Since ancient times, metallurgy has been used in day to day life in India. It is mentioned in the Yajurveda?
Ashma Ch Mai Mrittika Ch Mai
Giryashch Mai Parvatashch
Mai Siktashch Mai
Vanaspatayashch Mai Hiranyam Ch
Maiyashch Mai Shyamam Ch Mai
Ioham Ch Mai Sees Ch Mai
Trapu Ch Mai Yagyen Kalpantam.
?(Kr. Yaju. h-7-5)
?May our stones, mud, mountains, sand, vegetation, gold, iron, copper, lead and tin grown with Yajna.?
In the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and the Shrutis also metals like gold, iron, tin, silver, lead, copper, bronze, etc. have been mentioned.
Names of some people engaged in different fields of metallurgy:
Karmara ? One who melts raw metals
Dhamatra? One who blows the fire in the oven
Hiranyak? One who melts gold
Khanak ? Miner
Ancient Indian physicians like Charak, Sushruta and Nagarjuna have described in detail how to prepare medicines from gold, silver, copper, iron, mica and mercury, etc. One does not find a mention of developed metallurgy in ancient scriptures alone; but evidence is available even today. Some are as follows:
1. Zinc?The discovery of zinc is and amazing thing in the field of metallurgy. The process of refining zinc through the distillation process is a matter of pride for Indians. Excavations in the Jawar region of Rajasthan, have revealed a process of zinc making dating back to the 4th century BC. With only 10 per cent zinc, brass starts shining like gold. Chemical analysis of the brass items found in the Jawar region of Rajasthan showed that it had more than 34 per cent of zinc, whereas, according to the known methods of today, under normal circumstances, not more than 28 per cent of zinc can be added to brass.
Melting zinc is also a complicated process because under normal pressure, it starts boiling at 913?C. To procure pure zinc from zinc oxide or from raw zinc requires a temperature of 1200?C, but at that high temperature, zinc turns to vapour. Hence, in those days to oxidise zinc, the raw zinc had to be roasted, then it was heated by adding coal and salt in calculated quantities and placed in earthen pots at a temperature of 1200?C. At this temperature it vaporises, but Indians had developed a process called reverse distillation. Proof of this has been found in the excavations at Jawar. Oxidised vessels of zinc were heated in an inverted position, in an atmosphere of carbon monoxide. As soon as the zinc vaporised, it was taken to a cool place below, where it took on the metal form. This way, pure zinc could be obtained. This knowledge of acquiring zinc was prevalent in India much before the birth of Christ.
Until 1735, Europeans believed that zinc could not be obtained in element form. In Europe, William Champion was the first to get the process of refining zinc patented as the Bristol process. This he had copied from India because it is exactly like the process mentioned in the 13th century book, Rasratnasamuchchay.
2. Iron?One finds references to the good quality of Indian steel in history. People in Arabia and Persia were very eager to get swords made of Indian steel. The English named the steel with highest carbon content as ?Butz?.
Famous metallurgist, Professor Anantaraman of the Banaras Hindu University, has explained the entire procedure of making steel. Raw iron, wood and carbon are heated in earthen bowls at a temperature of 1535 ?C and then, slowly cooled over in 24 hours. This gives high quality carbon rich steel. A sword made of this steel is so sharp and strong that it even cuts silk smoothly.
In the 18th century, some European metallurgists tried to manufacture Indian steel, but failed. Even Michael Faraday tried, but was unsuccessful. Some succeeded in manufacturing it, but the product wasn'tof good quality.
Shri Dharmapal has, in his book, Indian Science and Technology in the 18th Century, mentioned the proofs that the western world has cited about and advanced iron industry in India. In September 1795, Dr. Benjamin Hayen sent a report to the East India Company, in which he talks of Ramnath Peth (a small, beautiful hamlet in then Madras Presidency) and says that it is a beautiful village. There are mines and forty furnaces for steel. The steel thus manufactured costs Rs. 2/- per mana (32 kilograms). Hence, the company must contemplate along these lines.
The second report was sent by Major James Franklin, in which he wrote about the production of steel in central India. He described the iron mines at various places like Jabalpur, Panna, Sagar, etc. He says that charcoal is used all over India to manufacture iron. The furnace, he mentions, were constructed. All its parts were of an average of 19-20 cubit (1 cubit=18 inches) and a small furnace size was 16 cubits. He describes the procedure of making this furnace. When he measured the entire furnace, he found out that the measurement was the same?its length, 4? parts; width, 3 parts; thickness 1? parts. He further writes that parts like the (1) guradiya (2) pachar (3) garery or pulley and (4) akariya were used. Later, when the furnace was completely dry, it was used for working. After the furnace, he describes the blow, its nozzle and take process of refining the iron. He then examined the process of manufacturing steel and its proportions from April 30, 1827 to June 6, 1827. During this period, 223? mana (31? mana = 1 English ton) of steel was made from four furnaces and he has openly and warmly praised the speciality, quality and grade in various temperatures and circumstances.
At that time, one mana of steel cost only 11? annas.
Quoting Presgrave, the Captain of Sagarmint, Major James Franklin says that the iron bars of India were of superior quality. It even outdid the Swedish iron, which was considered the best in Europe at that time.
The third report is of 1842 by Captain J.Campbell. It describes the production of iron in south India. All these reports state that at that time, there were thousands of small steel manufacturing furnaces. About nine people could get employment with one furnace and good quality and cheap iron was produced. That was not possible in any other country of the world. While looking for bar iron for the railways, Campbell said that India'sbar iron was not just of high quality, but also cheap. Even the best iron in England could not compete with India'slow quality iron. At that time, 90,000 people were employed with these furnaces. In 1874, the British established the Bengal Iron Company and started large-scale production. Costly steel was imported from abroad. As a result the consumption of steel produced in the villages began to decline and by the end of the 19th century indigenous steel manufacturing virtually stopped. Starting large factories, the British virtually broke the backbone of indigenous technology. The sad part is that Indian metal technology nearly vanished. Today only a few examples of this technology remain with a few tribal people of Jharkhand.
(This book is available with Ocean Books (P) Ltd, 4/19 Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi-110 002.)