Duration: 45 minutes

First broadcast: Thursday 14 December 2006

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution Indian mathematicians have made to our understanding of the subject. Mathematics from the Indian subcontinent has provided foundations for much of our modern thinking on the subject. They were thought to be the first to use zero as a number. Our modern numerals have their roots there too. And mathematicians in the area that is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were grappling with concepts such as infinity centuries before Europe got to grips with it. There’s even a suggestion that Indian mathematicians discovered Pythagoras’ theorem before Pythagoras.

Some of these advances have their basis in early religious texts which describe the geometry necessary for building falcon-shaped altars of precise dimensions. Astronomical calculations used to decide the dates of religious festivals also encouraged these mathematical developments.

So how were these advances passed on to the rest of the world? And why was the contribution of mathematicians from this area ignored by Europe for centuries?

With George Gheverghese Joseph, Honorary Reader in Mathematics Education at Manchester University; Colva Roney-Dougal, Lecturer in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews; Dennis Almeida, Lecturer in Mathematics Education at Exeter University and the Open University