CULTURE COLA : 1 (by Dr. Raja Shastri) 

Looking at the religious fanaticism and advent of blind faith that is reflected in the present Indian scenario, one might get a feeling that ancient Indian culture is responsible for this. Contrary to this feeling, science has always played an important role in the ancient Indian culture. Many of Indian sages and saints were not only philosophers but were also scientists. It would suffice to say that India could boast of even women scientists like Gargi and Maitreyi. Documented research proves that Lopamudra (sage Agasti's wife) is the first known woman psychologist of the world. These sages, who were instrumental in introducing many rituals and 'sanskaras', seem to have put in a lot of thought in designing those rituals. That's the reason most of the rituals in Indian culture had a solid scientific logic behind them. The trouble is that those scientific reasons were perhaps never explained to the later generations, and therefore those rituals are taken by the present intellectuals as something meaningless.

To start with just take one example. It was custom (which is observed by many people even now) that when one starts having one's meal, one was supposed to sprinkle water all around one's plate, chanting the Gayatri Mantra and keep five grains of rice outside the circle created by sprinkled water for the 'Panchmahabootas' - the five metaphysical elements: earth, water, light, air and sky. To an intellectual person this would sound strange. The obvious question for him would be: "What the 'panchamahabhootas' have to do with your food?" But the fact is that this ritual has nothing to do with either God or panchamahabhootas. They were plain simple hygienic principles.

To understand this, let us visualize the dining scene in those ancient days. There were neither dining tables nor plates. People used to sit the on the floor, which used to be done up everyday with cow-dung. The food was served on a banana leaf placed on the floor. Obviously insects could move around freely, and there was every chance of the insects crawling over to the banana leaf. Because of the sprinkled water in circle around the leaf, the insects could not come into the plate. While moving around the circle of the sprinkled water, they could find the food-grains kept outside the water circle and they remained engaged there. One could have one's meal, in peace without worrying about any infection.

A simple scientific solution! But I guess if people were told about it as a scientific precaution, people might not have paid any heed to it. Hence the God was brought in along with the panchmahabhootas. People feared God and there stuck to their ritual. 

                                                                                       -Dr. Raja Shastri






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