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5-08-2015, 23:42

Mathematics and Medicine


The Vedas reveal further mathematical understanding. The people of the Vedic period understood the place value system. That is, they knew 10 is ten

”Like the crest on the peacock’s head,

Like the gem in the cobra’s hood So stands mathematics at the head of all the sciences.”3

—Sanskrit text Vedanga Jyotisa, circa 300s BCE

times greater than 1 and 100 is ten times greater than 10 and so on. The Vedas designate names for each place—daza for tens place, zata for hundreds place, sahasra for thousands place. These place designations went all the way up to the fifty-third power, or 53 zeroes.

More mathematical breakthroughs came about toward the end of the Gupta period, thanks to the work of scholar Aryabhata I. His works and life are the earliest by an Indian mathematician available to current scholars. In approximately 499 CE, he wrote about astronomy and mathematics in Aryabhatiya and Aryabhatasiddhanta, the latter of which has been lost. In Aryabhatasiddhanta, he treats midnight as the start of the day. He is one of the first to do so. While Aryabhatasiddhanta itself no longer exists, its ideas continued in later works. Among other things, Aryabhata provided formulas for determining square and cube roots. He also discussed geometry, including pi. Another of Aryabhata’s achievements was calculating the length of the solar year.


In addition to their mathematical advancements, the ancient Indians developed two systems of medicine: Ayurveda and Siddha. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that translates to “meaning of life.” The Vedas were the first text to mention Ayurveda, which its writers believed to have come from the gods. The Vedas note treatments for a variety of physical ailments, including cough, diarrhea, fever, seizures, skin issues, and tumors.

Ayurveda believes five elements combine to form people: air, earth, fire, water, and ether, or space. When two or more of these elements combine, humans react in specific ways. For example, the combination of earth and water affects growth. Ayurveda also believes each person has a unique balance of these combinations. When a person’s balance is off, Ayurveda suggests ways to restore it, including activity, diet, and massage.

Siddha originated at approximately the same time as Ayurveda and has many similarities. The Siddha system began in southern India. Legend says Siddha came from the Hindu god Shiva. Like Ayurveda, Siddha believes in five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

Siddha focuses on balancing air, fire, and water, believing their imbalance causes problems. Practitioners rely on the pulse for diagnosis.

Treatment may take different paths. In Siddha, prana, or breathing, is the most important function of the body. Controlled breathing is intended to aid healing. Varma is another treatment. It involves manipulating varmam, points where blood vessels, bone, muscle, nerves, and tendons meet.

Like Ayurveda, Siddha looks to nature for healing through herbs. Siddha differs from Ayurveda in that it relies on combining herbs with minerals, especially mercury and sulfur. Siddha uses animal products, too. A treatment might contain an animal’s blood, bones, brain, horns, liver, or skull. Practitioners also use reptile tissue in some medicines.

The Power of Turmeric

Ayurveda advocates dozens of herbs to improve health and wellness, but turmeric is one of the most frequently mentioned. The herb is part of the ginger family and native to India. The spice is an orange-yellow color and has a distinct flavor. It is made by boiling the turmeric plant’s roots and then drying them in the sun for five to seven days. Ayurveda values turmeric for its antiseptic, or germ-destroying, qualities, which are useful in treating people internally and externally. Modern practitioners still prescribe the herb for a variety of different ailments, including Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and wounds.

to enlightenment, he did so in padmasana, a yoga pose commonly referred to as the lotus position. Yoga’s existence extends well beyond the Buddha’s time. It is at least as old as Mohenjo-Daro. Some of the seals discovered in the ancient city depict people in a variety of yoga positions, including padmasana.

Yoga means “union” or “yoking” in Sanskrit. It is a system of philosophy and healing that relies on the mind and body working together. The ancient Indian writer Patanjali, who lived in the 100s BCE, wrote about

According to Buddhist beliefs, Buddha sat in the lotus yoga position in his final step before becoming the Buddha, as depicted by this modern statue.

yoga in the Yoga-sutras. This is the earliest known literature about yoga. Previously, it had been passed down orally.

Yoga has eight stages. The second and third make up the yoga people associate with the modern practice. Asana, “seat,” is a series of body positions that increase strength and flexibility. Pranayama, “breath control,” consists of exercises that focus on breathing. The other stages focus on ethics and the mind.

While many practitioners today use yoga as simply a form of exercise, the people of ancient India sought more. By mastering yoga’s stages, a practitioner would gain control of different aspects of being, which was important in obtaining spiritual goals. Siddhartha practiced yoga on his path to enlightenment.