India – World Guru of Mathematics (Part – 4)

Posted on August 23, 2011



The Brahmi numerals have been found in inscriptions in caves and on coins in regions near Poona, Bombay, and Uttar Pradesh. Dating these numerals tells us that they were in use over quite a long time span up to the 4thcentury AD. Of course different inscriptions differ somewhat in the style of the symbols.

The Bhrami Numerals

We should now look both forward and backward from the appearance of the Brahmi numerals. Moving forward leads to many different forms of numerals. Around 3rd century BC two forms of writing were used in India, Kharoshti and Brahmi, and each one had its own numerals. The Kharoshti system is interesting because the number four was selected as the intermediate stage between 1 and 10. It is likely that the oblique cross (x) used as a 4 tempted the creators of the Kharoshti numbers by its simplicity of writing while still preserving the modeling quality in full (four rays). The Brahmi numerals are more economical. It is believed that the first nine Brahmi characters finally gave rise to our modern numerals.

The Gupta Numerals

Now we shall choose to examine the path which has led to our present day symbols. First, however, we look at a number of different theories concerning the origin of the Brahmi numerals.

If we examine the route which led from the Brahmi numerals to our present symbols (and ignore the many other systems which evolved from the Brahmi

The Nagari Numerals

numerals) then we next come to the Gupta symbols. The Gupta period is that during which the Gupta dynasty ruled over the Magadha state in northeastern India, and this was from the early 4th century AD to the late 6th century AD. The Gupta numerals developed from the Brahmi numerals and were spread over large areas by the Gupta Empire as they conquered territory.

The Gupta numerals evolved into the Nagari numerals, sometimes called the Devanagari numerals. This form evolved from the Gupta numerals beginning around the 7th century AD and continued to develop from the 11th century onward. The name literally means the “writing of the gods” and it was the considered the most beautiful of all the forms which evolved.


Al-Biruni writes:-

“What we [the Arabs] use for numerals is a selection of the best and most regular figures in India.”

These “most regular figures” which al-Biruni refers to are the

Nagari numerals which had, by his time have been transmitted into the Arab world. The way in which the Indian numerals were spread to the rest of the world between the 7th to the 16th centuries as mentioned earlier.

Periodical Changes of The Bhrami Numerals

….. Continues (Indian Number System)

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Posted in: Mathematics