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History of science and technology in the Indian subcontinent

history of science and technology in the indian subcontinent map, history of science and technology in the indian subcontinent countries
The history of science and technology in the Indian Subcontinent begins with prehistoric human activity the Indus Valley Civilization to early states and empires1 Following independence science and technology in the Republic of India has included automobile engineering, information technology, communications as well as space, polar, and nuclear sciences


  • 1 Prehistory
  • 2 Early kingdoms
  • 3 Post Maha Janapadas—High Middle Ages
  • 4 Late Middle Ages
  • 5 Colonial era
  • 6 See also
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


See also: List of Indian inventions and discoveries Hand-propelled wheel cart, Indus Valley Civilization 3300–1300 BCE Housed at the National Museum, New Delhi

By 5500 BCE a number of sites similar to Mehrgarh had appeared, forming the basis of later chalcolithic cultures2 The inhabitants of these sites maintained trading relations with Near East and Central Asia2

This was developed in the Indus Valley Civilization by around 4500 BCE3 The size and prosperity of the Indus civilization grew as a result of this innovation, which eventually led to more planned settlements making use of drainage and sewerage3 Sophisticated irrigation and water storage systems were developed by the Indus Valley Civilization, including artificial reservoirs at Girnar dated to 3000 BCE, and an early canal irrigation system from c 2600 BCE4 Cotton was cultivated in the region by the 5th–4th millennia BCE5 Sugarcane was originally from tropical South and Southeast Asia6 Different species likely originated in different locations with S barberi originating in India, and S edule and S officinarum coming from New Guinea6

The inhabitants of the Indus valley developed a system of standardization, using weights and measures, evident by the excavations made at the Indus valley sites7 This technical standardization enabled gauging devices to be effectively used in angular measurement and measurement for construction7 Calibration was also found in measuring devices along with multiple subdivisions in case of some devices7 One of the earliest known docks is at Lothal 2400 BCE, located away from the main current to avoid deposition of silt8 Modern oceanographers have observed that the Harappans must have possessed knowledge relating to tides in order to build such a dock on the ever-shifting course of the Sabarmati, as well as exemplary hydrography and maritime engineering8

Excavations at Balakot c 2500–1900 BCE, present day Pakistan, have yielded evidence of an early furnace9 The furnace was most likely used for the manufacturing of ceramic objects9 Ovens, dating back to the civilization's mature phase c 2500–1900 BCE, were also excavated at Balakot9 The Kalibangan archeological site further yields evidence of potshaped hearths, which at one site have been found both on ground and underground10 Kilns with fire and kiln chambers have also been found at the Kalibangan site10

View of the Ashokan Pillar at Vaishali One of the edicts of Ashoka 272—231 BCE reads: "Everywhere King Piyadasi Ashoka erected two kinds of hospitals, hospitals for people and hospitals for animals Where there were no healing herbs for people and animals, he ordered that they be bought and planted"11

Based on archaeological and textual evidence, Joseph E Schwartzberg 2008—a University of Minnesota professor emeritus of geography—traces the origins of Indian cartography to the Indus Valley Civilization c 2500–1900 BCE12 The use of large scale constructional plans, cosmological drawings, and cartographic material was known in India with some regularity since the Vedic period 2nd - 1st millennium BCE12 Climatic conditions were responsible for the destruction of most of the evidence, however, a number of excavated surveying instruments and measuring rods have yielded convincing evidence of early cartographic activity13 Schwartzberg 2008—on the subject of surviving maps—further holds that: 'Though not numerous, a number of map-like graffiti appear among the thousands of Stone Age Indian cave paintings; and at least one complex Mesolithic diagram is believed to be a representation of the cosmos'14

Archeological evidence of an animal-drawn plough dates back to 2500 BCE in the Indus Valley Civilization15 The earliest available swords of copper discovered from the Harappan sites date back to 2300 BCE16 Swords have been recovered in archaeological findings throughout the Ganges–Jamuna Doab region of India, consisting of bronze but more commonly copper16

Early kingdomsedit

Ink drawing of Ganesha under an umbrella early 19th century Carbon pigment Ink, called masi, and popularly known as India ink was an admixture of several chemical components, has been used in India since at least the 4th century BCE17 The practice of writing with ink and a sharp pointed needle was common in early South India18 Several Jain sutras in India were compiled in Carbon pigment Ink19 The Hindu-Arabic numeral system The inscriptions on the edicts of Ashoka 1st millennium BCE display this number system being used by the Imperial Mauryas

The religious texts of the Vedic Period provide evidence for the use of large numbers20 By the time of the last Veda, the Yajurvedasaṃhitā 1200-900 BCE, numbers as high as 10 12 were being included in the texts20 For example, the mantra sacrificial formula at the end of the annahoma "food-oblation rite" performed during the aśvamedha "an allegory for a horse sacrifice", and uttered just before-, during-, and just after sunrise, invokes powers of ten from a hundred to a trillion20 The Satapatha Brahmana 9th century BCE contains rules for ritual geometric constructions that are similar to the Sulba Sutras21

Baudhayana c 8th century BCE composed the Baudhayana Sulba Sutra, which contains examples of simple Pythagorean triples, such as: 3 , 4 , 5 , 5 , 12 , 13 , 8 , 15 , 17 , 7 , 24 , 25 , and 12 , 35 , 37 22 as well as a statement of the Pythagorean theorem for the sides of a square: "The rope which is stretched across the diagonal of a square produces an area double the size of the original square"22 It also contains the general statement of the Pythagorean theorem for the sides of a rectangle: "The rope stretched along the length of the diagonal of a rectangle makes an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together"22 Baudhayana gives a formula for the square root of two23 Mesopotamian influence at this stage is considered likely24

The earliest Indian astronomical text—named Vedānga Jyotiṣa— attributed to Lagadha, is considered one of the oldest astronomical texts, dating from 1400–1200 BCE with the extant form possibly from 700–600 BCE,25 it details several astronomical attributes generally applied for timing social and religious events It also details astronomical calculations, calendrical studies, and establishes rules for empirical observation26 Since the Vedānga Jyotiṣa is a religious text, it has connections with Indian astrology and details several important aspects of the time and seasons, including lunar months, solar months, and their adjustment by a lunar leap month of Adhikamāsa27 Ritus and Yugas are also described27 Tripathi 2008 holds that "Twenty-seven constellations, eclipses, seven planets, and twelve signs of the zodiac were also known at that time"27

The Egyptian Papyrus of Kahun 1900 BCE and literature of the Vedic period in India offer early records of veterinary medicine28 Kearns & Nash 2008 state that mention of leprosy is described in the medical treatise Sushruta Samhita 6th century BCE The Sushruta Samhita an Ayurvedic text contains 184 chapters and description of 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, a detailed study on Anatomy, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources2930 However, The Oxford Illustrated Companion to Medicine holds that the mention of leprosy, as well as ritualistic cures for it, were described in the Hindu religious book Atharva-veda, written in 1500–1200 BCE31

Cataract surgery was known to the physician Sushruta 6th century BCE32 Traditional cataract surgery was performed with a special tool called the Jabamukhi Salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the lens and push the cataract out of the field of vision32 The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged32 Though this method was successful, Susruta cautioned that it should only be used when necessary32 The removal of cataract by surgery was also introduced into China from India33

During the 5th century BCE, the scholar Pāṇini had made several discoveries in the fields of phonetics, phonology, and morphology34 Pāṇini's morphological analysis remained more advanced than any equivalent Western theory until the mid-20th century35 Metal currency was minted in India before the 5th century BCE,3637 with coinage 400 BCE—100 CE being made of silver and copper, bearing animal and plant symbols on them38

Zinc mines of Zawar, near Udaipur, Rajasthan, were active during 400 BCE3940 Diverse specimens of swords have been discovered in Fatehgarh, where there are several varieties of hilt41 These swords have been variously dated to periods between 1700–1400 BCE, but were probably used more extensively during the opening centuries of the 1st millennium BCE42 Archaeological sites in such as Malhar, Dadupur, Raja Nala Ka Tila and Lahuradewa in present-day Uttar Pradesh show iron implements from the period between 1800 BCE and 1200 BCE43 Early iron objects found in India can be dated to 1400 BCE by employing the method of radio carbon dating44 Some scholars believe that by the early 13th century BCE iron smelting was practiced on a bigger scale in India, suggesting that the date of the technology's inception may be placed earlier43 In Southern India present day Mysore iron appeared as early as 11th to 12th centuries BCE45 These developments were too early for any significant close contact with the northwest of the country45

Post Maha Janapadas—High Middle Agesedit

The iron pillar of Delhi 375–413 CE The first iron pillar was the Iron pillar of Delhi, erected at the times of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya

The Arthashastra of Kautilya mentions the construction of dams and bridges46 The use of suspension bridges using plaited bamboo and iron chain was visible by about the 4th century47 The stupa, the precursor of the pagoda and torii, was constructed by the 3rd century BCE4849 Rock-cut step wells in the region date from 200-400 CE50 Subsequently, the construction of wells at Dhank 550-625 CE and stepped ponds at Bhinmal 850-950 CE took place50

During the 1st millennium BCE, the Vaisheshika school of atomism was founded The most important proponent of this school was Kanada, an Indian philosopher who lived around 200 BCE51 The school proposed that atoms are indivisible and eternal, can neither be created nor destroyed,52 and that each one possesses its own distinct viśeṣa individuality53 It was further elaborated on by the Buddhist school of atomism, of which the philosophers Dharmakirti and Dignāga in the 7th century CE were the most important proponents They considered atoms to be point-sized, durationless, and made of energy54

By the beginning of the Common Era glass was being used for ornaments and casing in the region55 Contact with the Greco-Roman world added newer techniques, and local artisans learnt methods of glass molding, decorating and coloring by the early centuries of the Common Era55 The Satavahana period further reveals short cylinders of composite glass, including those displaying a lemon yellow matrix covered with green glass56 Wootz originated in the region before the beginning of the common era57 Wootz was exported and traded throughout Europe, China, the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East, where it became known as Damascus steel Archaeological evidence suggests that manufacturing process for Wootz was also in existence in South India before the Christian era5859

Evidence for using bow-instruments for carding comes from India 2nd century CE60 The mining of diamonds and its early use as gemstones originated in India61 Golconda served as an important early center for diamond mining and processing61 Diamonds were then exported to other parts of the world61 Early reference to diamonds comes from Sanskrit texts62 The Arthashastra also mentions diamond trade in the region63 The Iron pillar of Delhi was erected at the times of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya 375–413, which stood without rusting for around 2 millennium, which the modern science can't explain why64 The Rasaratna Samuccaya 800 explains the existence of two types of ores for zinc metal, one of which is ideal for metal extraction while the other is used for medicinal purpose65

Model of a Chola 200–848 ship's hull, built by the ASI, based on a wreck 19 miles off the coast of Poombuhar, displayed in a Museum in Tirunelveli

The origins of the spinning wheel are unclear but India is one of the probable places of its origin6667 The device certainly reached Europe from India by the 14th century68 The cotton gin was invented in India as a mechanical device known as charkhi, the "wooden-worm-worked roller"60 This mechanical device was, in some parts of the region, driven by water power60 The Ajanta caves yield evidence of a single roller cotton gin in use by the 5th century69 This cotton gin was used until further innovations were made in form of foot powered gins69 Chinese documents confirm at least two missions to India, initiated in 647, for obtaining technology for sugar-refining70 Each mission returned with different results on refining sugar70 300-200 BCE was a musical theorist who authored a Sanskrit treatise on prosody There is evidence that in his work on the enumeration of syllabic combinations, Pingala stumbled upon both the Pascal triangle and Binomial coefficients, although he did not have knowledge of the Binomial theorem itself7172 A description of binary numbers is also found in the works of Pingala73 The Indians also developed the use of the law of signs in multiplication Negative numbers and the subtrahend had been used in East Asia since the 2nd century BCE, and Indian mathematicians were aware of negative numbers by the 7th century CE,74 and their role in mathematical problems of debt was understood75 Although the Indians were not the first to use the subtrahend, they were the first to establish the "law of signs" with regards to the multiplication of positive and negative numbers, which did not appear in East Asian texts until 129976 Mostly consistent and correct rules for working with negative numbers were formulated,77 and the diffusion of these rules led the Arab intermediaries to pass it on to Europe75

A decimal number system using hieroglyphics dates back to 3000 BC in Egypt,78 and was later in use in ancient India where the modern numeration system was developed79 By the 9th century CE, the Hindu–Arabic numeral system was transmitted from India through the Middle East and to the rest of the world80 The concept of 0 as a number, and not merely a symbol for separation is attributed to India81 In India, practical calculations were carried out using zero, which was treated like any other number by the 9th century CE, even in case of division7782 Brahmagupta 598–668 was able to find integral solutions of Pell's equation83 Conceptual design for a perpetual motion machine by Bhaskara II dates to 1150 He described a wheel that he claimed would run forever84

The trigonometric functions of sine and versine, from which it was trivial to derive the cosine, were used by the mathematician, Aryabhata, in the late 5th century8586 The calculus theorem now known as "Rolle's theorem" was stated by mathematician, Bhāskara II, in the 12th century87

Akbarnama—written by August 12, 1602—depicts the defeat of Baz Bahadur of Malwa by the Mughal troops, 1561 The Mughals extensively improved metal weapons and armor used by the armies of India

Indigo was used as a dye in India, which was also a major center for its production and processing88 The Indigofera tinctoria variety of Indigo was domesticated in India88 Indigo, used as a dye, made its way to the Greeks and the Romans via various trade routes, and was valued as a luxury product88 The cashmere wool fiber, also known as pashm or pashmina, was used in the handmade shawls of Kashmir89 The woolen shawls from Kashmir region find written mention between 3rd century BCE and the 11th century CE90 Crystallized sugar was discovered by the time of the Gupta dynasty,91 and the earliest reference to candied sugar comes from India92 Jute was also cultivated in India93 Muslin was named after the city where Europeans first encountered it, Mosul, in what is now Iraq, but the fabric actually originated from Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh9495 In the 9th century, an Arab merchant named Sulaiman makes note of the material's origin in Bengal known as Ruhml in Arabic95

European scholar Francesco I reproduced a number of Indian maps in his magnum opus La Cartografia Antica dell India96 Out of these maps, two have been reproduced using a manuscript of Lokaprakasa, originally compiled by the polymath Ksemendra Kashmir, 11th century CE, as a source96 The other manuscript, used as a source by Francesco I, is titled Samgraha'96

Late Middle Agesedit

Jantar Mantar, Delhi—consisting of 13 architectural astronomy instruments, built by Jai Singh II of Jaipur, from 1724 onwards

Madhava of Sangamagrama c 1340 – 1425 and his Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics developed and founded mathematical analysis97 The infinite series for π was stated by him, and he made use of the series expansion of arctan ⁡ x to obtain an infinite series expression, now known as the Madhava-Gregory series, for π Their rational approximation of the error for the finite sum of their series are of particular interest They manipulated the error term to derive a faster converging series for π They used the improved series to derive a rational expression,98 104348 / 33215 for π correct up to nine decimal places, ie 3141592653 of 3141592653589798 The development of the series expansions for trigonometric functions sine, cosine, and arc tangent was carried out by mathematicians of the Kerala School in the 15th century CE99 Their work, completed two centuries before the invention of calculus in Europe, provided what is now considered the first example of a power series apart from geometric series99

Shēr Shāh of northern India issued silver currency bearing Islamic motifs, later imitated by the Mughal empire38 The Chinese merchant Ma Huan 1413–51 noted that gold coins, known as fanam, were issued in Cochin and weighed a total of one fen and one li according to the Chinese standards100 They were of fine quality and could be exchanged in China for 15 silver coins of four-li weight each100

In 1500, Nilakantha Somayaji of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, in his Tantrasangraha, revised Aryabhata's elliptical model for the planets Mercury and Venus His equation of the centre for these planets remained the most accurate until the time of Johannes Kepler in the 17th century101

The seamless celestial globe was invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH 1589-90 CE, and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahore and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire102 Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically impossible to produce metal globes without any seams, even with modern technology102 These Mughal metallurgists pioneered the method of lost-wax casting in order to produce these globes102

Portrait of a young Indian scholar, Mughal miniature by Mir Sayyid Ali, c 1550

Gunpowder and gunpowder weapons were transmitted to India through the Mongol invasions of India103104 The Mongols were defeated by Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate, and some of the Mongol soldiers remained in northern India after their conversion to Islam104 It was written in the Tarikh-i Firishta 1606–1607 that the envoy of the Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan was presented with a pyrotechnics display upon his arrival in Delhi in 1258 CE105 As a part of an embassy to India by Timurid leader Shah Rukh 1405–1447, 'Abd al-Razzaq mentioned naphtha-throwers mounted on elephants and a variety of pyrotechnics put on display106 Firearms known as top-o-tufak also existed in the Vijayanagara Empire by as early as 1366 CE105 From then on the employment of gunpowder warfare in the region was prevalent, with events such as the siege of Belgaum in 1473 CE by the Sultan Muhammad Shah Bahmani107

In A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder, James Riddick Partington describes the gunpowder warfare of 16th and 17th century Mughal India, and writes that "Indian war rockets were formidable weapons before such rockets were used in Europe They had bamboo rods, a rocket-body lashed to the rod, and iron points They were directed at the target and fired by lighting the fuse, but the trajectory was rather erratic The use of mines and counter-mines with explosive charges of gunpowder is mentioned for the times of Akbar and Jahāngir"108

By the 16th century, Indians were manufacturing a diverse variety of firearms; large guns in particular, became visible in Tanjore, Dacca, Bijapur and Murshidabad109 Guns made of bronze were recovered from Calicut 1504 and Diu 1533108 Gujarāt supplied Europe saltpeter for use in gunpowder warfare during the 17th century110 Bengal and Mālwa participated in saltpeter production110 The Dutch, French, Portuguese, and English used Chhapra as a center of saltpeter refining111

The construction of water works and aspects of water technology in India is described in Arabic and Persian works112 During medieval times, the diffusion of Indian and Persian irrigation technologies gave rise to an advanced irrigation system which bought about economic growth and also helped in the growth of material culture112 The founder of the cashmere wool industry is traditionally held to be the 15th-century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia90

The scholar Sadiq Isfahani of Jaunpur compiled an atlas of the parts of the world which he held to be 'suitable for human life'113 The 32 sheet atlas—with maps oriented towards the south as was the case with Islamic works of the era—is part of a larger scholarly work compiled by Isfahani during 1647 CE113 According to Joseph E Schwartzberg 2008: 'The largest known Indian map, depicting the former Rajput capital at Amber in remarkable house-by-house detail, measures 661 × 645 cm 260 × 254 in, or approximately 22 × 21 ft'114

Colonial eraedit

Early volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica described cartographic charts made by the seafaring Dravidian people115 In Encyclopædia Britannica 2008, Stephen Oliver Fought & John F Guilmartin, Jr describe the gunpowder technology in 18th-century Mysore:116

Hyder Ali, prince of Mysore, developed war rockets with an important change: the use of metal cylinders to contain the combustion powder Although the hammered soft iron he used was crude, the bursting strength of the container of black powder was much higher than the earlier paper construction Thus a greater internal pressure was possible, with a resultant greater thrust of the propulsive jet The rocket body was lashed with leather thongs to a long bamboo stick Range was perhaps up to three-quarters of a mile more than a kilometre Although individually these rockets were not accurate, dispersion error became less important when large numbers were fired rapidly in mass attacks They were particularly effective against cavalry and were hurled into the air, after lighting, or skimmed along the hard dry ground Hyder Ali's son, Tippu Sultan, continued to develop and expand the use of rocket weapons, reportedly increasing the number of rocket troops from 1,200 to a corps of 5,000 In battles at Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against the British

By the end of the 18th century the postal system in the region had reached high levels of efficiency117 According to Thomas Broughton, the Maharaja of Jodhpur sent daily offerings of fresh flowers from his capital to Nathadvara 320 km and they arrived in time for the first religious Darshan at sunrise117 Later this system underwent modernization with the establishment of the British Raj118 The Post Office Act XVII of 1837 enabled the Governor-General of India to convey messages by post within the territories of the East India Company118 Mail was available to some officials without charge, which became a controversial privilege as the years passed118 The Indian Post Office service was established on October 1, 1837118 The British also constructed a vast railway network in the region for both strategic and commercial reasons119

The British education system, aimed at producing able civil and administrative services candidates, exposed a number of Indians to foreign institutions120 Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose 1858–1937, Prafulla Chandra Ray 1861-1944, Satyendra Nath Bose 1894–1974, Meghnad Saha 1893–1956, P C Mahalanobis 1893–1972, Sir C V Raman 1888–1970, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar 1910–1995, Homi Bhabha 1909–1966, Srinivasa Ramanujan 1887–1920, Vikram Sarabhai 1919–1971, Har Gobind Khorana 1922–2011, and Harish Chandra 1923–1983 were among the notable scholars of this period120

Extensive interaction between colonial and native sciences was seen during most of the colonial era121 Western science came to be associated with the requirements of nation building rather than being viewed entirely as a colonial entity,122 especially as it continued to fuel necessities from agriculture to commerce121 Scientists from India also appeared throughout Europe122 By the time of India's independence colonial science had assumed importance within the westernized intelligentsia and establishment122

For science and technology in the Republic of India, see Science and technology in the Republic of India For science and technology in Pakistan, see Science and technology in Pakistan

See alsoedit

  • Science and technology in India
  • List of Indian inventions
  • Information technology in India
  • Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture
  • List of Indian engineering colleges before 1947
  • Digit magazine


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External linksedit

  • Our Science and Technology Heritage gallery for the National Science Centre in Delhi
  • A brief introduction to technological brilliance of Ancient India Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage
  • Science and Technology in Ancient India
  • India: Science and technology, US Library of Congress
  • Pursuit and promotion of science: The Indian Experience, Indian National Science Academy
  • India: Science and technology, US Library of Congress
  • Indian National Science Academy 2001, Pursuit and promotion of science: The Indian Experience, Indian National Science Academy,
  • Presenting Indian S&T Heritage in Science Museums, Propagation : a Journal of science communication Vol 1, NO1, January 2010, National Council of Science Museums, Kolkata, India, by SM Khened, 1
  • Presenting Indian S&T Heritage in Science Museums, Propagation : a Journal of science communication Vol 1, NO2, July, 2010, pages 124-132, National Council of Science Museums, Kolkata, India, by SM Khened,2
  • History of Science in South Asia hssa-journalorg HSSA is a peer-reviewed, open-access, online journal for the history of science in India

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