picture of Alexander Walker

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8585

Date uploaded in London – – – 28 August 2020   

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Chapter -11 Part 2

                         Indian Science and Technology-2


It is obvious to a serious student of Indian economic history that India did have a solid technological base ; otherwise, they could not have risen to be a major contributor to world economy along with China. This may however sound odd to the general reader. First, this is not what they have been taught. Second, the word ‘technology’ conjures up images which are so different from what used to be. The farm tractor is a product of technology; so is the drill plough. The automobile is a product of technology; so is the bullock cart. It too is constructed on sound lines, adhering to scientific principles. Yet how many “educated” people today would associate the bullock cart or the plough with any idea of technology? The automobile pollutes, the cart does not. The tractor impoverishes the soil, the plough does not.Yet the modern mind associates technology with products and processes which are essentially destructive of the environment. It obviously cannot imagine or recognise  a benign form or face of technology! Technology need not be monstrous in scale, or destructive in effect.

The Europeans of the 18th century felt challenged by Indian science: it had developed along different lines, and reached greater heights. This was difficult for a colonial power to swallow. So they tried to decry Indian science. In the matter of technology, however, they could see the results and use them! They did, but in ways injurious to Indian interests. We shall see some of these areas.

Inoculation against Smallpox

It may come as a surprise to many that a system of inoculation against Smallpox was widely practised in India. It had attracted the attention of foreigners as early as 1731. It was said that it had been first practised 150 years earlier. There are two papers dealing with it in Dharampal’s collection.
Yet, the British stopped the practice in Bengal around 1800. It was said that there were two sources of opposition to the practice. One was on principle, and it came from the Europeans and Christian theologians. The other source was from “indigence”. Dharampal explains its origin. In the Indian system, services of many persons like teachers, doctors etc had been provided for from public funds at local levels. With the centralisation that came with British rule, local administration and their financial autonomy collapsed; the earlier beneficiaries were thrown on their own. Hence they could no more continue the services in circumstances that were agreeable to the foreigner. Yet it continued in parts at least till 1870.

J.Z. Holwell, FRS who has given an account of Indian system of inoculation also says that Indians seemed to have had a theory of bacterial infection.

International researchers have since pointed out that the practice of Inoculation in India was very old. Kurt Pollak said in his 1968 book: “Preventive inoculation against the smallpox, which was practised in China from the eleventh century, apparently came from India,”


Indians’ practice of surgery, and their excellence in it had been widely noted. And their skill at plastic surgery was appreciated. Dr.H.Scott reported on the matter to the Royal Society London in 1792.


Many aspects of Indian agriculture were noted and attracted appreciation. Alexander Walker noted:
“the practice of watering and irrigation is not peculiar to the husbandry of India, but it has been carried there to a greater extent, and more laborious ingenuity displayed in it than in any other country.”

[Nearly  half a century later, Sir Arthur Cotton studied the ancient Kallanai in Tamil Nadu, and constructed one like that near by. This inspired him to construct the barrages on Godavari and Krishna. The point is, he was inspired by ancient Indian models. He was also impressed by the network of tanks for irrigation purposes in Tanjore area. Indians’ achievement in developing  river irrigation had been noted by Adam Smith too.] 

Practices such as 
-crop rotation
– sowing by means of the drill plough
-use of a wide variety of other implements
were noted. Their subsequent decline was due to poverty forced on the people by savage taxation. It has been recorded that in the fertile Tanjore area, farming in one third of the best agricultural lands was given up as the taxation was equal to or even exceeded the gross produce.                *** chapter 11 to be continued

To be continued

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