Iron Pillar

With the passing away yesterday of R Balasubramaniam, the B B Lal Chair Professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, the field of Archaeo-metallurgy lost a major champion.

A prolific researcher, Bala combined a passion for history with deep knowledge of technology, and in the process wrote a number of books for both technical and non-technical audiences.

One of his main interests was the iron pillar in the Qutub complex in Mehrauli, and on this he wrote at length. Delhi Iron Pillar, published by Aryan Books International is about the "1600-year old Delhi iron pillar [that] has attracted the attention of archaeologists, metallurgists and corrosion scientists for its excellent resistance to corrosion. The book details new insights on the Delhi iron pillar based on the researches of the author. The identities of the patron Chandra and the original location Vishnupadagiri of the pillar have been critically analyzed. The engineering details of the pillar, including its decorative bell capital, have been highlighted. The manufacturing method of the pillar has been elucidated. The important aspect of corrosion resistance of the pillar has been discussed in light of a detailed characterization of the pillar."

Another book, Story of the Delhi Iron Pillar "traces the history of the pillar located in the Qutub Complex and describes its structure in detail. It unravels the mystery behind the resistance of the pillar to corrosion for more than sixteen centuries. It also discusses the amazing process by which the pillar was manufactured using the technical know-how available at the time. the book is primarily aimed at general readers and tourists, with a view to igniting their interest in this metallurgical wonder of ancient India. Written in simple language and a lucid style, it carries numerous photographs and elaborate figures to enhance the discussion."

In recent years his interest extended to other aspects of metallurgical history. His book The Saga of Indian Cannons' tells how the "invention of cannons and their use in warfare added a different dimension to battles. The fates of nations were decided by the use of cannons. The science of gunpowder and the technology of cannons, from their introduction in the Indian subcontinent in the middle of the fifteenth century up to the premodern period, have been illustrated using Mughal miniature paintings and analysis of extant cannon pieces. The massive and wonderful forge welded iron cannons and cast bronze cannons of medieval India have been presented, some for the first time, in this book. The mighty cannons that established Mughal, Maratha, Sikh and Deccan powers have been described. Indian innovations in cannon technology like shaturnal (cannons fired from back of camels), composite cannons (of inner wrought iron bore and outer bronze casting) and bans (battlefield rockets) offer sufficient proof of Indian ingenuity in science and technology.

The book draws inspiration and major material from the original publications on the subject by the author. Written simply and profusely illustrated with the drawings and photographs, the book embodies the latest researches on the subject. It will fascinate both serious scholars and lay readers, and provide them rare glimpses into India's rich military and metallurgical heritage."

His work had received considerable national and international recognition: The INSA Young Scientist Award (1993) , the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship (1996), Materials Research Society of India Medal (1999), Metallurgist of the Year award (1999), and the Distinguished Educator Award (2009) from Indian Institute of Metals.

His books are featured in our History of Science and Archaeology sections.