UMN alumnus Kokatnur’s rare findings traced the origin of chemistry to India

Like many other immigrants, I am naturally curious to know more about others who came before me from India to the US, especially to Minnesota. Today, my search led me to an extraordinary individual, Dr. Vaman Ramachandra Kokatnur (1887-1951), a University of Minnesota alumnus and a brilliant chemical engineer, who had more than 30 patents to his credit.

What was extraordinary about him were his efforts to revive the glory of India in the field of chemistry. This was the time when India was under British rule.

In the 1920s, Kokatnur shared many pertinent and astonishing scientific findings with the Western world, which made them sit up and acknowledge the scientific advancement of ancient India.

His works related to astonishing knowledge from India, include, “The Hieroglyphics Findings of the Origin of Chemistry,” “Were Priestley and Cavendish the First Discoverers of Oxygen and Hydrogen Respectively?”, “Chemical Warfare in Ancient India”, “The Scientific Basis of the Ancient Hindu Conception of Cosmogony”, “The Egyptians and Their Possible Relation to Sanskrit Devnagari Characters”, and “Practice of Pharmacy in Ancient India”.

Unfortunately, except for “Chemical Warfare in Ancient India,” I have not been able to access other papers.

My sole intention in putting together this blog is to provide references to Kokatnur’s revelations, in the hope that someone somewhere digs further and builds on them because the world is definitely missing out on some hidden, invaluable knowledge. We cannot write off Kokatnur’s works as the zealous findings of a man romanticizing his roots; rather, he was a man of science and based his works on solid evidence.

He was respected across the world, and his biography published in “Encyclopedia of American Biography: New Series” speaks for itself.

According to Wikipedia, Kokatnur was born in Kokatnur, Athani, and after a BSc from Bombay University (1912) he moved to the US, graduating MS from the University of Minnesota in 1914. He received a Shevlin fellowship during this period.

He became an American citizen in 1921 and lived in New York. He was also a member of a major scientific group in America and was on the Advisory Board of the Watumull Foundation.

In the 74th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Detroit, Michigan from September 5-10, 1927, Dr. Kokatnur read two important papers which had evidence to prove that Henry Cavendish and Joseph Priestley were not the first men to discover hydrogen and oxygen, but that these gases had been known to the Indian sages, and then he read a second paper to show that chemistry was of Aryan and not Semitic origin. 

“The Minnesota Alumni Weekly: July, 1927 – October 15, 1927. Vol. 27 No. 1 – No. 4”, wrote at length about its alumnus Vaman R Kokatnur and his findings. Here is an excerpt:

While working on his study of hieroglyphics, he came across a Sanskrit book which contained four pages of an old but well-known manuscript which was written in 1350 and contains the collected writings of Agastya. These few pages were discovered by Vase in the library of an Indian prince, in 1924, in Ujjain, India.

Agastya is a sage whose name has been mentioned in Indian writings as far back as 2000 B.C.  Consequently, this manuscript, which is known as “Agastya-Samhita” if authentic, is extremely old as far as source material is concerned, belonging to post-Vedic and pre-epic times.

Being a chemist, Dr. Kokatnur naturally seized this manuscript with avidity for the sage Agastya is credited with being the discoverer of hydrogen and oxygen, the dry electric battery, electro-plating, kites, hot-air blimps and propelled balloons.  In fact, he is named variously after his discoveries, in contrast with the present practice naming the discoveries after one’s name.  Thus he is called “pot-born” (dry electric battery); “cathode-anode” (electricity); “conquerer of kites and blimps”, and so forth.  It is as if we should call Henry Ford, “Flivver”, and Mr Edison “incandescent lamps”, “movie” or “Dictaphone”.

Chemists at the convention gasped when Dr. Kokatnur read to them the following translation of the method of making a dry electric battery which was written centuries before the Christian era:

A well-cleaned copper plate should be placed in an earthen-ware vessel. It should then be covered first by moist sawdust. Mercury amalgamated zinc plate should then be placed on the top of the saw-dust. By their contact a light known by the twin-names Mitra-Varuna (cathode-anode or electricity) is produced. The water is split up by this into gases, Vital and Up-faced. The joining together of hundred such vessels is very active or effective.”

From his knowledge of Chemistry, Dr. Kokatnur recognized that this was the method used in making a dry battery, but did not know what part the mercury amalgamated zinc plate had in the reaction until he consulted a battery maker who explained that it prevented polarization.”

This is the shloka from Agastya Samhita talking of process – (संस्थाप्य मृण्मये पात्रे ताम्रपत्रं सुसंस्कृतम्‌। छादयेच्छिखिग्रीवेन चार्दाभि: काष्ठापांसुभि:॥ दस्तालोष्टो निधात्वय: पारदाच्छादितस्तत:। संयोगाज्जायते तेजो मित्रावरुणसंज्ञितम्‌॥ source: Aabhas24)

The Science News, Washington, reported, “The word chemistry and the names of such chemical materials as toilet articles, perfumes, dyes, textile fibers, precious stones and metals have been traced back to an Aryan source by Dr. W. R. Kokatnur, consulting chemist of New York City.

He cited hieroglyphic records as well as archeological and ethnological evidence to support his conclusions concerning the origin of chemical terms.”

In a reprint of an article from the Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 25, page 286, May 1948 titled “Chemical Warfare in Ancient India”, Kokatnur examined the ancient Indian literature and claimed that the ancients must have had amazing knowledge based on his interpretation of various arms mentioned in translations of the Ramayan and Mahabharat. (Read it here)

The Minnesota Weekly had mentioned that his work was to be published in the science history journal Isis. But according to Wikipedia, “possibly due to the doubtful provenance of sources and the rather vague interpretations, his work was not published.

Considering that Kokatnur had established himself as a prominent inventor, it was a pity that his works did not get the credibility, they deserved.

I tried to include links to the paper presented by Kokatnur during the 74th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Detroit, but could not find it online.

Here are a few newspaper clippings to demonstrate that Kokatnur had established himself as a prominent inventor. His works prove that ancient India was far ahead of its time and that its scriptures and texts are not just literary or spiritual in nature but a gift for the scientific advancement of the entire human race.

His biography –

Courtesy: Google


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