Science and Technology

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Advancement of Science and Technology of Ancient India
Since 1858 till 1948, India has been under the British rule, the period also known as ‘British Raj’. The scientific, technological and medical developments that took place remains to be a debate till today of whether India introduced its own developments or silently borrowed from the West. But a history of science in India must also be a history of India, not merely a history of the projection of western science onto India. Over this 200-year period, there were three main elements that broadly typified science, technology and medicine in India. They are: 1) Traditions of India’s own science, technology and medicine were subject to internal variations and different historical and cultural practices, and the legacies these provided for the subsequent era of the British rule. 2) The social and intellectual impact of the nature of western science, technology and medicine as practised in India. 3) Authority of science, technology and medicine as central attributes of India’s modernity, drawing upon indigenous as well as western sources. In astronomy, particularly in mathematics and medicine, Hindu science was considered to have been amazingly advanced well before the dawn of the Christian era and to have been the root of the discoveries such as Arabic numeral and the use of zero that were later taken up and incorporated into western civilization. However, Indian civilization was unable to maintain its achievements and failed into decline. It is believed that it happened because of ‘the rise of the Muslim power in South Asia in AD 1100’ (Arnold, 2000. P. 3). Moreover, there has been a continuous emphasis to demonstrate that India, far from existing in cultural and technological isolation, had over the centuries borrowed extensively from and contributed generously to the scientific and technological knowledge of neighbouring regions, Middle East, China, and South East Asia and in the fields as diverse as architecture, astronomy, chemistry, agriculture, medicine and textile production.

It has been reasoned that science was not a property of a single society but could be truly cosmopolitan, absorbing and assimilating information and ideas from a wide variety of sources and location. Britain believed that it had a capacity to modernise and civilise India, but there was a contradiction or a sort of a belief that the Indians were unready to receive the benefits of scientific modernity. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Indian scientists and intellectuals tried to construct their own brand of India modernity, particularly through the selective incorporation of Hindu ideas and traditions.

British Raj, officially known as the British Indian Empire, was a historical period during which most of the Indian subcontinent (that is India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar) were under the colonial authority of the British Empire. Prior to 1858, Britain’s interest and possessions in India had been administered by the British East India Company. The British East India Company started in 1600 and ended in 1874. It was chartered by Queen Elizabeth 1 for trade with Asia. The Company closely regulated European access to India in order to preserve its commercial privileges. The aim of the merchants was to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade with the East Indies. Later in 1623, it was defeated by the Dutch and then turned to concentrate on their activities in India.

At first, astronomy seemed a likely bridge between Western and Indian scientific knowledge. Europeans were employed as astronomers at Indian courts. A further stimulus to British interest in Indian astronomy was a paper by the Scots mathematician John Playfair in 1789 on ‘the Astronomy of the Brahmins’. This took up the idea, earlier put forward by the French astronomers Le Gentil and Bailly that Indian astronomy was not part of the western astronomical tradition, but that it was an entirely separate...
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