Ancient Indian Science

Indian Science

You already know that the ancient Indians were excellent engineers from the way their cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were laid out. But did you know they also excelled at Math, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine?


mathYou may know that the Arabs and Persians are often given credit for inventing our number system. But, actually, they got many of their ideas from Ancient India. In fact, the Arabic name for a “mathematician” is “hindsa”, which means “from India”!

So, what did the Indians do with numbers? Something really big—-zero! The concept of “zero”, or nothing, come from the ancient Indians. This concept is very important, because it not only gives us a way of expressing “nothing”, it’s also used to show place value. If you didn’t have a zero in 405, how would you write four hundreds and five ones, and show that there are no tens?

The Indians may have been the first to use symbols for math operations (such as +, -, x and ÷). They also had knowledge of geometry, as shown in the geometric patterns they painted on temple walls; and algebra, using symbols for unknown numbers in equations.


the moonIn the ancient Indian cities, archeologists found small stones with holes drilled through the center. What were these “ring stones” used for, they asked? They found out that the stones were used to trace the movement of the sun throughout the year. You probably already know that the sun takes a different path through the sky depending on what season it is, because of the movement of the earth around the sun, and the direction of its tilt.

Ancient Indian astronomers figured out that the sun is actually a star, which not many ancient people knew, and they counted the number of planets in our solar system. They also figure out how to calculate when an eclipse would occur. An eclipse is when moon passes between the earth and the sun, covering up the sun (solar eclipse), or when the moon passes through the earth’s shadow (lunar eclipse).

Do you know how big the earth is around? This is called the earth’s circumference, and the ancient Indians were able to figure it out! They also understood something about the force of gravity.


The ancient Indians classified 5 elements of materials. They were: earth, fire, air, water, and space. This was not too far from our modern ideas of solids, liquids, and gasses.

And they believed that all matter is made of smaller particles. Have you heard that idea before in your science classes?


ChemistryThe ancient Indians learned about smelting metal from the Mesopotamians. Smelting metal means that you take a rock that has a particular metal in it (called an ore), and use heat and chemicals to burn off the other things you don’t need and get the metal you want. For example, smelting iron ore will give you iron, and the ancient Indians must have learned how to do this, because they had iron-tipped arrows around 400 century B.C.

Centuries later, in around 500 A.D., the Indians constructed an iron pillar in Delhi. This pillar has stood for 1500 years, and has not rusted.

The Indians’ skill at making chemical paints and dyes is seen on many ancient wall paintings that still look bright and almost freshly painted.


The ancient Indians were well known for their knowledge and skill in the medical field. They wrote a “textbook” on medicine that was used for 2000 years! This was translated into many languages, including Arabic and Latin, showing that other ancient people valued it as well.

Ancient doctors studied the bodies of the dead to learn physiology (how the body is put together). They also studied the causes of disease. Indian doctors relied many on herbs for healing, but also knew how to perform surgery if needed.

Finally, the Indians developed the system of exercise called Yoga. Yoga is used to help both the body and the mind. It is said to release hidden energy and calm a worried mind. Many people around the world practice yoga today.

Shipbuilding and Navigation

The idea of building ships and sailing was well known to the ancient Indians. Many ancient drawings show sailing ships, and we know that they traded with distant countries.

They also knew how to use a compass. This was an iron fish floating in oil. The magnetized fish would always point north. This handy instrument was called a “fish-machine”.

Overall, you can see that the ancient Indians were quite knowledgeable, and that India has contributed much to our knowledge of mathematics and science today!