The History And Context Of Vedic Mathematics

Today, there is widespread awareness that the decimal system was discovered by the Hindus and it went to Europe to the Romans and Greeks from the Arabian area. So the Greeks and Romans called it the Hindu-Arabic numeric system.

The numeric system makes many math calculations easy by having a single digit for a decimal place i.e. units, tens, hundreds, or thousands. A number like 79 and 18 is represented in Roman letters as LXXIX and XVIII. When you try to multiply the 79 with 18 in the Roman denotation it is difficult to identify the decimal place and hence calculation is complex.

But with the Hindu numeric system, since a single character represents the numeric place, it is easy to calculate. See the image below to understand.

Hindu numeric system vs Roman numbers

Understanding the Vedic or Hindu Sanatana Knowledge System
The Vedic knowledge system included both atmik or spiritual education as well as various practical subjects. The words ‘para’ and ‘apara’ are used to represent atmik and practical studies.

It is also said that the Hindu knowledge system including the atmik knowledge was created by first doing an objective and impartial understanding of the world. The philosophical systems of the Hindu knowledge systems called darshanas like samkya, vaisheshika, nyaya, and yoga lead to the development of the atmik system.

Mathematics has been a part of Vedic literature. ‘Veda’ is a Sanskrit word the meaning of the word being knowledge. The Rishis, the wise men of India strived to include in the Vedic education system all the types of knowledge required to make a person reach his or her full potential. There were both atmik or spiritual and practical subjects included in this knowledge system. The Vedic, Hindu Sanatana Knowledge System or the Indic knowledge system are the various names for this knowledge system.

Reasons for Replacement of the Hindu Knowledge System
Over time, no doubt influenced by the various invasions of India, much of the knowledge system of Vedas fell into disuse. The burning of the Nalanda University by the Bhaktiar Khilji, and targetting of Brahmins by various barbaric invaders is an obvious fact of history. Also, T.B. Macaulay and William Bentick designed the English education system to kill the Indian Knowledge system.

William Bentick was the Governor-General of India from 1828 to 1835 and was instrumental in putting into force the English Education Act 1835 which stopped funding the Indian Knowledge System. T B Macaulay’s extremely racist, biased, and ill-informed opinion on the Indic Knowledge system is documented in the Memorandum on (Indian) Education – based on which the English Education Act 1835 was implemented. Macaulay’s document has been proven wrong with factual data by multiple people. The intentions of Macaulay to manipulate the Indians with a distorted value system and make them subservient and mentally colonial slaves can be seen in his private letters to his family published as books.

These two major events had the impact of being a continuous force for hundreds of years in destroying the Vedic or Indic knowledge system.

Renewed interest in Hindu Knowledge System
As the renaissance spread in the late 19th century and early 20th century – many efforts were made to revive the Indic knowledge system. Many great people discovered various aspects in ancient manuscripts. For example, in Mysore, the manuscript of ‘Arthasastra’ was identified and translated into English. Across India, various scholars did great work in giving fresh life to the Indic knowledge system.

The Vedic or Indic knowledge system is not a static system in which things are frozen and rigid forever. Rather the Indic knowledge system requires its practitioners to not only question and validate the existing knowledge system but grow the knowledge system with new re-discoveries. India had its first university in 3 century BC called Taxila and later other universities were created like Nalanda among others. The Indic knowledge system was a vibrant method of validating existing principles through personal experience while also adding new dimensions with discoveries in their areas of interest.

Vedic mathematics or mental mathematics
Taken in this context, we should review the works of the then Swami Bharti Krishna Thirtha! Swamiji was a western education postgraduate with an interest in science and mathematics. Swamiji was interested in applying the Vedic framework to make mathematics intuitive in the original Bharatiya form before the westerners repackaged Indian mathematics in the rigid European system of knowledge.

Due to the European math framework, many Indian students have become scared of mathematics because it has been too confusing, boring, scary, and difficult.
Swami Bharti Krishna Thirtha discovered some sukthas or principles for mental mathematics early in his Sanyas pursuit. Swami Bharti Krishna Thirtha was a strong believer that Vedic education should include both atmik education as well as practical education. His method of mental math allows for quick, effortless calculation by figuring out when to apply which Vedic math sukhta to a given situation. So it helps with assessment, analytics, and decision-making skills also. The net benefit of using these methods is to arrive at the solution, easily and relatively effortlessly.

One of Atmaguna that is encouraged in Hindu dharma is “anayasa”. This trait or guna is the opposite of “ayasa” which means much exertion or a lot of effort. Anayasa means to do things with lightness and easily. Anayasa is considered a great virtue. The same may have been applied to doing math by Swamiji.

Re-discoverer of Vedic or mental math was Saint of highest order
Swamiji went on to become a Jagatguru in the later part of his life and was given the responsibility of becoming the Jagatguru Sankaracharya of Govardhana Matha of Puri in Orissa. He was a much respected and admired guru who was a much sought-after public speaker in various cities and universities in India. He was also invited to a tour of the US and UK being the first Sankaracharya to make an overseas trip.

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