India is called Bharath. A metal vessel in Hindi is called bhartan. In the Guajarati language a metal smith is called bharatiyo. Does this phonetic similarity indicate metallurgical advancement in the ancient Indian civilization?

The most famous piece of metallurgy in India is the Delhi Iron Pillar. This has been called a rustless wonder.
While the Iron Pillar of Delhi is known to all, there are many more such examples. These wonderful metallurgical marvels were possible because the Indians knew how to cast superior quality steel.

  • Wootz steel manufacturing story

The Europeans from the days of Alexander to the British colonizers of the 18th century marveled at the quality of our steel, which they called Wootz steel.

Some of the outstanding examples of the Wootz steel are:

  • Gift of 100 talents steel to Alexander by Porus - Raja Puru

King Saladin’s Damascus sword

  • Kollur Iron Pillar
  • Dhar Iron Pillar
  • Iron beams of Konark

India manufactured and exported large quantities of this Wootz steel to Persia, Arabia and from there on to Europe from time immemorial to the early part of the 18th century. The British colonizers crushed this industry to facilitate the import of much inferior quality British steel into India.
A pictorial story along with the process of manufacture is discussed. It is possible today to replicate this manufacturing process in our village industry.

  • Metallurgy – Sophistication & Proliferation

Metallurgy as a whole had reached an advanced stage of sophistication and proliferation during the days of Ashoka. Over 25,000 metal statues were cast and installed during his period in different parts of India.

This speaks eloquently of their skill and the spread of metal smith all over the country.
String instruments like the veena and tanpura, which required fine quality of metal strings, was manufactured.
Michael Faraday for his electrical experiments insisted on Wootz steel, as it was the best of his time.

Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Talisman speaks of the superiority of Damascus sword over the Excalibur.

  • Big Guns

India had cast some of the largest cannons of the world. The outstanding ones are:

  • Malik – i – Maidan - Bijapur
  • Jahan Kosha - Murshidabad
  • Landa Kesab - Bijapur
  • Long Gun - Gulbarga
  • Rajagopalan Gun - Tanjore
  • Zinc

Zinc distillation is extremely difficult. The reason being zinc has a boiling temperature of 907degree centigrade and evaporates around 970 degrees. Hence it was difficult to smelt.
Only the Indians knew the method of extracting zinc from the ore. They devised an ingenuous method known as the downward distillation process. This downward distillation process was probably known to and practiced only by the Indians from 500 B.C.E. to about 1500 C.E.

The Zinc smelting industry flourished in Zawar & in Rajasthan for about 2000 years.

The Bidriware zinc inlay work of Deccan is a popular example.

The Chinese learnt the zinc smelting process from our traders in the 1500s and from China it went to England in 1700s.

  • Copper

Copper - Tamra had been in use right from 8000 B.C.E. The evidence of which can be found in the Mehargarh excavation. The purity of copper in the Harappan samples is found to be around 99%. The present day purity of copper is also around 99%.

Large copper statues especially of Buddha had been made in different periods, which stand testimony to the continuity of the skill through the generation.

  • Lead

Similarly the purity of lead found both in Lothal and Mohenjadaro is around 99.7%, which again goes to prove the techniques used by the ancient metal smiths may appear to be crude today, but they had produced the purity similar to the present day.

  • Pancha Loha

Five metals
1.Gold 2.Silver 3.Copper 4. Lead 5. Tin
Casting the Pancha Loha icons or statues has been one of the metallurgical highlights. The Europeans called it the lost wax method. This method was neither lost nor unknown to us. It has had a continuous unbroken tradition and is cast even today in many places, one of them being Swamimalai in Tamilnadu.

The classic example of this type of icon is the Nataraja idol of Chidambaram.

India today is slowly but surely regaining its position of preeminence in the field of metallurgy.