Fascinating tales of Indian mythology: are they fact or fiction?
Looking for bed-time stories beyond Aesop’s fables for my 5-year old kid, I have been dipping into Indian mythology for its stories on valour and character. I’ve been reading & refreshing my memory to narrate excerpts from these epics every night, and my son has been soaking it all in.
The more I think about these stories, the more I wonder, whether these Indian epics are really fact or fiction? Lets investigate by asking questions of the technology and tools from these stories, and look at some eventualities.
Great epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana are often listed amongst mythology and we conveniently table them under science fiction. After all, they talk about several concepts that stretch science and our own imagination by a huge margin. We find it only natural to dismiss the possibility of an advanced human race having lived well before us.
Stretching the imagination
How could one possibly reason things like characters freely taking a physical form of their choice (like Krishna), people teleporting across worlds at ease (like Narada), characters possessing magical & superhuman powers (like Hanuman) or entire armies decimated by a single arrow (like Brahmastra).
But interestingly, whether an episode from these epics falls into the realms of science -versus- fiction, has been continuosly changing over time. One must agree that several ideas that would have been a bizarre human concoction until some years ago and which were ‘fiction’, have begun fitting neatly into some recent human discoveries, and have now become ‘facts’. Now, sample these:
Until ~10 years back…
..it would have been wild guess work that someone could travel across time, and more bizarre would have been the possibility of time moving slower in certain places, relative to earth. Fascinating is the story of King Kakudmi who took his daughter Revati to Brahmaloka, and a few minutes delay in Brahma’s world made them skip millions of years back on Earth.
There may NOT have been many takers for this story of the first time-travellers from Mahabharata. That is until the concept of gravitational time dilation was proven, though it was put forth by Albert Einstein much earlier (and famously brought into popular culture through the movie ‘Interstellar’).
Until ~50 years back…
..it was science fiction on the part of the Mahabharata story where the blind King Dhritarashtra listens to a live commentary from Sanjaya who sees the battle scene unfolding over a hundred miles away using his divya dhristi… or live streaming or broadcasting, as we might explain it today.
Until ~75 years back…
..it was science fiction that a single arrow could wipe out an entire army in battle. Multiple scripts mention about asthras or divine weapons that possess ‘special powers’ of scorching the land and anything over it, for miles.
Scripts on the Mahabharata talk about a death toll of over a billion people in a span of 18 days — if true, this wouldn’t have been possible through hand-to-hand combat. There is a lot of consistent detailing across periods and epics about each type of astra. But, all this would have sounded like plain grandstanding, until nuclear technology and Weapons of Mass Destruction came into our parlance.
Until ~100 years back…
..it was science fiction that Ravana could fly away after abducting Sita in Pushpak Vimana, his personal motored flying vehicle. There are ample references to various kinds of flying machines used by diverse characters, in multiple vedic texts.
As incredulous as it may have seemed, perhaps this was another reason why people did not take the epics literally for thousands of years. That was until the Wright Brother’s invention of flight, and then the wait for several decades for commercial flights, until people could fly (again?).
Now, what is fiction?
Considering that these epics were written a few thousand years ago, it is fascinating how one could have imagined all these, when the authors were living in a primitive state, in caves. One can imagine how people would have reacted even a few hundred years ago — these epics were popular only for their entertainment value and philosophical messaging. They were considered science fiction, because people couldn’t fathom the possibilities then.
Most of these things became ‘logical’ after human population evolved on earth and developed into today’s industrialised world. That begs the question, can this be extrapolated to conclude that everything mentioned in the epics can be taken at face value, including the futuristic things that we still think impossible? Teleportation? Humans taking forms? Super-human powers? Immortality?
As such, there is a considerable detailing of the stories and consistency in explaining the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’, while only the ‘how’ part for these technological contraptions isn’t covered in these epics. Perhaps, going by the above, all that is considered science fiction today will be unravelled as logical facts in the next 10, 100 or 500 years?
For a moment if we consider the above to be true and regard everything written about as facts, then there are two possibilities. One, our forefathers had made a Nostradamus kind of prediction on evolution of human kind and the technological possibility. Just that they had the foresight to make it direct and more memorable through stories which have been passed down thousands of years, as opposed to being confounded in some cryptic, un-interpretable text.
Two, we take the epics at face value on the timelines and go with the fact that around 5000 years ago an advanced human civilisation actually thrived on earth, had achieved far superior technological capabilities and also attained the far tougher feat of human realisation. Going by this option, we might accept the fact that all these stories actually played out in real life.
In that case, what happened after the state of heightened realisation? How did we lose everything, reset the clock of development and restart the process? Was all lost due to some catastrophic event, that was also lost in time? Or, did mankind then decide that it was better off going back to the roots and abandoned all progress made till then? But then, are we making the same mistakes and treading the dangerous path, all over again?
Questions that lead us to fascinating possibilities, conspiracy theories and even bigger mysteries, all of which are unlikely to be answered anytime soon. Meanwhile, pass on the bed-time stories to the next generation!
Our acceptance of something as a fact is limited only by our current awareness levels, hence its unfair to dismiss something just because we’ve not been able to explain it, yet.