Intro: With all due deference to the Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, this writer has a tip for him by way of a classic Sanskrit quote: Naamulam likhyate kinchit,— “Never write anything that has no foundation in truth.”
While Steven Weinberg asserts that there were no scientific achievements by ancient Indians, he also asserts nor had they technological achievements. This writer submits that Weinberg’s latter assertion is as fallacious as his former. The ‘Iron Pillar’ of Delhi is a marvel of metallurgy that has been standing as a “rustless wonder” for the past 1,600 years. Scientists of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, ascribe the iron pillar’s amasing resistence to corrosion to a thin layer of, a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen that protects the surface from rust. Making iron into steel was also a remarkable achievement of ancient Indians. David Ushte (1840) observes in his Papers on Steel (London), “The antiquity of the Indian (steel-making) process is no less astonishing than its ingenuity.”
Ship Building: Sanskrit and Pali literature has numerous references to international maritime activity of ancient Indians. Ships have been mentioned in Indian scriptures like the Veda-s, Purana-s, Ramayan and Mahabharat. Ramayan mentions ships that were large enough to carry hundreds of warriors. Grammarian Panini (c. 2000 BC) refers to various types of boats. Ship-building technology has been described in Brihat Samhita, written by Varahamihira in the 5th century. Ancient Indian sailors possessed sound knowledge of the ‘monsoon winds’ in the Indian Ocean, without which Harappan vessels could not have made regular voyages to the east African coast, Egypt and the Persian Gulf for a thriving trade in Indian goods ranging from articles of daily use to luxury items.
Glass-Making: Indians of the Mauryan times (c, 1500 BC) were acquainted with the process for glass-making. Glass (kacha) was differentiated from crystal (Sphatika) as early as in the days of Sushruta (chapter 46). A glass factory believed to be as old as the 5th century BC has becn discovered in Uttar Pradesh. The palace that architect Maya built for the Pandavas after the Bharat war had a hall with a floor of glass that looked like water. Cultural historian Dr. BR Chakravarti holds that it was obsidian glass imported from the then civilisationally advanced Patala (South America).
Beyond Modern Science: Up to this point in this rejoinder this writer has presented enough evidence to convincingly show that despite Weinberg's emphatic assertion to the contrary, ancient Indians had scientific as well as technological achievements to their credit that compare . remarkably with modern science. Now he would go beyond the comparison and' ask Weinberg if modern science has an equivalent to one very ancient Indian science—Yoga Shastra, the Science of Yoga.
Surely he must know about a study that the Chopra Centre for Wellbeing in California had conducted to examine the effects of Yoga and meditation on gene expression. “The findings from the study showed that a week of meditation and Yoga practice led to an increase in expression of genes that support rejuvenation of the body, a reduction in expression of genes associated with the stress response, and a large increase in telomerase levels (an enzyme that helps maintain structural identity of genes)”, says Chopra.
Then there was the American scientist who came to India some years back to ask for the Dalai Lama’s permission to experiment on a select group of Tibetan experts in Yoga with an array of sensors he had brought with him. He found that the Yogis could sit on slabs of ice all night without affecting their body temperature, and could lower their heart beat rate down to the level of hibernating animals. Does modern science have a procedure towards the attainment of such Yogic powers?
Beyond Yoga : Going beyond Yoga, would Steven Weinberg so much as acknowledge the existence of a Science of Psychic Phenomena? That is the title of a book by Swami Abhedanand, erudite Sanyasi-brother of Swami Vivekanand. There is also another very similar book titled Paranormal Experiences by Mehra Shrikhande, a doctor of Pune. Both have related first-hand experiences of magnetic/mental healing, telepathy, telekinesis, remote viewing, and mentalism.
Experiments in this area have been going on for years in Europe and the US, and public demonstrations of such powers are regularly held in Mumbai. Are they all tricks of illusion? At least one was not—CIA employing a psychic to “look” into the American embassy building in Moscow to locate the ‘bugs’ planted in it by the Soviets. Then if CIA's psychic could do it in modern times, Sanjay of Mahabharat could well have been capable of “see”-ing the Bharat war being fought miles away and describing it to blind Dhritarashtra.
Christianity versus Cats : Finally, one important point needs to be specifically made. It is that when Weinberg talks about the contradiction between the scientist’s search for truth on the one hand and religious belief on the other, he is talking only about Semitic religions, and especially about Christianity, Hindu religion has always been in step with scientific thought, while Christianity, on the other hand, has a gory of anti-science history.
When Copernicus and Galileo propounded the helio-centric theory, Galileo was imprisoned for life and Copernicus was murdered. When a society by name Illuminati was founded in the Middle Ages by some scholars opposed to Vatican's theology, four scientists who were its members were murdered and their bodies left in the streets of Rome as a warning to others.
Even animals were not spared. Under the assumption that animals could be used by the devil to do his work, Pope Innocent VIII had officially ordered pet cats to be burned together with witches, a practice that continued throughout the centuries of witch-hunting.
In conclusion, with all due deference to the Nobel laureate, this writer has a tip for him by way of a classic Sanskrit quote: Naamulam likhyate kinchit—“Never write anything that has no foundation in truth”.
Sudhakar Raje (The writer is a renowned columnist)