K. V. Sarma

K. V. Venkateswara Sarma (1919–2005) was an Indian historian of science, particularly the astronomy and mathematics of the Kerala school. He was responsible for bringing to light several of the achievements of the Kerala school.[1] He was editor of the Vishveshvaranand Indological Research Series, and published the critical edition of several source works in Sanskrit, including the Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata. He was recognised as "the greatest authority on Kerala's astronomical tradition".[2]

K. V. Venkateswara Sarma
Born22 December 1919
Died13 January 2005
Alma materMaharaja's College of Science and Majaraja's College of Arts, Thiruvananthapuram
Known forA History of the Kerala School of Hindu Astronomy
Scientific career
FieldsHistory of astronomy
History of mathematics


Sarma's father, Sri S. Krishna Aiyer, was an inspector of schools. Sarma studied chemistry and physics at Maharaja's College of Science in Thiruvanathapuram, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1940. He went on to study Sanskrit at the College of Arts, receiving a master's degree in 1942 from Kerala University. [3] In 1944 he began his work with palm-leaf manuscripts at Oriental Research Institute & Manuscripts Library where he developed his specialties of manuscriptology and textual criticism.

Sarma joined the Sanskrit department of the University of Madras in 1951 as research assistant in the New Catalogues Project,[4]

In 1962 he became Curator of the Vishveshvaranand Research Institute, Hoshiarpur which had a A Vedic Word Concordance. Sarma took an interest in the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics and assembled a bibliography. In 1965 Panjab University assimilated the Institute and Sarma became a lecturer in Sanskrit with the University. He was named Reader in 1972.

Sarma's book A History of the Kerala School of Hindu Astronomy recounted the development of astronomy associated with Kerala. In the preface of A History, Sarma described his research "under the supervision of Prof. Ramaswami Sastri, concurrently with my duties as the Supervising Pundit of the Cataloguing Section of the University Oriental Manuscripts Library, Trivandrum. My intimate association, later, with the compilation of the New Catalogus Cataloguum of Sanskrit Works and Authors at Madras university also proved to be of great help in my work."

Sarma became acting-director of Vishveshvaranand Research Institute in 1975, and director/professor in 1978 when he was awarded Doctor of Letters.[3]

He retired from Panjab University in 1980, but the next year accepted the position of Honorary Professor of Sanskrit at the Adyar Library Research Center.

He was the author of thirty-five entries in the Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures.[5] For example, in one article[6] he says

Rationale in Hindu mathematics and astronomy is expressed by the terms Yukti and Upapatti, both meaning "the logical principles implied". It is characteristic of Western scientific tradition, from the times of Euclid and Aristotle up to modern times, to enunciate and deduce using step-by-step reasoning. Such a practice is almost absent in the Indian tradition, even though the same background tasks, of collecting and correlating data, identifying and analyzing methodologies, and arguing out possible answers have to be gone through before arriving at results.

Sarma then provides the exceptions: five commentaries, the Yuktibhasa and astronomical commentaries, and Ganita-yukti-bhasa.

Sarma was the author of more than 60 books, and 145 research papers, in addition to other academic writing on Sanskrit and Indology. He continued publishing well into his late eighties, his last book being Science Texts in Sanskrit in Manuscripts Repositories of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, published in 2003.[7]

He died on 13 January 2005, having just completed English translations (see Ganita-yukti-bhasa) of the Yuktibhāṣā of Jyesthadeva and the Tantrasangraha of Nilakantha Somayaji.[7]

Some important works

Complete bibliography of the writings of K. V. Sarma

The complete bibliography of the writings of K. V. Sarma on Indian culture, science and literature has been compiled by S. A. S. Sarma and published by Sri Sarada Education Society Research Centre, Adayar, Chennai, in 2000. This runs to about 60 pages. The bibliography is available at the following link:


  1. Divakaran, P. P. (8 December 2007), "The First Textbook of Calculus: Yuktibhāṣā" (PDF), Journal of Indian Philosophy, 35 (5): 417–443, doi:10.1007/s10781-007-9029-1: "The late K. V. Sarma, whose efforts more than of anyone else brought the main texts of Kerala mathematics and astronomy to the attention of the scholarly world, had completed (in association with M. D. Srinivas, M. S. Sriram and K. Ramasubramanian) an English translation of both parts of YB at the time of his death in January 2005, but it is yet to appear."
  2. K. Chandra Hari (25 Oct 2007) Critical Evidence to Fix the Native Place of Āryabhat̟a-I, Current Science 93(8)
  3. S. G. Kantawala, "K.V. Sarma: An Academic Profile" in S. A. S. Sarma (2000) Bibliography of K. V. Sarma, Sree Sarada Education Society Research Centre, Adyar, Chennai, India
  4. On the K. V. Sarma Research Foundation
  5. Selin, Helaine, ed. (1997), Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-western cultures, Springer, ISBN 978-0-7923-4066-9
  6. Rationale in Indian Mathematics, pages 3706,7
  7. Kim Plofker (May 2005) Obituary notice in the Bulletin of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics
  8. Ludwik Sternbach (1978) Review: Lilavati, Journal of the American Oriental Society 98(3): 321
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