Why Ancient India Could Not Have Had Genetic, Cosmetic Science


As a child, and in fact even now, I am fascinated by the sheer imaginative rigour of mythical characters and mythologies across cultures and traditions. Be it the Greek mythology with is arena of amoral gods and goddesses, or our very own Hindu mythical deities, the dualistic nature of these making them at once human as well as mythical has indeed been of great interest to me.

In our current context, while some mythologies are given to us, some others are created anew or the old ones are, so-to-say, modified to fit our current context. But we will restrict ourselves to the pre-existing myths and the problem of attaching modern concepts to them. Any idea, concept or event is necessarily rooted in its cultural, geographical and historical specificity. For example, if we take medicinal study in pre-modern times in India, of course there must have been some form of science prevailing but it must have been very much different from contemporary medical science based on pharmaceutical manufacturing. In fact even today if we consider Ayurveda as an indigenous form of treatment, the source of knowledge is different from that of allopathic treatment. Of course, both of them qualify as medical study or research, but to reduce all differences to object and aim of study is for our purposes irrelevant as it does not help us much beyond stating a generality or perhaps something as obvious as- all living human beings breathe.

Similarly, to claim that cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics existed in the ancient times in India, as done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in Mumbai, is too far-fetched. Like was the case with medicinal study as discussed earlier, of course there might be some notion as to how to preserve beauty, what form of beauty is desirable and how to achieve that; or what is the best way to ensure, say, a safe and healthy delivery of a child; but these cannot possibly be equated to today’s forms and ways of dealing with the same. What remains common is the idea of a better world and the desire to achieve it with greater perfection.

Secondly, absolute import of mythological symbolisms into realties has its own problems. Even if they were indeed stories and narratives based on real humans like was the case with The Illiad, The Oddysey, the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. These epics by their nature of being an imaginative account of history rely heavily on literary techniques such as symbolism, exaggeration, drama, tragedy, etc. Consequently, taking every literary technique, say exaggerated reality or drama, employed as reality would be nothing but a mistake since these are nothing but the structural necessities of all great works of written art– novels, poems, short stories, etc.

Moreover, there are multiple ways to carve out a unique national identity for ourselves and a glorified past is only one way. However, glorification of the past taken to a level of absurdity such that it makes not historical or cultural sense is indeed counter-productive to the purpose of asserting one’s identity. Just to make the point clearer- What would we say if people began to claim that aerobic exercise and Indian classical dance, with its recognised therapeutic value, as elaborated by Bharata in Natyashashtra are the same thing? Of course they are not! Even though both of them do indeed contribute in the making of a healthy and sound body, but different cultures, histories and geographical contexts make them distinct forms of practice that can be comparable with but not reducible to each other.

Pallavi Ghosh

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