Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Temple of Zero

I my previous article, I had written about my trip to Ujjain. In this post, I will detail my visit to Gwalior, which is one of the largest cities of Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior is just a couple of hours away from Bhopal where I had gone to attend an interview.
I travelled by Karnataka Express from Bhopal to Gwalior as it was convenient and I got the booking for it.
The city of Gwalior has several magnificent buildings, palaces forts and temples. It is also the place of the legendary singer Tansen and his master Haridas.
By the way, Haridas was a close disciple of Purandara Dasa and it is from Purandara that Haridasa learnt the basics of Carnatic music which he later went on to pass it on to Tansen.
Gwalior took my breath away but what interested me most was a small yet significant structure that has led mankind on the path of development. The structure is so old and the secret so well hidden that unless you know about it and request to see it, it escapes attention.
This structure is a small temple dedicated to Vishnu. As the Vishnu has four arms, it is called Chaturbhuja (four) temple. The face of Vishnu is defaced but the hands are still there.
This rock-cut temple is inside the famous Gwalior fort which arguably is one of the oldest surviving fort complexes in India. The temple stands on a monolithic stone. There are two other temples nearby-the Sas Bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) and Teli-ka-Mandir.  
What is impressive about the Chaturbhuj Temple is not the structure or the idol which is carved out of a single stone but a writing or inscription on a stone tablet near the deity. The stone inscription has the first ever recorded or written form of zero.
IN this inscription, zero is written as a dot. This is the first written representation of zero and it has continued to this day.
Zero is also called as Shunya in Sanskrit and it is in this temple that the world saw the figure of zero. Hence, mathematicians and astronomers also call the Chaturbhuj as the temple of Zero.
The tablet appears to be much older than the temple and it gives us the precise date (57 BC) on which the land was granted to the temple and the size of the daily offering of flowers to be made to Vishnu from the endowment.
Locals say the temple was built in 876 AD. The Gujarat Prathiharas built the temple. The Gwalior fort was built by Raja Man Singh in the 16th century.
By the way, the first text in which zero is mentioned is Lokavibhaga, a Jain text originally composed in Prakit by a Digambara monk called  Sarvanandi. Another book which has zero in a text is the Sanskrit version of compiled by one Simhasuri. It contains the oldest known mention of numeral  zero and also and the decimal system.
This text was discovered in 1909-1910.
The rules governing zero was for the first time in mankind enunciated by Brahmagupta in his magnum opus Brahmasputha Siddhanta written in 628 AD in Ujjain. In this book, Brahmagupta talks about zero and other negative numbers and also the algebraic rules for elementary arithmatic. One of  his rules say that zero plus zero is zero.  Another says zero divided by zero is zero and here Brahmagupta has assigned a value to zero.  
The Chaturbhuj temple in Gwalior is different from the temple with the same name in Orchha and Khajurao.
Orchha is 110 kms from Gwalior and it takes two hours to reach it. Khajurao is 227 kms away. Roads to both the places are good. Both these cities are in Madhya Pradesh.