Aryabhatta is usually credited to have invented the number zero, at the least in India. One of the arguments for it is that he knew the place value system of the 10s, 100s, 1000s, etc. But this argument takes the use of zero back to 1500-1200 BCE. In the white Yajurveda (17.2), this very system is mentioned upto 12 zeros. It is Brahmagupta’s book on math, Brahmasphutasiddhanta (kuttukadhyaya, 30), where we see an obvious mention of zero (shunya) being used as a number to describe the difference between, for example, +2 & -2. This is back in 7th century CE.
I wanted to find a similar text where zero or shunya had been used as a specific number or digit. I then found one book, dated around 200-100 BCE, called the Chhanda-Sutra or Chhanda-Shastra, written by Pingala. It is a book on sanskrit prosody. It describes various precise calculations regarding precise poetic meters. In its sutra numbers 28 & 29 of chapter 8, Pingala mentions a certain calculation for which he uses two numbers as place markers. The numbers he uses are two (dvi) & zero (shunya). His formula is based on halving a number. For example, if you have to halve number 6, you should write ‘2’ next to it signifying that it has been divided into ‘two’ parts. Then minus 3 from 6 (its half), and you get 3. As 3 is an odd number, and as the author suggests to subtract 1 from it to make it even, it is not halved yet. Hence ‘o’ is written next to it signifying that number 3 has been divided into zero parts (no parts). The next calculation is not related to this discussion.
I first had a doubt about the usage of the word ‘shunya’ in the sutras. But the single most point that it has been used along with the number ‘two’, signifying into how many parts is a number divided (2 for two parts, 0 for no parts), I am pretty sure that zero has been regarded as a separate number by Pingala back in the 2nd or 1st century BCE. It might not be necessarily true that Pingala invented the number ‘shunya’. But it is possible that he knew it as a separate number.
Mr. Dinanath Batra is the man who got indologist Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus- An Alternative History’ banned in India on the accusation of it projecting hinduism as being filled with sexual elements. Last year I got a chance to see him live in Chandigarh. After his speech, he was to answer questions from the public. As was asked, I also wrote my question on a paper. Two other men sitting next to Mr. Batra filtered out my letter (probably due to consequent embarrassment), and it never reached Mr. Batra. So I sent him the same question as a letter by post. Following is the letter.
“Respected Batra ji
I am Satyan, a post grad student of Sanskrit at the Panjab University, Chandigarh. I was there at your seminar at the Law Bhavan, Chandigarh on January 17. It was the first time I saw you speaking live. After you spoke, there was a question-answer session. I too sent my question written on a slip. It did not reach you as it was filtered out by Mr. Kuthiala and Mr. K.S. Arya. The question is important as it relates to your social audit of books. Here is the question (originally in Hindi):
You got Wendy Doniger’s book banned due to the presence of sexually explicit content in it. In the Vamana Purana(chapter 6) Shiva has been depicted as a lustful person and his ‘linga’ has been depicted as phallus quite clearly. In the Bhagawata Purana (canto 8, chapter 12) the story of Shiva running lustfully after Mohini and his consequent ejaculation is mentioned. Also there (canto 10, chapter 29, verses 45-46) is the story of Krishna’s rasa-leela in which he is depicted as doing something which is sexual in nature. In the Garuda Purana (chapter 109, verses 27 onward) there is a very sexually explicit and disrespectful mention of women. What do you think about such Hindu scriptures?
I had seen your full interview with Abhinandan Sekhri on youtube. You had mentioned your aversion to the mention of Shiva linga as Shiva’s phallus. Also you had mentioned that the cover of Wendy Doniger’s book has a picture of Krishna’s feet on Gopis’ breasts (mentioned as a wish of Gopis in Bhagawata Purana, canto 10, chapter 31 which is fulfilled in chapter 32). I was wondering that the things you mentioned as being bad, have been mentioned in the Hindu scriptures alone.
I request you to throw light on this issue. I was deprived of your views on my question at the Law Bhavan. I hope I receive your views duly this time.”
And I got his reply. He did not at all talk about the scripture references I had given. The crux of his reply was that we should forget those images (in the scriptures) that move us into sensuality/sexuality & remember those parts which make us introverts.
Anyone can verify those scripture references. All I want to show is the bias he holds for the Hindu scriptures. Even though some Hindu scriptures do contain some sexual element, he does not want to give the same reaction (getting banned) towards them.
Original reply by Mr. Batra: