Ancient Indian Technology Iron and Steel Shipping:
Iron and Steel
Iron was found in countries neighboring India. This made European scholars assume that it came from outside India. Given the similarities between the Vedas and Avesta which is a Zoroastrian text, some saw this as supporting the theory of diffusion of iron and Vedas into India from the outside.
However, contrary to this, the Vibha Tripathi indicates that iron in India is much older. Cemeteries in the current day Baluchistan have iron objects. Since iron can be a by-product of copper technology, this could be its likely origin in India. This may be because copper was a well-known technology in many parts of ancient India. A smelting furnace dated 800 BCE has been found in Naikund in Maharashtra, India.
Ancient Indian Technology Inventions
Recent discoveries reveal that iron was known in the Ganga valley in mid-second millennium BCE. Rust-free steel was an Indian invention and remained an Indian skill for centuries. Delhi’s famous iron pillar, dated 402 CE, is considered a metallurgical wonder and shows negligible signs of rust.
The famous Damascus steel swords were made from Indian steel imported by Europeans. These Swords are now displayed in museums across Europe. The acclaimed Sheffield steel in the UK was Indian crucible steel.
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 percent. These primitive alloys with less than 28 percent zinc were prevalent in many parts of the world before India.
However, to increase the zinc content beyond this threshold, one must first separate the zinc into 100 percent pure form. This is then mixed with the pure zinc back into an alloy. A major breakthrough in the history of metallurgy was India’s discovery of zinc distillation. In this, the metal was vaporized and then condensed back into pure metal.
Brass in Takshashila has been dated from third century BCE to fifth century CE. Additionally, there is evidence of zinc ore mining at Zawar in Rajasthan from the fifth century BCE. However, there is a lack of evidence of regular production of metallic zinc until the eighth century CE.
Three important items which have been proved with regard to the history of zinc metallurgy are namely:
(i) zinc distillation and metallurgical usage were pioneered in India;
(ii) industrial scale production was pioneered in Rajasthan, and
(iii) England transferred the technology of zinc from India in 1736. British metallurgy documents do not mention zinc at all prior to this transfer.
Shipping and Shipbuilding
Shipbuilding was one of India’s major export industries until the British dismantled it and formally banned it. Medieval 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.
The compass and other navigation tools were already in use in the Indian Ocean long before Europe. As a matter of fact, “Nav” is a Sanskrit word for boat, and is the root word in “navigation” and “navy”. Using their expertise in the science of seafaring, Indians participated in the earliest-known ocean-based trading system.
European depictions about Indians were that they knew only coastal navigation; deep-sea shipping had existed in India. This was because Indian ships had been sailing to islands such as the Andamans, Lakshadweep, and the Maldives around 2,000 years ago. However, these speculations were quite contrary because Kautilya has, in fact, described the times that are good and bad for seafaring. Apart from this, there is also extensive archival material on the Indian Ocean trade in Greek, Roman, and Southeast Asian sources.
Several 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. This material was in accordance with natural renewal rates.
Indian farmers developed non-chemical, eco-friendly pesticides and fertilizers. All these products have modern applications. 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 were stored for use in a drought year. This superfluous cultivation, however, received a huge setback during the British rule in India.
Relationship with Inner Sciences: India’s inner sciences of mind and consciousness are simultaneously (a) being appropriated by the West and (b) being depicted as anti-progressive and irrational. In fact, inner and outer realms of inquiry are often viewed as opposites that can, at best, be balanced but not unified. This falsely assumes that the inner sciences make a person and society less productive, creative, and competitive in the outer realm.
Ancient Indian Technology
However, contradicting this, India’s inner sciences and outer development coexisted in a mutually symbiotic relationship. A strong inner science definitely strengthens the outer science. This was so because it is the inner world which provides the inspiration, creativity, and knowledge that is necessary for the development of a sound outer science.
A strong outer science allows the freedom for the exploration of inner science. Without the use of technology of some form, man will be forced to dwell in his lower nature to satisfy his basic needs of survival. This again was a gift from ancient India.