Vedic Technology, Arts and Crafts

By Bhakti Raghava Swami
Srila Prabhupada speaks of the simple technology which existed prior to modern industrialization. From a very young age, young children would naturally and easily learn the trade of their father or elders. This kind of easy technology is called silpa-karma in the Vedic scriptures and does not require for one to attend formal school. Actually, when technology remains simple, the learning process is also not difficult.

The following exchange took place on July 14, 1977 in Vrindavana, India.
Prabhupäda: In India the caste system was very good. From the very beginning the children would learn the technology of their paternal. Just like potter. You’ll see the children of the potter, they are also making a small bird, a small fruit, and they would be sold. A small playing utensils-small glass, small plate—they’re also sold. Other children would purchase. The whole family used to earn something. Nowadays they’re sent to school, wasting time, and then unemployment and idle brain. What is the use of sending a potter’s son to school?
Tamäla Krishna: No, everything he needs to know, he can learn at home.
Prabhupäda: That’s what I… Similarly, weaver, that cloth weaving, “kat, kat.” The wife is spinning, her husband is weaving, the children is weaving, and combinedly at the end of the day there is a cloth. And people were satisfied with simple necessities. They would not charge very much for the labor. And one nice cloth requires half a pound cotton. Half a pound cotton means maybe one rupee. Another one rupee for the labor. So now they are paying twenty to thirty rupees. Unnecessarily he has to earn this money and pay to the millionaires, and he will keep three dozen motorcars, so another man will be engaged in motorcar industry. In this way time is being wasted without any search after spiritual realization. Time is wasted in such so-called technology advancement. And the real purpose of life, jévasya tattva-jijïäsä, that is missing. And when you present that “This is the most important business of life,” they say, “It is brainwashing.” And they fight to check us, Communists and others, that “It is useless, God consciousness.” [break] (long pause) So… Jäniyä çuniyä biña khäinu. Because they are missing the aim of life, they are committing suicide. And this varëäçrama-dharma was planned in such a way that everyone would be spiritually advanced. The weaver will get, the potter will get, the blacksmith will get, the brähmana is already there, kñatriya will get—everyone.
What is Vedic Technology? Before defining “Vedic Technology”, let us first understand the word “technology”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines technology as “(the study and knowledge of) the practical, especially industrial, use of scientific discoveries”. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines technology as the “(science of) practical or industrial art”. The same dictionary refers to the Greek root word “tekhnikos” as “art”. We can thus understand technology as the way of doing something which yields practical results. The definitions above indicate there should be a certain “art”, “expertise”, “know-how” and “science” attached to the process or activity performed. It is not that before today’s industrialized “development” and “modern” inventions, there was no technology existing in the world. Technology, or the art of doing things intelligently, efficiently and in harmony with nature, in a variety of fields, has existed since a long time. Factually, technology can be traced to many of the ancient civilizations known to mankind, in particular to the oldest recorded of such civilization, the Vedic culture. Vedic technology, as we will come to understand, is that technology which has remained simplified and easily practiced without causing any ill effects to individuals or to the environment in which it has been practiced or applied.
In the context of agriculture, for example, the simple process of ploughing the land has traditionally been done using the power of the oxen as opposed to our modern system of machines such as tractors. Tilling the land requires some kind of technology. In so many spheres of life, some technology is required. Vedic technology is that technology or know-how or art which has been the least expensive and the least harmful to both the user and his environment. We would like to present an extract from an overview presented by editors of the website, Indian History of Science and Technology (The authors share some interesting information in relation to technology). Overview It is now recognized that western criteria are not the sole benchmark by which other cultural knowledge should be evaluated. While the term ‘traditional’ sometimes carries the connotation of ‘pre-modern’ in the sense of ‘primitive’ or ‘outdated’, many of the traditional sciences and technologies were in fact quite advanced even by western standards as well as better adapted to unique local conditions and needs than their later ‘modern’ substitutes. In countries with ancient cultural traditions, the folk and elite sciences were taken as part of the same unified legacy, without any hegemonic categorizations. However, modernization has homogenized various solutions, and this loss of ideas is similar to the destruction of biodiversity. Colonizers systematically derogated, exterminated or undermined the local traditional science, technology and crafts of the lands and people they plundered, because of their intellectual arrogance, and also to control and appropriate the economic means of production and the social means of organization. Modern societies created hegemonic categories of science verses magic, technology verses superstitions etc., which were arbitrary and contrived. But many anthropologists who have recently worked with so-called ‘primitive’ peoples have been surprised to learn of some of their highly evolved and sophisticated technologies. The term ‘Traditional Knowledge System’ was thus coined by anthropologists as a scientific system which has its own validity, in contradistinction to ‘modern’ science. (http://www.indianscience.org) Soft-Technology as Ego-Friendly and Eco-Friendly Today’s world of advanced technology has created an artificial, unstable and ever changing work force whereby one must continuously take up specialized training in order to meet the demands of a growing industrialized and technological society. Whereas previously one would generally learn a trade and maintain that one particular occupation throughout one’s entire life, today’s “modernized” world forces ordinary workers to learn new skills, many of which are sophisticated and time consuming to master and which often become obsolete within a few years, thus forcing that same individual to again learn yet another skill which will often end with the same result. To become an ordinary farmer in today’s world, one must study for many years at college and university, learning to operate all types of machinery based on computerized and high-level technologies, and only then will one become equipped to perform his task of farming.
The Vedic way of life is based on a much more simplified system of “soft-technology” which is simultaneously both ego-friendly and eco-friendly. Ego-friendly means that the apprenticeship and performance of traditional skills are both pleasing and satisfying to the individual. One learns in a natural environment and with a person who generally enjoys his work and has practical experience. One does not face the kind of dangers modern machineries threaten the worker with all the time. The more traditional skills are also eco-friendly in that they do not cause harmful and destructive effects to the environment. The ox will only add opulence to the soil by emitting his urine and dung whereas the tractor kills the soil with its oil and petrol dripping on the land, not to speak of its spoiling the top soil with its heavy weight. Both Gandhi and Economist E.V. Schumacher advocated the use of small-scale technology which centers on using both local manpower and local resources without causing damage to the environment. Such soft-energy technology is based on renewable energy and thus ideal for promoting and realizing the concept of self-sufficiency. There are many other advocates who support the need for a return to soft-technology and a more simplified way of life. In this way, Vedic Technology has much to offer our present day society. Contact: bhakti.raghava.swami@pamho.net

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