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Marvels of Indian Iron Through The Ages

Marvels of Indian Iron Through The Ages
$37.60$47.00  [ 20% off ]
Item Code: NAF763
Author: R. Balasubramaniam
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788129111845
Pages: 305(50 Color and 10 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 7.0 inch
weight of the book: 920 gms
Back of The Book

“India has an ancient civilization based o aunique, endogenous knowledge system, involiving significant scientific development. But there has beenno authoritative account of this development, in contrast to the monumental work of Needham that ensured the academic repositioning of China as a scientific civilization. This effort by the Infinity Foundation is appropritate for remedying this lacuna.”


About The Book

The book highlights the glorious tradition of iron making in India by describing the marvelous creations of Indian black smiths through the sage. The marvels provide concrete evidence of the exalted status of India’s metallurgical knowledge in ancient and medieval times. Some basic ideas of ancient India iron metallurgy are presented in the first chapter. The book then deals with massive iron objects, with special reference to pillars and beams. The most famous example is the Delhi Iron Pillar. The technology of forge welded cannons and a catalogue of some of the massive indigenous iron cannons of the subcontinent is described in the last section. Written simply and profusely illustrated with line drawings and photographs, the book embodies the latest researches on the subject. It will fascinate both serious scholars and lay readers, especially the young one, and provide them rare glimpses into India’s rich metallurgical heritage.

Science and technology have always been an important part of India’s story, as the substratum of its civilization’s rationality and secular progress, the basis for pre-colonial India Ocean global trade, the foundation for building India’s future knowledge society, and a key element I n projecting Brand India. This volume is part of a multi-volume series on the series on the subject.


About The Author

Prof. Balaasubramaniam has vast experience in teaching corrosion and research activities related to corrosion, materials-hydrogen interactions and Indian archaeometallurgy. After graduating in metallurgical engineering from Banaras Hindu University in 1984 with a gold medal, he completed his Ph. D. in materials engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA in 1990. He has, since then, been teaching and conducting research at the. IIT, Kanpur in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering. He is the recipient of several prestigious awards. The widely published author is on the editiorial board of several international journals. His significant research work on the famous 1600-year old Gupta period corrosion-resistant Iron Pillar, Located in the Qutub complex in New Delhi, has received national and international acclaim. He is the author f four other books, Delhi Iron Pillar: New Insights, The World Heritage Complex of the Qutub, The Story of the Delhi Iron Pillar and The Saga of Indian Cannons.



The Glorious tradition of iron and steel technology of the indian subcontinent is the subject of study of this book in the series on India's contribution to the history of science and technology. India's history of science and technology is yet to be written and the available data does not expose its full potential. The presentation of some wonderful examples of Indian metallurgical skill in this book presents only the tip of the iceberg of the knowledge and skill of the ancient Indian craftsmen.

The tradition of making iron and steel by indigenous craftsmen continued widely in India till the end of the nineteenth century. It is almost extinct now, except perhaps among some isolated groups in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. The long and glorious tradition of iron and steel in the subcontinent has merited serious attention from the historians of Indian technology in the recent past. The iron making origin and processes have been explained by rigorous analysis of archaeological data. In this context, when reference is made of examples revealing the Indian blacksmith's skill in the art of working with iron, usually some important examples are cited like the Delhi iron pillar and wootz steel. In this book, Balasubramaniam has explored and placed on record some of the wonders of the Indian blacksmith skills, from a different perspective. The objects themselves are the subject of attention. Balasubramaniam analyses the objects with engineering precision. Detailed discussions on the Delhi and Dhar iron pillars have added value to the book. These are based on the original work of the author. In this manner, the author draws most of the material for this book from his original publications. This is unique aspect of this book.

Balasubramaniam’s original work on the Delhi Iron Pillar, considered by many to be the metallurgical wonder of India, has earned him international attention. One notable feature of this work is the great detail in which forge welded cannons have been discussed apart from visually presenting some of the massive forge welded cannons of the subcontinent. It is a visual pleasure to view these pieces presented in this richly illustrated volume. When one considers that such large numbers of forge welded cannons are not present anywhere else in the world, the skill of the Indian blacksmith in the working of iron must be appreciated. Apart from this, there is also a useful documentation angle because this is one of the first time that massive forge welded cannons have been collected and catalogued in one book. The author also discusses at length the wonder material of the Orient - wootz steel. The examples presented by the author are excellent testimonies to the history of iron and steel in the subcontinent.

The volume is a seminal contribution to the history of iron and steel of the subcontinent. It will accomplish the task of creating a sense of awe among the reader after viewing firsthand the glorious examples of Indian iron and steel making skills. I am sure/sincerely hope that the marvels of Indian iron and steel making skill presented in this volume will excite both the learned scholar and common reader and would serve as a standard reference in libraries for time to come.


Introduction To The Series

It been accorded the significance it deserves. Both laymen and students need to know and feel proud about the great achievements that were made in the past. This exercise should also help us to find out the causes which pushed us back and the West overtook us in its Industrial Revolution. In the western accounts of history of science and technology most of the important achievements are traced back to Greece thus giving these studies a Eurocentric bias.

In recent years several laudable efforts have been made in compiling the Indian History of Science and Technology. As is to be expected, these efforts had their own biases and perspectives. It was, however, felt that detailed accounts of individual technologies need to be reconstructed and not mere short descriptions. The History of Science and Technology Book Project was launched by Infinity Foundation keeping in view the need to correct the Eurocentric distortions as also to provide authentic and detailed summaries of the main technologies and how they evolved through history.

There is a vast amount of literature on these subjects but literary evidence is often prone to a variety of interpretations. It is therefore wise on the part of the organisers to place more reliance on material evidence available through archaeological excavations and museum exhibits. It was soon realised that the Indus civilisation, vast as it is in its expanse both in time and space, itself required a number of volumes to cover its achievements in the fields of metallurgy, architecture, hydraulics and a variety of other technologies. Under this series they have already commissioned a general book on Harappan Technology and its legacy to be written by Prof. DP Agrawal. Prof. JP Joshi has already completed a monograph on the Harappan architecture and engineering. Probably, a few more volumes covering Harappan metallurgy and hydraulics etc. will be useful. It seems that Infinity Foundation has already commissioned about a dozen volumes covering iron technology, Himalayan architecture, zinc technology, traditional hydraulics, chalcolithic technology, archaeometallurgy of eastern India, traditional hydraulics of Uttaranchal etc. The future volumes may cover history of agriculture and animal husbandry, glass technology, ceramic and textile technologies etc.

Iron Technology is in itself a vast theme covering more than 3000 years. Prof. Vibha Tripathi has prepared a volume covering in brief all the aspects of Iron Technology right from its beginnings to pre-modern period. Prof. R. Balasubramaniam has produced a volume on the much neglected class of iron objects including pillars, beams and cannons. Unlike China, Indians preferred wrought iron technology in India. During the medieval period India attained some of its peaks in wrought iron forging technology in the manufacture of forge welded cannons. The skill required to fabricate the barrels of cannons by the use of forge-welded iron rings is a technological feat because it required good understanding of properties of iron. The excellent skills of the medieval Indian smiths become evident when one considers the enormous number of rings used in the construction of each cannon.

The Harappans built massive cities over huge platforms defying the annual inundations of the mighty Indus. In Mohenjodaro they dug 700-odd wells with burnt bricks to get clean potable water. In towns like Dholavira in Kachchh, they built elaborate reservoirs covering almost ten percent of the town to store rain harvested water. In the Harappan towns we see for the first time a gridiron layout of the streets. At Dholavira they have drains for potable water, sullage as also for run-off of the storm water but they have been constructed in such a manner that no mixing of dirty water with potable water ever takes place. The Harappans used a binary system of weights with high accuracy. Their linear unit of 17 mm seems to have led to the anguia width mentioned in the Arthasastra.

Indians mastered the technology of making extremely tough steel known as the Wootz. It was such a famous and a precious commodity that it was considered a fitting gift to be presented to an emperor like Alexander and also to the Persian kings in the fifth century BC .

Thus, a series of book series on History of Science and Technology of India as sponsored by the Infinity Foundation covers a very important but so far neglected area and we do hope soon we will have an authentic history of science and technology of India and its role in a global history.



The glorious tradition of iron making in india has been well reserached and documented in the recent past. Several excellent publications dealing with the primacy of iron in the Indian subcontinent, its local origin as opposed to Western diffusion, archaeological and literary perspectives are available. These books deal with several aspects of iron technology relating to the Indian subcontinent and provide a strong foundation for studies the subject. The wonderful examples of I ndian iron technology have not been dealt with exclusively, although there are stray references.

One of the main aims of our research into India's rich metallurgical past is to excite young readers about the exalted status of India's metallurgical knowledge in ancient and medieval times .. A related aim is to inform the eager and interested non-Indian reader about the wonders of Indian metallurgical skills. In this regard, the Infinity Foundation of USA has pioneered the study and diffusion of Indian traditional knowledge systems and the documentation of the history of science and technology in India. Vibha Tripathi's book in this series provides a complete overview of iron in the Indian subcontinent. The present book deals with wonderful examples of Indian blacksmithy skills. A third book in this series will delve into wootz steel.

Once it was decided to focus attention on the marvels of Indian metallurgical knowledge and skills, with particular reference to iron technology, the task of putting together this book became much easier. For the book dealing with the wonders of Indian blacksmith skills, there was a ready source of reference, namely, our original works dealing with iron pillars and forge welded cannons. Therefore, this book draws inspiration and major material from my original publications on this subject. In this manner, most of the material presented and discussed in this book are my original researches. I am presently researching the wonder material of the Orient - wootz steel. In order to complete the fourth chapter devoted to wootz steel, material has been collected and reviewed from the vast existing literature. The topic of wootz steel will be dealt in greater detail in a complimentary volume.

This book is divided into four major sections. In the first introductory chapter, some basic ideas of iron metallurgy, with special reference to the Indian subcontinent, are presented. The discussion does not call for detailed knowledge of science and metallurgy. A basic highschool background in science would be sufficient to understand most of the material presented in this chapter and in the subsequent ones. The aim of writing this chapter was not to review the entire gamut of metallurgy of ancient Indian iron, but to provide the reader a glimpse of the intricate knowledge that Indians possessed in producing marvellous iron objects, which are discussed in great detail in this book.

The second chapter deals with massive iron objects, with special reference to pillars and beams. The most famous example, of course, is the Delhi Iron Pillar, and most of the material presented on this metallurgical wonder is based on my personal research. The other well-known iron pillar that is located at Dhar has also been described in some detail and its story makes for a fascinating reading. The massive iron beams in the Orissa temples have been described next. The chapter ends with a short discussion on the Iron Pillar at Kodachadri Hill.

Some of the less-known wonders of Indian blacksmithy skills are forge welded iron cannons, available all across the subcontinent in different historical locations. We shall specifically address forge welded iron cannons and not cast iron cannons in Chapter 3 because cast iron technology did not originate in India. It is difficult to understand, in the present context, why Indians were not ready to adopt cast iron technology from Europe, when it first made its large-scale appearance in the sixteenth century. One possible reason for the same could be the proficiency of Indian blacksmiths in the science and engineering of handling wrought iron so that they never felt the need to adopt cast iron technology. Some wonderful examples of forge welded iron cannons in the Indian subcontinent will be outlined. The forge welded iron cannons of India are truly the neglected gems of Indian blacksmithy skills. While only a handful can be counted in the whole of Europe, India possesses hundreds of massive forge welded iron cannons, totally uncared for and standing as mute spectators to the glorious heights attained by the Indian blacksmiths before the advent of mechanisation and large-scale industrial production of iron.

The fourth chapter reviews the famous wootz steel of the Indian subcontinent. Wootz steel was a prized commodity during the medieval period for its wonderful ability to be wrought into tough swords. These swords wrought from wootz steel exhibited typical patterns on their surface. Wootz steel was highly regarded all over the world. It was truly an engineering material with a large geographical spread - one that originated from the Indian subcontinent. This chapter will highlight the properties of wootz steel, the method of its production, the forging of tough blades from wootz pancakes and finally, the European fascination with this wonderful material. This chapter is brief in nature because this subject will be dealt in greater detail in a complimentary volume.

The book ends with a bibliography which has been presented in a detailed manner in order to assist readers to the original sources of publications where some of the issues have been discussed in much greater depth .

The book aims to review and present the wonderful iron objects of the Indian subcontinent. All these objects have been placed in a historical perspective in order to highlight the continuous achievements of Indians' mastery over iron and steel technology. The care required in conserving and preserving these wonderful objects needs to be thought about. There are several possible modern-day applications for the technologies that went into the making of these iron objects. The immense potential and value of traditional technologies for producing objects of high value been has somehow neglected in modern India. One must understand that traditionally produced iron craft objects can be gainfully sold at a premium for their artistic as well as technical value. It is the traditional art industry of India that has earned the country world recognition and fame in the past. It is the traditional art industry of India that would pave the way for India to obtain her exalted position in the world community of nations again.

I must thank several people for inspiring me to write this book. Professor Anantharaman has always been a great source of inspiration for all my academic endeavours and I owe all my skills and knowledge to his inspirational guidance and charismatic leadership. In fact, this book is my offering to my beloved Gllruji on his eightieth birthday. The constant encouragement and support provided by Rajiv Malhotra and-D.P Agrawal formed the bedrock on which this work rests. They have always been there to provide valuable criticisms and constructive comments over the last three years. Professor Ranganathan has been a well-wisher and an intelligent critic. He has fired my imagination with several of his keen observations and queries. It is always a pleasure to discuss science and technology with him. Professor Rama Rao has been like a guide-in-the-background.

He has provided valuable comments on my work and has guided me in improving my writing and presentation skills. I thank him for all the valuable advice on my work on Indian archaoemetallurgy. I must also thank Professor Bhanu Prakash, who first introduced me to the wonders of ancient Indian metallurgy during my undergraduate days at the Benaras Hindu University. It was also a great privilege to interact and work with a renowned scholar, specialising in the historical and archaeological aspects of iron in the Indian subcontinent, Professor Vibha Tripathi of Benaras Hindu University. Her well- meaning critical comments have always helped improve the quality of my work. Dr Sharada Srinivasan has provided me valuable feedback at several critical junctures and I thank her for all her insightful comments. I cherish the continuing interaction with Dr S. jaikishan, Dr Pranab Chattopadhyaya, Robert D. Smith and Ruth Rhynas Brown on the subject of cannons in general. I must also thank and place on record the excellent discussions that I have had on the subject of archaeometallurgy, in general, with Professors A. K. Biswas, A. Ghosh, P Ramachandra Rao, K. Chatttopadhyay, C.V Sundaram, A.K. Bhatnagar, R.K. Dube, and Drs M.N. Mungole, Placid Rodriguez, Baldev Raj, K. Roessler, K. Igaki, Ellen M. Raven, A.V Ramesh Kumar, P Dillmann, Paolo Piccardo. Delphine Neff and A.K. Bag. Finally, I remember that all that I do is because of the wonderful support and affection of my parents, (late) Rasipuram Subramaniam Ramamoorthi and Dr. R. Savithri, my children Gargi and Gowri, and my wife Gaitri.




  Introduction to the Series by M. G.K. Menon xi
  Note on Infinity Foundation xiii
  Foreword by M. G. K. Menon xix
  Editor's Note xxi
  Preface xxiii
1 Introduction 1
  Meal Extraction 5
  Classification 7
  Microstructures 11
  Working Iron 14
  Metallurgical Operations 14
  Joining 15
  Casting 18
  Mechanical Working 23
2 Pillars And Beams 23
  Delhi Iron Pillar 25
  History 26
  Chandra is Chnadragupta II Vikramaditya 30
  Udayagiri, near Sanchi, is Vishnupadagiri 36
  Engineering Design 38
  Meterial 44
  Composition 44
  Microsturectures 45
  Manufacturing Methodology 48
  Corrosion Resistance 58
  Rust Characterisation 62
  Protective passive film Mechanism 68
  Protective passive film properties 74
  Dhar Iron Pillar 79
  History 79
  Dimensions 84
  Erection of the Pillar 92
  Manufacturing Methodology 96
  Corrosion Resistance 100
  Iron Beams in the Orissa Temples 103
  Iron Pillar at Kodachadri Hill 107
3 Cannons 112
  Early Devices 113
  Beginnings of Cannons Technology 114
  Wrought Iron Cannons 118
  Cast Bronze Cannons Casting 121
  Types Bronze Casting Technology 123
  Catalogue of Forge-welded Cannons 124
  Thanjavur 129
  Dhaka 131
  Murushidabad 133
  Bishnupur 136
  Jhansi 139
  Assam 142
  Tripura 147
  Gulbarga 148
  Bijapur 150
  Bidar 154
  Hyderabad 162
  Karimnagar District 169
  Basava Kalyan 171
  Udgir 172
  Khandhar 176
  Kaulas 176
  Deccani Forts 176
  Other Locations 187
  Technology of Forge-Welded Cannons 189
  Design 189
  Construction 191
  Composite Wrought Iron-bronze Cannons 201
  Unsolved Questions 209
4 Wootz Steel  
  Applications, of Wootz Steel 213
  Swords 213
  Armour 218
  Firearms 220
  Musical Strings 225
  What is Wootz? 225
  Early European Encounters 226
  Primacy of Deccani Wootz 227
  European attempts to duplicate 232
  Process 238
  South Indian Process 238
  Hyderabad Process 242
  Thermomechanical Processing 246
  Wadsworth-Sherby Mechanism 247
  Verhoeven-Pendray Mechanism 252
  Death of Deccani Wootz 253
  Revival of Interest 256
5 Bibliography 259
6 Index 277

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