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Indian Civilization Essay


India civilization begins from riverbanks which is the Indus river and the Ganges river. India derives its name from the Indus river. Knowledge of Indian civilization has come from two leading cities: Mohenjo – Daro and Harappa. These cities are carefully planned where they had wide, straight streets lined with brick houses. These cities had elaborate drainage and sewer systems.

Achievements in science and technology of ancient India are divided into few sub parts such as mathematics, astronomy, list of Indian inventions, etc. The history of science and technology in India begins with prehistoric human activity at Mehrgarh (known as Pakistan in present-day) and continues through the Indus Valley Civilization to early states and empires. The British colonial rule introduced western education in India in its efforts to give rise to a native class of civil servants, exposed a number of Indians to foreign institutes of higher learning. 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.

The earliest evidence of technological progress in the Indian subcontinent is to be found in the remains of the Harappan civilization (4000-3000 BC). Archaeological remains point to the existence of well-planned urban centres which is orderly fashion along with roads and drainage systems complementing them. The drainage systems were particularly remarkable for the times since they were built underground and were constructed in a manner to allow for regular cleaning. Smaller drains from private homes connected to the larger public drains.

Larger private dwellings (flats) were constantly multi-storied and all homes were constructed from standardized fired bricks and provided for separate cooking areas and toilets. Storage facilities for grain and goods for trade were built as were public baths and other buildings intended for various public functions.

Urban centres were often planned near riverside or sea-ports. Accurate weights and measures were in use and ports such as Lothal were developed as export centres of early manufactured products from smelted copper and bronze.

Kilns (oven for burning) for smelting copper blocks and casting tools were in existence as were metal tools such as curved or circular saws, pierced needles and most significantly, bronze drills with twisted grooves. The drill enabled the production of items with unparalleled precision for the times and could be regarded as an ancient precursor of the modern machine tool.

There is also evidence of planned irrigation systems and it appears that fire and flood control measures to protect farms and villages were also in place. Artisans made use of the wheel and clay pottery was decorated in a variety of colours and designs. Cotton was grown and used to produce textiles.

Urban centres in the Harappan region traded with each other as well as with counterparts in Babylon, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and possibly the Mediterranean. The span of the Harappan civilization was quite extensive, and included much of modern Sindh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Western UP. But prior to its disappearance, there is also evidence of considerable social decay and disintegration.

Excavations from the later phases of the Harappan civilization suggest that population pressures led to greater anarchy in building construction. Urban dwellings became smaller and settlements became more unplanned indicating a breakdown of social practices and structures that promoted urban regulations and enforced construction codes.

Between 1800 and 1700 BCE, civilization on the Indus Plain vanished. The degeneration of these people is unknown. One suspected cause is a shift in the Indus River. Another is that people dammed the water along the lower portion of the Indus River without realizing the consequences such as flooding up river. Another suspected cause is a decline in rainfall. Agriculture declined and people abandoned the cities in search of food.

Later, a few people of a different culture settled in some of the abandoned cities, in what archaeologists call a “squatter period.” Then the squatters disappeared. Knowledge of the Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilization died until archaeologists discovered the civilization in the mid-19th century.

From complex Mohenjo-daro and Harappan towns to Delhi’s Qutub Minar, India’s indigenous technologies were very sophisticated. They included the design and planning of water supply, traffic flow, natural air conditioning, complex stone work, and construction engineering. In forthcoming sections, we are going to discuss in detail about the ancient India’s civilization and their contributions towards science and technology in the present world.

Indian’s Contribution towards Mathematics

In the period of 400 AD to 1200 AD, important contributions were made by scholars like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Bhaskara II. The decimal number system that we are using today was first recorded in Indian mathematics. Indian mathematicians made early contributions to the study of the concept of zero as a number, negative numbers, arithmetic, trigonometry and algebra formulae.

Some of the areas of mathematics studied in ancient and medieval India includes Arithmetic (decimal system, negative numbers, zeros, floating point numbers, number theory, infinity, transfinite numbers, irrational numbers), Geometry (square roots, cube roots, Pythagorean triples, transformation, Pascal’s triangle), Algebra (quadratic equations, qubic equations and quartic/biquadratic equations), Mathematical logic (formal grammars, formal language theory, the Panini-Backus form, recursion), General mathematics (Fibonacci numbers, earliest forms of Morse code, logarithms, indices, algorithms, algorism) and Trigonometry (trigonometric functions, trigonometric series).

There are some evidences showing the application of mathematics by ancient Indians. Excavations at Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and other sites of the Indus Valley Civilization have uncovered evidence of the use of “practical mathematics”. Those people manufactured bricks whose dimensions were in the proportion 4:2:1, considered favourable for the stability of a brick structure. They used a standardized system of weights based on few ratios like 1/20, 1/10, 1/5 and etc. with the unit weight equalling approximately 28 grams. They mass produced weights in regular geometrical shapes which included hexahedra, barrels, cones and cylinders, thereby demonstrating knowledge of basic geometry.

The inhabitants of Indus civilization also tried to standardize measurement of length to a high degree of accuracy. They designed a ruler (the Mohenjo-daro ruler) whose unit of length (approximately 1.32 inches or 3.4 centimetres) was divided into ten equal parts. Bricks manufactured in ancient Mohenjo-daro often had dimensions that were integral multiples of this unit of length.

Indian’s Contribution towards Constructions Field

The Indus-Sarasvati (Harappan) Civilization was the world’s first to build planned towns with underground drainage, civil sanitation, hydraulic engineering, and air-cooling architecture. Weights and measurements were standardized and oven-baked bricks were invented in India using these guidelines. There are many pioneering (first to explore new ideas/method) items of civil engineering such as drainage systems for water (open and closed), irrigation (water supply) systems, river dams, water storage tanks carved out of rock, granaries with ducts and platforms, moats (wide water channel dug surrounding a place), middle-class style homes with private bathrooms and drainage and even a dockyard (place to repair ships).

There is evidence of stairs for multiple-storied buildings. Many towns have separate citadels (military stronghold); strongly fortified upper and lower towns. There are separate worker quarters near copper furnaces (place to heat material at very high temperature). Indians also pioneered many engineering tools for construction, surgery, warfare, etc. This includes the hollow drill, the true saw and the needle with the hole on its pointed end.

Indian’s Contribution through Usage of Materials

Since iron can be a secondary product of copper technology, it’s likely to be origin from India because copper was a well-known technology in many parts of ancient India. A smelting furnace dated 800 BCE is found in Naikund (Maharashtra), India. Recent discoveries reveal that iron was known in the Ganga valley. The Indian wootz steel[1] was very popular in Persian courts for making swords.

Rust-free steel was an Indian invention and remained as an Indian skill for centuries. Delhi’s famous iron pillar, dated 402 CE is considered a metallurgical wonder and shows a very few signs of rust. The famous Damascus steel swords were made from Indian steel imported by Europeans. The acclaimed Sheffield steel in UK was Indian crucible steel. The best brains of European science worked for decades to learn to reverse-engineer how Indians made crucible steel and in this process, modern alloy design and physical metallurgy was developed in Europe.

Another important Indian contribution to metallurgy was in the isolation, distillation and use of zinc. From natural sources, zinc content in alloys such as brass can go no higher than 28 per cent. A major breakthrough in the history of metallurgy was India’s discovery of zinc distillation whereby the metal was vaporized and then condensed back into pure metal.

Brass in Taxashila has been dated from third century BCE to fifth century CE. The earliest confirmed evidence of zinc smelting by distillation is Zawar. This is the earliest place for zinc smelting and production of metallic zinc by distillation process anywhere in the world.

Europeans learnt it for the first time in 1743, when expertise was transferred from India. Until then, India had been exporting pure zinc for centuries on an industrial scale. At archaeological sites in Rajasthan, retorts[2] used for the distillation are found in very large numbers even today.

Once zinc had become separated into a pure metal, alloys could be made with the required zinc component to provide the required properties. For instance, strength and durability increase with higher zinc component. In addition, copper alloys look like gold when the zinc component is higher than 28 per cent. Most early brass objects found in other countries had less than 10 per cent zinc component, and, therefore, these were not based on zinc distillation technology.

It was in Zawar, Rajasthan, where this first became industrialized on a large scale. Zinc mines have been found in Dariba (11th century BCE), Agucha (sixth century BCE) and Zawar (fifth century BCE). These mines have pots and other manufacturing tools of these dates, but the mining could be even older.

Unsurprisingly, developments in metallurgy also had their impact on artillery (large guns) production. According to A. Rahman (Science in Medieval India), by the 16th century, the heaviest guns in the world were being cast in India and a variety of weapons were being manufactured in the subcontinent. The Jaigarh cannon factory was one of India’s best and before the crucial battle of 1857, the Jaipur Rajputs laid claim to owning Asia’s largest cannon. Yet, none of the Rajput cannons were ever used to confront the British who succeeded in conquering the sub-continent without ever having to fight against the country’s best equipped armies, thus demonstrating that technological progress is not an end in itself.

Indian’s Contribution through Usage of Nature Resources

Many interesting findings have recently come out about the way forests and trees were managed by each village and how a careful method was applied to harvest medicines, firewood and building material in accordance with natural renewal rates.

Discoveries concerning the manufacture and application of natural and artificial dyes were first implemented by Indians. Block printing and dye and other textile-dyeing techniques were popularized. The use of mordants[3] in colour-fast dyeing of textiles became known as did the knowledge of lacquers that could be applied to wood or leather. Paints that could be used on different building materials were developed and elaborate techniques were employed to prevent fading and loss of colour during the heavy monsoons.

Indian farmers developed non-chemical, eco-friendly pesticides and fertilizers that have modern applications. These traditional pesticides have been recently revived in India with excellent results, replacing Union Carbide’s[4] products in certain markets. Crop rotation and soil technology that has been passed down for thousands of years are traditional practices which India pioneered.

Historically, India’s agricultural production was large and sustained a huge population compared to other parts of the world. Surpluses (excess of production/supply) were stored for use in a drought year. But the British turned this industry into a cash cow, exporting very large amounts of grain even during food shortages. This caused tens of millions of Indians to die of starvation in the 19th century.

Given the importance of fresh water in India, it is no surprise that the technologies to manage water resources were highly advanced from Harappan times onwards. For example, in Gujarat, Chandragupta built the Sudarshan Lake in late 4th century BCE, and was later repaired in 150 BCE by his grandson. Bhopal’s Raja Bhoj Lake, built in 1014-1053, is so massive that it shows up in satellite images. The Vijayanagar Empire built such a large lake in 14th – 15th century CE that it has more construction material than the Great Wall of China. Scientists estimate there were 1.3 million man-made water lakes and ponds across India, some as large as 250 square miles. These are now being rediscovered using satellite imagery. These enabled rain water to be harvested and used for irrigation, drinking, etc. till the following year’s rainfall.

Indian’s Contribution towards Medical Field

Genuine cures were listed with unscientific practices without clear distinction. But during the rational period in India the emphasis on the scientific method led to a much greater level of accuracy with respect to the efficacy of different medicines and medical procedures.

The more accurately the Indian medical practitioner was able to observe reality, understand bodily functions and test the efficacy of popular medical techniques, the more successful were the prescribed cures. Dissection of corpses and careful monitoring of different diseases was an important component in the study and practice of medicine. With greater success in treatment came greater confidence and allowed medical practitioners to conduct surgical procedures using a variety of surgical tools though it’s unsophisticated in comparison to modern surgical equipment.

Procedures for inducing unconsciousness or numbing body parts that were to be operated on were required and developed. Tools for excision, incision, puncturing, probing, organ or part extraction, fluid drainage, bloodletting, suturing and cauterization were developed. Various types of bandages and ointments were used as were basic procedures for ensuring cleanliness and limiting contamination. The caesarian section was known, bone-setting reached a high degree of skill, and plastic surgery developed far beyond anything known elsewhere at the time. Indian surgeons also became proficient at the repair of noses, ears and lips lost or injured in battle or by judicially mandated mutilation.

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 vision. Brahmanic hospitals were established in what is now Sri Lanka as early as 431 BCE. Ashoka also established a chain of hospitals throughout the Mauryan empire by 230 BCE. While all ancient societies cherished and admired the skills of the medical practitioner, it was the more determined adoption of the scientific approach that enabled Indian medicine to make a quantum leap over the older medical systems of the time.

Progress in medicine also led to developments in chemistry and chemical technologies. The manufacture of alkaline substances, medicinal powders, ointments and liquids was systematized, as were chemical processes relating to the manufacture of glass. Advances in food processing (such as manufacture of sugar, condiments and edible oils) took place as did the manufacture of personal hygiene products and beauty aids (such as shampoos, deodorizers, perfumes and cosmetics).

Indian’s Contribution towards Shipping, Trading, Geography and Astronomy

Shipbuilding was one of India’s major export industries until the British destroy it and officially prohibited it. Middle Age Arab sailors purchased their boats in India. The Portuguese also continued to get their boats from India and not Europe. Some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated ships were built in India and China.

There is also extensive archival material on the Indian Ocean trade in Greek, Roman, and Southeast Asian sources. Indians are well known as traders of items like diamond, brass ornaments, gun powders, metal made swords, iron made indigo dye, copper, bronze, wootz steel, textiles, etc.

Archaeologists have found geometric compasses which linear scales made of ivory. The compass and other navigation tools were already in use in the Indian Ocean long before Europe. Using their expertise in the science of seafaring, Indians participated in the earliest-known ocean-based trading system. Few people know that an Indian naval pilot, named Kanha, was hired by Vasco da Gama to captain his ships and take him to India. Deep-sea shipping had existed in India as Indian ships had been sailing to islands such as the Andamans, Lakshdweep and Maldives around 2,000 years ago. Kautilya (sacred scripture) which describes the times that are good and bad for seafaring was used as guidance.

Astronomy is one area which has fascinated all mankind from the beginnings of history. The first textual mention of astronomical concepts comes from the Vedas (religious literature of India). In India, the first references to astronomy are to be found in the Rig Veda which is dated around 2000 B.C. Vedic Aryans in fact deified (worshipped) the Sun, Stars and Comets.

Indians also prepared lunar calendars which were based on lunar cycle. This type of calendar (lunar calendar) is still in use today. According to Sarma (2008): “One finds in the Rigveda, intelligent speculations about the genesis (origin) of the universe from nonexistence (non-real), the configuration of the universe, the spherical self-supporting earth, and the year of 360 days divided into 12 equal parts of 30 days each with a periodical intercalary (in leap years) month.”

Famous mathematician and astronomer, Aryabhata gave some great calculation regarding space that is almost correct. He presented his theory of heliostat, which means that planets revolve around the sun. This theory was presented about a millennium before than the theory presented by Galileo. In 20th century, world famous S Chandrashekhar presented his theory regarding black holes.




[3] Aspects of Ancient Indian Technology H.C. Bhardwaj

[4] An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology edited by A.Ghosh Volume I







[1] an exceptional grade of iron ore steel first made in southern and south central India and Sri Lanka perhaps as early as 300 BC

[2] a container used in distilling liquids

[3] combines with dye and fixes it in material

[4] one of the oldest chemical and polymer companies in the United States

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