Ancient Indian Flying Machines: Better and Earlier Than Ours

Transport, Frontiers, Time

On Sunday, January 4th, one Captain Anand J. Bodas of Kerala presented evidence of 7000-year-old "jumbo planes" at India's most prestigious science and technology conference, the 2015 Indian Science Congress in Mumbai.

"Ancient planes had 40 small engines. Today's aviation does not know even of flexible exhaust systems," said Bodas, dismissing 20th-century US inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright, who usually get credit for the world's first powered flight. "History merely notes that the Wright brothers first flew in 1904."

Bodas' proof comes from an ancient Sanskrit DIY guide: Vymaanika Shaakstra or "Science of Aeronautics," said to have been transcribed from the dictated wisdom of mythic Hindu sage Bharadwaja. It is available online to anyone interested in building from its blueprints. It also provides navigation routes, describes how pilots should dress and eat in preparation for flight, and explains how to create the metal alloys and mirrors necessary for ancient aircraft, or vimaana.

According to Bodas, the sky consists of 5 atmospheric regions with a total of 5,19,800 permitted flight paths. There are areas of turbulence to watch out for, of course, described as "whirlpools" of energy and other elements. And there are 32 secrets to flying a plane.

An instructive selection:

CONSTRUCTION: Use mantras, tantric mind training, "potent herbs and efficacious oils" to construct airplanes that won't break or burn under stress.
STEALTH: "Attract the dark content of the solar ray, and use it to hide the vimaana from the enemy."
CAMOUFLAGE: A vimaana well-piloted can change its appearance into that of a "heavenly damsel," lion, tiger, rhinoceros, serpent, mountain or river in order to "amaze and confuse observers."
CHEMICAL WARFARE: Pump "Vyshawaanara poison powder" through the vimaana's air pumps to produce "wholesale insensibility and coma" in the people below.
SOUND BARRIERS AND SHOCK WAVES: Turn a switch to create "a crescendo of thunderous din, which stuns people, and makes them quake with fear and become insensible." Turn another to create a 4087 revolution "atmospheric wave speed" that can shake up enemy planes.
DELIGHTFUL TRICKS: Yet another switch gives your vimaana "a zig-zagging motion like a serpent."
SURVEILLANCE: Use the "photographic yantra" to get a live feed of things inside an enemy plane." Turn a key at the bottom of the vimaana for a projection of all the activities happening below on the ground.
AND HEADLIGHTS, OBVIOUSLY: "By projection of the Rohinee beam of light, things in front of vimaana are made visible."
It sounds almost contemporary. In fact, with the earliest written version of the Vymaanika Shastra dated to the early 1900s, there there is a strong possibility that notions like "photographic yantra" don't really date back 7,000 years at all. Some call the text a hoax. Bodas has declined to comment on this. 

His argument for the onetime existence of vimaanas is not widely shared, anyway; Indian Science Congress colleague and NASA research scientist Ram Prasad Gandhiraman actually petitioned to have Bodas' presentation cancelled as "pseudoscience." But it is understandable; equipped with interactive shape-shifting stealth technology, automated self-defense systems and personalized snacks, the aircraft described in the Vymaanika Shaastra are both familiar and clearly superior to the economy-class travel available to today's everyman. 

Reviving apparently ancient Sanskrit science lore is also part of a larger nationalistic trend in the sciences. At the same Indian Science Congress this January, ayurvedic physician Dr Ashwin Sawant lauded early Indian surgical techniques developed “thousands of years before the rise of the modern surgery.” A few months earlier, in October 2014, Indian Prime Minister Modi himself publicly concluded that precocious "genetic science" allowed mythic Hindu hero Karna to be born outside of the womb, and that the first-ever plastic surgery patient was actually Hindu elephant god Ganesh

This month will see the release of Hawaizaada, an Indian film about scholar Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, who is also said to have flown the world's first aircraft in 1895 - eight years before the Wright Brothers.