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10 Indian Inventions and Discoveries that Shaped the Modern World

The famous American author Will Durant writes in his book of The Story of Civilization about the Indian civilization:

“It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier, India has sent to the West such gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and the decimal system.

India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. She was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”

Many scholars have attempted to document the ancient Indian civilization over the years. But very few talk about the accurate details that’s been able to penetrate the public.

India is home to incredible discoveries and inventions that have shaken the world that we belong to today.

Here’s what Will Durant had to say:

“..India has sent to the West such gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and the decimal system. She was the mother of our philosophy..of much of our mathematics..of the ideals embodied in Christianity..of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”

1. The Hindu Numeral system

Not many realize the numeral system that we currently use came from India Most people think that we are using the Arabic numerals, but the Arab traders acquired the Indian mathematical concepts when they came to India and shared it with the West when they traveled around. This system broke the common, but complex roman system back then.

The other civilizations were also working to create a better numeral system than Roman, but the Indian numeral system succeeded, and is used as a foundation in our modern mathematics and has a stronghold in our modern life.

Apart from the numeral system, there are several other mathematical principles that have the roots in India, and the foreign scholars – from Greek philosophers to Arab mathematicians and from British inventors to Nazi and Cold War era scientists – have been studying these principles.

Albert Einstein says, “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

Ludvig von Shroeder says, ““Nearly all the philosophical and mathematical doctrines attributed to Pythagoras are derived from India.”

2. Carburized Steel

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India is supposedly one of the pioneers in metallurgy and had been producing top quality steel way back, two thousand years back than the time when Michael Faraday demystified the real process. The Indian Wootz Steel is considered to be legendary, and many great civilizations – from Ancient Greece to Persia, from Arabia to Ancient Rome – were so astonished by it. Even King Porus selected it as a gift to offer Alexander the Great, instead of picking the common gold and silver.

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High-quality steel is still a major raw material in the modern world of production and industries. After the independence, India has again become the world leader in metallurgy and production of high-quality steel.

3. Influence in Western Philosophy

Many historians talk about the influence of India in Ancient Greeks and Romans. Apart from the technology, town planning, and statecraft, Greeks sought new ideas and thoughts in the Vedic scriptures and even learned their trades in Indian universities like Taxila and Nalanda.

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In the Western philosophy, the Greek philosophers play a prominent role in shaping the core of their thought process in philosophy, and their philosophies are considered to be the foundation of the modern philosophies. But many scholars also acknowledge how Indians have contributed to Greek philosophies. In ‘The Shape of Ancient Thought’, Thomas McEvilley presents a thorough analysis of how Indian philosophy directly made an impact in the pre-Socratic Greek philosophy.

Voltaire says, ““Is it not probable that the Brahmins were the first legislators of the earth, the first philosophers, the first theologians? The Greeks, before the time of Pythagoras, traveled into India for instruction.”

4. Without cotton textiles, the world would have had clothing crisis

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The use of cotton textiles for clothing is a revolutionary Indian contribution to the world. Back in the days, the Greeks were still wearing animal skin, until they found the cotton industry in India when Alexander the Great was conquering the world. That was when they started to use Indian garments, which is what we all still wear today.

The Columbia Encyclopaedia writes:

“Hundreds of years before the Christian era, cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill, and their use spread to the Mediterranean countries.”

The Western Europeans might argue with this, however. What we have achieved today is because of the knowledge gained from high-quality textiles production and trading with India. Many argue that the Indian textile industry was intentionally dismantled. Dan Nadudere, in The Political Economy of Imperialism, says, “It was by destroying the Indian textile industry that the British textile industry ever came up at all.”

5. Democracy

Ruins of Vaishali (source)

The Greek republic of Athens is always regarded as the oldest non-tribal, organized democracy in the world. But historians know about the ancient Indian republic of Vaishali which dates back to 600 BCE, which is almost a hundred years before the institution of Athenian democracy. But the modern-era colonial propaganda neglects this fact.

Rather than that, the most ancient form of Indian democracy is the “panchayat” system which dates back more than three thousand years ago. It literally means “assembly of five”, whereby five leaders combine to govern the society.

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Thomas McEvilley says, ““Through such chronological manipulations, the threat that the Indian past presents to the Greek miracle [as postulated by European supremacists] is defused by chronology.”

Will Durant says, “India was the mother of village communities of self-government and democracy.”

6. Lunar water

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The most recent space exploration between 2008 and 2009 with Chadrayaan-1 detected the presence of lunar water and is regarded as one of the modern contributions by India in the space world. This exploration was done even before NASA’s ‘Moon Mineralogy Mapper’.

Jim Green, NASA Director, said, “We want to thank ISRO for making the discovery possible. The moon till now was thought to be a very dry surface with a lot of rocks.”

7. Quantum Statistics

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Many European scientists are known to have turned to Vedas for inspiration. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Upanishads is the most satisfying and elevating reading which is possible in the world; it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death.” The likes of Einsteins, Nazi scientists, and other inventors were also the student of the advanced Upanishads. Wheeler Wilcox says, “India – the land of Vedas, the remarkable works contain not only religious ideas for a perfect life but also facts which science has proved true. Electricity, radium, electronics, airship, all were known to the seers who founded the Vedas.”

The most unnoticed hero, however, is the 20th-century Bengali scientist Satyendra Nath Bose who provided the foundations for quantum statistics. But the Nobel Prize went to German and US scientists. He is still known for the widely known ‘God particle’, and is part of the Higgs-Boson particle.

P. Johnstone says, “Gravitation was known to the Indians before the birth of Newton. The system of blood circulation was discovered by them centuries before Harvey was heard of.”

8. Wireless Communication

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The inventor of wireless radio technology is attributed to Guglielmo Marconi and also received Nobel Peace Prize in Physics.

But Jagadish Chandra Bose, an Indian scientist, demonstrated the first use of radio technology in 1895, which is two years before Marconi’s demonstration. In the Daily Chronicle, England, 1896, there is a piece that says, “The inventor (J.C. Bose) has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel.”

9. Zero

Zero is one of the most important inventions in the world of Mathematics. It has had an impact in all fields – from art, philosophy, to technology. That’s even led to the binary bits 0 and 1, which is critical in the world of technology. It’s because of these 0s and 1s that you’ve been able to read this article on your device.

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Lancelot Hogben says, “In the whole history of mathematics, there has been no more revolutionary step than the one which India made when they invented zero.”

Similar strategies to use calculus (which has been attributed to Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz) were developed hundreds of years before they did. Even the Pythagorean theorem had been developed in a similar fashion before in India.

Dr. David Gray writes, “The study of mathematics in the West has long been characterized by a certain ethnocentric bias, a bias which most often manifests not in explicit racism, but in a tendency toward undermining or eliding the real contributions made by non-Western civilizations. The debt owed by the West to other civilizations, and to India in particular, go back to the earliest epoch of the “Western” scientific tradition, the age of the classical Greeks, and continued up until the dawn of the modern era, the Renaissance when Europe was awakening from its dark ages…

Due to the legacy of colonialism, the exploitation of which was ideologically justified through a doctrine of racial superiority, the contributions of non-European civilizations were often ignored, or, as George Ghevarughese Joseph argued, even distorted, in that they were often misattributed as European.”

10. Complex Hydraulic Engineering

During the growth of Indus valley civilization 5000 years ago, a vast and highly advanced network of canals, along with intricate irrigation, water management, and sewage systems were developed in parts of India. In this largest ancient civilization of the world, the sewage systems were designed in such a way that the blockages were self-cleared and even accounted for smell and odor. They even had developed first flush toilets back in the days.

David Hatcher Childress, an American author of historical revisionism, claims that the sewage systems were so sophisticated that they are still superior to many developing countries today. He writes about Indus valley civilization with these words:

“A wonder to modern-day researchers, the cities were highly developed and advanced. A remarkable early example of city planning.”

A similar system of canals that was developed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 19th century existed way before in India.

Edmund Burke, a philosophical father of modern Conservative party, slams the impact of British colonization in India that had ruined the Indian reservoir system that had lasted for thousands of years and had kept the dry regions fertile, making Indian population self-sufficient, nourished and prosperous.

He writes, ““In the happier times of India, a number almost incredible of reservoirs have been made in chosen places throughout the whole country. There cannot be in the Carnatic and Tanjore [alone] fewer than ten thousand of these reservoirs of the larger and middling dimensions.