Indian numerals

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Most of the positional base 10 numeral systems in the world have originated from India, where the concept of positional numerology was first developed. The Indian numeral system is commonly referred to in the West as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system or even Arabic numerals, since it reached Europe through the Arabs.

Contents

Devanagari numerals and their Sanskrit names

Below is a list of the Indian numerals in their modern Devanagari form, the corresponding European (Indo-Arabic) equivalents, and their Sanskrit pronunciation.

Since Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, it is obvious (as also seen from the table) that the words for numerals closely resemble those of Greek and Latin. The word "Shunya" for zero was translated into Arabic as "صفر" "sifr", meaning 'nothing' which became the term "zero" in many European languages from Medieval Latin, zephirum (Arabic: sifr).[1]

Other modern Indian languages

The five Indian languages (Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, Nepali and Sanskrit itself) that have adapted the Devanagari script to their use also naturally employ the numeral symbols above; of course, the names for the numbers vary by language. The table below presents a listing of the symbols used in various modern Indian scripts for the numbers from zero to nine:

Note: The symbol for zero in Tamil is modern innovation. Unicode 4.1 and later define encodings for them.[2][3]

History

A decimal place system has been traced back to ca. 500 in India. Before that epoch, the Brahmi numeral system was in use; that system did not encompass the concept of the place-value of numbers. Instead, Brahmi numerals included additional symbols for the tens, as well as separate symbols for hundred and thousand.

The Indian place-system numerals spread to neighboring Persia, where they were picked up by the conquering Arabs. In 662, a Nestorian bishop living in what is now called Iraq said:

I will omit all discussion of the science of the Indians ... of their subtle discoveries in astronomy - discoveries that are more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians - and of their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description. I wish only to say that this computation is done by means of nine signs. If those who believe that because they speak Greek they have arrived at the limits of science would read the Indian texts they would be convinced even if a little late in the day that there are others who know something of value.

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