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Ancient Indian Rope Geometry in the Classroom

Cynthia J. Huffman (Pittsburg State University) and Scott V. Thuong (Pittsburg State University)


Whether intentional or not, mathematics permeated many aspects of life for various ancient cultures, including religious aspects. For example, the Pythagoreans, a semi-religious secretive ancient Greek community, believed All is number. In order to build the religious temples and pyramids in ancient Egypt, the engineers and architects needed a working knowledge of basic geometry. In ancient China, mathematics was used in calendar development for knowing when to celebrate religious events. And in ancient India, geometry was used in constructing various religious altars.

It is the latter example that we focus on in this article. More specifically, we take a look at ancient Indian rope geometry used in the construction of altars for different fire sacrifices. GeoGebra applets are included to illustrate the ancient Indian rope geometry, as well as to allow the reader to explore. The article concludes with a collection of related activities that can be used in the classroom.

Figure 1.  An Agnicayana fire sacrifice ritual in 2011 in Panjal, Kerala. This ritual, taking 12 days to perform, calls for a bird-shaped altar constructed out of 1005 bricks in homage to the god Agni. (Photo courtesy of Professor Michio Yano.)

Cynthia J. Huffman (Pittsburg State University) and Scott V. Thuong (Pittsburg State University), "Ancient Indian Rope Geometry in the Classroom," Convergence (October 2015), DOI:10.4169/convergence20151001