To what extent had science and technology (S&T) flourished in ancient India? Generally there are two extreme views on this. One is that even today modern science has not surpassed what was known or practised in ancient India. The other is that there is hardly anything worthwhile which could be claimed as ancient India’s achievement in S&T. Such contrasting views persist because a majority of the scientific ideas and technological descriptions found scattered in the old texts do not always lend themselves to unambiguous interpretations. Of course, mere references to mentions and/or pronouncements in ancient texts like the Vedas, the Puranas and the epics, would not be sufficient to establish unequivocally India’s scientific heritage in today’s context. These descriptions, and also the interpretations based on them, need to be examined for their scientific basis using rigorous criteria and established methodologies of modern science. This is precisely the aim of Vigyan Prasar Series of Monographs on India’s Scientific Heritage. Each publication under this series will deal with specific Indian achievements in a particular field of S&T, as studied and examined critically by eminent scientists/technologists working in that field.
This first monograph of the series is on the famous Iron Pillar located at Mehrauli village on the outskirts of Delhi, which has been an object of perennial interest and curiosity for lay-persons as well as scientists. It remained an enigma tor centuries mainly on two counts. First relates to the technology by which a metallic object of such a large size and mass could be fashioned so many centuries ago, and the second had to do with its phenomenal corrosion-resistance despite exposure to sun, rain and wind for so long. The Rustless Wonder: A Study of the Iron Pillar at Delhi written by Professor T. R. Anantharaman, an eminent metallurgist, documents every aspect of this technological marvel. The author has gone through and summarised all important studies and researches done on the Pillar during the last century and half. He shows how scholarly and scientific studies have shorn the Iron Pillar of practically all elements of bafflement, mystery and incredulity that have surrounded this ancient monument all along. He has also pointed out a few gaps to be filled: like the Pillar’s original location and its whereabouts for some six centuries before it was installed at Mehrauli. This study can undoubtedly be termed as the most comprehensive thus far on the famous Pillar.
About the Author
Professor T. R. Anantharaman, formerly Head, Department of Metallurgical Engineering; Director, Institute of Technology; and Rector, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, obtained his M .Sc. and D.Phil. degrees from Madras University (India) and Oxford University (England) respectively. He worked at Trinity College, Oxford, England (1951-54); Max-Planck-Institute fuer Metaalforschung, Stuttgart, Germany (1954-56); Department of Metallugy, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (1956-62); Department of Metallurgical Engineering, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi (1962- 87) and Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala (1989-92). In recognition of his outstanding research contributions in Metallurgy and Materials Science, Oxford University conferred on him the D.Sc. degree in 1991. His major research interests lie in structure, structural changes and structural imperfections in metals and alloys; production and characterisation of rapidly solidified metallic materials; and quasicrystals. In these areas he has authored more than 200 research papers and two books viz. Metallic Glasses (1984) and Rapidly Solidified Metals (1987).
Acclaimed nationally and internationally as a teacher and researcher Professor Anantharaman was honoured with the Kamani Gold Medal of the Indian Institute of Metals (IIM) (1960); the National Matallurgist Award of the Union Ministry of Steel and Mines (1964); the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for Engineering Science (1967); First Annual Award to an Individual Scientist by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) (1972); the First Homi J. Bhabha Award for Applied Sciences by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Hari Om Trust (1974); Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship by the Nehru Memorial Trust (1979); the First INSA Prize for Materials Science of the Indian National Science Academy (INS A) (1987); and the Andrew Clifton Sorby Award of the International Metallographic Society (1989), among others. He is a Fellow of: Institution of Engineers (India); Institution of Metallurgists (London); Indian Academy of Sciences; Indian National Science Academy; Indian National Academy of Engineering and American Society of Materials. He has also been President of: The Indian Institute of Metals (1978-1979); the Electron Microscope Society of India (1979-1980) and the Engineering Sciences Section of the Indian Science Congress (1982).
I feel happy and privileged to have this opportunity to launch Vigyan Prasar’s Series of Monographs on India’s Scientific Heritage with my study of the Iron Pillar at Mehrauli in South Delhi. This famous monument and great tourist attraction is located not far from Vigyan Prasar’s office and has been universally acclaimed as among the most impressive technological achievements of ancient India. In fact, it will be no exaggeration to state that this “Rustless Wonder” constitutes the most outstanding human achievement of that period in iron technology.
The Prologue and the first two Chapters of this handy volume are devoted to introducing the subject in proper metallurgical perspective. These also provide all relevant facts and figures about this famous Pillar, as also some valuable information about the inscriptions on it, particularly the earliest and the most important one in Sanskrit. Chapter III deals with the historical and archaeological aspects of the Pillar. While Chapter IV deals with the evolution of Iron Technology, Chapter V highlights the special fabrication technique adopted to raise this tall and heavy monument gradually over a period of time. Chapter VI considers comprehensively and critically the possible reasons for the spectacular and rather baffling corrosion resistance exhibited by this Pillar despite exposure to sun, rain, dust and winds for over fifteen centuries. The Epilogue suinmarizes the main findings of this study and concludes that there is now very little about the Pillar that has to be labelled as mysterious or has to be imagined.
My grateful thanks are due to Dr. P. Rama Rao, formerly Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and presently Distinguished Scientist, Defence Research and Development Organization, New Delhi, as also President, Indian Academy of Sciences, for carefully going through the manuscript and offering many valuable suggestions for improving the same.
I am also beholden to Dr. Narender K. Sehgal, Director, and Dr. Subodh Mahanti, Editor-cum-Chief (Publications) of Vigyan Prasar, for their interest and involvement, advice and assistance, in bringing out this first volume in the new’ Monograph Series on India’s Scientific Heritage.’
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