Chapter 16: Contribution of Hindus to
the World Culture
From the invention of the decimal system in mathematics to the
noble philosophy of ahimsă, Hindus have contributed their share in all fields
of knowledge and learning. Over five thousand years ago, when Europeans were
only nomadic forest dwellers, ancient Hindus had established a civilization,
known as the Harappan culture, in the Indus Valley, the northwestern region of
India. When much of the world was still sunk in sleep, people of the Harappan
culture were conducting trade workshops in weaving, bead-making, pottery, dying
of fabrics, and metallurgy.
The people of the Indus Valley also produced seals, used for documenting
business transactions. The seals were made of stone (in the form of square
tablets) and were engraved with figures of animals, such as goats, buffalo,
elephants, and tigers. The discovery of these seals in distant lands suggests
that the Harappan navigators must have sailed as far as Mesopotamia for trade.
Most of the knowledge that ancient Hindus had acquired in the fields of arts and
sciences passed onto Egypt and subsequently to Greece and Europe. In the words
of Georges Ifrah, "Still more important was the influence of Indian
astronomers, from whom they [Arabs] borrowed, probably beginning in the eighth
century, their zero, decimal-place-value numeration, and computation
In his Dictionary of Scholars, Ali ibn-Yusuf al-Qifti, a Moslem
scholar (1172-1248), wrote, "there came from India to Baghdad a man deeply
learned in the doctrines of his country. This man knew the method of sindhid
[an Arabic transcription of the Sanskrit siddhănta, "astronomical
cannon"], concerning the movements of the heavenly bodies and equations
calculated by means of trigonometric ratios in quarters of a degree. He also
knew various ways of determining eclipses and the risings of the signs of the
zodiac. He had composed a summary of a work on these subjects, attributed to a
prince named Figar. In it, the kardagas were calculated by minutes. The caliph
[king] ordered that the Indian treatise be translated into Arabic, to help
Moslems acquire exact knowledge of the stars. The translation was done by
Mohammed ibn-Ibrahim al-Fazzari, the first Moslem to have made a thorough study
of astronomy." 28
A discussion of some of the other achievements of the ancient Hindus is
- The world's first university was established at Takshashila (northwest
region of India) in approximately 700 BCE. Another large university was
established at Nalanda around 500 AD. According to the Chinese traveler
Hieun Tsang, the campus housed 10,000 students, 2,000 professors, and a
large administrative staff.
- Ancient Hindus provided the concept of zero to the world. In early
Sanskrit texts and in Pangala's Chandra Sutra (200 AD), "zero" is
called Shunya. Later, Bhaskarăcharya (400-500 AD) showed that any number
divided by zero becomes infinity and infinity divided by any number remains
infinity. Zero is also described by Brahmaguptă in his famous seventh
century work, called Brahma Bhuta Siddhanta. Later, zero appeared in Arabic
books in 770 AD and from there it was carried to Europe in 800 AD.
- In addition to the concept of zero, the place-value system, the decimal
system was developed in India as early as 100 BCE. Ancient Hindus had also
developed prefixes for raising ten to powers as high as fifty-three.
"The Indian place-value numeration with zero sign ranks among
humanity's fundamental discoveries. Through the centuries it has been
propagated even more widely than the alphabet of Phoenician origin, and it
has now become the only real universal language. When the advantages became
apparent to the scholars and reckoners of civilizations in contact with
India, they gradually abandoned the imperfect systems transmitted to them by
their ancestors." 28
- Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, is stated
to be approximately equal to three in the 600 BCE Sanskrit text Baudhayana
Sulba Sutra. In 497 AD, Aryabhatta calculated the value of pi as 3.146, as a
ratio of 62832/2000.
- Pythagoras is credited with the invention of the Pythagorean Theorem in
500 BCE. According to this theorem the square of the hypotenuse of a
right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the two sides.
However, this theorem was developed by the Hindu mathematician Baudhayana
one hundred years earlier in 600 BCE. In his book Baudhayana Sulba Sutra
(600 BCE), Baudhayana states, "The area produced by the diagonal [i.e.
the area of the square formed by the diagonal] of a right-angled triangle is
equal to the sum of the areas produced by it on two sides [i.e. the sum of
the areas of the squares formed by its two sides]."
- In Surya Siddhanta, dated 400-500 AD, the ancient Hindu astronomer
Bhaskaracharya states, "Objects fall on the earth due to a force of
attraction by the earth. Therefore, the earth, planets, constellations,
moon, and sun are held in orbit due to this force." Approximately 1200
years later (1687 AD), Sir Isaac Newton rediscovered this phenomenon and
called it the Law of Gravity.
- In his treatise Aryabhateeyam, dated 500 AD, the Hindu genius
Aryabhatta states, "Just as a person traveling in a boat feels that the
trees on the bank are moving, people on the earth feel that the sun is
moving." He also explains that the earth is round, rotates on its axis,
orbits the sun, and is suspended in space. The lunar and solar eclipses are
further explained by Aryabhatta as the interplay of the shadows of the sun,
moon, and the earth.
- According to modern calculations, the time taken by the earth to orbit the
sun is 365.2596 days. In Surya Siddhanta, dated 400-500 AD, Bhaskarăcharya
calculated this time as 365.258756484 days.
- Ayur Veda, or "the science of life," is the traditional system
of Indian medicine that originated from the fourth book of Vedic literature,
the Atharva Veda. This system of medicine, developed in 1000-500 BCE, uses
natural herbs to cure diseases, and is still used in India and many other
countries of the world.
- The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) is honored as the father of
medicine. However, well before Hippocrates, Maharshi Charaka had already
written the Charaka Samhită ("Handbook of a Physician") in 500
- The earliest known work relating to human surgery is Shushruta Samhită,
written in approximately 600 BCE by the Hindu surgeon Shushruta, who
performed plastic surgery as early as 600 BCE. Chanakya's Arthashăstra
describes post-mortems, and Bhoja Prabandha describes brain surgery,
successfully performed in 927 AD by two surgeons on King Bhoja to remove a
growth from his brain.
- The game of chess was developed in India and was originally called Astapada
(sixty-four squares). Later this game came to be known as Chaturanga
(four corps). In 600 AD this game was learned by Persians who named it
Shatranj (derived from the original word Chaturanga).
- The science of yoga originated from the Vedas. Today many variations of
Hatha Yoga, in the form of a system of exercises, are used in many countries
for the preservation and growth of the human body.
- Hinduism has given the world the wisdom of the Vedas, the Upanishads, and
the Bhagavad Gîtă. Free from any kind of dogma, Hindu scriptures teach
universal harmony, self-dignity, and reverence for all forms of life.
"All mankind is one family," is the slogan of Hindu sages.
- Sanskrit (meaning "cultured"), the classical language of
Hinduism, is the oldest and the most systematic language in the world. The
vastness, versatility, and power of expression of Sanskrit can be
appreciated by the fact that this language has 65 words to describe various
forms of earth, 67 words for water, and over 250 words to describe various
types of rainfall. According to Forbes magazine (July, 1987), "Sanskrit
is the most convenient language for computer software programming."
- The glory of the Sanskrit literature is described by Juan Mascaro, an
eminent linguist and Sanskrit scholar, "Sanskrit literature is a great
literature. We have the great songs of the Vedas, the splendor of the
Upanishads, the glory of the Bhagavad Gîtă, the vastness (100,000 verses)
of the Mahăbhărata, the tenderness and the heroism found in the Rămăyana,
the wisdom of the fables and stories of India, the scientific philosophy of
Sankhya, the psychological philosophy of yoga, the poetical philosophy of
Vedanta, the Laws of Manu, the grammar of Panini and other scientific
writings, and the lyrical poetry and dramas of Kălidăsa. Sanskrit
literature, on the whole, is a romantic literature interwoven with idealism
and practical wisdom, and with a passionate longing for spiritual
- Panini's Sanskrit grammar, produced in about 300 BCE, is the shortest and
the fullest grammar in the world. According to Sir Monier-Williams (Eng.
Sanskrit scholar, 1819-1899): "The Panini grammar reflects the wondrous
capacity of the human brain, which till today no other country has been able
to produce except India."
- The sacred syllable AUM (), believed to be the sound of creation, when
correctly intoned (recited), is said to include all sounds of music and
associated rhythms. The Vedic hymns are metrical and were recited in music
over five thousand years ago. The Sama Veda is the source of Indian
classical music, which is heavily rooted in spiritualism. Indian music is
not only a melody, but an experience in the unity of the body, mind, and