It was another frenzied morning in maddening traffic; replete with honking and swearing all around but very little getting ahead. It was then that my daughter pitched her big idea, “Amma, I am going to make a Flying Horse that will hold us inside and quickly fly above all this traffic. It will have 2 buttons- one on the outside to open its wings. Once we are inside, we use another button to close the wing doors.” So, I went- “How will it know when and which way to fly?” Her response, “We will just tell the horse and it will understand”.
That was when it occurred to me that she might have probably been inspired by the ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ in the Ramayana (one of the two well-known Indian epics); a Flying Flowery vehicle that is used by Raavan( the bad guy) to whisk away Sita( the female protagonist) in the famous story. It was the Ramayana for bed-time stories back then.
Over the next few days, I noticed that my kids came up with tremendous sci-fi material. One sibling fight even ended with an anguished, “I wish I had a time-machine and a magic mirror to show you what REALLY happened! She started it!!!”
This piqued me and I decided to find out how many of those bizarre things we hear in those mythological and fairy tales are realities today. Turns out, they make quite an interesting pile. So, here goes:
1. The Flowery Vehicle or Pushpaka Vimana:
Mythological reference: The Pushpaka Vimana was a flying object shaped like a swan that had enough intelligence built in it to know its destination just by reading the mind of the ‘pilot’. Ravana forcibly mounted Sita on this amazing object and quickly carried her quite far away from her husband, Rama.
Today’s Science: Today’s aeroplanes and space ships could be likened to this machine. Of course, our flights today still require the pilot to operate them even with all the automation of the flight control and management systems. This video on History channel explains in scientific detail the way modern flying technologies have been influenced by many of these ancient references. Flights are not exactly capable of reading the pilots’ minds- yet! Military is beginning to work on this feature only now.
2. Non-linear Time:
Mythological Reference: King Raivata, along with his daughter Revathi went to a different world to meet Brahma, the creator. He spends a day in that world, but when he returns, he finds that several thousands of years have passed on earth. There is also a famous story in Japanese mythology that tells the story of a man called Urashima Taro, who travelled undersea and spent 3 days there. When he returned, he was 300 years into the future, and all his relatives were long dead and his house stood in ruins.
Today’s Science: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is based on non-linear time dilation and its relation to speed of light and movement in space. The recent mega-hit movie, Interstellar, brought this concept to limelight again (The movie also begins with saying the space ship landed from New Delhi, India). This video on Science TV explains it in simpler terms. There is still a long way to go in fully comprehending this.
3. Learning in the womb:
Mythological Reference: Abhimanyu is the son of the valiant warrior Arjuna. While his wife is pregnant with Abhimanyu, Arjuna extols the secrets of one particular technique of warfare. Seeing that his wife had fallen asleep, he stops after revealing only the first half of the technique. Abhimanyu never got a chance to learn it through his living years and his part-knowledge of this secret led him to give up his life in the great war of Mahabharata(An Indian epic).
Today’s Science: Scientist Annie Murphy Paul has devoted her life to the study of fetal origins, a field that measures how the outside world influences the physical, mental and even emotional well-being of the developing baby for the rest of its life. This TED Talk reveals the significance of this field of study emphasizing on the fact that fetal journey is just as important as early childhood in shaping the personality of the child. Her book, ‘Origins’ talks about what we learn even before we are born. It’s not surprising that there are several pregnancy meditation and yoga centers that encourage conscious pregnancies as much as conscious parenting.
Mythological Reference: During the great war of the Mahabharata (the second Indian epic), Sanjaya- a charioteer is given the power to view the happenings of the battleground as they happened and narrate them to the blind king, Dritharashtra.
Today’s Science: To watch an event live from the other side of the world is no more considered a miracle in today’s world. We have the game-changer called “Television” that does this for us. Sanjaya could be likened to anybody reporting live on the event(in this case, a war).
5. Herbs for medicines:
Mythological reference: The story of Ramayana describes the falling of Lakshmana( the brother of Rama) in a ghastly fight with Raavan’s son. Hanuman, the monkey-god is assigned the task of bringing the life-saving herb called ‘Sanjeevani’- literally translating to ‘The giver of life’. He flies all the way to the Himalayas to find the herb. However, he is unable to identify the herb since he is no doctor himself. So, he brings the entire mountain to the doctor who then picks out the plant and treats Lakshmana.
Today’s Science: It is no secret that the Himalayas are home to some of the rarest of medicinal herbs used in the prominent field of medicine called Ayurveda. More specifically, this article reveals that the Sanjeevini itself might have been found in the hostile peaks of the Himalayas. The wonder-plant “Rhodiola “ increases immunity, helps adapt to difficult climatic conditions and even has radio-protecting abilities( which is definitely handy during a war! Rhodiola Rosia is also found in parts of Arctic, the mountains of Central Asia, and mountainous parts of Europe.
Mythological Reference: There is a story of how Rama’s sons came into being. Sita comes to live in Sage Valmiki’s ashram and gives birth to a son called Luv. One afternoon, Sita leaves Luv in the care of the sage and retires to her room. Sage Valmiki goes into deep meditation and upon coming to, he realizes that Luv is missing. Worried that Sita will be devastated, he quickly creates a clone of Luv from a grass blade called Kusha. The clone is named Kush. Luv is found later and they become famous as the Luv-Kush duo.
Today’s Science: Cloning is a stupefying reality today. This medical research paper on Stem Cell Research and Cloning says: “Since early 1997 the United States National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) has been looking at the complex issues that surround this controversial subject. NBAC reached a conclusion in 1997, when it reported back to (Former) President Clinton, that a moratorium on human cloning would be advisable”.
7. Test tube babies :
Mythological reference: In the Indian epic, Mahabharata, the 100 antagonists Kauravas develop as embryos outside of their mother’s womb. All 100 of them emerge as fully-developed babies after the gestation period.
Today’s Science: In-Vitro fertilization and Test-Tube babies are widely accepted today as an alternative to natural conception. This video explains the process which is close to the incident described above.
8. Optical Illusions:
Mythological Reference: The Mahabharata describes the magical palace of the Pandavas famously called the “Palace of Illusions”. Nothing in the Palace was really what met the eye. Walls could be walked through and seemingly ‘empty spaces were really walls. A water-pool could actually be walked on and what looked like a safe plank was really water.
Today’s science: Today, illusory architecture is a reality as described by this article on TrendHunter, replete with Optical-illusion walk-throughs and magical stairways.
9. Yoga and water-resistance:
Mythological Reference: Duryodhana, the antagonist in the epic of Mahabharata, is an expert in the technique of ‘water-resistance’ or ‘Jalastaambana’. Before his final battle with his rival, Bheema, he meditates underwater, thereby gaining extra-ordinary strength,flexibility and agility.
Today’s Science: The Guinness book of World Records shows this French man demonstrating unbelievable flexibility and mental strength through constant practice of Yoga (43 years) and breath-control under-water.
10. The movement of Saturn:
Mythological Reference: Indian mythology and Astrology refer to the personification of Saturn as having a blue body and a limp- which prevents him from moving fast. Out of all the planets close enough to influence a person’s horoscope ( Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) – it is said that the transition of Saturn takes the longest at seven-and-a-half years. Several stories demonstrate this prolonged influence by emphasizing the malefic effect of Saturn.
Todays’ Science: It is well-established that Saturn’s Orbit around the Sun is around 29.5 earth years (10767.5 earth days) – the slowest among the influential planets mentioned above. (Reference: Pride of India, Samskrita Bharathi))
11. Distance of the Sun from the Earth:
Mythological Reference: According to Indian legend, Hanuman( The monkey-god) mistook the setting Sun to be an inviting fruit and flew all the way to the Sun- only to be disappointed. The Hanuman Chalisa, a famous story-chant also mentions this event with mathematical reference.
The lines “ Jug Sahasra Yojan Par Bhanu”- reveal the distance he travelled to the Sun.
1 Jug = 12000 years; Sahasra= 1000 years; yojan= 8 miles which makes its 12000*1000*8 ~ 9,60,00,000 miles which is approximately 15,36,00,000km.
Today’s Science: The distance between the Sun and the Earth is reported as approximately 150000000 Km.
12. Leeches used in treatment:
Mythological Reference: Indian legend has it that when the great Ocean was churned, a broad-chested man appeared with leeches in one hand and herbs in the other. He was called Dhnvanthari, the father of medicine, especially Ayurveda. This form of the ‘first doctor’ is worshipped in several famous temples of South India, to this day.
Today’s Science: Leeches are increasing being viewed as a radical tool for treatment; classified as Live Medical Devices. In 2004, the FDA cleared the use of Leech Therapy for medical purposes. (Reference: Pride of India, Samskrita Bharathi)
13. Surrogate Motherhood:
Mythological reference: The Mahabharata mentions that Balarama’s biological mother, Devaki, transferred her womb to another woman, Rohini to safeguard the child from her wicked brother Kamsa.
Today’s science: Gestational Surrogacy is a widely accepted alternative to natural conception today.
14. Atomic Warfare:
Mythological reference: The Mahabharata’s great final war was akin to an Atomic war. The weapon of Brahma called ‘Brahmastra’ was known to be incredibly potent – which could produce explosions that were brighter than a ‘thousand Suns’. After the war, there are references to people losing hair and nails pointing that weapons of mass destruction were indeed used in the war.
Today’s science: Dr. Oppenheimer, the creator of the atomic bomb refers to the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita as the inspiration behind his invention. Traces of Radio-active material and enormous destruction were excavated. When Dr. Oppenheimer was questioned by a student if the bomb detonated at Alamogordo was the first, he replied, “In Modern Times, of course!”
15. Sex Change:
Mythological Reference: Indian Legend has it that Vishnu, the Protector among the Trinity, took the female form of Mohini and Shiva(The destroyer) fell in love with her. Their union gave birth to a son, who later killed another demon.
Today’s Science: Today we hear about ‘miracle stories’ of men giving birth to children after sex change surgeries and hormone therapy. This is still a long way to go from the story- where a man completely transforms into a woman and then gives birth. We are still at the stage where women can change their sex, and yet keep their female reproductive organs to successfully bear children.
There is perennial debate on whether these stories were pure figments of imagination or there is evidence of technical know-how in these stories. This debate is something we would rely on our archeologists and scientists to answer.(Some of the references above suggest sound technical knowledge). However, that is another matter( perhaps another post).
What matters is the potential of these stories to fire up sparks all over their little heads. What matters is the potential of all cultures and mythological contexts to make similar connections.
The next time you start with “Once Upon a Time, Long Long Ago….”; don’t stop with that. Connect the dots with them all the way to their todays and tomorrows!And who knows, that little private horse could just become a reality by the time I become a grandparent!
After all, didn’t Einstein say “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
What is your best Story-telling hack? Let us know in the comments below!