Dr G Madhavan Nair, scientist and former chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation, now spends a lot of time cultivating scientific temperament as a patron of a Sangh-allied organisation, Vijnana Bharti, that works to create a science-based society. Excerpts:
Many Hindu cultural organisations are currently seeking to put emphasis on claims about India’s ancient scientific prowess and the need for these to be woven into the country’s scientific roadmap. Your views?
Ancient India did have a lot of scientific temperament, which is evident because of references we find in ancient literature. That we had scientific imagination as a society is clear from mentions we find about things such as missile-like multiple arrows or flying objects. But we cannot rest on these glories.
Surely, all historical civilisations had push the cause of science. What about claims such as Lord Ganesha was an example of plastic surgery?
It would be a mistake to accept these claims in the absence of evidence, but these such references point to human scientific imagination to create things.
As a top scientist, how do you view then attempts to propagate claims that are more mythological than scientific?
There was a lot of science during the Vedic age. The main problem is that documentation during the ancient age was very poor. For instance, the predictive aspect of Indian astrology does not fulfill hard scientific norms, but computational aspects of Indian astrology is of a very high calibre. So, we can use that ethos to further our scientific achievements. Science is not about what has been done, but can be done.