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Professor of Civil Engineering (Retd)

VNIT Nagpur, India
Introduction - Shilpashashtra

¾ Engineering sciences were very advanced in India in

ancient period (5000 BC to 1500 AD).
¾ More than thousand texts can be mentioned on the
various engineering sciences
¾ Many references are available in ancient Indian
literature (Vedas, Puranas, and Shilpa-Samhitas etc).
¾ Most of the practices mentioned in these references
are scientific and relevant to modern engineering.
The word Shilpa is derived from words

Sheel samadhou ,which mean

“any thing that pleases the mind “

Terms and terminology

ƒ. Shilpashashtra - Science which deals with

creation of a Shilpa.

ƒ. Shilpa Samhita –Compilation (of rules and

procedures) related to Shilpashastra.

ƒ Sthapati – One who has complete knowledge of

Shilpa Samhita (An engineer or architect).
Extent of Shilpa

3 Parts- (Khanda)

Dhatu -Materials Sadhana - Transport Vastu -Habitat 10. Yantra

1.Krushi 4.Rath 5.Nau 6.Agniyan 7.Veshma

Biological Sciences Surface Water Air / space Housing

2.Jala 8.Prakar
Water Resources Forts/ Castles

3.Khani 9.Nagar Rachana

Mining & Metallurgy Town Planning
ƒ Vidya- Vidya means a particular technique. One must
have both theoretical and practical knowledge of that
ƒ Kala - Kala means an art which can be acquired by practice
and observation. Even a handicapped person can be expert
in a particular art without any theoretical knowledge.

There are 32 Vidyas and 64 Kalas related to

Relevant Vidya & Kalas

Vidya Kalas
8.Bhasmikaran 27. Estikadibhajan- Making of
(Incineration) bricks, roof tiles etc
48. Mrudsadhan- Collection of
soils for a specific purpose
53. Mrudkarm- Soil conditioning

As a leather is stretched by driving nails, the ground was

stabilized (by Gods) with gravels and boulders.
Shatapatha Brahman, Chapter 21
“The marshy land was stabilized by gods using sands”
Kapisamhita, 6.7
If ground is waterlogged, then the water should be
drained out by digging drains parallel to north-east and
refilling the trenches by brickbats and stones so that
excess water drains out.

Functions of soil plasticizers

• Increase the workability with minimum water


• Increase the water repellent property

• Increase the strength by increasing the


• Impart glazing to pottery products.

Ancient plasticizers can be grouped as

Extracts of Herbs, Fruits and tree barks

™Trifala- Aamla, Hirda and Behada1
™Wood apple2, Holy tree fruit3
™Barks- Khadir4, Arjun trees
Natural fibers

Cotton, coir, wool, silk cotton1 , jute2

Natural polymers

Cow Dung, Jaggaery, Coconut water,

Eggs, Green Algae, burnt coconut shell
Brick making

Bricks of Lothal -1500 BC Village Sirpur (chhattisgarh)

5th century AD.
Foundry soils for metal casting
The Dhokra Technique of the tribal artists of Bastar

1. The first layer, the closest to the wax sculpture,

is the river bed soil, water and coal powder applied
with brush.

2. A paste of red soil with rice husk is applied to first dry

solidified layer This is applied with hands.

3.A final coating of rice husk, sand and clay

is applied to the entire surface of the piece.

Idols - Mud plaster

This constancy is determined by rolling

the clay mass on the palms. When the lines
of palm are clearly impressed on the clay
mass the constancy is proper.

Liquidity index for this consistency (Palm line limit)

corresponds to 15 to 20 %
A. Gadhi soils –white soil
The main constituents
are local soil, fine sand,
cow dung, quick lime,
extracts of Belphal ,
fibers of jute and water
for mixing.

The mixture is allowed to

mature for a minimum
period of 30 days and
kneaded everyday.
2. Mud flooring.
The floors of
Padmanabhapurum palace
(1601 A.D) in Kerala were
made of a material that is
unique blend of burnt
coconut shells, quick lime,
palm toddy, the whites of
eggs and extracts of
certain barks of trees and
Reasons for loss of ancient technical literature

¾Natural - Limited life of the writing materials,

¾Language – Most of the texts were in Sanskrit.
¾Secrecy – The knowledge was encrypted
¾Foreign aggression
¾Improper interpretation
¾Neglect by modern engineers
¾Religion –misconception
¾Absence of technical data

1. Ancient Indian engineers and artisans had deep

knowledge about ground improvement and
stabilization techniques.

2. Many of the ancient Indian techniques may not

be relevant as modern methods and materials
are more cost effective. But one must appreciate
the ancient Indian knowledge which was
centauries ahead of that available in rest of the

3. There is a need to preserve this treasure of

ancient Indian traditions.
This paper is based on references from
the vast collection of rare literature on
Shilpasamhita, compiled by Late Shri
G.G.Joshi, Nagpur