Legacy in Science and Civilization

Revision or Short Notes

Arora IAS


  • Brahmanism or Hinduism developed as the dominant religion in early India and influenced the development of art, literature, and society as a whole. In addition to Brahmanism, India gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism. Although Christianity came here in about the first century AD, it did not make much headway in ancient times.
  • Buddhism also disappeared from India in the course of time, though it had spread as far as Japan in the east and as far as Central Asia in the north-west. In the process of diffusion, Buddhism projected a great deal of Indian art, language, and literature in neighbouring countries. Jainism continued in India and helped the development of its art and literature.

The Varna System

  • In India, however, varna laws enjoyed the sanction of both the state and religion. The functions of priests, warriors, peasants, and labourers were defined in law and were supposed to have been set out by divine agencies. Those who departed from their functions and were found guilty of offences were subjected to secular punishments.
  • They had also to perform rituals and penances, according to their varna. Each varna was given not only social but also ritualistic recognition. In the course of time, varnas or social classes and jatis or castes were made hereditary by law and religion. Based on a division of labour and specialization of occupations, this peculiar institution, the caste or varna system, certainly helped the growth of society and economy at the initial stage and contributed to the development of the state.
  • The Bhagavadgita taught that people should lay down their lives in defence of their own dharma rather than adopt the dharma of others which would prove dangerous.

Philosophical Systems

  • The Indian thinkers viewed the world as an illusion and deliberated deeply on the relation between the soul and god. Ancient India is considered famous for its contribution to philosophy and spiritualism, but the Indians also developed a materialistic view of the world. In the six systems of philosophy that Indians created we find elements of materialistic philosophy in the Samkhya system of Kapila, who was born around 580 BC.
  • He believed that the soul can attain liberation only through real knowledge, which can be acquired through perception, inference, and hearing. The Samkhya system does not recognize the existence of god. According to it, the world has been created not by god but by nature, and the world and human life are regulated by natural forces.
  • The development of logic may have helped the Samkhya system. Prior to the fifth century, logic was not a well-established discipline. The Nyaya Sutra seems to have been compiled around AD 400. It mentions four proofs or pramanas comprising perception, inference, comparison, and testimony.
  • Although debating devices were used in theological disputes, they could not have been developed in isolation from other disputes, including land disputes. Materialistic philosophy received the greatest impetus from Charvaka, who lived in about the sixth century BC. The philosophy that he propounded is known as Lokayata.
  • The idealist system taught that the world is an illusion. People were asked by the Upanishads to abandon the world and to strive for real knowledge. Western thinkers have taken to the teachings of the Upanishads because they are unable to solve the human problems created by modern technology. The famous German philosopher, Schopenhauer, found in his philosophy a place for the Vedas and the Upanishads.

Crafts and Technology

  • The first great contribution was made by the Harappan culture. During the Bronze Age culture, it covered an area larger than that of Egypt or of Mesopotamia. It produced the largest number of fired bricks and the best form of town-planning. In ancient times Indians attained proficiency in several fields of production.
  • Indian craftsmen developed great expertise in dyeing and creating various kinds of colours. The basic colours made in India were so lustrous and lasting that the wonderful paintings of Ajanta are still intact. Similarly, Indians developed great expertise in the art of making steel. This craft was first developed in India in 200 BC, and Indian steel was exported to many countries of the world from very early times and came to be called wootz in later times.


  • The Arthashastra of Kautilya leaves no doubt that Indians could run the administration of a large empire and tackle the problems of a complex society. India produced a great ruler in Ashoka who, in spite of his victory over Kalinga, adopted a policy of peace and non-aggression.

Science and Mathematics

  • The first result of the scientific outlook of Indians was the development of Sanskrit grammar. In the fifth century BC, Panini systematized the rules governing Sanskrit and produced a grammar called Ashtadhyayi.
  • By the third century BC, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine began to develop separately. In the field of mathematics, the ancient Indians made three distinct contributions: the notation system, the decimal system, and the use of zero. The earliest epigraphic evidence for the use of the decimal system is in the beginning of the fifth century AD.
  • The Indian notational system was adopted by the Arabs who spread it in the Western world. The Indian numerals are called Arabic in English, but the Arabs themselves called their numerals hinds, and before they were adopted in the West they had been used in India for centuries. They are to be found in the inscriptions of Ashoka which were inscribed in the third century BC.
  • Indians were the first to use the decimal system. Aryabhata (AD 476– 500) was acquainted with it. The zero was discovered by Indians in about the second century BC. Indian mathematicians considered zero as a separate numeral, and it was used in this sense in sums of arithmetic. In Arabia, the earliest use of zero was in AD 873.
  • The brick constructions of Harappa show that in north-western India, people had a substantial knowledge of measurement and geometry. Eventually the Vedic people may have benefited from this knowledge, which appears in the Sulvasutras of about the fifth century BC.
  • In the second century BC, Apastamba produced a practical geometry for the construction of altars at which the kings could offer sacrifices. It describes the acute angle, obtuse angle, and right angle. Aryabhata formulated the method for calculating the area of a triangle, which led to the origin of trigonometry.
  • The most famous work of this time is Suryasiddhanta, and no comparable work is to be found in the contemporary ancient East. The most renowned scholars of astronomy were Aryabhata and Varahamihira. Aryabhata lived in the fifth century, and Varahamihira in the sixth.
  • Aryabhata calculated the position of the planets in accordance with the Babylonian method. Aryabhata’s work is entitled Aryabhatiya was a landmark in the development of mathematical and astronomical knowledge, and is a distinct contribution to trigonometry.
  • Varahamihira’s well-known work Brihatsamhita was written in the sixth century. He stated that the moon rotates around the earth and the earth rotates round the sun. The office of jyotisi began in early medieval times, as is indicated in many land charters. In the rural areas, the priest–jyotisi became an integral part of the jajmani


  • The earliest mention of medicines is to be found in the Atharva Veda, but, as in other ancient societies, the remedies recommended were replete with magical charms and spells, and medicine was not developed along scientific lines.
  • In the second century AD India produced two famous scholars of Ayurveda, Sushruta and Charaka. In the Sushrutasamhita, Sushruta describes the method of operating cataract, stone disease, and several other ailments. He mentions as many as 121 implements to be used for surgery. In the treatment of disease he lays special stress on diet and cleanliness.
  • Charaka’s Charakasamhita is like an encyclopaedia of Indian medicine. It describes various types of fever, leprosy, hysteria (mirgi), and tuberculosis.


  • Ancient Indians also made some contribution to the study of geography. They had little knowledge of the geography of the lands outside India, but the rivers, mountain ranges, places of pilgrimage, and different regions of the country are described in the epics and Puranas.

Art and Literature

  • The ancient Indian masons and craftsmen produced wonderful works of art, starting from Harappan times. In the historical period, the monolithic pillars erected by Ashoka are famous for their gloss and polish, which match the gloss on Northern Black Polished Ware.
  • The Maurya polished pillars were mounted on statues of animals, especially lions. The lion capital has been adopted as the national emblem of the Republic of India. In a way Ajanta is the birthplace of Asian art and has as many as thirty cave temples constructed between the second century BC and the seventh century AD. The paintings started in the second century AD and most of them relate to the Gupta period.
  • The focal point of the spread of Indian art into Afghanistan and the neighbouring parts of Central Asia was Gandhara. Elements of Indian art were fused with those of Central Asian and Hellenistic art giving rise to a new art style called the Gandhara style. The first statue of the Buddha was fashioned in this style.
  • Although its features are Indian, the size and the presentation of the head and the drapery show Greek influence. Similarly, the temples constructed in south India served in some ways as models for the construction of temples in Southeast Asia.
  • In the field of education, writing was first undertaken in the mid-third millennium BC in the Harappan culture, though this script has not so far been deciphered. In historical times we find provision for higher education in the huge monastic establishment of Nalanda which attracted students not only from different parts of India but also from Tibet and China. The standards of examination were stiff, and only those who could pass the test prescribed by the dvarapandita or the ‘scholar at the gate’ could be admitted to the university.
  • In the field of literature, the Indians produced the Rig Veda which is the earliest specimen of the Indo-Aryan language and literature, and on its basis an attempt has been made to determine the nature of the Aryan culture. In Gupta times Kalidasa wrote his fine works, and his play Abhijanashakuntalam has been translated into all the important languages of the world.

Strength and Weakness

  • Those of the Harappan culture are staggering and Harappan objects are displayed in the museums of India and Pakistan, though the contemporary Mesopotamian antiquities were largely lost or destroyed in the second Gulf War.
  • In post-Harappan times, people contributed to various fields of science and civilization. The caste system based on the brahmanical ideology persists to this day.
  • In ancient times, the shudras, including the untouchables, were convinced of their inborn inferiority, and this was the case too with women who were considered items of property. Even now these relics have not completely disappeared.
  • Although some ancient texts looked upon the world as a family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam), this ideal would not make any impact.


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