Our Honorable Prime Minister would like to believe us that “Mahabharat 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”. About Ganesh he says “[T]here must have been some plastic surgeon at that time [Ganesh’s time] who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”. (Indian Express, 28th October, 14)
Such bunkum coming from a Dinanath Batra is not the same thing as coming from a democratically elected Prime Minister of a country of 1.25 billion people. In normal times when people happen to have their wits about them one hardly needs to examine these claims and the implications of the kind of logic used there in. But this is the era of unfounded beliefs and there are many who will lap up anything thrown by the likes of Batra in the name of pride in Bharat Mata and Hinduism. Therefore, a brief look at these claims is in order.
Karna born outside his mother’s womb
The story of Karna’s birth in Mahabharata does not support his birth outside his mother’s womb. There is a dialogue between Kunti and Surya, what they say to each other in the dialogue does not square up with the idea of Karna being born out of womb. One, Kunti is actually rather hesitant to have “samagama” with Surya though she had herself invited him. She was hesitant because was scared that her “kanyabhava” will be destroyed and she will earn bad name for herself. Two, Surya, assures her that he will restore her kanyabhava and there is no danger of bad name in having samagama with him to get a son. As an additional incentive Surya also tells her how brave and invincible their son is going to be. There is a mention of samagama and the son was born. And then Surya restored her kanyabhava (virginity). If the child Karna was born out of the womb, how did Kunti’s kanyabhava got destroyed? Why samagama was needed?
If virgin motherhood (Kunti was not even a virgin mother, her virginity was restored) is taken as a proof of advanced genetic science then the Israelis can also make that claim as Christ is supposed to be conceived by a virgin. That can be easily interpreted as non-sexual fertilization. However, the idea of immaculate birth is too important for Christian faith to be interpreted in manner.
Ganesha and advanced knowledge of surgery
I wonder, if mythology is taken to be the ‘truth’ then why should one stop at joining an elephant head to human body? Ganesh in mythology is actually a created life! He was made out of ‘ubatan’ (bathing paste). According to Shiv Purana, Parvati made him out of her bathing paste and breathed life in to him. The modern science is still struggling to create artificial life in laboratory, our own Parvati did it thousands of years back from something as humble as bathing-paste and he was capable of guarding her house immediately after creation! So why not claim the science of creating artificial life?
There are plenty of characters and creatures in Greek and Egyptian mythology who have wings, animal heads, horns and so on. So if that proves advanced knowledge of surgery then this vidya was rather common place in ancient times. No special credit to ancient Indians.
But are we missing the point?
It is not possible that our very practical Prime Minister and his team are unaware of the fact that such claims are at the best laughable. So why did the PM make such ludicrous claims? The actual belief in such claims seems to be impossible on the part of the PM and his assistants.
To understand this issue perhaps we should look elsewhere. The issue is not truth. The issue is not whether our ancestors were advanced in sciences or not. The issue is that we want to be advanced and ahead of others. And the issue is that the present dispensation wants common Indian to feel pride in this country, culture, and in achievements of his/her ancestors. This is the form of patriotism that the PM, his party and his supported understand; and seem to have no idea how damaging this kind of patriotism can be. These claim are the stuff which are believed to build self-confidence, self-respect, awareness of our own culture and patriotism. And all these things are supposed to be necessary for economic and military development of the country. Therefore, this is a nation building exercise. We have to become a superpower, and this thinking, even if mistakenly, is considered to be useful for that purpose.
In addition to become a superpower the second aims seems to be to become a Hindu-rashtra. Claiming scientific and technological advancement on the basis of Hindu mythology serves several purposes in one go. It builds Hindu pride and an imagination of some Hindu golden age. Building an imagination of Hindu golden age is very useful as it can help create a feeling of loss of this imagined golden age and the blame could be fixed on someone other than the Hindus. A politically useful strategy.
Therefore, the issue is neither the truth of the myths, nor the belief in what is being claimed. The issue is what affects the public in a desired way. And that is more dangerous than actual belief in such ludicrous claims.
Democracy and clarity of thinking
Societies which want to govern themselves democratically have to prepare the citizens for the onerous task. Because, to quote from The Secondary Education Commission Report, “in a democracy—if it is anything more than the thoughtless exercise of the vote—an individual must form his own independent judgment on all kinds of complicated social, economic and political issues and, to a large extent, decide his own course of action. … The first requisite in this connection is to develop the capacity for clear thinking and a receptivity to new ideas. … A democracy of people who can think only confusedly can neither make progress, nor even maintain itself, because it will always be open to the risk of being misled and exploited by demagogues who have within their reach today unprecedentedly powerful media of mass communication and propaganda. To be effective, a democratic citizen should have the understanding and the intellectual integrity to sift truth from falsehood, facts from propaganda and to reject the dangerous appeal of fanaticism and prejudice. He must develop a scientific attitude of mind to think objectively and base his conclusions on tested data.”
I have taken this long quote as it makes the point very clearly and the contrast between what is needed for a healthy democracy and what is being propagated becomes transparent.
The kinds of claims that the Honourable Prime Minister has made go against this thinking and cut at the very roots of people’s ability to think clearly. Claims of genetic engineering and advanced surgery in India 2000 years back coming from people like Mr. Dinanath Batra is no problem. They can be fairly evaluated, debated and refuted. The average person on the road can laugh at their ludicrousness. But when such claims come with the authority of an elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy they gain an undeserved respectability in the minds of some people. This kind of propaganda then becomes a tool to destroy clarity in public thinking. And then the future of that democracy becomes perilous. The whole nation becomes a laughing stock. This is neither a way to patriotic pride not to becoming an economic superpower. It is simple demagoguery.