By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
After getting a degree in civil engineering in 1954, I had opportunity of working on Durgapur Steel Project in West Bengal during 1955-56. A consortium of 11 British firms was the promoter of this project. It was a kind of British aid to India in developing production of steel. Times have changed. Today an industrialist of Indian origin is the leader in steel industry in the UK. However, in ancient period only India knew the technology of making steel from iron. As regards steel manufacture, H.H. Wilson, a professor at Oxford, writes: “Casting iron is an art that is practiced in the manufacturing country (England) only within a few years. The Hindus have the art of smelting iron, of welding it, and of making steel, and have had these arts from times immemorial.” Mrs. Manning writes in Ancient and Medieval India: “The superior quality of Hindu steel has long been known, and it is worthy of record that the celebrated Damascus blades, have been traced to the workshops of Western India. Steel manufactured in Kutchh enjoys at the present-day a reputation not inferior to that of the steel made at Glasgow and Sheffield.”
S. Ramachandran writes in Iron and Steel Technology: options for India: “Steel has been known in India since hoary antiquity and is referred to in the Vedas as Ayas. It has been deduced from archeological evidence that ancient Indians knew the art of making steel.”
Stated in an excellent presentation of the genesis and growth of iron and steel in India published by Sidhu (1983): “The antiquity of the Indian process is no less astonishing than its ingenuity. The tools with which the Egyptians carved their obelisks and temples and covered them with hieroglyphics were made of Indian steel. There is no evidence to show that any of the nations of antiquity besides the Hindus were acquainted with the art of making steel.” The references which occur in Greek and Latin writings on this subject served only to reveal their ignorance of it; they were familiar with the use of steel, but they appear to have been altogether ignorant of the mode by which it was prepared from iron.” In the 12th century, the Arab Edrisi mentioned that the Hindus excelled in the manufacture of iron and that it was impossible to find anything to surpass the edge from Indian steel, and he also mentioned that the Indians had workshops where the most famous sabres in the world were forged, while other Arab records mention the excellence of Hinduwani or Indian steel as discussed by Egerton.
The Periplus mentions that in the first century A.D. Indian iron and steel were being exported to Africa and Ethiopia. Indian metallurgists were well known for their ability to extract metal from ore and their cast products were highly valued by the Romans, Egyptians, and Arabs. As cited by L. White Jr. in American Historical Review of April 1960: “Eduardo Saline, an authority on the metallurgy of early mediaeval long swords, suggests that the marvelously skilful twisting and fagoting of thin rods of steel and iron of different qualities that produced the laminated Merovingian blades was inspired by Indian Wootz steel, which achieved similar results by crystallization.”
That the art of metallurgy was highly developed in ancient India is further reaffirmed by the fact that the Gypsies, who originated in India, are highly skilled craftsmen, and it has been suggested that the art of the forge may have been transmitted to Europe through Gypsies. J. Needham writes in Science and Civilization in China: “Steel was manufactured in ancient India, and it was being exported to China at least by the fifth century A.D.”
— Grandpa’s blessing