Those Mythological Men and Their Sacred, Supersonic Flying Temples

Siddhartha Deb in The New Republic:

IN JANUARY 4, AT THE ANNUAL INDIAN SCIENCE CONGRESS in Mumbai, Anand Bodas, a former principal of a pilot-training academy, and a professor named Ameya Jadhav presented a joint paper titled “Ancient Indian Aviation Technology.”

The Congress, a prestigious event that dates to 1914, included programs on advances ranging from India’s recent Mars orbital mission to developments in cancer biology, with talks by Indian and foreign scientists, among them a number of Nobel laureates. The paper by Bodas and Jadhav was part of a symposium on “Ancient Sciences Through Sanskrit,” a series of presentations on the technical knowledge in old Indian texts, usually understood to be considerable, especially when it comes to mathematics, metallurgy, and medicine. But “Ancient Indian Aviation Technology” had run into trouble even before the Congress began, when Ramprasad Gandhiraman, an Indian materials scientist affiliated with nasa, started an online petition on against its “pseudo-science.” The campaign, which garnered 1,600 supporters, cited a report in the newspaper Mumbai Mirror in which Bodas had said that his paper was based on an ancient Indian treatise that had been forgotten because of “the passage of time, foreign rulers ruling us, and things being stolen from this country.”

Despite Gandhiraman’s campaign, the paper was presented as planned. In clips run throughout India’s media channels, Bodas can be seen gently declaiming, from behind a full white beard and an upturned mustache, “Aeroplane is a vehicle which travels through the air from one country to another country, from one continent to another continent, and from one planet to another planet.” Although neither Bodas nor the organizers were willing to share the paper with the media, the numerous reports on it, as well the abstract, which is available, give a fairly clear idea of what else he had to say (his collaborator Jadhav seems largely absent apart from being listed as co-author). “Ancient Sanskrit literature is full of descriptions of flying machines—Vimanas,” the abstract says. These vimanas, according to Bodas, had been developed anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 years ago.

Bodas’s claim about vimanas is only one in a series of recent pronouncements about the technological marvels of ancient India. Since the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, won the national elections last year, it has become increasingly commonplace to make fantastic references to ancient India, a time when seemingly everything from televisions to nuclear weapons existed.

More here.