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Science in Ancient India Physics and Chemistry

Professor Andrea Cucina was a physical anthropologist from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He carried out the examinations which led to the discovery when he was cleaning the teeth from one of the men. Apart from this, the various branches in which the ancient Harappans made substantial inventions can be categorized as follows:

Physics - The root to the concept of atom in ancient India is derived from the classification of material world in five basic elements. This classification was done by ancient Indian philosophers. These five 'elements' and also a classification existed since the Vedic times. This was around 3000 BC before.

These five elements were the earth (prithvi), fire (agni), air (vayu), water (jal) and ether or space (akash). These elements were also associated with human sensory perceptions. These were namely earth with smell, air with feeling, fire with vision, water with taste and ether/space with sound. Subsequently, the Buddhist philosophers replaced ether/space with life, joy and sorrow.

From ancient times, Indian philosophers believed that except ether or space, all other elements were physically palpable. Hence, it comprised of small and minuscule particles of matter. They believed that the smallest particle was paramanu (can be shortened to parmanu), a Sanskrit word. The paramanu could not be subdivided further.

Paramanu is made of two Sanskrit words. Param means ultimate or beyond and anu means atom. Thus, the term "paramanu" literally means 'beyond atom.' This was a concept at an abstract level which indicated the possibility of splitting atom, which is now the source of atomic energy. The term "atom" however should not be confused with the concept of atom as it is understood today.

Kanada, a 6th century, Indian philosopher was the first person who went deep systematically in such theorization. Another Indian was the philosopher Pakudha Katyayana. He was a contemporary of Buddha, who also propounded the ideas about the atomic constitution of the material world. All these were based on logic and philosophy. Hence, it lacked any empirical basis for want of commensurate technology.

Similarly, the principle of relativity (not the one which Einstein propounded) was available in an embryonic form. This was enshrined in the Indian philosophical concept of 'sapekshavad', the literal translation of this Sanskrit word is theory of relativity.

These theories have attracted attention of the Ideologists. In addition to this, veteran Australian Ideologist A. L. Basham has concluded that they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.

Chemistry - Ancient India's development in chemistry was not confined at an abstract level like physics. Instead, it was found developmental in a variety of practical activities. In any early civilization, metallurgy has remained an activity central to all civilizations from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, to all other civilizations that followed. It is believed that the basic idea of smelting reached ancient India from Mesopotamia and the Near East.

The coinage dated from the 8th Century B.C. to the 17th Century A.D. Numismatic evidence of the advances made by smelting technology in ancient India around that time have been found. In the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus observed that Indian and the Persian army used arrows tipped with iron. Ancient Romans were using armor and cutlery made of Indian iron.

Ancient Indians achieved higher levels of metallurgy. Certain objects testify to this. By the side of Qutub Minar, a World heritage site, in Delhi, stands an Iron Pillar. The pillar is believed to be cast in the Gupta period around circa 500 AD. The pillar is 7.32 meters tall, tapering from a diameter of 40 cm at the base to 30 cm at the top and is estimated to weigh 6 tonnes.

It has been standing in the open for last 1500 years. It had withstood the wind, heat and weather, but still has not rusted. There is only a very minor natural erosion. This kind of rust proof iron was not possible till iron and steel was discovered few decades before.

The advance nature of ancient India's chemical science also finds expression in other fields. These other fields include distillation of perfumes and fragment ointments, manufacturing of dyes and chemicals, polishing of mirrors, preparation of pigments and colors. Paintings found on walls of Ajanta and Ellora (both World heritage sites) look fresh even after 1000 years. This further testifies the high level of chemical science achieved in ancient India.


This site covers all areas for Ancient Indian History for kids. There are several essays to refer to for your school history study. We start off with ancient India timeline, various ancinet empires like the Mauryan empire and the Gupta empire. You will find information about ancient Indian society and culture, rulers, wars, costumes and several such facinating subjects. History of ancient India for kids is quite fascinating and long.