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Of maya in quantum physics and ‘plastic surgery’ for Ganesha


Was the atom bomb first dropped in India? Did Ganesha undergo plastic surgery? Were Indians the first to work out time travel centuries ago? Outrageous or radical, depending on which end of the spectrum one is, theories about the possible meeting points of science and mythology took centrestage at the session on ‘Science of Mythology’ at the Times Litfest.

Ashwin Sanghi, writer of bestselling mythological thrillers, believes there is more than belief at work behind every mythology. “In quantum physics, there is a concept of entangled particles — these particles behave in the same manner even when they are apart. If this is not maya, what is? Scientists are still trying to find out what our universe is made of. Our scriptures had raised these questions much earlier,” he said.

Anand Neelakantan, writer of counter-narratives from mythology, dismissed this as nothing but pattern-seeking. “There is no magic or miracles. The universe is based on logic. Centuries ago, India was a rich country but its wealth was gradually drained during the colonial rule. People found it difficult to accept that they have fallen far behind and, hence, circulated the myths as realities.”

Sanghi conceded there is bit of pattern-seeking. “But ancient seers had better intuitive abilities … A lot of things happening now, including the quest for time travel, had been predicted by learned seers.” The advancement of science and technology of the time, according to Sanghi, was far beyond present-day comprehension. “The pushpak viman that Ravan used to abduct Sita also shows that India had, by that time, discovered the concept of the aircraft.”

Neelakantan countered by saying that even within mythological narratives, logic is in short supply. “Some people think that plastic surgery was first done in India on the elephant god Ganesha. But why doesn’t anyone question the logic behind it? Is it possible to place a giant elephant’s head on the torso of a five-year-old?” The enduring appeal, he said, was in the narrative itself.

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