Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Did You Know?
By D.P. Agrawal
Question: Did you know Joseph Needham, in addition to his work on science
in China, was equally impressed by the achievements of India in the field of
knowledge and learning?
Joseph Needham is famous mainly for the formidable magnitude and scholarship
of his work on science in China. In the years between 1920 and 1942 Needham
was a well known biochemist, before he became simply obsessed with the ancient
science and technology of China for almost half a century. But few people know
that he was equally impressed by the achievements of India in the field of knowledge
and learning. In his lecture to the students of Cambridge University in 1963
he gave full compliments to India's intellectual heritage. He said, 'it is good
to remember, therefore, that our own pious founders were not the only men, and
that Christendom was not the only culture, to set on foot great and noble institutions
of learning where successive generations of students assembled to get the benefits
of education and research. When the men of Alexander the Great came to Taxila
in India in the fourth century BC they found a university the like of which
had not then been seen in Greece
and was still existing when the Chinese
pilgrim Fa-Hsien went there about AD 400. Later the torch of learning moved
to Buddhist Nalanda in Bihar, as we know from the account of that other great
pilgrim Hsuang-Chuang in the seventh century. In China the foundation of the
Imperial University goes back to 165 BC and by the beginning of the Christian
era it had no less than 3,000 students'. In turning to the arts and sciences
of Arabic culture, Needham reminds his listeners of a provocative Islamic saying,
'the ink of science is more precious than the blood of Martyrs'. Emphatically
deprecating the Eurocentric ways of thinking, Needham wants them to be humble
and asks, 'How are we to look upon all these achievements of people who were
neither British nor European, neither Christian, nor 'white'?
at a time when international political tensions are intermingled with racial
factors, it is more than ever essential that we approach people of other cultures
with the conviction that they have at least as much to give us as we have to
give to them.'
Davies, Mansel. 1990. A Selection from the Writings of Joseph Needham.
The Book Guild limited.
Editorial. 2001. Science and Society: Bernal, Needham and Pauling. Current
Science. Vol. 81, No. 9 : 1149-1150
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