Editorial Views

Mythology, Science And BJP

‘To develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’ is one of the fundamental duties prescribed in the Constitution. Considering the statements that have emanated from prominent BJP members and office bearers time and again, it seems at variance with the objective of encouraging scientific and rational spirit. No less than the Prime Minister has given credence to this tendency, predicating mythology as science and in the process, he supported a large pool of leaders who have gone to undermine scientifical discoveries. BJP leaders have courted controversy by claiming that advance medical procedures like cataract, plastic surgery, even the gravitation theory, nuclear tests and the internet, have all started during ancient times. Indian Science Congress drew flak for presentations on topics such as the invention of airships in ancient India which created a disappointing, disturbing image of the state of India science. In a damning indictment, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has described the Congress as a circus where very little science is discussed.

Joining the list of BJP leaders linking modern inventions with ancient India, Uttar Pradesh minister Dinesh Sharma recently claimed that journalism began during Mahabharata. He said the mythological character, Sanjaya, sitting at Hastinapur, narrated a bird’s eye view of the war of Mahabharata, to Dhritarashtra. “Yeh live telecast nahi to aur kya hai (if it is not live telecast, then what is it ?),” Sharma asked. The BJP minister also equated another character, Narada, with the present-day Google. “Your Google has started now, but our Google started a long time back. ‘Narad Muni’ was the epitome of information. He could reach anywhere and transfer a message from one place to another by saying ‘Narayana’ three times,” he said. In April, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who is known for his unwavering loyalty to the RSS, had also linked Narada with Google. Narendra Jain, the RSS’s regional publicity in-charge, also corroborates by saying that Narada was the first journalist of the entire universe.

Dinesh Sharma, who had once equated “jets and aeroplanes” with “Pushpak Viman” during Vedic times, claimed recently that Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, was, in fact, the first test tube baby of India. Sharma said: “Sita was born from an earthen pot… at that time, some test tube baby project must be underway that King Janak was ploughing a field… Shouldn’t this technology be called test tube baby,” he said.  Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb’s went on to claim that internet and satellite communications existed in India thousands of years ago. Tripura CM had drawn ridicule for his remarks that Internet existed in the Mahabharata era. Days after Deb’s ‘Internet in Mahabharata era’ comments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the BJP MPs and MLAs to refrain from making controversial statements and providing “masala” to the media.

However, in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself said that Lord Ganesha was the product of the first-ever example of plastic surgery. A year later, PM Modi had said the account of Karna’s birth in Mahabharata indicated that “people were aware of genetic science”. PM Modi has repeated this assertion more than once. He referred to it when he addressed a gathering of medical professionals in Mumbai in October 2014. “Those who have read or heard the Mahabharata, I would like to draw their attention to the epic. And according to my modest understanding, I believe that Karna’s birth was due to stem cell technology, due to science”(translated), said Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s love for acronyms is well known, but less discussed is his penchant for often alluding to the mythological and the obscure.

In fact, not just PM Modi but many prominent members of the BJP who hold significant positions have made a slew of statements seeking to emphasise the supremacy of ancient India in the realm of science and technology. Minister of State for HRD Satyapal Singh caused an uproar by asserting that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is scientifically wrong because no one saw an ape turning into a man. Singh’s statement was splashed across the world and was much ridiculed. Satyapal Singh, before he made the infamous Darwin comment, had in September 2017 said that students in premier engineering institutes like IITs must be taught about ancient Indian discoveries and inventions such as Pushpak Viman, which is mentioned in the Ramayana. Singh had also said that before the Wright brothers supposedly invented the aeroplane, an Indian named Shivakar Talpade had invented it eight years before the Wright brothers. However, The Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru had published a study and concluded that most of the theories put forward by Vaimanika Shastra on the basis of which Talpade supposedly built the aircraft were unfeasible. According to former Uttarakhand CM Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, India was never a stranger to nuclear technology. In fact, a sage had conducted a nuclear test lakhs of years ago. Participating in a debate in Lok Sabha, Nishank had reportedly said, “Today we are talking about nuclear tests. Lakhs of years ago, Sage Kanad had conducted a nuclear test. Our knowledge and science do not lack anything”.

Going a step ahead, Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Naik in 2016 said that the practice of Yoga can cure major diseases including cancer. He added that the Government could come out with scientific evidence of it in a year. More than a year has elapsed but the Government or Naik are yet to come out with ‘evidence’ of the efficacy of Yoga in curing cancer.

Intolerance towards attempts to separate belief from scientifically verified facts leads to the occult being dubbed as scientific. Plus, there’s empirical evidence to suggest that the roots of Indian science are worryingly weak. The country is yet to achieve its goal of spending at least 2% of GDP on scientific research. India’s scientific infrastructure metrics stand at odds with government policies like Make in India. As pointed out by Nobel winning physicist David Gross, attempts at manufacturing high-end products in India won’t yield the desired benefits unless backed by sustained investment in basic science – right from school level to higher education. That not a single Indian institute of higher learning figures in the top 100 ranking of world universities is a poor comment on the quality of education and research in the country. An even greater tragedy is that most Indian students today consider the sciences only as academic streams to high-paying corporate careers. Overall, the science pedagogy is poor and the scientific temper diluted. The state of Indian science is actually a direct reflection of India’s general education woes. Lack of meritocracy in educational institutions shows up in poor research. Focus on producing degree holders kills innovation.

A scientific myth is a myth about science. For example, scientific discoveries are often presented in a mythological way with a theory being presented as a dramatic flash of insight by a heroic individual rather than as the result of sustained experiment and reasoning. Newton’s observation of an apple falling did indeed play a part in starting him thinking about the problem but it took him about twenty years to fully develop the theory and so the story of the apple has been described as a myth. Scientific historian Douglas Allchin suggests that mythical accounts are misleading because they present the results as handed down by authority figures and understate the importance of error and its resolution by the scientific method.

Mythological stories are normally treated as a literature material or sometimes a science fiction. But there is a huge possibility that mythological stories in any religion may not merely be a legend or a piece of literature. There are certain narrations in Mahabharata that defies any rational explanations. Some examples are explanations about flying vehicles (Vimanas), Arjuna’s travels in a flying chariot across the Himalayas, his visit of the Deva territories (ancient alien base-camp in Tibet?), his battle with the Nivata Kavachas (men in space-suits?), Salwa’s attack of the city of Dwaraka in a flying city named Saubha, the triple space-cities of Asuras that revolved around Earth in three circular orbits that was destroyed by Siva using a single projectile weapon. A few excerpts from the Mahabharata have caused doubts in the minds of historians, indicating the possibility of nuclear weapons being used in the Mahabharata war or post-war. This fire of suspicion has further been fuelled by the recent discoveries of green glass and many radioactive samples in certain excavations, in India, which apparently were associated with the Mahabharata war. Green glass is said to form when sand melts at very high temperatures prevalent in Nuclear Explosions.

However, in his The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “If people believed in factual contents of these stories, the whole thing was absurd and ridiculous. But as soon as one ceased believing in them, they appeared in a new light, a new beauty, a wonderful flowering of a richly endowed imagination, full of human lessons.” So, let us leave our wonderful mythologies as they are and enjoy their beauty.

Mythological themes, characters and situations signify all the possible combinations and patterns of human actions in the present and also in the future. The past, the present and the future can be perceived in the patterns of archetypes as seen in Greek, Roman, Indian, Scandinavian and Chinese mythologies. Mythology often unravels the mystery of the human mind to some extent. Belief is a different thing and it cannot be tested by modern science. Our mythology cannot be described by science, which has its own limitations. Even before modern science evolved, ancient Indians constructed huge structural marvels such as the Big Temple in Thanjavur. We invented the concept of zero, and mythology abounds in various interesting discoveries such as the pushpaka vimana. Ayurveda has been vividly described in our scriptures. Brushing them aside shows our disinclination to know more about them. There must be an attempt to go deep into them and find out the truth, instead of disowning our great heritage.

Sirf News Editorial Board

By Sirf News Editorial Board

Voicing the collective stand of Sirf News' (सिर्फ़ News') editors on a given issue

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