Indic Contributions to World Science

Invitation for Book Projects

Notes on:
Indian History of Science and Technology Seminar
India International Center, Delhi. January 2 - 6, 2003.
Sponsored by The Infinity Foundation.

A Multi-Volume History of Indian Science and Technology

Why we must do this project:

India’s historical contributions to science and technology are considerable, but are not well known. They have been marginalized in the education system and in the media portrayals of India and its culture. There are many causes for this, including:

1. Colonial Indologists focused on India as a backward region in need of being civilized by the superior colonialists, and, hence, science and progressive activities were depicted as the exclusive domain of the Europeans. This justified what became known as the Civilizing Mission of colonialism.

2. After independence, many Indian intellectuals continued to use the framework according to which pre-colonial Indian society was designated as feudalistic, and hence, scholarship about it was done to highlight this aspect, at the expense of topics that would contradict this classification.

However, in the case of China, Joseph Needham, a leading scholar at Cambridge, made it his life’s work to document China’s history of science and technology in over 30 volumes. By the time he died at age 90, his works has transformed the study of China forever. The Needham Foundation has continued this monumental work after his death, and has been expanding the series with new volumes.

Today, every research library on China, and every major library on science and history, has the Needham collection as important reference works. Every serious China scholar has respect for this work, and its impact on the image of China has been extraordinary. This impact has also trickled down to the depictions in schools and the general media. No longer is it easy for anyone to denigrate Chinese civilization as being devoid of rational thought, scientific rigor, or the quest for indigenous progress.

Unfortunately, this intellectual repositioning has not yet been achieved for India, which is still depicted based on the “caste, cows and curry” images too often. Indian culture is frequently depicted as being mystical in the sense of being irrational, and in lacking a sense of advancement in the material plane of society. Many Westernized Indians, who reproduce such notions, have often internalized these colonial stereotypes.

Therefore, it is often said that Indians’ excellent performance in the global economy as medical doctors, information technologists, financial experts, executives, and in other scientific and rational disciplines, must be the result of colonialism. However, this is untrue as evidenced by the following facts:

There are many opportunities that such a project would present, including the following:

What makes this project unique:

Since colonial Indology and world history have become institutionalized over many decades, many of the reference works and popularly used texts are in drastic need of being rewritten. The availability of properly written new reference works for scholars would alter the historical assessment of India.

This project entails several multi-volume series of works, each of which would have long shelf lives, and would be of considerable leverage in the educational system at various levels. Some of these volumes do not depend on major original work, but would largely identify, validate and compile pre-existing academic works, and bring them to modern standards.

There are many important ways by which this project differs from a few other attempts that might appear similar to a non-expert in this field:

1. The Government of India started a multi-volume project, but it has focused on philosophy mainly and not on practical science or technology. Furthermore, being government driven, it is not marketing oriented in its packaging or distribution. It is seldom referenced by textbook authors and rarely found in libraries.

2. Some writers have tended to exaggerate claims of Indian scientific accomplishments, by stretching statements written in classical texts. Based on such textual references, for which there is no physical evidence as of now, they have concluded that there was space travel in the Mahabharata, along with nukes, intergalactic missiles, and just about every modern hi-tech item. This has justifiably earned them the term “chauvinists,” and the entire activity of writing about Indian science has become discredited, thanks to them. IF considers it very important to distance itself from such discredited scholarship. This is why the series being described here is being built on solid academic scholarship only, and not on wild extrapolations. IF believes that researching unsubstantiated claims about old knowledge has its place, but that facts must be separated from unproven hypotheses. Therefore, IF’s project does not include Puranas as scientific sources. There is no reason to cloud the issue: The volume and quality of Indian science, that is widely accepted by authorities in the field worldwide, is very impressive and deserves to be properly documents before any speculations are mixed in to dilute its credibility. To accomplish this, IF’s project involves rigorous peer reviews of each manuscript. There is a high quality editorial board of international eminence. Scholars will only rely upon reference works that are very credible and have gone through rigorous peer reviews and due diligence.

3. Many works do not make an impact because of poor distribution. The scholars seem unconcerned about the marketing aspects, because it is more important for them to claim the academic achievement on their resumes. IF is planning widespread distribution of its works, because the project’s success depends upon actual usage in the mainstream, and not simply by decorating a few research libraries. To achieve this impact, IF has studied the process, which disseminates knowledge about such topics into the mainstream school curricula, college courses, and mass media. This is documented in the diagram. IF is expecting to do the following as part of this goal:

    a. Teacher training workshops on the use of these books

    b. Academic seminars to popularize them among scholars

    c. Games and contests among science and general knowledge students based on the books

    d. Inexpensive editions that could be donated to libraries widely across India and other developing societies – the next generation should be exposed to more than mere “Western” science.

    e. Documentaries based on the material in the books.

    f. The goal is to give these reference works a very long-term shelf life.

4. The books must be of very high quality, beyond just the factual content. This means we plan to engage professional copyeditors, layout artists, get detailed indexes, and eventually put the material on CD-ROM/DVD with pictures & music.

5. Just like other successful references, the series must have new editions every few years to keep it current and expanding. To achieve this, the project would like to become financially self-sufficient such that revenues are used to continue the work indefinitely, just as is done by major reference publishers. New titles, regular conferences and other activities would keep this ever fresh in the minds of educators.

6. In parallel with the multi-volume approach with scholarly rigor, there will also be a single volume simple and popular level Encyclopedia of Indian Science and Technology. This would be an easy reference, and would suffice for many casual users and students. However, the backup in the complete set would be a necessary foundation in order to make the encyclopedia statements credible.

7. Once there is a solid foundation on India, we hope to collaborate with other traditions – such as Chinese, Arabic, African – to start to globalize the humanities in a true sense, and to expand out of the “Western” dominated education system.

Status as of Summer 2003:

A new web site for the project is being launched. It shall have two levels of access: one for the general public to give information about the subject and also to inform about the status of the project; the second more privileged access for those involved in executing the project, to review drafts and exchange discussions on technical matters.

The advisory board is being revamped and expanded.

Each volume has an approximate gestation period of 2 years from the time when the grant letter is signed with the scholar. Each volume has its own schedule and timetable, depending on the particular subject. Some require more original research, even field data gathering, while others are mainly a matter of library research to compile existing materials and to validate them.

Every publishing house we have explored this with has expressed great interest to the “The Needham Project for India.” They feel that this is a daunting task, and have commended IF for starting it. We have avoided signing any contracts with any publisher as of now.

The project needs to upgrade its overall project management from the US end, so as to organize peer reviewers, various oversight boards, copyeditors, and to further the discussions with publishers.

It is also anticipated that once the first volume is out, many funding agencies would want to participate in the further development.

The following volumes have already been commissioned as part of this IF project:

1. Ancient Iron Technology – Vibha Tripathi

2. Traditional Indian Concepts of Time – CK Raju

3. Traditional Indian Textile Technology – Charu Smita Gupta

4. Ancient Zinc Technology in India – JS Kharakwal

5. Harappan Architecture & Civil Engineering – JP Joshi

6. Traditional Hydraulics & Water Management – R. Hooja

7. Metallurgy of Ancient Indian Iron – Balasubramaniam.

The following are ideas for further volumes, for which scholars are being identified, negotiations held, and which could be started once the funding becomes available:

1. Traditional Forestry & Ecology Management

2. The Harappan Technology and its Legacy

3. Traditional Herbal Medicinal Systems

4. Ancient Ship Building & Navigation

5. Early Agriculture

6. Early Animal Husbandry

7. Early Glass Technology and Gemstones

8. Chalcolithic Technology

9. Traditional Indian Martial Arts

10. Sociology of History of Science

11. History of Indian Astronomy

12. Tribal Technology

13. History of Indian Mathematics

14. Science & Technology in Ancient India (1000 BC – 500AD)

This is a tentative list that is evolving on a regular basis.

Expense Plan:

There are many cost items per volume, including:

There are also expenses that are for the entire project, and not per volume, such as:

Sponsored accounts are not be burdened with any project fee to Infinity Foundation, for its management oversight or to cover its overhead, because these are already covered by IF’s own internal budget.


Is this anti-western?

No. In fact, it is in everyone’s best interest that there should be a true globalization of the education system, in which all cultures’ contributions and merits are celebrated. This would build greater harmony, and would be consistent with the multicultural trajectory of USA.

Is this chauvinistic? Is it pro-Hindu or 'saffron'?

Indian science is not about any religion. It is equally the heritage of every Indian regardless of faith, or lack thereof. Just as Newtonian laws are not Christian, and Einstein’s relativity theory is not a Jewish science, so also, the scientific discoveries of Indians are independent of their faiths.

Is this backward looking and not progressive? Is it anti-modernity?

Just as Europe used Classical Greek thought to get out of their Dark Ages into Modernity, so also Indians could use their Classics to move forward. This would complement modern knowledge and not replace it.

Examples of Indian History of Science and Technology:

Most students have learnt about the ancient cities of the Middle East and China. But how many people know even the basic facts about the ancient Indus-Sarasvati Valley Civilization in India, one of the oldest and most advanced anywhere in the world? For instance, did you know that over 800 of the 1100 known sites discovered so far are in India? While the other ancient civilizations of the world were small towns with one central complex, this civilization had the distinction of being spread across many towns and covered a region about half the size of present-day Europe. Its towns were planned in ways that would impress modern architects. Weights, coins, bricks and linguistic symbols were standardized across this vast geography and for a period of over two thousand years, from around 4,000 BCE to around 2,000 BCE.

Since their script has not yet been decoded, one of the unsolved mysteries is how such a high degree of sophistication and uniformity could have been achieved and maintained, in a dispersed complex that has no visible signs of centralized power. For instance, all bricks in this civilization are of the ratio 1:2:4 regardless of their size, location or period of construction. There are many pioneering items of civil engineering, such as: drainage systems for water (open and closed), irrigation systems, river dams, water storage tanks cut out of rock, moats, middle-class style homes with private bathrooms and drainage, and even a dockyard. There is evidence of stairs for multiple-storied buildings. Many towns have separate citadels, upper and lower towns, and fortified sections. There are separate worker quarters near copper furnaces. Granaries have ducts and platforms. Archeologists have found geometric compasses, linear scales made of ivory, plumb bob and other instruments.

Given the importance of fresh water in India, the technology to manage water resources have been highly advanced from Harappan times onwards. For example, in Gujerat, Chandragupta built the Sudarshan Lake in late 4th BCE, and it was repaired in 150 CE by his grandson. The Raja Bhoj Lake built in 1014-1053 is so massive that still shows up in satellite images. Vijayanagar Empire’s 14th to15th CE lake used more volume of construction material than even the Great Wall of China. What historians have called the “Persian Wheel” is actually pre-Mughal and indigenous.

Iron is found in countries neighboring India, and, hence, European scholars have assumed it to be from there. There is a 1320 BCE iron pillar in Turkey with Vedic devas/devis. Given the similarities between the Vedas and Avesta (Zoroastrian text), this fact seemed to support the theory of diffusion of iron and Vedas into India. Refuting the above, Vibha Tripathi finds that iron in India is much earlier. Cemeteries in present-day Baluchistan have iron objects. The earlier iron found in the Middle East archeological sites was meteorite material sculptured as rock/stone carvings, and was not metallurgically processed at all. Also, iron could be a by-product of copper technology, and this could be its likely origin in India, because copper was a well-known technology in many parts of India. A smelting furnace dated 800 BCE is found in Naikund, India. The Deogarh temple in India (600 CE) has hundreds of iron objects. Delhi’s famous iron pillar, dated 410 CE, is considered a metallurgical marvel.

Steel was an Indian invention, and remained an Indian specialty for centuries. The famous Damascus steel swords, now found in museums across Europe, were made from Indian imported steel. The famous Sheffield steel in UK was really Indian crucible steel. The best brains of European science worked for decades to learn to reverse engineer how Indians made crucible steel, and in this process metallurgy was developed in Europe.

(Some of the important findings of iron technology in India would require a post-doctoral researcher, but this is beyond the project’s current funding limitations.)

Another important Indian contribution to metallurgy was in the isolation, distillation and use of zinc. From natural sources, zinc content in alloys such as brass can go no higher than 28%. To increase the zinc content beyond this threshold, one must first separate the zinc by distillation, and then mix the pure zinc back into an alloy. The older method of less than 28% was prevalent in many parts of the world before India. But a major metallurgical breakthrough was India's discovery of zinc distillation, whereby the metal was vaporized and then condensed back into pure metal. This happened as early as 400 BCE, and remained unknown outside India for a long time. The first time it was learnt from India by Europeans was in England, in the 1700s. Until then, India was exporting zinc for centuries on an industrial scale. At archeological sites in Rajasthan, retorts used for the distillation are found in very large numbers even today.

Once zinc had become separated into a pure metal, alloys could be made with whatever zinc component would provide the required properties. For instance, strength and durability increase with higher zinc component. Also, copper alloys look like gold when the zinc is higher than 28%. Most early brass objects found in other countries had less than 10% zinc component, and, therefore, these were not based on zinc distillation technology.

For the first time, zinc components that exceed 10% are found in Taxila, in 400 BCE. However, while Taxila was distilling and manufacturing zinc on small scale, it was Jawar, Rajasthan where this first became industrialized on a large scale. Zinc mines have been found in Dariba (11th century BCE), Agucha 6th century BCE) and Jawar in 5th century BCE). These mines have pots and other objects of these dates, but the mining could be even older.


Three important items are proven in this volume on zinc: (i) zinc distillation and metallurgical usage was pioneered in India; (ii) industrial scale production was pioneered in Rajasthan; (iii) England transferred the technology of zinc from India in 1736. British metallurgy documents do not mention zinc at all prior to this transfer. Yet, today Eurocentric accounts of history state that Indians did not have industrial production of zinc.

Indian textiles have been legendary since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans recorded extensive import of high quality textiles from India that were considered prestigious items in those days. One of the first items to be successfully manufactured by England to start the Industrial Revolution of Europe was textiles, and the technology, designs and even raw cotton, were imported from India, while, in parallel, India’s indigenous textile mills were outlawed by the British. (Textiles, along with steel, were the mainstay of the Industrial Revolution – both had their origins in India.) The Ahmedabad textile museum is a great resource for scholarly material that needs to be organized and presented systematically.

Prof. Raju has researched the “clash of epistemologies” that occurred in European ideas about numbers: When Europeans started to import Indian ideas about mathematics, what had been natural to Indian thinkers for a long time was very hard for Europe to accept. He divides this into three periods:

The first math war in Europe was from 10th to 16th centuries. The zero took 500 years to be accepted in Europe, because it was considered to be heresy at first.
The second math war was over the Indian concept of indivisibles, which led to the theory of real numbers and infinitesimals, paving the way for the development of calculus. This war lasted three centuries, from 17th century to 19th century. (Both #1 and #2 are examples of U-Turns at work..)
The third math war is over computational versus formal math and has now started.
Few people know that an Indian naval pilot, named Kanha, was hired by Vasco da Gama to take him to India. Contrary to European portrayals that Indians knew only coastal navigation, deep-sea shipping had existed in India. Indian ships had been sailing to islands such as the Andamans, Lakshdweep and Maldives, around 2,000 years ago. Kautiliya's shastras describe the times that are good and bad for seafaring. In the medieval period, Arab sailors purchased their boats in India. The Portuguese also continued to get their boats from India, and not from Europe. Shipbuilding and exporting was a major Indian industry, until the British banned it. There is extensive archival material on the Indian Ocean trade in Greek, Roman, and Southeast Asian sources.

Invitation for Book Projects


For an overview of the foundational thesis on which this project is based, please read the paper titled "Traditional Knowledge Systems" posted at the following web site:


Basically this is the philosophy behind the TKS book projects sponsored by the Infinity Foundation.

The following book projects have been commissioned or are under negotiation.

List of Proposed Book Titles

First Tranche:

1. Ancient Iron Technology – Vibha Tripathi
2. Traditional Indian Concepts of Time – CK Raju
3. Traditional Indian Textile Technology – Charu Smita Gupta
4. Ancient Zinc Technology in India – JS Kharakwal
5. Harappan Architecture & Civil Engineering – JP Joshi
6. Traditional Hydraulics & Water Management – R. Hooja

Second Tranche:

1. Traditional Forestry & Ecology Management
2. The Harappan Technology and its Legacy
3. Traditional Herbal Medicinal Systems
4. Ancient Ship Building & Navigation
5. Chalcolithic Technology
6. Traditional Indian Martial Arts
7. Sociology of History of Science
8. History Ancient Indian Astronomy
9. Tribal Technology
10. History of Ancient Indian Mathematics
11. Science & Technology in Ancient India (1000 BC - 500AD)


The books produced under this project will have the copyright in the name of the Infinity Foundation, but in lieu of the royalty the authors will get $ 2000/ – in installments; and up to $1000/ – will be reimbursed towards artwork and travel connected with the book project. Further, $500/ – will be paid if the book Mss is delivered within the time limits to the satisfaction of an international Editorial Board. Normally about 18 months will be given for completion of the Mss of the book. All the book projects would be screened by an international Editorial Board, which alone will decide if the book is to be published or not. Authors would be issued guidelines to maintain uniformity.

Stage I: Authors would be required to submit their book project, with chapter scheme, of about 15 pages. If the General Editors approve the synopsis, the Infinity Foundation would sign an agreement with the author and pay $500/ – as advance.

Stage II: The final Book Mss would be evaluated by the Editorial Board to examine if the Mss is worthy of publication. It may send the Mss back to the author for revision. If the Ms is rejected by the Editorial Board, the Infinity Foundation would have the right to use the material in any way it deems fit in lieu of the payments made to the author.

Further correspondence in this connection may be addressed to the General Editors:
1. Prof. D.P. Agrawal Email: abhash_dp@rediffmail
2. Dr. Rajiv Malhotra Email:

Notes on:
Indian History of Science and Technology Seminar
India International Center, Delhi. January 2 - 6, 2003.
Sponsored by The Infinity Foundation.

I). The following were agreed at the end of the meeting as follow up items:

1. List of items for an encyclopedia: Each author to send RM/DP a list of the major accomplishments of India and the key Eurocentric falsities to be refuted, in his/her area of specialty. Due in 30 days. 2 pages. This will first be used for a web based encyclopedia of summary items, and later get turned into a printed version.

2. Each person to send a new outline for the web site, about his/her book, so we don't give away too much publicly. Have a separate password protected site with review drafts. Each scholar must quote the specific false statements to be refuted.

3. Distribute draft of manuscript: (i) Send in 30 days what each person will deliver and when; (ii) Send 4 weeks in advance of December meeting to everyone for reading.

4. Each scholar must figure out requirements for draftsman/artist and computer graphics expert. Maps – lets get retired maps draftsmen from archeological survey. Invest in high quality graphics: time line diagrams; logic flows; schematics of processes; architectural and structural diagrams.

5. Each scholar to get permission and rights from sources, as required.

6. Photographs should be of very high quality – professionally.

7. In case of any additional request for research assistant and/or cost of photos and art work – please submit.

8. Send RM a list of items he should try to get photocopies for you from Princeton University library.

9. Technical editing ¹ regular social sciences/ literature editing. Must specify in contract with publisher that we have final sign-off right and that he should provide technical editors with experience.

10. Need to bring in evidence from Central Asia and other surrounding regions with trade, etc. Key is to examine the major interactions with foreigners in various encounters.

11. Group must clarify the policy that texts that are of disputable date or location will not be used as the basis for chronology, BUT will be mentioned as interesting correlates although unresolved.

12. Develop conventions on: Indian Subcontinent not South Asia; Middle East vs. West Asia; BC or BCE; diacritical marks; jati not caste; etc.

13. Consider new volumes on tools, architecture, coin metallurgy (book by Bannerjee on coin technology – get rights to republish; Balasubramaniam knows); metallurgy of idols; ceramics technology;..)

14. Consider doing 10 volumes w/ color pictures (Steve Rosen book style) on major Indian Science/Tech accomplishments – Indian Pioneering and Major Contributions to the World:

15. Consider a separate "Encyclopedia of Eurocentrism and India" – could be in Westology project.

16. DP: Has Planning Commission reference that herbs are a $60 billion market worldwide with India having only 0.3% share. He will send the entire report to RM.

17. DP: Alkujkar has Sanskrit references on science and technology. Will follow up.

18. December 10-13, 2003: follow up meeting of entire team, hopefully with some advisors/editors/reviewers.

II). Notes from talks and discussions pertaining to individual scholars. These are just RM's notes, and by no means exhaustive):

Water – Rima Hooja:

Time – CK Raju:

Textiles – Charu Gupta:

Early Agriculture – P. Singh (proposal):

Iron metallurgy – Balasubramaniam (proposal):

Iron II – Vibha Tripathi:

Zinc – Kharakwal:

Harrappan architecture and civil engineering – Joshi:

Shipbuilding and navigation – Sila Tripathi:

III). New Project Idea:

RM had a chat with Roddam Narasimha, Head of NIAS, Bangalore, who felt strongly that there was an URGENT need to do a simple Encyclopedia of Indian Science and Technology, because he was appalled to find that very genuine research on Indian contributions was being trashed by ill-informed Indians as "chauvinism." While we are all against exaggerations and chauvinism, it seems that mis-educated Indians have made a major international campaign to discredit any and all claims on behalf of our traditions. Therefore, he felt that while the impact of our series would take many years to materialize in the general public, he proposed a one-volume with the important hard facts on Indian contributions written authoritatively and with a solid editorial board. We both felt that 500 items in a single volume would be a great product. This is still in the exploratory stages. It seems that many Indian social scientists have sold out as mercenaries to the West.

IV). Agenda and Schedule – January 2-6, 2003:

** New Proposal

2-Jan Time Topic
Rajiv Malhotra 1400 Opening
D.P. Agrawal 1430 Intro
C.K. Raju 1500 General
Tea Break 1530  
Rima Hooja* 1600 Hydraulics
Discussion 1730  

3-Jan Time Topic
CK Raju* 930 Time
Tea Break 1100  
Discussion 1130  
Charu Gupta* 1200 Textiles
Lunch Break 1330  
Discussion 1430  
Tea Break 1530  
P Singh** 1600 Agriculture
Discussion 1730  

4-Jan Time Topic
Balasubramanyam** 930 Iron-I
Tea Break 1100  
Discussion 1130  
Hema shankar 1230 Publication
Discussion 1300  
Lunch Break 1330  
Vibha* 1430 Iron II
Tea Break 1600  
Discussion 1630  

5-Jan Time Topic
Jeewan* 930 Zinc
Tea Break 1100  
Discusion 1130  
JP Joshi* 1200 Harp Archit
Lunch Break 1330  
Discussion 1430  
Tea Break 1530  
Sila Tripati** 1600 Shipping-I

6-Jan Time Topic
Balram** 930 Shipping
Tea Break 1100  
Discussion 1130  
Misra 1200 General
Shanti 1230 General
Lunch Break 1300  
Conclusions 1400  
Close 1700