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Bakhshali manuscript throws new light on rich history of Gandhara

Archeological sites including Thakt Bhai and Jamal Garhi served as universities where monks from across the world arrived to get knowledge of religion

Gulf News

PESHAWAR: The Bakhshali manuscript, a Mathematical text discovered in 1881 from Khyber Pakhtukhwa that revealed the discovery of zero, throws new light on the rich history of Gandhara region.

“The recent discovery about first use of ‘Zero’ unearthed through Bakhshali manuscript in Oxford University in England highlights rich scientific approach of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkwa which is also famous for its cultural values and religious discoveries especially about Buddhism,” observed Nawaz-ud-Din, Research Officer at Peshawar Museum.

Giving details about the discovery, Nawaz-ud-Din said the Bakhshali manuscript is a mathematical text written on birch bark that was founded by a farmer in 1881 from fields at a village in Bakhshali (currently Mardan but at that time Peshawar district) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The manuscript was taken to UK from Peshawar in 1902 and is found to be the oldest extant in Indian mathematics with portions dated to A.D. 224-383, he added.

The period to which this manuscript belongs, around 1,800 years ago, was the time of the Kushan dynasty when Gandhara was considered as seat of learning and people from across the world came here for getting knowledge, Nawaz apprised.

The rich archeological sites including Thakt Bhai and Jamal Garhi where serving as universities where monks from across the world arrived, Nawaz added.

In the Kushan dynasty, King Kaniska made Peshawar the capital of Gandhara and Bakshali was part of the city at that time when the manuscript was discovered.

Peshawar, he continued, also enjoys the distinction of oldest living city of South Asia, boasting a recorded history that goes back as far as 539BC at least.

According to archeological evidences recovered from an excavation at historic Gor Ghatree monument in interior city, Peshawar is a living city from the last 2,600 years and yet the exact archeological profile of the ancient city is not discovered yet because the excavation was not reached virgin soil. Quoting a remarks of a renowned archeologist, Syed Abdul Qudoos, Nawaz said, ‘Peshawar is a true metropolis of orient and the legendry city has many secrets to share’.

The recent discovery of Bakshali manuscript is reflection to this fact which revealed the secret about discovery of Zero, he remarked.

Nawazud Din said the Bakhshali manuscript discovery is based on radiocarbon dating which reveals it as the world’s oldest recorded origin of the `Zero’ symbol that we use today.

The translation of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggests it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk road and it includes practical arithmetic exercises and algebra, he elaborates.

“There is a lot of if someone buys this and sell this how much have they got left,” said Marcus Du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University as reported by The Guardian newspaper.

“This becomes the birth of the concept of zero in its own right and this is a total revolution that happens out of India,” Du Sautoy added.

These surprising research results regarding discovery of Zero testify to the subcontinent’s rich and long-standing scientific tradition, Richard Ovenden, head of Bodleian Library of Oxford University told The Guardian newspaper.

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