Bhaskaracharya … By Prof. Mohan Apte
The period between 500 and 1200 AD was the golden age of Indian Astronomy. In this long span of time Indian Astronomy flourished mainly due to eminent astronomers like Aryabhat, Lallacharya, Varahamihir, Brahmagupta, Bhaskaracharya and others. Bhaskaracharya’s Siddhanta Shiromani is considered as the pinnacle of all the astronomical works of those 700 hundred years. It can be aptly called the “essence” of ancient Indian Astronomy and mathematics. In the ninth century Brahmagupta’s Brahmasphutasiddhanta was translated in Arabic. The title of the translation was ‘Sind Hind’. This translation proved to be a watershed event in the history of numbers. The Arabs quickly grasped the importance of the Indian decimal system of numbers. They played a key role in transmitting this system of numbers to Europeans. For a long time Europeans were using Roman Numerals, which were very tedious to handle. After accepting the decimal system of numbers, European mathematicians made a remarkable progress in mathematics, but that was about 500 years after Bhaskaracharya.
From 750 AD Onwards India was engulfed in waves of foreign attacks. In 1205 AD Bakhtiyar Khilji destroyed the magnificent Nalanda University, which was a renowned center of knowledge for about 800 years. India was in utter chaotic state till the country was colonized by British. All universities and learning centers in India were destroyed, knowledge was lost and hardly any progress was made in mathematics and astronomy. A few scholars like Keshav Daivadnya, Ganesh Daivadnya Madhav, Sawai Jai Singh and others tried to keep the flame of knowledge burning in that dark period.
Birth and Education of Bhaskaracharya :
Ganesh Daivadnya has bestowed a very apt title on Bhaskaracharya. He has called him ‘Ganakchakrachudamani’, which means, ‘a gem among all the calculators of astronomical phenomena.’ Bhaskaracharya himself has written about his birth, his place of residence, his teacher and his education, in Siddhantashiromani as follows,
‘ A place called ‘Vijjadveed’, which is surrounded by Sahyadri ranges, where there are scholars of three Vedas, where all branches of knowledge are studied, and where all kinds of noble people reside, a brahmin called Maheshwar was staying, who was born in Shandilya Gotra (in Hindu religion, Gotra is similar to lineage from a particular person, in this case sage Shandilya), well versed in Shroud (originated from ‘Shut’ or ‘Vedas’) and ‘Smart’ (originated from ‘Smut’) Dharma, respected by all and who was authority in all the branches of knowledge. I acquired knowledge at his feet’.
From this verse it is clear that Bhaskaracharya was a resident of Vijjadveed and his father Maheshwar taught him mathematics and astronomy. Unfortunately today we have no idea where Vijjadveed was located. It is necessary to ardently search this place which was surrounded by the hills of Sahyadri and which was the center of learning at the time of Bhaskaracharya. He writes about his year of birth as follows,
‘I was born in Shake 1036 (1114 AD) and I wrote Siddhanta Shiromani when I was 36 years old.’
Bhaskaracharya has also written about his education. Looking at the knowledge, which he acquired in a span of 36 years, it seems impossible for any modern student to achieve that feat in his entire life. See what Bhaskaracharya writes about his education,
‘I have studied eight books of grammar, six texts of medicine, six books on logic, five books of mathematics, four Vedas, five books on Bharat Shastras, and two Mimansas’.
Bhaskaracharya calls himself a poet and most probably he was Vedanti, since he has mentioned ‘Parambrahman’ in that verse.