Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Did You Know?
By D.P. Agrawal
Question: Did you know that India in the 18th Century was exporting its technology
The answer to this query is based on the book by the well known Gandhian Dharampal
(see source below below).
India then had industry, the famous extensive cotton cloth industry (spinning,
weaving, dyeing, finishing, etc.) producing cloth for ordinary wear, as well
as for exquisite purposes. Further, there were the great building industries
run by high professionals like experts in Vastu-sastra, also those who constructed
tanks and irrigation channels and maintained them, and people who looked after
the roads and rivers. There were the great cartiers like the Banjaras, the transporters
who were said at times to have travelled on the roads in caravans of 10,000
carts. Then there were the boats and ships in the rivers and on the seas, and
those who built them, and those who sailed them in the rivers and seas around
India, and to places in South East Asia and to East and South Africa.
Most parts of India produced very fine iron and steel from very early times.
Around 1700-1800 it was perhaps the best steel in the world and distant countries
like the Netherlands and Britain imported it and used it for special purposes.
We of course used it for our agricultural purposes, and in tool-making, and
in great temples as well as in great iron pillars, like the one in Delhi. Our
annual potential of iron and steel production, around 1800, is estimated at
2,00,000 tons. The furnaces which manufactured such iron and steel were found
in practically all regions of India, and were made by the iron-smelters themselves,
used ores available locally, and charcoal made from specific trees, and the
furnaces could be carted from place to place.
There were scores of large and small industrial and other manufacturing enterprises
even till A.D. 1800 and in many areas till much later. Around 1770 it was found
that ice was manufactured from water by a man-made process in the Allahabad
region. This was wholly unknown in Britain, and perhaps in Europe too, and so
details of the process were conveyed to the British Royal Society in London
by the British commander-in- chief of the Bengal army. The details were tested
and analysed in Edinburgh by one Prof. Black, probably Edinburgh was the main
centre for understanding the process. Prof. Black found that the Indian process
worked in his laboratory too, and the confirmation of it, in due course must
have led to the founding, patenting etc. of the earlier forms of modern-day
Incidentally, it seems that ice was made in India from water (and perhaps by
the same or similar process) in the early 7th Century A.D. in the days of the
celebrated Harshavardhana of Kannauj. This is referred to in the Harsha-Charitra
by the great poet Bana Bhatta
Contrary to what the British assumed, especially Mr. James Mill, the historian
of British India (1817), India seems to have been well endowed in the matter
of the treatment of the body, largely through Ayurveda and its regional versions,
and in surgery. Indian surgeons, disciples of the ancient Susruta, did surgery
for many things including the removal of the cataract of the eye in Bengal (c.1790)
and in mending noses, and perhaps, limbs. The news of the process of the mending
of noses reached the British Royal Society from Pune, and may be from other
places also. There seems to have arisen some amazement, a sort of unbelief,
but the details of the surgery were studied, and by 1810 Dr. Carpue of London
was able to build up the technique of a new plastic surgery derived and based
on the Indian method.
There must be many more such instances of export of knowledge, processes, and
techniques, in multiple fields which came to Britain, and perhaps to some other
European areas, from 18th and early 19th century India. There were the details
of the practice of inoculation conveyed firstly around A.D. 1732, and later
in much greater detail in 1765 to the British College of physicians by Mr. Holwell,
who was also a surgeon. Similarly the practices of Indian agriculture were described
to London from various areas, and some Indian tools, particularly drill ploughs,
were sent to Britain to help improve the British agricultural implements, all
in the later part of the 18th century.
A Dutch scholar around claimed an Indian origin of 16th-17th European furniture,
and published several articles on it in the Burlington Magazine, London. As
this claim got contested by a couple of British scholars the magazine found
it more politic to terminate publishing the series. There must be many instances
of this kind.
According to recent estimates of world-wide industrial manufactures, 73% of
world manufactures were done in the Chinese and the Indian regions around 1750.
Even around 1820 these two regions produced some 60% of world manufactures.
Dharampal. 1999. Despoliation and Defaming of India. Vol 1, Pp. 28-31. Other
India Press, Goa.
Back to "Did
You Know?" Archive