The Polemic Histrionics of Aryabhata

Image result for aryabhata
Image of Aryabhata taken from a mug shot

What do you think of when you think of India? Cattle? Cricket? English tea? Mathematics? I notice that none of me said “astronomy” and that’s a darn shame. Because, one of the great astronomers of the middle ages was an Indian and so were most of his friends.

Aryabhata was born in 476 A.D.E to parents who had children despite their differences… most notably that they were of two different genders. According to Aryabhata, Aryabhata was born in Patna, India; some scholars say he was born in Kodungallur but that begs the question, why would someone claim to be from Patna when they weren’t? Besides, they had a swell school in Patna called “Kusumapura”, home of the fighting mandellas. Some think he also studied and maybe taught in Nalanda where they had an observatory.

Image result for aryabhataObservatory? Without a telescope? Isn’t that just looking up? Without advanced optics, the observatories of the time were rooms eleven stories above the city where men of learning studied the universe through sheets of sheer gauze, while holy men applied lemon juice to their eyes… I’m kidding, of course… you should see your face right now. An observatory had devices and structures that allowed for studying the movements of the moon, sun, stars and planets.

And, studying where those celestial objects have been, Aryabhata could predict where they’d be in the future… just like, seeing your brother’s car overturned in the back yard is a sure indicator he’s lying naked on the front lawn with a gin bottle in his hand. But, more than blindly predicting, Aryabhata was able to model our heliocentric solar system and explain the movements of the planets, Earth’s rotation, eclipses and who’d been stealing his yogurt from the office fridge…

In addition to the astonomy, Aryabhata enhanced the field of mathematics in areas such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry and spherical trigonometry, which is like regular trigonometry except the homework had a tendency to roll downhill at the worst times. He also approximated pi to five significant digits using only the white of an egg. These and his astronomical writings were done in verse because it is easier to learn complex abstract concepts if they are written up like Hallmark cards. I learned chemistry that way:

Your arm will be reduced to a fraction

if you don’t move it away during a thermite reaction.

Fortunately, before I read this, I’d only lost my eyebrows…

No one knows what Aryabhata died of, where he died or whose automobile he was car-surfing on. He died at age seventy-four. He’s had a satellite and a lunar crater named after him. The only reason his name isn’t a household word is because no one wants to name their household after a dead mathematician…