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
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-
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.
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