The following points highlight the five important sciences which made progress in ancient India. The sciences are: 1. Astronomy 2. Mathematics 3. Medical Science 4. Chemistry 5. Physics.
Science # 1. Astronomy:
Since the Vedic religion required the performance of various sacrifices in different seasons of the year, a knowledge of astronomy had to be cultivated for discovering proper time for the commencement and ending of these sacrifices.
Sometimes the sacrifices were started when the Sun reached the winter solstice and continued till it returned to the same position. These sacrifices were known as Samvatsara or yearly sacrifices. Even now the season begin and end with the position of the solstices and the equinoxes.
The Vedic calendar was divided into five seasons, Vasantha (spring), Grisma (summer), Varsha (rainy season) Sarad (autumn) and Hemanta-sisira (winter). Sometimes Hemanta and Sisira were calculated separately. We also get references to a seventh season which is described as “single born”.
This was probably an intercalary month. The people also knew about five planets and twenty-seven nakshatras and could calculate the time of the occurrence, duration and the end of eclipse.
Though in the Atharvaveda the eclipse has been explained in mythological terms, the Rig-Veda clearly mentions that it was the result of the occultation of the sun by the moon. The most important astronomers of the earlier period were Vriddha Garga who was a contemporary of the Pandavas, Lagdha, the author of Yajusha Jyotisha, and Parasara.
The name of Vriddha Garga occures twice in Mahabharata. It is said that he lived at a place on the river Saraswati and attained knowledge of time and motion, planets and stars. The Rishis came from various places to learn this new science from him.
Lagdha is credited with having found the summer solstice to pass through the middle of the nakshatra Aslesha and the winter solstice through the first point of the nakshatra Dhanishatha.’ The other astronomers like Parasara and Garga also made valuable contribution to the sciences of astronomy and carried traditions of the earlier scholars.
In addition to these scholars we also learn of certain’ other astronomers like Rishiputra, Kapilacharya, Kasyapa, Devala etc. But we are not very certain about the exact time when they flourished and the contribution they made to the field of Hindu astronomy.
The most outstanding astronomer of the ancient time was Aryabhata. He is well known for his originality and valuable contribution to the science of astronomy. He was born in 476 A. D. He wrote Aryabhatiyam, in which he dealt with the principle of diurnal revolution of the earth on its own axis. He also mentions of the motion of sun and moon.
Aryabhata said: “The starry vault is fixed: it is the earth which, moving on its own axis, seems to cause the rising and the setting of the planets and stars”.
Similar view has also been expressed in Chandogya Upanishad which says:
“The sun never sets or rises. When people think to themselves the sun is setting, he only changes about after reaching the end of the day, and makes night below and day to what is on the other side. When the people think he rises in the morning he only shifts himself about after reaching the end of the night and makes day below and night to what is on the other side. In fact he never does set at all.”
The science of astronomy continued to flourish after Aryabhata and his disciples like Latadeva and Bhaskara I continued to make valuable contributions. Latadeva earned the reputation as Sarva- siddhanta-guru because of his contributions. Bhaskara I also wrote important works of astronomy like Laghubhaskaryia and Maha-bhaskariya.
Another astronomer of ancient time was Varahamihira who is believed to have died in 587 A.D. Varahamihira was a versatile genius who made important contributions to different branches of natural science. In the field of astronomy he wrote a number of works but the most important of them is Pancha Siddantika.
In this work Varahamihira combined the teachings of Panlisa and Ronaka Vasishtha. He also made the old Surya Siddhanta up-to-date by borrowing astronomical constants from Aryabhata Ardharatrika system.
Varahamihira possessed a catholic outlook which is reflected in his opinion that the Greeks must be revered for their knowledge of astronomy even though socially they might be outcastes (mlechchas). The works of Varahamihira were translated into Arabic by Alberuni.
Another important Hindu astronomer was Brahmagupta who was born in 598 A.D. He lived and carried on his investigations in the famous observatory at Ujjain. It may be noted that even Varahamihira also worked on the same observatory. The most important works of Brahmagupta include Brahma-sphuta-Siddhanta and Khan-dakhadyaka.
It is thus evident that as a result of the efforts of these astronomers the Hindu astronomy made commendable progress during ancient India The importance of these scholars lies not only in originality of their conclusion but also in the scientific methods adopted by them.
Some of the important contributions made by these scholars of astronomy were the suggestions about the lunar Zodiac with the twenty-seven constellations, discoveries about the diurnal rotation of the earth on its own axis, the scientific cause of solar and lunar eclipses, the hypothesis of epicycle for planetary movements, theories about the annual precession of equinoxes, the relative size of the sun and the moon as compared with the earth and the determination of lunar constants entering into the calculation of lunar periods and eclipses.
It may be noted that the names of the Zodiac, the casting of horoscopes and use of other technical terms by astronomers like Varahamihira indicate that the Indians were familiar with Greek astronomy.
However, it is difficult to determine exactly the extent of the Greek influence on the Hindu astronomy because the Hindu astronomers usually wrote in aphorisms and stated only their conclusions without indicating the methods adopted for arriving at those conclusions: It is quite probable that the Indians might have assimilated some of the Greek ideas, improved upon them and presented them in their own way.
Science # 2. Mathematics:
Mathematics also made a considerable progress during ancient times. In fact science of mathematics was considered to be superior than all other sciences. Emphasizing the importance of the science of mathematics (Ganita sastra) the Chandogya Upanishad says : “As are the crests on the head of peacocks, as are the gems on the hood of the snakes, so is the ganita at the top of the sciences known as Vedangas.”
At that time ganita included astronomy, arithmetic and algebra. It did not include geometry which belonged to a different group of science known as Kalpa.
As in case of astronomy, the knowledge of ganita was considered essential for the performance of various types of sacrifices. Each sacrifice had to be made on a altar of prescribed size and shape, and even a slightest irregularity in the form and size of the altar could nullify the impact of sacrifice.
Hence greatest care was taken to prepare altars of right size and shape. Thus we find that mathematics and geometry grew as a result of religious necessity. But in course of time they outgrew their original performance and began to be cultivated for their own sake.
Our knowledge of mathematics during the Vedic period is very limited. Almost all the works on the subject belonging to that period have perished. Whatever little information we can get about the progress of mathematics in the Vedic period is drawn from the secondary sources like literary works. The earliest of the great mathematician whose works have come down to us was Aryabhata.
His work Aryabhatiyam, besides being a great work on astronomy, was also a treatise on arithmetic. In this work he discussed the problems which are now known as arithmetical and geometrical progressions and quadratic equation. He was also the first mathematician to attempt a general solution of the linear indeterminate equation by a method of continued fractions.
Brahmagupta, another celebrated astronomer also made valuable contributions to mathematics. He wrote about factors and integers, progressions, Rule of Three, simple interest and mensuration of plane figures. He also formulated the rules for the negative numbers in algebra and made important contributions in quadratic and indeterminate equations.
Another important mathematician produced by ancient India was Mahavira or Mahavir acharya. He lived during the middle of the ninth century at the court of Amoghavarsha, of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. His work, Ganita sastra sangraha, contained numerous problems involving series, radicals and equations. Bhaskara’, was the last mathematicians produced during ancient India.
He lived at Ujjain in the 12th century. Bhaskara also specialised in astronomy although he also worked on arithmetic, mensuration and algebra. He is credited with having anticipated Newton’s theories in the discovery of the principles of Differential Calculus and its application to astronomical problems.
He also proved mathematically that infinity however, divided remains infinite. The most celebrated work of Bhaskara was Lilavati which was translated into Persian during the Mughal rule.
The numerical system was another important contribution of ancient Indians to the field of mathematics. On the testimony of Vedas we can say that the Hindus had developed terminology of numeration as early as Vedic period and could express with great precision any number up to fourteen digits.
As regards the numerical symbolism the ancient literature leaves us in complete darkness. No doubt, we can get some knowledge about the numeral expression from the various literary works, but we have not come across with any definite evidence to say for certain about the numeral signs and system of the Vedic Hindus.
However, certain scholars have argued that the people had developed numerical signs even during the Vedic period because the Rig Veda refers to some cows as Ashtakarni (having eight marked on the ear). Similarly, the Yajur Veda mentions certain gold weights called Ashtapruddhiranyam. Sometimes the people tried to express numbers using words which had some fixed numbers associated with them.
For example zero was expressed by the words, Sunya, ambara, ananta, etc., one by adi, soma, bhumi, etc., three by loka, guna, kala ratan (Jaina), etc. These chronograms were used to help authors to express their ideas in verses.
Another outstanding contributions of the people in ancient India was the development of the concept of place value with ten as the basis of numeration. The bigger numbers were written to the left of the smaller numbers. Vyasa-Bhashya on the Yoga sutra of Patanjali refers to this system when it says: “The same stroke is termed one in unit’s place and ten in ten’s place and hundred in hundred’s place”.
Sankaracharya also refers to this when he says: Although the stroke is the same, yet by a change of place it acquires the values one, ten, hundred, thousand, etc. La Place, a brilliant mathematical astronomer of the times of Napoleon has greatly appreciated this discovery.
He says: “It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position, as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit, but its very simplicity, the great case which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men of antiquity ”
Danzing, a great modern mathematician, has considered this discovery as of immense importance.
He says that “during the long period of nearly five thousand years man had been using an inflexible numeration so crude as to make progress well-nigh impossible and calculating devise to limited in scope that even elementary calculations called for the services of an expert. When viewed in this light the achievement of the unknown Hindu, who sometime in the first centuries of our era discovered the principle of position, assumes the proportion of a world event”.
The concept of ‘zero’ was another revolutionary contribution to the science of mathematics by the people of ancient India. Without this discovery no place value would have been possible and the Indian mathematical system could not have improved over other ancient systems.
Rules of operation of zero as stated by the ancient mathematicians of India may be summed up thus: “In addition cipher makes the sum equal to the one added; when cipher is subtracted (from a number) there is no change in number. In multiplication and other operations on zero the result is zero.”
According to Halsted: “The importance of the creation of the zero mark can never be exaggerated. This giving to airy bothing, not merely a local habitation and a name, a picture, a symbol, but helpful power, is characteristic of the Hindu race from whence it sprang. It is like coining the Nirvana into dynamos. No single mathematical creation has been more potent for the general on-go of intelligence and power.”
The decimal place value notation which is used at present time in almost in all the civilized countries of the world was another important contribution of ancient India. In this system zero and the numerical symbols from 1 to 9 were used.
The Indian mind took great delight in abstract speculation and was specially congenial to the science of algebra. The most important contribution of the Indians in this field was the concept of absolutely negative quantity, general methods for the solution of quadratic equations of indeterminate problems of first and second degrees and rules for permutations and combinations.
Certain scholars like Bhaskara also applied algebra to the astronomical and geometrical problems.
Indians also made important contributions to trigonometry. Some of the theories and discoveries made by the Indians in ancient times are quite interesting and anticipated modern developments in the field. Particular mention may be made of preparation of the table of sins and the principal theories of spherical trigonometry.
The ancient Indians not only made valuable contribution to the various branches of mathematics but also exercised tremendous influence on the mathematics of other countries. For example, the Chinese adopted the decimal notation from the Buddhist.
They also adopted the Indian method of writing numbers from right to left in place of the old practice of writing figures from top to bottom. Indian mathematics also spread to Arab countries in the 8th century A.D. and the Indian numerals were adopted by them.
In fact, the Arab countries did not have any figures for numbers till the times of Khalif-Al-Mansur and they first learnt it from the Indians.’ During the reign of Khalif-Al-Mansur a number of Hindu scientists visited his court and translated a number of books on mathematics and astronomy into Arabic. The indebtedness of the Arabs to the Hindus for their numerals is clear from the fact that even today the Arabs use the word Hindsah for numbers which means that they took it from Hind or India.
It was through the Muslim world that the knowledge of Indian mathematics spread to Central Asia and Spain. The European countries probably learnt Indian mathematics from the Moorish universities of Spain.
Stressing the indebtedness of the Western world to this field Prof. A.L. Basham says:
“Most of the great discoveries and inventions of which Europe is so proud would have been impossible without a developed system of mathematics and this in turn would have been of impossible if Europe had been shackled by the unwieldy system of Roman numerals. The unknown man who devised the new system was from the world’s point of view, after the Buddha, the most important son of India. His achievement, though easily taken for granted, was the work of an analytical mind of the first order, and he deserves much more honour than he has so far received”.
Science # 3. Medical Science:
The medical science also made much progress during ancient India. We find the earliest references about the curative art in Rig Veda which ascribes divinity to various herbs and plants. In the Atharva Veda also certain herbs and metals endowed with medicinal properties were given divine attributes and were worshipped.
We, however, learn from the Vedic literature that during the Vedic period the medical profession had become more or less hereditary, although the position of the people of this profession was comparatively quite inferior.
The Medical science was first systematized and provided with a rational basis by Charaka and Susruta. They wrote two standard books on medical science viz. Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita respectively. These books were written almost a thousand years after Atharva Veda. It is believed that Charaka wrote earlier than Susruta. Generally Charaka’s book is assigned to the pre- Buddhist era.
It deals with diagnosis, prognosis and classification of the diseases. In this work he also developed humoral pathology. Commenting on this work Sir P.C. Ray says: “On reading the Charaka one often feels as if it embodied the deliberations of an international congress of medical experts held in Himalaya regions. The work professes to be more or less of the nature of a record of the proceedings of such a Congress”.
The Susruta Samhita was a more systematic and scientific work than that of Charaka. It is considered to be of more modern origin and is supposed to have been re-written by the celebrated Buddhist scientists and philosopher, Nagarjuna.
While the subject matter of Charaka Samhita is mainly medicine, Susruta deals with surgery. Indian physicians attached great importance to humoral pathology. According to the Indian theory there are three kinds of humors viz. Yayu (Air), Pitta (Bile) and Kapha (Phlegm).
Scholars hold that the theory of Vayu, Pitta and Kapha is not the same as the old humoral theory of the Greek and the Roman physicians who, though they borrowed the idea from Ayurveda, probably failed to grasp the true meaning of the theory.
But the general belief is that the theory of humoral pathology was known to the Indians long before it was elaborated by Hippocratic’s. We find reference in Rig Veda and early Buddhist literature to prove this point. However, certain scholars believe that too much had been made of the resemblance between the Greek and the Hindu theory and practice of medicine.
The analogy is more superficial than real and does not seem to bear a close examination. The Hindu system is based upon the three humors, namely, the air, the bile and the phlegm, whilst that of the Greek is founded upon four humors, namely, the blood, the bile, the water and the phlegm—a cardinal point of difference.”
The art of surgery was also known to the people of ancient India and was quite advanced. We come across various references of the major operations like ambulation, laparotomy (opening the abdomen for intestinal obstruction or other trouble), lithotomy (extraction of stone) and trophining of the skull were known to the ancient surgeons.
We get the first reference to the surgical operation in Rig Veda which says that when a young maiden named Vispala lost her leg in a conflict the Asvins, the divine doctors, provided her with an iron leg. The Susruta and Vagbhata have given an excellent description of the surgical instruments of the period which evoke our admiration.
The Greek and the Roman surgical instruments were merely replicas of the Hindu instruments. The various surgical instruments referred to included saws, lancets, needles, knives, scissors, hooks, pincers, probes, nippers, forceps, tongs, syringes, loadstones, etc.
The Indians were also the first to realise the necessity of dissection of the human body for the education of physicians and surgeons. Susruta writing about two thousand years ago recorded in unmistakable terms:
“Therefore whoever wishes to get a clear idea of salya (surgery) must prepare a corpse in the proper way and see by careful dissection every part of the body in order that he may have definite and doubtless knowledge”. It may be noted that in Europe the dissection of human subject was opposed till the middle ages.
Surgery as well as medicine made great progress during the Buddhist period in India because Buddhism insisted on alleviation of the sufferings. A number of hospitals were opened for the men as well as beasts. Usually these hospitals were located in the monasteries. The inscriptions engraved on the rocks, pillars etc. also contained prescriptions for the treatment of various diseases.
Similarly the Indians knew about the circulation of blood much before it was discovered by Sir William Harvey in the 17th century.
This is borne out by the Charaka Samhita, Sutra which says:
“From that great centre (the heart) emanate the vessels carrying blood into all parts of the body the element which nourishes the life of all animals and without which life would be extinct. It is that element which goes to nourish the foetus in utero and which flowing into its body return to the mother’s heart.”
In the field of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, the properties of drugs and foodstuffs were investigated by the five senses and by subjective and objective phenomena manifested on the human system. It was insisted that the diagnosis should be made by the five senses supplemented by interrogation. The method of direct auscultation or hearing of breath-sounds was known to them.
Similarly in Susruta Samhita we get references which show that the people knew about the bacterial origin and the infective nature of certain diseases as the eruptive fevers, leprosy, small-pox, tuberculosis, etc. But probably the most important achievement of the Hindu medicine was the introduction of metallic preparations, specially those of mercury and iron.
The great Buddhist scientist Nagarjuna who flourished in the 8th or 9th century A. D. was the first to use mercury preparation Kajjali (black Sulphide of mercury) in medicine. Hiuen Tsang who stayed in India from 629 A. D. onwards has also greatly praised the knowledge of Nagarjuna in the science of medicine.
He says: “Nagarjuna Bodhisattva was well practiced in the art of compounding medicine; by taking a preparation (pill or cake) he nourished the years of life for many hundreds of years, so that neither the mind nor appearance decayed.”
The ancient Indians considered the medical profession as a very noble profession. Giving relief to the suffering humanity was considered to be a noble cause. Charaka says: “Not for money nor for any earthly objects should one treat his patients. In this the physicians work excels all vocations. Those who sell treatment as a merchandise neglect the true treasure of gold in search of mere dust”.
Charaka had formulated the ethical code of Ayurveda which provided : “You should seek the happiness of all beings. Every day, standing or sitting, you should try to heal the sick with your whole heart. You should not demand too much from your patients even to maintain yourself, you must not touch another man’s wife even in thought, nor hanker after others’ wealth. You should be sober in dress, and temperate, you must not commit a sin nor be an abettor of it and you must speak words that are gentle, clean, and righteous,” and so on.
He further says: “If you want success in your practice, wealth and fame, and heaven after your death, you must pray every day on rising and going to bed for the welfare of all beings, especially of cows and Brahmans, and you must strive with all your soul for the health of the sick. You must not betray your patients, even at the cost of your own life…You must not get drunk, or commit evil, or have evil companions. You must be pleasant of speech…and thoughtful, always striving to improve your knowledge”.
“When you go to the home of a patient you should direct your words, mind, intellect and senses nowhere but to your patient and his treatment . . .Nothing that happens in the house of the sick man must be told outside, nor must the patient’s condition be told to anyone who most do harm by that knowledge to the patient or to another.”
The people of ancient India also practiced veterinary medicine. Encouraged by the doctrine of non-violence arrangements were made for the stay of animals and proper care was taken of the sick and the aged animals. There were doctors who specialised in the disease of animals like horses and elephants and were given a very respectable position at the court.
It is clear from the above discussion that the Indian Medical Science system was quite advanced and it exercised considerable influence on the contemporary countries of the West and the East namely, Arabia, Egypt, Rome, Greece and China. It is now accepted on all hands that these countries drew most of their medical knowledge skill and inspiration from India.
The Greeks and Romans particularly adopted the Indian system as well as the Indian names and recipes. Harun-al-Rashid, the Caliph of Baghdad sent Scholars to India towards the close of the 8th century A. D. to study Medicine and Pharmacology.
Certain Hindu Physicians were also invited to Baghdad and .appointed as Superintendents of the hospitals. They were also requested to translate the important Sanskrit works of Medicine, Pharmacology and Toxicology in Arabic.
Similarly some of the Chinese visitors also studied the Indian Medical system. The famous Chinese traveller, I-tsing, who visited India during the last quarter of the 7th century also made a study of the Indian Medical System. During the next few years also the Muslim scholars continued to visit India to study the Indian Medical Science.
Science # 4. Chemistry:
In India Chemistry developed mainly as a hand maid to medicine. The subject was known as Rasayana which is practically the equivalent of Alchemy. Amongst the greatest Chemists of ancient India mention may be made of Patanjali the well-known commentator on Panini, and Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist monk.
The former was a Alchemist of repute. He seems to have flourished during the second century B.C. and was considered to be an authority on Loha-sastra (science of iron). Nagarjuna was another important representative of the art of al-chemistry.
He lived near Somnath between eighth and ninth century A. D. and composed a book which contained the substance of whole literature on this subject. This work is considered to be of rare importance. Nagarjuna was the first to use mercury preparation Kajjali in medicine.
He is also credited with the discovery of the process of distillation and calcination. Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller, has recorded that Nagarjuna had specialised in art of compounding medicine and, by inventing a preparation he prolonged the years of life;
The people of ancient India have been credited with discoveries and inventions of the processes of distillation, steaming and fixation. Though the mineral acids were not known to the Indians till the 16th century A. D. but they used a mixture called vid to kill all metals. The progress made by the Indians in the field of Rasayana has been greatly admired by the famous traveller Alberuni.
He records “They have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them. They call it Rasayana. It means an art which is restricted to certain operations, drugs and compounds and medicines, most of which are taken from plants. Its principles restored the health of those who are ill beyond hope and gave back youth to fading old age.”
The people of ancient India had good knowledge of the metals and their extractions from naturally occurring ores. Gold and silver ornaments were used during the Vedic period. The soldiers of ancient India used coats of male and metallic helmets.
Yajurveda also makes a mention of iron, lead and tin. Chhandogya Upanishad also clearly shows that Hindus had fairly good knowledge about the formation of alloys. It says “As one binds gold by means of lavana (borax) silver by means of gold, tin by means of silver lead by means of tin, and iron by means of lead.”
It is admitted on all hands that people in ancient India made remarkable progress in the field of metallurgy. They prepared beautiful statues of bronze and other metals. The huge iron girders at Puri, the famous gate of Somnath and the big iron gun at Narvar testify the remarkable skill of the Indians in metallurgy.
The Indians were particularly skilled in the tempering of steel. Saracens, who were well known for the manufacture of Damascus blades, learnt the art from the Indians through Arabs. The popularity of the Indian sword is evident from the Persian expression, Jawabee Hind (Indian answer) which made a cut with the sword made of Indian steel.
But probably the most outstanding marvel of the metallurgical skill of the Indians was the huge iron pillar at Delhi which is 24 feet high and weighs 6-1/2 tonnes.
This pillar which is more than 1500 years old is still a source of great admiration. According to Fergusson: “It is almost startling to find that after an exposure to wind and rain for fourteen centuries, it is un-rusted, and the capital and inscriptions are as clear and as sharp now as when put up fourteen centuries ago.”
He further comments : “It opens our eyes to an unsuspected state of affairs to find the Hindus at that age capable of forging a bar of longer than any that have been forged even in Europe up to a very late date, and not frequently even now.”
In the field of chemical technology also the Indians made much progress. They know about the art of preparing fast dyes. They also knew about the extraction of indigo tin from Indigo, bleaching, soap-making as well as gun powder. In view of these achievements in the field of Chemistry the Indians were able to occupy a dominant position in the industrial sphere.
Science # 5. Physics:
Though the Hindus did not make a systematic study of the science of Physics, they knew about the various scientific concepts and sound hypothesis regarding metal and energy. It may be noted that at that time Physics was closely linked with religion and theology and therefore the followers of different religions differed regarding the laws of Physics.
It can be said with certainty that the people of India at least during the times of Buddha analysed the universe into four elements viz., earth, air, fire and water. The orthodox Hindus and Jains added another element Akasa (ether) to it. Each of these five elements was a medium of sense impression —earth for smell, air for feeling, fire for vision, water for taste and ether for sound.
Most of the schools of philosophy during the ancient time believed in the atomic theory. According to Prof. A.L. Basham, “Indian atomism was certainly independent of Greek influence, for an atomic theory was taught by Pakudha Katyayana, an older contemporary of Buddha, and was therefore earlier than that of Democritus.”
It may be noted that the different schools of philosophy developed independent atomic theories. The most important amongst these theories was that of Kapila, the author of Sankhya Darsana and Kanada, the founder of the Vaisheshika Darsana.
Kanada argued that there must be some smallest thing which cannot be further analysed. Without this assumption there would be an endless regress and there would be no difference of magnitude “between a mustard seed and a mountain”, a “Gnat and an elephant”.
These un-composed and invisible particles which had no magnitude were described as atoms. It was held that each atom had no specific qualities but only potentialities. These potentialities came into play only when the atom combined with others.
It was held that when the atoms combined to form matter they were of different elements and the matter acquired its property from the predominance of any particular element.
Thus a metal like wax might melt and burn because it contains the elements of water and fire. Umasvati who lived in the 1st century A.D. advocated that only atoms of opposite qualities could combine and the atoms attracted or repelled as they were heterogenous or homogenous.
Commenting on the atomic theories of ancient times Prof. A.L. Basham says, “Indian atomic theories were not of course, based on experiments but on intuition and logic.But the atomic theories of ancient Indians are brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, though it is probably mere coincidence that they agree in part with the theories of modern physics, they are nevertheless much to the credit of the intellect and imagination of early Indian thinkers.”
The Indians in ancient times were aware that the substances possessed properties like gravity, cohesiveness, impenetrability, viscosity, fluidity, porosity, etc. They knew about the principle of gravity. They explained the penetrative diffusion of liquid through capillary motion.
The accurate methods of calculating velocity were also known to them. As a result they could measure the relative pitch of musical tones with great precision. They also anticipated the Pythagorean law of vibrations bf stretched strings, viz., the number of vibrations varies inversely as the length of the string.
The people in ancient India believed that energy was indestructible and thus they anticipated the law of conservation of energy. They viewed heat and light as different forms of the same substance.
They knew the principle of refraction and chemical effects of the light rays, causes of translucency, opacity and shadows. One of the ancient scientist also suggested scientific explanation of the phenomenon of ebullition and rarefaction in evaporation.
The people of ancient India had also discovered the principle of magnetic pull, according to which magnet possessed the power of attracting iron. In view of this, writers like Bhoja suggested that iron should not be used in the construction of ships to avoid the risk of being drawn into a magnetic field by magnetic rocks.
The Indians had also discovered the mariner’s compass long before it was discovered in Europe. This instrument was known as matsyayantra. It consisted of an iron fish which floated in a vessel of oil and pointed towards North.
Decline of Sciences:
Though the various sciences continued to flourish during earlier times, they started declining after the 12th’ century A.D. After this period the Indian intellect tended to become more imitative rather than original. This intellectual stagnation in science was due to a number of factors.
In the first place, this decline was due to change in the mental make up to the Indian scholars who lacked humility and freedom of thought which was enjoyed by the earlier scholars.
This point has been rightly emphasised by Alberuni when he says, “They are haughty, foolish, vairi, stolid and self-conceited. According to their beliefs, there is no country on earth but theirs, no other race of men but theirs, and no created beings besides them that have any knowledge of salience whatever. Their haughtiness is such that if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan or Persia they think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not so narrow-minded.”
Secondly, the revival of Brahmanism also contributed to some extent to neglect of sciences like medicine. The neo-Brahmins in their zeal to overthrow everything that was Buddhist, neglected the practical sciences, medicine and surgery which was very popular with the Buddhists. As a result the science of medicine and surgery greatly declined between the period 1200 A.D. to 1900 A.D.
Thirdly, with the coming of the Muslims to India the free spirit of enquiry and scientific progress suffered a setback. Islam laid great emphasis on blind obedience to the spiritual leaders and free thinking was not encouraged.
Furthermore, the Muslims attacked the various Buddhist monasteries at places like Udahtapura and Vikramsila (which were great centres of science of medicine) and killed a large number of Buddhist monks. A large number of these monks also fled away to other parts like Nepal, South India and Burma.
As a result the progress of science was greatly checked. The people could not devote themselves to the pursuit of science due to unsettled conditions and lack of sense of security.
It is well known that science can flourish only under peaceful and prosperous conditions. But the foreign invasions, exploitation, political conflicts, dynastic wars etc. left the country politically as well as economically unsuitable for the pursuit of scientific knowledge.