India – A land of metrics and measurement

There is rhythm in everything in life. Be it the seasons, the rise and fall of the sun and the tides in the ocean. The Vedas are also recited in a certain rhythm. Thus, there is no doubt about the prevalence of an advanced system of measurement and counting in India. This can be substantiated with the findings of measuring weights in the archaeological sites of Lothal and many other places of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The Indian measurements of Yojana (for measuring distance) and Yuga (for measuring Time) can be found way back in the Rig Veda.

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The decimal system, which is the backbone of the metric system, which itself originated in India, speaks volumes about the far reaching scope and advancement of Indian system of measurement. Infact, the Greeks and Romans were fairly limited in their scope of the largest counting possible. For the Greeks, the Myriad was the highest number which is the 4th power of 10 (or 10,000) and for the Romans, it was Mille or the 3rd power of 10 (or 1000). In India, Parardha was 10,000,000,000,000,000 (or 16th power of 10). The Jain text Lalitavistara in fact lists the place values of 10 to the power of 145! In texts belonging to the Vedic literature, we find individual Sanskrit names for each of the powers of 10 up to a trillion and even 10 to the power 62.

Such advanced numerical classifications were laid down by Sage Medhatithi in the Rig Veda along with the verses of Artharva and Yujur Veda. Thus we see how proficient ancient Indians were in denoting very large numbers. Al-Biruni, the persian scholar observed how Indians “integrated sound, phonetics, phonology, physiology, semantics, syntax, grammar, prose and poetry to convey art, science, mathematics and philosophy, seamlessly and with sublimity. These disciplines were all integrated as one holistic knowledge system.” – Roots in India, by D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari.

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J.B. Bernal in his work Science in History, said about the Indian Place Value notation – “A fundamental contribution for integer which simultaneously led to a consistent definition of zero and fixed alphabet system for number representation. This technical device had almost the same effect on arithmetic as the discovery of the alphabet on writing; before that arithmetic was a mystery.”

The words “Metric” and “meter” come from the Greek word Metron, Latin Metri and the Sanskrit word Matra. They all mean “measure”.

Reference: “Roots in India”- Autobiography of India series by D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari by Garuda Prakashan.