The ordinary components of gunpowder are saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal. Throughout India saltpeter is found, and the Hindus are well acquainted with all its properties. it is even commonly prescribed as medicine.
India was famous for the exportation of saltpeter. The Dutch, when in India, traded especially in this article.
In Bengal, it is gathered in large masses wherever it effloresces on the soil, more particularly after the rainy season. In the “Sukraniti” saltpeter is called suvarcilavana, well shinning salt. (1895).
Gustav Salomon Oppert was a professor of Sanskrit and Logic at the Madras Presidency College and was, concurrently, the Telugu translator for the Government of Madras from 1872-1893. In one of his books, Oppert (pp. 58 82) offers several remarks on saltpetre as used in ancient Indian warfare. He builds the context for saltpetre by validating and explaining Sukra-Niti (Sukra-Niti särä (note 12). The Dhanvanatri – nighantu describes saltpeter as a tonic, as a sonchal salt. It is also called tilakam (black), krsnalavanam, and kalalavanam. It is light, shiny, very hot in digestion, and acidic. It is good for indigestion, acute stomach ache, and constipation. It is a common medical prescription. the soil, particularly after the rainy season.
There may be six or even four parts of saltpetre in the gunpowder used for tubular arms, but the parts of sulphur and charcoal remain as before. The same article also refers to its use in 13th-century Greco-Arab medicine (Ionian, Unani-Tib in India) by alluding to remarks of Ibn-abï Ufaybi’a, an Arab alchemist, that saltpeter could turn water into snow (also see ref. 3, p. 301) and includes a photograph of the metal flask with a narrow, elongated neck and a bulbous bottom used in the 18th century India, which could be manually spun to maximize chilling (note 2).
The demand for saltpeter was increasing in India at this time. In 1663, Edward Wood from a factory of the East India Company located at Balasore (note 3) wrote to John Pack de scribing the dearness of saltpetre: that he had never paid more than 2/6d (2 shillings and 6 pence) for a bushel (note 4) of saltpetre before. Random references point out that the Vijayanagarä kings, from the time of Krisnadévaràyà, used guns and gunpowder.
The Deccan Sûltân-s – their content possessed guns and cannons. For example, to defend Penukônda and Adôni, Çennappa Nâyakà, a general in the Vijayanagara army, used heavy guns against Adil Shah’s army in 1567 (ref. 9), which reinforces their knowledge of gunpowder making and gun casting. Jean de Thévenot (p. 105; note 6), while recording his journey in India in the 1660s, mentions: ‘At Poliacate [Pulicat, c. 50 km north of Madras city] they refine Salt-Petre which they bring from Bengal and make the Gunpowder, with which they furnish their other factories; they refine Salt-Petre that they send to Europe in Batavia.
A brief note outlining the extraction and purification of saltpetre in India, translating information from Jean de Thevénot (1665), is available in the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions (of London)’. A short description of saltpetre manufacture and by-products can be found in Dunnicliff and Prasad; extensive notes are available in Watts.
The term ‘sorakä’ (Sanskrit) referred to saltpetre in India in the 10th— 11th centuries (ref. 5, p. 215). Battles in India were so frequent in the 16th century that the available saltpetre was grossly inadequate. An intensified search for saltpetre in India eventuated. Indians found saltpetre plentifully to that extent that the King of Spain requested for Indian saltpetre in 1605; Louis XIV, the King of France, authorized importing Indian saltpetre in the 1680s (ref. 14). Hyder Ali (1721-1782), the ruler of Mysore, used saltpeter-propelled rockets. He is supposed to have employed 1200 rocketeers in his army; 5000 by Tipu Sultan (1750—1799). A caricature by James Gillray (1791) depicts the use of cannons in Mysore, which fired gun powder made with saltpetre. The search for saltpetre resulted in finding this material first – as traces in the Coromandel. Later saltpetre was found in Gujarat, Agra, Bengal, and parts of the Malabar coast. By the mid-17th century, Bihar became the most prominent region for saltpetre extraction; the Ganges enabled rapid transport to Hooghly for export. An Indian civil servant, Lewis O’Malley17 (p. 25) says: ‘Under the vigorous superintendence of Job Charnock (note 7), who was the chief of the factory from 1664 to 1680, the English trade developed, and fleets of Patna boats laden with saltpetre were a common sight along the Ganges.
Whitelaw Ainslie author of the Materia Medica of Hindoostan (1813) refers to saltpetre as a material extensively used in traditional Indian medical practice. The Siddha practice recognizes saltpetre (védi-upper, Tamil) as a useful material. It uses saltpetre after cleaning it several times (in water) and purifying it with KA1(S04)212H20 (ref. 30). In Siddha practice saltpetre is used as a coolant, diaphoretic, and diuretic.
Therapeutic indications include urinary-tract infections, ascites, and fertility. The recommended dosage is 650-1300 mg. Various formulations using saltpetre have been validated for their efficacy. Védi-uppu çenduram, a calcined red oxide form of saltpetre, is indicated for treating urine retention and urinary tract infections.
In Ayûrvéda, saltpetre is sauvarçala used in transmutation process (rasâr nava). It is also used to transform the metallic properties of gold along with other components.
Sulpher, the second ingredient of gunpowder, is also found in India, especially in Scind; it is, and was, largely imported into India from the East. It is well known and received its name from its smell, being called gandha or gandhaka smell, or in this case as it has not a good smell, rather from its stench.
Its quality differs with its color, according as it is white, red, yellow, or bluish. Though sulphur is a very important part of gunpowder, gunpowder is in some parts of India even prepared without it. Sulphur was always in great demand in India, and in medicine, it is often made use of.