By J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Baudhayana was an Indian mathematican who lived around 800 BCE. He is the author of earliest Sulbasutras which containscalculation of value of pi, Pythagoras theorem, calculating square root of 2 and circling the square. He is credited with calculating pi and Pythagoras theorem before Pythagoras.
Little else is known about him except that he was the author of one of the earliest Sulbasutras. He was neither a mathematician in the sense that we would understand it today, nor a scribe who simply copied manuscripts. He would certainly have been a man of very considerable learning and undoubtedly wrote the Sulbasutra to provide rules for religious rites.
Use of mathematics in construction of Altars
The mathematics given in the Sulbasutras enables the accurate construction of altars needed for sacrifices. It is clear from the writing that Baudhayana, as well as being a Vedic priest, must have been a skilled craftsman. He was skilled in the practical use of the mathematics and construction of sacrificial altars of the highest quality.
Baudhayana's Sulbasutra is the oldest which we possess and, it would be fair to say, one of the two most important. In one chapter, it contains geometric solutions of a linear equation in a single unknown. Quadratic equations of the forms ax<super>2</super> = c and ax<super>2</super> + bx = c appear.
Value of Pi
Several values of π (pi) occur in Baudhayana's Sulbasutra. Specifically, Baudhayana uses different approximations for π when constructing circular shapes. Constructions are given which are equivalent to taking π equal to 676/225 (where 676/225 = 3.004), 900/289 (where 900/289 = 3.114) and to 1156/361 (where 1156/361 = 3.202).
Value of square root of 2
An interesting, and quite accurate, approximate value for √2 is given in Chapter 1 verse 61 of Baudhayana's Sulbasutra. The Sanskrit text gives in words what we would write in symbols as
√2 = 1 + 1/3 + 1/(3×4) - 1/(3×4×34)= 577/408
which is, to nine places, 1.414215686 and is correct to five decimal places. This is surprising since, as we mentioned above, great mathematical accuracy did not seem necessary for the building work described. If the approximation was given as
√2 = 1 + 1/3 + 1/(3×4)
then the error is of the order of 0.002 which is still more accurate than any of the values of π. Thus, it is unclear as to why Baudhayana felt the need for a better approximation.
- G G Joseph, The crest of the peacock (London, 1991).
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- S C Kak, Three old Indian values of π, Indian J. Hist. Sci. 32 (4) (1997), 307-314.
- G Kumari, Some significant results of algebra of pre-Aryabhata era, Math. Ed. (Siwan) 14 (1) (1980), B5-B13.