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A Passage to Infinity

After Kim Plofker’s Mathematics in India and a glowing review by Prof. David Mumford there is news of a new book on the Kerala School of Mathematics. The Economic Times has an interview with George Gheevarghese Joseph, the author of A Passage to Infinity

The other strand, the social context of the Kerala School’s achievements, is found in the history of Kerala between the 7th and 14th centuries AD. Around that period, groups of Brahmins began to migrate from the North (mainly from Maharashtra and the Konkan coast of Goa). This continued for the next three or four centuries, bringing with them not only their rituals but their Sanskritic learning.

The impact of this wholesale importation of knowledge and skills cannot be over-estimated. Not only astronomy and mathematics, but architecture, literature and even the very language, Malayalam, were affected beyond recognition. From this group emerged the Nambuthiri Brahmins, wealthy and highly influential in the courts of the rulers in Kerala. Almost all the members of the Kerala School (with two notable exceptions) were from this group.

It is quite likely that these members of the Kerala School constituted a leisured class as the younger sons, who because of the peculiar primogeniture system prevalent, had little or no family responsibilities and could concentrate on scholarship and study, including mathematics and astronomy, if they were so inclined. [‘Indian mathematics loved numbers’]

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