NEW DELHI — Indian students are taught early in school that India’s contribution to the world of mathematics is zero.

Way back in the 5th century, an Indian mathematician used zero in the decimal-based place value system, an achievement that citizens here have always celebrated with pride.

Now, a small but ambitious team of Indian and international scholars called Project Zero wants to go deeper. In the past year, they have been asking the question: What made the invention of zero possible in India?

The initiative is a heady cocktail of academic research and cultural pride, and it coincides with a new wave of hyper-patriotism among Indians, which has risen since the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Indians are reclaiming their heritage, embracing yoga, promoting the ancient Sanskrit language, buying traditional herbal products and celebrating – at times exaggerating – achievements in history.

At a three-day brainstorming event called Camp Zero in April in New Delhi, several scholars will take stock of what is known about the origin of zero and commission new research to find out what philosophical traditions may have led Indians to come up with the concept.

The mission, the group’s website says, is an “attempt to settle once and for all the continuing controversy in the world as to when, where and why the zero digit was invented.”

The project will also boost “the imagination and the image of India,” said Robinder Sachdev, president of Imagindia Institute, a lobbying firm that promotes India’s image and is supporting the project here.

The origin of zero has been an enduring subject of debate because other cultures, including the Mayans, also claim to have used the zero.

“Finding the source of zero is a bit like finding the source of the Nile,” said Dinesh Singh, a mathematics professor at Delhi University and a member of the Indian Society for History of Mathematics. He is not associated with Project Zero. “Nobody has a clue about exactly when and how the zero came into play.”

Scholars at Project Zero say the key may lie in the early Hindu and Buddhist philosophical discourses about the concept of “emptiness” and “void” that began many centuries before the mathematical zero came about.

“Even though zero popped up in different places in different forms, Indians are credited to have given zero to the world. But zero did not appear all of a sudden,” said Annette van der Hoek, a Dutch scholar on Indian studies and the coordinator of the Zero Project.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.