Assess the development of Science and Technology in the Mughal India. 

Q. Assess the development of Science and Technology in the Mughal India. ©


  • Study of science and technology of this period can be divided as:
    • Indigenous development:
      • In Science:
        • No noteworthy contribution by the Indians.
      • In technology:
        • some inventions were made and new methods employed, especially in the military sector. In the chemical sector also, e.g: rose-scent and the use of saltpetre for water-cooling was new.
    • Indian response to European Science and Technology:
      • The Indian response in this respect was not uniform.
        • Positive, negative and indifferent responses.
        • For example, in shipbuilding- some positive responses but not with glass technology.
      • As for Science, the Indians do not appear to have profited from the European experience.


  • No breakthrough in physics, astronomy, chemistry medicine, geography and mathematics.
  • A French traveler, Careri observes about the Muslim scholars in India:
    • “As for sciences they can make no progress in them for want of Books; for they have none but some small manuscript works of Aristotle and Avicenue in Arabic”.
  • But there were some very learned and able scientists:
    • Mir Fathullah Shirazi who joined Akbar’s court at Agra in 1583 (d. 1588).
      • His major contribution:
        • invented some mechanical devices
        • introduced a ‘true’ solar calendar (called Ilahi) at Akbar’s order.
      • But he did not propound any new scientific theory or formula distinct from the traditional ones in India at that time.
  • Indians were exposed to European learning. Abul Fazl were aware of the discovery of America by Europeans. But this knowledge does not appear to have become a normal part of the teaching of geography in India.
  • Galileo’s discovery (in contrast to Ptolemy’s world-view) that it is the Earth that moves round the Sun did not reach the Indian scientists.
  • Newton’s three Laws of Motion as well as his Law of Gravity were unknown in India at this time.
  • Bernier, a French physician, was patronized by Mughal noble Agha Danishmand Khan in second half of 17th century, to whom he used to explain the new discoveries of Harvey and Pecquet concerning circulation of the blood.
    • Bernier held a very poor opinion of the Indian’s knowledge of anatomy.
    • Our hakims and vaids did not show any interest in Harvey’s discovery.

Agricultural technology:

  • No radical change in plough, iron plough share, irrigational devices, methods of sowing, harvesting, threshing and winnowing.
    • Dibbling (method of sowing):
      • Evidence of broadcasting, seed-drill and dibbling (for cotton cultivation).
      • Dibbling:- A hole was made into the ground and the seed was put into it and covered with earth.
  • Introduction of new crops, plants and fruits.
    • Many brought by Europeans, especially the Portuguese.
      • Tobacco, pineapple, cashew-nuts and potato are important fruits came from America.
      • Tomato, guava and red chillies were also brought from outside.
      • Maize is not listed in Abul Fazl’s Ain-i Akbari. It seems that it was introduced by Europeans from Latin America.
      • Tobacco led to huqqa-smoking.
    • Mughal elite had started growing Central Asian fruits (for e.g. melons, grapes around Agra) in India from the days of Babur.
      • Cherries were introduced in Kashmir during Akbar’s reign.
    • Fruits of better quality were grown by seed propagation.
    • Grafting techniques:
      • Prevalent in India only after A.D. 1550.
      • Mangoes of the best quality were exclusively produced in Goa through grafting by the Portuguese.
      • Alfonso: Some European travellers to India paid glowing tributes to this delicious mango of Goa.
  • Shah Jahan was only Mughal emperor who got two canals dug (nahr faiz and Shah nahr).

Textile technology:

  • No radical addition or improvement.
  • But two major development:
    • carpet-weaving under Akbar’s patronage at Lahore, Agra and Fatehpur-Sikri.
    • production of silk and silk fabrics on a large scale.
  • The Europeans did not bring their own textile techniques to India, during the first half of the seventeenth century.
    • Italian silk filatures were introduced into India in the 1770s.

Military technology:

  • Guns and Pistols: Matchlocks technique (to fire a gun) was in use mostly till Aurangzeb.
    • Mughal-paintings regularly depict matchlocks.
    • Abul Fazl claims the manufacture of handguns (flint-locks) without matchcord in Akbar’s arsenal but they were produced on a limited scale probably for Akbar’s personal use.
    • Europe knew about wheel-lock and flint-lock in which matchcord was dispensed with.
      • Europeans gave pistols in gifts to Indians. But the Indians did not learn the art of wheel-lock.
  • Cannons manufactured in India for the Indian rulers.
  • Swords: Indians preferred curved swords, in contrast to the European’s straight double-edged rapiers.
  • Abul Fazl writes:
    • For cleaning gun-barrels: “Akbar invented a wheel, by the motion of which sixteen barrels may be cleaned in a very short time. The wheel is turned by a bullock.”
    • Akbar invented a mechanism by which seventeen guns were joined in such a manner as to be able to fire them simultaneously with one matchcord.


  • Entire vessel in medieval times constructed of wood.
    • To join the planks rabbeting was widely practiced in India.
    • The next step was to smear the planks with indigenous pitch or tar, and lime with the double purpose of stopping up any fissures and preserving the timber from sea worms.
  • The Indians did not adopt the European method of caulking because:
    • Caulking did not have any technical superiority over the indigenous method.
    • It was more expensive.
  • India adopted use of iron nails and clamps from the Europeans.
      • Abul Fazl: for a ship of Akbar 468 mans of iron were used.
      • Mughal paintings establish the presence of iron nails, strips and clamps for constructing vessels.
  • Iron anchors were also adopted from Europeans during the seventeenth century. Earlier, anchors were made of big stones.
  • Earlier buckets were used to bail out the leaked water in the ships. The European Iron chain-pump was started to be used in India. But it was not used widely as these were not manufactured in India: they were purchased or borrowed from Europeans.


  • The main features of metallurgical practices in India:
    • Fuel: for smelting was wood charcoal (coal not known).
    • The smelters used small furnaces.
    • The bellows were ribless and small which did allow efficient air-blast to generate very high temperature in the furnaces.
    • Iron and bronze was melted in diverse small furnaces. Since the quality of the molten metal in each furnace was not same, the fabricated object was not of high quality.
  • Abul Fazl describes the technique of making iron canons and handgun barrels at Akbar’s arsenal. Perhaps these techniques were newly invented. Cannons were made of bronze, brass and iron.
  • “wootz” iron: Since 400 B.C it’s production was happening in India. It was exported to centres of sword-making like Damascus in Syria.

Glass technology:

  • With the arrival of Muslims, pharmaceutical phials, jars and vessels of glass cane to India from the Islamic countries, but there is no evidence of fabricating these objects in imitation.
  • European brought variety of glass articles to India e.g.:
      • Looking-glasses (We did know how to make mirrors of metals but not of glass),
      • Spectacles,
      • drinking-glasses,
      • magnifying or burning glasses
      • telescopes.
    • Europeans gave these things to Indians as gift or sold them.
    • Thus, the Indians started using European glass articles without manufacturing them. Manufacturing started only in 2nd half of 17th century.
    • Mughal paintings exhibit European made sand or hour glasses only. Evidence for its manufacture in India comes from the 2nd half of the 17th century.

Printing press:

  • European movable metal types were brought to Goa around A.D. 1550 by the Portuguese.
  • Jahangir is once reported to have expressed doubt about types being cast in Persian or Arabic scripts during a discussion with the Jesuits, whereupon the latter promptly showed him a copy of the Arabic version of the gospel.
  • Bhimji Parekh was a chief broker of the English Company at Surat, took a keen interest in this technology. A printer was sent to India in A.D. 1674 at Bhimji’s request.

Time reckoning devices:

  • Clocks and watches:
    • Babur also describes the water-clock in the Baburnama. Abul Fazl, too, takes note of the details.
    • Europeans’ clocks and watches were often given in gift to Indians elite groups (Jahangir was presented a watch by Sir Thomas Roe).
    • The Jesuit church at Agra had a public clock-face with a bell
    • Indians didn’t accept European clocks:
      • One important reason for non-acceptance was the incompatibility of the Indian time-reckoning system with that of Europe at that time.
      • The Indian system had 60 “hours” (of 24 minutes) to the full day, and the European consisted of 24 hours of 60 minutes each.


  • Building:
    • True Arch, dome and lime-mortar were already introduced in India by the Turks.
    • No significant development in building technology during 17th century.
    • Practice of preparation of a sort of “blue print” of the building to be constructed was started. This was called tarh (outline) in Persian.
    • The Indian buildings did not have window-panes and chimneys which Europeans used back home.
  • Boilers:
    • Indian continued with earthen pots to refine saltpetre and did not employ copper boilers like the Europeans.
  • Communication:
    • Oxen-drawn carts were in common use for transporting commercial goods.
    • Horse-drawn carriages were very rare: they were meant only for passengers.
      • Sir Thomas Roe presented to Jahangir an English coach drawn by four horses. The Emperor enjoyed a ride in it (he called it rath firangi).
      • The sovereign, and some nobles got such coaches built by Indian carpenters for their use. But this interest was short-lived.
  • Chemical discovery:
    • Itr Jahangir was the rose-scent which was a chemical discovery made in the early years of Jahangir’s reign. The Emperor records in his Memoirs (Tuzuk-i Jahangiri).
    • Saltpetre: Used for cooling water.
      • Abul Fazl comments that saltpetre, which in gunpowder produces the explosive heats, is used as a means for cooling water. He also gives the details of how to do so.
  • For grinding:
    • Akbar invented an oxen-drawn cart which, when used for travelling or for carrying loads, could grind corn also.
    • Watermill and windmills (asiya-i bad; pawan chakk) were scarcely used.
      • One Mughal painting (A.D. 1603) depicts an undershot watermill to illustrate a story set outside India proper.
      • One Windmill was erected at Ahmedabad in the seventeenth century whose partial remains could be seen there.
    • Handmills made of two stones were generally used for this purpose. It was a very old practice.

Hence, there were development in science and technology in several areas during Mughal period though it could not catch up with European which was one of the main reasons of the decline of Mughals and rise of British in India. ©

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