"Indian mathematics is practical whereas the European is metaphysical"
C K Raju has been arguing passionately through several lectures and books about the uniqueness of ancient Indian mathematics and how it influenced the rest of the world. He says what is taught as standard modern mathematics today, is based on theological positions taken by the Church after the Crusades.Shivanand Kanavi conversed with Raju on the results of his research in the history and philosophy of mathematics.
Shivanand: Dr Raju welcome to peepul ke neeche conversation. Having looked at some of your writings, I see that you have researched deeply into the mathematical tradition of India as well as that of Persia, Arabia and Europe. Could you give us an overview of exchanges between India and West Asia in the field of mathematics?
Raju: As I have stated in the book (Is Science Western in Origin?-C K Raju), the process of exchange with Arabs started with Barmakids (barmak from pramukh, Persian-Buddhists who were wazirs to Abbasid Khalifas--Ed), this was around 8th century CE, after the conquest of Persia by the Arabs. Besides the spread of Islam in Persia, Persian customs spread to the Arabs. There was a tradition in Persia of importing knowledge from all over the world. It was based on a philosophy which regarded knowledge itself as virtue, like the Socratic philosophy. So, to make people virtuous you gather knowledge from all corners of the world. It was begun by Khusrow Noshirvan in the 6th century. At that time Justinian closed all the schools of philosophy in the Roman empire and many philosophers took refuge in the court of Noshirvan. According to the Shahnama [of Firdausi] his wazir came to India and took chess, Panchatantra etc. back to Persia. There was also an astronomical tradition in Jundishapur (Gundeshapur) in Persia. This astronomy also traveled from India. Which is interesting, because Khusrow's court already had the most knowledgeable people in the Roman empire and if the Almagest (Almagest is the Latin form of the Arabic name al-kitabu-l-mijisti, (The Great Book) of a mathematical and astronomical treatise proposing the complex motions of the stars and planetary paths, originally written in Greek by Ptolemy of Alexandria, Egypt, written in the 2nd century. The Almagest is the most important source of information on ancient Greek astronomy-Ed) or any other advanced astronomical text existed at that time then it would have been similarly collected and translated, but we do not hear about it. On the contrary, the Almagest itself starts off by addressing an unknown "Cyrus". So it was probably constructed in Persia. Certainly, Greek knowledge was translated into Persian and later into Arabic. But, so far as astronomy is concerned we know that the very fact that first it went [from India] to Persia and then Baghdad shows that Greek knowledge at that point did not compare in any way with the present-day versions of Ptolemy's Almagest. There was also a strong tradition of neo-Platonism which came through texts in Greek language [though probably it originated in Egypt]. This was called the "theology of Aristotle", and that was the primary extent of "Greek" knowledge at that time. There was no Greek knowledge available from Byzantium at that time since all the schools of philosophy there had been closed. [We also know that Arabic knowledge travelled in the other direction, to Greek texts.] The proof is that Panchatantra is translated from Sanskrit to Pahlavi (and you find its reference in Firdausi's Shahnama) and from Pahlavi it was translated into Arabic and then from Arabic to Greek. Among the Arabs it became the basis of a movement -Ikhwan as- Safa (the Brethren of Purity); so we know the route that knowledge took from India to Greek texts, and it also traveled directly [as in Ashoka's time when Indian texts and medicinal plants went to Alexandria]. The process really took off with Bayt al hikma (The House of Wisdom at Baghdad) which was linked to Islamic rational theology which valued knowledge as a virtue. It was closely related to aql-i-kalaam, which meant Allah has given you aql and one must apply that aql in order to interpret the Koran.