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B. van Nooten:- ” Binary Numbers in Indian Antiquity”, Journal of Indian Studies, Volume 21, 1993, pp. 31-50

B. van Nooten:- ” Binary Numbers in Indian Antiquity”, Journal of Indian Studies, Volume 21, 1993, pp. 31-50

Binary numbers form the basis for the operation of computers. Binary numbers were discovered in the west by German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz in 1695. However, new evidence proves that binary numbers were used in India prior to 2nd century A.D., more than 1500 years before their discovery in the west, or even before 5000 BC as it is believed to be the age of vedic period.
Ancient India had a tradition of scholarly learning. This tradition continued till the beginning of current millennium. During the millennium long foreign rule hostile to scholarly activities, a vast body of scientific information was lost. Thankfully some of the ancient literature has survived. Most of the scholarly work needed to preserve the ancient learning was done in South India which remained free from invasion for a significant time. Scholars are now rediscovering the forgotten contributions of ancient India in the field of mathematics and science. One of these discoveries is that of the use of Binary numbers for the classification of meters.


The source of this discovery is a text of music by Pingala named “Chhandahshastra” meaning science of meters. This text falls under the category of “Sutra” or aphorismic statements. Detailed discussions of these short but profound statements are found in later commentaries. “Chhandahshastra” can be conservatively dated to 2nd century A.D. The main commentaries on “Chhandahshastra” are “Vrittaratnakara” by Kedara in probably 8th century, “Tatparyatika” by Trivikrama in 12th century and “Mritasanjivani” by Halayudha in 13th century. The full significance of Pingala’s work can be understood by the explanations found in these three commentaries.
Pingala (Chhandahshastra 8.23) describes the formation of a matrix in order to give a unique value to each meter.


REF: This subject has been discussed in detail in a scholarly article (B. van Nooten, “Binary Numbers in Indian Antiquity”, Journal of Indian Studies, Volume 21, 1993, pp. 31-50). This article along with several other articles pertaining to the contribution of ancient India to the field of computer science has been published in a book titled “Computing Science in Ancient India” edited by T. R. N. Rao and Subhash Kak.


“Chhandahshastra” can be conservatively dated to 2nd century A.D. it’s origin can be even 1000’s of years before that, since it is a part of vedic literature and has been given the rare status of a vedanga..

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