A Brief History Of Science In India
In post-independence India, science and technology has remained anchored to terms like ‘scientific temper’, logical and rational thought pitted against ‘superstition’ and ‘illogical’ social mores. Science is still considered a byproduct of Western civilization’s industrial development. This requires a thorough examination on merits. A Brief History of Science in India by Sabareesh.P.A answers countless questions on Bharat’s contribution and glorious achievements in science and technology, through time immemorial. Besides, it also emphasizes how science and society could co-exist in harmony.
भारत के विज्ञान का संक्षिप्त इतिहास
Concise and Informative
A Brief Histroy of science in India
Science in Ancient India: Reminiscences of Vedic Legacy
1. Chemistry and Metallurgy
2. Physics and Earth Sciences
3. Mathematics and Astronomy
5. Agriculture and Animal Sciences
6. Engineering Sciences
Science in Medieval and Modern India: Revolt, Rivalry, Resumption and Resurgence of the Legacy
1. History of Maritime Shipping Culture in India
2. Understanding Ancient India’s Scientific Culture
3. India’s Indigenous Education System and its Systematic Destruction
4. ‘Intellectual Imperialism’: Knowledge Theft, Suppression of Alternative Ideas and Systemic Distortion of the History of Indian Science
5. Science in Medieval and British India
6. Science in Independent India
7. Atmanirbhar Bharat: India’s Quest for Technological Self-
This book, A Brief History of Science in India, is for readers who are interested in having a basic knowledge and understanding of the evolution and journey of science in India, starting from the ancient pre-Vedic era until modern times in the briefest possible way. It would be fair to say that this book is but a miniscule work amidst the vast ocean of India’s scientific knowledge and portrays the history of science in India in the simplest possible way so that readers of science, as well as those with a social science background, can get a glimpse of the subject in the minimum possible words and reading time. Having said that, the book has attempted to include facts, concepts, descriptions and comparisons in a narrative form to make it more interesting to read and understand.
The information available today on India’s science history is either scattered or too voluminous in nature, and therefore is advantageous to only medium and long-term academic researchers or lifelong passionate learners. This is a cause for concern as a large number of young, interested and curious science readers are left out from knowing about India’s scientific journey and technological history. The book also aims to address this desperate problem and shall therefore immensely benefit readers who might have heard of India’s glorious scientific past but have not got the opportunity to gather a basic understanding of India’s scientific history. Simultaneously, this book intends to nurture young minds and generate considerable interest in them on the various subjects of science and their respective history in relation to India.
The reader will find it interesting to understand the concepts or ideas from the ancient Indian sciences, thereby adding up to their cognitive thinking. In this book, there are several instances where the original Sanskrit scriptures have been referred to whereas the theoretical words used are in English. This is purely for the purpose of making it easy to read and understand. However, the actual Sanskrit alphabetical terms may be referred to from the respective scriptures, as mentioned correspondingly. It is beyond any doubt that the information pertaining to science and technology in India after independence is abundantly available. Therefore, details of science in independent India have only been briefly discussed through the Five-Year Plans and critiqued upon.
Importantly, the readers are not expected to take this book just as a boast of India’s glorious past or a repetitive evoking of the national pride that India has to flaunt, but much more importantly, to also pick knowledgeable lessons from the past for the assessment of success stories, examples, generation of new ideas, and the implementation of required techniques and scientific concepts. And thereby, very importantly, to empower the future decision-makers so as to prevent them from committing errors of the past or to minimize the consequences of contemporary scientific challenges. I hope that this work will holistically tune in to the new National Education Policy as India prepares to overhaul its static education system into a dynamic one. Having said that, every reader of this book shall certainly gain newer knowledge, insights and viewpoints that will prompt them to ponder and explore new avenues of science and technology applications for the future. Ultimately, the knowledge pertaining to science should be used for the betterment of society and the benefit of its people through ethical and affordable scientific excellence.
IntroductionAfter listening to an uncompromising and inconclusive debate between two contrasting sets of senior scholars on India’s ancient history in a fledgling and famous university, he was confused as to which version of Indian history was true. The youth himself being a student of science, had no idea as to how one could verify the claims that were debated by the fiery scholars of Indian history. The debate had several aspects related to ancient, medieval and modern history, but too little about science. It was his stint as a civil service aspirant that evoked an interest in history irrespective of being a student of science. So, after hearing both the versions of history, he decided to explore more about Indian history from the twelve-floor exhaustive library that the university flaunted. The library assistant was not able to guide him because the youth was too vague about his interest in reading a book pertaining to the discipline of history. Because he neither knew the title nor the author of the book, except for saying ‘history books’, the library assistant was helpless. In a final attempt, the library assistant, in a casual way, asked, “Are you a science student wanting to read history?” It clearly seemed that the assistant had, over the decades, picked up the varying and diverse reading interests and habits of student scholars of what India calls a ‘top-ranking multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary university’. The youngster nodded with a sigh of relief and replied, “Yes.” The assistant was not only quick to understand the exact need of the seeker but also precisely located the floor, shelf, and serial number of the book through the library-network software. This help from the library assistant took him to a shelf of books that unexpectedly led the student’s entry to a totally new sub-discipline of ‘science history’.
It was a dusty shelf in a corner of the ninth floor of the library. Yet covered with a thick sheath of dust on that grimy shelf was seemingly a volume of encyclopaedias. After approaching the shelf, and on giving the first of the set of hardbound books, which were in volumes, a little swipe with his unusually long forefinger, the cover shone to reveal its title: History of Science in India. There was no looking back for this author after that!
The story of India, the world’s oldest continuing and working civilization is nothing less than an incomparable and unseen phenomenon. A recorded and living civilization as this—that enjoys cultural infiniteness beyond its finite political borders; that permeably assimilates, absorbs and enriches even the minutest diverse thought that it comes in touch with; a historic quest and traditional thirst for knowledge in all spheres as a means of self-enlightenment—is also home to vibrant scientific achievements. Questioning and criticizing are the two tools through which the human mind thinks and opens up new avenues of thought in the fields of science, social science, arts, and humanities. Critical knowledge and education are known for expelling superstitions from the human mind. The role played by Indian society in such knowledge-generating activities is immense and crucial as it has also importantly provided a cultural continuity.
The development of various disciplines has not happened in one go but has taken multiple attempts at the hands of the intelligent, both individuals and groups. The resulting outcome has led to further expansion of knowledge, which has become an ever conquering and never-ending passion. Going by the principles of cause and effect, in order to understand the conditions pertaining to the origin of the outcome as we see today, one needs to introspect into the history that deciphers the causative factors. The evolution of the human intellect is an area that is debated at par with the history of human evolution. It took several stages that were a long, subtle, and gradual transition to reach the present existence of the human intellect or intelligence. Intelligence is the result of the need to survive by evolving or adapting to a situation intellectually and solving novel problems in the surroundings. By evolving intellectually human beings also evolved anatomically. The gradual development of cognitive abilities led to the expression of emotions and symbolic thoughts through the spontaneous inventions of languages. Then, the process of social learning through observation of behaviours also led to the achievement of goals.
The capability of early human beings to acquire and gradually master the technique of innovative engineering became possible through the creation of tools that had relevance in their day-to-day lives and survival. The intelligence behind such crude engineering of stone-based tools can be simultaneously validated as weapons for self- defence and tools for hunting and cutting. Since then, the art and technology of weaponry have seen continuous improvisation to form an integral basis for the social construction of boundaries. It’s just that the materials and dimensions of the tools have changed. Human intelligence has broadly evolved and utilized the available resources according to the needs of the environment.
Science is a subject that undergoes constant refinement and expands our knowledge and understanding of our surroundings by putting new questions for critical investigation. The study of India’s wealth of scientific history from various perspectives since ancient times helps in identifying the features and causes that led to the synthetization of modern science with Indian society. It also traces the role played by society, culture and philosophy in scientific development and provides an opportunity to know more about the traditions of science and technology in India. Science influences the development of society, and the society in turn supports the development of science and socio-economic growth for the future. Thus, the relations between science, technology and society, as well as the government, has become very important. Therefore, science and technology have a very important role in the overall and long-term development of society and the nation altogether.
The invention and application of fire for multiple purposes has been a cause for early engineering and technological advances. The experiential knowledge—that fire generates light, heat and can burn things that come in contact with it—enabled early human beings to look at it as a life-altering phenomenon and therefore sacred for the inhabitants of numerous civilizations across the world. Before the discovery of fire was given a scientific explanation, it was given a philosophical expression as it was thought to be a heavenly phenomenon and such spiritual and mythical gestures towards such phenomenon are natural and an integral part of traditional knowledge systems. Fire in ancient India was first produced by atharvan through a mechanical process called the prajanana, which is described in the Vedas as the general method to produce fire.
Science has been deemed as the dominant feature of India and its diverse socio-cultural structure, thereby resulting in a wide range of fascinating thoughts in arts, literature, grammar, and science. As a result, the system of education in ancient India evolved into a transdisciplinary one with religion, philosophy and science being an integral part of society. The collective education in the gurukulas imparted to the students was based on a tradition of oral transmission of Vedic knowledge and had ensured the dissemination of knowledge from one generation to the other. This education system transformed into a fledgling culture and then as a uniform social phenomenon, which has been visible across the geographic landscape of the Indian subcontinent.
All intellectual activity of ancient India was laid open to be in harmony with the philosophy of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas, which led to the evolution of Hindu thought that dwelled
accepting all the diverse ideas and views that prevailed. We must remember that there were instances of scientific opinions and truths contradicting the religious beliefs during the Vedic and later-Vedic period and stands testimony to the spirit of acceptance, tolerance and mutual coexistence since the ancient times of Hindu culture. Therefore, the resulting spectrum of knowledge—including science, philosophy, religion and spirituality, personal ethics and to be considered as traditional knowledge systems conscience—were dynamic, multidimensional, acceptable and sacred. In India, knowledge is revered as sacred for the very reason that it enables human upliftment and enlightenment. Moreover, the Vedas gave a philosophical interpretation to human life: The body is but a temporary vehicle of the self and that the soul could transcend the body. The Vedas also claim the supreme cosmos as the source of everything and that with divine grace, the ultimate truth could be discovered. Therefore, there continues to be an philosophical acceptance in ancient Indian society to dedicate the very basis of human progress to the Vedas. The timeless commentaries on the Vedas, which are available as the Upanishads, were the result of many seers and rishis in the form of selfless contributory efforts. So what was it that made ancient and medieval era Indians pursue knowledge generation in such a unique manner?
A good part of education in ancient India was related to philosophy, ritual and religion, apart from science and arts. Therefore, the ultimate goal of seeking knowledge in any form was spiritual in nature: to attain liberation (moksha) from the bondage of life. By seeking the philosophical idea of liberation or moksha, the ancient Indians ultimately sought to attain immortality by dissolving the self or soul with that of the supreme cosmos or the Absolute. The philosophy of selfless action without an attachment to the results of action was deemed as a noble spiritual path to attain goodness and thereby stop oneself from repeated birth cycles. This philosophical idea of liberation was made integral to education in ancient India, right from the childhood, and it provided a blanket motivation for many scholars and scientists since ancient times to pursue knowledge for the cause of seeking the ‘ultimate truth’ in various disciplines of science, arts and literature among others. Indeed, it is this philosophical motivation, as provided by the Vedas, that has, till this day, enabled India’s intellectual progress unhindered as a silent storm.
The Vedas primarily signifies knowledge and there are four: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. The Rigveda, as we know today, is older than 1200 BC and is the final composition of a fledgling civilization that made observations and studies for a much longer period of time before it was finally compiled, thereby taking the origins of Vedic culture to 5000 BC, and even further to 6000 BC after considering the evidence from the Harappan Civilization. The Rigveda mentions the Saraswati River, which eventually dried up and became extinct due to geological vagaries in the Indian subcontinent, and has been identified with the paleo-channels of the river. Therefore, the Rigveda is deemed as ‘<em style="mso-bidi-font-