NCERT reading material on Chandrayaan draws ire for ‘mixing science with mythology’

Rationalists and educationists contend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been glorified in the reading material instead of ISRO and the contribution of the scientists.

October 24, 2023 08:31 pm | Updated October 27, 2023 10:38 am IST - Bengaluru

To create awareness among students about the success of Chandrayaan-3, NCERT prepared a special reading module for schoolchildren and the Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan released it on October 17, 2023 in New Delhi in the presence of ISRO chairman S. Somanath. Photo: PIB

To create awareness among students about the success of Chandrayaan-3, NCERT prepared a special reading module for schoolchildren and the Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan released it on October 17, 2023 in New Delhi in the presence of ISRO chairman S. Somanath. Photo: PIB

Reading material suggested by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on Chandrayaan-3 for schoolchildren has drawn the ire of rationalists and educationists for “mixing science with mythology.”

They also contend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been glorified in the reading material instead of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the contribution of the scientists. Interestingly, India is referred to as ‘Bharat’ in every instance in the 17-page script.

What is the issue?

To create awareness among students about the success of Chandrayaan-3, NCERT prepared a special reading module for schoolchildren and the Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan released it on October 17 in New Delhi in the presence of ISRO chairman S. Somanath.

In the introduction of the material, NCERT exhaustively quotes the Prime Minister’s remarks, where is cited as asking, “Did this scientific achievement happen only now? Didn’t it happen in the past? Didn’t people in the past think about this?”

He explains: “Literature tells us that it can be traced back through Vymaanika Shastra: Science of Aeronautics, which reveals that our country had the knowledge of flying vehicles in those days (This book has mind boggling details of construction, working of engines and the gyroscopic systems).

Further, the reading module narrates the mythological story. “The Vedas, the oldest of Indian texts, makes a mention of various gods being transported on wheeled chariots pulled by animals, usually horses, but these chariots could also fly. The Rig Veda (verses 1.16.47-48) specifically mentions “mechanical birds.” There are various mentions of flying chariots (Rath) and flying vehicles (Vimaan) which were used in battles and wars.” The text also mentions Pushpak Viman said to be created by Vishwa Karma.

“All gods had their own vehicle personified as an animal, which they used to travel from one place to another. These places included earth, heaven, planets and cosmic destinations called ‘Loks’. Such vehicles were said to travel effortlessly in space and without any noise. One such Vimaan is the legendary Pushpak Vimaan (literally the floral chariot) mentioned in Ramayana. It was created by Vishwakarma, the chief architect of god’s, out of the dust from the Sun for Brahma. Brahma gave it to Kuber. When Ravana took over Lanka from Kuber, it was used by Ravan as his personal vehicle,” it explained.

Why the opposition

Educationists and students’ organisations have criticised this reading module and opined that instead of creating scientific temper in schoolchildren, the Union government was trying to “impose their saffron ideology”, blending mythology and science, through NCERT.

Speaking to The Hindu, Niranjanaradhya V.P., developmental educationist, asked: “In the module Prime Minister referred to Vedas and Vimana Shastra for today’s achievement. If Indian vedas and mythology indeed had a scientific base and technology in the ancient age, why not we refer to that Vimana Shastra and build a spacecraft using that ancient knowledge?... We need to move on to the future and propagate rational and scientific temper and critical thinking.” He said that the text Vymaanika Shaastra was written by scholar Pandit Subbaraya Shastri somewhere between 1918 and 1923.

He further said, “I can’t understand why our Prime Minister was in such a hurry to push NCERT to make a special module in the middle of the academic year. Was it to glorify and boost his image at the cost of dedicated scientific community who toiled for decades for the Chandrayaan mission.”

‘Bane of scientific studies’

Ajay Kamat, Karnataka state secretary of student organisation AIDSO, said: “These types of unscientific arguments are the bane of the scientific studies that are actually going on in our country. And most importantly it destroys the scientific spirit and logical thinking of students. Therefore, we demand the NCERT to withdraw reading module immediately. The educationist and science-loving people must beware of the propagation of such unscientific and bigoted ideas, as they are contrary to all scientific spirit and true knowledge.”

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