Fusing Mythology With Science: 102nd Indian Science Congress.


Did you know that India has given the world the Pythagoras Theorem? Yes, the formula that calculates the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle was actually formulated in India and not Greece. Although you and I spent a considerable amount of our childhood in those Mathematics textbooks, reading about the Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras who lived in the 6th Century BC and wrote down the theorem, well, we were all being misled. As Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Science and Technology inaugurated the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai on January 3, 2015, he addressed the Congress saying, “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.”

As a response to Dr. Vardhan’s claims, a professor of Mathematics at Mumbai University spoke to the Times of India, 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.”  Not only was he “surprised” but an Indian scientist coming from the United States was also pretty confused after attending the session. “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?” he added.

Though PM Modi laid considerable emphasis on the need for “efforts to ensure that science, technology and innovation reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person”, yet the session titled “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” earned a plethora of criticism from scientists from all over. Captain Anand J. Bodas, the retired principal of a pilot training facility spoke in the session where he drew upon the Ancient Vedic texts, claiming that planes existed in India 7,000 years before the Wright brothers made their first ever flight. Delving deep into the subject, Bodas went on to describe Maharishi Bharadwaj’s Vimana Samhita that dealt with the theory of aviation in Ancient India. Boda said, “The basic structure was of 60 by 60 feet and in some cases, over 200 feet. They were jumbo planes…The ancient planes had 40 small engines. Today’s aviation does not know even of flexible exhaust system.”

Courting much controversy, an online petition was signed by 1000 scientists, along with Dr. Ram Prasad Gandhirman from the NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California, who demanded for this session to be cancelled as it mixed science with mythology. This is what 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.”

Some other claims made in the symposium revolved around the Helmet on Mars attributing it to “the Mahabharata war, there was a chase in one of those Vedic planes from the earth to the moon and then to Mars, where a king attacked his rival, breaking his helmet,” as pointed out by Kiran Naik, an exhibitor at the ISC.

Garnering magnanimous controversies, the 102nd Indian Science Congress has become famous for all the wrong reasons. Held in Mumbai from January 3 to January 7, the ISC has since time immemorial been a meeting place for scientists as well as Nobel laureates from across the globe. In the century-old history of the Congress, it was the first time that there were presentations dealing with Ancient Science and the various aviation, architecture, engineering and  surgical applications. The claims made by the speakers have, unfortunately, overshadowed the progressive work accomplished by the Indian Scientific community consisting of more than 30,000 scientists. Playing with the credibility of the scientific atmosphere in India, these tall claims by the Ancient Science enthusiasts have succeeded in generating sniggering comments from across the globe.

So, how many snorts of derision for fusing mythology with science?

Sangeeta Purkayastha

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