Read here!
- Indian number systems went to Arab, and into the Christian world - Codex Vigilanus
- Thousands of years of scientific Indian astronomy - Indian astronomy
- How calculus was exported from India to the West, and then exported back! - C.K. Raju. Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16th c. CE.
- How Indian numbers went to Arab, and then Europe, and came back! - Read more
- Mathematical genius behind zero and much more - Brahmasphutsiddhanta
- Trigonometry of Madhava of Kerala - Madhava's sine table
- Angus Maddison and economic history of the world - Graph here