Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Of Heritage, science and astrology.

Bloggers Umesh and Suraj did a remarkable study on the speeches of Dr. Gopalakrishnan, the founder member and lead of Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage. I had not followed his talk shows carefully, until these two posts were published. Mission of his organization, as stated in their website is to learn and teach ancient heritage using ‘ultra’ modern scientific and technological tools. A very good objective-who knows, maybe something from our ancient wisdom may prove useful to us now. Even otherwise it is good to be aware of the heritage of our country.

Problem starts where Dr. Gopalakrishnan tries to explain practices such as astrology as “useful”, though he makes no attempt to evaluate it scientifically as his organization claims to be doing, but is keen to propagate it. Certainly this is a pursuit in conflict with stated objectives of his organization. He wouldn’t even mind fabricating evidences and went even to the extent of stating that the late child prodigy Thomas Edmund Clint painted only Ganesha pictures.

Why would a person with a doctorate in biochemistry roam around the world trying to prove whatever we thought in the past was the best of all times? Answer is obvious, he knows of our craving to hear it repeatedly. People who listen to him does not know astrology was widely practices in almost every part of the then civilized world and people dropped it as science grew. It doesn’t matter what we did in the past, we need to hear it was all great, in its entirety. We need to be assured that whatever we are doing as rituals are scientific.

What is it with this craze to live in yesteryears?
When I broke my wrist and couldn’t take part in any sport, I used to spend my weekends in my hostel room brooding and indulging in self pity. If anyone drops in I would immediately start talking about the great innings I played for my college when I was fit. Bored the visitor will utter something like “it is so unfortunate you cannot play now" and i feel better.

Almost all over-indulgers in our heritage opines we were a great country, almost a heaven till invaders destroyed us and we should be proud of it. Some even go to the extreme that India never invaded anybody. When I ask them how can India invade any country at a time India did not exist, they go blank. When I ask them how come they forgot the great Chola Empire’s historic sea expeditions and conquers I realize any of them does not even know our history and still feel proud of it anyway.

Pride over what we lost?
It’s good to be proud of what we have. But, if we were masters of “sakala yantra, tanra &mantra” how come it was a cakewalk for every tom, dick and harry who attempted to conquer us ? We may have had a good start, probably well comparable to other civilizations of that time. Then we ritualized science and technology, mixed it with superstitions and propaganda, cut it off from commons and reserved it to the “upper castes” and elites of the land and started losing the race.

“Scientific” knowledge was encrypted in Sanskrit and common man was denied of Sanskrit education. Those who had access to data claimed these are divine verses and is complete and perfected. Rest of the world was progressing consistently. They built improved theories and philosophies, they invented new gadgets of war and found a huge opportunity in undeveloped parts of the world- Africa, Asia and Americas were being rules by several small time kings and tribal leaders who were busy beating each other and took sides with and against the conquerors for their own peril.

How did the colonial empire beat us if we were so good?
Adam Smith, father of capitalist economic theory devoted three chapters of his magnum opus “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” how and why undeveloped world is to be made colonies of the ‘technologically, socially and economically’ developed world. He realized that these places have a lot of resources but no know how, no initiative and no capital to do anything useful with it. What he advocated was literally looting of the resources that are in surplus- which will, per his claim will start a socio economic boost in these areas and result in immense gain to the colonialists.

It worked for them at the time. They deployed administrative excellence and cleverness, Kings and rulers of thousands of countries. Only country that played it smart and won against the colonialists was Thailand. The smart Thai emperor did not take sides in the game, instead he made France and Britain struggle against each other and kept his kingdom intact.

With all the great wisdom and knowledge and heritage, we did not even put up a great resistance. Except for a few kings who fought for their countries we all gave in easily. For the common man, white monarch’s rule and dark monarch’s rule was same.

Shame game
State of living in pre-colonial countries in Indian sub continent was pathetic. It took an imperialist to enforce abolishing of slave trade. It took an imperialist to stop human sacrifice. There was no formal education system. Lower casts were denied entry in educational institutions, public roads and lived lives comparable to domesticated animals.

Cannon of taxation was "loot as much as you can." In Travancore, the erstwhile country that covered my birthplace before formation of Indian Union, there were over a hundred types of taxes including bizarre ones like “Meesa karam” (moustache tax) Mula Karam (breast tax) and Kazhchakkaram (Tax payable whenever tax collector visits you, regardless frequency). Brahmins were of course, exempt from tax.

There was no medical facilities. Whatever limited ayurvedic practice available was denied to lower castes- the physician who touches the poor outcaste cannot touch upper caste people and would lose his income earning potential. We were just crude, uncivilized, cruel people, busy making others life miserable.

When great Zamorin of Calicut attacked Kingdom of Cochin, the King there sought Dutch help. Just a hundred and odd Dutch military personnel smothered the entire army of Zamorin- imagine how good was our armies!

Whatever small endeavors towards furthering science in the ancient times was quickly smothered by superstitions, hoarding, hatred, denial of access and pure ignorance of the masses. I wandered too far from the subject. Back to topic , astrology was once widely practiced everywhere. As science grew world shunned it off barring a few pathetic odd people, nobody believes in it any more, except in India.

Is astrology scientific?
You can do this simple test. Circulate same set of copies of horoscopes to 50 astrologers and 50 common men with few simple questions- like are these people living or dead? Are they males or females? Are they wealthy or poor? Are they healthy or ill? Find it out yourselves.
Dr. A T Kovoor has done this several times when people tried to prove astrology is scientific. If astrology works, people who mastered it should be able to answer these with more accuracy than people who don’t know it.

Is astrology logical?
Well, it depends upon how your logic works. It may sound very logical to you, but to me it doesn’t.
Astrologers predict how many times you marry . There are tribals in Africa and Indonesia who have 15 or 30 wives. I would love to see how their horoscopes differ from those of Indians who marry once or at most a couple of times.
My birth star Thiruvathira (Aardra in Northern India) is a red giant and it may become a red giant and explode any moment, it is even possible it already has. Astrologers doesn’t know what is the fate of this star, how do they predict what it does to me?

Tens of thousands of people who perished together in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did all their horoscopes had an indication of death or at least bad times?

People of South India avoid “Rahu Kalam” whenever they start anything new. Do they have a higher success rate when compared to those in North who doesn’t follow this astrological practice?

We say we depend on 3000 year old astrological scripts. Due to precession process a shift of at least 30 degrees happened to position of constellations in relation to earth in last 2000 years, meaning now “Kanni” is occupying place where “Chingam” was , Makaram is where Dhanu was when Varahamihira or Brahmaguptha penned their astrological scriptures. Do astrologers rework these to arrive at predictions in modern times?

They don’t consider Uranus and Neptune, instead they treat sun and moon as grahas (planets) . No other galaxies are counted in too.

Is Astrology a part of our culture?
Well it had been in practice for very long, though we do not know how long. Ram did not marry Sita because their horoscopes matched perfectly. Krishna did not bother to check Rugmini’s horoscope . I haven’t heard of any epic palace that was built on Vastu.

Buddha warned public about dangers of astrology. Vivekananda observed people believing in astrology has a weak mind and need to get themselves better. Vivekananda was also of the opinion that while our initial focus was on astronomy, the ancient Greek introduced pseudo science of astrology to us and we got misguided from then.

Why Astrology still prevails in India when rest of the world shunned it?
In other parts of the world astrology was a stand alone quackery. Fortune tellers made small fortunes predicting future and misleading people. In India, it became part of our life, worship, temple rituals, occupation for some castes and races and it was for their benefit it was absorbed to everyday life of an entire nation.

Who benefits?
Those who are engaged in the profession of astrology, period.
The consumer always loses, he thinks his life is dictated by stars that are light years away from him or some calculation based on unscientific and erroneous information. It’s a life full of misery for those who believe in astrology. Approximately 30 years of his life will be eaten off by Saturn (ezhara sani and kandakasani in malayalam). He can’t marry girl of his choice if horoscope doesn’t match. He cant travel if stars don’t like it. If he succeeds in something, it’s just his stars’s favour. If he fails, he would not attempt harder- his time is not favourable.

An astrologer can easily make him anybody he wants him to be. If the astrologer tells his wife cheated him, he wouldn’t bother to make an enquiry before breaking up his home. If he is told his own brother is resorting to sorcery to destroy him, he would stab his brother or spend a million to bounce back the evil forces. He would have had excellent engineering skills but would take up an acting profession and fail just because his stars told him he would succeed in the film industry.
I do not want to live a slave’s life. Do you?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Banning Beef?

Why do you oppose ban of cow slaughter?
This is a clear move to impose hindutwa agenda on Hindus, followers of other religions and non religious people. India is a secular country and wishes of one sect should not be imposed as law.

But Hinduism prohibit beef eating.
It doesn’t. Vedas have several verses on gomedham (cow sacrifies) and vedic rishis ate beef. Upanishads follow the same approach towards beef. Great phyisicans and surgeons of ancient India advocated beef. None of the Hindu gods advocated vegetarianism. Ram and Shiva ate meat. I couldn’t find any saying in any hindu religious texts that prohibits beef.

But a religion can change and have new set of rules.
It sure can. But regarding prohibition of beef, it never happened to Hindus. From the vedic times to modern times, beef was always a part of diet for most of the Hindus . Ashtamga hridaya, written around 10th Century advocates beef as good meat. Bhavaprakasha, another ayurvedic text written in 16th Century prescribes beef diet for quick muscle gain, curing sinusitis and several other chronic conditions. Two most revered Sages of modern times - Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekanada were non vegetarians. Vivekanada ate beef and appealed to Hindus to stop being kitchen-centric and turn person centric instead. Today, Hindus of Sikkim, Meghalaya, Misoram, Assam, several parts of Bengal, Kerala eat beef in plentry and a sizeable portion of Hindus in other states do it too.

Why are you so worried about cow slaughter ban? Would Saudi Arabia allow pork sale?
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country and India is a secular one. I wouldn’t advocate ban of pork in India either. If religious text of Muslims prohibit pork, let them decide not to eat it. Others should have the option. Saudi Arabia is not India’s role model anyway, we do not want pick pocket’s hands to be cut and people to be beheaded for crimes.

You are from Kerala. Havent you heard of Sri Narayana Guru’s speech that coins cow to your mother? Eating a cow that provides you milk during infancy is like killing and eating your own mother according to Sri Narayana.
With great reverence to all the good deeds of Sri Narayana , I differ from him on this. Cow did not visit my house and feed me out of love. Somewhere a cow was enslaved, impregnated without her consent, the food she produced for her offspring was stolen by force and fed to me. I owe no gratitude to her or the people who tortured her to produce milk- for monetary gains. Then I was fed formula milk- I do not consider chairman of Glaxo as my mother. When I had lactose allergy, I was on Soymilk. I don’t consider those bean plants as my mothers either.

Research says meat eating is bad for health.
There is no research available that says meat eating is bad for everybody. Those who live on affluent protein rich diets should go really low on meat, diary, sugar and oils. Majority of Indians are having protein insufficiency and their options should not be reduced. Even if every single Indian is having an affluent diet, banning beef does not make any sense, when there is no call to ban milk, sugar and oil that are euqally harmful for affluence related diseases, banning beef is certainly not in good intention. Butter, ghee, hydrogenated vegetable fats and refined food are far more dangerous for chronic conditions. You should be addressing these first if you are so cautious about these conditions.

Vegetarians live longer according to research.
These researches are done on people of rich countries who adopt a healthy and expensive plant based diet, give up oil and refined food, exercise and monitor their health on a daily basis. Life expectancy of Indians is far less than comparable beef eating countries - Thailand and China for example.

Humans are basically monkeys and are natually vegetarians.
We are not. Evolution changed us. We need Vitamin B6, which can be obtained from non vegetarian diet . B6 deficiency is appalling in India. By the way from where did you get the idea that all monkeys are vegetarians? How many animals you know drink milk produced by an entirely different species?

If we allow cow slaughtering, milk cost will increase.
It will increase if we stop cow slaughtering. Unproductive cattle population will increase if we cannot use them for food and cost of diary industry will un-necessarily increase.

Isnt slaughter an act of cruelty? Would you like to be slaughtered?
Yes. And we are curel by nature. Look at this, we tie up cows and enslave them, we rape and impregnate them, then we steal the milk it produces for its offspring. I certainly would prefer death than being treated like this!

I respect cows. It is part of my belief. Who are you to get into that?
Great. I was just waiting for this. Honey, you respect cows. I do not. You can chose not to eat beef. If you have to suffer for what you believe, it is fine with me. If I HAVE TO SUFFER for what you believe, it is fascism. Terrorists also believe I have to suffer for their belief.