23. Indian Chemistry Through Ages

The Science of Chemistry flourished since 1500 BC in India. There are many evidences to substantiate this fact. Indians called Chemistry as "Rasa vidya".

Ancient Indians knew the knowledge of making plain Glass and coloured glass. This fact can be supported by historical references in Indian literature and archeological evidences.

The Harrappan people of Indus valley civilization had the knowledge of utilization the metals like Gold, Silver and other alloys. In Vedas there are ample references about the ornaments that are made of various alloys of some metals.

The period between 600 BC to 800 AD can be called as The Golden Period of Indian Chemistry. The Science of Indian Chemistry is rooted not only in the classical texts written exclusively on Chemistry, but also in various Ayurvedic texts like Charaka & Sushruta Samhitas, encyclopedic works like and Bhrhat-samhita and Kautilya's Artha Sastra.

Ayurvedic texts had revealed various chemical processes that happen within the human body, centuries before birth of Christ. Kautilya's Artha Shastra had reference of availability of various metallic ores at various places, the methods of purification, the utility of various metals & alloys, layouts of chemical laboratories (Rasasalas). The gold plating of copper also has a special mention in this book. In books of Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil & Marathi, we find the preparation of gunpowder and fireworks. The Sanskrit references of Gunpoder can be found in Sukra Niti I& Rasa-Upanishad. In Rigveda we find the mention of cotton dyeing & leather tanning and the chemicals used in the processes.

Making of Soaps, Toiletries, Perfumes & other drugs require highly advanced knowledge of Chemistry.

Indian Textiles were dyed using vegetable colour and by making suitable chemical treatment, which had attracted Europeans to come to India. The finest clothes of world are produced in India; the skills of dyeing them require advanced chemical knowledge.

Indians used mercury as divine medicine. It was used in many Ayurvedic preparations. Mercury was subjected to 18 types of chemical purification processes, before it was used as medicine. Iron Pillar at Delhi stands tall as a testimonial for Indian metallurgical marvel and superiority of chemical knowledge.

The father of modern Indian Chemistry, Sri Prafulla Chandra Ray, had done an extensive research in the history of evolution of Indian chemical knowledge. His book "History of Hindu Chemistry" speaks volumes about chemical ingenuity of Indians through ages.

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