Sanskrit, there are 65 words to describe the various forms of earth, 67
words for water and over 250 words to describe rainfall. Most
Indian languages have borrowed much of their vocabulary and forms of
expression from Sanskrit, not surprisingly, since this classical
language is the oldest and the most systematic language in the world!
credit for systematising Sanskrit goes to the Sanskrit grammarians who
wished to construct a perfect language which would belong to no one,
and hence, belong to all; which would not develop and yet remain an
ideal instrument of communication and culture for all people for all
times to come. Thus was born a language "more perfect than Greek, more
copious than Latin and more exquisitely refined than either" (William
Jones, Supreme Court judge, 18th century).
Horticulture and Medicine had developed to a
great extent during the Vedic period. In the literature of the
time, we can find several terms used to describe plants and plant
parts, both external features and internal structures. There are
also definite attempts to classify plants and evidence that use of
manure and rotation of crops were practised for the improvement of the
fertility of the soil and nourishment of plants. The contents of the
earliest of the four Vedas, the Rig Veda, show that the Vedic Indians
had some knowledge about the action of light on the process of food
manufacture by plants and storage of energy in the body of plants.
the post-Vedic Indian literature, there is enough
evidence to show that Botany, or Vrikshayurveda, developed as an
independent science on which were based:
science of Medicine (as embodied in the Charaka and
science of Agriculture (as embodied in the Krishi
Horticulture (as illustrated in the Upavana
literary evidence, it is clear that even in the
first millennium BC, botany was fully systematized in India and
taxonomy was well developed. Parasara's Vrikshayurveda, composed
between 1st century BC to 1st century AD is
considered to be the most ancient work in pure Botany.
plants have life? How do they cook their own food?
Indians believed that plants possessed
consciousness. Manu recorded that plants are capable of
perceiving both pleasure and pain. Various Sanskrit texts, a thousand
years or older, deal with the questions of plant life, their
consciousness and nourishment, in some form or the other.
Mahabharata: "The tree sucks water from its base
with force, and along with air, water is drawn up the tree."
Vrikshayurveda: "The watery sap obtained from
the earth is transported from the root up to the leaf through the
syandana (xylem). There it gets digested with the help of
ranjakena pachyamanat (chlorophyll) into nutritive substances and a by
Prithviniraparyam: "In plants there is life,
death, sleep, waking, disease, drugging, transmission Current
characters by means of ova, movement towards what is favourable and
away from what is unfavourable",
Nyayavindutika "Plants sleep by contracting
their leaves at night",
Saddarsana Samucchaya Enumerates the
differenct characteristics of the life of plants,
Upaskara "After a wound or laceration,
there is natural recuperation due to the growth of organs."
Indian literature also deals with germination,
reproduction, sexuality and heredity of plants.
Morphology (form and structure of plants)
Atharva Veda is, perhaps, the earliest record of
plant morphology. Based on the growth habit of trees, it
classifies them into eight varieities:
(leaves with long clusters)
(those with monopodial growth)
Event ¨ Pratanavati
(with many stalks)
(plants with knotty joints)
classification of plants was also done on
the basis of their texture, colour, taste, surface, roots, leaflets,
etc. And, it is amazing that the adjectives that were used in
these classifications a couple of thousand years ago are words that
continue to be used in the same sense, even today! Amla patra,
obviously referred to sour leafed plants, while mrdu patra are soft
leafed ones. Romasa patri, you could guess would have been used
to describe a leaf with a hairy outgrowth, while bahupatrika
would be a leaf with a number of leaflets. Suksmamula referred to
plants having thin roots, and sakha sipha, to plants which had roots
originating from their branches.
our ancient botanists had made a minute study of
plants is also evident from the Sanskrit botanical terms that have been
used in the literature of ancient India, for example gucchaka (for a
type of inflorescence), paraga (pollen), jalaka (calyx) and varataka
Pathology (Causes and Cures for Plant Diseases)
in his Saddarsana Samucchaya observes that
plants are afflicted by diseases and respond to treatment, just like
in Brihat Samhita says that plant diseases
are caused by cold climate, wind or the sun and the indications are the
yellowness of the leaves, non- or under-development of the buds,
dryness of the branches and exudation of the sap. He also
prescribes the treatment for the conditions.
Atharvaveda explains the destruction of corn due to
a famous Buddhist text, describes blight and
gives a detailed account of danger to grains
from various agents such as fire, snow, worm, insect, etc.
Taxonomy (classification into related groups)
ancient India, plants were generally classified in
accordance with three distinct principles -
they were named to highlight their
peculiarities, for eg. Vakrapuspa (for a plant bearing curved flowers),
Ghantapushpa (for one having bell shaped flowers) and Mahamohi (for
Datura alba, a great intoxicant).
in his lexicon, Amarakosa, devotes an entire
chapter - Vanaushadivarga - to classification of medicinal
plants. Therein, plants are identified under three categories -
(Chitra, Atichatra and Phalghna)
(Vanda and Vrikshadani)
(Vriksharuha and Jivantika)
his Vrikshayurveda, Parasara developed a more
study of the internal structure of plants could be
possible only with the help of the compound microscope. But, our
ancient scientists and seers appear to have made some of the most
remarkable anatomical observations, several centuries before the
microscope was invented!
description of the plant cell is a more
detailed study than Robert Hooke's, though the latter is credited with
having discovered the cell in the 17th century.
The internal structure of the leaf consists of innumerable
compartments, which are filled with sap. They are the storehouse
of sap (rasarayah) and covered by a boundary-cell (panchabhautika
gunasamanvita) as well as a colouring principle (ranjakayukta) and
cannot be isible to the naked eye. The thin boundary originates
from a fluid (kalaladupajayate) (which is called protoplasm by the
our ancient botanists could have made their
discoveries is a matter of conjecture at present, though one of you
could, perhaps, research the question in the future and come up with
factors gave an impetus to the development of
Chemistry in ancient India. These were the age-old desires of
human beings to live forever and to get rich!
story of early Indian Chemistry begins in the Indus
Valley (2600-1900 BC). Chemical knowledge related to medicine was
compiled in the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita - the celebrated
treatises on medicine and surgery, respectively. Kautilya's
Arthasastra described the production of salt and collection of shells,
diamonds, pearls and corals.
mass-produced. This could be regarded as the earliest chemical
process, as large quantities were mixed, moulded and fired to achieve
desirable qualities. Polished grey pottery known
today as Painted Grey Ware was unique to the period 1000-400 BC. Northern
black polished ware, which belonged to a later period, 600-200 BC,
exhibits a golden gloss, which is still a chemical mystery as attempts
to replicate it have not succeeded.
were used for making houses, drains, boundary walls and public
cement had been used in construction! A well in Mohenjodaro
was found to have been built with gypsum cement - a mixture of sand,
clay, calcium carbonate and lime!
is a fused solid mixture of a number of substances like lime, sand,
alkali and metallic oxides, have been made in India since 1000
BC. In fact, the art was quite widespread and a high degree of
perfection had been achieved. Glass of various kinds - coloured,
colourless, transparent and opaque - have been found in Maski in south
India (1000-900 BC), Hastinapur and Takshashila (1000-200 BC). A
traditional glass factory was discovered at Kopia in Basti district,
Uttar Pradesh. Medieval glass furnaces have been found at Mysore,
and the art of glass making flourished in the Mughal period as
used in India in the 7th century AD and the main medieval
paper making centres were Sialkot, Zafarbad, Murshidabad, Ahmedabad and
Mysore. Soaps, dyes, cosmetics, perfumes, ink and alcoholic
beverages were all made in India more than two millenia ago.
were chiefly derived from plants, but several preparations involved
processes like dissolution, distillation, sublimataion, precipitation,
combustion, dilution and decocting. The early invention of
distillation in India, in fact, helped the production of pure zinc of
industrial standards even in medieval India.
been mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts and
Rasopanishada - a text on alchemy - actually describes the preparation
of gunpowder. Sukranitisara, a 16th century AD text,
gives the specific proportions of saltpetre (potassium nitrate),
sulphur and charcoal that are needed to make gunpowder.
considered as the most potent of all substances and as possessing
divine properties. The silvery white metal had to undergo 18
processes of purification before it could be used for transforming base
metals into noble ones or consumed internally to confer longevity or
even immortality on human beings!
H Morrison, in her book, The Book of Ayurveda:
A Holistic Approach to Health and Longegity says, "The logic and
beauty within Sanskrit reflect the two levels needed to appreciate
Ayurveda fully." An understanding of this logic and beauty within
Sanskrit is also needed to appreciate the Sasyashastra (Botany) and
Rasayanashastra (Chemistry), developments and discoveries in which
contributed greatly to the formulation of Ayurvedic principles.
Pai Kochikar was the VTT Scholar for the year 2003-04. This
article is based on the mandatory lecture that every VTT scholar is
required to give under the auspices of Sri Tirunarayna Trust, based on
the student's findings pertaining to the relevance of Sanskrit in