Culture

Can Hindu literature be linked to modern day scientific techniques?

We usually dismiss Vedas, Puranas and other Hindu texts saying they are mythology or fictional material. We also overlook the fact that these contain material which could very well be the precursor to many modern scientific phenomena. In addition, the possibility that these literature discuss several scientific phenomena and talk about actual events and materials is ignored by the vast majority of Indians. It is important to remember that for a long time Vedas, Upanishads and other such literatures were orally transmitted. This was done not only to make sure the mantras were pronounced correctly but also to ensure that they did not fall into the wrong hands. Dashavatar, 10 forms of Lord Vishnu, is in essence the theory of evolution which was propounded by Darwin centuries later. Hindu sacred literature is peppered with numerous theories, inventions and ideas which is now being propagated and invented by scientists the world over.

We shall now take a look at 5 biotechnology breakthroughs which already finds resonance in Hindu texts and among Hindu Gods/Goddesses.

1) Surrogacy: The arrangement where a woman carries the child of another person, who will be the parents of the child, in her womb is known as surrogacy. In modern times the first test tube baby was born in the year 1978, although the idea was conceptualized in 1930s. The first instance of surrogacy can be found in the story of Balarama. Balarama was the elder brother of Krishna, born to Rohini, the other wife of Vasudev. When celestial beings forecast that Kansa would be killed by Vasudev and Devaki’s eighth child, the former had the couple imprisoned. Legend has it that the foetus of the seventh child of the couple was transferred from the womb of Devaki to Rohini by Goddess Yogamaya.

2) Human cloning: Two instances of cloning can be cited from Hindu literature. First is the story of Rakhtabheeja, a demon who could duplicate himself from drops of his own blood. Durga Saptashati, authored by Sage Markandeya, talks of the Goddess’ fights with several demons to restore world peace. One such demon she encountered was Rakhtabheeja. This demon could duplicate himself several times over from every drop of his blood that touched the earth. Goddess Durga, thereby, takes the form of Kali to prevent even a single drop of his blood from falling to the earth so that the cloning would stop and the demon could be slayed.

Mahabharata states that Gandhari, mother of the Kauravas, produced a mass of flesh after carrying the foetus for 2 years in her womb. A sage then cut this mass of flesh into 100 parts, treated it with herbs and ghee and put it in 100 different jars. 100 children emerged from those jars who came to be known as Kauravas. This is probably a precursor to stem cell technology and human cloning which is yet to come into fruition, although animals have been cloned successfully in modern era.

3) Xeno-transplant: Italian neuroscientist, Dr. Sergio Canavero, announced his plans to perform the first head transplant on a volunteer named Valery Spiridonov. The announcement was made in 2015 and the procedure is set to be performed in 2017. Whether or not it would be successful is anybody’s guess. However, the world’s only successful head transplant is found in Hindu mythology. Ganesha, the elephant God, was guarding the doors of his mother Parvati’s palace. In keeping with his mother’s instruction he refused entry to everyone including his father Lord Shiva. Infuriated, Shiva beheaded Ganesha. When the Goddess threatened to destroy the universe unless her son was brought back to life, Lord sent out Lord Vishnu (some believe he sent his ganas) in all directions and instructed them to get the head of the first living being with its head facing north. As per the Lord’s instructions Vishnu brought the head of an elephant and Ganesha was fitted with the elephant’s head so as to bring him back to life.

4) Cell regeneration: In modern biology, scientists are attempting to regenerate cells in humans, animals and plants. The experiments have been successful in the later two categories but human cell regeneration is still in nascent stage. Instances of regeneration of cells and body parts are found throughout Hindu mythology. It wasn’t uncommon for Devas and Asuras to regenerate any body part that had been chopped off.

5) Genetic engineering: Biotechnology has been used by scientists to create species that are improved and novel by manipulating the genome of an organism. Genetic engineering technology is now at a stage where every characteristic of the offspring can be predetermined by manipulating the gene during conception.

6) The story of Veerbhadra, the terrifying form of Lord Shiva, conforms to the definition of genetic engineering. It is an example of how Shiva created something from his own gene but with specific characteristics that he desired his creation to possess. The story goes that when Sati’s (Shiva’s consort) father Daksha was conducting a Yagna (sacred sacrifice), he invited everybody except Shiva. Ignoring Shiva’s warning, Sati visited the Yagna and was humiliated by her father. Unable to bear the insult, she set herself afire using her yogic powers. Angered by his beloved’s death, Shiva plucked a lock of his hair and threw it on the ground from which sprung Veerbhadra, an avatar so terrifying that he destroyed everything in his path.

Thus, we can see that Hindu mythology is full of stories which anticipate several modern inventions and ideas. Such a treasure of knowledge has been ignored simply because it is in the form of stories.


Latha Iyer**

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