Science And Technology In Ancient Period




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: Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Physiology and Medicine (including Surgery), Ship- building, Mining and Metallurgy, Engineering and Architecture

  • Like people in any other part of the world Indians too, have a rich legacy of scientific ideas.
  • A desire to now the unknown, accompanied with experimentation and observation have always generated scientific temper. This has led to the assumption that truth lay in the real world with all its diversity and complexity.
  • It has been the responsibility of scientists to unravel the mystery behind the truth and utilise available resources for the progress of humanity.
  • Science and technology in ancient and medieval India covered all the major branches of human knowledge and activities, including mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, medical science and surgery, fine arts, mechanical and production technology, civil engineering and architecture, shipbuilding and navigation, sports and games
  • Ancient India was a land of sages, saints and seers as well as a land of scholars and scientists. Ancient India's contribution to science and technology include:
  • Mathematics – Vedic literature is replete with concepts of zero, the techniques of algebra and algorithm, square root and cube root. Arguably, the origins of Calculus lie in India 300 years before Leibnitz and Newton.
  • Astronomy – Rig Veda (2000 BC) refers to astronomy.
  • Physics – Concepts of atom and theory of relativity were explicitly stated by an Indian Philosopher around 600 BC.
  • Chemistry – Principles of chemistry did not remain abstract but also found expression in distillation of perfumes, aromatic liquids, manufacturing of dyes and pigments, and extraction of sugar.
  • Medical science & surgery – Around 800 BC, first compendium on medicine and surgery was complied in ancient India.
  • Fine Arts – Vedas were recited and recitation has to be correct, which gave rise to a finer study of sound and phonetics. The natural corollary were emergence of music and other forms of performing arts.
  • Mechanical & production technology – Greek historians have testified to smelting of certain metals in India in the 4th century BC.
  • Civil engineering & architecture – The discovery of urban settlements of Mohenjodaro and Harappa indicate existence of civil engineering & architecture, which blossomed to a highly precise science of civil engineering and architecture and found expression in innumerable monuments of ancient India.
  • Shipbuilding & navigation – Sanskrit and Pali texts have several references to maritime activity by ancient Indians.Sports & games – Ancient India is the birth place of chess, ludo, snakes and ladders and playing cards.

DEVELOPMENT OF SCIENCE IN ANCIENT INDIA

  • Mathematics has been called by the general name of Ganita which includes Arithmetic’s, Geometry, Algebra, Astronomy and Astrology.
  • Arithmetic is called by several names such as Pattin Ganita (calculations on board), Anka Ganita (calculations with numerals).
  • Geometry is called Rekha Ganita (line works) and Algebra, Bija Ganita (seed analysis), Astronomy and Astrology are included in the term Jyotisa.
  • India has a rich heritage of science and technology.
  • The dependence on nature could be overcome by developments in science. In ancient India, religion and science worked in close proximity.

Ancient Indian Botany and Taxonomy

Medical Botany

  • The bulk of the Ayurvedic medicines belong to the plant kingdom. And all the Ayurvedic texts deal with botanical aspects, mainly the identification and categorization of plants as source of drugs.
  • The Charaka Samhita has a chapter titled Vibhagavidya, dealing with the classification of plants and animals.
  • The Susruta samhita, the second Ayurvedic classic, also deals with several aspects of botany such as morphology and taxonomy.
  • Susruta also provides classification of plants on the basis of medicinal properties.

Plants in Vedas

  • The most celebrated plant that finds frequent mention in the Rgveda and later Samhitas is the Soma plant.
  • The Vedic Indians hail Soma as the Lord of the forest (vanaraja).
  • The botanical identity of Soma plant, however, has not been decided till today. The probable candidates are Ephedra (a Gymnosperm); Sarcostemma (flowering plant); and mushroom (a fungus).
  • The second most mentioned plant was peepal or the Asvattha (Ficus religiosa) during the Vedic period.
  • The Rgveda refers to utensils and vessels fashioned out of the wood of the Asvattha tree.
  • Some of the other trees that find mention in the Vedas are:
  1. Silk cotton (Salmalia malabaricum);
  2. Khadira (Acacia catechu)
  3. Simsupa (Dalbergia sissoo);
  4. Vibhitaka (Terminalia bellerica);
  5. Sami (Prosopis sp.);
  6. Plaksa (Ficus infectoria);
  7. lksu (sugar cane – Saccharum offcinarum) finds a mention as a cultivated plant in the Atharvaveda, Maitaryani Samhita, and other texts.
  • The Vedic Indians knew about many flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plants, like Palasa (Butea monosperma), two varieties of lotus – white (pundarika) and blue (puskara), white lily (kumuda), cucumber (urvaruka), jujuba (Zizypus jujuba), udumbara (Ficus glomerata), kharjura (Phoenix dactylifera) and bilva (Aegle marmelos), etc.
  • Written records, in the form of manuscripts, are available in Sanskrit and several other Indian languages.  Sanskrit literature includes the Vedas, the Upanisadas, and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  The lay literature includes prose, poetry, and drama of a number of Sanskrit authors like Kalidasa, Magha and Bhavabhuti, in whose works the information on plants is incidental and given by way of comparison.
  • Technical literature comprises medical works like the Charaka and Susruta Samhitas, lexicons like Medininighantu and Amarakosa, as well as the encyclopedic works like Arthasastra and Brhatsamhita.
  • These works generally give excerpts of botany or what is known as vrksayurveda. In addition, there are a number of exclusive works under the title of Vrksayurveda.
  • Parasara's Vrksayurveda is supposed to be the most ancient work in actual botany, to have been composed during first century BC and first century AD.

Plant Pathology

  • Many references to plant diseases and their treatment are also available in the Vedic literature. According to S. Sundara Rajan, the Atharvaveda explains the destruction of corn due to insect pests.
  • Vinaya, the famous Buddhist text, describes the blight and mildew diseases. A much later text, Sukraniti, gives a detailed account of danger to grains from various agents such as fire, snow, worm, insect, etc.
  • Gunaratna, in his Saddarsanasamuccaya, observes that plants are afflicted by diseases, displacement or dislocation of flowers, fruits, leaves and barks in the same way as the human body suffers from jaundice, dropsy, emaciation, stunted growth of finger, nose, etc., and respond to treatment like human bodies.

Germination

  • The technical term used for seed is vija. The seed is enclosed in a vessel called vijakosa. The endosperm is called sasya and the cotyledon vijapatra.
  • Parasara used the term vijamatrka to denote cotyledon and recognizes monocotyledonous (ekamatrkavija) and dicotyledonous (dvimatrkavija) seeds.
  • Germination of a seed is called ankurodbheda, which means sprouting of the seed to life; ankura means seedling.
  • According to Susruta, proper season, good soil, requisite supply of water and good seeds are required for germination of the seed.

 

  • Gunaratna observes in his commentary that the seeds of vata (Ficus indicum), pippala (Ficus religiosa), nimbu (Melia azadirachta), etc. are germinated during the rainy season under the influence of dew and air

Reproduction, Sex and Heredity

  • Ancient Indian literature also deals with sex, genetics, and reproduction of plants by fruits, seeds, roots, cuttings, graftings, plant apices and leaves.
  • Buddha Ghosa, in his Sumangala-vilasini, a commentary on the Digha Nikaya, describes some of these methods under such terms as mula-vija (root seed), khandabija (cuttings), phaluvija (joints), agravija (budding) and bija-bija (seed).
  • Atharvaveda and Arthasastra describe the propagation by seed (bija-bija or vijaruha) and bulbous roots (kandavija), respectively.
  • The method of cutting (skandhavija) is described in the Arthasastra, Brhatsamhita and Sumangala-vilasini in the case of sugar cane, jackfruit, blackberry, pomegranate, vine, lemon tree, asvattha (Ficus religiosa), nyagrodha (Ficus bengalensis), udumbara (Ficus glomerata) and several others.
  • Some ideas related to sexuality in plants are noticeable in the Harita and Charak Samhitas.
  • Charak recognized male and female individuals in the plant called Kutaja (Hollerhina antidysenterica), and the male categories of plants bearing white flowers, large fruit and tender leaves and the female categories characterized by yellow flowers, small fruits, short stalk, etc.
  • The Rajanighantu mentions the existence of male and female plants in the plant Ketaki (Pandanus odoratissimus).
  • The male plant is called sitaketaki, and the female is called svarna ketaki. Regarding heredity, Charaka and Susruta mention that the fertilized ovum contains in miniature all the organs of the plants, for example the bamboo seed containing in miniature the entire structure of the bamboo tree, and further that the male sperm cell have minute elements derived form each of its organs and tissues. Such ideas closely resemble Darwin's 'gemmules'

Indian Chemistry Through The Ages

Chemistry Indus Valley Civilization (2600-1900 BC)

  • The Indus valley civilization was the earliest society, which had developed an elaborate urban system depicted in terms of streets, public baths, temples and granaries etc. They also had the means of mass production of pottery, houses of backed bricks and a script of their own. So we can say that the story of early chemistry in India begins from here.
  • Pottery: It could be regarded as the earliest chemical process in which materials were mixed, moulded and fired to achieve desirable qualities. Thousands of pieces of pottery were found in the Rajasthan desert, varied in shape, size and colour. They show that prehistoric people knew the art of making pottery by using burnt clay. Coloured and wheel made pottery was found at Harappa. Pottery was decorated with various designs including geometric and floral patterns as well as human and animals figures. Remains of glazed pottery were also found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Bricks: Burnt bricks were manufactured on a large scale for making houses, drains, boundary walls, public bath etc.
  • Cement: Gypsum cement had been used in the construction of a well in Mohenjodaro. It was light grey and contained sand, clay, traces of calcium carbonate and lime.
  • Minerals: The Indus valley people used a number of minerals for a variety of useful products such as medicinal preparations, plasters, hair washes etc. Faience, which is a sort of proto-glass, was quite popular with the Harappans and was used for ornaments. They also smelted and forged a variety of objects from lead, silver, gold, and copper; and also used tin and arsenic to improve the hardness of copper for making artefacts.

Chemical Arts and Crafts in Later Periods

  • Glass making, pottery, jewellery making, dyeing of clothes and tanning of leather etc. were the major chemical arts and crafts in the early periods. As a result of this expanded activity, the alchemical knowledge increased. Following were the major chemical products that contributed to the development of chemistry.
  • Glass: Glass is a fused solid mixture of a number of substances like lime, sand, alkali and metallic oxides. It is of various kinds – transparent, opaque, coloured and colourless. No glass objects were found at the sites of the Indus valley civilization, except for some glazed and faience articles. A number of such glass objects were found at Maski in south India (1000-900BC) , Hastinapur and Taxila (1000-200BC). In this period glass and glazes were coloured by the addition of colouring agents like metal oxides. Ramayana, Brhatsamhita, Kautilya's Arthasatra and Sukranitisara mention the use of glass. There is ample evidence to suggest that ancient India glass making was quite widespread and a high degree of perfection was achieved in this craft. There was a traditional glass factory at Kopia in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh. Glass slag was found at Kolhapur, Nevasa, Paunar and Maheshwar. Glass furnaces of late medieval period were found at Mysore. The Mughal period (AD1526-1707) saw the flourishing of the art of glass making in India.
  • Paper: From the Chinese traveller I-tsing's account it appears that paper was known to India in the seventh century AD. In the beginning the process of papermaking was simple and more or less similar in all parts of the country. The main centers of paper making in medieval India were Sialkot, Zafarbad, Murshidabad, Ahmedabad, Mysore etc.
  • Soap: For washing clothes ancient Indians used certain plants and their fruits like the soap nuts of Ritha and Sikakai. Fruits like Sriphala and Sarsapa (Brassica compestris) were also used to wash different kinds of clothes. Guru Nanak's prayer written in the late sixteenth century AD contains the earliest reference to soap. There were references to soap like substances called Phenaka in the second and third century AD texts like Manusmrti and Yajnavalkyasmrti. Indians definitely began to make proper soaps in the eighteenth century AD. In Gujarat, the oil of Eranda (Ricinus communis), seeds of plant Mahua (Madhuca indica) and impure calcium carbonate were used by them. These were used for washing but gradually soft soaps for bathing were made.
  • Dyeing: Plants and their products like madder, turmeric and safflower were the principal dyeing materials. Orpiment and some insects like lac, cochineal and kermes were the other materials used for dyeing. A number of classical texts like Atharvaveda (1000 BC) mentioned some dye stuffs. Dyes were extracted from inorganic substances by repeatedly soaking and mixing them in water and allowing the materials to settle. Then the solution was taken out and spread on a pot and evaporated to get the dry dye. Some other substances having tinting properties were Kampillaka (Mallotus phillippinesis), Pattanga (Cesalpinia sappan) and Jatuka (a species of Oldenlandia). A large number of other materials were also used for dyeing. Synthetic dyes were made by mid-nineteenth century.
  • Cosmetics and Perfumes: A large number of references to cosmetics and perfumes in Sanskrit literature were found like in Brhatsamhita of Varahamihira. Cosmetics and perfumes making were mainly practised for the purpose of worship, sale and sensual enjoyment. The Bower Manuscript (Navanitaka) contained recipes of hair dyes which consisted of a number of plants like indigo and minerals like iron powder, black iron or steel and acidic extracts of sour rice gruel. Gandhayukti gave recipes for making scents. It gives a list of eight aromatic ingredients used for making scents. They were: Rodhara, Usira, Bignonia, Aguru, Musta, Vana , Priyangu, and Pathya. The Gandhayukti also gave recipes for mouth perfumes, bath powders, incense and talcum powder. The manufacture of rose water began perhaps in the nineteenth century AD.
  • Ink: An inkpot was unearthed during the excavations at Taxila, which suggests that ink was known and used in India from fourth century BC. The Ajanta caves displayed some inscriptions that were written with coloured ink, made from chalk, red lead and minium. Chinese, Japanese and Indians had used Indian ink for quite a long time. The recipe for ink was also given in Rasaratnakara of Nityanatha. The ink made from nuts and myrobalans kept in water in an iron pot was black and durable. This ink was used in Malabara and other parts of the country as well. Special ink prepared from roasted rice, lampblack, sugar and the juice of plant Kesurte (Verbsina scandens) was used in the Jain manuscripts. Ink was made both in liquid and solid forms, by using lampblack, gum of the plant Mimosa indica and water in the nineteenth century. Tannin's solution became dark blue-black or greenish by the addition of ferric salts and it seems that this fact was known to Indians during late medieval period, and they used this solution for ink making.
  • Alcoholic liquors: Somarasa, which was mentioned in the Vedas, was probably the earliest evidence of the use of intoxicants in India. Kautilya's Arthasastra listed a variety of liquors such as Medaka, Prasanna, Asava, Arista, Maireya and Madhu. Caraka Samhita also mentioned sources for making various Asavas: cereals, fruits, roots, woods, flowers, stems, leaves, barks of plants and sugar cane. About 60 Tamil names were found in Sangam literature, which suggest that liquors were brewed in south India since the ancient times. Medieval alchemical texts also mentioned fermented liquors and their methods of preparation. Alcoholic liquors were classified into the following categories depending on their applications in alchemical operations:
  1. Dasanapasani Sura: used in dyeing operations
  2. Sarvacarani Sura: used in mixing operations of all kinds
  3. Dravani Sura: used in dissolving substances
  4. Ranjani Sura: used in dyeing operations
  5. Rasabandhani Sura: used in binding mercury
  6. Rasampatani Sura: used in distillation of mercury
  • Susruta-Samhita used the word khola for alcoholic beverages; perhaps the modern word alcohol is derived from it. A large number of alcoholic preparations were described in various texts.

Ancient India's Contribution to Physics

The Five Basic Physical Elements in Ancient India

  • From the Vedic times, around 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C., Indians (Indo-Aryans) had classified the material world into four elements viz. Earth (Prithvi), fire (Agni), air (Maya) and water (Apa).
  • To these four elements was added a fifth one viz. ether or Akasha.
  • According to some scholars these five elements or Pancha Mahabhootas were identified with the various human senses of perception; earth with smell, air with feeling, fire with vision, water with taste and ether with sound.
  • Whatever the validity behind this interpretation, it is true that since very ancient times Indians had perceived the material world as comprising these 5 elements. The Buddhist philosophers who came later, rejected ether as an element and replaced it with life, joy and sorrow.

Indian Ideas about Atomic Physics

  • Since ancient times Indian philosophers believed that except Akash (ether), all other elements were physically palpable and hence comprised miniscule particles of matter. The last miniscule particle of matter which could not be subdivided further was termed Parmanu. The word Parmanu is a combination of Param, meaning beyond, and any meaning atom. Thus the term Parmanu is suggestive of the possibility that, at least at an abstract level Indian philosophers in ancient times had conceived the possibility of splitting an atom which, as we know today, is the source of atomic energy. This Indian concept of the atom was developed independently and prior to the development of the idea in the Greco-Roman world. The first Indian philosopher who formulated ideas about the atom in a systematic manner was Kanada who lived in the 6th century B.C. Another Indian philosopher, Pakudha Katyayana who also lived in the 6th century B.C. and was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, had also propounded ideas about the atomic constitution of the material world.
  • These philosophers considered the Atom to be indestructible and hence eternal. The Buddhists believed atoms to be minute objects invisible to the naked eye and which come into being and vanish in an instant. The Vaisheshika school of philosophers believed that an atom was a mere point in space. Indian theories about the atom are greatly abstract and enmeshed in philosophy as they were based on logic and not on personal experience or experimentation. Thus the Indian theories lacked an empirical base, but in the words of A.L. Basham, the veteran Australian Indologist "they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.

Anu and Parmanu

  • It was Kanada who first propounded the that the Parmanu (atom) was an indestrutible particle of matter. According to the material universe is made up of Kana. When matter is divided and sudivided, we reach a stage beyond which no division is possible, the undivisible element of matter is Parmanu. Kanada explained that this indivisible, indestructible y cannot be sensed through any human organ.
  • In saying that there are different types of Parmanu for the five Pancha Mahabhootas, Earth, water, fire, air and ether. Each Parmanu has a peculiar property which depends, on the substance to which it belongs . It was because of this conception of peculiarity of Parmanu (atoms) that this theory unded by Kanada came to be known Vaisheshika-Sutra (Peculiarity Aphorisms). In this context Kanada seems to arrived at conclusions which were surpassed only many centuries after him.

Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient India

  • Metal, precious or not, is also a prime material for ornaments, and thus enriches cultural life. Metallurgy may be defined as the extraction, purification, alloying and application of metals. Today, some eighty-six metals are known, but most of them were discovered in the last two centuries. The seven metals of antiquity‘, as they are sometimes called, were, more or less in order of discovery: gold, copper, silver, lead, tin, iron and mercury. For over 7,000 years, India has had a high tradition of metallurgical skills.
  • The glazed potteries and bronze and copper artefacts found in the Indus valley excavations point towards a highly developed metallurgy. The vedic people were aware of fermenting grain and fruits, tanning leather and the process of dyeing. By the first century AD, mass production of metals like iron, copper, silver, gold and of alloys like brass and bronze were taking place. The iron pillar in the Qutub Minar complex is indicative of the high quality of alloying that was being done. Alkali and acids were produced and utilised for making medicines. This technology was also used for other crafts like producing dyes and colours. Textile dyeing was popular. The Ajanta frescoes reflect on the quality of colour. These paintings have survived till date. A two metre high bronze image of Buddha has been discovered at Sultanganj (Near Bhagalpur).

Copper Metallurgy in Ancient India

Harappan Civilization:

  • The first evidence of metal in the Indian subcontinent comes from Mehrgarh in Baluchistan, where a small copper bead was dated to about 6000 BCE; it is however thought to have been native copper, not the smelted metal extracted from ore.
  • The growth of copper metallurgy had to wait for another 1,500 years; that was the time when village communities were developing trade networks and technologies which would allow them, centuries later, to create the Harappan cities.
  • Archaeological excavations have shown that Harappan metal smiths obtained copper ore from the Aravalli hills, Baluchistan or beyond. They soon discovered that adding tin to copper produced bronze, a metal harder than copper yet easier to cast, and also more resistant to corrosion.
  • Whether deliberately added or already present in the ore, various impurities‘such as nickel, arsenic or lead enabled the Harappans to harden bronze further, to the point where bronze chisels could be used to dress stones.
  • Shaping copper or bronze involved techniques of fabrication such as forging, sinking, raising, cold work, annealing, riveting, lapping and joining.

Gold Metallurgy

  • The noble metals, gold and silver, are found in the native state, and as is well known, gold and silver were used to make jewelry and sheet metal due to the great ductility and lustre of the pure metals.
  • Some of the early rich finds of gold artifacts were from the cemeteries in Bulgaria in Europe (5th millennium BC) with accouterments of hammered and sheet gold. Some of the most elegant gold vessels made by the repousse technique come from the Mesopotamia (2500 BC).
  •  Spectacular gold castings are known from ancient Pharaohnic Egypt, such as the enigmatic face of the young Pharaoh Tutenkhamen (1300 BC).
  • Early gold and silver ornaments from the Indian subcontinent are found from Indus Valley sites such as Mohenjodaro (ca 3000 BC). These are on display in the National Museum, New Delhi.

Iron Metallurgy in ancient India

  • While the Indus civilization belonged to the Bronze Age, its successor, the Ganges civilization, which emerged in the first millennium BCE, belonged to the Iron Age.
  • But recent excavations in central parts of the Ganges valley and in the eastern Vindhya hills have shown that iron was produced there possibly as early as in 1800 BCE. Its use appears to have become widespread from about 1000 BCE, and we find in late Vedic texts mentions of a dark metal‘ (krṣnāyas), while earliest texts (such as the Rig-Veda) only spoke of ayas, which, it is now accepted, referred to copper or bronze.
  • Whether other parts of India learned iron technology from the Gangetic region or came up with it independently is not easy to figure out.
  • What seems clear, however, is that the beginnings of copper-bronze and iron technologies in India correspond broadly with those in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Caucasus, but were an independent development, not an import.

Engineering and Architecture in Ancient India

  • The achievements of Indian people in the field of engineering began in the proto-historic times, from the third millennium B.C. or even earlier.
  • The ancient Indian civilization like those of Iran, Iraq, Mesopotamia, and Egypt showed skill in the construction of buildings and granaries, in town-planning, and in the provision of civic amenities like community baths and other sanitary conveniences.

Prehistoric Period Engineering and Architecture:

  • The earliest evidence of the technical skill of the ancient Indian lies perhaps in the numerous tools he carved out of stone in the course of his struggle for existence.
  • A long period of trial and error requiring power of observation and the application of what was observed in his natural surroundings must have intervened between this period of the fashioning of crude pebble tools and the development of the hand-axe.
  • The early Paleolithic age was followed by the middle Paleolithic age when he made tools on fine-grained flakes, which were smaller in size and included scrapers, points, awls or borers, blades, etc.
  • These tools, archaeologists think, might have been used for dressing animal skins and barks of trees, smoothing the shafts of spears, cutting, chopping, etc.
  • They may be classified into two groups-core and flake-according to the way in which they were made. Core tools were made by chipping or flaking away a stone until the desired shape was obtained.
  • Flake tools were made, however, by detaching a large piece from a stone and then working it into the requisite shape.
  • A third classification put forward by some archaeologists is the chopper-chopping tool group; these tools were made from pebbles by knocking off a portion to make the cutting edge.

Architecture during Harappan Period

  • Remains of the Indus valley civilization (fourth-third millennium B.C.) unearthed at Mohenjodaro and Harappa now in Pakistan, Lothal in Gujarat, and Kalibangan in Rajasthan amply testify to the welldeveloped technical skill of ancient Indians.
  • Mohenjo-daro in Sind and Harappa in the Punjab are deemed to have been the capital cities of the Indus valley. Each of the towns was approximately three miles in circuit.
  • The dwellers of Mohenjo-daro were among the world‘s pioneers in city construction.
  • The largest buildings unearthed in Mohenjo-daro measure more than 73 m X 34 m. Road alignments were from cast to west and from north to south, each crossing the other almost at right angles in a chessboard pattern.
  • The width of the roads varied from approx. 10 m. to 5.48 m., depending on the requirements of traffic. There is evidence of attempts to pave the roads at some places

Engineering and Architecture in Vedic Period

  • Whereas the Indus valley civilization was essentially urban, relying on extensive trade and depending upon organized city life for its existence, the Vedic civilization was primarily pastoral or an agricultural one in which complex urban organization was unknown. It is not surprising, therefore, that highly developed cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro did not appear during the Vedic period and that technology was in evidence only to the extent of providing for the necessities of village life.
  • Vedic texts are replete with words descriptive of dwellings and contrivances which provide an idea of the extent of technological knowledge of the period.
  • The word pura occurs frequently in the Rg-Veda and later Vedic texts and appears to mean a fort or fortification.
  • Hundred-walled forts arc also mentioned. The term maha- pura (great fortress) appears in the Taittiriya Samhitd, Aitareya Brdhmana, and other texts.
  • The type of material with which the forts were constructed is not clearly indicated. In all probability they were temporary structures, perhaps merely ramparts of earth with ditches and stone walls, or possibly made of wood. In one place the Rg-Veda refers to a fort made of stone (asmamayi).

Engineering and Architecture in Post-Vedic Period

  • For evidence of the engineering and technical skills of ancient Indians in the early post-Vedic period we have to depend largely on literary sources. We are told of high walls with watch towers, strong ramparts with buttresses, and gates.
  • A number of towns and cities, called janapadas, of considerable importance had developed before the seventh century B.C. Noteworthy among them were Ayodhya, Varanasi, Campa, Kampilya, Kausambi, Mathura, Mithila, Rajagrha, Saketa, Sravasti, Ujjayini, and Vaisall. An example of' a stone wall around a hill fortress before the sixth century B.C. has been unearthed near Rajagrha-modern Rajgir.
  • The superstructures of buildings during this period were all made of wood or brick. Reference may in this connection be made to the ruins of some other ancient cities like Taksasila and Sanci. Taksasila is mentioned as a flourishing city and centre of learning in Buddhist literature probably compiled at least in the fourth century B.C. Archaeological excavations at the Bhir Mound have revealed several layers, of which the latest and uppermost was quite clearly of the late third or early second century B.C.
  • The ruins unearthed in the Bhir Mound bear adequate testimony to the kind of house-building technique in vogue at the time. The buildings were of rubble masonry, in which kanjur and limestone, finished with a coaling of mud-plaster, were used.
  • The remains of a fairly large house, with a courtyard and pillared hall and flanked by narrow, blind alleys have also been excavated in the western part of the Bhir Mound.

Engineering and Architecture of Buddhist Stupa and Viharas

  • In the construction of religious edifices like Stupas and Caitya-grhas the Buddhists showed their engineering skill. Construction of stupas and chaityas was an important aspect of Buddhist religious life.
  • The word stupa is derived from the root stup, meaning ‗to heap‘, and suggests the mound shape and method of construction of these edifices, while the word caitya is derived from citi (altar). Stupas are pre-Buddhist in origin, being associated with burial mounds.
  • The earliest Buddhist stupas were most probably low mounds consisting of layers of piled-up earthen tumulus which were separated from each other by thinner layers of stone chips and cloddy clay.
  • The proportions of stupas after construction were enlarged in some cases, and a stupa is sometimes seen to have been enlarged several times.
  • For this reason, and because of wreckage and decay, it is not always possible to determine the exact shape and type of construction of the original stupa.
  • The earliest ones were built solid without any interior structural support or fill. Of the earliest dated stupas, those erected by Asoka were made of bricks and mud mortar.
  • The Sunga period saw some innovations in construction like providing a veneer of hammer-dressed stones and in plastering the surface of the dome. Gradually the advantage of filling the core with rubble or other material was recognized.
  • And the outward thrust of the fill material on the facing wall was minimized by dividing the inner space into compartments in the form of boxes or radiating spokes like those of the wheel of a cart.
  • The stone railings and gates of stupas at Barhut and Sanchi clearly point to the earlier prototypes being made of wood.

Engineering and Architecture in Temple Architecture

  • The Gupta period (A.D.300-600) saw the beginnings of systematic construction on the basis of structural principles in temple architecture.
  • The basic elements are a square sanctum (garbhagrha) for the image, a small pillared portico (mukhamandapa), and sometimes a covered circumambulatory passage (pradahinapatha) around the sanctum. The characteristic of the early temples is a flat roof as found at Sanchi, Tigawa, and Eran (all in Madhya Pradesh); later temples such as are seen at Deogarh (Madhya Pradesh) and Bhitargaon (Uttar Pradesh) show a rudimentary spire (Sikhara).
  • There was a tendency during this period in stone construction to use stones larger than what the size of the building warranted. This was because the relationship between the strength and stability of construction and the economy of materials was yet to be understood.
  • The stone was usually prepared at the site of the quarry. Fragments of carvings found at some quarries suggest that the sculpturing of the stones was also usually done at the quarry site, although sometimes this was done after the stone had been set in its place on the temple itself. All of this entailed accurate measurements

Engineering and Architecture of Rock-Cut Architecture

  • The rock-cut temples, both cut in and out of the rock, mostly followed the contemporary architectural styles.
  • The earliest group of such temples excavated by Asoka in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills (Gaya district), depicts the basic forms of rock-cut architecture. Subsequent rock-cut shrines, especially those of the Buddhists in western India at Bhaja Kondhane, Pitalkhora, Ajanta, Junar Karle, and Junagarh, were fashioned in imitation of the earlier wooden constructions. Among the monasteries, the two double storeyed ones at Ellora are the largest.
  • Brahmanical caves are at their best at Badami, Ellora, Elephanta, and Mahabalipuram with a profusion of beautifully carved-out sculptures. At Mahabalipuram huge granite boulders have been chiseled to various shapes

Astronomy in Ancient India

  • Astronomy made great progress. The movement of planets came to be emphasized and closely observed. Jyotishvedanga texts established systematic categories in astronomy but the more basic problem was handled by Aryabhatta (499 AD).
  • His Aryabhattiya is a concise text containing 121 verses. It contains separate sections on astronomical definitions, methods of determining the true position of the planets, description of the movement of the sun and the moon and the calculation of the eclipses.
  • The reason he gave for eclipse was that the earth was a sphere and rotated on its axis and when the shadow of the earth fell on the moon, it caused Lunar eclipse and when the shadow of the moon fell on the earth, it caused Solar eclipse.
  • On the contrary, the orthodox theory explained it as a process where the demon swallowed the planet.
  • All these observations have been described by Varahamihira in Panch Siddhantika which gives the summary of five schools of astronomy present in his time.
  • Aryabhatta deviated from Vedic astronomy and gave it a scientific outlook which became a guideline for later astronomers. Astrology and horoscope were studied in ancient India.
  • Aryabhatta’s theories showed a distinct departure from astrology which stressed more on beliefs than scientific explorations

Mathematics in Ancient India

  • The town planning of Harappa shows that the people possessed a good knowledge of measurement and geometry. By third century AD mathematics developed as a separate stream of study.
  • Indian mathematics is supposed to have originated from the Sulvasutras. Apastamba in second century BC, introduced practical geometry involving acute angle, obtuse angle and right angle.
  • This knowledge helped in the construction of fire altars where the kings offered sacrifices. The three main contributions in the field of mathematics were the notation system, the decimal system and the use of zero.
  • The notations and the numerals were carried to the West by the Arabs. These numerals replaced the Roman numerals. Zero was discovered in India in the second century BC. Brahmagupta’s Brahmasputa Siddhanta is the very first book that mentioned ‘zero’ as a number, hence, Brahmagupta is considered as the man who found zero. He gave rules of using zero with other numbers.
  • Aryabhatta discovered algebra and also formulated the area of a triangle, which led to the origin of Trignometry.
  • The Surya Siddhanta is a very famous work. Varahamihira’s Brihatsamhita of the sixth century AD is another pioneering work in the field of astronomy.
  • His observation that the moon rotated around the earth and the earth rotated around the sun found recognition and later discoveries were based on this assertion. Mathematics and astronomy together ignited interest in time and cosmology. These discoveries in astronomy and mathematics became the cornerstones for further research and progress.

Medicine in Ancient India

  • Diseases cure and medicines were mentioned for the first time in the Atharva Veda. Fever, cough, consumption, diarrhoea, dropsy, sores, leprosy and seizure are the diseases mentioned.
  • The diseases are said to be caused by the demons and spirits entering one’s body. The remedies recommended were replete with magical charms and spells. From 600 BC began the period of rational sciences.
  • Takshila and Taranasi emerged as centres of medicine and learning. The two important texts in this field are Charaksamhita by Charak and Sushrutsamhita by Sushruta. How important was their work can be understood from the knowledge that it reached as far as China, Central Asia through translations in various languages. The plants and herbs used for medicinal purposes have been mentioned in Charaksamhita.
  • Surgery came to be mentioned as a separate stream around fourth century AD. Sushruta was a pioneer of this discipline. He considered surgery as “the highest division of the healing arts and least liable to fallacy”. He mentions 121 surgical instruments. Along with this he also mentions the methods of operations, bone setting, cataract and so on. The surgeons in ancient India were familiar with plastic surgery (repair of noses, ears and lips).
  • Sushruta mentions 760 plants. All parts of the plant roots, barks, flowers, leaves etc. were used. Stress was laid on diet (e.g. salt free diet for nephrites). Both the Charaksamhita and the Sushrutsamhita became the predecessors of the development of Indian medicine in the later centuries.
  • However, surgery suffered in the early medieval time since the act of disecting with a razor became the work of a barber.

Geography in Ancient India

  • The constant interaction between man and nature forced people to study geography. Though the people were clear about their own physical geography, that of China and also the Western countries, they were unaware of their position on the earth and the distances with other countries.
  • Indians also contributed to shipbuilding. In the ancient period, voyages and navigation was not a familiar foray for the Indians.
  • However, Lothal, a site in Gujarat has the remains of a dockyard proving that trade flourished in those days by sea. In the early medieval period with the development of the concept of tirtha and tirtha yatra, a vast mass of geographical information was accumulated.
  • They were finally compiled as parts of Puranas. In many cases separate sthala purana was also compiled

Ancient Ship-Building & Maritime Trade

  • The traditional construction of a boat starts with the laying of a keel (keel is foundation beam for the boat and ship), a massive piece of wood supported on a branching stern about a foot above the ground at both ends.
  • This is stepped to take the stern-post (rearmost part of a ship or boat) and also the stem post (the pointed front part of a ship or boat), all made of massive pieces of timber. The keel is laid first and later the planks or ribs are attached.
  • Usually for the keel and stern one single piece of wood is always preferred. The planks are then fastened horizontally on either side of the keel.
  • The planks join is edge to edge. Rudder is a flat broad piece of wood, which is mainly used for getting a forwards lead to the expected direction and is not seen in all traditional crafts. In some crafts the rudder is replaced by a paddle or oars, which function as a rudder. Paddle is a short oar with a broad blade at one or both ends and oar is a pole with a flat blade used in rowing.
  • These are necessary for a straight and swift movement of the vessels. Generally all the ships use the wind power. In the ship the mast is fixed on ribs above the keel.
  • The mast is made out of a timber tree but the builders prefer a bamboo piece, because of its suitability to make a mast long, and strong. Sail is a sheet of canvas spread to catch the wind and move a boat or ship forwards.
  • It is used in traditional vessels; the shape of sail is triangular to make it easy to catch the wind. Sails are fixed to the mast with ropes. The sails are used mainly when the vessels are going to the mid sea, so that they can make use of the maximum wind energy.


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