Wikipedia: Narayana Pandit 1

— On Mon, 19/5/08, rajchak1 <rajchak1@…> wrote:
Subject: [indiantheory] Re: Brahmagupta

2) More important: What is your opinion of the Wikipedia history of Indian mathematics and how can it be revised to diminish what you describe as its Eurocentric focus?


Let us try and put together the two things: your desire to try and
correct the Wikipedia, and my idea of exposing it as a means of
perpetuating  myths in history. (I see the inaccuracy of the Wikipedia in history  as generic and intrinsic, since Wikipedia’s primary means of validation  are social indicators.)

I suggest that while making corrections, you document and publicise (a)  the errors in Wikipedia, (b) the process by which the errors arose, and (c) also the time and effort needed to make a correction in the Wikipedia.

There are numerous errors, but let us start with one.

Narayana Pandit, author of Ganita Kaumudi, is described by Wikipedia as  a member of the “Kerala School”.

This is an egregious error, as anyone with the slightest knowledge of India will immediately recognize. When did you last hear of someone from Kerala with the surname “Pandit”? It is like describing someone with the name “O’Leary” as French or Scandinavian: an indication of utter ignorance of the customs of Europe.

It is easy to guess the origin of this error in Wikipedia. Someone looked at the late K. V. Sarma’s account of the “Kerala School”. That lists several Narayans—naturally enough, since Narayana is a common name, and it is the well known custom in the south to name children after grandparents. Since the person writing this Indian history was unfamiliar with India, these Narayana-s were confounded with Narayana Pandit who came from the vicinity of Benares.

While the origin of the error is understandable, its persistence is not since the Wikipedia hangs on to the error with tenacity: when I tried to correct it, my edit was immediately erased!

Why is it important to correct this error? First, because if you see the derivation of the Indian infinite series, the varasamkalita of Narayana Pandit plays a critical role. (This is explained in chp. 3 of my book Cultural Foundations of Mathematics.) The Yuktibhasa simply mentions  varasamkalita and goes ahead. So the Yuktibhasa derivation is incomplete. Since most people do not themselves know know what is in the Yuktibhasa, and typically proceed by guesswork, I have also qoted  (p. 162 of my book)  from Srinivasiengar who laments “The result…is not elementary, and its proof has not been indicated”. (Srinivasiengar’s own proof is nice, but historically irrelevant.)

But if Narayana Pandit from Benares played a key role in the derivation of the infinite series, the whole idea of the infinite series as a development  localized to Kerala is busted. (I have no bias against Kerala, my mother is from there.) So it can no longer be called the “Kerala calculus”, and we do not have to look into Kerala customs to explain it as George Joseph would like to do to play regional politics. Nor are we obliged to give credit to the British as Whiteside did to claim that,  but for the British, Indians would not have known about the Kerala developments.

[We know that after the 13th c. conditions in north India were very turbulent and unsettled and communications between north and south became very difficult. (I have cited Ibn Battuta's account of a journey from Delhi to Cochin, at Tughlaq's behest, where he got robbed at Agra. Also Delhi was twice emptied of its entire population during that period, once by Tuglaq, and once by Timur.)]

How to correct the error? Ask the Wikipedia “experts” for a citation that Narayana Pandit, author of Ganita Kaumudi (and not some arbitrary Narayana) was part of the “Kerala School”. Ask them which part of Ganita Kaumudi refers to any other work by the “Kerala School”? By what logic does Ganita Kaumudi get classified along with the other works of the Aryabhata school of Kerala? Where have the manuscripts of the Ganita Kaumudi been found? etc.

Give them a citation from my published book that Narayana Pandit was from Benares (howsoever you may want to spell the name of that city). You can also cite my book to the effect that the thesis of the “Kerala school” as a localised development is unacceptable.

I have opined that it should properly be called “Aryabhata school”, for that is how members of the “Kerala school” regarded themselves, since there was no concept of Kerala in their time. This is also sociologically interesting  because Aryabhata was a low-caste man, and the members of the “Kerala school” were all Brahmins, including the highest-caste Namboodiri-s.

So, how come some utterly ignorant people came to be recognized as “experts” by Wikipedia, and became the guardians of its “knowledge” against more knowledgeable experts?

Let us understand this process too. But in my next post.

All best,

C. K. Raju

Leave a Reply