In the 125th year of his birth, Jawaharlal Nehru - a great votary of inculcating scientific temper among Indians - must be turning in his grave as the 21st century India wakes up to rediscover "new scientific temper" in Hindu mythology and undated Sanskrit texts. More shocking would be the fact that all this is happening at a platform that Nehru once nurtured and presided over - the Indian Science Congress.
As expected, the 102nd session of the Indian Science Congress, scheduled to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi on January 3, is being used by the present establishment to portray mythological and Sanskrit texts as the origins of modern science - a declared agenda of Hindu organisations.
In recent months, Modi himself has led his party's "rediscovery of science" by declaring that Hindu god Ganesh was actually a creation of ancient plastic surgery. Taking cue from their leader, party elders like Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have told Parliament that astrology was more powerful than modern science. Other members of the ruling establishment have claimed that Hindu sages were well versed in everything from stem cell therapy to nuclear tests.
According to a Sanskrit text on aviation technology to be discussed at the Indian Science Congress, planes can be propelled by electricity produced "in a vessel filled with apamarga, sampasya, and ayaskanta soaked in elephant's urine mixed with mercury. Another vessel is to be filled with cow's urine". Aeroplanes can be made using a special material called "raja loha" - which is a concoction of "prana kshara" (ammonium chloride), Bengal gram, benzoin, mercury borax, mica, silver, and panchamrita (holy nectar), all mixed and heated to 800 "kaksha" (unit of temperature)."
Other such illuminating subjects listed for the benefit of India's scientific community which will gather in Mumbai are engineering applications of ancient Indian botany, scientific principles of ancient Indian architecture and neuroscience of yoga.
The session on "Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit" on January 4 lists minister for environment and forests Prakash Javadekar and computer scientist Vijay Bhatkar among speakers. Incidentally, Bhatkar who is considered father of India's supercomputing programme is currently head of Vijnana Bharati founded by RSS stalwarts like KS Sudarshan, HV Seshadri, Nanaji Deshmukh, Dattopant Thengdi, Rajendra Singh and Murali Manohar Joshi. Bhatkar also chairs the board of governors of IIT Delhi.
A paper which has already attracted attention in social media is on "ancient Indian aviation technology" by one Captain Bodas who is a retired principal of "Pilot Training Centre" and Ameya Jadhav, lecturer at Swami Vivekanand International School and Junior College at Kandivali in Mumbai. Bodas has claimed in media interviews that Vedic era airplanes could travel from one country to another and from one planet to another planet. Such crafts could move left, right or backwards just like cars today. All such claims - past and present - are based on two Sanskrit books - "Brihad Vimana Shashtra" and "Vyamaniki Shashtra".
The period, authenticity and authorship of these two books were scrutinised way back in 1959 and scientists established that they were not ancient texts. A detailed review of the two books was published by professor HS Mukuda and other scientists from the departments of aeronautical and mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. For instance, analysis of Sanskrit used in these books indicated that the text is not of Vedic origin but was modern.
"What we feel unfortunate in history is that some people tend to eulogise and glorify whatever they can find about our past, even without valid evidence. In the absence of any evidence, efforts will be made to produce part of the evidence in favour of antiquity", the IISc scientists had observed half a century ago.
The science of aeronautics requires an understanding of a number of disciplines - aerodynamics, aeronautical structures, propulsive devices, materials, and metallurgy. While the basic idea of flying like a bird has enamoured humans for centuries and many attempts were made to make objects that can fly like birds but without any success. The planes described in the two Sanskrit books were "at the best poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real".
"None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make then resist rather than assist flying," Mukuda and others had concluded.