To start with it should be mentioned that India’s history of science and technology has special features such as: 1. India belongs to one of the oldest civilized cultures with a long tradition in science and technology. Her history of science can be studied in a different context compared to that of other modern civilizations. 2. For a long time, India was under the influence of foreign cultures. The history of Indian science and technology is the history of transfer of technical knowledge and education. 3. Indian history is (was) the history of the so-called Third World countries.
Within a short span of time India has become a nuclear power and leading figure in information technology. Why and how did Indian men of science achieve this? The study of such issues could be a good lesson for other Asian and African countries. 4. If we limit our focus on physics and chemistry only, in the 20th century the role of Indian men of science was not minor. In terms of one of the highest honours, namely the Nobel Prize, in the first half of the 20th century the achievements of Indian scientists were far better than those from that Latin America, Africa and most of the Asian countries3.
There is no doubt that we need the subject as it deals with the heritage, glory and defeats of the past. The new generations can learn from the past successes and defeats. A popular proverb is: ‘Through past we see future’. Not only politics, but also science and technology are a part of a culture. In the beginning of the 20th century, different authors wrote on the topic. One example to be quoted is that of the Indian chemist P. C. Ray’s ‘History of Hindu chemistry’ published in 1902 (reprinted by the Indian Chemical Society, Calcutta, 1956) in History of Chemistry in Ancient and Medieval
India. The less known fact is that Ray was the first Indian to be elected as member of the famous journal Isis (USA), which deals with the history of science (P. C. Ray to chemist Svante Arrhenius, Swedish Nobel Laureate, letter dated 13 March 1991. Courtesy Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm). Indian men of science and technology made history, but less has been written on their achievements as the official recognition to the subject came quite late. The first thought on the need of the history of science in India was made during a symposium on the ‘History of Sciences n South-East Asia’ in 1950. It was organized by UNESCO and the National Institute of Sciences (INSA) of India. After 15 years, that is, in 1965 the National Commission for the Compilation of History of Science was constituted4. In the following years many projects have been supported by the Academy. In order to establish the history of science and technology, much more needs to be done. First, trained historians of science are needed. There is no doubt that any historian can write about the history of science, but if someone wants to write on the history of biology, chemistry, mathematics