scientific contributions

India’s Scientific Contribution to Europe and other World Civilizations 
Prior to Industrial Revolution 

Many eyebrows were raised at the title of this seminar. Deep rooted disbelief that how can earlier civilizations can be contributors to any “Science”, as we understand it today? Science means rational, logical, objective thinking, something which did not exist in the earlier people in adequate quantity.  The life of these earlier people was governed by religion i.e. superstition, which is inherently, devoid of “scientific temper” and ‘free will”, the hall mark and pre-requisite of scientific development. Once this premise is accepted without debate, then West as birth place of all Science is the forgone conclusion.

Religion as anti science is 100% a modern western construct and we need to understand this thoroughly well. Religion in this case is Christian religion and Science means modern Western science. This incompatibility of religion with science in the West automatically gets grafted on non-Western religions and their relation with science. Concept of Religion in West and East differs radically in many respects. In the Western concept of religion, it must have a Prophet and a Book and the followers must abide by the teaching of both. In the eastern religion specially Hinduism, the concept of Dharma , incorporates no single Prophet or book and followers are free to choose , accept or reject  philosophy of life, which suits them best. Buddhism and Jainism have their Prophets and books to follow but never restricted their followers to express in Arts and Sciences of their choice. Vatsyayana who wrote Kamasutra in 3rdcentury was never criticized on religious grounds and there are many commentaries written on him till 15th century. Padmasri was a Buddhist monk and wrote a book on erotic and worldly pleasures titled Nagarasarvasva in the 11thcentury. Many Jain monks authored mathematical and other mundane scientific texts without any conflict with their religious belief.  Confucius philosophy as well as Buddhism in China never opposed or restricted their followers from writing scientific treatises.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are Abrahamic or Semitic religions having continuity at some stage in its emergence, history, spread and geography, at least in the early stages. In case of Indian civilization same can be said about Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism etc.  This cultural mooring of Western and Eastern sciences is very important to understand their contributions to sciences in West and East. Thus contribution and role of Religion in the development of science in the West and East are not the same. As statements like all religions are same may be politically correct but are not true, howsoever we desire so. Insisting universalization of science in early period of human civilization equally distorts truth and introduces blunders in the writing of the history of Science of non Western cultures. It numbs all inquiry of cultural moorings and thus possible epistemological differences in the creation of ideas or sciences in different cultures. No wonder then that we try to analyze or explain Aryabhata’s writings in the Euclidian Hypothesis-Proof model.

Ayurveda, the Indian medical  science, which is in practice for at least two thousand years and was the main stream  medicine in India till Colonial rule, becomes ‘alternative’ medicine, which actually should be reverse i.e. allopathic medicine is alternative to Ayurvedic medicine. The same is true of how we calculate our time, chronology of events in BC and AD. Many scholars nowadays prefer BP i.e. before present. Archaeologist and Geologist use Bronze, Iron Age etc.  However, central point of this calculation also is the beginning of Christianity. This labeling may appear simple or innocent, which it is not. Very tacitly it introduces the hegemony of West over earlier non-west civilizations. This in association with linear, anthropomorphic model chosen to express human development, dubs earlier period as period of infancy, incapable of being logical and rational, which is prerequisite for scientific development. 

Nowadays there is a trend of categorizing ideas or sciences of earlier non-western civilizations with ‘ethnic’ label i.e. ethnic medicine, ethnic mathematics, ethno botany, ethno zoology etc.  Many scholars have pursued this research enthusiastically and with great success.  However, the ‘ethno’ prefix automatically alienates these contributions from main stream science development. ‘Ethno’ prefix carries the baggage of backwardness, tribal, accidental, lacking modern scientific analytical i.e. Newtonian-Cartesian model of inquiry, which has inherited Greek logical, rational, objective methodology to reach any conclusion. Obviously this denies the originality or anteriority of ideas especially when chronology does not favours Western or Greek contributions.  The classical example is of invention of Calculus. Madhava, an Indian mathematician of 14th century, in his writings has everything required for the development calculus, which is at least 200 years prior to Newton or Leibniz who is credited for the invention of Calculus. This fact is known to scholars for at least two hundred years now. How it reached Europe can be a matter of further study, but why then Madhava should be denied the credit of his origination? All possible arguments are advanced with great logical and scholarly acrobatic exercise to deny this credit to Madhava.  This is a classical example of mind set of most of the past and present history of science scholars and writers, who by ‘training’ believe that birth of great scientific ideas is ‘natural ‘  in Greek and Western tradition and all search is to establish this ‘presumed’ hypothesis. As against this, it is ‘presumed’ that non-Western civilizations lack this ability ‘inherently’ and on this premise then even if proofs are available, they are given secondary status.

Renaissance means going back to roots. West believes to have their roots in the pre-Christian Greek and then Roman culture and philosophy. Plato, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid and many other contemporaries are the architects of this Civilization. Renaissance was a cultural moment encompassing all facets of human creativity be it arts, science, religion or philosophy. It is accepted that renaissance is the turning point in the development of modern science in west. Even arts both fine and performing and for that matter all other branches of human activity tried to align themselves to this change. Renaissance movement in the West is precursor to the Industrial development.  Opposition of Christianity to science from Galileo, Bruno to cloning in modern times is well documented. 

To appreciate contribution of sciences to Europe and rest of the World by Eastern civilizations, in this case by India, requires one to understand this complex religion-culture-science interdependency and complementarity. Recent archaeological findings including marine archaeology have unearthed many new materials at the ancient and medieval Indian Ocean, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Seaports. India’s contribution in Mathematical astronomy and Algebra is well documented.   There is huge research material available now in many other areas. I will try to enumerate few below.

Siddhasara of Ravigupta is one of the early Ayurvedic text composed in the middle of the 7th century (650 AD). Half a century earlier (600 AD) we have Vagbhata and half a century later (700 AD) we have Madhava. Siddhasara‘s translations in Tibetan, Khotanese, Uighur, Turkish, Arabic and Sinhalese are available and well studied. H.W.Bailey published the complete Khotanese text in facsimile in 1938 and in transcription in 1945, which got reprinted in 1969. However, the most extensive study on all Siddhasar manuscripts is done by R.E. Emmerick. After publishing two articles in  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1971 and 1974 respectively, he published The Siddhasara of Ravigupta in two volumes in 1980 and 1982. R.E.Emmerick also contributed an article titled ‘Ravigupta’s  Siddhasara in Arabic’ in a volume edited jointly by H.R. Roemer and A.Noth published by Brill in 1981. In a obituary written by  Mauro Maggi  on R.E.Emmeric and published in December 2001 issue of East and West (pp. 408-415) informs us that Emmerick was so much involved in the study of Siddhasara text that he contributed at least forty articles on Indian and Tibetan medicine. His paper ‘Ravigupta’s Place in Indian Medical Tradition’ read in the Second World Sanskrit Conference held at Torino, Italy (9 to 15 June 1975) and published in Indologica Taurinensia ( Vol III-IV, 1975-76, pp. 209-221) provides us valuable information on Ravigupta and also informs us that Madhavanidana is probably mentioned in Firdaws al-Hikma  authored by a Arabic scholar, Ali b. Sahl al-Tabari. Very recently Peter Zieme has published an interesting article in 2007 issue of Asian Medicine (Vol. 3, pp.308-322) on Uighur Siddhasarafragments and enriched us with new information on this text.

Siddhasara  text had widespread influence on  Central Asian, Persian and Arabic medical knowledge. Emmerick informs us that Persian and Arabic scholars held Siddhasara in high esteem. Rhazes, a  Persian scholar of 9th/10thcentury wrote a 20 part medical encyclopedia, Kitab al Hawi , which has incorporated many passages from Siddhasaraalong with Greek, Syriac and early Islamic sources. Faraj Ben Salim a Jewish physician translated  Kitab al Hawi into Latin in the 13th century, titled Liber Continens. This text becomes so popular in Latin world that it was reprinted five times till 16th century. Influence of Siddhasar on the development of Western medicine awaits scholarly research.

Many Sanskrit medical texts got translated to Persian around 6th century at Gundishpore,Iran and later into Arabic in the 9th/10th century in Baghdad, Iraq. During the same period Astronomical and Mathematical Sanskrit texts were getting translated into Persian first and then into Arabic.  One such minor Indian text concerned only with poisons authored by Shanaq got translated to Persian by a physician called Mankah in the 9th century. Abu Hatim translated it from Persian to Arabic during the same time and called it Kitab al-Shanaq.  Shanaq’s text on poisons was used extensively by ibn Wahashiya in composing his much acclaimed ‘Book on Poison’. Along with Greek source ibn wahshia also informs us of other Indian authors like Tammashah and Bahlindad whos books he used while composing his book on poisons. Ibn Wahashia wrote many other books but his book on poisons remained as referral work for many centuries. Ibn ai-Nadim author of Fihrist knew Shanaq and he informs us about Shanaq’s works on conduct of life, the management of war and on cultural studies. Another scholar ibn abi Usaibi’a tells us about Shanaq’s works on stars,lapidary and one on veterinary science. Unfortunately we do not have his original Sanskrit or Arabic translations of these works. As far as Shanaq’s text on poisons is concerned, he follows Sushruta. Martin Levey  translated ibn Wahshiya’s Book on Poisons and published it in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 56, No. 7, 1966, pp.1-130.

Recent Archaeological findings have forced us to rethink our early assumptions of origin of many material objects like silk, cotton, tick, pottery, spices, perfumery, beads, diamonds and  botanical products. Obviously their place in respective cultures, trade and manufacturing technology and skills unfolds a new scenario of cultural history.

China had monopoly on silk till this date.  Recent paper titled ‘New evidence for Early Silk in the Indus Civilization’ published in the 2009 issue of Archaeometry , Vol.50., will compel us to change this perception of origin of silk. Earliest export of silk from china dates back to early second century BC during the reign of Han Emperor Wu-ti, though archaeologist in China have found isolated find from the Liangzhou Neolithic site of Qianshanyang dating back to 2570 BC. Archaeologists were puzzled with silk found in sites at Mediterranean, Egypt, Central Asia and also at a late prehistoric Celtc site in Germany dating back to 700 BC, much earlier to Wu-ti trade relationship with the West began. It was taken for granted as export from China without having given thought to the possibility of silk production indigenously or from regions other than China. In India itself  A.N.Gulati in  1961 wrote  an article ‘A note on the early history of silk in India’ in a publication of Deccan College, Poona titled Technical Reports on archaeological remains,pp.51-59 producing evidence of silk from a bead thread from Nevasa, Maharashtra, dating back to 1500 BC. The new archaeological evidence of Silk from the Indus civilization sites at Harappa and Chanhu-daro pushes back the silk production outside China at least by a millennium earlier.  Authors of the paper in Archaeometry have concluded,

“The discoveries described here demonstrate that silk was being used over a wide region of South Asia for more than 2000 years before the introduction of domesticated silk from China. Earlier models that attribute the origins of silk and sericulture exclusively to China need to be re-examined and revised.”(p.8)

Indian and Greeko- Roman trade contacts are well documented. Writings of travelers and geographers , ranging from 1 /2nd century BC to 3/ 4th Century AD, like Natural History of Pliny, Strabo and Geography of Claudius Ptolemy,Periplus of the erythraean Sea by an anonymous author all have been describing India and Indian products elaborately. Emperor Justinian who reigned around 533 AD had composed a list of about 54 dutiable articles entering Alexandria. This includes many products like hair, drugs and animals from India by name and even eunuchs. Recent archaeological findings also have endorsed contacts with Mesopotamia going back to third millennium BC. India is known to have been exporting spices, diamonds, cotton, silk etc for the last 5000 years now. Indian tick wood was favorite and most suitable for ship building. This has been confirmed by study of wood found in many shipwrecks from Indonesia, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ports. A recent paper titled ‘ A ninth-century AD Arab or Indian shipwreck in Indonesia; first evidence for direct trade with China’ by Michael Flecker published in World Archaeology Vol.32, No.3, Shipwrecks(Feb.2001),pp. 335-354 States,

“ This is the first clear archaeological evidence to support historical records which imply that there was direct trade between the western Indian Ocean and China during the later part of the first millennium AD”(p.335)

Trade is never restricted only to the material exchanges. Along with culture, scientific information also migrates. Indian influence in South East Asian countries is well known. Excellent example of this migration is seen in the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. Measurements of the temple are related to Hindu religious symbolism and mathematical Astronomy. An article in the Science Vol.193, No.4250, 23 July, 1976 titled ‘Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat’ explains this elaborately,

“ It is not surprising that Angkor Wat integrates astronomy, the calendar, and religion since the priest-architects who constructed the temple conceived of all three as a unity.”(p.281)

In an exhaustive article by Grant Parker titled ‘ Ex Oriente Luxuria: Indian commodities and Roman Experience’ published in the Journal of the economic and Social History of the Orient, 2002, Vol.45, No.1, pp 40-95, has thrown light on many dark corners of this trade.  While commenting on meager Indian craft goods found in Roman world, his following observations are interesting,

“A second class of evidence is provided by a number of marble heads now in Rome. These reveal an unmistakable mixture of Indian and Roman styles: these have a cirrus knot on the top, creating the effect of an Indian hairstyle on top of what are otherwise unexceptional marble heads from the Severan age.27 It is tempting to link these hairstyles with the 'Indian hair' (capilli Indici) mentioned by Marcian; the available evidence leaves the matter undecided (Schneider 1986)”(p.54)

In the same paper on p.64 Grand Parker informs us more on documentary and inscriptional evidence found in the West,

“Secondly, there are a number of documentary sources. The so-called Muziris papyrus (P.Vind. G40822 of the mid-second century AD, now in Vienna), was not published till the 1980s (Harrauera nd Sijpesteijn1 985). This presupposes a contract that had been concluded between two parties concerning the transport of goods from Muziris (probably modern Cranganore) to Myos Hormos on the north-eastern coast of the Red Sea (probably Abu Sha'ar), in particular a loan to be paid back on the return voyage: the papyrus itself sets out the consequences of non-repayment. Whereas the Periplus suggests that traders would mix low-cost everyday items within its cargo of predominantly luxury goods, the Muziris papyrus is limited to expensive articles………………. In addition, a number of inscriptions survive testifying to the kind of trade mentioned by Pliny. Annius Plocamus' freedman left two inscriptions at the Wadi Menih on the Berenike-Koptos road, both of them dating to the year AD 6: 'I, Lysas, freedman of Publius Annius Plocamus, came here on July 2nd (July 5th), AD 6.'44 Excavations at Quseir al-Qadim (probably Leukos Limen) beginning in the late 1970s turned up two ostraka inscribed in the southern India's Tamil-Brahmi script. These, which contain the namesKanan and Catan, have been dated to the first century AD. Amidst a find of pottery that can be dated to AD 60-70, the Berenike excavation has also produced two ostraka inscribed in Tamil- Brahmi (Mahadevan 1996).”(Pp.64-65)

Surprisingly we see this ‘legal trade document tradition’ continued till 12th century. A huge collection of documents was unearthed in Egypt from the Cairo Genizah. They catalogue the social, cultural and religious lives of Jews around the Mediterranean basin. They have documents related to Jews from India, involved in the Mediterrian trade. S.D.Goiten worked extensively on these documents and published many articles- ‘ From the Mediterranean to India: Documents on the trade to India, South Arabia, and East Africa from the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’ published inSpeculam, XXIX(1954),181-197, ‘From Eden to India, specimens of the Correspondance of Indian Traders of the Twelfth Century, published in Journal of the Economic and Social history of the Orient,Vol.23,no1/2(April.,1980),pp 43-66 and  ‘Portrait of a Medieval Indian trader: Three Letters from the Cairo Geniza’ published in Bulletin of the school of Oriental and African studies Vol.50, No.3(1987), pp. 449-464. These articles give us valuable information on Indian trade activity in the 11th and 12th century in the Mediterranean Basin.

Nicole Bovin and D.Q.Fuller in their recent paper titled ‘Shell Middens, Ships and seeds: Exploring Coastal Subsistence. Maritime trade and the Dispersal of Domesticates in and Around the Ancient Arabian Peninsula’ published in J World Prehist (2002) 22:113-180 informs us about agriculture, animals of Indian origin and pepper, which is going  to confirm earlier observations and pre-date the Indian history of trade with west.

“Around 1200 BC, the first pepper appears in the Egyptian record, positively identified from the dried fruits in the nostrils of the mummy of Ramses II (Plu 1985). This is the first indication of possible contact between Egypt and India, though by what route remains unclear. While its royal association attests to the rarity and high value of this spice at this period, it also can be taken to suggest the possible early beginnings of direct South Asian to Red Sea spice trade.”(pp. 153-154)

“It is in the context of the intensifying trade between Gujarat and Arabia at the start of the second millennium BC that we should probably consider the beginnings of contact between Africa and South Asia. The evidence of African crops, which are unambiguously in Gujarat and Baluchistan in this period, suggests that Gujarat maritime contacts were no longer only with Oman and Dilman but also extended further westwards around Arabia towards Yemen and Africa. At present count, some 33 archaeological sites in South Asia dating from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC) through the Iron Age (to c. 300 BC) have evidence for crops of African origin for which botanical identity is acceptable (Table 3;data augmented from Fuller 2003a; with Chanchala 2002; Cooke et al. 2005; Saraswat 2004, 2005; Saraswat and Pokharia 2003). In almost all instances, these crops co-occur with native Indian millets and pulses, and can be seen as additions to an existing system of summer monsoon agriculture (Fuller and Madella 2001; Weber 1998, 342–344). Only in the case of Pirak was Sorghum, together with rice (plausibly japonica rice) and Panicum miliaceum (one of the Chinese millets), added to the established Indus repertoire of winter crops.”(Pp.155-159)

“The other domesticate which moved between the Indian subcontinent and Africa, probably via Arabian maritime links, was the South Asia-derived zebu cattle (Bos indicus).That zebu cattle spread from South Asia to Arabia and Africa is not in doubt, and a maritime route is suggested by genetic data. Marshall (1989) speculated that this could have occurred in the second millennium BC as a counter flow to African crops that moved to Asia. Genetic data show a pattern of inter-regional introgression in which eastern and southern Africa, together with the Arabian peninsula near Africa, show a genetic cline, especially in Y-chromosome data, that indicates much higher zebu bull input than is the case for Mesopotamia and more northerly areas (Hanotte et al. 2002; Zeder 2006). Nevertheless, there was also clearly overland movement of zebu cattle from the Indus through Iran towards the Near East (Kumar et al. 2003),” (pp.159)

Usually spices and diamonds are labeled or discussed as exotic products, which is not true. Grant parker in his Ex Oriente Luxuria gives some interesting uses of pepper,

“The earliest Greek works to mention pepper are the gynecological treatises attributed to Hippocrates: at one point the author glosses the spice as an 'Indian drug' (On women's diseases 1.81 indikou pharmakou). Its typical use in these medical texts is for disorders of the eyes, mixed into an ointment. Theophrastus' work On Odours makes it clear that pepper was among the spices known and used in the later 4th/early 3rd centuries. Though he uses the loanword in naming it (peperi), he makes no explicit mention of its Indian origin, in which respect he differs from the Hippocratic text. Theophrastus' treatise is in fact central to any analysis of the social meaning of spices in the ancient world: it makes clear that they were used for perfume-powders (aromata), cosmetics, incense (thumiamata), and antidotes to poison (theriaca). But it is in three very different texts of the first century AD that we have the most extensive evidence for the use of spices. These begin with the army physic\cian Dioscorides, whose Materia medica (c. AD 65), written in Greek, illustrates the pharmacological uses. Secondly, Apicius, who lived under Augustus and Tiberius, composed a series of gourmet recipes, to whose corpus texts continued to be added until late antiquity. Of 478 recipes there contained, almost all require some kind of spicing; so did certain preparations of wine.”(p.43)

However, in India we know that most of the spices are also used in Ayurvedic preparations. Similarly use of diamond as tool in cutting other diamond or hard object and in the technology of engraving is known to Indians since antiquity and is even practiced today in Gujarat. Leonard Gorelick and A.John Gwinnett in their paper titled ‘Diamonds from India to Rome and Beyond’ published in American Journal of archaeology, Vol. 91, No.4 (1988) pp. 547-552 informs us,

“The technological history of diamonds as tools in the ancient world is even more obscure than their use as gem-stones. Our experimental evidence for the use of diamonds in Arikamedu in southeast India, ca. 250 B.C.- A.D. 300, is the earliest thus far reported. Wheeler found a bead workshop in Arikamedu, as well as strong evidence for trade with Rome. The Romans are very likely to have learned to use diamond splinters as drills in Arikamedu. Pliny states that diamond splinters "are much sought after by engravers of gems" (HN 37.15.61). Further literary evidence, both Sanskrit and Roman, adds weight to our finding. Additional references, although meager, help trace the continued use of diamonds as en-graving tools after the fall of Rome through the Sassanian and Islamic periods. Evidence is lacking for the European Middle Ages, but documentation for Europe re-emerges in Europe in the 15th century A.C. Diamonds are still used in the modern industrial world, in modern crafts, as well as in the remote bead making village of Cambay, India. Here a diamond-hafted bow drill is still currently in use for drilling beads. Beads from Cambay, in fact, provided the initial clues in interpreting our sub-sequent experimental evidence. “(p.547)

Excavations in the last quarter of twentieth century at  Quseir al-Qadim (preliminary reports published by American Research Center in Egypt, Cairo in 1979) and at Egypt’s Red Sea port Berenike (preliminary report started appearing since 1995, published by Leiden:Research School CNWS)  has  revealed many new objects,  confirming our early findings of Indian trade with Greco-Roman world.  Using textile products of Indian origin and Indian teak found in the Excavation at Berenike,  Grant Parker wrote another very interesting article titled ‘ Topographies of Test: Indian Textile and Mediterranean Contexts in Ars Orientalis, Vol. 34, 2004, pp. 19-37 ( almost all articles in this volume are on Indian Ocean trade). His findings not only confirm the observations of earlier writers but also inform us the high degree of technology reached in Indian subcontinent in cultivating and manufacturing these goods for local consumption as well as for export. Parker writes in the article,

“The desirability and novelty value of this product are immediately apparent. This cotton or "tree wool" also featured among the accounts of the historians and scholars accompanying Alexander on his campaign to the east in 327-325B .C. For example, the naval commander Nearchusi s quoted in Strabo's Geography ( 15.1.20 C6g3) on the use of cotton in garments; Strabo mentions silk in the same breath. Finally, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a ship captain's manual from the mid-first century A.D. written in Greek, makes several references to the transport of cot-ton on the monsoon route. Both cloth (chapters 48, 49, 5i) and garments (chapters 48, 51, 59) occur among goods brought into Egypt, whereas exports from Egypt to Arabia, India, and the East African coast include various kinds of garments (e.g., chapters 6, 24, 56).11 At a port called "Ganges" i n the Ganga delta it was possible to acquire high-quality cotton, in the form of garments: "On [the Ganges] there is a port of trade [emporion] sharing the same name as the river, Ganges, through which malabathron, Gangetic nard, pearls, and cotton garments of the very fin-est quality, the so-called Gangetic, are transported" (chapter 63). It is typical of the Periplus that various objects are linked in the context of a particular port. The designation of quality, diaphorotatai, has connotations of distinctiveness as well as value.”(pp.20-21)

Hindu mathematical and other scientific manuals started migrating to Iran and Iraq from 6th to 10th century. Hundreds of them got translated to Persian and Arabic languages. The process of Latin translation of these Arabic and Persian texts started from 11th century onwards. Indian mathematics and other sciences reached Europe through this translation industry. Trade played a vital role in this migration. However, it is least studied and its contribution is totally neglected. In the same volume of Ars Orientalis (Vol. 34, 2004) Carol Bier wrote an article titled ‘ Patterns in Time and Space:  Technologies of Transfer and the Cultural Transmission of Mathematical Knowledge across the Indian Ocean.’ And in his own words,

“This article explores the potential role of textiles in the transfer of mathematical knowledge from the Indian subcontinent to the central Islamic lands and west-ward to an emerging modern Europe through an inquiry into prospective technologies of textile manufacture and pattern-making. Ikat textiles of the ninth and tenth centuries, found in Egypt but presumed to be from Yemen, serve as a means to explore possibilities of numeration and treatment of the spatial dimension. An initial attempt is made to separate patterning from the technology of textile production in an effort to treat the mathematical possibilities that patterning offers for the application of mathematical knowledge. This article proposes an ontology of pattern, distinct from the category of a textile itself, which raises significant questions pertaining to the transmission of mathematical knowledge in relation to expanded trade routes in the eighth through tenth centuries, coincident with Islamic developments in the understanding of two-dimensional space”(p.173)

Agriculture and Horticulture are other important activities in any culture or civilization. Newer techniques of Archaeobotany are giving us new tools in dating.  Mehergarh, Baluchistan excavations have placed barley and wheat cultivations in Indian subcontinent around 7000 to 5500 BC. Recent findings of the Archaeobotanical samples collected from Neolithic site Jhusi, at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers in Allahabad U.P. are presented jointly by Anil K. Pokharia, J.N.Pal and Alka Srivastava in an article titled ‘ Plant macro-remains from Neolithic Jhusi in Ganga Plain: evidence for grain-based agriculture’, in the Vol.97,No. 4, 25 august 2009 issue of Current Science.  We already have the dates of cultivated rice from Kunal, Hariyana in the range of 3000 to 2500 BC.  Rice grains collected at Jhusi have given us dates in the range of 7100 to 5932 BC. These are probably the earliest dates of rise grains in at least Indian subcontinent. Their findings of viticulture or horticulture are more revealing,

“Remains of grape-vine have provided unequivocal evidence of viticulture from pre-Harappan and Harappan times 23,36,37,40. Before the factual evidences from archaeological sites, information on the grape and its cultivation was based on the literary and ancient sculptures. Grapes were known through the accounts of Charak and Susruta in their early medical treaties (5th century BC), and there was almost no information of their cultivation, prior to the Muslim conquest of the country 41.The evidence of grape-vine on Indian sculptures has come from Sanchi and Bharhut  stupas in Madhya Pradesh, datable to 2nd–3rd century AD 42. Smith 43 and Marshall et al.44, however, regarded the vine as a characteristic motif of Hellenistic art. According to Watt 45, viticulture in India never at any period was regarded to have attained the proportions it assumed in the Greek and Roman ages of Europe. Now, in view of the factually evidenced viticulture since the Neolithic and Harappan times, all these opinions stand untenable.”(p.569)

Sugarcane cultivation is indigenous to India. We have extensive literary evidence for this.  We have testimony of Greeks in this regard. They described sugarcane as ‘reeds that make honey without the agency of bees’ Megasthenes goes a step forward and even tries to explain  why sugarcane is sweet? Surprisingly there is no trace of sugarcane in any archaeological excavations in the subcontinent. Lallanji Gopal has written an excellent paper titled ‘Sugar-making in Ancient India’ published in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient Vol. 7, No. 1, 1964, pp. 57-72. He gives us literary evidence of highly advanced stage of cultivation it had reached,

“Advanced knowledge of sugarcane cultivation is clear from the classification of the plants into several types, differing according to their qualities 2). Caraka 3) mentions two varieties paundraka and vamsaka. The Amarakosa 4), though by name mentioning only the pundra and kantara types, implies many others also in the word adayah. Ksirasvamin, the commentator, names some of these. But Susruta gives by far the most elaborate list. He mentions twelve varieties: paundraka 5) , bhiruka, vamsaka, sataporaka, tapaseksu, kasteksu, sucipatraka, naipala, dirghapatra, nilapora and kosakrt  6).”(p.59)

Panchatantra and the game of Chess are Indian contributions which reached East and West, as early as 3rd to 6thcentury AD. I have dealt with Panchatantra in my paper ‘History of migration of Panchatantra  and what it can teach us’ presented last year in the conference titled Subhashita, Panchatantra andGnomic Literature in Ancient and Medieval India held at Thane under the auspices of Institute for Oriental Study, Thane on Saturday, 27 Dec. 2008 at Thane  http://orientalthane.com/speeches/speech2008.htm

Similarly there is large research material available on Chess. The White collection in the Cleveland public library is the largest library in the world dedicated to Chess.

Dominance and universalization of modern science gives a hegemonic status to West. Colonization of rest of the world by Western countries since 16th century added to this hegemony.  ‘Orientalism’ is the final outcome of this process. Study of Indian civilization i.e. Indology is no exception to this ‘academic exercise’.   Poor financial recourses and inadequate research training facilities in the non West world in the post Colonial period, enhances this dependency on West. No civilization or culture for that matter can claim exclusivity.  However, though Indian trade with West was always bilateral, when it comes to influence or anteriority of ideas, pointer is unidirectional, always in the direction of Mesopotamia or Greece.

Transmission of Indian sciences to Europe prior to Industrial revolution is not easy to understand. Trade, as seen by us earlier, has played a major role in this transmission.  Extensive literary and archaeological material is available now for this study. However, Indian trade was not restricted to the West only. Buddhism had reached China and Central Asia few centuries prior to the beginning of Christian era. Indian trade and culture had also reached South East Asian countries since the beginning of Christian era. Hundreds of philosophical, religious and scientific text from Sanskrit got translated to Chinese, Khotanese, Uighur, Tibetan and South Eastern languages.  Trade route of West to China passed through Central Asia. We have seen that many Chinese and Central Asian texts original and translated both, reached Western civilizations through this trade route. As a matter of fact Sanskrit-Persian/Arabic –Latin transmission started much later than Sanskrit-Chinese-Central Asian-Greek/Latin transmission.  Last route of transmission is after 16th century through missionary and Colonial administrators’ writings. A collective and comprehensive study of all these inter disciplinary sciences including paleo and archaeobotany, archaeozoology and genomic studies will help us reach conclusions with least bias.

Vijay Bedekar

President,

Institute for Oriental Study, Thane

Saturday, 26 December 2009, Thane.

The annual seminar of the Institute on the topic India's Scientific Contribution to Europe and other worldCivilizations prior to Industrialcivilization was conducted on Saturday,26 Dec.2009. About 10 scholars presented papers in the conference. This was the 27thconference conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Oriental Study,Thane since 1982. The book of abstract of present seminar will be uploaded on the web site http://www.orientalthane.com  

Comments