‘Chandrayaan brings science, faith together in India’October 29th, 2008 - 11:29 pm ICT by IANS
New York, Oct 29 (IANS) Chandrayaan is on its way to the moon, regarded by many Indians as a god, but “devout Hindus - many of them, no doubt, rocket scientists - see no disharmony between ancient Vedic beliefs and contemporary scientific practice”, according to a New York Times opinion article.A week before India’s moon mission was launched Oct 22, millions of Hindu women embarked on a customary daylong fast of Karva Chauth, meant to ensure a husband’s welfare, broken at night on the first sighting of the moon’s reflection in a bowl of oil, Tunku Varadarajan wrote in the NYT Wednesday.
Reverence for the moon, he said, extends to the website of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which carries this verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text that dates back some 4,000 years: “O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect,/ You enlighten us through the right path.”
The seeming contradiction between religion and science, between reason and superstition is resolved in India by its “modernity of tradition”, Varadarajan writes, borrowing the phrase from the political scientists Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph.
Varadarajan is a professor of business at New York University and the opinion editor at Forbes.com.
He notes that the Hindu astrological system is predicated on lunar movements, but clarifies: “The genius of modern Hinduism lies in its comfort with, and imperviousness to, science.”
He relates how days after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, a model of the lunar module was placed in a courtyard of the most venerable temple in Varanasi, the holy city.
“The Hindu faithful were hailing man-on-the-moon; there was no suggestion that the Americans had committed sacrilege,” Varadarajan writes, adding - with a caveat against exaggeration - that science sometimes struggles to co-exist with faith in the US in ways that would disconcert many Indians.
The opinion piece writer then also concedes that India’s first lunar mission is no doubt a grand political gesture - space exploration in the service of national pride.
“This kind of excursion may provoke yawns at NASA, but judging from round-the-clock local coverage it has received, the mission has clearly inflamed the imagination and ambition of Indians. Yes, even moon-worshipping ones.”