Revisiting Lilavati for Interdisciplinary & Inclusive Education in STEAM
In the 21st century, when we are stressing on the educational approach called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Arts and Mathematics) for women, in ancient India, there was already a particular mathematics book written addressing women and promoting their education in mathematics.
One of the rich texts written in Sanskrit around 1150 A.D. was ‘Siddhant Shiromani’ meaning the ultimate theory written by Bhaskaracharya, an eminent scholar in Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. This book is categorised into four sub-sections, Lilavati, algebra, astronomy, and solid geometry.
One of the sections is ‘Lilavati’, a complete and practical guide of everyday mathematics written in poetic form. It has 261 stanzas. This text was used as a standard textbook for hundreds of years for its simplified explanations of everyday transactions, algebra and also basic trigonometry and thus, has created history as it was translated into several Indian as well as foreign languages.
This aesthetic approach of narration is a combination of richness of poetic language and the beauty of mathematics addressed to ‘Lilavati’ believed to be a daughter of Bhaskaracharya.
Features and Reasons behind Popularity
Maths can become interesting by giving examples from nature, romantic situations and everyday events appearing in the surrounding. The great Bhaskaracharya showed immense creativity and innovation in his book, Lilavati, to teach maths to this young girl. He fills every stanza of this book with love, poetic beauty, precise mathematical language and rich mathematical concepts. It is a treasure trove of mathematical pedagogy expressed through intense aesthetic sense. The text of Lilavati belongs to the 12th century and we can still connect mathematics of quadratic equations, simple and compound interest, equations in one and two variables, trigonometry, Pythagoras theorem and almost the entire Euclidean geometry. All these concepts are woven around situations in nature like swans, bumble bees, lotus ponds and also love of romantic couples.
Why is it addressed to a girl?
According to me there are two views. One view is, he wanted to address a girl so that all girls in society will get knowledge of maths in non-technical and comfortably approachable language and hence making the text user-friendly to all types of students. In the text he also gives examples related to exchange of food, grain and money problems. Regular commercial mathematics was made easy with his unique approach.
Another view is, Bhaskaracharya wanted to explore the aesthetic dimension of mathematics; he wanted to invent pedagogy for teaching maths with a complete aesthetical perspective. At that point of time, to deliver such a perspective is revolutionary hence he selected the character of a young and beautiful girl through which he connects the subject with beauty, nature and love. In various stanzas he addressed this girl as ‘oh my darling, oh my girl with shining skin, oh my adorable lady’ through beautiful Sanskrit adjectives. He tells her to give a ‘quick answer’ and hence encourages her to do calculations fast.
Moreover, through the examples of currency and money, financial transactions, currency denominations, the mode of the business reflects prominently. There was no barter system but well-defined currency denominations and their names, which he has mentioned with their conversions. This is also a unique economic perspective of evolved civilisation with the stable and well-structured social norms.
These approaches show the social advancement in India even in the 12th century. This is a big social as well as intellectual success in terms of providing equal education across all genders of the society, considerable effort was seen to popularise mathematics among girls through this text.
Relevance of Lilavati in Today’s World
The femininity of poetry is woven in a fabric of mathematics with eloquent simplicity and perfection with the glamour of beauty of nature, romance and yet related to everyday lifestyle makes this text learning interesting. Hence it can be used in the field of mathematics education.
Puzzle creations like Lilavati will inspire students to combine linguistic beauty with technical subjects like science and geography along with mathematics. The puzzles created with everyday situations using linguistic styles creates interesting teaching methodology which will help teachers to boost student’s confidence, tap their creative potential and also reduce phobia of subjects like mathematics. Methods like a narrative style of mathematics teaching will definitely create a love for the subject.
An example of mathematical puzzle
It is a beautiful combination of innovative mathematics, and linguistic wonder making it a unique multidisciplinary book. This kind of collaborative approach of subjects should be adopted under STEAM to promote women’s interests.
Lastly, this book sets an example in today’s world for adopting the interdisciplinary nature of education that can be useful for teaching and learning in any institute across the world. It would enhance the understanding of the subject for all. Anyone from any age would be able to relate to the textual mathematics hence, it would also emphasise on inclusive learning that is, there would not be any hindrance such as age, gender in learning. Important point to ensure ‘Education for all’.
*The views/opinions expressed in the above article exclusively belong to the writer. Tatvita may have differ opinions on the subject.*
Prajakti is the Director of Institute of advancement of Vedic Mathematics (IAVM) which is UK based NGO devoted for popularisation and research of Ancient and Vedic Mathematics). Prajakti is a Visiting faculty at Symbiosis School of Economics and Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), teaching undergraduate students Statistics and Mathematics. She takes workshops and sessions on Lilavati, Vedic Mathematics and ancient mathematics for school level as well as for teachers and adults. Prajakti has design a Mathematics and Statistics curriculum for State board textbooks, colleges and educational private institutes.