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III. Aśmaka: Āryabhaṭīya's Provenance

Āryabhaṭa does not make any specific mention of the place or country of his birth but this omission is filled by Bhāskara I, his follower and commentator, who is, perhaps, the best authority in the matter on account of his chronological proximity, besides being the propagator of the Āryabhaṭīya school.

Bhāskara I who hailed from southern Gujarat, as evidenced from references in his commentary on the Āryabhaṭīya, calls-himself as Āśmakīya, "one belonging to the Aśmaka country". He also specifies that Āryabhaṭa too was an Āśmakīya, for which reason his work was called Aśmakatantra.

Nīlakaṇtha Somayāji states specifically in his commentary on Āryabhaṭīya (Gaṇitapāda, verse 1): Aśmakajanapadajāta Āryabhaṭācāryaḥ, "Āryabhaṭa born in the Aśmaka country."

The Aśmaka country was situated, according to Varāhamihira (Bṛhatasaṃhita, XIV. 22), the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, in the North-West of India. According to the Buddhist text Dīghanikāya (XIX. 36), during the time of the Buddha a branch of the Aśmaka people moved to the South and settled in the modern South Gujarat-North Maharashtra region, on the banks of the rivers Godāvarī and Narmadā. Several texts, both Buddhist and Hindu, attest to this fact. Obviously, Āryabhaṭa hailed from this region and naturally came to be known as Āśmakīya. (6)

Of late, a quaint suggestion has been made to the effect that Kerala could have been the country of birth of Āryabhaṭa for two reasons. The first one is that the word Aśmaka, which, in Sanskrit, means "stone", could be related to Koṭuṅṅallūr in Central Kerala, which, during early times, was one of the capital cities of the land and a centre of learning. It is stated that its present name could be a derivative of the word Koṭum-Kal-l-ūr, meaning "a city of hard stones", since in Malayalam koṭu means hard and kal means stone. This is linguistically possible, but the incompatibility arises from the fact that old records show that, during ancient times, the city was known as Koṭum-kol-ūr, "the city of strict governance". Naturally enough, the harsher pronouncing word Koṭum-kol-ūr slipped into the more easily pronounced word Koṭuṅṅallūr. That the said ancient name of the city occurs in certain early texts has been noticed by the veteran littérateur and researcher, the late Ulloor S. Parameswara Aiyer, in his article "Kuṇavāyirkoṭṭam and Vañci", (K.V. Rangaswami Aiyangar Commemoration Volume, Madras, 1940, pp. 241-51). Identifying this with Vañci, the capital of the Cera kings of Kerala, he quotes two passages from early texts wherein the name of the city is spelt only as Kotumkolūr and not Koṭumkallūr. Quoting from a 12-13th century Sanskrit-Tamil work in Manipravālam style, he states:

Kollaviblūtim kollum vibhavā nūru maṭaṇṇu 'Koṭunnolūrilum'
ere vilaṇṇina paṇṭupayātā Kuṇavāyakkuram api kuṇapam dadhatī.

"It will be seen that the author begins from the south, and touches Kollam (present-day Quilon), Koṭuṅṅolur (Koṭumkolūr, the modern Koṭuṅṅallūr, whose anglicised form is Cranganore), Kuṇavāy etc." (p. 242).

Later in the same article (p. 246) he refers to the occurrence of the name of the city, again, as Kotuṅkolūr. Further he refers to the early Tamil classic Cilappatikāram and quotes from Aṭiyākkunallār, the commentator of that classic: "Kunram, Koṭuṇkolūrkku ayalatākiya Ceṇkunrenum malai." (p. 246, fn. 13).

It should be amply clear from the above-given references that during the time of Āryabhaṭa (c. AD 500), which is the time also of Cilappatikāram, and, later too, the city was known only as Koṭumkolūr ("the city of stern rule") and not Koṭumkallūr ("the city of hard stones"), to give it any possibility of being equated with Aśmaka.

The non-feasibility of Kerala being the Aśmaka region is strengthened by the fact that nowhere in the two works of Āryabhaṭa, viz., Āryabhaṭīya and the Āryabhaṭasiddhānta, Kerala has been referred to. More telling is the fact that Āryabhaṭa has concocted an extremely inconvenient system of letter-numerals which he would not have done had he been aware of the facile letter-numeral system of Kaṭapayādi which was prevalent in Kerala even before the time of Āryabhaṭa. It might also be noted that even the names of the three known disciples of Āryabhaṭa, Paṇḍuraṅgasvāmi, Niśaṅku and Lāṭadeva do not have any semblance of Keralite personal names, old or new.

Equally fragile is the second reason adduced, viz., that Āryabhaṭa should have hailed from Kerala since, besides the Āryabhaṭan system being prevalent in this land, "all" commentaries on Āryabhaṭīya have been produced by Kerala astronomers. This argument really does not stand scrutiny. For one thing, though the Āryabhaṭīya and works on its basis are widely prevalent in Kerala, the second work of Āryabhaṭa, viz., Āryabhaṭasiddhānta is not known in Kerala at all. The prevalence of Āryabhaṭīya also outside Kerala is vouched by the fact of its being studied and commentaries thereof produced elsewhere as well, both in Sanskrit and in the regional languages. Among the non-Keralite commentators and commentaries and works based on the Āryabhaṭīya the following may be mentioned: (7)

Non-Keralite Commentators in Sanskrit

  1. Prabhākara (c. 525 AD)
  2. Bhāskara I (629 AD) of Valabhi in Gujarat.
  3. Someśvara (0. 968-1200) of Gujarat.
  4. Sūryadeva Yajvan (1191 AD) of Gangaikonda-colapuram in Tamilnadu.
  5. Yallaya (fl. 1482) of Skandasomesvara in Telugu country.
  6. Raghunātharāja (1597) of Ahobilam in Karnataka.
  7. Mādhava, son of Virūpākṣa, of Andhra Pradesh.
  8. Bhūtiviṣṇu, son of Devarāja, of Kāñcīpuram in Tamilandu.
  9. Kodaṇḍarāma (1807-93) of Andhra Pradesh.

Commentators in Telugu

  1. Virūpākṣa Sūri of Andhra Pradesh.
  2. Kodaṇḍarāma (1807-83) of Andhra Pradesh who wrote a commentary in Sanskrit also.

Commentator/Translator in Marathi

  1. Anonymous Ms. in the Bombay University Library, No. 334.

Works Produced Outside Kerala, Based in the Āryabhaṭīya

  1. Bhāskara I, Mahāhāskarīya
  2. Bhāskara I, Laghubhāskarīya
  3. Lalla, Śiṣyadhīvṛddhida
  4. Brahmadeva (1092 AD), Karaṇaprakāśa
  5. Dāmodara (1400 AD), Bhaṭatulya
  6. Vīrasiṃhagaṇaka, son of Kāsiraja, Āryasiddhāntatulyakaraṇa

Translator in Arabic

  1. Abul Hasan Ahwazi under the Caliphate in Baghdad.

It is also to be noted that the second work of Āryabhaṭa, viz., Aryasiddhānta, is completely unknown in Kerala while it has influenced astronomical writings in Andhra Pradesh, Northwest India, Iran and the early Abbasid Caliphate.

In view of the above massive evidence, any claim that the study of Āryabhaṭīya was carried on and that commentaries were written only in Kerala, and therefore Āryabhaṭa hailed from Kerala, loses all credibility.