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Throughout history peoples of all nations have looked to India as the most creative and original of civilizations. To be specific, medieval and ancient scholars from Arabia, Spain, China and even Greece— all acknowledged their indebtedness to Indian science. For example, a medieval Arab scholar Sa'id ibn Ahmad al-Andalusi (1029-1070) wrote in his Tabaqat al-'umam, one of the earliest books on history of sciences:|
"The first nation to have cultivated science is India. ... India is known for the wisdom of its people. Over many centuries, all
the kings of the past have recognized the ability of the Indians in all the branches of knowledge.
"The kings of China have stated that the kings of the world are five in number and all the people of the world are their
subjects. They mentioned the king of China, the king of India, the king of the Turks, the king of the Persians, and the king of
"... They referred to the king of India as the "king of wisdom" because of the Indians' careful treatment of 'ulum [sciences]
and all the branches of knowledge.
"The Indians, known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal [essence] of wisdom, the source of fairness and
objectivity. They are people of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions.
"... To their credit the Indians have made great strides in the study of numbers and of geometry. They have acquired
immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of the movements of the stars [astronomy] ... After all that
they have surpassed all other peoples in their knowledge of medical sciences ..."
When the necessary allowance is made for the exuberance of the writer and even some exaggeration, it is clear that no one until
the coming of the modern Europeans (and their Indian disciples) questioned the antiquity of Indian science. In his book al-Andalusi
goes on to give details of several Indian texts on astronomy and tells us that the Arab scholars used them in preparing their own
Not only Medieval Arabs, even some early Christian scholars recognized Indian contributions. Writing in 662 AD, when the
Byzantine Empire was its height and it was thought that there was no knowledge beyond Greek knowledge, Sebokht, the Bishop of
Qinnesrin in North Syria observed:
"I will omit all discussion of the science of the Hindus [Indians], a people not the same as Syrians, their subtle discoveries in
the science of astronomy, discoveries more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians; their valuable
method of calculation [the decimal system]; their computing that surpasses description. I wish only to say that this
computation is done by means of nine signs. If those who believe because they speak Greek, that they have reached the
limits of science should know these things, they would be convinced that there are also others who know
The reference of course is to the famous place decimal system using zero invented by the Hindus. (It is often called the Arabic
numeral system, but the Arabs themselves called it the Indian system acknowledging their indebtedness to India.) In fact the Greek
(and the Roman) method of computing and solving equations was cumbersome in the extreme when compared to the method used
by Indians. Mathematics as we know today would hardly be possible without this invention— probably the greatest single advance
in the history of mathematics.