The film Independence Day: Resurgence is probably playing at a theatre near you as you read this. Apart from carrying forward the premise of its highly successful original from two decades ago -- an alien invasion of earth that the US stymies -- it's also been in the news for another reason: that among all the monuments that were shown being destroyed by the wannabe (extraterrestrial) conquerors, the Gateway of India wasn't among them.
The film's makers wanted to avoid any issue with the Mumbai landmark being depicted under attack as the imagery may have been too reminiscent of the 26/11 terror siege, which unfolded in the vicinity of the Gateway.
India's tryst with the aliens may have come to nought on the big screen this time round, but curiously enough, we do seem to have a connection with the “little green men”, as most popular portrayals paint them.
A Google search for aliens in India leads you down quite the rabbit hole. There are fewer testimonies perhaps of alien abductions and UFO sightings than say, in the US, but these still account for a significant number. On Quora forums, users raise queries about everything from where in India one can report alien phenomena/UFO sightings, to why crop circles aren't seen here.
(The answer to where you can report alien sightings is, the MUFON India Facebook page. MUFON -- the Mutual UFO Network -- based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the largest organisation of its kind in the world; a nonprofit, civilian enterprise that investigates reported phenomena. Firstpost reached out to MUFON and the India Facebook group -- the latter says it is not connected to the Ohio organisation -- but didn't receive any comment at the time of publishing.)
More than such ‘modern’ concerns, there seems to be a greater interest in the ‘historical’: there are a slew of blogs and sites dedicated to examining whether or not “ancient aliens” had a presence in India. Pinterest boards claim to have photos that show evidence from sites such as Mahabalipuram, that aliens interacted with our forebearers. Others discuss Alexander’s war campaign here, and how his army encountered spacecraft-like objects which, however, did not attack this invading horde.
There are also pop theories that centre on whether or not “(Hindu) gods were really aliens” -- these ideas are well known enough that the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D brought it up in one of its episodes, only to face the indignation of Hindu groups in the US.
The Vedas, the Mahabharata and Ramayana have also been closely scanned for references to alien phenomena -- some writers insist that the ‘vimanas’ mentioned in ancient texts benefitted from the advanced knowledge of technology visiting life forms from other planets imparted, while others point to war descriptions in the epics that indicate some weapon(s) “not of this earth”.
“These are popular theories,” says leading Indian mythology expert Devdutt Pattanaik. “There is no way to prove or disprove them. For some people God exists. For others, aliens exist. We do want fantastic explanations for fantastic stories -- they make us feel special.”
What seems incontrovertible is that our interest in aliens has certainly been around for a while. In 2014, the department of archaeology and culture in Chhattisgarh found cave paintings and stick-figure drawings in Bastar -- dating about 10,000 years ago -- that have been interpreted as a depiction of alien-like figures and spacecraft.
Thousands of years after the Bastar drawings of these (presumably) alien spacecraft were made, UFO sightings have made the headlines sporadically. From a 1952 incident where air traffic controllers at New Delhi airport reported seeing a disc or cigar shaped flying object to October 2015, when a group of women working in paddy fields in Kanagal village in Mysuru district said they saw a flying craft hovering nearby, out of which “some humanoid forms emerged”, and the latest, in February 2016 when news emerged of an unidentified flying object being shot down by military forces in Barmer (“India's Roswell?” One article wondered) -- there has been plenty to keep alien enthusiasts busy. Pet theories about the Indian government being the “first to tell the truth about alien encounters” and of there being a “UFO base in the Himalayas” which only the Indian and Chinese governments know about, abound.
This is of course, not taking into account the rigorous scientific search for extraterrestrial life that is taking place in agencies like the Indian Astrobiology Research Centre.
But there are at least some people in India who’re willing to take the existence of extraterrestrial life on faith alone. Raelians -- a global religious group that believes an alien species called the Elohim scientifically created life on earth -- have been slowly but steadily attracting newer members to the faith. Rishi, a Mumbai-based professional with a background in IT, was initiated just this April.
“What is God?” asks Rishi when questioned about how his interest in Raelism developed. “My parents were not religious and I had to find my own answers.”
For Rishi, the answers emerged when he came across Raelism on the Internet; he found its philosophy and practice authentic and compelling and after making contact with the group in India this January, had his “transmission” two months ago. (The transmission is a ceremony whereby the DNA of new initiates is registered on the Elohim’s mother computer).
Rishi recounts a conversation with his father about God’s existence; the words stayed with him: “My father told me that his prayer was the awe he felt for the beauty of this universe and everything in it. (So) I don't have to kneel...I just look at the sky, the sea, trees -- and that feeling of awe (they inspire), that is my prayer.”
The modern world's first reported UFO incident took place on 24 June 1947; the word “flying saucer” is believed to have been introduced by newspapers covering the incident two days later, on 26 June -- the same date this article is being published, nearly seven decades later.
As the debate around their existence continues, these intervening years have established only one thing: whether based on fact, faith or fiction, our fascination with aliens will continue unabated, for the foreseeable future.
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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2016 09:21:38 IST