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Celebrating the past and future of Indian Maths.

Celebrating the past and future of Indian Maths T HE Commonwealth Games is not the only international event India is hosting this year. An event of far greater import is beginning in Hyderabad on Thursday -- the International Congress of Mathematics ( ICM). Like the Games, this one also takes place every four years and there is stiff completion among countries to host it.

This is the first time India is hosting the congress since its inception in Zurich in 1897.

And much like the games, medals will be awarded to the most distinguished mathematicians -- the top most being the Fields Medal which is considered the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

The Indian bid for hosting this event was made first in 2004.

Canada was the other bidder, while Australia had withdrawn its bid earlier. One of the factors that went in India's favour, besides issues like funding and logistics, was the long tradition of mathematical research in India, spanning three millennia, which continues even now. We have a large mathematics community and a number of eminent mathematicians.

Whenever we talk of mathematics, a few images come to our mind -- India gave to the world the concept of zero and decimal place- value system, Srinivasa Ramanujam was a great Indian mathematician and that the knowledge of mathematics has given the country an edge in the field of software. All this is true, but it is not the complete story.

A ninth century inscription in a temple in Gwalior with the number 270 appearing in it bears testimony to the early writing of numbers in a way that is now common. The earliest explicit statement of what we have all studied as Pythagoras' Theorem goes back to an ancient text called Baudhayana Sulvasutra, dating back to 800 BC. Aryabhatt described algorithms for solving intermediate equations and for finding square roots and cube roots as well as the value of Pi. Similarly, Brahmagupta developed formulas for determining products of sums of squares and areas of cyclic quadrilaterals. Siddhartha, Mahavira, Jayadeva and Bhaskara worked on several topics in arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Nilakantha Somayaji of the ' Madhava School' in the 15th century made considerable progress in mathematical analysis which anticipated the work of later Western analysts contributing to the emergence of calculus. In modern times, Ramanujam made great contributions which continue to be interpreted even today.

ICM provides an opportunity for all of us not just to reflect at this glorious past but also to cheer up Indian mathematicians who continue to work silently to make life simpler for us. After all, mathematical equations and algorithms are at the heart of all machines and software that drives them, propelling technologies that make our lives simpler.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Aug 19, 2010
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