Most of
the positional base 10 numeral
systems in the world have originated from India, where the
concept of positional numerology was first developed. The
Indian numeral system is commonly referred to in the West as the
HinduArabic numeral
system or even
Arabic numerals,
since it reached Europe through the Arabs.
Devanagari numerals and their Sanskrit names
Below is a list of the Indian numerals in their modern
Devanagari form, the corresponding European
(IndoArabic) equivalents, and their
Sanskrit pronunciation.
Devanagari
numeral

Arabic 
Sanskrit word for
the ordinal numeral (wordstem)

० 
0 
(शून्य) 
१ 
1 
(एक) 
२ 
2 
(द्वि) 
३ 
3 
(त्रि) 
४ 
4 
(चतुर्) 
५ 
5 
(पञ्च) 
६ 
6 
(षष्) 
७ 
7 
(सप्त) 
८ 
8 
(अष्ट) 
९ 
9 
(नव)

Since Sanskrit is an
IndoEuropean language, it is
obvious (as also seen from the table) that the words for numerals
closely resemble those of
Greek and
Latin. The word "Shunya" for zero was
translated into
Arabic as "صفر"
"sifr", meaning 'nothing' which became the term "zero" in many
European languages from
Medieval
Latin,
zephirum (Arabic: sifr).
Other modern Indian languages
The four Indian languages (
Hindi,
Marathi,
Konkani and
Sanskrit itself) that have adapted the
Devanagari script to their use also naturally employ the numeral
symbols above; of course, the names for the numbers vary by
language. The table below presents a listing of the
symbols used in various modern Indian scripts for
the numbers from zero to nine:
Note: The symbols for zero in Tamil and Malayalam are modern
innovations. Unicode 4.1 and later define encodings for them.
History
A decimal place system has been traced back to ca. 500 in India.
Before that epoch, the
Brahmi numeral
system was in use; that system did not encompass the concept of the
placevalue of numbers. Instead, Brahmi numerals included
additional symbols for the tens, as well as separate symbols for
hundred and
thousand.
The Indian
placesystem numerals spread to neighboring Persia, where they
were picked up by the conquering Arabs.
In 662, a
Nestorian bishop living in what is now
called Iraq
said:
I will omit all discussion of the science of the
Indians ...
of their subtle discoveries in astronomy  discoveries
that are more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the
Babylonians  and of their valuable methods of calculation which
surpass description.
I wish only to say that this computation is done by
means of nine signs.
If those who believe that because they speak Greek they
have arrived at the limits of science would read the Indian texts
they would be convinced even if a little late in the day that there
are others who know something of value.
The addition of
zero as a tenth
positional digit is documented from the 7th century by
Brahmagupta, though the earlier
Bakhshali
Manuscript, written sometime before the 5th century, also
included zero.
But it is in Khmer
numerals of modern Cambodia is where the
first extant material evidence of zero as a numerical figure,
dating its use back to the seventh century, is found.
As it was from the Arabs that the Europeans learned this system,
the Europeans called them
Arabic
numerals; ironically, to this day the Arabs refer to their
numerals as
Indian numerals. In academic circles they are
called the
HinduArabic or
IndoArabic
numerals.
The significance of the development of the positional number system
is probably best described by the French mathematician
Pierre Simon Laplace (1749  1827) who wrote:
It is India that gave us the ingenious method of
expressing all numbers by the means of ten symbols, each symbol
receiving a value of position, as well as an absolute value; a
profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that
we ignore its true merit, but its very simplicity, the great ease
which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the
first rank of useful inventions, and we shall appreciate the
grandeur of this achievement when we remember that it escaped the
genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest minds
produced by antiquity.
Tobias Dantzig, the father of
George Dantzig had this to say in
Number:
This long period of nearly five thousand years saw the
rise and fall of many a civilization, each leaving behind it a
heritage of literature, art, philosophy, and religion.
But what was the net achievement in the field of
reckoning, the earliest art practiced by man?
An inflexible numeration so crude as to make progress
well nigh impossible, and a calculating device so limited in scope
that even elementary calculations called for the services of an
expert [...] Man used these devices for thousands of years without
contributing a single important idea to the system [...] Even when
compared with the slow growth of ideas during the dark ages, the
history of reckoning presents a peculiar picture of desolate
stagnation.
When viewed in this light, the achievements of the
unknown Hindu, who some time in the first centuries of our era
discovered the principle of position, assumes the importance of a
world event.
References
 Online Etymological Dictionary
 FAQ  Tamil Language and Script  Q: What can you tell me
about Tamil Digit Zero?
See also