Development of science and technology in Ancient India

Among all the sciences, medicine was one of the most advanced in ancient India considering the fact that the Atharva Veda mentions certain herbs with curative powers.

The Atharva Veda includes eight divisions of Ayurveda.

  1. Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  2. Salakya Tantra (Surgery of Head and Neck, Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology)
  3. Shalya Tantra ( Surgery)
  4. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
  5. Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
  6. Kaumarabhrity (Paediatrics)
  7. Rasayana (Anti-aging or Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation)
  8. Vajkarana ( the Science of Fertility)

Several ancient texts on physiology identified factors which determined good or ill health. Ayurveda focused on longevity and prescribed several remedies for the same. Gold, silver, mercury, garlic and honey are described as having specific curative powers in the vast treasury of the pharmacopoeia and medical texts of ancient India. Some of these have subsequently been credited with the same curative powers by modern science also and are the bases for traditional knowledge in pharmacology being emphasised in recent times.

Contribution of Dhanvantari

Dhanvantari was one of the first among medical practitioners and surgeons in the world. Based on Hindu traditions, he is regarded as the source of Ayurveda. He developed many herbal[1]based cures and natural remedies and was credited with the discovery of the antiseptic properties of turmeric and the preservative properties of salt which he incorporated in his cures. Being a very skilled surgeon according to the standards of his time, he is widely believed to be the pioneer of modern medical practices like plastic surgery.

As a result of the brilliance and achievements he displayed in the field of medicine he was chosen as one of the navratnas in Vikramaditya’s court. According to tradition, he taught surgical methods and procedures to Sushruta, the father of Ayurvedic surgery.

Some of the important features of the Indian medical tradition were

  • Yoga stressed the holistic approach to health based on proper diet and physical exercise.
  • Charaka, the great Ayurvedic physician of the 1st century A.D., wrote the Charaka Samhita, the first scientific medical text. Charaka’s work consisted of eight chapters devoted to pharmacology, diet, treatment of major diseases like fever, diarrhoea, consumption, leprosy and tumour among others. He also wrote on such specialised subjects as pathology, embryology and anatomy.
  • In the fourth century, came Sushruta, who is considered the father of surgery. In his treatise Sushruta Samhita, he lists about 125 surgical instruments used by him in his surgeries, details methods of operations among other subjects. In his time he is believed to have performed Caesarean sections, done plastic surgeries and set compound fractures.
  • Veterinary science was another field which had been developed well in ancient times, with hospitals for horses, elephants and cattle. A special branch of medicine was devoted to the treatment of elephants and was called Hastyayurveda.

Mathematics in Ancient India

Aryabhata (476’529 A.D.) wrote the Aryabhatya, a volume of 121 verses. Apart from discussing astronomy, he laid down procedures of arithmetic, geometry, algebra and trigonometry. He calculated the value of pin at 3.1416 and covered subjects like numerical squares and cube roots. Aryabhata is credited with the emergence of trigonometry through sine functions.

    • Aryabhatya was particularly popular in South India, where numerous mathematicians over the ensuing millennium wrote commentaries on it. Written in verse couplets, this work deals with mathematics and astronomy.
    • Following an introduction that contains astronomical tables and Aryabhata’s system of phonemic number notation, the work is divided into three sections: ganita (mathematics), kala-kriya (time calculations), and gola (sphere). In ganita, Aryabhata names the first 10 decimal places and gives algorithms for obtaining square and cubic roots, utilising the decimal number system. Then he treats geometric measurements and develops properties of similar right-angled triangles and of two intersecting circles. Utilising the Pythagoras theorem, he obtains a method for constructing a table of sines.
    • Other topics covered include mathematical series, quadratic equations, compound interest ratios and proportions, and the solutions of various linear equations. Aryabhata’s general solution for linear indeterminate equations, which Bhaskara I called kuttakara (‘pulveriser’), consisted of breaking the problem down into new problems with successively smaller coefficients’ essentially the Euclidean algorithm and also related to the method of continued fractions.
    • With kala-kriya Aryabhata turned to astronomy’in particular, treating planetary motion along the ecliptic. The topics include definitions of various units of time, eccentric and epicyclic models of planetary motion, planetary longitude corrections for different terrestrial locations, and a theory of ‘lords of the hours and days’ (an astrological concept used for determining propitious times for action).
    • Aryabhatiya ends with spherical astronomy in gola, where he applied plane trigonometry to spherical geometry by projecting points and lines on the surface of a sphere onto appropriate planes. Topics include prediction of solar and lunar eclipses and an explicit statement that the apparent westward motion of the stars is due to the spherical Earth’s rotation about its axis.
    • Aryabhata also correctly ascribed the luminosity of the Moon and planets to reflected sunlight.
    • Aryabhata siddhanta through the Sasanian dynasty of Iran, had considerable influence on the development of Islamic astronomy. Its contents are preserved to some extent in the works of Varahamihira, Bhaskara I, Brahmagupta, and others.
    • It is one of the earliest astronomical works to assign the start of each day to midnight.

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