It puts Steven Weinberg squarely in the camp of those so-called Indologists for whom India-bashing is just a means for furthering their Christian agenda, and who indulge in it with arrogance of ignorance. Indians are familiar with this tribe, which originated with Max Muller and stretches right up to Prof. Dorothy Figueira of Georgia University today. Their motivated pseudo-scholarship deserves to be dismissed for what it really is—a crass means for a questionable end. But Steven Weinberg is a scientist, so howsoever fantastic his claim, it needs to be taken seriously and rejected convincingly.
The first step towards this end would be to take a close look at the basis on which he makes this claim. So to quote: “It is nonsense to suppose that modern scientific and technological knowledge was already in the hands of people thousands of years ago. Though much has been lost, we have ancient texts from …. India …. to show not only that early philosophers did not know these things, but they had no opportunity to learn them.” This assertion is astounding for the simple reason that it would mean Weinberg has read (and understood) Rig Veda, which is not only India's but the world's ancient most text, which is in Sanskrit, and which is extant verbatim till today. Even Max Muller, who is said to have studied Vedas for 30 years, was not sure about the meaning of quite a few Vedic terms.
The basic point here, of which Weinberg does not seem to be aware, is that it is not possible even for a historian, let alone a scientist, to do justice to India’s hoary past without at least a working knowledge of the Sanskrit language. And for a serious student it is also imperative to learn the difference between the nascent Sanskrit in which Vedic richa-s (verses) are composed and the later ‘classical’ Sanskrit. For instance, even simple Sanskrit words like dhenu and ashwa, meaning ‘cow’ and ‘horse’ respectively in classical/current Sanskrit, may have entirely different meanings in Vedic/nascent Sanskrit, depending on the context in which they are used. Thus, when Hindu mythology says the Sun God rides a chariot drawn by seven horses (ashwa-s), ashwa not only means “a ray of light” but is also “a symbolic expression of the figure seven” (Sanskrit-English Dictionary: VS Apte), revealing the scientific truth of the seven colours (VIBGYOR) of the spectrum of light. To give a few other examples from Vedic Physics : Origin of Hinduism (Dinesh Agrawal, Golden Egg Publishing. Toronto, Canada), the cow and horse can be quark particles, Soma is electric charge. Madhu is magnetic field, and Ashwin-s are magnetic poles. Thus Weinberg’s absolute unfamiliarity with Vedic terminology is a basic flaw in his claim of there being no modern science in Veda. However it would not be fair to expect a Western scientist to know so much Sanskrit, as this writer can quote Western scholars of Sanskrit (including even lexicographers and writers of entries for encyclopaedias) who suffer from faulty learning.
So to begin with what Weinberg must be quite familiar, reputed science writer Carl Sagan, whose TV serial Cosmos has been shown in over 60 countries, stated in an interview that the universe is about 10 billion years old, while the Hindu tradition has a day and night of Brahma, which is within this range, about 8.4 billion years. He added: “It is the only ancient religious tradition on earth which talks about the right time scale.” Apropos “Universal Interconnectedness”, Fritz Capra quotes David Bohm thus: “One is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness, which denies the classical idea of analysability of the world into separately and independently existing parts …. We have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent elementary parts of the world are the fundamental reality, and that the various systems are merely particular contingent forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather. we say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality and that relatively independently behaving parts are particular and contingent forms within the whole.” And then he refers to Mundaka Upanishad as expressing similar thinking. (Upanishad-s are highly philosophical texts explaining the inner meaning of Veda.)
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle held that human consciousness is a hidden variable or participator in objective reality. Erwin Schrodinger says: “In all the world there is no kind of framework within which we find consciousness in the plural. This is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals. But it is a false construction …. The only solution to this conflict, in so far as any is available to us at all, lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishad.”
A Vedic sage by name Grtsamada, who composed Mandal II of Rig Veda, mentions numerals, odd numbers, as well as multiples of ten. Another sage by name Medhatithi propounded the method of counting in tens and took it up to parardha (billion).
Vedic Helio-centric Theory
Vedic/Hindu astronomy is by and far the oldest of the world’s astronomical systems, and yet it knew the helio-centric theory. Rig Veda clearly says that the earth revolves round the sun: Yat bhumim vaivartayet – “Indra made the earth revolve round the sun” (RV 8.14.5). There are numerous references in Rig Veda. Shatapatha Brahmana and other equally ancient texts to stars, the lunar and solar months and so on. It was even reported in 2001 that Dr Subhash Kak, a computer scientist at a US university, has discovered an astronomical code hidden in Rig Veda which showed that Vedic Indians had accurately determined the distance between the earth and the sun, and the earth and the moon. An analysis of the Rigvedic code showed that they had calculated that the sun was 108 sun-diameters away from the earth, and the moon 108 moon-diameters. Modern astronomical calculations show that the figures are in fact 107.6 for the sun and 110.6 for the moon.
Atharva Veda contains so much medical information that it can be legitimately considered the world’s earliest work on medicine. Both Atharva Veda and Rig Veda contain description of diseases of the heart, stomach and kidneys. The treatment for them was recommended with herbs and charms “with a success that is sometimes the envy of western physicians,” says Will Durant in The Story of Civilization. Rig Veda Mandai VIII also gives the names of some sages who had undergone surgeries of various types, including a delicate eye operation.
An article by Alain F Corocos of the Michigan State University, titled Reproduction and Heredity Beliefs of the Hindus based on their Sacred Books, refers to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and other ancient texts like Manusmriti which describe procreation and say that one must eat a special kind of food to beget a special type of child. After giving the descriptions the author asks if there is any truth in them, and answers in the affirmative. He writes that this has been proved right by studies conducted by French and Canadian physicians. Two researchers by name Stalwosky and Lorain conducted separate tests on 36 and 224 couples and both achieved a success rate of above 80 per cent.
Rig Veda contains at least six references to flying machines. In the year 1895 AD an Indian by name Shivkar Bapuji Talpade gave a flight demonstration on a beach in Mumbai of an aeroplane built according to the description in the above references. This demonstration took place in the presence of the then Maharaja of Baroda and was reported in the press.
Chapter and Verse
Fortuitously enough, over and above the science-related Vedic references this writer has culled from various sources and related here, there is a whole book specifically demolishing Weinberg’s claim with chapter and verse—Modern Sciences in Vedas, written by Justice Dhananjay Deshpande, a top-ranking Sanskritist, and published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, a prestigious academy of Indian studies. In chapter after chapter the judge-author quotes verse after Vedic verse (in full in Sanskrit in Devnagari script) to unravel the scientific concept behind otherwise inexplicable Sanskrit terms and relates them in detail with modern science. A few highlights: Nasadiya Sukta (RV MandaI X) contains certain statements as facts which compare well with modern scientific conclusions in respect of the creation of the universe. Ashwamedh Sukta (RV MandaI I) discusses the measuring of light waves, and here ashwa stands for light. The description of various types of “horses” tallies with the classification of energy waves in modern science. The Vedic deities called Marut-s are related to the creation of the universe, of the sun, and of the earth. In relation to the sun, they describe such solar phenomena as the Corona, Solar Wind, Solar Prominences, and Solar Flares. Atharva Veda also discusses the creation of the universe in great detail. It is “an all-embracing study of almost all forces working in Nature.”
(To be concluded)
(The writer is a renowned columnist)