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Science and Technology in Medieval India-A Bibliography of Source Materials in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian (An Old and Rare Book)

Item Code: NAV750
Author: A. Rahman, M.A. Alvi, S.A. Khan Ghori and K.V. Samba Murthy
Publisher: Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 1982
Pages: 750
Other Details 11.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 1.80 kg
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Book Description

A HISTORY of science and technology which is truly international, and covers objectively the contributions from different geographical areas and nations, has yet to be written. Because of the spectacular development of science in recent times in the West, there has been a tendency to minimise the earlier important scientific contributions and traditions of other parts of the world, particularly Asia and Africa. The work of Professor Needham brought to light the nature of contributions from China. Such an authoritative work on the contribution from India has yet to appear. India has been a melting-pot of different cultures. A great deal of its philosophy and culture has radiated outwards to many parts of the world. The civilization of India and their greatness are well recognized. These developments could not have taken place without a corresponding growth of scientific traditions. Indeed, India has given a great deal to scientific and technological development of the world. It has also imbibed much from the traditions of other countries. A great deal of study and research on these aspects awaits scholars in the year ahead ; for any such studies there is need for well docu-mented, authentic source material.

The Indian National Commission for the History of Science has a major programme of collecting historical source material in science and technology at one place, to enable scholars to prepare annotated and critical editions of important texts, and also to record and analyze, subjectwise and periodwise, the development of science and technology in India and its interaction with society at large.

The present bibliography which has been compiled at the instance of, and with the support of, the Indian National Science Academy, is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the extent of knowledge that was generated in the country and which is still available in the form of manuscript literature. It is hoped that this would attract scholars to look into this rich source material and help to write the history of the development of science and technology in India and its contribution as well as debt to the, rest of the world.

The bibliography is by no means complete. A great deal of material, originally of Indian origin, now exists abroad. Again, a great deal of Indian science material is in various Indian languages and has to be unearthed. Also a considerable part of the scientific material is contained in historical, philosophical and other material from which it has to be extracted.

The preparation of such a bibliography is a painstaking and slow work, and often does not attract scholars since it does not get the recognition it deserves. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that bibliographies of source material are compiled to cover the available literature over different periods of history and in different languages, to act as the starting point for historical research and analysis. Professor A. Rahman and his colleagues are to be congratulated for the painstaking efforts they have put into the preparation of this bibliography


A HISTORY of science and technology, which truly reflects the intellectual endeavour of mankind, irrespective of geographical are asand nations, must rid itself of its European bias and of ideas evolved to serve the political objectives of former colonial powers. These ideas were developed and promoted by European powers as a part of their colonisation effort in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Despite our debt to European Renaissance, modern science owes its birth to the Arabs. The accumulated knowledge of science and technology of medieval and ancient Asia and Africa was acquired by European scholars, but was later denigrated. For instance, an eminent historian of science Sherwood Taylor has this to say:

"The Arabs gave a high place to their physicians, who were usually of another race—Persian, Jew or Syrian Christian. They made very little original contribution to medicine but kept alive the knowledge of the Greeks and added little to it. In the Eastern Caliphate, Rhazes, Haly Abbas and Avicenna (to use their Latinised names) wrote voluminous works almost entirely taken from the Greeks."

Sherwood Taylor was not alone. He was part of the total effort which painted the medieval period as "The Dark Ages" and gave European developments their roots directly and exclusively in ancient Greece. The linking of European scientific developments with the earlier tradition of Greeks was not merely to provide legitimacy to the developments during Renaissance against scholasticism, but was also to bypass the contributions of Asian nations, which were in truth tremendous, and to paint science and technology as a purely European phenomenon. George Sarton, doyen of historian of science, commenting on Renaissance, says: "To return to the Renaissance it was, among other things, a revolt against medieval concepts and methods. Of course, every generation reacts against the former one : every historical period is a revolt against its predecessors, yet in this case the revolt was sharper than usual. It is not sufficiently realised that the Renaissance was not simply a revolt against scholasticism ; it was also directed against Arabic influences (especially those represented by Avicenna and Averroes.)" Why this movement against Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) in particular ? The reasons for this, perhaps, lay in the fact that both Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, represented the highest standards of science and the scientific tradition of Asia. They dominated the intellectual life of Europe through the translation of their works into Latin and later in other European languages. Renaissance Europe wished to rid itself of the influence of Arabic scientific and technological tradition and reacted by trying to minimise its achievements. Nor was this hostility to Asian thought new. The ancient Greeks has also reacted, with identical hostility to Asian and Egyptian scientific tradition to which their knowledge owed a great debt.' The effort of Renaissance Europeans to link their own scientific and technological tradition with that of Greece, to name the period before the Renaissance and after "The Dark Ages" and marginalise the Asian scientific and technological tra-dition was part of the political effort to paint science and technology as purely a Western phenomenon. The political purpose behind this was two create a sense of inferiority amongst Asians and use science and technology as an instrument both of intellectual domination as well as exploitation. While the European reaction against the scientific tradition was particularly sharp, it was not so against the mystical and obscurantist tradition of Arabic, Persian and Indian learning. On the contrary, one may notice definite attempts, while suppressing the facts about the scientific tradition, to extol the obscurantist tradition and pseudo-philosophical learning.' The result of these policies has been that Asian cultures, being unaware of their own scientific and technological tradition ands heritage, understand science and technology in terms of what Europeans have taught them. In fact, it would also not be wrong to say that people from non-European culture areas consider that their culture, civilization and tradition is limited to what has come to be known as the "Spiritual" tradition.5 There is a need, therefore, to look into our past with a fresh outlook and to link our present, which at the moment looks dichotomised, with the past. In doing so, however, we must take a lesson from Europe and link it with the rational, scientific tradition, instead of linking it with the irrational and obscurantist tradition that we have been taught is our own, and our only claim to ancient learning.

It is also necessary today for Asian countries who, having achieved their independence, are now on the road to working out future in the context of the aspirations and goals they have set for themselves, that they endeavour to take a second look at their own past and link their contemporary develop-ments with earlier traditions. There is an added reason for doing so. Scientific and technological thinking is at present undergoing a re-examination in the Western world. Factors previously considered outside the domain of European science and technology such as social, cultural and ethical are now being introduced. These have always been an integral part of Asian scientific and technological thinking, thus the need to appreciate this tradition. Further, as a result of European intellectual hegemony each of the Asian countries began to see each other through the eyes of the West. Rediscovery of their scientific and technological tradition and its interaction over the centuries will not only help to free themselves from intellectual colonisation but also to rediscover their interacting cultural heritage and reinforce their cooperation and collaboration from future development.

A large number of countries in Asia and Africa have contributed significantly to the scientific and technological achievements of mankind. Therefore, it is only right that they should be given the place that is due to them in its history. Other than Europe, six main areas have been defined with their scientific tradition in mind :- i) North Africa and West Asia with Arabic as its language ;

ii) Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia with Persian and allied languages ;

iii)Area covered by Ottomon Empire with Turkish as the main language ;

iv) India, with Pali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and a large number of regional languages ; v) China, Korea and Japan and other areas of South East Asia; and vi) Africa and Americas—the two however have no written tradition.

It is important that a major effort be made to understand and interpret the classical heritage, which is a major contribution of these areas, and to incorporate it iro the mainstream of scientific and technological knowledge.

The European contribution to science is well recognised. That of Korea, China and Japan, is being studied and its importance and significance as a part of the world tradition of science and technology is gaining recognition and being incorporated into historical accounts of science and technology. Joseph Needham's work on China represents a landmark in more than one way. It brought to light the degree and extent of scientific achievements and technological developments of China, and hinted at those of Korea and Japan. Needham broke the myth that eastern mind was incapable of contributing to science and technology and also showed that Europe had borrowed a lot from this civilisation. Interest in Arab culture areas has been revived recently and a number of important works have been brought out. Here, however, much work remains to be done regarding the interface of science and technology with society and the interaction of this Arab tradition with that of other culture areas. Some work has been done about science and technology in Iran and Afghanistan, but considerably more work has been done on the ancient and medieval period in Gentral Asia. Soviet researches in recent years have produced a number of significant studies, which throw considerable light on medieval science and technology, the nature of their contribution, the extent of these developments and their impact on the neighbouring areas, as well as what they received from others.' However, much of this knowledge is not fully known in the neighbouring countries due to language barriers. The tradition of India, is extremely important as a part of total Asian tradition, particularly in view of the fact that it contributed to both Sino-Korean Japanese tradition as well as the Central Asian and West-Asian culture area and also recieved much in its own development of science and technology. This tradition is, however, not yet properly explored and its various facets understood.

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