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A Glance Back in Time: Science in Ancient India

It is a common misconception held by many that India has been the land of only sages and peers who composed and studied mythological texts and stories. But, on the contrary, the historic Indian civilization has had a very vibrant and comprehensive tradition of science and technology since ancient times.

As historian James Grant Duff once wrote- “Many of the advances in the sciences that we consider today to have been made in Europe were in fact made in India centuries ago.” It is true India was a land of sages and priests, but what is also important to acknowledge is that they doubled up as great thinkers and scientists too. Almost all the prime aspects of human knowledge like Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and the practical procedures in which this knowledge was put in practice like surgery, architecture, shipbuilding, etc were covered in great detail by science and technology prevalent in ancient India. Intrinsic fundamental principles of modern sciences have been provided a foundation by the numerous postulates and scientific methods discovered by the Avant garde ancient Indians. While some of these important contributions have been acknowledged, there are many that remain unknown. Here are some ancient Indian contributions in the field of science and technology:

1. The Binary Numerical System

Binary numbers that are used as a language to write computer programmes are basically a set of two numbers- 1 and 0 called Bits and Bytes respectively. They were mentioned by Pingala in his work “Chandah??stra”, a treatise on prosody. Pingala is credited with using binary numbers in the form of short and long syllables, a notation similar to Morse code.

2. The Concept Of Zero

The Indian contribution in introducing the concept of Zero is relatively well known. It was formulated by the mathematician Aryabhatta. This invention is of great importance as it enables one to write numbers no matter how large, by adding zeroes at the end. A. L. Basham, an Australian Indologist writes- “…The world owes most to India in the realm of mathematics..”

3. Theory Of Atom

Famous English chemist, John Dalton is now credited with the development of the atomic theory. However, a theory of the atom was formulated centuries ago by Indian sage Acharya Kanad who speculated the existence of small, indestructible particles called “Anu” strikingly similar to an Atom.

4. Plastic Surgery and Cataract Surgery

Ancient Indian physician, Sushruta had composed in the 6th century BCE, the Sushruta Samhita – one of the mostdetailed books on surgery which mentioned complex techniques of plastic surgery like Rhinoplasty as well as surgery to cure cataract amongst thousands of other procedures and medicines to cure illnesses.

5. Heliocentric Theory

Aryabhatta, the man credited with discovering 0 (zero) had also made other contributions to the field of science like propounding the curvature of the Earth as well as the fact that it rotates on its own axis around the sun. The mathematical genius also made predictions of solar and lunar eclipses, the duration of a day as well as the distance between the celestial bodies of the Earth and Moon.

6. Theory of Gravity

When we think about the concept of gravity, most of us may be aware of the story of how Issac Newton was inspired to formulate the “Universal Law Of Gravitation” when an apple fell from the tree he was sitting under. The world believes that gravity was discovered by Newton, however ancient Indians knew of gravity way before him. India’s familiarity with gravity began with Varahamihira (505-587 CE), an Astronomer who thought of the concept of gravity. He claimed that there must be a force which might be keeping bodies stuck to the Earth, keeping heavenly bodies at specific places.

Feature Image Credits: i Am Healthcare

Abhinandan Kaul

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