NEW DELHI, October 29, 2009 – An Indian doctor working in 600 B.C. might have been the world’s first plastic surgeon, according to a new exhibition that challenges Western domination of the history of science and technology.
The Science and Technology Heritage Exhibition opened last week at New Delhi’s National Science Centre, showcasing the advances and discoveries with which the country says it should be credited.
It is an attempt to promote India ahead of the Commonwealth Games next year and also to tackle the legacy of colonialism, which the director of the science centre says has left many Indians unaware of their proud heritage.
“Because of our colonial past, our students are forced to cram on Western science and technology and we want to tell the world of the strides which were made in India thousands of years ago,” N.R. Iyer told AFP.
India spent nearly two centuries under British rule before gaining independence in 1947.
The plastic surgery claim relates to Susruta, who lived 150 years before Greece’s “father of medicine,” Hippocrates, and who lends his name to a number of modern Indian clinics.
Iyer, citing official records, said the surgeon pioneered nose reconstruction in northern India, which entailed removing skin from the forehead of a person to re-build the facial feature.
Criminals were often punished by having their noses cut off during his time.
He is credited with authoring the Susruta Samhita, a medical text which details 650 types of drugs, 300 operations, 42 surgical procedures and 121 types of instruments, according to available records.
The earliest documentation of Indian medicine is found in holy Hindu scripts of the Vedas compiled between 3,000 and 1,000 BC.
Physicist Manas Bagchi, who helped set up the science heritage exhibition, said India’s achievements in pre-Iron Age sectors such as alchemy, astronomy, cultivation, metrology and metallurgy have been especially highlighted.