Indian Contribution to Science and Technology September 14, 2014
How many have even a basic understanding of the world’s oldest and most advanced civilization – the Harappan or Indus-Sarasvati Valley Civilization in India? From complex Harappan towns to Delhi’s Qutub Minar, India’s indigenous technologies were very sophisticated. The Indus-Sarasvati Civilization was the world’s first to build planned towns with underground drainage, civil sanitation, hydraulic engineering, and air-cooling architecture. Weights and linguistic symbols were standardized across this vast geography, for a period of over 1,000 years, from around BC 3000 to BC 1500.
Oven-baked bricks were invented in India in approximately BC 4000. Over 900 of the 1,500 known settlement sites discovered so far are in India. There are many pioneering items of civil engineering, such as drainage systems for water (open and closed), irrigation systems, river dams, water storage tanks carved out of rock, boats, middle-class style homes with private bathrooms and drainage, and even a dockyard; there is evidence of stairs for multiple-storied buildings; many towns have separate citadels, upper and lower towns, and fortified sections; there are separate worker quarters near copper furnaces; granaries have ducts and platforms.
Given the importance of fresh water in India, it is no surprise that the technologies to manage water resources were highly advanced from Harappan times onwards. In Gujarat, Chandragupta built the Sudarshan Lake in late 4th century BC. Bhopal’s Raja Bhoj Lake, built in 1014-1053, is so massive that it shows up in satellite images. The Vijayanagar Empire built such a large lake in 14th or 15th century BC that it has more construction material than the Great Wall of China.Scientists estimate that there were 1.3 million man-made water lakes and ponds across India, some as large as 250 square miles. These are now being rediscovered using satellite imagery. These enabled rain water to be harvested and used for irrigation, drinking, etc. till the following year’s rainfall.
Indian textiles have been legendary since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans extensively imported textiles from India. Roman archives record official complaints about massive cash drainage due to these imports from India. One of the earliest industries relocated from India to Britain was textiles and it became the first major success of the Industrial Revolution, with Britain replacing India as the world’s leading textile exporter. Textiles and steel were the main stays of the British Industrial Revolution. Both had their origins in India. The Ahmedabad textile museum is a great resource for scholarly material.
Well-known Indian contribution to metallurgy includes iron, rust free steel, isolation, distillation and use of zinc etc. Since iron can be a by-product of copper technology, this could be its likely origin in India because copper was a well-known technology in many parts of ancient India. Cemeteries in present day in Baluchistan have iron objects. A smelting furnace dated BC 800 is found in Naikund (Maharashtra), India. Recent discoveries reveal that iron was known in the Ganga valley in mid second millennium BC. Delhi’s famous iron pillar, dated BC 402, is considered a metallurgical marvel and shows minimal signs of rust. The famous Damascus steel swords, now displayed in museums across Europe, were made from Indian steel imported by Europeans.
India has a glorious maritime past. ‘Rig Veda’ and ‘Atharvaveda’, the ancient literary records of the human race also depict the shipping scene of ancient India. In fact, the Rig Veda makes several references to ships used to cross the “Samudra.” The maritime history of India dates back to BC 3000. Indians traded in those days with Arabia, Egypt, Africa and Rome by vessels of teak built in India.Indians were known to be quite skillful in the art of ship building too. The ancient Sanskrit manuscript, ‘Yuktikalpataru’ compiled by Bhoja Narapati stands testimony to it. “Nav” is the Sanskrit word for boat,and is the root word in “navigation” and “navy”. Using their expertise in the science of seafaring, Indians participated in the earliest-known ocean-based trading system.
The religious texts such as ‘Aranyakas’, ‘Upanishad’ and ‘Smritis’ contain many descriptions on the uses and management of forests, and highlights sustainability as an implicate theme. There is now a database being built of ‘sacred groves’ across India. Sacred groves known as ‘Kavus’ in Kerala which are considered sacred are from time immemorial part of the daily life of the people. ‘Vriksayurveda’ which literally means the science of plant life is known to have existed in ancient India as a special branch of knowledge.
Now let us come to the much researched “clash of epistemologies” that occurred in European ideas about numbers. It is without doubt that mathematics today owes a huge debt to the outstanding contributions made by Indian mathematicians over many hundreds of years. Histories of Indian mathematics used to begin by describing the geometry contained in the ‘Sulbasutras’. But researches has shown that the essentials of this geometry were even older being contained in the altar constructions.
They made several astronomical discoveries. Diverse schools of logic and philosophy proliferated. Mathematical thought was intertwined with linguistics. India’s Panini is acknowledged as the founder of linguistics, and his Sanskrit grammar is still the most complete and sophisticated of any language in the world.
According to Krishnamurthy (2007), the contributions to Mathematics by India comprises of Zero, Place-value, Vedic Mathematics, Arithmetic, Geometry, Jaina concepts, Bakshali manuscript, Astronomy, Indeterminate Equations, Algebra, Trigonometry, Infinite Series, Calculus. India’s modern contributions in mathematics commenced from Srinivasa Ramanujan.