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"Vedas contain references to infinity"

"Vedas contain references to infinity"

Author: Special Correspondent
Publication: The Hindu
Date: February 19, 2008
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2008/02/19/stories/2008021958340200.htm

Ancient India had recognised importance of the concept of infinity whereas other civilisations frowned upon it, Frits Staal, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, said on Monday.

Noting that Yajur Veda had used very large numbers, Prof. Staal, regarded as an authority on linguistics and the study of Vedic ritual and mantras, said there were many references to infinity in the Vedas and Upanishads. Large numbers were extrapolated from the number of bricks used for the construction of altars.

To a query on the largest number used in Indian traditions, he replied that Buddhists and the Ramayana went up to the number of ten to the power of 60.

Prof. Staal, a scholar of Greek and Indian logic and philosophy and Sanskrit grammar, was delivering a talk at the Institute of Mathematical Science here on language and method in Indian science.

He said the Rig Veda was familiar with the distinction between cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers.
Sound system

Describing the sound system of language as a major discovery in linguistics, Prof. Staal, whose book on Vedas will be published by Penguin India in April, said this happened in India around 7th century BCE, "not despite the absence of writing but because of it."

The writing system came to India after the Asoka era (around 300 BCE). Till then, all these complex concepts, discussed in the Vedas, were carefully and orally transmitted.


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