Civil Engineering Applications of Indian Herbs Dr. A. S. NeneProfessor of Civil Engineering (Retd), VNIT Nagpur
Normally engineers are not concernedwith botany. But one can find descriptionsof trees, plants, fruits related toengineering applications, in many ancienttexts.
Different herbal formulations wereused by ancient Indian craftsmen toimprove the quality of their products.Engineering applications of botanycan be grouped under followingheads.
APPLICATIONS1.Stone softening 2a.Bricks and Roofing tiles2b.Earthen pots 2c.Ceramic pots2d.Glazing of earthen pots 2e. Coloring of Clay pots3.Lime Mortar 4a-Sunla4b-Waterproof lime mortar 4c- Leveling coat of lime plaster5. Tempering of tools 6. Varnish7. Natural Colors 8.Waterproof cloth9.Preservation of Ropes 10. Adobe floors11. Adamantine Glue
1. Herbal paints for stone softening•Mix powder atis root, Hiracus and red ochrein milk. Apply this paint to the stone and keepit overnight.•Grind Jatamasi,Koshta, Gayaratri Hirkus andchor in milk add coconut water. Apply thesolution to the stone.•Grind and mix Jatamasi,Rog andAswamari in rain water. Apply thesolution to the stone.
2e. Coloring of Clay potsMix sesame powder and resins of Kapittha andBeal trees. Add desired coloring agent(Kushta, Red ochure, orpiment etc). Polish thepot with the mixture to impart suitable color.Alternatively take equal parts of Sandlewood,Karpur, Gorochan and Agaru . Add clay 6 partsto the mixture in linseed oil. Apply this oilpaint to earthen pots.
3.Lime MortarGrind ripe bananas, fibers of cotton andpulp of cactus and mix in slaked lime tomake a good quality lime mortar.Alternatively add decoction of barks oftrees( Pipal. Amla,Kadamb) and paste ofblack gram to the slaked lime.
4b-Waterproof lime mortarMix Ghee, coconut water, black grampaste , extract of barks(Pipal), milk,curd, decoction of Trifala, and Pichhit,in proportion of 3,,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and11 parts to 100 parts of slaked lime.
4c: Leveling coat of lime plasterM ix 3 parts of slaked lime and 1 part ofpowder of dry unripe banana. Add waterto make butter like mixture. Such levelingcoat gives marble finish to the wall surface
5. Tempering of steel cutting toolsMilk of plant (Rui-Milky hedge),ash ofsheep’s horn, excreta of pigeon is mixedin oil and mixture is applied to the toolwhich then heated and sharpened for longterm sharpness. Alternatively banana ashis mixed in butter milk. The tool is keptimmersed in the mixture overnight andthen sharpened. Such tool can cut steelalso.
6. VarnishExtract of barks of milky trees(Vat,Pipal,Umber, Beal and cedar trees)is mixed in water. Mixture is boiled andsealing wax, Jatuling and Hingul is addedto the oil. Such varnish is applied to woodfor polishing and preservation.
7. Natural ColorsSelect wood of suitable colors fromforest. Crush into clean water. Filter themixture. Again crush the filtered woodparticles and repeat the procedure andstore the liquid color in an earthen pot.
8. Waterproof cloth for hot air balloonsApply three coats of decoction of barks oftrees (Umber, Kadamb, Mango , Hirda andBehda) to the cloth. Then apply three coatsof black gram paste Soak the cloth in solutionof sugar and powders sea shells. Allow thecloth to dry to make it water tight.
10. Adobe floorsFloors made from poured and toweled mud,are softer and warmer to the touch than tilesor cement, and carry the rich colors ofnatural earth. Various additives have beentested to make adobe floors easy to create andmaintain. One such additive is made frompsyllium hulls ( Isabgol.) This additive makesthe mud easy to work and acts as a binderwhen the floor dries. It reduces cracking andincreases strength.
11. Adamantine GlueA bonding agent was very essential for fixing idols,in wall construction, when cement and othermodern materials were unknown. Even now theseglues are known as Astabandha, are prepared intemple premises for fixing or re-fixing images ofgods. Four such glues are described below.
Formula Explained in ShilparatnakarThe ingredients are unripe fruits of Tinduka(Diospyros paniculata) and Kapittaka(Feronia elephantum), flowers of silk cotton(Morus Acedosa) seeds of Sallaki (Boswelliaserrata), barks of Dhanavana and Vaca (Orrisroot).
Table Ingredients Sn Sanskrit English/ Latin1 Tinduka Fruits of Diospyros paniculata2 Kapittaka Feronia elephantum3 Shalmali Flowers of silk cotton4 Sallaki Seeds of Boswellia serrata5 Dhanavana Barks of Orris root6 Vacha Barks of Orris root7 Shrivasaka A tree resin used as incense8 Raktabola Myrrh9 Guggulu Commiphora roxburghii10 Bhallataka Semecarpus anacardium11 Kunduruka Deodar tree resin12 Atasi Linum usikatissimum13 Bilvaphal Fruits of Aegle marmelos
12. Water treatmentAncient texts mentions use of powderof Nirmali seeds to remove theturbidity of water, roots of Khus plantto give pleasant smell to drinking waterand certain seeds to kill the bacteriapresent in the water. Use of Basil leafwas known for increasing self lifepotted water. Core of Jamun treewood acts as algaecide which destroysthe algae in 24 hours
CASE STUDIES A. Gadhi soils – white soilThe main constituents are local soil, finesand, cow dung, quick lime, extracts ofBelphal , fibers of jute and water formixing. The mixture is allowed to maturefor a minimum period of 30 days andkneaded every day.
B. Mud flooringThe floors of Padmanabhapurum palace(1601 A.D) in Kerala were made of amaterial that is unique blend of burntcoconut shells, quick lime, palm toddy, thewhites of eggs and extracts of certainbarks of trees and nuts.
Conclusions•It can be concluded that artisans of ancientIndia were well acquainted with the basicprinciples of engineering and properties ofherbs.• Many of these techniques may beimpracticable or irrelevant due modernproducts and processes, but one mustappreciate the ancient Indian wisdom.
References1. Aparajitprichha- (12th to 13th Century A.D)2. Manasollas –(1113 AD)3. Matsyapooran4. Mayamat5. Pade S.D. (1973), “Vanoushadhi Gunadarsh “6. Rig Veda Sakaladhikar, - by Sage Agasta7. Samarangana Sutradhara8. Shilpratna-(16th Century, A.D.),9. Tantrasamuchhyaya-(1428 A.D.)10. Varahsamhita- Brihatsamhita11. Varahsamhita- Brihatsamhita12. Vastu Vidya Savyakhya13. Vishnu-dharmottara Pooran14. Yajurved Samhita (B.C.2500)
Modern References1.Vaze,K.V. (1924),“ Prachin Hindi Shilpasar”(Essence of ancient Indian EngineeringPhilosophy) ,a Marathi Book, Pub. ,VaradaPublications Pune.2.Nene,A.S. (2009),” Geotechnicalengineering of ancient India”, Pub. PuneVidyarthi Gruha, Pune.