Symbols for zero appeared in many cultures Before Common Era (BCE). The philosophical conception of zero, however, is usually attributed to the Indian philosophy. The evidence is in the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit word “shunya” meaning “emptiness” or “void” was used by Indian philosophers for many centuries BCE.

The concept of zero as a number in the decimal place-value system is also attributed to India. In 498 CE, Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata clarified the decimal place-value notation. The Indian mathematician Brahmagupta elucidated more on the usage of zero in his book Brahmasputha Siddhanta (The Opening of the Universe) written in 628 CE.

The Indian numerals and the positional number system were introduced to the Islamic civilization by Al-Khuwarizmi whose book Arithmetic (circa 820 CE) synthesized Greek and Indian knowledge and also contained his own fundamental contribution to mathematics and science including an explanation of the use of zero. It was only centuries later, in the 12th century, that the Indian numerals and the positional-value number system was introduced to the Western world through Latin translations of Al-Khuwarizmi’s Arithmetic.

We should also mention in passing that the word “Algebra” comes from Al-Khuwarizmi’s book “Hisab Al-jabr w’almukala” (The book of restoration and equalization).

According to Ouaknin [1]  there were 4 different representations of zero in India

shunya-kha: literally “emptiness-space” meant zero as the arithmetic operator.

shunya-chakra: literally “emptiness-circle” signifying the geometric shape of the symbol used to represent “emptiness”.

shunya-bindu: literally “zero-dot” signifiying the zero dimensionality of the point which symbolically represents the Nirguna Brahma (Absolute Unqualified Consciousness)

shunya-samkhya: literally “emptiness-number”

“Beyond its purely geometric and mathematic aspect, bindu was for the Indians the original dot, endowed with creative energy, capable of giving birth to everything, archetypical; a dot symbolizing the universe in its non-manifested form before its transformation into a world of appearances (rupadhatu); a dot liable to give birth to all possible lines and all possible shapes (rupa).”  [1]

[1] Marc-Alain Ouaknin, “The Mystery of Numbers”, Assouline, ISBN: 2 84323 632 0


About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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