Eyebrow-raising claims trigger debate in India
A series of sensational claims, including that ancient Hindu sages were the pioneers of aviation and algebra, have triggered a furious debate in Indian academic circles amid warnings that nationalist breast-beating could undermine the country's burgeoning scientific reputation.
A conclave of experts and researchers, whose guests included new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was intended to highlight some of the latest achievements by India's scientific community.
The nation's scientific prowess received a major boost last year when it became the first Asian country to reach Mars, a breakthrough that academics hoped would make people view India in a different light.
However, the headlines from the conference in Mumbai last week were dominated by the contributions in a session devoted to Vedic science, which appeared in ancient Hindu scriptures. Former pilot turned author Anand J. Bodas said Maharishi Bhardwaj - a sage of the Vedic period (around 1500-500BC) - had laid down as many as "500 guidelines" on flying in one of the ancient Hindu texts much before Leonardo da Vinci's 15th century ideas for flying machines and the American Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903.
The Maharishi defined an aeroplane as a vehicle which could even travel from one planet to other, Bodas said before adding that some of the "jumbo" aeroplanes of ancient India had "40 small engines" and could move not only forward but backward as well.
He then raised eyebrows further by claiming aviation technology existed in India as early as 7,000BC, though he did not explain his evidence for this theory.
In the same session, Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan also caused a stir by claiming that Indians were the first to discover some of the most important mathematic principles. "Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem but we very gracefully allowed the Greeks to take the credit," said the minister, who is a member of Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.