72

In the past couple of years, several Indian Ministers / personalities have made claims regarding existence of modern inventions in Ancient India.

Prime Minister Modi claimed that genetic science and plastic surgery existed in Ancient India.

Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has claimed that Internet, satellite communication existed in Mahabharata era.

Union Minister Satya Pal Singh claimed that a Indian, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade and not the Wright Brothers invented the first flying machine / plane. (This specific claim has been the topic of a duplicate which I did not realise when I asked this question.)

Captain Anand Bodas a speaker at Indian Science Congress claimed that planes were discovered in Vedic age, and they could fly between planets.

The only one which seems to be slightly true is the first one made by PM Modi. Sushruta was an ancient Indian physician during 1500 BCE to 1000 BCE, known as the main author of the treatise The Compendium of Suśruta, which is believed to be the first mention of accurate surgical practices in ancient literature. But describing this as having knowledge of genetic science is a false claim in my opinion.

As ludicrous do these claims sound, I beleive in keeping an open, rational mind.

Are any of these claims even slightly true?

  • Wasn't there a very similar question about 2 months ago? – Daniel R Hicks Jul 1 '18 at 22:02
  • 1
    @DanielRHicks I tried to find a duplicate, but did not get anything. Can you find a link? – Agile_Eagle Jul 1 '18 at 22:27
  • 1
    Not two months ago, but here is one: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/9727/… – Daniel R Hicks Jul 1 '18 at 22:29
  • 4
    The seer Sanjaya may or may not have been able to see a battle happening somewhere else, but it is a bit of a stretch to call this "the Internet and satellite communication" – Henry Jul 2 '18 at 9:24
  • 12
    Incidentally, there is one nugget of truth in all of this: The Wright brothers did not invent the first flying machine, nor did they claim to do so. Balloons were in widespread use decades before the Wrights, for example (and early balloon use was over a century before the Wrights.) What they did invent was the first heavier-than-air aircraft capable of controlled, sustained flight. Others had built experimental airplanes before the Wrights, but they were the first to invent the control regimes that allowed airplane flight to be controlled and sustained. – reirab Jul 2 '18 at 16:24
114

Genetic science in Mahabharata

Prime Minister Modi claimed that genetic science and plastic surgery existed in Ancient India.

source: “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”

Modi's claim is a non sequitur. As you point out, surgery was indeed practiced in ancient India, but that has nothing to do with genetic science and neither does the story of Karna's birth. Karna was born out of a union of a human woman and the Sun God. He emerged from the union full-formed and already wearing a suit of armor, (which he later gave to the demigod Indra, the father of his half-brother Arjuna). It is not familiar genetic science for human beings to grow a natural suit of armor which can be torn from their skin and given to someone else.

Karna is a bad choice for Modi, considering that the birth of Duryodhana more closely resembles artificial fertilization. Duryodhana's mother gave birth not to a baby but to a large ball of flesh.

Gandhari, without endeavouring to disguise her feelings, addressed the Rishi and said, 'Having heard that Kunti had brought forth a son like unto Surya in splendour, I struck in grief at my womb. Thou hadst, O Rishi, granted me the boon that I should have a hundred sons, but here is only a ball of flesh for those hundred sons!' Vyasa then said, 'Daughter of Suvala, it is even so. But my words can never be futile. I have not spoken an untruth even in jest. I need not speak of other occasions. Let a hundred pots full of clarified butter be brought instantly, and let them be placed at a concealed spot. In the meantime, let cool water be sprinkled over this ball of flesh.'

That ball of flesh then, sprinkled over with water, became, in time, divided into a hundred and one parts, each about the size of the thumb. These were then put into those pots full of clarified butter that had been placed at a concealed spot and were watched with care. The illustrious Vyasa then said unto the daughter of Suvala that she should open the covers of the pots after full two years. And having said this and made these arrangements, the wise Dwaipayana went to the Himavat mountains for devoting himself to asceticism.

Then in time, king Duryodhana was born from among those pieces of the ball of flesh that had been deposited in those pots.

Mahabharata, Book I

But this is not good biology either, as it is not familiar scientific practice to use ghee as a medium for nurturing fetuses. It only takes nine months for a fetus to grow into a child, not two years.

The Mahabharata could interestingly be classified as "science fiction" as, quite unlike other ancient texts, it does have a rather fascinating vision of how dozens of fetuses could be raised in a womb-like environment outside of a human mother. But there are no accurate scientific facts about how this might be done. There's no proof that ancient people actually had a working model of in vitro fertilization.

I don't know why Modi chooses the example of Karna instead which provides no such sci-fi detail.

Internet in Mahabharata era

Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has claimed that Internet, satellite communication existed in Mahabharata era.

source: ''In the Mahabharata, it has been mentioned that Sanjay gave a live relay of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas to the blind king Dhritarashtra...''

This is at odds with the text of the Mahabharata.

This BJP guy is not the first to offer a scientistic interpretation. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) also wrote, "Had we said that a famous European scientist having hypnotised such and such a person came to have some description of that distant event from his mouth, then perhaps those who have studied with care something about hypnotism in the West might have lent some credence. And yet, hypnotism is simply one of those undesirable elements of Yogic power that have to be rejected. There are hidden within man many such powers as were known to civilised peoples in ancient times and developed by them. But that knowledge has been washed away in the flood of ignorance born of Kali, the Age of Darkness."

But there is nothing in the Mahabharat to justify materialistic interpretations. Here is the actual verse:

"Dhritarashtra said,--'O best of regenerate Rishi, I like not to behold the slaughter of kinsmen. I shall, however, through thy potency hear of this battle minutely."

[...] "Upon his not wishing to see the battle but wishing to hear of it, Vyasa, that lord of boons, gave a boon to Sanjaya. (And addressing Dhritarashtra he said),--'This Sanjaya, O king, will describe the battle to thee. Nothing in the whole battle will be beyond this one's eyes.' Endued, O king with celestial vision, Sanjaya will narrate the battle to thee. He will have knowledge of everything. Manifest or concealed, (happening) by day or by night, even that which is thought of in the mind, Sanjaya shall know everything.

Mahabharat, Book 6

Sri Aurobindo's claim is defensible, however dubious. He's attempting to argue that the events of the poem literally happened, so he presents Western research into supernatural powers of the subconscious as evidence that even Europeans sometimes consider the possibility of knowledge of the infinite.

However, Deb clearly did not consult the original Mahabharata text when upgrading Sri Aurobindo's claim to 21st century language. The Internet and cell phones are great but they don't give us the ability to read minds.

Flying machine

Union Minister Satya Pal Singh claimed that a Indian, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade and not the Wright Brothers invented the first flying machine / plane.

This is debunked on the Wikipedia page, Talpade's design is known and it is insufficient to propel a plane. He apparently tried to fly his prototype only once, then kept it in his garage and never used it again, which tells the entire story.

Flying machine in Vedic times

Captain Anand Bodas a speaker at Indian Science Congress claimed that planes were discovered in Vedic age, and they could fly between planets.

He is quoting from a book called Vaimānika Shāstra which is not written in Vedic times but was rather published in 1952, allegedly based on an original written in the ancient year of 1918. The book, which investigates the "flying palaces" of the Ramayana, proposes an aerodynamics that is physically impossible. The speech by Bodas was widely protested.

  • 15
    The question asks about “ancient Indian inventions”. Your answer is almost entirely concerned with ancient Indian fiction. I fail to see the connection: Jules Verne neither invented a rocket capable of flying to the moon, nor did he actually journey to the centre of the Earth. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 2 '18 at 10:33
  • 31
    @KonradRudolph To be more precise, I analyzed literature and found that its descriptions were fictional. – Avery Jul 2 '18 at 11:10
  • 47
    @KonradRudolph The question asks about claims made by politicians citing fiction. Thus it is highly relevant to use these same works of fiction in an answer. I don't understand how your objection applies here. – pipe Jul 2 '18 at 11:55
  • 18
    @KonradRudolph if the claimed inventions are derived from works of fiction, citing those works of fiction is clearly appropriate as their source. The simple fact that no other sources could be found should be enough to put the claims as to the historical accuracy of the fiction in serious doubt. – jwenting Jul 2 '18 at 11:59
  • 16
    Asking for less proof that a cited source is fictional, on the Skeptics website, is a little weird to me – Avery Jul 2 '18 at 18:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .