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.
The Agastya Samhita, an ancient Indian text, gives directions on how to make a battery: “Place a well-cleaned copper plate in an earthenware vessel. Cover it first by copper sulfate and then moist sawdust. After that put a mercury-amalgamated-zinc sheet on top of an energy known by the twin name of Mitra-Varuna. Water will be split by this current into Pranavayu and Udanavayu. A chain of one hundred jars is said to give a very active and effective force.” By the way, Mitra-Varuna is now called cathode-anode, and Pranavayu and Udanavayu are to us oxygen and hydrogen, respectively.
9. Yukti Kalpa Taru – Handbook of Shipbuilding
Sanskrit and Pali literature has innumerable references to the maritime activity of Indians in ancient times. There is also one treatise in Sanskrit, named Yukti Kalpa Taru which has been compiled by a person called Bhoja Narapati. (The Yukti Kalpa Taru (YKT) had been translated and published by Prof. Aufrecht in his ‘Catalogue of Sanskrit Manu scripts. An excellent study of the YKT had been undertaken by Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji entitled ‘Indian Shipping’. Published by Orient Longman, Bombay in 1912.)
This treatise gives a technocratic exposition on the technique of shipbuilding. It sets forth minute details about the various types of ships, their sizes, the materials from which they were built. The Yukti Kalpa Taru sums up in a condensed form all the available information.
The Yukti Kalpa Taru gives sufficient information and date to prove that in ancient times, Indian shipbuilders had a good knowledge of the materials which were used in building ships. Apart from describing the qualities of the different types of wood and their suitablility in shipbuilding, the Yukti Kalpa Taru also gives an elaborate classification of ships based on their size.
The primary division is into 2 classes viz. Samanya (ordinary) and Vishesha (Special). The ordinary type for sea voyages. Ships that undertook sea voyages were classified into, Dirgha type of ships which had a long and narrow hull and the Unnata type of ships which had a higher hull.
The treatise also gives elaborate directions for decorating and furnishing the ships with a view to making them comfortable for passengers. Also mentioned are details about the internal seating and accommodation to be provided on the ships. Three classes of ships are distinguished according to their length and the position of cabins. The ships having cabins extending from one end of the deck to the other are called Sarvamandira vessels. These ships are recommended for the transport of royal treasure and horses. The next are the Madhyamarnandira vessels which have cabins only in the middle part of their deck. these vessels are recommended for pleasure trips. And finally there is a category of Agramandira vessels, these ships were used mainly in warfare.
8. Machha Yantra – The Ancient Indian Mariner’s Compass
Interestingly there were Sanskrit terms for many parts of a ship. The ship’s anchor was known as Nava-Bandhan-Kilaha which literally means ‘A Nail to tie up a ship’ . The sail was called Vata Vastra a which means ‘wind-cloth’. The hull was termed StulaBhaga i.e. an’expanded area’. The rudder was called Keni-Pata, Pata means blade; the rudder was also known as Karna which literally means a ‘ear’ and was so called because it used to be a hollow curved blade, as is found today in exhaust fans. The ship’s keel was called Nava-Tala which means ‘bottom of a ship’. The mast was known as Kupadanda, in which danda means a pole.
Even a sextant was used for navigation and was called Vruttashanga-Bhaga. But what is more surprising is that even a contrived mariner’s compass was used by Indian navigators nearly 1500 to 2000 years ago. This claim is not being made in an overzealous nationalistic spirit. This has in fact been the suggestion of an European expert, Mr. J.L. Reid, who was a member of the Institute of Naval Architects and Shipbuilders in England at around the beginning of the present century. This is what Mr. Reid has said in the Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xiii., Part ii., Appendix A.
“The early Hindu astrologers are said to have used the magnet, in fixing the North and East, in laying foundations, and other religious ceremonies. The Hindu compass was an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed to the North. The fact of this older Hindu compass seems placed beyond doubt by the Sanskrit word Maccha Yantra, or fish machine, which Molesworth gives as a name for the mariner’s compass”.
It is significant to note that these are the words of a foreign Naval Architect and Shipbuilding Expert. Is is thus quite possible that the Maccha Yantra (fish machine) was transmitted to the west by the Arabs to give us the mariner’s compass of today.
In ancient India conventional mathematics termed Ganitam was known before the development of algebra. This is borne out by the name – Bijaganitam, which was given to the algebraic form of computation. Bijaganitam means ‘the other mathematics’ (Bija means ‘another’ or ‘second’ and Ganitam means mathematics). The fact that this name was chosen for this system of computation implies that it was recognised as a parallel system of computation, different from the conventional one which was used since the past and was till then the only one. Some have interpreted the term Bija to mean seed, symbolizing origin or beginning. And the inference that Bijaganitam was the original form of computation is derived. Credence is lent to this view by the existence of mathematics in the Vedic literature which was also shorthand method of computation. But whatever the origin of algebra, it is certain that this technique of computation Originated in India and was current around 1500 years back. Aryabhatta an Indian mathematican who lived in the 5th century A.D. has referred to Bijaganitam in his treatise on Mathematics, Aryabhattiya. An Indian mathematician – astronomer, Bhaskaracharya has also authored a treatise on this subject. the treatise which is dated around the 12th century A.D. is entitled ‘Siddhanta-Shiromani’ of which one section is entitled Bijaganitam.
Indian mathematicians had their contribution in Geometry. There was an area of mathematical applications called Rekha Ganita (Line Computation). The Sulva Sutras, which literally mean ‘Rule of the Chord’ give geometrical methods of constructing altars and temples. The temples layouts were called Mandalas. Some of important works in this field are by Apastamba, Baudhayana, Hiranyakesin, Manava, Varaha and Vadhula.
The Arab scholar Mohammed Ibn Jubair al Battani studied Indian use of ratios from Retha Ganita and introduced them among the Arab scholars like Al Khwarazmi, Washiya and Abe Mashar who incorporated the newly acquired knowledge of algebra and other branches of Indian mathema into the Arab ideas about the subject.
The chief exponent of this Indo-Arab amalgam in mathematics was Al Khwarazmi who evolved a technique of calculation from Indian sources. This technique which was named by westerners after Al Khwarazmi as “Algorismi” gave us the modern term Algorithm, which is used in computer software.
Algorithm which is a process of calculation based on decimal notation numbers. This method was deduced by Khwarazmi from the Indian techniques geometric computation which he had st ied. Al Khwarazmi’s work was translated into Latin under the title “De Numero Indico” which means ‘of Indian Numerals’ thus betraying its Indian origin. This translation which belong to the 12th century A.D credited to one Adelard who lived in a town called Bath in Britian.
Thus Al Khwarazmi and Adelard could looked upon as pioneers who transmit Indian numerals to the west. Incidents according to the Oxford Dictionary, word algorithm which we use in the English language is a corruption of the name Khwarazmi which literally means ‘(a person) from Khawarizm’, which was the name of the town where Al Khwarazmi lived. To day unfortunately’, the original Indian texts that Al Khwarazmi studied arelost to us, only the translations are avail able .
The Arabs borrowed so much from India the field of mathematics that even the subject of mathematics in Arabic came to known as Hindsa which means ‘from India and a mathematician or engineer in Arabic is called Muhandis which means ‘an expert in Mathematics’. The word Muhandis possibly derived from the Arabic term mathematics viz. Hindsa.
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 me[[aning 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.”
In ancient India, chemistry was caled Rasayan Shastra, Rasa-Vidya, Rasatantra and Rasakriya all of which roughly mean ‘Science of liquids’. There also existed chemical laboratories and chemicals works, which were called Rasakriya-nagaram and Rasakriya-shala which literally mean ‘School where liquids are activated’. A chemist was referred to as a Rasadnya and Rasa-tantra-vid which mean ‘Person having knowledge about liquids. Apart from the term Rasa which means liquid, another word, Dravya which means slurry, was also used to refer to chemicals. Thus, in ancient India, chemistry was evidently developed to a significant level.
Metallurgy was an important activity the world over. In fact the discovery of smelting of metals made possible the progress of society from the Stone Age to the Bronze and Iron Ages. In the area of smelting metals, Indians had acquired proficiency in the extraction of metals from ore, and also in the casting of metals. In very early times: around 2000 B.C. the idea of smelting metals was known in Mesopotemia and the Near East. It is possible that Indians could have borrowed the idea from an outside source. It is generally agreed that the Aryan tribes who are said to have destroyed the Indus Valley civilization had bronze weapons which helped them to overcome the otherwise more advanced people of the Indus cities.
Though Indians could have had borrowed the idea of smelting metals from an outside source, they seem to have had used metals in warfare from around 1500 B.G when the Aryans are said to have invaded the Indus Valley cities. The next definite reference to the use of metals by Indian soldiers is by the Greeks. The Greek historian Herodotus has observed in the 5th century that “Indians in the Persian army used arrows tipped with iron”. Indian steel and iron were reportedly being used by the Romans for manufacturing armour as well as cutlery. But these references apart, it is in India itself that we find actual objects that reflect the advancement of the technique of smelting.
3. Khagola-Shastra – Astronomy
In Indian languages, the science of Astronomy is today called Khagola-shastra. The word Khagola perhaps is derived from the famous astronomical observatory at the University of Nalanda which was called Khagola. It was at Khagola that the famous 5th century Indian Astronomer Aryabhatta studied and extended the subject.
Aryabhatta is said to have been born in 476 A.D. at a town called Ashmaka in today’s Indian state of Kerala. When he was still a young boy he had been sent to the University of Nalanda to study astronomy. He made significant contributions to the field of astronomy. He also propounded the Heliocentric theory of gravitation, thus predating Copernicus by almost one thousand years.
Aryabhatta’s Magnum Opus, the Aryabhattiya was translated into Latin in the 13th century. Through this translation, European mathematicians got to know methods for calculating the areas of triangles, volumes of spheres as well as square and cube root. Aryabhatta’s ideas about eclipses and the sun being the source of moonlight may not have caused much of an impression on European astronomers as by then they had come to know of these facts throught the observations of Copernicus and Galileo.
But considering that Aryabhatta discovered these facts 1500 years ago, and 1000 years before Copernicus and Galileo makes him a pioneer in this area too. Aryabhatta’s methods of astronomical calculations expounded in his Aryabhatta-siddhanta were reliable for practical purposes of fixing the Panchanga (Hindu calendar). Thus in ancient India, eclipses were also forecast and their true nature was perceived at least by the astronomers.
The lack of a telescope hindered further advancement of ancient Indian astronomy. Though it should be admitted that with their unaided observations with crude instruments, the astronomers in ancient India were able to arrive at near perfect measurement of astronomical movements and predict eclipses.
Indian astronomers also propounded the theory that the earth was a sphere. Aryabhatta was the first one to have propounded this theory in the 5th century. Another Indian astronomer, Brahmagupta estimated in the 7th century that the circumference of the earth was 5000 yojanas. A yojana is around 7.2 kms. Calculating on this basis we see that the estimate of 36,000 kms as the earth’s circumference comes quite close to the actual circumference known today.
2. Vimanas – Ancient Indian Aircraft Technology
According to ancient Indian texts, the people had flying machines which were called “Vimanas.” The ancient Indian epic describes a Vimana as a double-deck, circular aircraft with portholes and a dome, much as we would imagine a flying saucer.
It flew with the “speed of the wind” and gave forth a “melodious sound.” There were at least four different types of Vimanas; some saucer shaped, others like long cylinders (“cigar shaped airships”). The ancient Indian texts on Vimanas are so numerous, it would take volumes to relate what they had to say. The ancient Indians, who manufactured these ships themselves, wrote entire flight manuals on the control of the various types of Vimanas, many of which are still in existence, and some have even been translated into English.
1. Zero – The Most Important Discovery of The World
The concept of zero also originated in ancient India. This concept may seem to be a very ordinary one and a claim to its discovery may be viewed as queer. But if one gives a hard thought to this concept it would be seen that zero is not just a numeral. Apart from being a numeral, it is also a concept, and a fundamental one at that. It is fundamental because, terms to identify visible or perceptible objects do not require much ingenuity.
But a concept and symbol that connotes nullity represents a qualitative advancement of the human capacity of abstraction. In absence of a concept of zero there could have been only positive numerals in computation, the inclusion of zero in mathematics opened up a new dimension of negative numerals and gave a cut off point and a standard in the measurability of qualities whose extremes are as yet unknown to human beings, such as temperature.
In ancient India this numeral was used in computation, it was indicated by a dot and was termed Pujyam. Even today we use this term for zero along with the more current term Shunyam meaning a blank. But queerly the term Pujyam also means holy. Param-Pujya is a prefix used in written communication with elders. In this case it means respected or esteemed. The reason why the term Pujya – meaning blank – came to be sanctified can only be guessed.”
The ancient India astronomer Brahmagupta is credited with having put forth the concept of zero for the first time: Brahmagupta is said to have been born the year 598 A.D. at Bhillamala (today’s Bhinmal ) in Gujarat, Western India. ] much is known about Brahmagupta’s early life. We are told that his name as a mathematician was well established when K Vyaghramukha of the Chapa dyansty m him the court astronomer. Of his two treatises, Brahma-sputa siddhanta and Karanakhandakhadyaka, first is more famous. It was a corrected version of the old Astronomical text, Brahma siddhanta. It was in his Brahma-sphu siddhanta, for the first time ever had be formulated the rules of the operation zero, foreshadowing the decimal system numeration. With the integration of zero into the numerals it became possible to note higher numerals with limited charecters.
In the earlier Roman and Babylonian systems of numeration, a large number of chara acters were required to denote higher numerals. Thus enumeration and computation became unwieldy. For instance, as E the Roman system of numeration, the number thirty would have to be written as X: while as per the decimal system it would 30, further the number thirty three would be XXXIII as per the Roman system, would be 33 as per the decimal system. Thus it is clear how the introduction of the decimal system made possible the writing of numerals having a high value with limited characters. This also made computation easier.
Apart from developing the decimal system based on the incorporation of zero in enumeration, Brahmagupta also arrived at solutions for indeterminate equations of 1 type ax2+1=y2 and thus can be called the founder of higher branch of mathematics called numerical analysis. Brahmagupta’s treatise Brahma-sputa-siddhanta was translated into Arabic under the title Sind Hind).