'40-engine' planes, ancient surgery overshadows Indian Science Congress, sparks outrage

Aeroplanes existed in India 7,000 years ago and they travelled from not just one country to another but also to other planets, or so claimed Captain Anand J Bodas in a controversial session at the Indian Science Congress. The retired principal of a pilot training facility attracted criticism from some scientists who said such claims undermined the primacy of empirical evidence on which the 102-year-old Congress was founded. The lecture was presented on the second day of the Congress under the aegis of Mumbai University as part of a session titled 'Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit'.

Drawing upon the ancient Vedic texts to support the claim that there was flying technology in ancient India, Bodas said, "There is a reference of ancient aviation in the Rigveda."

He said Maharishi Bharadwaj spoke 7,000 years ago of "the existence of aeroplanes which travel from one country to another, from one continent to another and from one planet to another. He mentioned 97 reference books for aviation." "History merely notes that the Wright brothers first flew in 1904," he said.

Bharadwaj, who authored the book Vimana Samhita, has written about various types of metal alloys used to build an aeroplane, Bodas said, adding, "Now we have to import aeroplane alloys. The young generation should study the alloys mentioned in his book and make them here,"

He also spoke of the "huge" aeroplanes which flew in ancient India. "The basic structure was of 60 by 60 feet and in some cases, over 200 feet. They were jumbo planes," he said. "The ancient planes had 40 small engines. Today's aviation does not know even of flexible exhaust system," he said.

The ancient Indian radar system was called 'rooparkanrahasya'. "In this system, the shape of the aeroplane was presented to the observer, instead of the mere blip that is seen on modern radar systems," he said. Bharadwaj's book mentioned a diet of pilots. It contained of milk of buffalo, cow and sheep for specific periods, Bodas said. The pilot's clothes came from vegetation grown underwater, he said.

Bodas' wasn't the only controversial paper presented at the session. As this Times of India report points out, another paper pointed out that "Indians had developed 20 types of sharp instruments and 101 blunt ones for surgeries, which largely resemble the modern surgical instruments," while another spoke of how "ancient Indian engineers had adequate knowledge of Indian botany and they effectively used it in their construction."

The session had courted controversy even ahead of the conference,  when Dr Ram Prasad Gandhiraman, a scientist with the Nasa's Ames Research Centre in California, filed an online petition demanding that the session be cancelled because it fused science with mythology.

 40-engine planes, ancient surgery overshadows Indian Science Congress, sparks outrage

PM meeting with members of the ISCA ahead of the conference.  PTI

The petition said:

"We as scientific community should be seriously concerned about the infiltration of pseudo-science in science curricula with backing of influential political parties. Giving a scientific platform for a pseudo-science talk is worse than a systematic attack that has been carried out by politically powerful pseudo-science propagandists in the recent past. If we scientists remain passive, we are betraying not only the science, but also our children."

While there was only one such session, its significance was heightened by remarks from ministers in the Modi government at the conference. For instance, Dr Harsh Vardhan,  the Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan, told the Congress, "Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem, but we ... gave credit to the Greeks. We all know that we knew ‘beejganit’ much before the Arabs, but very selflessly we allowed it to be called Algebra. This is the base the Indian scientific community has maintained."

“Whether it is related to the solar system, medicine, chemistry or earth science, we have shared all our knowledge very selflessly,” he had added.

In addition to Harsh Vardhan, Union minister Prakash Javadekar, who was chief guest at the event, also commented that "the scientific community gathered at the Congress should pay attention to the source material available in Sanskrit and use it for betterment of humanity," reports Times of India.

While the claims regarding the value of Sanskrit or the origin of the theorem are not fantastical per se,  members from the scientific community were unhappy .

An Indian scientist from the US who attended the session told TOI, "Knowledge always grows, its flow never stops. So if all this knowledge was available in the ancient days, I need to know where it stopped. Why did it fail to grow? Why was there no advancement? When did it stop?..."

On Harsh Vardhan's remarks, one maths professor at Mumbai University was quoted by TOI as saying, "We know Indians have contributed to mathematics to a great extent. However, I was surprised to hear what he said. Maybe the way he thinks about mathematics is different than what we academicians do."

Interestingly PM Modi will inaugurating the event did not speak about ancient science (unlike the Ganesha and plastic surgery remark at the AIIMS conference in October last year) and instead stressed the need for "efforts to ensure that science, technology and innovation reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person."

He also said that, "We must restore the pride and prestige of science and scientists in our nation."

For all the hullabaloo over the ancient India session, it should be noted that the most sessions at the Indian Science Congress Association's (ISCA) annual event were dedicated to more 'current' topics like Mars Missions, Mathematics and computation, Nutrition and Health, Biotechnology, etc. You can view the full schedule here. But as this Hindustan Times report, points out that this is the first time in the 100 year history of this event that such a session has been held -- and the publicity it has garnered has sadly overshadowed the good work of the Indian scientific community and the ISCA, which has a membership strength of more than 30,000 scientists.

With PTI inputs

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2015 13:07:34 IST