Neither Vedic Nor Mathematics

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned by the continuing attempts to thrust the so-called `Vedic Mathematics' on the school curriculum by the NCERT. 

As has been pointed out earlier on several occasions, the so-called 'Vedic Mathematics' is neither 'Vedic' nor can it be dignified by the name of mathematics. 'Vedic Mathematics', as is well-known, originated with a book of the same name by a former Sankracharya of Puri (the late Jagadguru Swami Shri Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaj) published posthumously in 1965. The book assembled a set of tricks in elementary arithmetic and algebra to be applied in performing computations with numbers and polynomials. As is pointed out even in the foreword to the book by the General Editor, Dr. A.S. Agarwala, the aphorisms in Sanskrit to be found in the book have nothing to do with the Vedas. Nor are these aphorisms to be found in the genuine Vedic literature.

The term "Vedic mathematics'' is therefore entirely misleading and factually incorrect. Further, it is clear from the notation used in the arithmetical tricks in the book that the methods used in this text have nothing to do with the arithmetical techniques of antiquity. Many of the Sanskrit aphorisms in the book are totally cryptic (ancient Indian mathematical writing was anything but cryptic) and often so generalize to be devoid of any specific mathematical meaning. There are several authoritative texts on the mathematics of Vedic times that could used in part to teach an authoritative and correct account of ancient Indian mathematics but this book clearly cannot be used for any such purpose. The teaching of mathematics involves both the teaching of the basic concepts of the subject as well as methods of mathematical computation. The so-called "Vedic mathematics'' is entirely inadequate to this task considering that it is largely made up of tricks to do some elementary arithmetic computations. Many of these can be far more easily performed on a simple computer or even an advanced calculator.

The book "Vedic mathematics'' essentially deals with arithmetic of the middle and high-school level. Its claims that "there is no part of mathematics, pure or applied, which is beyond their jurisdiction'' is simply ridiculous. In an era when the content of mathematics teaching has to be carefully designed to keep pace with the general explosion of knowledge and the needs of other modern professions that use mathematical techniques, the imposition of ``Vedic mathematics'' will be nothing short of calamitous.

India today has active and excellent schools of research and teaching in mathematics that are at the forefront of modern research in their discipline with some of them recognised as being among the best in the world in their fields of research. It is noteworthy that they have cherished the legacy of distinguished Indian mathematicians like Srinivasa Ramanujam, V. K. Patodi, S. Minakshisundaram, Harish Chandra, K. G. Ramanathan, Hansraj Gupta, Syamdas Mukhopadhyay, Ganesh Prasad, and many others including several living Indian mathematicians. But not one of these schools has lent an iota of legitimacy to `Vedic mathematics'. Nowhere in the world does any school system teach "Vedic mathematics'' or any form of ancient mathematics for that matter as an adjunct to modern mathematical teaching. The bulk of such teaching belongs properly to the teaching of history and in particular the teaching of the history of the sciences.

We consider the imposition of `Vedic mathematics' by a Government agency, as the perpetration of a fraud on our children, condemning particularly those dependent on public education to a sub-standard mathematical education. Even if we assumed that those who sought to impose `Vedic mathematics' did so in good faith, it would have been appropriate that the NCERT seek the assistance of renowned Indian mathematicians to evaluate so-called "Vedic mathematics" before making it part of the National Curricular framework for School Education. Appallingly they have not done so. In this context we demand that the NCERT submit the proposal for the introduction of `Vedic mathematics in the school curriculum to recognized bodies of mathematical experts in India, in particular the National Board of Higher Mathematics (under the Dept. of Atomic Energy), and the Mathematics sections of the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy, for a thorough and critical examination. In the meanwhile no attempt should be made to thrust the subject into the school curriculum either through the centrally administered school system or by trying to impose it on the school systems of various States.

We are concerned that the essential thrust behind the campaign to introduce the so-called 'Vedic mathematics' has more to do with promoting a particular brand of religious majoritarianism and associated obscurantist ideas rather than any serious and meaningful development of mathematics teaching in India. We note that similar concerns have been expressed about other aspects too of the National Curricular Framework for School Education. We re-iterate our firm conviction that all teaching and pedagogy, not just the teaching of mathematics, must be founded on rational, scientific and secular principles.

S.G.Dani Professor of Mathematics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
Madhav M. Deshpande Professor of Sanskrit and Linguistics Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan
Indranil Biswas Professor of Mathematics at TIFR.
Nirmala B. Limaye Professor of Mathematics University of Mumbai
B.V. Limaye Professor of Mathematics Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Alladi Sitaram, Indian Statistical Institute, B'lore
S. Ramasubramanian, Indian Statistical Inst.,B'ore
V. Pati, Indian Statistical Inst., B'lore
G. Misra, Indian Statistical Inst., B'lore
Jishnu Biswas, Indian Statistical Inst., B'lore
D. P. Sengupta, Indian Inst. of Science(Retd.), B'lore
Alladi Uma, Dept. of English, Univ. of Hyderabad
M. Sridhar, Dept. of English, Univ. of Hyderabad
Amitava Bhattacharya
S.Subramanian, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Mumbai
Professor Nitin Nitsure,Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai

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