Bhaskara (1114–1185), also known as Bhaskara II and Bhaskaracharya (“Bhaskara the teacher”), was an Indian mathematician and astronomer. He was born near Vijjadavida (Bijapur in modern Karnataka). Bhaskara is alleged to have been the head of an astronomical observatory at Ujjain, the leading mathematical center of ancient India. He lived in the Sahyadri region.
Bhaskara and his works represent a significant contribution to mathematical and astronomical knowledge in the 12th century. He has been called the greatest mathematician of medieval India. His main work Siddhanta Shiromani, (Sanskrit for “Crown of treatises,”) is divided into four parts called Lilavati, Bijaganita, Grahaganita and Goladhyaya. These four sections deal with arithmetic, algebra, mathematics of the planets, and spheres respectively. He also wrote another treatise named Karan Kautoohal.
Bhaskara’s work on calculus predates Newton and Leibniz by half a millennium. He is particularly known in the discovery of the principles of differential calculus and its application to astronomical problems and computations. While Newton and Leibniz have been credited with differential and integral calculus, there is strong evidence to suggest that Bhaskara was a pioneer in some of the principles of differential calculus. He was perhaps the first to conceive the differential coefficient and differential calculus.
Bhaskaracharya was born into a family belonging to the Deshastha Brahmin community. History records his great-great-great-grandfather holding a hereditary post as a court scholar, as did his son and other descendants. His father Mahesvara was as an astrologer, who taught him mathematics, which he later passed on to his son Loksamudra. Loksamudra’s son helped to set up a school in 1207 for the study of Bhaskara’s writings.
Bhaskara’s arithmetic text Lilavati covers the topics of definitions, arithmetical terms, interest computation, arithmetical and geometrical progressions, plane geometry, solid geometry, the shadow of the gnomon, methods to solve indeterminate equations, and combinations.
Lilavati is divided into 13 chapters and covers many branches of mathematics, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and a little trigonometry and mensuration.
His Bijaganita (”Algebra”) was a work in twelve chapters. It was the first text to recognize that a positive number has two square roots (a positive and negative square root).
The Siddhanta Shiromani (written in 1150) demonstrates Bhaskara’s knowledge of trigonometry, including the sine table and relationships between different trigonometric functions. He also discovered spherical trigonometry, along with other interesting trigonometrical results. In particular Bhaskara seemed more interested in trigonometry for its own sake than his predecessors who saw it only as a tool for calculation.
His work, the Siddhanta Shiromani, is an astronomical treatise and contains many theories not found in earlier works. Preliminary concepts of infinitesimal calculus and mathematical analysis, along with a number of results in trigonometry, differential calculus and integral calculus that are found in the work are of particular interest.
Evidence suggests Bhaskara was acquainted with some ideas of differential calculus. It seems, however, that he did not understand the utility of his researches, and thus historians of mathematics generally neglect this achievement.
Madhava (1340–1425) and the Kerala School mathematicians (including Parameshvara) from the 14th century to the 16th century expanded on Bhaskara’s work and further advanced the development of calculus in India.
Using an astronomical model developed by Brahmagupta in the 7th century, Bhaskara accurately defined many astronomical quantities, including, for example, the length of the sidereal year, the time that is required for the Earth to orbit the Sun, as 365.2588 days which is same as in Surya siddhanta. The modern accepted measurement is 365.2563 days, a difference of just 3.5 minutes.
His mathematical astronomy text Siddhanta Shiromani is written in two parts: the first part on mathematical astronomy and the second part on the sphere.
His book on arithmetic is the source of interesting legends that assert that it was written for his daughter, Lilavati. In one of these stories, which is found in a Persian translation of Lilavati, Bhaskara II studied Lilavati’s horoscope and predicted that her husband would die soon after the marriage if the marriage did not take place at a particular time. To alert his daughter at the correct time, he placed a cup with a small hole at the bottom of a vessel filled with water, arranged so that the cup would sink at the beginning of the propitious hour. He put the device in a room with a warning to Lilavati to not go near it. In her curiosity though, she went to look at the device and a pearl from her nose ring accidentally dropped into it, thus upsetting it. The marriage took place at the wrong time and she was soon widowed.
Bhaskara II conceived the modern mathematical convention that when a finite number is divided by zero, the result is infinity. In his book Lilavati, he reasons: “In this quantity also which has zero as its divisor there is no change even when many [quantities] have entered into it or come out [of it], just as at the time of destruction and creation when throngs of creatures enter into and come out of [him, there is no change in] the infinite and unchanging [Vishnu]”.