Important Things India Gave to the World
India is viewed by the West and indeed the world at large, as a poverty stricken developing country, with slums occupying a third of every city. Thanks to Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire reinforced that visual image in everyone’s mind. Every educated Indian youth hopes to leave the country one day and settle abroad for good, never to return to the country that is ridden with political mayhem and religious anarchy. In truth, India today has become the laughing stock of many nations, berated for being illiterate, poor, unsafe, uncivilized, mediocre and simply not good enough.
This list is a compilation of things that India gave to the world, in the absence of which, 21st century would have looked very different. Five things that very few people would believe were invented or introduced to the world by Indians. This exceedingly inadequate list is a request to all those, foreigners and Indians both, who look upon India as the lesser nation, to pause for a minute and learn about the country’s erstwhile achievements and realize that many of what they enjoy and take for granted today, would not have been possible without this country.
Martial Arts and Yoga
When you think of martial arts, you immediately remember a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee shooting a flying kick in one of the many martial arts movies. Popular knowledge believes that martial arts emerged from the Chinese subcontinent with Kung Fu monks and Japanese Ninjutsu ninjas donning sleek swords and saving people in secret. However, behind-the-scene story reveals that it was an Indian Buddhist monk named Boddhidharma who travelled to China in order to spread the word of the Enlightened One; it was here that he introduced his native art and developed it into Chinese Kung Fu in the legendary Shaolin temple of the Henan Province.
While many deny the above as mere myth, limited written records fail to provide an alternative source for the origin of this art, whereas Tanlin, in his preface to the “Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices” (attributed to Boddhidharma himself), clearly states that the founder of Chan Buddhism hailed from the southern regions of India. If a single written record is considered insubstantial proof, then it begs mentioning that the earliest form of martial arts known to man, Kalarippayattu, originated in the south Indian province of Tamil Nadu.
While discussing martial arts, we may reinstate a well-known fact on the origin of yoga. Unlike the meditative exercises practiced across the world today, yoga originally stood for a dynamic discipline – a way of life – that was adopted by the Brahmans and Rishis of Northern India over 5000 years ago. The discipline included, among many, laws for a life of action (karma yoga), a life of wisdom (jnana yoga), a life moving towards enlightenment or samdhi (raja yoga), and a life of ritualistic body cleansing (tantra yoga), all of which were meticulously laid down in the ancient Hindu texts called the Vedas. It was from tantra yoga, which increasingly incorporated spiritual body-centric practices in an attempt to strengthen and lengthen mortal life, that hatha yoga, or Yoga as we know it today, emerged. The practice was introduced to the West for the first time by Swami Vivekananda in a religious conference in Chicago, USA, 1893; and since, has been endorsed and treasured by celebrities and ordinary folks the world over.
World’s First University
For a country reduced to abject illiteracy today, who would believe that the world’s first university was established in India’s north-western province of Punjab? Taxila (or Takshila), named after the town in which it was situated, became the first learning centre to adopt the rudimentary structures of modern day universities with as many as 68 subjects across a variety of disciplines on offer such as medicine, law, military education, astronomy, scripture studies and an array of skills including archery, hunting and horse-riding. It accepted students of sixteen years and above, thus, asserting its focus on higher and advanced learning. Pupils from as far as Greece, Syria, China and Macedonia travelled for months to get a placed in this fabled institution.
Another ancient university by the name of Nalanda thrived in the plains of modern day Bihar in the 5th century BC. Historical ruins suggest that the campus sprawled over a mile in circumference, with approximately 300 lecture halls, advanced laboratories and the famous Ambudharaavlehi observatory tower for astronomical studies. The university also housed one of the world’s first and largest libraries called Dharma Gunj. According to records left behind by the Chinese traveller Hien Tsang, over 10,000 students and 200 scholars resided in the university.
These touchstones of time and progress suffered destruction in the hands of savage Huns who attacked and plundered a large part of Northern India. Nalanda University held ground through two attacks – having its libraries and halls restored by the Buddhist king, Harshavardhana – but gave way the third time under the ravages of the Turkish invader Bhaktiyar Khilji.
Linguistics and language
Born in the city of Charsadda in present day Pakistan, the world owes the Indian scholar Panini for establishing the first grammatical structures of a language, in this case, Sanskrit. Panini studied the elementary aspects of this language and set down rules for each part of speech, the linguistic metric system as well as segments of sentence structure that made it possible for others to learn Sanskrit and pass it down through oral traditions.
These linguistic modes, contained in the magnum opus Ashtadhyayi which was composed around 400 BC, are the foundation on which the basic grammatical structure of all languages rest. In absolute amazement, Paul Kaparsky, of the University of California, revealed how he and his then colleague Noam Chomsky had stumbled across this ancient text while trying to establish a master grammatical system that would enable them to study languages and find out what each lingual group have in common with the other. The work they were breaking their heads over to accomplish had already been successfully undertaken by Panini centuries ago. Unfortunately, with the slow devaluation of the Sanskrit language as a medium of intellectual and scholarly study, Panini too has been reduced to no more than an ancient relic.
Where would the world stand without the numbers that we take so easily for granted today? The Hindu-Arabic number system was originally invented by Brahmin mathematicians in India between 1st and 4th century AD, and got introduced to the west through the Persians who themselves discovered the same while carrying out trade in the Indian subcontinent. The introduction of the number “zero” was seen by the Christian West as a diabolical intention to promote satanic ideas of negative elements and entities. “Zero” was invented, so to speak, by the mathematician Brahmagupta as an expressible symbol for the abstract concept of “shunyata” or nothingness that is an integral part of the Brahmanical religious tradition. Later, Aryabhatta applied this symbolic concept to mathematical operations, thereby revolutionising civilization in one giant leap.
Interesting to note also is the controversy surrounding the invention of the Pythagoras theorem. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the Greek mathematician who came up with this theorem, but the Indian guru Baudhayana, who, in 800 BC, stated the principles underlying the Pythagorean Theorem in his book Baudhāyana Śulbasûtra, along with the explanations for various other aspects of advanced mathematics. Several scholars, mathematicians and scientists (Einstein, Heisenberg, Carl Sagan) have time and again declared that the Greeks, through their interest in Indian scriptures and their frequent visits to this nation, had carried philosophical ideas and indeed scientific and mathematical knowledge from India to their own homeland.
And of course, talking about India’s contribution in mathematics without mentioning Ramanujan will be sacrilege. This mathematical prodigy, unschooled in the subject, invented theorems for analytic mathematics, game theory and came up with an infinite series for pi, all of which were so advanced for the times that many leading mathematicians of the age dismissed his inventions as a hoax. It was not until several decades after his demise that his formulae and theorems were proved to be correct.
Plastic surgery, which many believe to be a recent practice actually was in place more than 4000 years ago in India. The Sushruta Samhita is one the most ancient and advanced medical treatises of its times, in which detailed instructions on various kinds of surgery, chiefly rhinoplasty, cataract, and dental procedures have been meticulously laid down. Sushruta began his medical journey through rigorous anatomical study and analysis of human bodies. Instead of cutting open the corpse, he would allow the body to sit in water for a few days until the first layers of skin came loose, allowing him to peel off the same and study the anatomy layer by layer.
What has puzzled contemporary doctors is the fact that Sushruta was able to carry out such critical surgeries without the use of anaesthetics. In response to that, the ancient surgeon provided a solution wherein the patient was well fed and intoxicated with wine so as to numb any sensation of pain. He also listed the various tools and instruments that he used for his surgeries, giving careful instructions as to which should be used for a particular kind of operation. It is not surprising to know that many of his methods and inventions are used even today, although in an advanced manner, and he is regarded by all as the rightful father of surgery.
A literature student for life, Manali Pal just completed her masters from the University of Delhi and is taking time off to expand her knowledge in Indian folklore and indigenous cultures for future research. A hopeless dreamer, she writes extensively, reads voraciously, and wishes she could spend more time on painting and learning the guitar. Her ultimate academic goal is to get an insight into the world view of the nomadic people of the world – the gypsies, tribes and travelling communities. She loves storms, rain and animals, and wants to build a home in the mountains.