Biography

Name

While there is a tendency to misspell his name as "Aryabhatta" by analogy with other names having the "bhatta" suffix, his name is properly spelled Aryabhata: every astronomical text spells his name thus,[1] including Brahmagupta's references to him "in more than a hundred places by name".[2] Furthermore, in most instances "Aryabhatta" does not fit the metre either.[1]

Birth

Aryabhata mentions in the Aryabhatiya that it was composed 3,600 years into the Kali Yuga, when he was 23 years old. This corresponds to 499 CE, and implies that he was born in 476 CE.[1] Aryabhata provides no information about his place of birth. The only information comes from Bhāskara I, who describes Aryabhata as āśmakīya, "one belonging to the aśmaka country." While aśmaka was originally situated in the northwest of India, it is widely attested that, during the Buddha's time, a branch of the Aśmaka people settled in the region between the Narmada and Godavari rivers, in the South Gujarat–North Maharashtra region of central India. Aryabhata is believed to have been born there.[1][3] However, early Buddhist texts describe Ashmaka as being further south, in dakshinapath or the Deccan, while other texts describe the Ashmakas as having fought Alexander, which would put them further north.[3]

Work

It is fairly certain that, at some point, he went to Kusumapura for advanced studies and that he lived there for some time.[4] Both Hindu and Buddhist tradition, as well as Bhāskara I (CE 629), identify Kusumapura as Pāṭaliputra, modern Patna.[1] A verse mentions that Aryabhata was the head of an institution (kulapa) at Kusumapura, and, because the university of Nalanda was in Pataliputra at the time and had an astronomical observatory, it is speculated that Aryabhata might have been the head of the Nalanda university as well.[1] Aryabhata is also reputed to have set up an observatory at the Sun temple in Taregana, Bihar.[5]

Other hypotheses

It was suggested that Aryabhata may have been from Kerala, but K. V. Sarma, an authority on Kerala's astronomical tradition, disagreed[1] and pointed out several errors in this hypothesis.[6] Aryabhata mentions "Lanka" on several occasions in the Aryabhatiya, but his "Lanka" is an abstraction, standing for a point on the equator at the same longitude as his Ujjayini.[7]

Works

Aryabhata is the author of several treatises on mathematics and astronomy, some of which are lost. His major work, Aryabhatiya, a compendium of mathematics and astronomy, was extensively referred to in the Indian mathematical literature and has survived to modern times. The mathematical part of the Aryabhatiya covers arithmetic, algebra, plane trigonometry, and spherical trigonometry. It also contains continued fractions, quadratic equations, sums-of-power series, and a table of sines. The Arya-siddhanta, a lost work on astronomical computations, is known through the writings of Aryabhata's contemporary, Varahamihira, and later mathematicians and commentators, including Brahmagupta and Bhaskara I. This work appears to be based on the older Surya Siddhanta and uses the midnight-day reckoning, as opposed to sunrise in Aryabhatiya. It also contained a description of several astronomical instruments: the gnomon (shanku-yantra), a shadow instrument (chhAyA-yantra), possibly angle-measuring devices, semicircular and circular (dhanur-yantra / chakra-yantra), a cylindrical stick yasti-yantra, an umbrella-shaped device called the chhatra-yantra, and water clocks of at least two types, bow-shaped and cylindrical.[3] A third text, which may have survived in the Arabic translation, is Al ntf or Al-nanf. It claims that it is a...