Under the heading “Illuminating India” London’s Science Museum has 2 beautiful exhibitions celebrating India’s global impact and importance. The first exhibit demonstrates the genius of Indian thinkers and innovators who have been overlooked or written out of Western narratives. Beginning with those masters of engineering the Indus Valley Civilisation and tracking Indian contributions up to the present day. The exhibition covers astronomy records and discoveries from 5000 years ago with examples of early astrological instruments to the success of Mangalyaan, the world’s least expensive mission to Mars and the first to reach Mars on the first attempt.  Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman the physics Nobel winner, and Jagadish Chandra Bose’s nature experiments are acknowledged in depth. India’s dominance in the steel and cotton industries are explored and congratulated.

Bent bar coin examples from 600BC show that India was a trading nation not a bartering nation before western countries. A lost wax technique statue from the Chola Dynasty shows artistic prowess and the technique reaches back to as early as 3000BCE. Medical knowledge and instruments from Susrutasamhita are discussed and form the basis of some life-saving modern treatments. Indian numerology is admired including the life changing historical significance of the zero, found in the Bakhshah Manuscript and the Indian system of counting in tens that today we call decimals. The work of scholars Srinivasa Ramanujan and Satyendra Nath Bose is detailed with both being acknowledged as mathematical pioneers. Jainism’s contribution to countable, countless and infinite numbers is explained and feats of architectural engineering from the stepwells of the Indus Valley to the cosmic observatories of Maharaja Jai Singh are credited as amongst the most accurate designs ever constructed.

It is revealed to western audiences that in ancient India algorithms were developed not only for mathematical calculation but to understand language. India’s innovations are still going strong in the world of technology; Sun Microsystems was behind the servers that have made large scale computing possible and the Java language that underpins all web development. Vinod Dham invented the Intel Pentium microprocessor that radically improved the speed and power of personal computers and that led to 3D computer aided design. Ajay Bhatt led the team that invented the USB, the standard that computers use to connect, communicate data and draw power. India’s Devanagari alphabet is the source of the linguistics that have shaped computer programming languages today. 

This is such a worthwhile exhibition showcasing India’s central role in space exploration, industry, mathematics, communication and engineering. The displays include many rare instruments, maps, coins and works of art. This exhibition is for everyone, for westerners to be impressed by the Indian mind, past and present; and for Indians to be proud of their heritage and fearless in developing it further.

Next week this reporter will be reviewing some surprises in the partnering photography exhibition.

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