Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Review: History of Technology in India. Bag, A. K. (Ed.) 1997. New
Delhi: Indian National Science Academy. Pp. 705. Price Rs. 1200/- ($350).
by D.P. Agrawal and Lalit Tiwari
Through this brief review of History of Technology in India we would
like to bring to the notice of interested readers a valuable work on India's
history of science and technology. We have tried to give a glimpse of the broad
areas covered in the book, rather than giving a critique of individual articles,
to facilitate its use as an important reference work.
Each age has its own technology and technology carries the stamp of its age.
This is a well-known dictum and this is the concept of this book. This volume
contains contributions of thirty Indian experts through their remarkable essays.
This book is published for Indian National Commission for History of Science
by the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi. In this review we discuss
only the first volume, which covers the period from antiquity to 1200AD.
A. K. Bag, former head of History of Science Division of Indian National Science
Academy, New Delhi has edited this book. This volume has a variety of technological
details and covers obviously many divergent issues that have made this book
quiet interesting. The volume begins with the Stone and Bronze Age technologies
of the Indian subcontinent in a global context.
This edited volume has ten different sections, which contain a total of 30
articles by well-known scholars of different fields. First and second sections
have only one article each named Stone Age Techniques and Bronze Age Techniques,
respectively. Third section is "Material Technology" which has six
articles. Fourth section is "Chemical and Medical Practices" containing
five articles by various authors. Section five has only one article; five articles
comprise section six, entitled "Agriculture and Food Technology".
"Building, Construction Engineering, Irrigation works and Transportation"
is the title of seventh section, which has five articles by various scholars.
Sections eight, ninth and tenth are very small.
In the first article on "Stone Age Techniques", Vidula Jayaswal,
the famous prehistorian, describes generally the method of tool-making in all
three stages of Stone Age, e.g., the Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic
Bronze is found in use in the Indian subcontinent at quite an early phase and
became a distinctive feature of the Indus Valley culture (represented by Harappa,
Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro and other sites). The Harappan, the Chalcolithic and
the Copper Hoards cultures were the three main copper using cultures. D. P.
Agrawal and Manju Pant, in their article "Bronze Age Technology",
analyse the Bronze Age technology through archaeological AND chemical evidence.
India has the oldest material technology like, metals, ceramics, glass, gems
and minerals, etc.; the third section of this book is dedicated to this technology.
The Section contains six important articles: the first article is "Mining"
by R. D. Singh who deals with history of ancient mining and minerals uses in
India. Bhanu Prakash in his article, "Metals and Metallurgy" summarises
the ancient metallurgy of gold, silver, lead, copper, iron, steel, zinc and
some ancient alloys of gold, silver, copper, iron-carbon etc. with special reference
to ancient mines and mining operations. Next article is "Methods of Coin-Making"
by B. N. Mukherjee. Generally ancient coins can be broadly divided into four
classes, viz. (i) archaic die-struck including the so-called 'punch-marked'
, (ii) cast, (iii) repousse and (iv) die-struck. In his article, Mukherjee
uses some historical and archaeological evidence for describing the techniques
of coin making in antiquity. The invention of pottery is the most important
landmark in man's march from barbarism to civilization. Occurrence of pottery
is attributed to the Neolithic period but the recent evidence from West Asia
shows that pottery came to be made by humans in the later stage of the Neolithic,
and that there is an aceramic stage preceding the use of pottery. This is the
issue of next article "Ceramic Technology" by M. K. Dhavalikar, the
famous archaeologist, who deals with ancient ceramic technology with examples
from archaeological evidence. "Glass" is the title of next article
by H. C. Bharadwaj, the chemist. Origin of glass is shrouded in mystery and
it is difficult to pinpoint the exact place and date of its birth. However,
archaeological findings have clearly proved that the ancient civilizations of
Mesopotamia, Egypt and India made various siliceous and glazed materials including
faience, glazed pottery and glass. Whether the people of the Indus civilization
knew glass making is debatable. However, they made bangles, beads and other
objects of faience and glazed pottery in the 3rd millennium BC. They also knew
the art and science of colouring glazed layers, both red and blue, with cupric
and cuprous copper. In his article, Bharadwaj describes the earliest glass objects,
glass manufacture technology, colouring technology etc. with the help of archaeological
examples. Next article is "Gems and Minerals" written by A. K. Biswas.
He deals with ancient gems industry and minerals in his article with special
reference to archaeological evidence.
Fourth section is based on chemical and healthcare practices in ancient times.
First article of this section is "Mercurial and Metallic Compounds"
written by Damodar Joshi. The article covers ancient literature related to medicare
and metals, to assess the development of mercurial and metallic compounds in
a historical perspective. Joshi deals with the ancient mercurial and metallic
compounds as discussed in Charak Samhita, Susruta Samhita, Astanga
Hrdaya, Rasa Hrdaya Tantra, Rasarnava Tantra, Cakradatta,
Rasa Prakasa Sudhakara, etc. In his article, "Cosmetics and Perfumes",
R. T. Vyas, states that in ancient times cosmetics and perfumes were limited
to the use of flower-garlands and gandha, sandal-paste to beautify the
persons of gods and humans. The word sugandhi, well perfumed, is used
twice in the Rigveda. Similar expressions involving the use of the word
gandha are also found in Taittiriya Samhita, Maitrayani samhita
and Taittiriya Aranyaka. R. Krishnamurthy deals with the ancient dyes
for textiles, hair; inks; mordants and pigments for pottery paintings, tinted
glass, art paintings, surface coatings and other colouring agents with the help
of ancients texts in his article. Next article by A. N. Sharma is related to
the ancient surgical techniques. Salya is the word applied to the art
of surgery in Indian medicine and is derived from the root Sal or Saval
meaning to move quickly. Sharma asserts that the Salya Tantra or the
science of surgery is the oldest of all the other branches of the science of
Ayurveda. He describes the ancient surgical techniques in his article.
Ayurveda is the ancient medical science of India and has its roots in antiquity.
Hindus believe that the source of Indian medicine system is of divine origin.
"Medical Techniques" is the title of the next article by R. N. Singh.
According to Singh, these medical techniques can be categorised into three groups,
Diagnostic, Prognostic and Therapeutic techniques and he summarises all the
three techniques in his article.
Fifth section has only one article titled "Textile Technology" by
Varadarajan and Patel. They deal with fibres, wools, silks, cotton, and ancient
Indian loom technology using both literary ethnographical evidence.
The next section contains five articles related to ancient agriculture and
food technology. Agricultural part of this section is dealt with by the late
Lallanji Gopal using ancient texts for describing agricultural techniques, tools,
appliances, ploughing, plantation methods, pest resistance treatments, manuring,
irrigation, etc. In the remaining part, four articles relate to fermentation
technology by Mira Ray, food technology by K. T. Achaya, veterinary sciences
by S. K. Kalra and inland fisheries by Sharma and Singh. All authors use ancient
literary texts in support of their arguments.
Buildings, construction Engineering, Irrigation Works and Transportation are
discussed in the next section and has five articles. Bharadwaj writes the first
article on town planning, building and building materials. He illustrates his
article with the help of archaeological evidence. Next article is "Fortification
and Forts" by M. S. Mate. He describes fortifications with the help of
ancient literature and archaeological evidence. In his article, "Structural
Principles in Temple Architecture", the late Krishna Deva deals with the
architecture and techniques of ancient Indian temples. He gives a connected
history of temple architecture in India from the Gupta period (c. 4th-6th centuries
A.D.) when temples of bricks or dressed stone started being constructed on the
logical principals of structural architecture. Next article is "Irrigation
and Irrigation Works" written by T. M. Srinivasan, it deals with the ancient
irrigation systems, dams, reservoirs, sluices, canals, embankments, wells, water-lifting
devices, etc. from a historical point of view. K. V. Raman summarizes the ancient
transport systems with special reference to Indus valley, Buddhist period, Mauryan
period, Gupta period, etc.
Next section is also very interesting, its entitled, "Arts and Crafts"
and contains only four papers on different topics. The first article written
by M. L. Nigam describes the ancient jewellery work with the help of archaeological
and literary evidence. Furniture is one of the most important feature of civilization.
Human predilection for comfort has created a host of house-hold articles. In
his article, K. Krishna Murthy describes the ancient furniture works from the
9th century to1200 A.D. with the help of literary evidence. "Writing-materials"
and "Leathercraft" are the next articles of this section written by
Mamata Chaudhuri and R. Selvarangan, respectively. Both deal with the ancient
techniques with the help of ancient texts and literature.
Next two sections have only one article each by A. K. Bag and Arun Kumar Biswas.
According to Bag, ancient measurement parameters are considered as sources of
all scientific thinking and lie at the root of natural knowledge, their formulation
and standardisation are based on observations and experiences made at different
times. They evolved without disturbing uniformity in nature or in measurements.
He discusses the concepts of length, weight and time in his article. Biswas
deals with the social factors in the development of technology in his article.
This is very lengthy and informative article and covers twenty-six pages of
When such a large collection of essays is put together, the quality of different
articles is seldom uniform. Some of the articles seem to be compiled in a hurry;
very few have been written by experts who have considerable experience in these
fields. But it is a unique attempt to cover practically the whole gamut of ancient
Indian technology and science. So it has become a valuable reference work. We
would therefore like to recommend that will prove a valuable source book for
those interested in ancient India's scientific technology.