As the History of Hindu Chemistry by the late Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, the Founder-President of the Indian Chemical Society, went out of print some two decades ago, and the necessity for its republication was being felt by all students of the history of science, the Council of the Society at one of its meetings in 1948 decided to publish a revised edition of the book. It was further resolved that the new publication should incorporate all additional important materials that had since been brought to light, and that its name should consequently be changed to “History of Chemistry in Ancient and Medieval India”. A publication board comprising a few distinguished Fellows of the Society with Prof. Priyadaranjan Ray as the Editor, was constituted for the purpose, and Prof. Ray was entrusted with the task of preparing the manuscript.
As the resources of the Society were too limited to meet the cost of the publication, an appeal for financial assistance to the scheme was issued. In response to this the Society received a sum of Rs, 18,153/- as donations from various organisations. The fund has recently been augmented by a grant of Rs. 5,000/- from the Government of India.
The Society takes this opportunity of recording its grateful appreciation of the generous help received.
It was originally announced that the book would be placed before the public by the end of 1953 or in the early part of 1954, but owing to certain unforeseen circumstances over which the Society had no control, the publication has been considerably delayed. For this, the Society owes an apology to all its Donors, Fellows and Subscribers. The Society also regrets that, due to some difficulties connected with the press, some printing errors have crept into the text.
It is indeed a matter of great misfortune for the Society that one of the members of the publication board, Dr. S. S. Bhatnagar, did not live to see the publication of the book.
In spite of all its imperfections, it is hoped that the present volume will be found as useful as its original edition, the “History of Hindu Chemistry”. The Society has placed itself under a deep debt of gratitude to Prof. Priyadarnjan Ray for his painstaking and devoted work in connection with the revision and editing of this great book by the late Acharya.
History does not, as generally represented, consist merely in the shifting of geographical boundaries of countries and dominions, in the changes of their names, in the military exploits of royalties and nations, or even in the undulations and migrations of greater and lesser waves of populations. These are but the casual and external changes, and may be viewed upon as the symptoms of the great mental vicissitudes of the human race. In the opinion of many eminent thinkers, individual fortunes or individual events, by themselves, are not of real importance in history, though they may be highly sensational or of great political and economic significance for the time being and occupy the headlines of newspapers. History, from a philosophical point of view, represents, in fact, a long range process involving very long durations and very large numbers. Individual persons or events are important in history to the extent they serve as symptoms of this long range process and as means to the realization of this process. For, individuals have their rise and decay, while ‘history is a continuous process and knows no end. The real history of mankind is, therefore, constituted by the thoughts of the past; the leading conceptions of all remarkable forms of civilization; the achievements of genius, of virtue and of high faith. In short, it is the record of the past experience of humanity and of the evolution of the human mind with its ideas and sentiments, its truths and toils, its virtues and guilt. The scientific and cultural achievements of mankind, representing the progress of civilization, therefore, supply the materials for real history. In fact, history becomes utterly incomplete, if it fails to narrate the progress and development of science which has led to the modern civilization with its remarkable achievements. If there be any unfailing criterion for the growth of civilization or the evolution of human mind, it lies in the progressive unification of the world to which science has undeniably made, the greatest contribution, inspite of the two frightful international conflicts on a global scale and a more intensive preparation for the third, aided by catastrophic atomic weapons derived from the pursuit of science itself. History of science, therefore, constitutes an integral part of the history of human civilization or of the true human annals of the earth; and as knowledge and wisdom grow only on the accumulated experiences of the past, it forms an essential element in the study of science itself.
But, to write a history of science, or any special part thereof, is no easy task. For, in the first place the writer must know both science and history; even the most perfect under- standing of the one is inadequate for the purpose without some information of the other. Then again. he must assume a psychological detachment as a safeguard against all prejudices that tend consciously or unconsciously to exalt national or racial pride- and thus influence his judgment. The task of the present writer is, however, considerably lightened not only by the limitation of his scope to the history of chemistry in ancient and medieval India, but also by the fact that he had merely to edit and more or less revise the pioneering work, the History of Hindu Chemistry, by his illustrious teacher Acharya Prafulla Chandra’ Ray. But at the same time, it must be admitted that the chronology, relating to the compilation of many ancient Indian treatises-literary, scientific or religious, is in a state of almost hopeless confusion. There is seldom any unanimity among the experts on any particular topic in this connection. The usage of ancient authors in recording the time of their composition by the period of the reign of the monarchs, under whose protection and patronage they lived and wrote, has contributed in no small measure to this confusion. Besides, there was no universally accepted era with definite origin, on the basis of which the dates could be calculated. As a result, there has been much controversy about the original source of many ideas and of the knowledge of many facts, the priority whereof might be claimed both by the Hindus and the Greeks of the early ages. It should not, however, be forgotten that one and the same idea might be conceived, or the knowledge of one and the same fact might be acquired, almost simultaneously or at slightly different periods of time by people in different countries in a perfectly independent manner. For, the evolution of human intellect is known to follow more or less the same pattern everywhere, irrespective of any geographical limitations. In the absence of any definite record of indisputable evidences,” such controversies about any particular nation borrowing concepts and knowledge from the other, are obviously of little historical significance. They are likely to arouse, ‘on the other hand, mere national vanities. In the present volume, the editor bas, therefore, tried to adhere to the least controversial dates after a careful consideration of the balance of reliable evidences. Moderation, rather than extremism, has been a watchword with him, but without any irrational revereuce for it. How far he has succeeded in his efforts is left to the judgment of competent authorities on the subject.
The History of Hindu Chemistry by P. C. Ray went out of print nearly a quarter of a century ago. It had been the only publication which gave a systematic account of the achievements of the early Indians in the field of chemical knowledge. As a result, the students and historians of chemistry have keenly felt the need of filling up the void created thereby. In order to meet this demand the Council of the Indian Chemical Society decided some years ago to publish a revised edition of the History of Hindu Chemistry of the late Acharya P. C. Ray, who was the Founder President of the Society. The task of editing was entrusted to the present writer. In this new volume under the name of ‘History of Chemistry in Ancient and Medieval India’ much new materials have been added, and all facts have been carefully sifted with a view to exclude those of doubtful origin or spurious character. Reference has also been made to the social and cultural conditions of the country, associated with the different stages of development of chemical knowledge. Evidences, supported by illustrations wherever possible, of the skill displayed by the early Indians in the art of making glazed pottery, in the extraction and working of metals, in the preparation of caustic alkalies, oxides and sulphides of metals, etc., have been recorded. It is expected that the students and historians of science will find in the book sufficient materials of interest and value for the proper assessment of the ancient Indian civilization and culture.
As in the History of Hindu Chemistry, a discussion on the decline of scientific spirit in India has been introduced in a separate chapter. The section on the mechanical, physical and chemical theories of the ancient Hindus by B. N. Seal has also been included as an appendix, though somewhat abridged from what appeared in the History of Hindu Chemistry. The original Sanskrit Texts in Devnagri script, relating to the main topics of the book, are reproduced after the appendix without any change from the History of Hindu Chemistry. This is followed by the reproduction of the Tibetan Texts in Roman script. The English translation of the Tibetan Text, Rasayanasastroddrti, which could not have been included in the main book, is also added here. The editor is deeply indebted to Sri Suniti Kumar Pathak, M.A., of Visvabharati University, Santi-Niketan, Bengal, who very kindly transcribed and translated this text from the Tibetan xylographs for the present volume.
It is indeed a great pleasure for the editor to express here his deep sense of gratitude to Professor P. K. Gode, M.A., of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute at’ Poona, who was very kind enough to go through the entire manuscript of the book and to help the editor with many valuable suggestions and useful informations. The editor also desires to record his appreciation of the great service and assistance he has received from Sri Debabrata Bose, M.A. of City College, Calcutta, in collecting new materials for the book. He further wishes to express his indebtedness to some publishers and friends for permission to use their illustrations and photographs. These are acknowledged at the appropriate places.