Today when all knowledge, science and civilization is claimed to emanate from the west, people living elsewhere are increasingly led to identify themselves with the thought and behavior of the west. It is surprising to find the people feign forgetfulness, indifference and ignorance of their own past, in utter disregard to the achievements of the past generations, offering an excuse to the west to belie histories other than their own. The situation gives rise to an irresolvable tussle between opposite viewpoints where on the one hand are people who glorify, giving rise to obscurantism and fundamentalism; on the other stand those who smirk at and ridicule the former, being all praise for the west and the west alone. India, in the present times, in-spite of its long history and civilization, finds itself in a similar dilemma. In times of such gross disillusionment a book by A.K. Biswas and Sulekha Biswas in two volumes, Minerals and Metals in Ancient India
, presents factually, the knowledge of the Indians in the past with specific regard to the use of minerals and metals based upon archaeological and literary evidence. Here we will discuss only the literary evidence of the Arthasastra as given in the chapter 5 (vol. 2).
It is interesting to note that Kautilya prescribes that the state should carry out most of the businesses, including mining. No private enterprise for Kautilya! One is amazed at the breadth of Kautilya''s knowledge. Though primarily it is treatise on statecraft, it gives detailed descriptions and instructions on geology, agriculture, animal husbandry, metrology etc. Its encyclopedic in its coverage and indicates that all these sciences were quite developed and systematized in India even 2500 years ago. It is surprising that even in the I Millennium BC, they had developed an elaborate terminology for different metals, minerals and alloys. Brass (arakuta
) was known, so also steel (vrattu
), bronze (kamsa
), bell-metal (tala
) was an alloy of copper with arsenic, but tin-copper alloy was known as trapu
. A bewildering variety of jewellery was also classified and given distinctive names.
The chapter mentions and discusses the knowledge possessed by the Indians as far back as the 4th century BC. At this time ''Kautilya'' produced the unparalleled treatise named Arthasastra
. Kautilya is no other than the extremely clever ''Chanakya'' or ''Vishnugupta'' who was also the teacher of king Chandragupta. It was Kautilya who through his sheer genius and shrewdness put an end to the power of Nandas and placed Chandragupta on the throne of Magadh. Kautilya, being an Acharya or a revered teacher of King Chandragupta was directly involved in statecraft as the king always sought his advice. The authorship of Arthasastra
in such a capacity assumes great importance. Much before the Europeans could give due credence to earlier literary documents such as the ''Vedas'', they recognized the Arthasastra
as the primary record of objective facts. Moreover, as the Arthasastra
is essentially a book on statecraft, the extensive treatment given to mines, minerals and metals in it proves the concerns of Indians in this regard. For example, Kautilya declared that ''mines were the very source from which springs all temporal power for the strength of government and the earth, whose ornament is the treasury, which is acquired by means of the treasury and the army''. This concept that mines, namely, mineral wealth, are a source which forms the basis of finance was always uppermost in his mind in both his tracts, one rich in agriculture and the other in mines. In their survey of the literary evidence in relation to the wealth and knowledge the authors rightly refer to Kautilaya''s Arthasastra
as a storehouse of informationmetals in ancient India of the pre-Christian era.