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Science And Technology In Ancient India

India was not only the land of philosophy, sages and seers but also the land of scientists and scholars. Science and technology in ancient India covered many major branches of human knowledge and activities, including mathematics, astronomy and physics, metallurgy, medical science and surgery, fine arts, mechanical and production technology, civil engineering and architecture, shipbuilding and navigation, sports and games.

It is now generally accepted that India was the birth place of several mathematical concepts, including zero, the decimal system, algorithm, square root and cube root. The concept of zero originated in Indian philosophy's concept of ‘sunya’, means ‘void’ and the symbol for zero emerged to represent this philosophical concept.

The discovery of urban settlements of Mohenjodaro and Harappa indicate existence of civil engineering & architecture, which blossomed to a highly precise science of civil engineering and architecture and found expression in innumerable monuments of ancient India. Meharauli iron pillar, which is standing in the courtyard of Kutub Minar at Delhi, belongs to fourth century A.D. The sword made of Indian steel is proverbial in Arabic literature, showing the highest skills and knowledge of metallurgy. The famous Damascus blade was made from Indian steel. Ancient South Indian bronzes are praised even now in the whole world not only for their craftsmanship but also for metallurgy. Sultanguanj colossal Buddha in copper is a metallurgical masterpiece and a marvel, still preserved in Birmingham museum.

In the first and third centuries A.D., two important texts were composed on medical science, namely Charak Samhita and Sushrut samhita, which show the advanced stage medical knowledge in India. Susrut Samhita, which is a text of surgical science, describes more than one hundred instruments of surgery. At the time of invasion of Alexander, India was famous for medicine and surgery.

Principles of chemistry did not remain abstract but also found expression in distillation of perfumes, aromatic liquids, manufacturing of dyes and pigments, and extraction of sugar. India was also famous for paints and dyes, which were the products for export. The pictures of Ajanta are famous not only for aesthetic beauty, art and history but also for quality of paints and pigments used. Indian made muslin clothing was world famous and it shows the high degree of skill in textile industry.

The people of south India were great voyagers. They built ships of huge tonnage, traveled to Far East. Sanskrit and Pali texts have several references to maritime activity by ancient Indians.

Ancient India is the birth place of chess, ludo, snakes and ladders and playing cards.

In the coming weeks, we can look at some of the achievements in detail and learn about few scholars and scientists from ancient India.