History of Glass in India

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Posted on : 28-02-2023    Author : Jesna David

In modern times, almost everywhere you look, you will see glass. From your watch dials to the window you are looking out of, glass has permeated all aspects of our life now. Glass-making has become a billion-dollar industry in itself. But have you wondered where and how did it all start? Have you thought about how glass was made during ancient times, around the world? Since the Stone Age, glass has been used as a cutting tool. Made from sand, soda ash, and limestone, glass has been around for many centuries.

Glass for Table Tops

Glass-Making from Around the World

Originating in Mesopotamia, glass in the form of beads dates back to as far as 2500 BCE, at least 3,600 years back. Next, evidence of glass-making has been found in Egypt around 1500 BCE. Glass factories were in existence during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep II. In Mesopotamia, there is evidence of glass beads from various cemeteries around the time period 2100-1800 BC. Perhaps one of the most important discoveries was the creation of the blowpipe near the Syro-Judean coastline. Overcoming many hardships and challenges, the glass-making industry finally took wings under the Roman Empire. It was the Romans who first became skilled and adept at glass blowing. With this discovery of this technique, glass was used for architectural purposes too. From there, glass production flourished and spread across Europe. By the 13th and 14th centuries, churches and cathedrals across Europe were adorned with stunning stained-glass windows.

Sussex in England was the first to produce broad sheet glass. In 1590, the microscope lens and the glass telescope were developed. America was late to join the race; the first glass manufacturing house was founded only in 1608. The Industrial Revolution brought about a new era in glass-making, across the globe. Right from the introduction of plate glass in 1959 to the creation of a new type of ultra-thin glass in 2012, glass manufacturing has come a long way, over the globe.

Glass-Making in India

According to historians, glass-making in India may have started in 1730 BCE in the plains of Rivers Ganga and Yamuna. However, some of the primitive glass finds from the Harappan culture date back to 1200 BCE. The Harappans dealt with a type of proto-glass and had vast contacts with the Mesopotamian region. Glass beads of a red-brown colour have been discovered from these locations. Folded and twisted beads, cane-glass beads, and bangles, both monochrome and polychrome, have also been found, with beautiful patterns etched on them.

Glass beads have been found from the Painted Grey Ware (PGW) Culture of the Ganga valley, around the time period 1000 BC. In the Southern Deccan region, there is a place called Maski. It is a Chalcolithic site from where glass beads have been found, which are much older than the start of the first millennium BC.

The Indus Valley Civilization holds the earliest glass items in different colours. Ancient texts also point to the prevalence of glass during the 5th century BCE. Vedic texts like Satapatha Brahmana and Vinaya Pitaka mention the use of glass in India. In these, the Sanskrit term ‘Kaca’ or ‘Kanch’ is used to denote glass. They also mention how glass beads are tied together with a golden thread, and also glass instruments and glass beads with gold foils.

Many glass items in different colours such as bangles, beads, and ear-reels have been found in multiple (more than 200) archaeological sites that have been excavated in different parts of India. In some places, glass tiles and parts of glass vessels have also been found. More than 30 of these sites were purely glass-making sites. Some of the most important sites are Ahicchatra, Maheshwar, Kopia, Hastinapur, Takshashila, Ujjain, Nalanda, Brahmapuri, Kolhapuri, and Nasik in North India and Brahmagiri, Paiyampalli, Sulur, and Arikamedu in South India. In Kopia, blocks of glass were found which suggests the place might have been a glass-producing factory. This clearly indicates how massive the glass-making operation was at that time. Based on the research conducted on the excavated glass items, some of the methods used in ancient glass-making in India were twisting, folding, and moulding. Another technique called wire-winding was also used to make beads. Now, other states like West Bengal and Maharashtra also produce glass. In the Satavahana period, short cylinders were also produced using composite glass. However, the technique used in glass production during this period is not adequately documented.

Then came the advent of the Persians and Moghuls. Post their arrival, glass-making started flourishing in India. This is the period when glass manufacturing and craftsmanship gained momentum in India. Most of the glass items produced during this period such as spittoons, glass dishes and dish covers, flat-bottomed vessels, mirrors, tiles, and ear reels show the large influence of Persian glass-makers.

It has now been discovered that ancient glass-making techniques used metallic oxides and other chemical compounds to produce different-colored glass objects. Earlier, soda-lime-silicate, along with phosphates, potassium, and iron compounds were used to make glass. Minerals were also used to create various types of tiles, bangles, beads, and bottles. In the town of Sirkap, archaeological finds include left-over pieces of foreign glass objects such as lace glass, swirled glassware, ribbed glassware, white and blue cameo, and mosaic.

Despite having commercial trading between India and the Gracco-Roman regions, during the olden times, glass was not given as much importance in Indian culture, as that given to pottery or other metals.
After about 100 years, glass-making once again gained steam. In the 17th century, Firozabad in Uttar Pradhesh, known as the glass city of India, started producing glass. There are multiple areas such as Naini, Hiranagua, Bahjoi, Sasni, Allahabad, and Hathras, among others that produce glass. With slow progress, the first glass factory was set up in 1908 in Maharashtra by Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak. Now, other states like West Bengal and Punjab also produce glass. Karnataka is famous for producing indigenous glass bangles. A high level of modernisation was achieved with various glass factories like AGI, Piramal, HNGIL, Asahi and Saint Gobain opening up glass operations in India.

And today, India has come a long way from ancient glass-making to becoming one of the major producers of glass and glass products, in the world. Currently, India’s flat glass industry is valued at 2 billion USD.