Today I begin to write about ancient chemists and the knowledge they had in the field of Chemistry. I came across many references in ancient Indian literature ,which provoked me to think about ancient science and technology.I went through some writings on this topic and decided to share little information about it.
Much before the advent of modern science, people in ancient culture, already had the knowledge of many scientific phenomenon and they applied that knowledge in various walks of life.Through this post I am trying to throw some light on the defunct knowledge which our ancestors possessed which somehow became non-existent with passage of time. Though the scope of their knowledge was very vast , I shall write precisely only about ancient Chemistry- ‘The Rasayan Shastra’.Chemical Science was much developed in those times and there are numerous references in ancient texts to corroborate this fact.Here are a few of them which fascinated me…
Acharya Kanada (Sanskrit: कणाद),born in 600BC , originally known by the name Kashyap, was regarded ‘The father of atomic theory’.He formulated the theory of very small ,invisible particles – ‘Anu’(comparable to atoms) and authored the text ‘Vaisesika Sutras’ describing dimension,motion and chemical reactions of these particles.According to him, every object of creation is made of ‘anus’ (atoms),which in turn connect with each other to form molecules..He explained that anu is an indivisible entity and cannot be sensed through any human organ.He conceptualized this theory around 2500 years before John Dalton(1766-1844).
The text of Yajurveda clearly states that Gold,Silver,Copper ,Tin and Iron were known to Vedic people. Haven’t we come across the word ‘Panchdhatu’ many times? Hindu Shilpa Shastras (Sanskrit text on idol making) describe Panchdhatu as alloys of Gold(Au), Silver(Ag) ,Copper(Cu), Iron(Fe) and Lead(Pb) . Sometimes Lead was replaced by Tin (Sn) or Zinc(Zn) too. Patanjali( second century B.C.) in his Lohasastra, gives elaborate illustrations of many metallurgic and chemical processes like preparation of metallic salts, amalgams, and the extraction, purification of metals. He discovered aqua regia ( a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid) to dissolve gold and platinum.
Gold,Silver,Brass,Copper were widely used for making utensils,idols in temples and for weaponry since Vedic times.Doesn’t this mean that ancient metallurgists knew how to make alloys from metals?The wonder of metallurgical advancement in early times can be witnessed even today! The Iron pillar of India,near Qutub Minar continues to amaze chemists worldwide! The wrought Iron pillar(98% purity) , made 1600 years back,stands rust-free till date! It weighs 7 tones and is made without the use of any machinery.In 21st century,only four foundries in the world could make such a large pillar and none could make it rust-free!
Ramayana and Mahabharata have many unambiguous references to nuclear weapons. The after effects of weapons like Brahmastra and Pashupatastra mentioned in these texts are exactly similar to the annihilation effects caused by atomic bombs.So nuclear energy was known and harnessed thousands of years ago! In fact many believe that the SHIVALINGA is nothing but a nuclear reactor and lord Shiva represents nuclear energy. The following points will help understand this concept better –
- Lord Shiva, even though called ‘Bholenath’(the naive one) , is also considered lord of destruction.This is an allegory for the nuclear energy,which is one of the most efficient forms of energies, if used correctly.However, improper use of this energy can have devastating effects.
- Interestingly,the shape of Linga resembles that of a nuclear reactor.Look at the picture of a nuclear reactor –
Doesn’t it exactly look like a Shivalinga?
3)Shiva temples , just as nuclear plants are built near water bodies.This is essential as immense heat is produced in the reactor and thus huge amount of water is required to cool it down.
4) The offering of Bael or wood apple ( Botanical name – Aegle marmelos) leaves is also a hint. This plant possess radio protective, chemo preventive properties. Thus it is a custom to cover the Linga with these leaves.This could be a preventive measure to ensure that harmful radiation is not leaked directly to the outside world.
No wonder we have stories in Ramayana , where Ravan , a very mighty king , was a devotee of Shiva and did Tapasya (to practice Austerity)just to get a Shivalinga or Jyotirlinga– a stone that was a symbol of the lord’s radiance. It was a powerful object and had the power to make Ravana invincible! Couldn’t it be possible that the power which Ravana was seeking was nuclear power? Even today nations with nuclear power are considered very powerful.
Mahabharata also has a mention of Papilika Gold, which is a superior quality gold obtained from ant hills or termites mounds.This was gifted to Yudhistira by some tribal kings saying that it is a very special kind of gold.This Papilika Gold is equivalent to nano gold in present times , which has enormous applications in chemistry and other industries.
In earlier times there were references of alchemy too. Nagarguna , was considered a great alchemist of India.He is the author of ‘Rasa Shastra’.Alchemy was considered not just a transformation of one substance to another but also transformation of the human being, performing the act. Krishna Pal Shastri, an Ayurvedic practitioner, on industrialist Birla’s instigation, produced gold from Aluminum chloride,mercury and some secret powder in recent times. Around 1980’s , he continued to make gold in this way at the rate of 3 grams per week.The marble plaques in Visvanath temple in Benares University and Birla temple in Delhi bear witness to the gold produced by his alchemical feats.
The advancement of ancient chemical science also finds expression in other fields, like distillation of perfumes and fragment ointments, manufacturing of dyes and chemicals, weaponry,preparation of pigments and colors. The paintings found on walls of Ajanta and Ellora, which look fresh even after 1000 years, testify to the high level of chemical science achieved in ancient India.
It amazes me to read about such amazing revelations about ancient Chemistry and I cant help but wonder that if our ancestors knew so much ,why was the knowledge not passed to the future generations correctly? Where was this vast information lost? It was just not in ancient India, but scholars all around the world possessed recondite knowledge in earlier times.Where did this knowledge vanish?Nonetheless, science again emerged in the new era, thanks to all the modern-day scientists, who changed our world and made it what it is today !
References and Further Reading-
1)The Father of Atomic Theory:Acharya Kanad – Sanskaar Varg.
2)The Indian Sage who developed Atomic Theory 2600 years ago – ancient-origins.net
3)The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India by David White.
4)Ancient Indian Chemistry by Dr. Iragavarapu Suryanarayana.