Aryabhata, born in 476 CE in India, was an eminent mathematician and astronomer. Given that he lived roughly 1500 years ago, not too much is known about the specifics of his life. In fact, even though he is responsible for a few astronomy and mathematics texts, only one text of his survives to this day: the Aryabhatiya. From that work alone, we can appreciate what Aryabhata has contributed to science. The Aryabhatiya is written in verses of Sanskrit, which makes the text beautiful in terms of wording as well the content that he addresses.
The numeral system used today (the Indian/Arabic numeral system) had not yet been developed in his time, so Aryabhata used letters in place of numbers. Although the concept of zero had not yet been formalized yet, Aryabhata was aware of its existence and had a placeholder for it, which was impressive for the time. Notably, he also devised what was, at the time, the most accurate approximation of π, 62832/20000, which resulted in a value of 3.1416. This practical approximation proved very close to the true value of 3.1415926. Aryabhata provided his own solutions to equations of certain forms, accompanied by general instruction in algebra and trigonometry. In his Aryabhatiya, he also gave a chart of sine values, the earliest surviving instance of its kind.
On the astronomy front, Aryabhata realized that the Earth was spherical in shape and calculated that the Earth had a circumference of 24,835 miles, an approximation that is remarkably close to the true value of 24,902 miles! Aryabhata had devised this nearly 1000 years before Columbus, who was expecting to see Asia, set sail west from Europe, owing to his much poorer understanding of the Earth’s circumference and overall size. He also correctly deduced how solar and lunar eclipses occurred, despite subscribing to an Earth-centric model of the universe. When Aryabhata died in 550 CE, he had greatly enriched the scientific world with his discoveries, although his work may not have been appreciated until centuries later when Arab scholars translated his work. His work eventually made its way into Latin and reached a European and Arab audience. Aryabhata’s Aryabhatiya represents a fruitful synthesis of art and science that is not often seen in today’s world, and that unique feature makes the Aryabhatiya stand out from other scientific works in history.
Vijay Venkatesan is a freshman at Baker College at Rice University.