What The Ancients Did For Us - The Indians

Updated Tuesday 15th July 2008

Find out more about The India programme, part of the BBC/OU's 'What the Ancients Did for Us' TV series

Adam under a crane Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

India is one of the oldest and richest civilizations in the world. It is home to the world's first planned cities, where every house had its own bathroom and toilet five thousand years ago. The Ancient Indians have not only given us yoga, meditation and complementary medicines, but they have furthered our knowledge of science, maths - and invented Chaturanga, which became the game of chess.

According to Albert Einstein, they "taught us how to count", as they invented the numbers 1-9 and 'zero', without which there would be no computers or digital age. Unfairly we call this system of counting Arabic numbers - a misplaced credit.

Two thousand years ago the Indians pioneered plastic surgery, reconstructing the noses and ears on the faces of people who had been disfigured through punishment or warfare. They performed eye operations such as cataract removal and invented inoculation to protect their population from Smallpox, saving thousands of lives.

To create images of their gods they invented a technique of casting bronze called 'Lost Wax', a five-millennia old process still in use today. India was one of the first civilizations to successfully extract Iron from ore and they quickly learnt how to cast huge structures with it - some of them surviving. Their metallurgists went on to invent steel which they called Wotz. Although apparently mentioned in Beowulf, it would take the British until the 19th century to rediscover same substance.

In 1790 the Indians defeated the British Army in the battle of Pollilur with a secret invention – the rocket. The British eventually stole the idea and used it against Napoleon's fleet.

But perhaps the most important invention the Indians have given us is cotton. 3500 years ago whilst we were lumbering around in animal skins and itchy wool they were cultivating a plant and weaving it into a material that would revolutionise Britain. They also pioneered the printing and dyeing of cotton in a staggering array of colours and invented the spinning wheel - something Europe wouldn't catch up with until the Middle Ages. The mechanisation of this simple device by Hargreaves and Arkwright led to the industrial revolution and turned Britain into a superpower.

Take it further

Read more about ancient mathematics

Discover how yoga and meditation are used in modern medicine

First broadcast: Wednesday 16 Feb 2005 on BBC TWO

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Theo's Adventure Capitalists: India Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: SKopp via Wikimedia article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Theo's Adventure Capitalists: India

A large country with a hard-to-understand excise regime - how will Theo's Adventure Capitalists fare in India?

Article
And the award goes to... Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Photos.com article icon

Society, Politics & Law 

And the award goes to...

In the wake of Oscar success, the film Slumdog Millionaire provokes questions of national identity.

Article
Child of our Time: Order your free 'Becoming a Teenager' booklet Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

Education & Development 

Child of our Time: Order your free 'Becoming a Teenager' booklet

Order a free booklet exploring key aspects of childhood and teenage life.

Article
Paul O'Grady's Working Britain: Order your free copy of 'A journal of working class life' Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Paul O'Grady's Working Britain: Order your free copy of 'A journal of working class life'

Order a free booklet exploring different aspects of working class life in Britain through the years.

Article
Child of Our Time: Try our surveys Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC activity icon

Education & Development 

Child of Our Time: Try our surveys

How does your sense of self compare with other people? How good are you at performing complex tasks? How do you and your children cope with stress? Try our surveys to find out

Activity
Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Ellen McCallie's diary: The reef Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Ellen McCallie's diary: The reef

"Stop! Who goes there?" How would you go about setting up an eco-friendly, wave powered, trip wire to protect the reef surrounding an, albeit small, island? Ellen and Kathy had the vital job of combating the strong currents and anchoring the system in place.

Article
OU on the BBC: The Secret Life of Books Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: The Secret Life of Books

Uncover the secrets of six classic works of fiction that we all know and love.

Article
Hidden histories: Britain's oldest family businesses - Episode 2 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC / Raw TV article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Hidden histories: Britain's oldest family businesses - Episode 2

Traditional regalia-making company Toye and Co are the focus of episode two.

Article
Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Kathy Sykes' diary: Spacesuit Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Kathy Sykes' diary: Spacesuit

Kathy Sykes's diary about the challenge for the Spacesuit programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 4

Article