India's contributions in the field of science have been very influential in the development of human civilization. The decimal place value system and the Ayurvedic way of life are just two well-known legacies of this ancient culture. Yet there are only a few books which provide an unbiased and authentic view of this world. One reason for this is that the study of Indian science through the ages involves the complex integration of the knowledge of many languages and diverse scientific disciplines. Through the year, there has been growing interest in this study as an important aspect in understanding man's interaction with nature, his material life and cultural patterns. The Indian National Science Academy, through its History of Science Board (1958) and the National Commission for the Compilation of History of Science in Indian (1967) renamed in 1989 as the Indian National Commission for History of Science, sought further means to stimulate this interest among universities and scholars. The result was the publication of A Concise History of Science in India.
This book attempts to present a brief account of the development of Science from early times to independence, in one of the most ancient civilization of the world. In the nearly four decades since its publication, A Concise History of Science in Indian has remained one of the most extensive and authentic accounts of Indian science through the ages. However, further studies in these years have brought to light new material. This revised edition, taken up by B V Subbarayappa, one of the three original editors, seeks to integrate the new information with the knowledge already at hand.
B V Subbarayappa was formerly Executive Secretary of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, Project Coordinator and Member Secretary of the National Commission for the History of Science in India, and Director of the Discovery of Indian Projects at the Nehru Centre, Mumbai. He was the President of the Science Division of the International Union of History and the Philosopher of Science (1997-2001). He is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bologna, Italy, the Copernicus Medal from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the R C Gupta Endowment Prize and Medal for History of Science (2003) from the National Academy of Science, Allahabad.
India's scientific and technological accomplishments are among the
oldest in the world. Its contributions in all fields have been very
influential in the development of human civilisation.
The level of mathematical sophistication achieved by our ancient
astronomers has been impressive. The decimal number system based
on zero, now in use all over the world, had its origin in Indian mathematics. Apart from the well-known Indian 'science of living', Ayurveda,
ancient Indians practiced the highly-skilled art of plastic surgery. Indian
brick technology is more than 4000 years old. The macro-technology of
iron was a remarkable accomplishment of ancient India as evidenced
by the massive iron pillar in Delhi. Metallurgical scientists have since
discovered, after a great deal of experimentation, that the 'wootz steel'
that Indian metal-smiths produced with ease is effectively similar to that
used in the production of modem aircraft and automobile components.
There is evidence of the construction of elaborate irrigation systems all
over India. Atomism was arguably conceptualised in India long before
Dalton's atomic theory was proposed.
As knowledge in India was traditionally transmitted orally rather than
by the written word, a connected and well-dated account of the develop-
ment of science in India can only be constructed through archaeological
findings, and scanning the vast range of Sanskrit literature originating
from Vedic times, the canonical and secular literatures of the Buddhists
and the Jainas, and Arabic and Persian works; and looking through
secondary sources representing scholarly studies, interpretations and
analyses of these materials. To sift through all this data and produce an
unbiased view of what might have happened through the ages requires
considerable effort - yet that is exactly what this book has done. Even
today, after nearly four decades, A Concise History of Science in India
remains the most extensive and authentic account of Indian science
through the ages.
We are fortunate that Dr. B.v. Subbarayappa, one of the three original editors, is with us and kindly agreed to prepare this new edition.
He has sought to fill the lacunae in the previous edition, and added new
material that has come to light since the first edition was published. These
addenda add much additional value to the present edition. In astronomy,
for example, the scientific basis for the ancient theory of eclipses is now
substantiated. The ancient theory of the origin of the universe, which had
been dealt with briefly in the original edition, has now been elaborated.
The Vocabulary of names for numbers, which had been touched upon
ill the first edition, has now received more detailed treatment in the
addenda. The Kerala school of mathematics and astronomy has been
given due attention. The technology involved in wootz steel manufacturing has been expounded in greater detail. More information has been
given on the use of fertilizers. The importance of plants in rituals has also
been touched .upon. We get a clearer view of what the ancients thought
of space and time. The new edition also carries a brief description of the
founding of the institutes which were the fore-runners of modem scientific institutions in India. The introduction of western science in India
could only have been accomplished by far-sighted pioneers who laid a
solid foundation for scientific progress - this edition has been enriched
by an account of their struggles within colonial constraints.
Every generation has to learn from past successes and failures. It is
hoped that this book serves that learning purpose. I believe that all
working Indian scientists should be aware of the scientific legacy to which
they are heirs, and they can get an authentic account of that legacy in this
I thank Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa and our Commission on the History of
Science for their devoted effort.
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