Monthly Archives: September 2008


In the field of medicine, Indians made considerable progress in ancient times. The earliest reference to disease and medicine are found in the Atharvana Veda. The Vedas mention Ashvini brothers as the celestial physicians. Dhanvantri, a legendary figure was regarded as the god of medicine and giver of Ayurveda.

Way back in 6th century B.C., the study of medicine was systematically elaborately and scientifically developed. The story of the life of Jivaka who was the physician to emperor Bimbisara (6th Century B.C) of Magadha and later the physician in attendance to Lord Buddha as narrated in the Buddhist canonical texts, provides details of the science of medicine. Numerous medicines were prepared from roots, leaves, fruits and salts, chunam for itches and boils, medicines for skin diseases, eye-ointments, medicated oils, etc. Science of surgery also progressed well. They performed successfully lancet operations and used bandages, ointments and oils for the treatment of wounds. During the Mauryan rule (3rd Century B.C) the state built hospitals for both men and animals.

Arthasastra of Kautilya refers to ordinary physicians, surgeons with surgical instruments and appliances and materials for bandages, nurses, midwives and trained physicians, especially skilled in detecting poison. Adequate arrangement was also made for the post-mortem examination of a corpse which was smeared with certain oil to prevent its decomposition.

Ancient Indians used anesthesia hundreds of years before it was applied in Europe in 19th century A.D. A drug called sammohini desensitized the patient, leaving him practically asleep and another sanjivini served to accelerate his return to consciousness. Susruta suggests that those parts of the body which are to undergo surgery be shaved before hand and that a strict cleanliness be observed.

Charak, a contemporary of Kind Kanishka (78-102 A.D.) was a great authority on Ayurveda. His work Charaksamhita consisting of 120 chapters is a comprehensive manual on medicine. It covers various branches like diagnosis of diseases, physiology, embryology, treatment, preparation of medicine and therapies. Charak had identified 20 types of disease causing germs and their shapes and colours. Susruta (4th century A/D) incorporated surgery into the general field of medicine. His work Susrutasamhita is a comprehensive treatment of the science of surgery and other branches of Ayurveda. I cover various aspects like anatomy, embryology, equipments for surgery, surgical procedures, cauterization, types of wounds, healing methods, anesthesia methods, bone fractures and dislocation, orthopaedic surgery, management of urinary stones including operations, surgery of intestines and abdomen. His work also throws light on plastic surgery for repairing noses, ears, etc. The instruments used in surgery are also elaborated. A systematic summary of the teachings of Charakasamhita and Susrutasamhita is presented in the Astanga-Samgraha by Vagbhatta I who seems to have lived in 6th Century A.D. Another work on medicine composed during the Gupta age is Navanitakam. This work was discovered in 1890 by Lieutenant Bower at Kuchar in Eastern Turkistan. Navanitakam is not a systematic or comprehensive work on medicine but a mere manual or recipes, formulae and prescriptions intended for the use of the busy practitioner. Twelve of its formulas are taken from Bhelasamhita, 29 from Charakasamhita and six from Susrutasamhita. It is likely that some of its formulae, not attributed to the above three authorities may have been based upon the lost Samhitas of Harita, Jatukarna, Ksharapani and Parasara, who also were according to tradition, disciples of Punarvasu like Charaka and Susruta.

Veterinary Science were not neglected and a work Hastyayurveda by  Palakapya is an extensive work of 160 chapters and deals with the principal diseases of elephants, their diagnosis and treatment, both medical and surgical. A similar treatise on horses Svasastra was written by Sage Salihotra.

Chinese travelers like Hiuen Tsang and I-Tsing speak about the high standard of personal hygiene and sanitary practices of ancient Indians. According to them, floors of houses were purified with cow dung and strewn with season flowers. People bathed daily smeared bodies with sandal paste, washed hands and mouth with water before and after meals. The fragments and remains of meals were not served up again and utensils that were of pottery or wood were thrown away after use, while those made out of gold, silver, copper and iron were used after cleaning.

Ancient Indians were well-versed in the art of tool making and metallurgy. Large quantities of carnelian beads were exported from India during the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization. Bead making required techniques of sawing, flaking, grinding and boring. Probably the Saraswathi-Sindhu people were the first to make tools like metal saws and fine tubular drills. Their metallurgist were fully acquainted with various casting and forging techniques like closed casting, lost wax process, sinking, running on, cold work, annealing, soldering, etc. as attested by the various objects discovered in the various sites of the Saraswathi-Sindhu valley.

The famous iron pillar near Qutb Minar in Delhi ascribed to the Gupta’s period stands as a silent witness to proclaim the striking metallurgical skills of ancient Indians. At a time when the process of making iron was but imperfectly known even in the west, Indian metallurgists manufactured this huge iron pillar so skillfully that although it stands exposed to the sun and rain for the last 1500 years, it shows not the least sign of rusting or corrosion. The pillar is 24 feet in height and six and a half tons in weight. Even the simple forging of so large an iron column was out of the reach of human thought elsewhere not only at that time but for many centuries afterwards as well. Similarly the colossal image of Buddha at Sultanganj in Bihar measuring 2.1 meters in height and weighing over a ton cast in pure copper reveal the high degree of proficiency in metal work achieved by ancient Indians.(Concluded)


Ancient Indians were known for their intelligence, innovativeness and enterprise. Especially in the field of Civil engineering, Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine and Metallurgy, the contribution of ancient Indians is unique and unparalleled. The authors of Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization, which flourished during B.C.2300-1750, were pioneers in various fields. The concept of Town Planning was their innovation. They laid down their town on a gridiron plan with streets running at right angles to each other. There was an extensive drainage system, which collected the sewage from each house. Another remarkable innovation was the technology of waterproofing. The great bath (pool) at Mohenjodaro is a marvel of water proofing engineering skill. To ensure that the bath was water tight, the floor was paved with bricks cemented with gypsum mortar. Similarly, the wall of the pool was coated with bitumen. Another innovation of them was the designing of the corbelled arch, which was used for underground drainage. Well digging technology was another of their contribution, as the earliest wells in the world are to be found in the towns of the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization.

The uniformity and standardization of the artifacts found in the towns where this civilization flourished show an amazing administrative control over a territory of over half a million square miles and also over production and distribution. The shape and designs of pottery, the types of copper tools, the weights and measures, the standard size of bricks and uniform layout of the towns clearly indicate that they had realized the advantages of standardization.

The most epoch making achievement of ancient Indians in the realm of Arithmetic was the decimal system of notation, based upon the principle of the place value of the first nine numbers and the use of zero. This notation system immensely simplified arithmetical calculation and processes and we can at present hardly imagine that there was a time when our ancestors all over the world were expressing a number like one thousand one hundred and eleven not as 1,111 but by four different and distinct symbols. The last one denoting one, the third one, ten, the second one, hundred and the first one, one thousand. Symbols for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, etc., as well as for hundred, thousand, etc., were all distinct and different. This method of expressing big numbers was very cumbersome, but even Europe was following it down to the 12th Century when it learnt the decimal system of notation from the Arabs. Arab authors like Ibn Washiya, Al Masudi and Alberuni give the credit of the discovery of the new system to Indians. When exactly the Indian Mathematicians made the epoch making discovery is however not known. Nor the name of the discoverer has been preserved. But as the new system of notation is referred by  Aryabhatta (A.D.499) in the Aryabhatiyam and followed by Varahamihira (A.D. 550), it is clear that the new decimal system of notation was well established among Mathematicians in the 5th century and we may therefore place its discovery at least a century or two earlier.

In 1881 a farmer found a manuscript in a fragmentary condition while digging at his village Bakshali near the city of Peshawar. This work ascribed to 3rd century A.D. gives us a fairly comprehensive idea of the state of Mathematics during that period. The Bakshali manuscript not only deals with elementary topics like fractions, square roots, arithmetical and geometric progressions, but also deals with advanced topics like summation of complex series, simultaneous linear equations and indeterminate equations of second degree. It also shows that some work was being done on the theory of numbers in the direction of extracting the square root of a non-square number.

Aryabhatta, born in 476 A.D., in Pataliputra was one of the greatest scientists that India had produced. He was the first to treat Mathematics as a distinct subject and his work Aryabhatiyam dealt with evolution and involution, area and volume, progression and algebraic identities and indeterminate equations of the first degree. In the realm of Geometry, the work describes several properties of the circle, discusses questions connected with projective geometry and give a value for pai, far accurate than any suggested till then. That Trigonometry was also being cultivated at this time will become clear from the use of the sine functions made for solving the problems of astronomy. In the realm of Astronomy, Aryabhatta’s work Surya Siddhanta examines and explains the true causes of the solar and lunar eclipses. He was the first to hold the view that eclipses were caused by the shadow of the earth falling on the moon. His calculation of the size of the earth is very near that figure which is estimated by modern astronomers. He was the first Indian astronomer t discover and declared that the earth rotates round its axis and he was the first to discover sine functions and utilize them in astronomy.

Another famous astronomer and mathematician of ancient India was Brahmagupta. Long before Newton, he declared the Law of Gravity. His works Brahmasiddhanta, Khandakhadya and Dhyanagraha covers arithmetical operations, squares and cube roots, rule of three interest, progressions, geometry, including treatment of the rational right angled triangle and the elements of the circle, elementary mensuration of solids, shadow problems, negative and positive quantities, ciphers, surds, etc.

Varahamihira who flourished in the close of 5th century A.D. was another famous astronomer and mathematician. His work Brihatsamhita is an encyclopedia of useful information in several branches of knowledge such as astronomy, physical geography, botany, architecture, sculpture, movements of heavenly bodies and their effect upon men, etc. Historians will remain ever grateful to him for his Panchasiddhantika, which gives a concise account of the five Siddhantas i.e., astronomical works viz., Paitamaha, Romaka, Paulisa, Vasishta and Surya, that were in use in India during the 3rd and 4th century A.D.

Around the beginning of the 9th century, there lived in Baghdad a great Arab mathematician named Muhammad ibn Musa al Khwarizm who in a celebrated treatise entitled Kitabal Djabrwal Mukabala (Book of Algebra), used the Indian decimal system with full knowledge of its origin and acknowledging it. Around 12th century A.D., the book was translated into Latin by Rudolph Chester and Gerard de Crename and circulated throughout Western Europe. The Arabs called Logarithm, Hindisat, which means the Indian art. It is interesting to note that although Arabic script is written from right to left, its numbers are always written from left to right as they are in Indian texts and inscriptions.


Raj Singh’s romantic feat

After the occupation of Jodhpur by the Mughals, Aurangzeb demanded the hand of the princess of Kishengarh, a feudatory of the Marwar house. The young lady was famed for her beauty and accomplishment throughout Rajputana. Along with the demand, compliance with which was regarded as certain, a cortege of 2000 horse to escort the fair lady to court. The Rajputani rejected with disdain the proffered alliance, and entrusted her cause to the arm of the chief of the Rajput race, offering herself as the reward for protection. The family priest, her preceptor, deemed his office honoured by being chosen the messenger of her wishes, and the letter he carried is incorporated in the annals of Mewar. “Is the Swan to be the mate of the stork? A Rajputani, pure in blood to be the wife to the monkey faced barbarian?” So wrote the princess, concluding with a threat of self-destruction if not saved from dishonour. The Rana with a chosen band rapidly appeared before Kishengarh, cut up the imperial guards, and bore off the prize to his capital.

Raj Singh correctly realized that Aurangzeb’s real intention was to blot out the Rajput states from existence took up the cause of Ajit Singh of Marwar and prepared to offer a tough resistance to the Mughals. But Aurangzeb forestalled the Maharana’a designs and sent 7,000 chosen troops under Hasan Ali Khan to invade Mewar. The Maharana thereupon retired to the hills, abandoning his capital at Udaipur. Hasan Ali Khan occupied Chittor and Udaipur and demolished the temples there. He pursued Raj Singh and defeated him on 1st February, 1680. Aurangzeb now returned to Ajmer leaving prince Akbar in charge of Chittor. Raj Singh then raided the Mughal outposts and cut off their supplies and later defeated Akbar at Bednor. Aurangzeb then planned another invasion of Mewar and sent three armies from three different directions under his sons Muazzam, Azam and Akbar. The first two generals failed to force their entry into the heart of Mewar while Akbar after failing in his attempt to drive Raj Singh, realized the futility of his father’s reactionary policy and entered into negotiations with the Rajputs on January 11, 1680. He rebelled against his father and with the assistance of the Rathors and Sisodias proclaimed himself emperor of India. It was agreed that the Sisodias and Rathors would place their forces at the disposal of the prince who would celebrate his accession and proceed against his father. But Raj Singh’s death on November 1st, 1680 and the accession of his son Jai Singh delayed the project of an attack on Aurangzeb. Later during the reign of Maharana Jai Singh, the proposed project to attack Aurangzeb failed due to the fraud played by the emperor and Akbar had to sought refuge in the court of Shambhuji, son of Shivaji. Aurangzeb now decided to patch up a peace with Jai Singh in order to proceed to the Deccan to put down Akbar’s pretensions to the sovereignty of India, before the latter could secure the assistance of the Maratha king and endanger the peace of the empire. Maharana Jai Singh whose dominion was threatened by the imperial force was equally anxious to settle matters with the emperor. Accordingly a treaty was concluded between the two on 24th June 1681. The Rana ceded the paraganas of Madal, Pur and Bednor in lieu of the jaziya imposed on him. The emperor appointed the Maharana to the mansab of 5000 and confirmed him in his territory with the title “Rana”.

Rana Amar Singh II

It was during the reign of Rana Amar Singh II, who ruled from 1700 to 1716 that the ruler of Marwar, Ajit Singh and the prince of Amber formed a triple league with Mewar against the Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah. This treaty of unity of interests against the common foe was confirmed by nuptial alliances, which had not taken place since the days of Pratap. In fact, to be readmitted to this honour with the Sisodias was one of the main considerations, which led the princes of Marwar and Amber to join the league. These princes held a prolonged conference on the border of the Puskar lake and after full deliberation proclaimed a solemn concerted policy- that they would not thenceforth give their daughters in marriage to Muslims and if any prince acted contrary to this resolution, the others should join and put down the deserter by force if necessary. The declaration went further. The Ranas of Udaipur were acknowledged to be of purer blood having all along refused to give their daughters in marriage to Muslims; so the Puskar conference laid down that if any Rajput prince had any issue from a daughter of the Udaipur family, that issue should be given preference over those born from other wives in choosing the successor to the vacant throne. This in the long run led to wars of succession and the umpire who was called upon to settle the disputes, which ensued there from, proved more baneful than the power from whose grasp they were endeavouring to free themselves. The treaty laid prostrate the throne of Babur, but it ultimately introduced the Marathas as partisans in the family disputes, who, in all such cases, made the bone on contention their own.

Mewar under British protectorate

Accession of weak rulers and the invitation given to the Marathas to arbitrate in their internal strife led to the weakening of the house of the Sisodias. The Marathas not only alienated fertile revenue yielding territory of the state but also levied war contributions that exhausted Mewar financially. After the defeat of the Marathas in the third Anglo-Maratha war, Mewar along with other states in Rajasthan passed under the protecting arm of Great Britain. In January 1818, Rana Bhim Singh entered into a treaty with the East India Company represented by Charles Theophilus Metcalf by which Udaipur agreed to pay one-fourth of the revenue of the state annually to the British government as tribute for five years; and after that term three-eights in perpetuity.

It is a pity that the so called votaries of Shivaji’s legacy and idealism were responsible for the decline of the fortunes of the family of Rana Pratap, who in fact was the source of inspiration for Shivaji in his fight against the Mughals. But more regrettable is the fact that today, while history curriculum in various Indian Universities, discuss and even eulogies the role of barbaric invaders of medieval times, the part played by the family of Sisodias in defending the national honour has been belittled and neglected.(Concluded)