Temple architecture

The oldest recorded zero symbol in the world is at Chaturbhuj temple in Gwalior

Every passionate about Indian history must have visited the cultural center of Gwalior in the heart of the country. Once ruled by the Rajput dynasty of the Tomars, it was passed down to the Mughal Empire during the reign of Babur in the early 16th century. The city was also home to the musician and poet Tansen, one of the Nine Jewels (navratnas) in Akbar’s court. Therefore, Gwalior Gharana is not only one of the oldest Hindustani classical music schools in the country, but also the most revered.

The current town, which formed the nucleus of the former princely state of Gwalior ruled by the Maratha Scindia clan, is best known for the formidable fort of Gwalior. Legend has it that it was named in honor of the Hindu saint Gwalipa, who allegedly cured a local leader of leprosy. It is also the site where Rani Lakshmibai breathed his last during the revolt of 1857.

Built atop Gopachal Parvat, the largest of the five groups of 15th-century rock-hewn Jain monuments, Gwalior Fort is teeming with awe-inspiring architectural feats that are reflected in its palaces, temples, and some reservoirs. Some of the most visited sites here include the Dravidian-style Teli-ka-Mandir, the Gujari Mahal, built by Raja Man Singh for his queen Mrignayani; the Man Mandir Palace, built during the reign of Tomar but also where Aurangzeb is said to have imprisoned and executed his brother; and the two-pillar Sas-Bahu temples.

It is the Chaturbhuj Temple, however, that has continually piqued the interest of mathematicians of all eras. A 9th-century plaque on a temple wall depicts the circular number “O,” considered by most to be the oldest recorded symbol of zero as we know and use it today.

On the way to Haathi pol or Elephant Gate of Gwalior Fort, Chaturbhuj Temple was built in AD 876 and is dedicated to the Hindu god of Vishnu. The inscriptions on the plaque refer to the number twice; in concession for a plot of land spread over 270 x 167 hastas—An old unit of length measured from tip of middle finger to elbow — as well as another grant for the order of 50 flower garlands per day.

As a point

For a very long time, the Chaturbhuj Temple inscription was also considered the earliest recorded example of the use of zero. In 1891, however, French archaeologist Adhemard Leclere discovered a point in a set of scriptures, referring to zero, carved into a sandstone surface at the archaeological site of Trapang Prei in the northeastern province of Kratie. from Cambodia.

“The Chaka era reached the year 605 on the fifth day of the waning moon”, one reads in the script of the Khmer civilization, whose origin is estimated at 687 AD. In January 2017, the National Museum of Cambodia also included ancient writing in its exhibit, due to the importance of the number system in the construction of temples during the Khmer Empire, including the World Heritage site of the UNESCO of the Angkor Wat complex. [1]

Even as a simple “dot symbol”, however, it was an ancient Indian parchment from the third or fourth century that would have contained hundreds of these zeros – arguably their first mention across the world – according to reports. researchers at the University of Oxford. . [2]

“The creation of zero as a full-fledged number, which evolved from the reserved point symbol found in the Bakhshali manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics,” Marcus du Sautoy , professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, once said.

“We now know that it was as early as the third century that Indian mathematicians planted the seed of the idea that would later become so fundamental in the modern world. The results show how dynamic mathematics has been in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, ”he added.

Bakhshali’s manuscript was discovered in 1881 in a field in the Indian village of Bakhshali, in Mardan (now Pakistan). It was the Japanese scholar Dr Hayashi Takao who first conducted extensive research on its contents, placing its origins between the 8th and 12th centuries.



His article in the Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures revealed that the manuscript contained a compilation of mathematical rules and examples from various works. Each rule (sutra) was followed by an example (uddharaṇa), comment under which included a “declaration” (nyasa/sthapana), calculation” (karana) and “verification” (pratyaya/pratianayana). [3]

Later, when the manuscript was brought to Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University in 1902, research conducted by members of his Heritage Science team determined the date of scripture by carbon dating. They said the manuscript’s 70 fragile birch leaves, made up of material from three different time periods, were the main reason researchers had not been able to determine its origins before.

The concept of ‘Shunya

It was in 2013 that British writer Alex Bellows visited Chaturbhuj Temple in Gwalior to undertake research for Nirvana in numbers, a BBC radio documentary.

Summarizing his experiences in an article for The Guardian, he said it was the Indians who first considered zero to be just as important as the numbers up to one and nine, referring to it as “perhaps the greatest conceptual leap in history of mathematics ”. While place value strategies were already in use in other civilizations, he wrote, it was in the subcontinent that the number zero was first conceived. [4]

As a “placeholder”, zero has been used to denote degrees of classification on the numerical scale. Simply put, it wouldn’t be worth anything on its own, but would change the value of other numbers based on its positioning. Such systems also describe the case where there is nothing in a position. While the Chinese used a space to represent the same thing, the Babylonians used a marker, he added.

However, it was an interaction with Renu Jain, professor of mathematics at Jiwaji University in Gwalior, that led Alex to believe that the Indian philosophy of nirvana – a state of spiritual nothingness – is what led to the mathematical concept of zero.

“Zero means nothing. But in India it is derived from the concept of shunya. Shunya means a kind of salvation. When all of our desires are canceled, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation, ”the teacher had told Alex.

In his book The peacock crest; Non-European roots of mathematicsDr. George Ghevergese Joseph also wrote that the Sanskrit word for zero, śūnya, meaning “void” or “void”, was combined with the definition of “lack” or “insufficiency” in the sacred texts of the Rigveda. The combination resulted in the Buddhist doctrine of emptying one’s mind of impressions and thoughts, or “nyata”.

Meanwhile, Peter Gobets of the Netherlands-based project ZerorigIndia also agreed that the “many so-called ‘cultural backgrounds'” in ancient India “make it plausible that the mathematical number zero was invented there.” [5]

The origins of zero have perhaps been constantly disputed, as the merit of being born out of a civilization that discovered zero – leading to the binary system and associated modern technologies – is significant. Nonetheless, it is simply fascinating that one of the earliest records of the revolutionary number is within the reach of Indians. So while there is plenty to do on a trip to Gwalior, don’t miss the opportunity to experience cultural pride at Chatrabhuj Temple if you are in the city.

Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]