Thursday, 31 May 2012

Miracles in Religion

B Premanand

No religion would be accepted by people unless the gods of these religions are shown to have supernatural powers. Their faith in god is not because they love god, but because they have been made to believe that god is ail-powerful. Though it is argued that faith in god turns people from materialism to spiritual­ity, it is obvious that the faith is for material gains - here and in the hereafter. Everything one does in the guise of spirituality, even sacrifices, is for a better tomorrow. The highest aspiration of the people is Moksha, or for the Atma (Soul) to become one with the Paramatma (Universal soul), i.e. to become one with god - to become god, or the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent god.

Religion has not been able to help humanity achieve this object. But it knows how to exploit them. Science and scientific temper alone can help fulfill the aspirations of humanity for a better, finer life on earth.

Let us now look at the miracles of each surviving religion and find out whether they are miracles.


In the Old Testament, Moses is said to have performed several miracles.  One was transforming his rod into a snake and then back again to a rod.

Experiment - 34

Effect: Transforming a rod into a snake and then back to a rod.

Props: One snake.

Method: This trick was performed long before Moses performed it. The two ends of a snake, the tail and mouth-end, are held in two hands and the reptile pulled straight. Strong pressure in the centre of the head with the thumb and the pointing finger held on both sides makes the snake stiff. It cannot move even after lowering the tail-end to the floor. It looks like a rod. To make it crawl again let free the hand gripping the tail part and shake the snake and throw it on the ground; within a few minutes it will regain its moving power and crawl away.

New Testament:

In a radio interview in the United States, I was confronted by a Catholic woman on the phone. In the United States, radio interviews are very different from here. Here one interviewer asks questions, but there people interested in the subject can turn up at the radio station to ask any question pertaining to the subject. Even other people hearing the interviews in their homes, can ask any questions over a phone which has to be answered by the person being inter­viewed. If he is unable to answer, he is greeted with loud jeering and hooting.

During my interview the woman phoned up and asked "Mr. Premanand, what you tell about the miracles of the Indian godmen are true. They are real frauds. Now tell us your opinion of the miracles of Jesus Christ."

I tried to evade the question by answering that "I was not living two thousand years ago when Jesus was said to be alive, please ask me questions of what is happening today."

She again asked me if I had read the Bible to which I answered in the affirmative. I even told her that I can talk and debate on the Bible.

Then her question was as to what I thought of the miracles said to have been performed by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

I asked her whether she wanted an evasive answer or a truthful opinion, and whether my answer would upset her.

She answered me that Christians show the other cheek when they are slapped on one, and they never get emotionally upset.

B Premanand
Having been assured that my answer was not going to upset her, I gave her my truthful opinion that the miracles of Jesus Christ as narrated in the Bible are false.

Instantly she burst out on the phone, "who brought this bastard to the United States?" I was shocked by her anger.

I had to keep my emotion under control. I told her that the word "bastard" is a divine word found only in holy scriptures and not in the dictionary of the rationalists as they know that they are born to parents, and even if they may not know, or have proof as to who those parents are, they are born out of union between a male and a female with the fusion of sperm and ova. So nobody can be a bastard. The only person who is said to have been without a parent is god. So she must not use this divine word on me.

This answer infuriated her further and she spat out in anger. "Hang this bastard!"

I replied to her coolly that I didn't mind being hanged. But I would like to ask her a question before being hanged. "Do you really believe in god, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost?"

Her answer was "Yes, fully."

I asked her whether she had read chapter ten of the Holy Bible St. Mathew wherein Jesus Christ sends his twelve apostles to the people to perform all the miracles said to have been done by Christ.

But they failed in their attempts and questioned Christ why they failed and his answer was "because of your unbelief. If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (St. Mathew Chapter 17, No.19).

As she had said that she had full faith in the trinity, I would be happy, if she hangs me to death and resurrects me like the resurrection of Lazarus when the first thing I would do would be to become a Christian and believe in Christ. "Before you kill me, let us go to a hospital where we can find a dead body and you resurrect it and prove that you really believe in god, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost." She was silenced and I got the applause.

Now let us take some miracles said to have been performed by Jesus Christ.

Experiment: 35

Effect: Transformation of water to wine.

This incident is narrated in St. John Chapter 2, I to II. Jesus Christ is said to have attended a marriage in Cana of Galilee. There was not enough wine for all. Christ asked people to bring water. It was brought and he asked them to pour the water in six stone jars kept there. The water in the six stone jars was transformed into wine. If I was there at the time I would surely have asked why the water had to be poured into the six stone jars. If he really could transform water into wine, it could as well be transformed in the vessel used for bringing water.


  1. One long tumbler, one short tumbler which goes into the first tumbler with its rim a little projected outside.
  2. Another aluminium tumbler which if reversed over the two tumblers the short tumbler would get stuck in it and would not be visible.
  3. Water and wine.

Method: Fill the long tumbler with wine and place the short tumbler in it. Take the long tumbler in the left hand, pour water and then reverse the alu­minium tumbler over it and press. Move your hands over the closed tumbler, remove the aluminium tumbler lid and keep it slowly on the table hiding the bottom from the audience. Distribute the wine.

When the aluminium tumbler is placed on the long tumbler and pressed, the short tumbler with water gets stuck in it while in the long tumbler there is already wine.

Declaring that he is the incarnation of all gods including Jesus Christ, Satya Sai Baba claims to have transformed water into nectar and even petrol and diesel. If he really had powers why does he do this transformation in his own vessel? If I was there two thousand years ago I would have certainly requested Jesus to transform water in a well into wine so that any time people could go to the well and draw the wine. Then only would I concede that Christ had real powers. This is what I ask the present day god men like Satya Sai Baba. Instead of transforming water into nectar or petrol in his own pots or tins, let him transform a well or tank into nectar or petrol. Then we will have to accept his powers. Even in nature crude oil can only be tapped from an oil well. But if a water well can produce petrol, our country would not need to put up petro-chemical plants. It is a pity that no god man has yet done so in the history of miracles.

[Here is another method to "transform water to wine". Here the "transformed" water looks like wine] 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Business and Politics of Blind Faith

Ram Puniyani

Sanal Edamaruku, a rationalist is facing the legal trap for abusing others’ faith. (April 2012) At the same time in another event, Nirmal Baba, who is supposed to be having divine powers and who has been flashing his paid programs in over 40 TV channels, advising people on solving their problems with various’ divine’ solutions, is facing case of fraud. Recently a local court has directed the police to register a case against him for allegedly cheating people. Both these cases coming in different religions have a deeper connection. In case of Sanal Edamaruku, he was able to show the root of the water seeping from the feet of Jesus Christ on cross in Mumbai’s Irla area. This water was regarded as divine and many followers were thronging the place to have access to the divine water. Sanal showed that water was from the choked drain and getting pushed up by capillary action. Sanal is facing the wrath of section of the community for hurting their faith.

Nirmala Baba, Nirmaljit Singh Nirula, a failed Businessman had disappeared in 1970 and then later repapered claiming to have divine powers and started building up his enterprise by organizing paid TV shows in which those in the audience were initially paid to ask solutions for their problems and later people in thousands thronged, paid money to enter these TV shows, ‘Nirmal Darbars’ and Baba started dishing out ‘solutions’ while his bank accounts swelled. In few years time the ‘faith-business’ flourished and now Baba is a multimillionaire with good deal of property under his belt.

The large section of followers thronging for the divine water seeping from the feet of Lord Jesus, to explain the source of water came as an insult of their faith. To the multiple people seeking solutions from Nirmal Baba, it was again a matter of faith. The boundaries between faith and blind faith many a times are very blurred. As such faith and reason have been counter-posed in the society. Faith has been ruling the roost in the areas of ‘unknown’ and the future. It has been constructed around the supernatural powers and clergy of different religions or self made Godmen have been the custodian of faith. Many an areas which were in the domain of faith shifted to reason over a period of time like nature of earth, eclipse, diseases etc.

At the same time faith has been used or manipulated for different purposes in society, including for political ones’. Ram Temple movement is the example of such use or abuse of faith. Hiding behind Sharia to continue with certain retrograde social practices is another such example.

The natural phenomenon being interpreted through the angle of faith, Earth is flat, God created life in such and such fashion, is one thing and to create a well planned show to rouse people’s faith and then to make business of it with the help of section of TV, media, unmindful of their social responsibility is another side of the same coin. One concedes that the insecurities of the society have gone up by leaps and bounds and this faith gives a emotional support to many to sustain in the midst of the hardships prevalent all around. Still we do need to bring out the boundaries where the rational thinking, the one our Constitution ordains us to promote, needs to be adhered to sincerely.

Nirmal Baba
In case of Nirmal Baba state has correctly woken up and case has been put up against him. In case of Sanal state and society need to protect him from the trappings of law to uphold reason. The mechanical interpretation of laws ‘hurting the faith’ of others needs to be sanitized for protection of the mandate of Indian Constitution to promote rational thinking and to protect the likes of Sanal.  In case of Nirmal Baba, the media, which has aired the sponsored shows of Baba and built up his fraud, needs to introspect.

The claims that these are matters related to religion are again far away from the truth and have a distorted perception of the complex phenomenon of religion. The core part of any religion is the morality developed by the prophets and society over long period of time. The institutions built around religions and the hyper-emphasis on rituals, sharia is an insertion by the clergy, who has its own vested interests and which has ensured the suppression of rational thought all through. One recalls the battles between Charvak and clergy related to the oldest struggle of reason to come up in social thinking and pull the society out of the clutches of the vested interests of clergy.

Giordano Bruno
In Europe the scientists like Bruno, Servatus, and Galileo suffered immense torture at the hands of powerful mediators of the institutional religions. One must re-emphasize the difference between the teachings of the prophets-religions and emphasis on identity and rituals by institutions of religion and variety of Godmen. Prophets were for radical changes in the society to come out from the evils prevalent in society, they were for change and for justice. The institutions built in their name are there for status quo and for preserving the system where few benefit and most in the society suffer. The rational thinkers, scientists had to face imprisonment or other harassment for discovering things like Earth is round, diseases are not due to wrath of God etc.

The response of the clergy was a severe condemnation of this rational thinking as it would undermine their privileges in the society. While Europe has seen its battle against the blind faith, faith based knowledge; it seems at broader level that we in India are still struggling to come out from the impositions of faith. One can say that even in recent times those who stood for social change and justice like Jotiba Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker and Bhagat Singh resorted to rational thought and those for status quo of social relationships took recourse to identity of religion. Their politics took cover under the name of religion and they harped on faith and issues built around identity issues.

The continuation of the mind set of feudal society has got mixed up with the new challenges of globalization and contemporary insecurities faced by the average people. Nirmal Baba may be a crude example from the battery of these Godmen. There are others who are more sophisticated and have a vast reach through diverse mechanisms. Godmen, faith merchants are those who have en-cashed on the insecurities of people by mixing the creation of miracles with faith, mixing spirituality and faith in a variety of ways.   As Meera Nanda, an eminent social scientist, in her book ‘The God Market’ has demonstrated this phenomenon has expanded by leaps and bounds in last three decades. The proliferation of Babas of different hues all around has put a brake on the growth and promotion of rational thought and scientific temper. The patronage of high and mighty to these Godmen, or persecution of people like Sanal is a matter of deep concern and is a mirror showing us as to where our society is going in the matters of faith.  

The litmus test of the values of Babas and those putting cases against the likes of Sanal has to be, how much these elements are talking of prevalent social injustices, how much they are promoting the morality inherent in their religions? On this count the God men are tongue tied. It is time we build the conduits to promote rational thinking and confronting the tricks played by the likes of Nirmal Baba and those propagating the existence of miracles out of phenomenon which can be explained by scientific inquiry. 

Are Natural Foods Always Non-toxic?

Radha Gopalan

No.  There are several naturally occurring toxins in plant and animal foodstuffs.  Toxins are poisonous substances of natural origin and can be harmful to human beings.  But food poisoning, in our mind, is usually associated with microbes or environmental contaminants.  A foodstuff is not always safe just because it is natural.

Concern about the safety of food has been reported even amongst our early ancestors. Pre-historic men were primitive toxicologists – they only consumed food that was found safe for animals.  But they were always subject to food hazards arising from food plant poisons, decomposition or deficiencies in their diet. The active substances in plants can be toxic if unchanged. However, primitive man discovered that some toxins were rendered safe in the preparation process – cooking, soaking etc.

Poisonous plant chemicals are called phytotoxins.  These include alkaloids, polypeptides, amines, glycosides, oxalates, resins and toxalbumins. The natural contaminants range from toxic alkaloids in the white potato with high carbohydrate content to oxalates in spinach.  Some edible mushrooms are also poisonous.  Mycotoxins (toxicity due to fungus) on grains and absorptions of trace elements (zinc, selenium, lead, copper, cadmium, etc) are other toxic contaminants of natural origin.

Legumes and oil-bearing plants that are highly proteinacious are also highly toxic.  Red blood cells clump together when we eat improperly cooked beans and some other leguminous plants. Beans also contain a substance called tyrosine which gets metabolized in normal persons.  But in heart patients, who take medicines, the normal metabolism is hindered and eating beans can lead to a hypertensive crisis.

Ricin, a toxalbumin, is a component of castor bean that causes burning of the mouth, throat and stomach, convulsions and respiratory distress.

Lathyrism – a disease common in India – manifests as muscular weakness and paralysis of the lower limbs.  This is due to the intake of the pulse lathyrus (khesari) dal as a major portion of one’s diet.   The chemical aminopropionitile is an enzyme inhibitor which weakens blood vessel walls and bones.  Erucic acid, a natural lipid found in rapeseed oil and mustard seed oil, is potentially toxic and can cause heart disease.

Honey bees visit a number of plants to collect honey.  If they visit toxin containing flowers, the toxicity can reach us through the honey indirectly.  There has been one such report of honey poisoning in Asia Minor.

Intolerance to lactose or milk sugar is common amongst adults in Asia and West Africa.  Lactose causes diarrhea and gastric problems.  This sugar is a naturally occurring component of milk.  In tolerant persons, lactose is broken down to glucose or fructose which is easily absorbed but n intolerant individuals lactose remains in the gut, ferments because of the bacteria in the gut and causes gastric disorders.

Rhubarb, tea, cocoa, spinach and beet leaves contain salts of oxalic acid in large quantities (0.02 to 1.3 per cent).  It is also present in vegetables like lettuce, turnips, carrots, peas and beans and in certain berries.  These salts are mostly found in leaves but in the rhubarb they occur in the stalks and in beets and carrots, in the roots.  Oxalic acid formed by the breakdown of the salts in corrosive on the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.  It can even cause haemorrhage.

Solanine is the glycoalkaloid present in white potato (Solanum tuberosum), brinjal and tomato, and causes gastrointestinal and neurological disorders.  The potato has a very high proportion of solanine and eating a fir amount of raw potatoes can lead to death.

Linamarin and amygdalin present in Lima beans, peaches and apricot produce hydrogen cyanide enzymatically.  This chemical is highly poisonous.  Dhurrin, a substance present in sorghum, denatures the proteins.  The consumption of huge quantities of peach and apricot kernels also leads to poisoning.  Cassava roots or manioc (tapioca) (Mamihot utilissima), the basic food in many African countries, yield 15-400 mg of cyanide per kilogram of fresh food.  The enzyme causing the release of cyanide, also contained in tapioca, is inactivated by cooking.  Low levels of cyanide residue are observed in the cassava consumed.

Gluecoisinolates present in cabbage, oilseed crops, rapeseed and mustard seed are harmful when consumed in large amounts.  They are a source of nitriles.  Eating fresh raw vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, etc increases one’s intake of goitrogens – goiter causing compounds.  Soyabeans, groundnuts and walnuts are found to be goitrogenic in babies.  These compounds lead to considerable loss of thyroxine and thus cause goitre.

Ergotis is the effect of carcinogenic mycotoxins from the fungus ergot (Clavicepts purpurea).  It contaminates flour obtained from grains affected by the fungus and the toxin even goes up to the bread stage.  The by-products of this fungus have resulted in hallucinations and gangrene formation – ergotism.  In fact ergotism affected persons were burnt as witches in medieval times in Europe.  Other outbreaks of diseases due to mouldy foods are also well known.

Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin from fungus Aspergillus flavus and A parasciticus.  It is carcinogenic to animals, causing injury to the liver.  Ot of 400 cases of aflatoxin poisioning in India recently, 100 succumbed to hepatic diseases.  Maize, a major dietary constituent, was contaminated with aflatoxins.  Also groundnuts grown in humid areas can cause aflatoxin poisoning because the fungus infects the plants more easily in such climates.

Drinking herbal teas and medicines have reported to be the cause of liver injury in Jamica, Indian and Afghanistan.  Pyrrolizidine alkaloids were found in teas that resulted in hepatic disease.  Another typical example that is carcinogenic is chewing betel leaves with arecanut or tobacco.  Forty per cent of mouth and throat cancer prevalent in India is because of the toxicity caused by the alkaloids arecoline and nicotine present in tobacco, betel and arecanut.

Some mushrooms can be poisonous when eater, some are deadly.  Gautama Buddha is said to have died of mushroom poisoning.  Some mushrooms, though poisonous when fresh, are edible when cooked, dried and salted.  Muscarine and amanitine are among the toxic substances present in various mushrooms that affect man.

Zootoxins are animal food toxins. Blue fin tuna, mackerel and swordfish, when left at room temperature for long hours, produce a chemical called saurine.  This is a histamine releasing substance causing vomiting, nausea, itching, etc.  Jellyfish have protenacious toxins that get inactivated on heating and by gastric juices.  Biotoxication is mostly caused by fish.  The toxins are present in fresh fish and are not destroyed by heat or gastric juices.  Several species of sharks can cause severe intoxication.  The bones of mackerel contain an oil which is purgative by nature.  Another kind of fish, commonly known as gobi fish, causes poisoning because of the presence of a very toxic substance called terodotoxin.  Liver poisoning by sharks, tuna and sea bass is due to the presence of high levels of vitamin A concentration in the liver of these fish.  Some turtle meat becomes extremely poisonous causing nausea, vertigo, cramps, etc.  Its pharmacological and chemical properties are unknown.

The sea-anemone has a toxic polysaccharide that is inactivated by heat.  A popular oriental food, sea cucumber, is a source of gastro-intestinal disorders which are due to saponins – a group of glycosides made up of sugars.  These are also present in a wide variety of plants.  The burning and itching sensations caused by eating shell fish are due to the presence of pyrophenophorbide, a toxic substance that is absorbed through the skin.

With the growing knowledge of natural toxicants present in plants, and animals, our doubts about so-called “safe” foods also increase.  But they need not.  The question is not whether toxic substances are present in some foods or not; the answer is always “yes” to begin with.  But, as Paracelsus, a Swiss alchemist and physician, puts it, “All things are poison for there is nothing without poisonous qualities.  It is only the dose which makes a thing a poison”.

(This essay was first published in July 1987 issue of Science Age (now defunct). Ms Radha Gopalan has an M.Phil in mycology from Southampton University, UK)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Were Our Ancient Ancestors Scientifically Advanced?

[This essay, written by the eminent Cosmologist Jayant V Narlikar, first appeared in the April 1985 issue of Science Age, a magazine now defunct, brought out by Nehru Centre, Bombay. Though the essay is almost three decades old, it continues to be as relevant as most of the criticisms on pseudoscience are.

While recommending books debunking pseudoscience,  MassimoPigliucci says in his influential book Nonsense on Stilts - How to Tell Science from Bunk that though the books he recommends are old, one need not worry as pseudoscience never progress. Since the purveyors of pseudoscience almost always recycle the same stale arguments, the criticism raised earlier also continues to be valid. This is true of promoters of pseudoscience in India as well - especially those who make outrageous claims about the so-called "Vedic Sciences"]

Dr Jayant V Narlikar
Image Courtesy:
“Astronomical Vedic Science” by J Arunachalam (Science Age, March 1985) tries to show that the Vedas contain extraordinary scientific knowledge.  Others believe our puranas contain descriptions of things which re scientific and technological inventions of the most sophisticated order.  Was Sanjay in the Mahabharata the first TV commentator?  Were the Kaurava princes test-tube babies?  Were the battles in our mythology fought with guided missiles? Was the Pushpak Viman a helicopter?  These are examples of technology.  But were our Vedic ancestors scientifically advanced?  Did they or their immediate successors employ high technology?  If you believe that the answers to these questions are n the affirmative, you must prove it with scientific evidence.

Let me clarify what I mean by scientific evidence.  For someone to argue that an apple falls down from an apple tree (when it ripens, say, and gets disconnected from the branch) because there is a force of gravity acting on it and pulling it towards the Earth, is not enough.  Not even Newton could have convinced his fellow scientists of the law of gravitation with just that observation.  The law of gravitation has behind it Kepler’s meticulous analysis of observations of planetary motion, Newton’s law of motion, the mathematics of calculus; it has following it such predictions as Halley’s Comet and the discovery of Neptune.  Science, in other words, is not a collection of vague qualitative statements: it rests upon detailed experiments and mathematical foundations.  What is technology?  It is not a folklore of extraordinary objects: it is made of detailed manuals specifying in minute details all the components that go to make such objects.  Scientific evidence should produce such detailed descriptions.

Take the Greek epicyclic theory.  Wrong though it turned out to be, it can be judged as a scientific theory even to day by examining, say, Ptolemy’s Almagest. Detailed geometrical constructions are given the aim of which was to reproduce the observed positions of planets on the sky and to predict where to find them in future. 

Mr Arunachalam complains that “a majority of Indian scientists who know a great deal of Greek science are thoroughly ignorant of Indian science”.  Since he talks of Vedic science, he presumably means that there exists Vedic science in such quantitative details as the above example of Greek science.  Unfortunately, to date, no such detailed description has emerged.

Science makes unambiguous statements based on precisely stated assumptions. Unfortunately, Sanskrit (a language which I know a little and admire a lot) is not a suitable medium for describing science.  It has flexibility of syntax and meaning that can lead to many interpretations being given to the same statement.  A classic example is Aryabhata’s sloka implying that the Earth revolves around an axis against a background of fixed stars.  Since at the time he made the statement, and in the centuries that followed, the geocentric theory held sway, Aryabhata’s successors interpreted this sloka differently.

This being the drawback of Sanskrit, statements in that language depend very much on who chooses to interpret them.  Scientific conclusions are by contrast objective.  When Einstein writes a paper it does not require different interpreters to say what he meant. If he wrote a paper in such ambiguous terms it would not be accepted for publication in any scientific journal.

Arunachalm’s examples from ancient writings are such that they depend very much on the interpreter.  Take for example his translation of the answer to where the Sun gets its energy: “the Sun gets its power from a gas, which is in unlimited quantity.”  Now if modern science had found the Kelvin-Helmholtz hypothesis of gravitational energy (of contractions) as the correct answer to solar energy, this statement could be cited in support of it.  This hypothesis is, however, incorrect and so the same statement could be cited (as Arunachalm presumably intends) as supporting thermonuclear energy.  Further, what does the adjective “unlimited” mean?  The Sun has a large but finite mass. Is this what is implied?  If so, the interpretations are contrived at best. The relationship of the time span of manvantara (300,000,000 years) to the modern estimate of the Sun’s orbital period round the Galaxy is equally farfetched unless the Sun’s motion round the Galaxy is so stated explicitly somewhere.

The Viman-shastra which I had once studied failed to satisfy me on either of the two counts.  In terms of science, it did not give (even qualitatively) the theory of aerodynamic lift that motivates all modern planes.  It did not give any alternative scientific explanation as to why planes fly.  An in terms of technology it did not give a manual on how to make a plane.

It is wrong to read “science” into descriptions that are not scientific texts in the first place. The Ramayana and Kumarasambhava are literary masterpieces. Let us not confuse them with such things as Principia Mathematica or Review of Modern Physics.  As for the Vedas, as Arunachalam says, “traditions hold that even to misspell a word by a single letter is sin” – that is hardly the spirit of science!  Had science followed such a tradition our school children or college graduates would today be reciting Alagest word for word.

In the end I wish to clarify that there have been scientific text in India. The Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas give medical science as known and understood and practiced in ancient India.  The works of Aryabhata and Bhaskara are examples of astronomy text which exhibit clarity (in spite of Sanskrit!).  Leelavatis is an excellent example of a text in arithmetic, algebra and geometry.  Thus it is not necessary to go to Western science per se for examples of ancient science writing.

This makes it all the more important to find scientifically written texts of Vedic times.  Until such text are found, I regret that my answers to questions in my title cannot be in the affirmative.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Kṛṣnamiṡra’s Prabodhacandrodya - A Critical Introduction

Sita K Nambiar

We earlier posted certain sections of Krsna Misra’s 11th century allegorical drama, Prabodhacandrodya, in which the character Cārvāka makes an appearance.  Though Prabodhacandrodaya does caricature Carvaka/Lokayta philosophy,  the play is an important source of our present day knowledge about materialist philosophy in ancient India.

We now reproduce parts of the critical introduction written by Dr Sita K Nambiar for her translation. 


Chapter I


The author and his play 

In the 19th century Kṛṣnamira’s Prabodhacandodaya was widely read by European Indologists and as a result the worked was translated into several European languages1.  At least one scholar2 to my knowledge has written a study on it, investigating it as a drama.  But the philosophical contents of this play have not yet been specially treated.  I am undertaking this work with the hope that it may contribute to tracing the history of the development of Indian philosophy.

This play can be dated with some precision from the author’s references in the Prologue.  It was produced at the instruction of one Gopala in the presence of his friend Kirtivarnman, whom Gopala had restored to his kingdom after defeating the Cedi king Karna3.  Now the Deogarh inscription of the same Kirtivarman of Jejakbhukti is dated 1098 AD.  According to the Mahoba inscription Kirtivarman defeated Laksmikarna, i.e, the Cedi king Karna of Tripuri, who is mentined in an inscription, dated 10452 AD.  In the Vikramankadevacarita 1819 Karna is called Kalah Katanjaragiripateh, “The Death of the (Candella) king of Kalanjara”, which corresponds to Kṛṣnamiṡra’s statement4.  Gopala might have been an ally through whose valour Kirtivarman defeated Karna, but the commentator Mahesvara says that he was the Commander-in-Chief (senapati) of Kiritvarman and was a Brahmana.  Most probably the play was written between 1042 and 10985, and it can be concluded that the author belonged to the second half of the 11th century, perhaps even the beginning of the 12th century.  According to a tradition6, Kṛṣnamiṡra was an ascetic belonging to the Hamsa order of the Advaita School and had many disciples.  One of them was interested in kavya but not in philosophy.  Kṛṣnamiṡra is said to have written his dram in order to teach him the Advaita doctrine.

Prabodhacandrodaya is an allegorical drama. Kṛṣnamiṡra was not the first Indian poet to write an allegorical play, though not much is known about the earlier literature of this class.  There are the fragments of a Buddhist allegory with Kirti (Fame), Dhrti (Firmness) and Buddhi (Wisdom) as characters, which was perhaps written by Asvaghosa7.  Then, there is an allegorical play called Agamadambara, still in manuscript, written by Jayanta, the author of the Nyayamanjari, who lived in the 9th century AD.  After Kṛṣnamiṡra, however, quite a number of allegorical plays were composed8.

The name Prabodhacandrodaya has been translated variously by various scholars.  J. Taylor translated it as “Rise of the Moon of Intellect”, Winternitz as “Erkenntnismondaufgang9”, Macdonell as “Rise of the Moon of Knowledge10”, SK De as “The Moonrise of True Knowledge11”, and Dr. Boissevain as “Maaansopgang der Ontwaking12”.  The word prabodha requires some discussion.  Taylor’s translation of it as intellect is not satisfactory.  Winternitz’ and Macdonell’s translation as Erkenntnis and knowledge is certainly nearer to the correct mening.  However, if we accept it, we have to render vidya by some other term, but vidya is properly knowledge.  Boissevain’s translation as “Ontwaking”, ie Awakening, which is literal, seems to be the best rendering of the Saskrit word. 
The awakening treated in the play is a sort of spiritual realization. Pursusa (Man), who had forgotten his identity with the Supreme Being, Paramesvara, and had fallen as it were, into a deep slumber, is awakened by Vidya or Knowledge to realize his identity.

As for the question how the compound prabodhacandrodya has to be split, there are two possibilities:
1.      Prabodha eva candrah prabodhacandrah, tasya udayah. Or
2.      Candrasya udayah candrodayah, prabodha eva candrodayah, prabodhacandrodayah.
 In the first case, awakening is identified with the moon and in the second case with the moon-rise. Taylor and Macdonell follow the first, while De and Boissevain follow the second.  Winternitz’ translation is quite as ambiguous as the original.  It can mean  either Erkenntnismond-Aufgang or Erkenntnis-Mondaufgang. What Kṛṣnamiṡra means, however, is clearly prabodhacandasya udayah, “the rise of the moon which is awakening”.   This can be proved by a passage of the play itself.  In the first act13 the compound prabodhacandra is used by Kama: Prabodhacandrena bhratra … Therefore, I would translate Prabodhacandrodaya as “The Rise of the Moon of (spiritual) Awakening”.

There are several edition of the play, which I have listed in the Bibliography. Though the text of the Nirnayasagar edition is not always the best, I have used this edition throughout and given references according to it. Where its readings seemed unacceptable, I have in a few places preferred those of the Trivandrum edition.  The commentaries which accompany the text in the Nirnayasagar edition, Candrika and Prakasa, I founduselful in several places.  The commentary of the Trivandrum edition, Natakabharana, has also ben consulted.

Before analyzing the philosophical contents of the dram, I will first give a brief survey of the plot.  In the analysis of the philosophical contents, a compromise seemed advisable between a systematic arrangement, necessary for a clear presentation of the doctrine, and an arrangement following the succession of events, corresponding to the process of gradual enlightenment represented in the play.  Such matter of philosophical interest as could not find place under the compromise adopted, will be treated in a concluding chapter, which is arranged according to some important characters

  1. Cp. Winternitz, Geschichte der Indischen Litteratur, Vol.3 p. 252 n.1 
  2. Boissevain. Cp. The Bibiliography 
  3. Hultzsch and Kielhorn, in: Epigraphia Indica I, pp. 217ff., 325; VA Smith, in: Indian Antiquary XXXVII, 1908, p.143
  4. Cp. Konow, Drama, p. 92, 103
  5.  Levi, Sylvain: Le theatre indian, Paris, 1890, p. 232 ff
  6. Krishnamacharya - History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Press, Madras, 1937, p.676
  7. See Winternitz, Geschichte, Vol. III, p. 181 f.
  8. See Dasgupta, History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 480 ff.; Winternitz Geschichte, Vol. III, p. 256 ff.
  9. Winternitz, Geschichte, Vol. III, p. 252
  10. Macdonell, A History of Sanskrit Literature, William Heinemann, London, 1905 ,  p. 366
  11. Dasgupta Surendranath, A History of Sanskrit Literature, Calcutta, 1947, p. 482 
  12. Boissevain, Prabodhacandrodaya. 
  13. Prabodhacandrodaya, Nirnayasagar Press, Bombay, 1935, p.34

Chapter IV

Non-Vedic Schools

The Carvaka or Lokayata 

Kṛṣnamiṡra deals with this school at great length.  Lokayata is the system founded by Vacaspati, also known as Brihastpati, who handed it over to Carvaka, who in turn spread it in the world through his disciples1.  The word lokayata means “what prevails among men”.  The Lokayata or Carvaka system is materialistic.  It is the foremost enemy of all religious and philosophical schools based on the Vedas.  According to Krsnamistra, Buddhism, Jainism, and the Kapalika sect are based on the Lokayata system2.  Therefore, once this system is overthrown, the schools and sects derived from it are also ruined.  All the Vedic schools in the play join together to defeat the Carvaka system.

As to the question whether there is a soul separate from the body, we get the answer in the following verse, put in the mouth of Delusion who is depicted in the play as the great friend of Carvaka: “(The view) that there is a soul separate from the body, which on reaching the other world enjoys rewards, is (like) the hope to get tasty fruits from the big flower of a tree in the sky3”.  The opinion that after the death of the body no soul remains is expressed in the following: “The many talkative believers (astikas) who jabber in vain that the thing which does not exist, exists, condemn the truth-speaking non-believers (nastikas)4.  Oh, look, has anyone in reality seen a soul separate from the body, which has formed the intelligence as transformation (of itself)5”.

The materialist does not believe in the caste system (varnabheda).  He does not recognize moral precepts.  He teaches: “If the bodies are like in their different parts, the mouth, etc, how can there be a hierarchy of castes?  We do not accept any difference between a woman or wealth belonging (to us or) to somebody else.  Only those who are devoid of manliness consider whether an act should be done or no, when it entails injury, approaching women at one’s pleasure and seizing the wealth of  others6”.

According to the Carvaka, the only means of knowledge is perception7.  The elements are earth, water, fire, and air.  Wealth and pleasure8 are the sole aims of man.  The elements move through original impulse. There is no other world.  Emancipation is death.  Knowledge consists only on statecraft.  Varta or the science of agriculture and trade is included in this9.  The three Vedas are incoherent talk of cheats10.  If their teachings about sacrifice lead to heaven, the processes similar to sacrifices must lead to the same result: “If sacrifices obtain heaven by the destruction of the sacrificial matter through the action of the officiating (pries), then the trees burnt by the forest fire will bear ample fruit11”.  The teachings of the Veda are nothing but nonsense:  “If it is assumed that an animal slain (in sacrifice) goes to heaven, why does not the sacrifice forthwith immolate his own father12”?  “If sraddha (offering of rice-balls to a dead person) produces gratifications to being who are dead, then oil may rear the flame of an extinguished light13”.  “It is the reasoning of fools that the pleasure which arises to men from contact with sensible object is to be relinquished as accompanied by pain. What man seeking his true interest would fling away the berries of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, because they are covered with husks and dust14”?  “Brhaspati says that the oblation in the fire, the three Vedas, the carrying of three sticks tied together, and smearing oneself with ashes are the means of livelihood of those who are devoid of intelligence and manliness15”.

The Carvaka classifies the Vedantins along with the Buddhists:  “If the Vedantas (i.e the upanisads), which accept things contradictory to what is established through the means of knowledge, sense perception, etc, are authoritative scriptures (sastra), then what wrong are the Buddhists doing16?” The Vedantin says that the world which he knows through the means of knowledge is unreal.  That implies a contradiction. The Buddhist, on the other hand, says that everything has only momentary existence, which is just as contradictory to experience as the Vedantin’s view.

  1. Pra. Ca, p. 71. The word Carvaka means “sweet-tongued”. 
  2.  Pra. Ca. V p. 176 f.
  3. Pra. Ca. II. 16 akasatarroh prasunam, more commonly khopuspa is an example given usually for a thing which does not and can never exist. 
  4. The words astika and nastika specifically denote those who accept, and those who do not accept, the authority of the Vedas. 
  5. Pra. Ca. II v.17. Cp.Madhava Sayana: Sarvadarsanasamgraha (S.D.S), Calcutta, 1908, . p.2 caitanyavisista eva atma. The reading varsmanam in the Nirnayasagar edition is a misprint for varsmano. 
  6. Pra. Ca II v.18 
  7. There is a work of the materialist school called Tattvopaplavasimha, by Jayarasi Bhatta (8th century) (published in Gaekwad’s Oriental Series, 1940), which does not accept any pramana, not even pratyaksha.  This shows that the Carvakas were divided among themselves, some accepting perception and some accepting no valid means of knowledge at all. 
  8. Artha and kama, dhrama and moksha are dismissed. 
  9. Pra. Ca. p. 71: dandanitir eva vidya. Atraiva vartantarbharvati. Cp. Kautilya, Arthasastra:  anviksiki trayi carta dandanitis ceti vidyah (I. 2.1); varta dandanitis ceti barhaspatyah (I.2.4); dandanitir eva vidyety ausanasah (I.2.6); tasyam hi sarvavidyarambhah pratibaddha iti (I.2.7); krsipasupalye vanijya ca varta (I. 4.1); Brhaspatisutra 1.3: dandanitir eva vidya.  It is to be noted that whereas the Brahaspati of Kautilya accepts varta and dandaniti the author of the Brhaspatisutras, who is obviously a theist, accepts only dandaniti, like the Carvaka of Krsnamistra and Kautilya’s Ausanasa. Cp. Also Frauwallner, Philosophie II p. 296: “…die enge Verbindung des Materialismus mit der politischen Theorie.” Also cp. Ruben, Maaterialismus. 
  10. Cp. S.D.S. p.3: dhurtapratapas trayi. 
  11. Pra. Ca II. V. 19. This verse is quoted verbatim in the Sarvamatasamgraha. 
  12. Pra. Ca. II v.20 Cp. S.D.S p.6
  13. Pra. Ca. II v.21 Cp. S.D.S p.6, where the second line of the verse is different. 
  14. Pra. Ca. II v.23 Cp. S.D.S p.3 
  15. Pra. Ca. II v.26 Cp. S.D.S p.3 and Sriharsa, Naisadhiacarita 17.39.  The verse also occurs in the Sarvamatasamgraha and in the Sarvasiddhantasamgraha attributed to Sankara.  All these works must have quoted from a work of Brahaspati which must have been extant as late as the 12th century, in which both Sriharsa and Madhava, the author of S.D.S, lived. 
  16. Pra. Ca. II v.4. This verse too is quoted in the Sarvamatasamgraha.
Pra. Ca.:
  1. Krsna Misra: Prabodhacandrodayam with  the commentaries Candrika and Prakasa, Nirnayasagar Press, Bombay, 1935
  2. Krsna Misra: Prabodhacandrodayam with the commentary Natakabharana, Ed. by K. Sambasiva Sastri, Trivandrum Sanskrit series LXXII, Trivandrum, 1936.
  3. Krsnamisra: Prabodhacandrodaya, Ed. by F.A. Brockhaus, Lipsiae, 1845

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Carvaka Philosophy in Prabodhacandrodaya

Almost all of what we know today about Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy is from secondary sources – most of which are quoted by opponents of the philosophy in order to refute or even ridicule its arguments. Not surprisingly, there was a tendency in these works to caricature the philosophical stance of these ancient Indian materialists. Yet, these being the only sources on which we have to base to reconstruct the philosophy, they – despite being outright caricatures – are indispensable for anybody who wants to study Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy.

Krsna Misra’s  11th century allegorical drama, Prabodhacandrodya, is one such source. We reproduce those sections of the drama in which the character Cārvāka makes an appearance.

The earliest English translation of this work is Prabodhacandrodaya or Rise of the Moon of Intellect: A Spiritual Drama of J. Taylor. The present extract we publish here, however, is from the translation done by Dr Sita K Nambiar and published by Motilal Banarasidass in 1971. Dr Nambiar writes in the Preface to her translation that her "translation is based on the fairly reliable Sanskrit text published by Panduranga Javaji, Nirnayasagar Press, Bombay, 1935.  But at certain places the  text is defective and as a result it defied attempts for the correct translation. But such occasions are few and far between.  In general I have kept close to the original and tried to preserve the spirit of the text without violating the English expression".

Dr Sita K Nambiar was the Principal of Daulat Ram College of Delhi University. She was a scholar of the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst and received her Ph.D from Bonn University in 1960.

In a future post, we will reproduce a part of the critical introduction written by Dr Nambiar for hertranslation. We are also planning to upload the translation of J. Taylor as soon as it becomes available to us.

(Then enters Grand Delusion pompously with his attendants)

Grand Delusion (महामोह ):            

(Smiling). The fools are without any check on them. 

“(The view) that there is a soul separate from the body, which on reaching the other world enjoys rewards, is (like) the hope to get tasty fruits from the big flower of a tree in the sky.” (16)

This world is deceived by the ignorant who accept the existence of what is the mere creation of their own imagination. For –

Them any talkative believers (āstikās) who jabber in vain that a thing which does not exist, exists, condemn the truth-speaking non-believers (nāstikās). Oh, consider from the point of reality.  When the body is destroyed, has any one seen a soul separate from it which acquired consciousness as result of transformation (due to certain combination). (17)

They deceive not only the world but also themselves. For –

If the bodies are alike in their different parts, the mouth, etc., how can there be a hierarchy of castes?  We do no accept any difference between a woman and wealth belonging (to us or) to somebody else.  Only those who are devoid of manliness consider whether an act should be done or not, whether it entails harm, whether to approach women at one’s pleasure and seize the wealth of others. (18).

(After thinking, proudly). By all means materialism alone is the science, in whose view, the only means of knowledge is perception. The elements are earth, water, fire, and air. Wealth and pleasure are the sole aims of man.  The elements move through original impulse.  There is no other world.  Emancipation is death.  This science was composed by Vācaspati who followed our view and has given it to the Materialist. This science is popularized in the world by him through his disciples and their disciples.

(Then enter the Materialist and his disciples)

Materialist (चार्वाक)

My child, know that knowledge consists only of statecraft.  The science of Agriculture and trade is included in this.  The three Vedas are incoherent talk of cheats.  There is no difference just because they postulate heaven.

See –

If sacrifices obtain (for one) heaven by the destruction of the sacrificial matter through the action of the officiating priest, the trees burnt by the forest fire will bear ample fruit? (19).

Moreover –

If it is assumed that an animal slain (in sacrifices) goes to heaven, why does not the sacrifice immolate his own father? (20)

And –

If srāddha (offering of rice balls to a dead person) produces gratification to being who are dead, then oil may rear the flame of an extinguished light. (21).

Disciple (शिष्य)

Venerable teacher, if the sole aim of man is to eat and drink then why do these ascetics renounce the worldly pleasure and afflict themselves with severe tortures caused by parāka (a sacrificial sword) sāntapana (a kind of rigid penance) and taking food once in three days (as an expiatory act)?


These fools who are deceived by the Vedas composed by cheats are contented with the sweetmeats of hopes.  See,

Where is the embrace of the long-eyed ones, the embrace pressing the shoulders with one’s arms and which is pleasing because of the prominent breasts compressed and where is begging, fasting, penance, exposure to the  burning heat of the sun which emaciate the body of these fools (22).


Revered sir, these ascetics say that worldly pleasure is to be given up because it is mingled with miseries.


(Laughing) This is the expression of foolishness of these human animals.

It is the reasoning of fools that the pleasure which arises in men from contact with sensible objects is to be relinquished as they are accompanied by pain.  What man seeking his true interest would fling away the berries of paddy, rich with finest white grains, because they are covered with husks and dust? (23).

Grand Delusion: 

Well, It is after a long time, my ears are gratified by words which are authoritative (Looking with joy). Oh! It is my dear friend Materialist.


(Looking) This is king Delusion. (Going near). May the king be victorious!  I, Materialist salute you.

Grand Delusion: 

Welcome Materialist, be seated here.


(sits) Kali prostrates before you.

Grand Delusion: 

Ah! Kali, unimpaired blessing be upon you!


By your grace all is good. He has accompanied everything (ordered by you) and wishes to (worship at) your feet.  For –

After receiving the great command (from you) and having accomplished it by destroying the enemies he is now happy and delighted and with his great joy in countenance feels blessed and prostrates himself at the lotus feet of the Lord. (24).

Grand Delusion: 

And what has that Kali achieved?


Lord, he caused the virtuous forsake the path shown by the Vedas and act according to their own wish.  It is the glory of my Lord neither mine nor Kali’s for this achievement. (25).

The people of the north and west have forsaken the three Vedas, what to speak of tranquility and self-restraint.  In other places too the three Vedas are there just as the means of livelihood.  The Acārya (Brhaspati) has said:

“The oblations in the fire, the three Vedas, the carrying of three sticks tied together, and smearing oneself with ashes are the means of livelihood of those who are devoid of intelligence and manliness. (26).

There in Kuruksetra and other places my Lord need no fear the birth of Knowledge or Spiritual Awakening even in a dream”

Grand Delusion: 

Well done.  That great holy place is rendered useless.


My Lord.  There is something more to be reported.

Grand Delusion: 

What is it?


There is a Yogini of great power called Devotion to Visnu.  Though her popularity is lessened by Kali, we cannot even look at those who are blessed by her.  Therefore, my Lord, you have to be on your guard against her.

Grand Delusion: 

(In fear to himself). Oh! It is difficult to destroy here whose great power is well known and who is my natural enemy.  Well. (to himself).  Sometimes drastic action has to be taken.  (Loudly)  Then my dear, do not have any doubts.  Where can she appear when Concupiscence and Anger are her enemies?


Even then one who desires victory should not remain unguarded even where the enemy is weak.

For –

Even a weak enemy may prove to be a fierce one in the end and inflict a mortal would like a small thorn that afflicts the foot. (27).

Grand Delusion: 

(Looking behind the curtain)  Who is there?

(Enter the gatekeeper)

Gatekeeper (दौवारिक)

Victory to my Lord.  Let my Lord command.

Grand Delusion: 

Oh! ‘Companion of the wicked’, Go and direct Concupiscence, Anger, Greed, Arrogance, Spite and other that they should be on guard and kill the Yogini – Devotion to Visnu.


As your Lord commands.


(A man enters with a letter)

Man: I come from Utkala.  There near the ocean there is a temple of God call Purusottama. I have been sent to the king by my masters, Arrogance, Deceit and Conceit.  (Looking) This is Varanasi.  This is the place of the king.  I shall enter (Entering).   Here the master is talking something with  Materialist.  I shall go near him (Going near)  Victory to my Lord.  Look at this letter which needs attention.

(Gives the letter)

Grand Delusion: 

(Taking the letter)  Where do you come from?


I have come from Purusottama.

Grand Delusion: 

(To himself)  Must be something very serious. (Aloud) Materialist go.  Be alert while doing whatever is required.


As you command.


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