Technology In Medieval India (C. 650-1750)

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Item Code: IHL419
Author: Irfan Habib
Publisher: Tulika Books
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788189487652
Pages: 148
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.2 inch
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Book Description

This monograph is the first one to be published on Medieval India in the People s History of India series, and it is devoted to a study of the technology of Medieval India, on which, despite a respectable body of research, no textbook or general work yet exists. A few words may therefore be offered to explain the scope of our monograph. Dictionaries tell us that the English word "technology” is derived from the Greek word technologia meaning systematic treatment of art, from techne Greek for art or skill. Usage in English has extended the meaning of technology to all kinds of mechanical devices and forms of practical activity, by which certain material objectives (e. g., the production of particular goods or performance of particular services) are attained. It includes, but is not confined to, practical applications of theoretical knowledge in our small book, within the limitations imposed by space, we have taken the broadest view of the range of technology. We may occasionally touch on science, where it impinged on technology, but this monograph has no pretensions to dealing with the history of science, including pseudo-sciences like alchemy and astrology. On the other hand, production technology being historically the most important branch of technology, the first two chapters survey agriculture and non-agricultural crafts. Chapter 3 treats the technologies of war, transport and navigation. The last chapter discusses the possible social, economic and cultural constraints upon the development of technology in India in pre-modem times. The period covered is from about 650 to 1750, taking the medieval span under the most liberal scheme of periodization, currently in vogue.

As in the previously issued volumes of the series, our aim is to provide accurate information in a non—technical style, while at the same time introducing the reader to the larger problems of historical analysis. The text is supported by a number of illustrations, which needed to be more numerous here than in other volumes. Special notes arc furnished on elementary technological terms; the nature of our sources; various questions regarding inventions and their diffusion; and the major technological contributions of other civilizations. The ‘extracts’ given from sources are designed to help the reader see the kind of evidence historians of technology draw upon. Both in the extracts and in quotations from old English works in the main text, the spellings of English words, wherever different from those now obtaining, have been changed to conform to the current standard. Chronological tables supplement each chapter.

In conformity with the scheme adopted for the whole series, individual references are not provided for the facts stated or even for quotations from the sources. Instead a fairly full Bibliographical Note is appended to each chapter, so that any reader who is so inclined can go on to books and research papers where detailed discussions with references would be found. In order to keep the bibliographical notes within moderate lengths, references to the many sources themselves could not be included, even though a number of them have been quoted in the text. However, all ‘Extracts’ contain full references to sources.

As far as possible, all names and terms are transliterated. In case of Sanskrit/Prakrit terms, the same system is adopted as in Nos. 3, 3A and 4 in this series. The differences from the standard scholarly transliteration is that c, ch, r, s, and s of the latter are represented in our volumes by ch, chh, ri, sh and Q respectively; and r represents the hard r, as in Hindustani ‘sarak’ (road). As for Persian (and Arabic) words, the transliteration system follows that of Steingass’s Persian English Dictionary with some simplifications, especially in the treatment of the Arabic article -al; thus we read ‘Ala’ u ‘ddin’ for the more proper ‘Ala ’ al-din, since the former is closer to how the word is actually pronounced.

A small point to note is that since each Hijri year normally corresponds to parts of two Christian era years, we have simplified matters by giving only one of the two corresponding Christian-era years, and by dropping Hijri years.

Much help has been received from many hands to make the writing of this book possible. In 1969) and 1970, Mr. Syed Mohammad, 5 fine and extraordinarily careful artist, made for me black-and-white copies of many published miniatures of the Mughal and later schools, la order to bring out their evidence on technological matters. Some of these are published here, Figures 2.9, 2.11, 2.14—16, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7 and 3.10, besides the two on the front cover—eleven in all. Faiz Habib has prepared Maps 1.1 and 3.1. (The latter map shows many of the places Mentioned in the text, including ancient sites.)

Dr Ishrat Alam, with his wide knowledge of medieval technology, has placed me in his debt by reading my draft text and locating Specific points where it needed to be improved or freed of error. Professor Sayera I. Habib selected the illustrations for the front cover.

Mr. Muneeruddin Khan has processed the entire manuscript and patiently dealt with the difficult matter of diacritical marks. Mr. M. Sajid has scanned the illustrations and maps. Mr. Arshad Ali has looked after the Aligarh Historians Society’s numerous office chores, and Mr. ldrees Beg has undertaken much of the xeroxing and various kinds of other work.

I am grateful to the staff of the library of the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, for their help in tracing and providing books for my use, with unfailing courtesy.

As usual, Professor Shireen Moosvi, Secretary, Aligarh Historians Society, has looked after the entire arrangement of pre- partition to the text of the press copy at every stage. To Dr Rajendra Prasad and Ms Indira Chandrasekhar of Tulika Books go my grateful thanks for the special attention they continue to give to the publication of the volumes of this series.

Note to Paperback Edition Some slips and misprints have been corrected, including those kindly found for me by Dr Amit Misra. I have also tried to improve exposition and add information at a few other places.

This book covers an important aspect of our history, on which no general work or textbook yet exists. It aims at covering the whole range of technology, from the tools and skills of ordinary men and women to the instruments of astronomers and the equipage and weaponry of war. A key element of the study is that it is essentially historical, that is, changes in technology are carefully traced and their consequences examined. Larger questions, such as those of constraints on technological development and the role of the social and economic environment, are also addressed. Much of this may be found by the reader to be very new unless he has kept abreast with the relevant literature of the last thirty or forty years. This volume, in line with the others of A People's History of India, gives several extracts from texts, containing significant information about specific aspects of pre-modern technology. There are special notes on technical terms, sources of the history of technology, the problem of invention versus diffusion, and the development of medieval technology outside India. There are as many as 41 illustrations, all but five taken from medieval sculpture, painting and book- illustrations.

The volume is addressed to the general reader as well as the student, who would like to read about something on which conventional textbooks have little to offer, A special effort is made to keep the style non-technical without loss of accuracy. It is hoped that the theme is sufficiently interesting not only for the historian but also for any citizen wanting to know what common people, men and women, did with their hands and tools in earlier times.

Irfan Habib, Professor Emeritus of History at the Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1963, revised edition, 1999), An Atlas of the Mughal Empire (1982), Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception (1995) and Medieval India: The Study of a Civilization (2007). He has co-edited The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. I (1982), and UNESCO's History of Humanity, Vols. IV and V, and History of Central Asia, Vol. V. He is the General Editor of the Peoples History of India series, and has authored four of its volumes (including the present one), and co-authored two.

Irfan Habib’s study of the history of Indian technology goes back to 1969, when he published his first paper raising the question of the connections between technological change and other historical developments. Since then he has published numerous papers on the history of technology. These have served as a fruitful preparation for the presentation of the subject in this book, in which, naturally enough, he also draws on the work of several other scholars.


Preface ix
1Agriculture 1
1.1Crops and Tools 1
1.2Irrigation 8
1.3 Agricultural Processing 16
Extract 1.1: Modes of Water—lift in India 27
Extract 1.2: The Madag Lake, Dharwar District, Karnataka 28
Extract 1.3: Liquor Distillation 29
Note 1.1: Technical Terms 30
Note 1.2: Bibliographical Note 34
2 Crafts 36
2.1Textile Technology 36
2.2Mining and Metallurgy 47
2.3Building Industry 55
2.4Other Crafts and Techniques 63
Extract 2.1: The Main Stages of Cotton—processing 76
Extract 2.2: The Manufacture of Damascened Steel Swords in Kachch 77
Extract 2.3: Gold Work at Agra 78
Extract 2.4: On Glass: Entries in Tek Chand Bahar’s Is Dictionary 79
Extract 2.5: Akbar S Invention of Refrigeration through use of Saltpetre 80
Note 2. 1 : Sources for the History of technology 80
Note 2.2: Bibliographical Note 84
3 Military Technology, Land Transport and Navigation 85
3.1War Equipment before Gunpowder 85
3.2Gunpowder Firearms 89
3.3Inland Transport and Communications 98
3.4Oceanic Navigation 106
Extract 3. I : Improvements in Manufacture of the Musket in Emperor Akbar’s Arsenal 113
Extract 3.2: Ship Repairs near Qutb Shahi Port Of Narsapur, 1679 114
Note 3.1: Invention and Diffusion of Techniques 116
Note 3.2: Bibliographical Note 118
4 Medieval Indian Technology and its Social and Cultural Environment 120
4.1Medieval Technology in the World Outside Europe 129
Note 4.2: Bibliographical Note 131
Index 133
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