Ancient Indian science and technology have contributed significantly to the foundations and growth of modern sciences. Yet there is little genuine material accessible to younger generations to help them understand and appreciate the extent of these contributions. Furthermore, History of Science and Technology acts as a natural bridge between humanities and sciences. A respected academic discipline in the West, it has all but disappeared from India, which is regrettable in view of our rich scientific and technological heritage.
To bridge this gap, the Dept. of Humanities & Social Sciences at IIT Kharagpur organized a course which was taught by three eminent scholars in the field of Indology. Since the objective of the course was the dissemination of knowledge about the History of Science in Ancient India, interested scholars and academicians from various disciplines participated in the course.
Prof. Michel Danino, Padma Shri, who has been a lifelong student of Indian civilization, spoke about the need of such courses being taught at IITs on a regular basis. “India’s contribution to science and technology and economics in the ancient time was huge, however, today we find only snippets on them in school history and most of them are not based on well-researched resources. Such courses will connect young minds of India with their past and the civilization in which they are born,” said Prof. Danino.
Students, both from IIT Kharagpur and others showed a keen interest in taking up such studies which go beyond the compartmentalized structure of existing Humanities or Sci-Tech education and offer innovative cross-disciplinary ideation and discoveries about Indian civilization.
“There is a dearth of research-oriented scholars in the domain of ancient Indian history and such courses can bring together a few of the scholars of eminence in the field of Indology and history of science, and help create a new generation of scientific- research-oriented historians” added Prof. Danino.
The course gave an overview of some of the chief landmarks in the development of science in India especially in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. It included Harappan roots of some of Indian science systems, roots of combinatorics in Chandas-sastra, arithmetic, geometry and algebra in the Sulbasutras, ritual origins of classical Indian astronomy and mathematics, Arcs and chords: how to build a Sine table, appreciation of the art of turning mathematics into a paragon of poetry, concepts of zero and infinity in Indian astronomy and mathematics, measuring the moon: Brahmagupta and the lunar crescent, introduction of Vakya system of Astronomy, lining it up: a survey of astronomical tables and concluding thoughts on Indian science. The presentations included not only specific advances or breakthroughs but also discussed the epistemological and cultural contexts behind them. The course was an eye-opener to students of science as well as humanities.
The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Kharagpur which now offers courses related to History and Sanskrit was keen to promote greater awareness about the rich knowledge traditions of Ancient India in the domains of science and technology.
“So when the three stalwarts accepted to come, we decided to make their expertise accessible to the entire IIT academic community. The experience of coordinating the workshop (on behalf of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences) proved to be very rewarding and encouraging as about a hundred students, Research Scholars and Faculty members from various Departments, Schools and Centres as well as some very keen out-station participants actively participated in the event. Their enthusiasm to delve deeper into the subjects that were presented was evident from the insightful questions that they were asking even after fifteen hours of intense learning over a weekend. We hope to nurture this blossoming interest in a sustainable manner in whichever way possible in the times ahead” opined Prof. Anuradha Choudry, the faculty coordinator of this unique course.