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India Heritage:Science
Chemistry
As a separate discipline, chemistry was virtually non-existent for a long period. Alchemy was practically the sole constituent of this branch till the end of the medieval era of history. There are nonetheless mentions in other texts of the renowned 'chemists' such as Patanjali, Bhavyadattadeva, Vyadi, Svachhanda, Damodara, Vasudeva, Charaka, Susruta, Harita and Vagabhatta. In addition, there were the Jainacharyas - Nagarjuna, Jinadatta Suri, and Padalipta Suri.

Alchemy was the search for gold through the base metal lead. It was an obsessive quest the world over, and mercury was the main player in the processes that were as mystical as they were scientific. Since the second century AD, alchemists had developed code names for the metals, minerals and gemstones. Jain alchemy records such as the Svarna-Rupya-Siddhi-Sastra by Jinadatta Suri reveal some -

oDhammo was mercury (also known as purdah),
oMamgalam referred to gold ( also called hemah),
oUkkittham denoted Nepalese copper (Nepaladesham tamram),
oAhimsa was the term for Kamtheri (a kind of Opuntia),
oSamjamo was Rato agathia,
oTavo meant the thorny apple (krsnakanaka),
oDeva (Devi) referred to the Yellow Andropogon serrantus (Pili Devadali).
This changed by the end of the eighteenth century when the initial alphabets of the words were used rather than the full word, for example, ha meant gold, rasa meant mercury and kha'iti meant the mineral calamine.

Alchemy texts were mainly in Sanskrit, Old Gujarati, Prakrit and Apabhramsa, and some of the more important ones were:

(i) Rasa-raja-mrganka, an eleventh century work by Bhoja;
(ii) Rasendra-cudamani, a twelfth or thirteenth century work by Somadeva;
(iii) Rasaprakasa-sudhakara, a thirteenth century text by Yasodhara;
(iv) Rasa-sara, by Govindacharya;
(v) Rasendra-sara-Sangraha, a fourteenth century work by Gopalakrsna;
(vi) Rasa-rajalakshmi, a fourteenth century text by Visnudeva;
(vii) Dhatu-ratna-mala, a fourteenth century text by Devadatta;
(viii) Rasa-kaumudi, a fifteenth century work by Madhava;
(ix) Sarngadhara Samhita, by Sarngadhara;
(x) Rasapradipa, a fifteenth century compilation;
(xi) Arka-prakasa, by Ravana;

The most famous of such works is the Rasaratnakara, for long wrongly ascribed to the authorship of Nagarjuna in the second century. The text was later found to belong to the seventh or eighth century, and is not to be confused with the fourteenth century Rasa-ratnakara by Nityanatha.

The close connection between the Tantric religion and alchemy was reflected in many works, most of which are now lost. Two - Kakacandeswari-Mata Tantra and Svarna Tantra - have survived and are mentioned by Alberuni.

As mercury found widespread acceptance in the world of medicine, alchemy lost its characteristic feature - mercury was no longer the mysterious substance of a secret art.

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