Pokhran – 2, “Shakti” Nuclear tests, were conducted by the scientists of India on 11th May 1998. The Government of India gave the go ahead, defying all international pressures.
Image: Courtesy Wikipedia
This day heralded India’s entry into the elite nuclear club and has since been celebrated as National Technology Day, in India.
National Technology Day, Logo
Dr. Homi Jehagir Bhabha, the founder of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is regarded as the father of India’s Nulclear program. It was Bhabha who launched the Indian Nuclear Program under the leadership of Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. The country’s first Nuclear weapons were launched under his leadership.
The Nuclear program was given a boost by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, when she decided to create nuclear capability in response to a nuclear test by China in 1967. The job was given to Raja Ramana, the well known nuclear physicist.
The first nuclear test of India, Pokhran – 1, aptly code named, “Smiling Buddha”, for it was meant for peaceful purpose only, was successfully carried out in 1974.
After 24 years, Pokhran -2 was carried out under the leadership of then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The test preparations were carried out by Nuclear Physicist, A.P.J.Abdul Kalam who had been working on Indian’s missile program. With Pokhran 2, history was created as India became a full fledged nuclear state.
Did India became a nuclear state only in 1998, or did Ancient India have a similar capacity?
The answer to this question that perplexes many of us, can perhaps be found in the following pointers.
Dr.Robert J. Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist of America, responsible for the development of the first Atomic Bomb in the modern world, while witnessing the first nuclear test explosion in 1945, in New Mexico Desert quoted from the verse 11.32 of the Bhagavad Gita –
“I am become death, destroyer of the worlds”.
Dr. Robert J Oppenheimer
Image: courtesy US National Archives and Record Administration
Manhattan Trinity Project – The Explosive Gadget
Photo: courtsey Los Alamos National Laboratories
Was then Oppenheimer of the opinion that the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharata, which brought forth theBhagavad Gita, too had nuclear arsenal in it and was he aware of the same?
Dr. Oppenheimer conveys a plausible connection, when he articulates his view on the nuclear capability of an ancient civilization.
Shortly after the first nuclear test explosion, called the Manhattan Project, Dr. Oppenheimer, addressed the students of the Rochester University.
Here one of the students asked him a pointed question, if his experiment was the first nuclear explosion of the world. He responded thoughtfully as “Well ….Yes, in modern times ofcourse …”
This cautious, measured, response of Dr. Oppenheimer, which has been recorded for posterity, makes one wonder if Dr. Oppenheimer believed that in an earlier civilization, there could have been nuclear capability.
By earlier quoting the Bhagavad Gita during the test explosion, was he perhaps pointing to the Indian civilization as having had that capability?
This thought is further substantiated by the Indian text Mahabharata and the adjunct text Purana, which give a vivid description of the Asthra or missiles and their capabilities.
The description of the special manner in which these Asthra were invoked, the number, colour, shape and the rapid speed of individual discharges from each Asthra, the extent of destruction they had caused and the awe in which they were held as compared to the regular bow and arrow, make them appear to be special weapons of mass destruction, beyond our comprehension today.
Astra were projectiles that were fired, as against Shastra, which were hand held traditional war weapons such as swords, lance, spears, mace, bows and arrows.
Astra are defined as those that were ejected from a holder. They had to be launched and inflicted damage some distance away. From this definition, Astra seems to be equitable with the missiles of today.
It is to be noted from the account in the texts, that not everyone who took part in the war had the Astra. The common soldier used only Shastra.
The Astra, the forerunners to missiles may be lost in the mists of time. But that, the global usage of rockets and missiles in warfare got a boost from the 4 Anglo-Mysore wars of India in the 1790s, is a well recorded fact.
Shastra (Hand Held Weapons) and Astra (Missile Like Weapons)
On this National Technology Day, let us resolve to explore further the technological capabilities of Ancient India, link it to modern needs and make further progress for the benefit of mankind.