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History of Science in India - Chemical Science (Volume III)

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Item Code: NAK257
Author: Dr. S. C. Pakrashi and Dr. Subrata Ghosh
Publisher: The National Academy of Science, India (Nasi) & The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789381325438
Pages: 246 (40 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch x 7.5 inch
Weight 580 gm
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Book Description
About the Author

Dr. Satyesh Chandra Pakrashi (b 1930). Ph.D., D.Sc.(hc.), F.A.ScT., F.N.A.Sc., FNA., formerly Director and CSIR Distinguished Fellow, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Calcutta, is currently an INSA Honorary Scientist. He served as an extramural honorary Faculty, Department of Biochemistry, Calcutta University, for thirty-five years, and a National Lecturer, University Grants Commission amongst others. A student of Prof. (Mrs.) Asima Chatterjee (Calcutta), Dr. Pakrashi also worked/collaborated with such eminent natural products chemists as Professors Carl Djerassi (Wayne), K. Bieman (MIT) and R.B. Woodward, N.L. (Harvard) in USA.

Prof. Subrata Ghosh (b 1950), Ph.D., FNA, FASc, FAScT, DST J. C. Bose National Fellow, formerly Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Kolkata, worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, USA with Prof. Robert G. Salomon (1979-1981) and (1984-1986). Prof. Ghosh made outstanding contribution to Synthetic Organic Chemistry. His major research interest includes development of novel synthetic strategies for total synthesis of complex natural products, reaction mechanism and asymmetric synthesis.


I am indeed happy that the National Academy of Science, India has decided to sponsor the publication by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture of ‘Introduction to History of Science in India’ –a multivolume series commenmorating the centenary of Indian Science Congress Association and sesquicentennial Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda—one of the principal initiators of Institutional Science in India. This series , of which the present one is and introduction, I understand, would start with our science heritage followed by its growth in successive phases culminating in the present challenges, written in a language meant for the common readers.

I sincerely hope that this commendable venture would indeed generate interest and awareness of all concerned towards the basic objectives of Science—the search for eternal truth, enrichment of knowledge and alleviation of misery of the humanity as a whole.

The present volume provides with a glimpse of a few of our revered scientists who laid the foundation of modern science and explored new horizons in the field. I wish the venture a grand success.


History of Chemical Sciences in India is the third in the series of the 'History of Sciences in India' in eight volumes published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata. While taking up the responsibility, we hardly realized the enormity and complexity of the job. Because, Chemistry, the mother of all material and life sciences, may be said to be as old as civilization itself. As a matter of fact, though not by the name, the practice of chemistry in India dates back virtually to the Pre-Harappan period C4000 BCE), and since then it had a long history of development and prosperity till 1300 CE. Thereafter, it gradually declined and as such suffered a serious setback. It was not until the 19th century that it began to revive during the so-called renaissance period. Though the progress was slow until the mid-20 th century, chemical sciences in India after independence flourished as it did never before, achieving the global standard. Therefore, it was a daunting task to confine the long and chequered history of chemistry in India within its scope and limitation, particularly when this treatise is intended for beginners or those interested in science.

Fortunately, our task of compiling the glorious ancient and medieval history of chemistry has been made easier by the monumental and painstaking work of Acharya P. C. Ray's" History of Hindu Chemistry", revised by his worthy successor, Prof. P Ray, from which we freely borrowed often verbatim, and reproduced the rare and valuable illustrations. As a matter of fact, we also virtually followed the same pattern of our presentation.

As for the Pre- and Post Renaissance developments, particularly the Chemical Research, besides other resources including Wikipedia, we heavily relied on and freely drew from the relevant publications of Indian National Science Academy. It was not easy to select the chemists from among a large number of deserving ones. Nevertheless, quite reluctantly, we had to restrict to those, whose contributions have been recognized by INSA, the Apex scientific body in the country. On the other hand, attempts have been made to highlight the achievements in all the major areas. For the Contemporary Chemistry, in these days of specialization, we invited the experts in the relevant fields.

The book covers the three main periods, namely, (i) History-legacy of Chemistry from Prehistoric India (4000 BC.E) to the Iatrochemical period (1300 CE -1550 CE) and decline (ii) Pre-and Post Renaissance phase- mid- 19th-20th Century CE, (iii) Developments of Modern and Contemporary Chemistry in India. They are spread over 10 Chapters including the one devoted to "Evolution of Chemistry of Natural Products of plant origin" and allied "Application of Modern Physical Methods in Structure Elucidation of Organic Molecules". The last chapter summarizes the important role played by the research Institutions in the Growth of Chemical sciences in India.

Besides, we could not resist the temptation of incorporating as Appendix I the facsimiles of the 'Opinions on Vol. I (supplemented as far as practicable) and the Preface of the second edition of Vol. 11 of the rare copy of 'History of Hindu Chemistry', revised by Acharya P. C. Ray himself. Appendix 11 records a list of SS Bhatnagar Awardees in Chemistry with their citations from its inception up to date. After the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization (2500 -1800 BCE), the Aryans settled in India and with their advanced knowledge of the art of chemistry enriched the valley during the Vedic age (1500-600 BCE), so- called because of composition of all the four Vedas during this period.

It is remarkable that the technique of producing curd, and the. fermented liquors such as Soma, also known as Amrita (from the stem- juice of Soma plant), believed to ensure longevity, and Sura, a kind of beer (from barley grain), the oldest products of Biotechnology was known even as far back as the Rigveda era.

The highlights of the Physico-chemical theories of the Vedantic period emphatically testify the foresight and depth of knowledge of the ancient Hindu philosophers that had significantly contributed to the growth of scientific concepts and methodologies. Thus, Kapil 's concept of earth, water and air is akin to all the states of matter, i.e. solid, liquid and gas as we know it today. His perception of Paramanu as the smallest homogeneous indivisible element of any matter based on the theory of cosmogenesis of the Samkhya- Patanjali system, is amazingly the same as the atom of modem chemistry. So also his idea of molecules and compounds from atoms. Furthermore, his conception of different weight of an object depending on the density of the medium is the same as that of the Archimedes' principle established long after Kapil. The Nyaya-Vaiseshika Chemical theory, Molecular and Atomic motion (Parispanda) were all propounded during the Vedantic period. Weight of Air was determined, Weights and measures and Chemistry in the Medial schools were also introduced in this era.

However, the post- Vedic period, better known as Ayurvedic period, (600 BCE-800 CE) was the most flourishing era of Indian Chemistry. Among other things, the incredible iron pillar in Delhi near Kutab Minar constructed in the 4th century BCE and the gigantic upright copper statue of Lord Buddha, 80ft. high near Nalanda convent of Bihar built in the 7th Century CE bear enough testimony of the advanced knowledge of Indians in metals and metallurgy. The standard of purity of gold based of one to sixteen Kakanis (copper content) is easily comparable to the modern day system of gold standard expressed in carats. The test streak of the standard gold in that era is also very similar to the modem technique of testing the purity of gold by touch stone. The chemistry of practical arts thrived during this and the medieval period.


Man quest for understanding the riddles of the universe and matter began almost with the dawn of civilization. Changes in composition of matters by the influence of external forces and creation of new entities by mixing two or more substances laid the foundation of the application of 'chemistry' in the development of human civilization.

The word chemistry is said to have roots in either ancient Egypt or Greece. Science historian Howard Markel discusses the word's origin, and the modern naming of the field of chemistry by Robert Boyle, the British natural philosopher and alchemist, in his 1661 treatise, The Skeptical Chymist.

Some historians claim an Egyptian origin based upon the Decree of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian (c. 300, CE). This decree ordered the burning of all Egyptian writings outlining the transmutation of gold and silver. Based on this edict as well as a series of hieroglyphic inscriptions, scholars as far back as Plutarch (46-120, CE) insisted that the root word, Chem, was derived from the name of ancient Egypt, the land of Khem, which means rich, black soil-the type that prospered near the banks of the Nile and was prized for its fertility, as opposed to the sands of the surrounding desert.

The "Science of Chem"-as Egyptian mythology suggests-was a heavenly gift to humankind from Osiris, the Egyptian god of light and wisdom, and his wife Isis, the goddess of magic, motherhood, and fertility.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, the word is more likely to be a child of the Greek, 'chemia'-for pouring or infusion. The ancient Greeks applied this term to what came to be known as pharmaceutical chemistry. Physicians of this era would extract the juices or infusions of plants for medicinal purposes.


  Publisher's Note V
  Foreword VII
  Acknowledgements XIII
  Preface XV
  Editorial Note XVIV
1 Introduction 1
2 History-Legacy of Chemistry 4
3 Vedic Period (1500- Pre-Buddhist period 600 BCE) 9
4 Transitional & Tantric Periods (800 CE-1300 CE) 30
5 Iatrochemical Period (1300 CE-1550 E) 43
6 (a) Chemistry in Practical Arts in Medieval Period 52
7 (a) Evolution of chemistry of Natural Products of Plant Origin 59
8 Pre-and Post Renaissance Phase- 19th and 20th Century 76
9 Development of Contemporary Chemistry in India 136
10 Role of Institutions in the Growth of Chemical Research in India 160
11 Appendix 188
  Bio-Data of the Editor 221


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