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Science meet didn’t hear: 40 years ago, IISc debunked flying claims

They also found that the Vyamanika Shastra was based on a figment of imagination of a man who lived in the 20th century.

At the Indian Science Congress on Sunday, at a special session called “Vedic Science through Sanskrit’’, a former pilot, Captain Anand J Bodas, claimed that aircraft technology existed in India thousands of years before the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. To substantiate his claim that aeronautical engineering in India dates back to Vedic times, Bodas referred to a book, Vyamanika Shastra, that claims to document ancient sage Maharishi Bharadwaja’s musings on aviation technology.

What was not mentioned, however, was that exactly 40 years ago, a group of five young Indian scientists from the aeronautical engineering and mechnical engineering departments of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore had debunked such claims after conducting a thorough study.

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The group, led by H S Mukunda, a now retired professor of aerospace engineering from IISc, had found that none of the technologies documented in the Vymanika Shashtra would allow an object to fly. They also found that the Vyamanika Shastra was based on a figment of imagination of a man who lived in the 20th century, and not the ancient sage Maharishi Bharadwaja.

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In a paper titled “Critical Study of the Work Vyamanika Shastra’’, published in the journal Scientific Opinion in 1974, Mukunda, S M Deshpande, H R Nagendra, A Prabhu and S P Govindaraju said: “The planes described are at the best poor concoctions rather than expressions of something real. None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make then resist rather than assist flying.”

Following futile attempts to establish the Vedic origins of the claims in the Vymanika Shastra , the scientists found that the book was in fact “brought into existence sometime between 1900 and 1922 by Pandit Subbaraya Shastry’’, an interpreter of Sanskrit shlokas whose work was  documented by an aide before his death in 1944 as the Vyamanika Shastra.

The work, according to the paper by the IISc scientists, was discovered in 1951 by A M Joyser, the founder of an International Academy of Sanskrit Research at Mysore, who published it.

While the science of aeronautics requires understanding of “aerodynamics, aeronautical structures, propulsive devices, materials, and metallurgy’’, the Vyamanika Shashtra paid “little or no emphasis on aerodynamics’’, said the IISc paper. “It is worth pointing out that that the history of aeronautics (western) in regard to production of heavier- than-air craft is studded with initial failures, significantly traceable to a non-understanding of aerodynamics,’’ it said.

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“What we feel unfortunate… is that some people tend to eulogise and glorify whatever they can find about our past, even without valid evidence. In the absence of any evidence, efforts will be made to produce part of the evidence in favour of antiquity,’’ the scientists noted.

“Anybody who talks about these things has the responsibility to prove these things as well — at least on a small scale,’’ Prof Mukunda told The Indian Express. “If you see the drawings presented with the Vedic papers, it is grotesque. What is this nonsense? We went out of the way to find some substance for it at that time. We put in enormous effort. We have not stated it in the paper, but we went to great extent to find the origin of that book,’’ he said.

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“I don’t know where we are going by glorifying the past. It makes sense if the ancient knowledge is put to use, not otherwise. In a way, I regret doing all that work to write the paper. Ultimately it seems to have no meaning,’’ said Prof Mukunda. “Look, if my father was an outstanding man and I am ordinary, what can I do by carrying on about what a great man my father was? What purpose is served by going on about that?”

First published on: 06-01-2015 at 04:52:37 am
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