Medieval Indian Institutes of Technology

The Iron pillar in Delhi... the Great Temple in Thanjavur... the Taj Mahal... the worlds largest cannon, Jaivan, in the Jaigarh fort... All these spectacular "monuments" fill one with a sense of wonder, much of it as a consequence of the technology that must have been used in those days. To have an iron pillar that has not rusted in over a millennium, to have constructed edifices that even today would require major logistics, to have cast, in the eighteenth century in a rural foundry Rajasthan, an awesome cannon that weighed over 50 tons.... all these indicate the existence of a very nontrivial technology in our past.


A recent title from Tulika, Technology in Medieval India by Irfan Habib, the distinguished historian at the Aligarh Muslim University, does much to educate us about this past. In addition to Professor Habib's formidable writings on the economic history of India (many of his books are available via Scholars), he is the General Editor of the slender volumes that comprise the People's History of India series.

His 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. 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, form 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-illustrations.

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 for any citizen wanting to know what common people, men and women, did with their hands and tools in earlier times."

In our History Section, Hardcover, 152 pages. Rs 275. ISBN: 9788189487485

Comments