The organisers of a major Indian science conference have distanced themselves from speakers who made some unusual claims during the five-day event held in the northern city of Jalandhar.
The speakers, one of whom was the vice chancellor of a South Indian university, claimed Hindus invented stem cell research thousands of years ago and said Einstein’s general theory of relativity was wrong.
“We had 100 Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell and test tube technology,” Andhra University Vice Chancellor G Nageshwar Rao said, referring to a story from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
Rao also told the group of schoolchildren and scientists he was addressing that a demon king from another centuries-old Hindu epic had two dozen aircraft and a network of landing strips in modern-day Sri Lanka.
“Hindu Lord Vishnu used guided missiles known as ‘Vishnu Chakra’ and chased moving targets,” Rao, a professor of inorganic chemistry, told the crowd.
Rao was not the only scientist who made outlandish remarks.
A scientist from a university in southern Tamil Nadu state questioned both the general theory of relativity by Albert Einstein and the theory of gravity by Isaac Newton.
Following the comments, the organisers of the event, the Indian Scientific Congress Association, expressed “serious concern” and distanced themselves from the speakers.
“We don’t subscribe to their views and distance ourselves from their comments. This is unfortunate,” General Secretary of the Indian Scientific Congress Association Premendu P Mathur, told AFP news agency.
“There is a serious concern about such kind of utterances by responsible people.”
‘Hindus capable of genetic engineering’
It is not the first time controversial remarks have been made during the annual congress.
In 2015, a paper was presented which said Hindus discovered the Pythagorean theorem but that Greek scientist Pythagoras had taken the credit for it.
A speaker at that year’s event also said aircraft were invented by Hindus in ancient times and that they had discovered the technology behind interplanetary travel.
A year earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Hindus in ancient times already possessed the capabilities of genetic engineering and cosmetic surgery.
“We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata,” Modi said.
“If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time,” he had said.
“That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”
Modi also said cosmetic surgery must have been possible, as shown by the Hindu deity Ganesha.
“We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”
In 2016, former chief minister of the state of Uttarakhand and member of parliament Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank called “astrology the biggest science” and that it “should be promoted”.
Nishank also said Hindus in ancient times had knowledge of nuclear science.
“We speak about nuclear science today. But Sage Kanad conducted nuclear test one lakh (100,000) years ago,” Nishank said during an interview with local media.
Those comments were all heavily criticised by scientists.
In 2017, thousands of scientists and their supporters marched across India to promote their work and demand that the government invest more in the field.
Not only did those marching call for more funding, but they also called for the end to “propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance”, as well as better adherence to Article 51A of the Constitution, which states that it is the duty of every citizen to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.