2002 Indic Colloquium
Participant Detail

Back to Schedule and Participants
Back to Colloquium Home

Dharma Pal Agrawal

Contact Information




Ashirvad (Pande Lodge)
East Pokharkhali
Almora 263601 India








Phone (other)






Web site






Background Information

In the course of his long academic career, Prof. D.P.Agrawal has worked with the Archaeological Survey of India, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay and Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad. His research contributions have been varied and multi-disciplinary – mainly in the fields of palaeoenvironment, prehistoric archaeology, radiocarbon & TL dating, archaeometallurgy, India’s contributions to the world of science and technology and Traditional Knowledge Systems. His main areas of work have been: Kashmir, Central Himalayas and Rajasthan. Prof. Agrawal has specialised in the use of scientific techniques for archaeological research. He has also made fundamental theoretical contributions in the fields of language and evolution, flaking mechanics, archaeological theories and concept of time. He was a senior professor and chairman of a large multidisciplinary group at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. He has organised and attended numerous national and international symposia. He has given invited talks at the leading centers of archeaological and palaeoenvironmental research both in India and abroad. He has been as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and also at the International Research Center at Kyoto for a year each. He has published 15 books and about 250 papers. He has been a member of the advisory board of World Archaeology, Le’Anthroplogie and has edited Man & Environment for a number of years. He has been the Chairman of Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Research, member of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology, and has been associated with several other academic committees - both national and international. He was the President of the World Archaeology Congress held in Southampton, UK in 1990. He is a fellow of the Indian Academy of Science.

Currently he is Director of a research project on Traditional Knowledge Systems, based in Almora, Uttaranchal.


An Indocentric Corrective to History of Science
Read the entire paper in PDF format (65K, 16pp.)

I propose to address the multi-dimensional problems in the fields of History of Science and Technology and Traditional Knowledge Systems (TKS). My presentation will cover the deliberate neglect of India's contributions to History of Science and Technology; the attempt to belittle our cultural legacy by branding them implants form Mesopotamia and Egypt; systematic dismantling of the traditional technologies to be able to export their products in the colonies; denigrating Traditional Knowledge Systems as superstition etc.

"Traditional knowledge, which may be technical, social, organizational, or cultural was obtained as part of the great human experiment of survival and development." The European colonizers systematically uprooted or undermined the local traditional science, technology and crafts of the lands and people they plundered, because of their intellectual arrogance and also to control and appropriate the economic means of production. Western Science created hegemonic categories of science verses magic; technology verses superstitions etc., which were arbitrary and contrived.

On the other hand, the West is appropriating the traditional technologies of the developing nations by patenting them, as if they were invented by them!

One expects History of Science and Technology to encompass the whole humanity's efforts and experiments to understand and to cope up with its environment. Unfortunately imperialistic notions of Eurocentric monopoly also dominated even this area of History of Science and Technology. Thanks to Arab scholars, the important role of Islamic empires in the transmission of ideas into Europe has now become better appreciated. However,  many discoveries and innovations of India, as acknowledged by the Arab translators themselves, are often depicted as being of Arab origin, when in fact, the Arabs often retransmitted what they had learnt from India over to Europe. The monumental efforts of Joseph Needham in bringing out the role of Chinese Science and Civilization, however, did provide a powerful and positive corrective. As a result, one finds that today most of the ancient scientific inventions are either attributed to Greece or to China. India's contributions to History of Science and Technology still remain mostly unrecognized.

It's not that India did not make significant contributions to History of Science and Technology but there was a deliberate attempt to undermine them by the British colonial masters. Perhaps their economic interests guided them so that they not only undermined but also actually dismantled the traditional technologies of copper, iron, textile etc. The technological achievements of the Indus civilization were underplayed by describing them as transplants from Mesopotamia.

The fact that Indians were highly civilized even in the third millennium BC, when the British were still in a barbarian stage, was naturally not palatable to the British colonizers. Such acknowledgment would have destroyed the civilizing mission of Europe that was the intellectual premise for colonialization. British Indologists did not study TKS, except to quietly document them as systems competing with their own, and to facilitate the transfer of technology into Britain's Industrial Revolution. What was found valuable was quickly appropriated, and its Indian manufacturers were forced out of business, and this was in many instances justified as civilizing them.

The Indus civilization had given the first planned towns of the world with its underground drainage. The Harappans produced bronze mirrors of high quality. They were the first to produce needles with holes at the pointed end, a tool, which was reinvented by Europe during the Roman times. The Harappans were the first to invent true saw, hollow drills, concept of air conditioning, standardization of measures and weights, water proofing of reservoirs etc. For its hardness and rust-free properties, the Indian wootz steel was prized by the Persian Emperors of the Ist millennium BC. India's ancient medical system, Ayurved, was studied and used by the Arabs, the Tibetans and the Chinese. The caliphs in the medieval period established academies to study and translate Indian works on medicine, astronomy and mathematics. Indians were the first to invent the zero. Arya Bhatt showed that the world was Heliocentric, and not geocentric. India was the first to understand that bacteria cause diseases. The Indians practiced the first inoculations and they organized large scale vaccination programs to check effectively smallpox epidemics. The British when they saw such practices in India, neither understood nor used them.

To correct such distortions in the global History of Science and Technology, the Infinity Foundation has sponsored several programs. They will be briefly explained.

We would like to emphasize that we are not guided by any chauvinistic ideas but would like to produce a World History of Science and Technology, which recognizes the contributions of not only Greece, China, but India and other countries, as well. Such a world history should reflect the contributions of all humanity.           

Towards this end, the Infinity Foundation has commissioned about a dozen books on various aspects of ancient Indian science and technology. The themes would include ancient hydraulics, Indus architecture and civil engineering, ancient textiles, concepts of time, iron technology, zinc smelting, traditional ecology management, Himalayan medicine, Ayurved and its global dissemination.

The Infinity Foundation runs a website, the Outer Gate of its Mandala deals with Traditional Knowledge Systems. Through this portal are posted essays in Traditional Knowledge Systems, bibliographies on different branches of TKS, "Did You Know" columns, besides the editorials and overviews.

We have also planned seminars on Traditional Knowledge Systems. The first will be held at Almora in Central Himalayas with focus on the Traditional Knowledge Systems of Central Himalayas. The second would be held in Delhi in 2003 where the authors of the TKS book titles and leading researchers and activists in Indian Traditional Knowledge Systems will meet. We propose to limit the participants for each seminar to about 30. We also propose to launch a journal devoted to Traditional Knowledge Systems

Read the entire paper in PDF format (65K, 16pp.)