THE SCIENTIFIC HERITAGE OF INDIAN CULTURE
P.K. Bhaumik
The division or distinction that apparently separates art and culture from science is artificial. In ancient times, all the innovative thoughts and postulates of great sages fell under the overall umbrella of philosophy. There was no division between scientific and religious thinking in those days, all innovators being regarded as philosophers or rishis. They did not necessarily speak of religion alone. They had deep insight or antardrishti. Their invaluable contributions to Astronomy are an inseparable part of the holy Rig Veda. Similarly, the Samhitas and the Atharva Veda, respectively, are the repositories of important treatises on medicine and mathematics. Culture is thus inseparable from science, and vice versa. 'Nahi jananena sadrsam', or there is nothing that bears comparison to knowledge, epitomizes the homage of Indian culture to learning and inspired our ancients' quest for knowledge. Science was an integral part and important preoccupation in ancient Indian culture. The past inspires the future in India, and the ancient Sanskrit texts reflect shades of twentieth century thinking. Scientific ideas were developed in India over 5,000 years ago and have stood the test of time.
The Syrian astronomer - monk Sevrus Sevokht wrote in AD 660 of subtle Indian discoveries in Astronomy in which were 'even more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians'. He mentioned in particular their rational system of mathematics and methods of calculation with 9 symbolic numbers which no words can sufficiently strongly praise. According to Sevokht, ' ... If these things were known by the people who think that they alone have mastered the sciences because they speak Greek, they would perhaps be convinced, though a little late in the day, that other folks, not only Greeks but also men of a different tongue from distant India know something as well as they'.
The Samkha - Patanjala provides us with a view of the universe that is evolved from prakriti or the 'Ultimate Ground' in cosmic format. Sattva-the essence or the intelligence, rajas- the energy, and tamas - the inertia or matter, the three infinitesimal gunas, constitute the Universe. Prakriti started in an absolutely balanced cool state with uniform guna combination. Purusha, the absolute, the soul or the atman created ripples of disturbance bringing evolution into being. This came as a transcendental magnetic influence on a calm tranquil prakriti. All organic and inorganic matter owe their creation to this chaos, and thus all variations and diverse phenomena of objects were born. A perpetual trend of this chaotic state back to its stability is also evident in the uniform distribution of the gunas. 1J1is concept, was enunciated as long ago as 2500 BC by Indian philosophers. But what sjirprises us the most is its close approximation to the modern Thermodynamic laws of tI;Ansformation and conservation of energy.

The same Samkhya philosophy enunciates concepts of the five tanmatras , the subtle infra-atomic
particles that are inperceptible to the human senses. These closely relate to our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Grosser elements or bhutas are also created from the tanmatras. These are at the root of the formation of all earthly objects on the basis of variety of combinations.
Nyaya Vaishesika (fourth century BC) enunciates the philosophical concepts underlying atoms. The atomic structure of the basic elements of air, water, fire, and earth were set out in these early Indian treatises. The existence of indestructible and infinitesimally small atoms as well as their spherical shape in eternal motion were also conceptualized in a form that closely approximates equivalent concepts in modern atomic physics. India was a pioneer in conceptualizing numbers, the values of decimal place and the 'zero' as early as AD 100, the second century BC, and fifth century AD, respectively, by Aryabhata , Pingala ;'and Brahmagupta. Other spheres of science where early philosophers made major contributions are in the fields of geometry, medicine, metallurgy, and alchemy. The evolution of technology in India is evidenced by the tools developed by paleolithic cave men. Chalcolithic Harappans (third millenium BC) developed expertise in copper metallurgy, heralding the Bronze age culture in India, their metallurgical effect reflected in early copper objects and in the lostwax method of casting.
Science .museums and centres came into being during the Scientif Revolution and came of age after the Industrial Revolution. In recent years, they have changed again in response to the special needs of a society increasingly dependent on factors that appear largely incomprehensible. Science centres in India have grown 'and multiplied rapidly and impressively over the past two decades and are essentially museums of ideas concerned with nature and technology. Such ways of thinking have traditionally been an intrinsic part of our culture, though the methodology today may be said to be logical 'and scientific. In the words of Frank Oppenheimer, the doyen of science centre activities and founder of the prestigious Exploratorium in San Francisco, 'People continue to talk of art and music as culture but neglect the fact that our view of ourselves - our role in the world and what the world is like-is equally and vitally a culture'.
Science museums or centres in India have assumed a very significant role in the information age of today. These institutions are engaged in making science palpable by providing visitors with fascinating glimpses of and experiences with scientific phenomena. While science museums and centres are primarily engaged in communicating the message of science for the benefit of the common man and generating curiosity in young inquisitive minds through a wide range of practical activities, equal emphasis is also being given to providing information on the technical and scientific excellence India achieved much before the West had even thought of them.
The objectives of the science museums include, among other goals, the following: 'To portray the growth of Science and Technology and their applications in Industry and Human Welfare with a view to developing a scientific attitude and temper, and to creating, inculcating and sustaining an awareness among people; 'collecting, restoring and preserving important scientific objects that represent landmarks in the development of science, technology, and industry'; 'preserving the relics of industrial archaeology as site museums'; 'collecting, restoring and preserving records and documents relating to the development of science, technology, and industry with special reference to India and setting up an archive for the purpose'. In effect, the preservation of India's rich cultural heritage.
Fundamentals of mathematics, astronomy, geometry, algebra, and numbers formed an intrinsic part of Indian life thousands of years ago, as was invention, absorption and modification of these techniques and processes. Some of the most basic discoveries in these areas were made in the fields of medicine, surgery, metallurgy and ship building. Indian art and craft were the best in the world. More than 4,000 years ago, parts of India had scientifically planned towns. George Sarton, the eminent historian of science, acknowledged, 'Our numerals and the use of zero were invented by Hindus and transported to us by the Arabs, hence the name Arabic numerals, which we have often given them'.
A large exposition by the science museums, on 'India: a Festival of Science', 'that extensively toured the USA, the erstwhile USSR, and European countries and more recently the Chinese Republic, provided a representative and very authentic portrayal of India's rich scientific culture. Some of the key aspects of this exhibit are:
The stars had a special message for Indian astronomers. Constellations were identified and the motion of the moon and sun studied as long as 3,000 years ago. Jantar Mantar, a cluster of masonry observatories, was created by Sawai Jai Singh 11 to track their movements. These are demonstrated by participatory and animated exhibits. A number of chemical processes were known to Indian chemists in the first and second century AD. Compounds of mercury, inorganic salts and alloys were used for treating diseases. Perfumes were distilled from flowers, herbs, and spices, and laced with a richly scented oil extracted from sandalwood. In a twentieth century recreation of an alchemical laboratory these ancient processes were demonstrated. The Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya, written between the first and seventh centuries AD, form the basis of ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine, which to this day is practised by modern doctors. The Unani system of medicine was founded by Hypocrates, but came to India early in the twelfth century and developed rapidly utilizing herbal, mineral, and animal ingredients, in its treatment. These have been depicted alongside excerpts from old manuscripts, specimens of the raw materials, demonstration through animation, charts, and visuals.
In New Delhi stands a rust-proof iron pillar representing an ageless tribute to Indian excellence in metallurgy. Zinc production too began centuries before that in Europe. The exhibition presented a fibreglass replica of this famous celebrated iron pillar and zinc furnaces recreated with artefacts of the sixteenth century. The story of metals in ancient India was related through the display of Damascened swords from wootz steel and rare bronze castings.
Science museums also conduct extensive research on India's experience in specific fields. One such successful project is a large museum presentation of the story of communication technology in India through the ages. The first evidence of a 5,000 year old rock painting begins this account that then follows it through history. It covers the ancient and medical practises, and the revolutionary changes that have occured in the world of information during early twentieth century. The story of communication in the contemporary world brings visitors close to such needs as instant communication through satellites and computers. Such a presentation helps to foster in the minds of the audience the feeling that: 'our story is no less challenging and interesting than that of any other country and that we too are keeping in step with the fast changing world' , and thus instills a sense of self-confidence. This particular presentation was widely appreciated by the international museum community, and the American Society for the History of Technology recently declared it to be the best portrayal of the relation between science and society, and awarded the prestigious Dibner Award to the National Science Centre in 1993.

Science education forms an integral part of the nation's cultural progress. India's distinguished record in the field of structural engineering has been reflected in another recent project entitled 'Structures : the Indian Heritage'. The early Vedic practices and subsequent Islamic influences gave a unique dimension to architecture in India. The engineering aspects of. ancient Indian construction technology are awe-inspiring. These are demonstrated in the form of a portable exhibit. The National Council of Science Museums received great support from Archaeological Survey of India in developing the concept of this particular exhibit.
Crafts are the creative efforts of man typifying a society. Technology shapes the craft, and two are inseparable. Products of craftwork carry the message of a culture to a world audience. The Science Centres thus considered it very important to highlight Indian handicrafts. At all the international expositions it organized live demonstrations by master craftsperson in diverse fields such as silver filigree, marble inlay, meenakari, solapith work, lostwax methods, loom woven textiles, etc. These aroused keen interest amongst foreign visitors, who tended to view them as novel perspectives of India.

As, in many Western countries, there is considerable scope for the preservation of archaeological evidence of early Indian industrial development at the excavation sites. A site museum at Lothal and Kalibangan on the early days of shipbuilding may be considered. Early Indian metallurgical skills can be authentically portrayed and the ancient practices demonstrated at the mine locations at Zawar in Madhya Pradesh, early printing and many indigenous innovations in fine printing introduced indigenously deserves faithful depiction at any of the early printing sites either at Tranquebar or Serampore. Steam power played a very significant role in harnessing improved dewatering techniques in mines in India in the late nineteenth century. Steam power brought about a revolution in riverline, rail and road transport and also began to dominate industrial power transmission. A fully-fledged museum on the early steam power practises can advantegeously be set up at an appropriate vintage location.

Besides providing a historical perspective, present and future trends are also projected by the Science Centres, which are crucibles of activity. Exhibits whether from the past, present or future come alive toa visitor who seeks to experience them, and in every exhibit the endeavour is to communicate the underlying principles simply, clearly, and graphically.
Science museums of the future have been identified as very effective tools in shaping the scientific trend of the community and to help develop a logical bent of mind. The activities of the science museums are expanding as never-before. Millions of people interact with the science museum activities and exhibits throughout the country. The NCSM through these dynamic programmes are today beginning to reach the rural population and the nation wide network of the science museums reached more than 21 lakhs of visitors during 1992-3 through its mobile exhibitions alone.
In post-Independent days, the government had a single ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs during fifties under Prof. Humayun Kabir, and it was during this period that the science museums came into being. Later on, grounds of bureaucratic conveniences then and even now function under the aegis of the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resource Development.
The fruits of science and the products of technology continue to shape the nature of our society and to influence events which have a worldwide significance. Science Centres are the most effective tools in bridging the gaps between scientists and technocrats, on the one hand, and the layman on the other. They kindle the common man's latent curiosity and provide answers to many of his queries.. For some people science is incomprehensible and technology frightening. They perceive these as constituting a separate, alien world from which they are excluded. There is thus a growing need for an environment which brings the world of science and technology closer to the people, and this can be achieved by the specially designed gadgets and exhibits that science museums and exhibits provide.
With such a varied and distinguished background in science and technology, India enjoyed a position of prestige in the past. The technology of the Mughals, particularly during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir, was remarkable as is evidenced from records and memoirs. There has however been a serious setback in scientific and technological development during the period of colonial rule, even indigenous craft technology suffering greatly towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, India witnessed a new spell of deliberate R & D efforts. A galaxy of visionaries like M.L.Sircar, J.C.Bose, P.C.Ray and later, M.M.Saha, S.N.Bose, C.V.Raman, S.K.Mitra appeared on the Indian scientific horizon and pioneered new trails at the frontiers of scientific research and brought about a renaissance in Indian science. J.N.Mukherjee, S.S.Bhatnagar, P.C.Mahalanobis, Birbal Sahni, H. J. Bhabha carried forward this scientific spirit and added an altogether a new dimension to Indian science. D.N.Wadia, M.Visvesvaraiyya, K.S.Krishnan, Srinivasa Ramanujam were among the other scientific geniuses that India subseqently produced.
Pandit Nehru set the tone of science and its role in shaping a new India immediately after independence. In his first address in 1947 to the Indian Science Congress held at New Delhi, he defined the relationship between science and society as a whole and its relevance in meeting the basic needs of the people. The Nehru-period is characterized by the large-scale development of a scientific infrastructure. Atomic Energy and space programmes were given special thrust to keep pace with the world. A large chain of R&D institutes were created under the purview of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Defence Research received an equal boost, scientific methods being applied to resolve operational problems and to heighten defence capability.
In March 1958, the government adopted a Scientific Policy Resolution which began by stating:
"The key to national prosperity, apart from the spirit of the people has in the modern age, the effective combination of three factors": Technology, raw materials and capital of which the first is perhaps the most important, since the creation and adoption of new scientific techniques can, in fact, make up for a deficiency in natural resources and reduce the demands on capital. But technology can only grow out of the study of science and its application.
The past one century has seen the development of science and technology at an ever-increasing pace. This pas resulted into a larger gap between the industrialized and backward nations. This can be bridged only by concerted effort in adopting through development of science & its application through technology. The nation's scientific policy aims at :
(i) Fostering, promoting and sustaining by all appropriate means the cultivation of the sciences and scientific research in all its aspects-pure, applied and educational;
(ii) encouraging and initiating with all possible speed, programmes for the training of scientific and technological personnel on a scale adequate to fulfil the country's needs in science and education, agriculture, industry, and defence;
(iii) ensuring an adequate supply of research scientists of the highest quality within the country and to recognize their work as an important component of the strength of the nation;
(iv) ensuring that the creative talent of men and women is encouraged and reaches its full potential in scientific activity;
(v) encouraging individual initiative in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in an atmosphere of academic freedom; and
(vi) securing for the people of the country all the benefits that can accrue from the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge.
This was Pandit Nehru's vision enunciated in the National Science Policy in 1958, which has been guiding the nation for the past four decades.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mr Pradip Kumar Bhaumik has a post graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Jadavpur University, Calcutta. He started his career as an Assistant Professor in Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi.
Presently he is working as a Director of National Science Centre, New Delhi. He is a member of the Executive.Board of International Council of Science and Technology Museums and Secretary to the Indian National Committee to the International Council of· Museums. He has worked as a Resource Person on behalf of UNESCO for setting up of a Science Museum in Nepal. Widely travelled, he has presented and published papers at National and International Conferences.
His future plans include the development of the Indian's largest Science Park in Delhi and setting up of Regional Science Centres and mobile Science Exhibitions in rural India.

 
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