Tamilakam the ancient Tamil country was known for its various inventions and discoveries and one of it is the Damascus Steel.
Damascus Steel or Wootz steel was first mentioned in the annals of Indian history during the invasion of Alexander after the Battle of the Hydaspes. After King Porus was defeated by Alexander as a token of respect Porus gifted Alexander 100 talents ( 1 talent = 26 Kgs) of Wootz steel and a sword.
Following this interaction, we see a lot of inscriptions in ancient Tamil, Telugu, Greek, Chinese and Roman literary references to high carbon Indian steel.
According to Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman historian, the Wootz steel was manufactured by the Seres kingdom in the first century BC. Here the Seres Kingdom refers to the Chera Kingdom. Further references can be seen in the writings Periphlus as well.
The name Wootz was said to have derived from the tamil Urukku which means fusion or melting. There are other theories which say the word originated from the Kannada word ukku ( meaning to melt) which had it’s roots in the tamil word Urukku.
Wootz steel was first created in 6th century BC by the Chera Kingdom and was produced in the modern day sites of Kodumal in Tamil Nadu, Golconda in Telangana, Karnataka and Sri Lanka. This was then exported globally
The Tamilakam method was to heat black magnetite ore in the presence of carbon in a sealed clay crucible inside a charcoal furnace. An alternative was to smelt the ore first to give wrought iron, then heated and hammered to be rid of slag. The carbon source was bamboo and leaves from plants such as Avārai.
Although in the beginning the production was restricted to the Indian sub-continent in 200 BC the Tamil guild Tissamaharama brought the secrets of Wootz steel making to Sri Lanka from where the Chinese learned the process.
But then if the origination of the steel was from Tamil Nadu, India. Then why is it known world over as Damascus steel. It is because in the third century AD the Arab traders introduced the Wootz steel ingots created by the Tamils to Damascus where it was then converted into the world famous swords that carry it’s name.
Much is not known about Wootz steel production process and it only recently that scientists have had some success the replicating the Damascus steel. Just like the Chera kingdom of which much is not known compared to the Cholas and the Pandyas the true method of creating Wootz steel is also lost to history.