Related to: Rasashala, Ancient Indian Chemical Laboratory
Historical Context: Ancient Indians achieved great progress in alchemy (the older form of chemistry). Earliest distillation of alcohol can be traced back to the archeological finds at Taxila. Ancient chemistry in India grew out of the early efforts to develop an elixir and to turn base metals into gold. Mercury and its elixirs were used in transmutation of the base metals into noble ones, as well as for purifying the body, rejuvenating it and taking it to an imperishable and immortal state.
Out of the numerous alchemical texts, written between the ninth and the fourteenth century AD, some give alchemical ideas, while others are devoted to alchemy. The second category includes Rasahrdayatantra by Govind Bhagwatpad, Srasaratnakara by Siddha Nityanatha, Rasarnava by an unknown author, Srasendracudamani by Somadeva, Rasaratnasamuccaya by Vagbhatta, Rasaprakasasudhakara by Yasodhara, Rasendracintamani by Dhundukanatha, Rasakaumudi by Sarvajnacandra, Rasabhesajakalpa by Surya Pandita, Rasasamketakalika by Camunda, Rasamuktavalina by Devanatha etc. There are several other works like Dhatukalpa, Dhatumanjari, Dhatumaranam, Rasgrantha, Rasakalpalata, Rasanibhandha, Suvaranatantra, whose authorships and dates have not yet been established.
Nagarjuna was the most prominent scholar in the field of Indian alchemy. Rasashala, a typical alchemical laboratory of Nagarjuna is recreated in ‘Our Science & Technological Heritage of India’ gallery at National Science Centre, Delhi.
Alchemical treatises of ancient India refer to various types of Yantras for different applications. Some of these Yantras and their applications are depicted in the gallery.