Sa’ad Ahmed Shaikh
Yoga, curry, rural mysticism, wise sages, tech support. These are the words that pop into the normal guy’s head who hardly has had dealings with anything related to the country. But India doesn’t merely boast of a rich cultural heritage spanning various ethnicities and ancient civilisations. You wouldn’t have guessed that these common inventions of today’s life came from India, the Land of Mystery.
Mysorean rockets were the first iron-cased rockets successfully deployed for military use. Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, used them in his battles against the colonising British forces to devastating effect. The video below captures its history in detail.
It may seem incredible but it’s true. The first documented treatments for plastic surgery are mentioned in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a transcription of an Ancient Egyptian medical text, dating to 3000-2500 BC. Plastic surgery was being carried out in India by 2000 BC. The surgeon Sushruta contributed mainly to the field of plastic and cataract surgery. The medical works of both Sushruta and Charak were translated into the Arabic language which then made their way into Europe via intermediaries.
Another shocker? Cataract surgery was known in India from the 3rd century A.D. to the Indian physician Sushruta. It was performed with a special tool called the ‘Jabamukhi Salaka‘, a curved needle which was used to loosen the lens and push the cataract out of the field of vision. The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged. Sushruta cautioned that this cataract surgery, although effective, should only be performed when absolutely necessary. Greek philosophers and scientists traveled to India where these surgeries were performed by physicians. The removal of cataract by surgery was also introduced into China from India.
Who would’ve guessed? The word ‘shampoo’ itself is derived from the Hindi word ‘chāmpo‘ which means ‘head massage’. The invention of the shampoo dates back to as far as 1762, where it originated in the eastern portion– particularly Bengal– of the Mughal Empire which then ruled India. It was introduced in Britain by Sake Dean Mahomed, a Bengali entrepreneur, who then went on to open his own commercial baths in England. He was later appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to both George IV and William IV.
Rulers made of ivory were used in the Indus Valley Civilisation around 1500 BC. Ian Whitelaw, the author of ‘A Measure of All Things: The Story of Man and Measurement‘, holds that the rulers of Ancient India are marked out and divided with amazing accuracy. The weights and measures of the Indus civilisation also reached Persia and Central Asia, where they were further modified.
India is also known for its IT sector, but this is something else entirely. The trigonometric functions sine and versine originated in Indian mathematics and astronomy. They were described in detail by Aryabhata in the late 5th century but were likely developed earlier in the Siddhantas, the Indian astronomical treatises of the 3rd or 4th century. Later, the 6th-century astronomer Varahamihira discovered a few basic trigonometric formulas and identities, such as sin^2(x) + cos^2(x) = 1.
The earliest form of chess originated in India during the Gupta dynasty(280-550 AD). The Sanskrit word for chess is ‘chaturanga’ which literally means ‘an army of four divisions or four corps‘. Soon it began spreading throughout the world and different variants sprang up in as many places. Introduced to other territories around India, it was transformed in the Far East and assimilated into a game often played on the intersection of the lines of the board rather than within the squares. By the 10th century, it had reached Europe, the Arab Peninsula, North Africa, and Spain, where it is believed to have taken its final form of modern chess.
Simple but effective and ingenious; buttons made from seashell were used for ornamental purposes in the Indus Valley Civilisation by 2000 BC. Some buttons were carved into geometric shapes and had holes pierced into them so that they could be attached to clothing by using a thread. Ian McNeil in his ‘An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology‘ says, “The button, in fact, was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley. It is made of a curved shell and about 5000 years old.”
Another mathematics surprise. Symbols, signs, and mathematical notation were employed in an early form in India when the 6th-century mathematician-astronomer Aryabhata recommended the use of letters to represent unknown quantities. By the 7th century, another Indian mathematician Brahmagupta had already begun using abbreviations for unknowns, even for multiple unknowns occurring in one complex problem; he had also managed to use abbreviations for square roots and cube roots. Fractions were written in a manner similar to the modern times, except for the bar separating the numerator and the denominator.
India also has prefabricated homes (movable structures), seamless celestial globes, Ludo, Cotton-Jute-Indigo cultivation, the Fibonacci numbers, and a lot more inventions and discoveries to its claim.As they say: there’s always more to know.