Long ago, when giant lizards roamed the Earth and Netflix wasn’t around. The Asian continent got crashed into by an unexpected visitor that ended up being a life-long neighbor.
Uh, come again?
Hey, I’m talking about India and its fascinating history since its days as a massive piece of land floating in the ocean.
Counting down from…
#9: Advanced Surgery from Ancient Times
If you think plastic surgery is a modern convenience, you’re up for a big surprise.
India had it covered more than 2,500 years ago, way back in the 6th-century B.C.E.
Somewhere around that time, there lived an outstanding doctor by the name of Sushruta. He’s called one of the founding fathers of surgery and for good reason: his Sushruta Samhita is a real gem of a book.
It covers over 1,100 diseases, all kinds of medicinal plants, and dozens of surgical procedures.
But what’s probably the most jaw-dropping thing about the book is that it also described the surgical reconstruction of the nose.
So basically, if you lived in ancient India, you could get yourself a nose job.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t the rhinoplasty we know today (with anesthesia and all), but that’s still impressive.
#8: The First Diamond Dealer
Up until the early 18th century, India was the only source of diamonds in the world.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, these precious stones were first discovered and traded in the 4th-century B.C.E.
Of course, industrial mining and diamond processing were out of the question back then. So India only had a limited supply of them.
That was okay, though, because the demand was equally limited: only the wealthiest could afford such a luxury.
Since then, countries like Russia, Botswana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken the lead in diamond production.
But the fact is, a country is known for its love of gold also had bragging rights for maintaining a diamond monopoly for almost a thousand years.
#7: One of the Earliest Civilizations
Civilized urban life as we know it dates back about 5,000 years in India.
Well, fine, they didn’t have central heating or anything (not that they needed it). But the Indus Valley Civilization was still among the most advanced out there in the ancient world.
The Ancient History Encyclopedia says that, by 2600 B.C.E., dozens of towns and cities belonged to that civilization.
And I must say, they had quite a comfy life for their time.
Houses had bathrooms and wells, and every city had a drainage system.
Social conditions were also way better than in other civilizations at the time.
On top of that, the ancient Indians had a seriously mysterious writing system that scientists still can’t decipher to this day.
Who knows what wonders these ancient texts hide?
#6: A Civilization Ahead of Its Time
Speaking of better social conditions, during the Vedic period, which lasted from about 1500 to 500 B.C.E.
Indian society was probably the most equal in the known world at that time.
Although it was still patriarchal, women got a lot of respect, could become sages and seers, received an equal education with men, and enjoyed all kinds of rights.
There was no such thing as arranged marriage back then — that only appeared much later.
And political debates were rarely held without women giving speeches, and men were wise to listen to their words.
I guess you could call the Vedic period the golden age of India’s history.
#5: The Most Important Number
And what do you think that might be? We’d be in big trouble without this most important number.
Ok, enough riddles: I’m talking about zero. The concept of “zero” and the rules of its use was first invented in India at around the 7th-century C.E.
Before that, the idea of “nothing” hadn’t even been treated as a number.
It was no more than an empty space between “real” numbers. I suppose people just didn’t see the convenience of it yet?
Like every time I look at my bank account after I pay my bills.
#4: Clean Hair
Has the word “shampoo” ever struck you as odd?
Say it out loud a few times, and you’ll see what I mean. Well, it might sound foreign to you because it probably is.
Not unless you’re from India, and in that case, thanks for the word.
Yes, “shampoo” is derived from the Hindi word “champi,” which means “to massage” or “knead.”
And the first mention of this “head kneading” was by the Greek historian Strabo.
Back in the 4th-century B.C.E. At the time, shampooing was only common to Indians.
They massaged their heads with various herbs and extracts. And then washed them off with water to keep their hair clean.
The practice of using shampoo didn’t come to Europe until a thousand years later. In the early 19th century. Looks like it took long enough to catch up.
#3: Math and Astronomy Genius
In ancient India, mathematics and astronomy had been two major disciplines since 1500 B.C.E. or even earlier.
But arguably one of India’s greatest minds lived in the 5th century C.E. His name was Aryabhata, and he wrote a treatise on astronomy that became a foundation for many later studies.
Despite using a geocentric model of the solar system, which showed the sun and moon revolving around the Earth. Aryabhata presented many ideas that are still used today.
For example, he calculated the length of the year almost to the minute, found the value of Pi.
And explained that the moon and planets shine because of sunlight reflecting off of them. Not bad for the 5th century!
#2: The Guru of Games
Do you play chess? Even if you don’t, you know what it is. But did you know that its ancestor was born in India too?
The ancient game was called chaturanga, and it appeared at around the 6th-century C.E.
Nobody knows the exact rules of the game, but judging by its appearance, it’s safe to assume it had a lot in common with chess.
And similar games (like the Japanese “shogi,” for instance).
Another classic board game is Snakes and Ladders.
It’s not really known where and when it first appeared. But most say it comes from the 13th-century Indian game called Mokshapat.
The idea was to teach kids about vice (in the form of snakes) and virtue (the ladders).
Hey, you up for a game?
Oh, nevermind, I’ve got one more tidbit to share with you.
#1: Humble Island Beginnings
India wasn’t always a “subcontinent.” In the era of dinosaurs, over 100 million years ago, it was actually an island.
It had broken off from a supercontinent and slowly but steadily traveled north, arriving at its present-day location in just about 50 million years.
The dinosaurs had already gone extinct by then, though, so they didn’t get to see what happened next. The giant Indian Island collided with Asia in a colossal continental boom.
The impact was so hard, in fact, that the Himalayas were formed almost in an instant.
Yep, that’s how the youngest mountain chain in the world appeared. Actually, India, now a subcontinent, is still slowly pressing northward, making Everest grow.
Basically, the highest peak on the planet is now a few millimeters (or even centimeters) taller than last year, which, come to think of it.
Makes it harder and harder for alpinists to get to the top! Uh-oh, better cross that one off your bucket list sooner than later.
Do you know any other shocking facts about India’s history? Let me know in the comments below.