Died: 550 in India

**Aryabhata** is also known as **Aryabhata I** to distinguish him from the later mathematician of the same name who lived about 400 years later. Al-Biruni has not helped in understanding Aryabhata's life, for he seemed to believe that there were two different mathematicians called Aryabhata living at the same time. He therefore created a confusion of two different Aryabhatas which was not clarified until 1926 when B Datta showed that al-Biruni's two Aryabhatas were one and the same person.

We know the year of Aryabhata's birth since he tells us that he was twenty-three years of age when he wrote *Aryabhatiya* which he finished in 499. We have given Kusumapura, thought to be close to Pataliputra (which was refounded as Patna in Bihar in 1541), as the place of Aryabhata's birth but this is far from certain, as is even the location of Kusumapura itself. As Parameswaran writes in [26]:-

We do know that Aryabhata wrote... no final verdict can be given regarding the locations of Asmakajanapada and Kusumapura.

We should note that Kusumapura became one of the two major mathematical centres of India, the other being Ujjain. Both are in the north but Kusumapura (assuming it to be close to Pataliputra) is on the Ganges and is the more northerly. Pataliputra, being the capital of the Gupta empire at the time of Aryabhata, was the centre of a communications network which allowed learning from other parts of the world to reach it easily, and also allowed the mathematical and astronomical advances made by Aryabhata and his school to reach across India and also eventually into the Islamic world.

As to the texts written by Aryabhata only one has survived. However Jha claims in [21] that:-

The surviving text is Aryabhata's masterpiece the... Aryabhata was an author of at least three astronomical texts and wrote some free stanzas as well.

There is a difficulty with this layout which is discussed in detail by van der Waerden in [35]. Van der Waerden suggests that in fact the 10 verse *Introduction* was written later than the other three sections. One reason for believing that the two parts were not intended as a whole is that the first section has a different meter to the remaining three sections. However, the problems do not stop there. We said that the first section had ten verses and indeed Aryabhata titles the section *Set of ten giti stanzas*. But it in fact contains eleven giti stanzas and two arya stanzas. Van der Waerden suggests that three verses have been added and he identifies a small number of verses in the remaining sections which he argues have also been added by a member of Aryabhata's school at Kusumapura.

The mathematical part of the *Aryabhatiya* covers arithmetic, algebra, plane trigonometry and spherical trigonometry. It also contains continued fractions, quadratic equations, sums of power series and a table of sines. Let us examine some of these in a little more detail.

First we look at the system for representing numbers which Aryabhata invented and used in the *Aryabhatiya* . It consists of giving numerical values to the 33 consonants of the Indian alphabet to represent 1, 2, 3, ... , 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. The higher numbers are denoted by these consonants followed by a vowel to obtain 100, 10000, .... In fact the system allows numbers up to 10^{18}to be represented with an alphabetical notation. Ifrah in [3] argues that Aryabhata was also familiar with numeral symbols and the place-value system. He writes in [3]:-

Next we look briefly at some algebra contained in the... it is extremely likely that Aryabhata knew the sign for zero and the numerals of the place value system. This supposition is based on the following two facts: first, the invention of his alphabetical counting system would have been impossible without zero or the place-value system; secondly, he carries out calculations on square and cubic roots which are impossible if the numbers in question are not written according to the place-value system and zero.

Aryabhata gave an accurate approximation for π. He wrote in the *Aryabhatiya* the following:-

This gives π =Add four to one hundred, multiply by eight and then add sixty-two thousand. the result is approximately the circumference of a circle of diameter twenty thousand. By this rule the relation of the circumference to diameter is given.

We now look at the trigonometry contained in Aryabhata's treatise. He gave a table of sines calculating the approximate values at intervals of 90°/24 = 3° 45'. In order to do this he used a formula for sin(Aryabhata I's value of π is a very close approximation to the modern value and the most accurate among those of the ancients. There are reasons to believe that Aryabhata devised a particular method for finding this value. It is shown with sufficient grounds that Aryabhata himself used it, and several later Indian mathematicians and even the Arabs adopted it. The conjecture that Aryabhata's value of π is of Greek origin is critically examined and is found to be without foundation. Aryabhata discovered this value independently and also realised that π is an irrational number. He had the Indian background, no doubt, but excelled all his predecessors in evaluating π. Thus the credit of discovering this exact value of π may be ascribed to the celebrated mathematician, Aryabhata I.

Other rules given by Aryabhata include that for summing the first *n* integers, the squares of these integers and also their cubes. Aryabhata gives formulae for the areas of a triangle and of a circle which are correct, but the formulae for the volumes of a sphere and of a pyramid are claimed to be wrong by most historians. For example Ganitanand in [15] describes as "mathematical lapses" the fact that Aryabhata gives the incorrect formula *V* = *Ah*/2 for the volume of a pyramid with height h and triangular base of area *A*. He also appears to give an incorrect expression for the volume of a sphere. However, as is often the case, nothing is as straightforward as it appears and Elfering (see for example [13]) argues that this is not an error but rather the result of an incorrect translation.

This relates to verses 6, 7, and 10 of the second section of the *Aryabhatiya* and in [13] Elfering produces a translation which yields the correct answer for both the volume of a pyramid and for a sphere. However, in his translation Elfering translates two technical terms in a different way to the meaning which they usually have. Without some supporting evidence that these technical terms have been used with these different meanings in other places it would still appear that Aryabhata did indeed give the incorrect formulae for these volumes.

We have looked at the mathematics contained in the *Aryabhatiya* but this is an astronomy text so we should say a little regarding the astronomy which it contains. Aryabhata gives a systematic treatment of the position of the planets in space. He gave the circumference of the earth as 4 967 yojanas and its diameter as 1 581^{1}/_{24} yojanas. Since 1 yojana = 5 miles this gives the circumference as 24 835 miles, which is an excellent approximation to the currently accepted value of 24 902 miles. He believed that the apparent rotation of the heavens was due to the axial rotation of the Earth. This is a quite remarkable view of the nature of the solar system which later commentators could not bring themselves to follow and most changed the text to save Aryabhata from what they thought were stupid errors!

Aryabhata gives the radius of the planetary orbits in terms of the radius of the Earth/Sun orbit as essentially their periods of rotation around the Sun. He believes that the Moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight, incredibly he believes that the orbits of the planets are ellipses. He correctly explains the causes of eclipses of the Sun and the Moon. The Indian belief up to that time was that eclipses were caused by a demon called Rahu. His value for the length of the year at 365 days 6 hours 12 minutes 30 seconds is an overestimate since the true value is less than 365 days 6 hours.

Bhaskara I who wrote a commentary on the *Aryabhatiya* about 100 years later wrote of Aryabhata:-

Aryabhata is the master who, after reaching the furthest shores and plumbing the inmost depths of the sea of ultimate knowledge of mathematics, kinematics and spherics, handed over the three sciences to the learned world.

**Article by:** *J J O'Connor* and *E F Robertson*

**November 2000**

[http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Aryabhata_I.html]