A Living Portrait of India
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),
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;
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.