Mahabharata: A Science Fiction or History?

The above question is also a FAQ that comes from both readers and non-readers of my book.

I reproduce some relevant conversations (multiple people) below.

A seeker commented…

No doubt the description of such divine weapons is inspired thinking. Nothing surprising either – our ancient philosophical thought, the ease with which we handled really humongous numbers etc all point to very evolved thinking, imagination and computational capabilities. Technology had not evolved back then to make these a reality. And life does imitate art, like Arthur C Clarke’s conceptualization of geostationary satellites before they became reality.

My response…..

I have addressed this broader issue of MBH as ‘science fiction’ vs. ‘history’.. briefly at the end of my book. Even if one accepts MBH as ‘science fiction’ to get away with ‘inconvenient’ description of ‘sophisticated weapons’, one simply CAN NOT get away with ‘sophisticated technology, calendrics, and multi-millemnium long tradition of astronomy observations and documentation’. It’s time to apply ‘Occum’s razor’ (Phrase overused by some academics without understanding or applying it to their own research).

I know you are not suggesting entire MBH as fiction, but rather referring to ’embellishments’. I do get your point. All I would say is…. it is critical to remember that what one may consider ’embellishments’ depends on his/her vision of what is possible for ‘technology of 6th Millennium BC’. Don’t forget….likes of C V Vaidya and P V Kane considered ‘AV’ observation as ’embellishment’ and 120+ MBH researchers considered it ’embarrasment’ to the extent they avoided mentioning it alltogether.

Another seeker commented….

Here is how I see it. This is really an issue of narration style. That was the style of the ancients to tell their stories, and we have to accept it. There should be absolutely no criticism of it, because any criticism done would be culturally subjective. It is our “modern” worldview and our exposure to various forms of literature, which says what is normal and what is abnormal, what is to be approved and what is to be disapproved. The ancients simply had a different way of looking at things.

The thing is that the issue of “embellishments” should not be seen as a problem in Indic texts, something to be denigrated. It is in fact a challenge for modern Indics to to do the threshing and to separate “truth” from embellishment. Just because we have been given an intellectual challenge, it does not mean we start running down the scriptures and their composers.

What we need is an intellectual way to proceed in analyzing our texts and the history in them. We can simply speak of vimanas and bhasmastras as “to be considered as a literary embellishment according to the current scholarly opinion and research”! As for all the rest, one can proceed to consider everything as attested history.

Instead what we get are two camps – one saying our itihaas is all “science fiction” and never happened, while the other camp is pinning for nuclear bombs, space ships and billions of years of human history, and between the true extremes the history in our Itihaas gets flushed away, and is not taken seriously.

Sure it is somehow possible that all the “embellishments” like vimanas and nuclear bombs may have been the truth, but the debate over the truth content of these issues can not be allowed to sabotage the scholarly study of the texts and to distill the truth in the rest portion of the texts.

Our texts deserve more respect than simply some acknowledgements in fringe groups who deal with UFOs or chest-thumping “Hinduism”, nor should our history be relegated to scorn, “science-fiction” and “nice poetry”!

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