10 things you may not know about India

India is one of the fastest growing countries in the 21st century but there are a lot of mis-conceptions about India. In this blog post, I try bring forward top 10 things that you might have not heard about India.

NOTE: I have to be honest in my compilation of facts from the history. However, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against the modern day successors of the invaders of that age and I believe that India and Indians are mature enough to understand that if someone's ancestor invaded our ancestors centuries ago, we should hold nothing against them in the modern world. Also, today's India is very much like the western world and even though its developing at a great rate, it's still not a developed country. My intention is not to suggest that the modern India is better than the western world, even though the article below will make it clear that the ancient India was no less than any other great country of the world in any time of history.

With advent of invaders from all over the world and more than 1000 years of constant fight or suppression by foreigners, Hindus have gotten confused about their own existence. In the past there were political reasons to suppress all greatness of India. However, now with emergence of liberal societies and information age backed by United States of America, the ancient truths are finding light and the truth regarding India is appearing to become mainstream. India had different types of invaders. Some like huns who just wanted to loot the wealth and leave, some like Mughals who liked the country so much that they chose to live and then followed by British who did a combination of both until World War 2 when British had to finally leave India. During this age, the invading cultures were threatened by the scientfic and intellectual advancement of India and were afraid to lose their intellectual elite to the great ancient culture of India, so they purposely destroyed the academic wealth of the country (buring the world famous Nalanda universtiy is one great example), funded studies to divide India (British policy of Divide and Rule is another great example) and mis-led the people of India into a culture that was never theirs.

1. Science: Not only Indian invented zero and decimal long before the world did, quite not surprisingly, keeping up their humble culture, the people of India didn't fight the 'credit war'. Aryabhata Lots of people made fun when they heard about the bridge made from India to Sri Lanka in the Ramayana (exact time of Ramayana is not known but believed to be more than 5000 years old). It only took NASA to prove the existence of an ancient bridge between Sri Lanka and India before the story became credible. Well, it turns out that people of India knew calculus before Newton discovered it. Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics. Also, just the lyrics of a prayer - Hanuman Chalisa (Jug sahastra jojan par bhanu, lilyo tahi madhur fal jaanu) depicts the calculation of distance between Sun and Earth exactly right. Hanuman is an integral part of Ramayana. Thanks to recent validations by modern science, even the origin of Earth was calculated to be approximately 4.6 billions by Indian scriptures. I can go on and on by scientific discoveries by ancient Indians but to summarize all that only one testimony is sufficient: In his landmark TV series Cosmos, Carl Sagan called Hinduism the only religion whose time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by modern science. And the most respected testimony by none other than Albert Einstein. "When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous." ~ Albert Einstein.

2. Warfare: In 1963, Ex-President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam went to NASA facility in Maryland(USA) as part of a training program on sounding rocket launching techniques. There he came across a painting which depicted Tipu Sultan’s rocket warfare against the British, here, I saw a painting prominently displayed in the reception lobby. It depicted a battle scene with a few rockets flying in the background. A painting with this theme should be the most commonplace thing at a Flight Facility, but the painting caught my eye because the soldiers on the side launching the rockets were not white , but dark-skinned, with the racial features of people found in South Asia. One day, my curiosity got the better of me, drawing me towards the painting. It turned out to be Tipu Sultan’s army fighting the British. The painting depicted a fact forgotten in Tipu’s own country but commemorated here on the other side of the planet. I was happy to see an Indian glorified by NASA as a hero of warfare rocketry.

Mahabharat and Ramayana talk about a weapon and they call it Brahma-astra. 'Brahma' in english translates to atom or nuclear and 'astra' translates to weapon. This is not merely a co-incidence, they also talk in detail about the destruction it can create and how it could devastate the whole earth. Not surprisingly, they even talk about how to neutralize this weapon and in one instance Krishna ends up doing the same. Even the modern science does not really have a way to neutralize it yet.

3. Commerce: Not very many people know that the country that was called the Golden Bird, India in the medieval times hardly had any indigineous Gold mines. Till today India is the largest importers of Gold in the world. Known for it's spice trade, world class Universities like Nalanda and Taxilla and the most fertile Indo-Gangetic plain, India was the richest country in the world and had such a trade surplus that even in medieval times it attracted the world's wealth in form of Gold, silver etc.

4. Health and nutrition: It's a well-known fact that after the yogis from India came to the west in the last 100 years, yoga, nutrition, ayurveda and similar sciences became popular in the west. Quite surprisingly, even until late about 95% doctors in western countries didn't have even basic knowledge about nutrition. At the same time quite surprisingly, nutrition is so well ingrained in the Indian culture that every family knows a lot about it. Recently, scientists have found the benefits of eating turmeric daily in food and Indian dishes like Indian curry is a mandatory dishe in UK parliament today after it's well-known benefit of fighting and preventing Alzheimer's. Ayurveda focused on nutrition and books like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta samhita are the most ancient and most sceintific books of medicine and surgery. Amazing, life tranforming benefits of Yoga are well known. It's, however sad, that still the actual yoga is not that widely practised both in the modern India as well as the western world.

5. Human Power: Bhagat Singh and his associates shocked the British by doing a hunger strike of more than 2 months long. This is well-documented in both British and Indian records. In this article on Bhagat Singh there is a line that talks about it "13 September 1929, Das died after a 63-day hunger strike Das died." Quite surprisingly the other inmates were still alive. A lot of people in today's world won't even believe this. However, why go as far as 1929, here's a story about a yogi who died in 2011 after a fast of 115 days - Nigamananda Saraswati.

6. Spiritual and Scientific Excellence: World took long to understand what was hidden in Indian stories and it's interesting that people are still figuring out the actual meanings. Bhima (during the period of Mahabharta) was known to through elephants in the air who'd never return back to the earth and keep circulating around the earth. If you read the details of the scriptures, they talk about throwing the elephants at escape velocity. Not until the modern man figured how to launch satellites did anyone believe that story.

Balram, during Mahabharta was supposed to be born in Devaki's womb but ends up being born in Yashoda's womb. This story was again considered nothing more than imagination until modern science understood 'Embryo Transfer'. Duryodhan and his 99 brothers were described as being born in sophisticated pots and at one time about 10 of them would take birth. Physically it's almost impossible for one woman to give birth to 10 kids at the same time. Its only when modern science understood 'Test Tube babies' that that story was taken seriously.

Swami Vivekanand shocked the British and American scholars by not only reading a book in few hours but being able to reproduce every page of the book without looking back into the book. His famous speech in Chicago in 1883 made this genius a world famous personality.

7. Freedom of speech: In 2nd century BC, the Buddhists would openly criticize Hinduism on the streets and main town halls. Even though the kings were Hindus, the Kings never persecuted the Buddhists to go against their beliefs. Infact, a very little known truth is that Buddha was a Hindu who never wanted to create another religion. He just wanted to simplify the teachings of Hinduism and make it easy for common man to understand it. However, like many other religions, people follow what they want to follow. Buddha wanted his followers not to follow him or any other man, not to confront anyone else's beliefs and preached non-violence. However, many of his followers did exactly the opposite. Nevertheless, the Hindu kings not only awarded them freedom of speech and equal rights,a little later in history Ashoka, the Great Hindu king, converted to Buddhism and sent his son and daughter to spread Buddhism in South East Asia.

8. Women rights: Hinduism is probably the only religion in India in which the women are worshipped. Infact, as a mother, sister, daughter and sister-in-law a woman is considered nothing less than a Goddess and these relationships are above any other relationship. In Mahabharata (again the actual period of occurrence of Mahabharat is disputed but most historians believe it to have occurred 2500 years ago), there is a tradition of swayamvar in which the princess has the right to pick from any of the princes who come from all over India with a hope to marry her. History is full of stories where brothers have laid their lives to protect sisters. It's the duty of the brother to protect and take care of the sister all his life. The tradition of Rakhi or the promise of the brother to take care of the sister, is still widely prevalent in Indian culture.

9. Strong culture: Hinduism was never a religion. It always was and will be a way of life. Infact, Hinduism was originally known as Sanatana Dharma or the moral duty of a human being. That means Hinduism does not differentiate between people of different faiths. So, if I were to make the ascertain that for Hindus any non-Hindu is as dear as Hindus I won't be wrong. Since it's a way of right living and performing right moral duty for human beings, Hinduism was one religion which welcome Muslims and British to India as if they were their own. 'Vasudeva kutumbakam' or 'the whole world is one single family' is the only message of Hinduism. And history has countless examples where Hindus have treated guests as God.

10. Social Evils: India got a lot of criticim for its social evils esp. in the last 4-500 years. Whereas I am not favoring any of these social evils as I believe it was the result of the unfortunate aggression of foreigners who were less enlightened, less educated and supposedly less civilized than the inhabitants of India at that time of history. I don't mean any disrespect to anyone but one of the reasons the aggressors were aggressors was that they were either thrown out of their lands by another agressor or their lands were not as attractive than the then India. The streets of major cities of Indus Valley civilization (around 200 BC) such as Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, the world's earliest planned cities, were laid out in a perfect grid pattern comparable to that of present day New York City - Planned Community.

According to historians the cities in 200 BC in India were more well planned than Paris and London of 1700s. Given that British got to India first around 1600, it's no surprise that British learnt how to create planned cities from the data gathered by excavations of Indus Valley Civilization. The non-British invaders ordered burning of all books in Nalanda University. Historians compare Nalanda to a modern day Harvard or Stanford. Only an un-civilized ruler would order destruction of the No 1 university in the whole world then.

How is that related to social evils? The social evils of those ages were child marriage and sati. I would like to define all these so we are all on the same page.

The first one is Child Marriage. Children got married at a young age. Keep in mind that they lived separately until they achieved the age of marriage and then were asked to live together later in life. However, the marriage was done at a young age. This sounds really cruel and is surely not a good way of handling marriages. However, one thing to be considered is that this was a cultural reaction to a free country being enslaved. There was always a fear of an un-married girl being forcibly taken away by aggressors. However, a married girl was comparatively safer. This surely didn't solve the problem completely but was a great way of protecting their daughters from the aggressors.

Second one was Sati. Sati was an after effect of Johar. Johar was a tradition that started in Rajasthan where women would burn themselves together if their husbands lost the war. Rather than falling prey to the invaders, they would burn themselves alive. Whereas, these women were great women of character, it was unfortunate they died in large numbers. History talks about 1000s of women dying on their own will when their husbands lost the war. We all are intelligent enough to understand that none of this was out of choice.

This was followed by Sati. When an individual died in a battle or due to other reasons it made the wife vulnerable to the invaders' greed. They'd rather die than become a sex slave to a ruthless invader. However, in some cases where the woman could not muster courage to burn herself alive, some people in the community forced her to do so. This was another un-fortunate social evil that slowly got prevalence and later ended.

Nevertheless, we all know that these practices didn't exist prior to foreign invasion and is an unfortunate reaction to foreign rule. But again, history is full of all sorts of foreign rule, height of racism, little or no tolerance towards people from other countries, regions, castes, creed, race etc. And these examples can be found in all cultures. Even when Europe was under foreign rule, virgin girls were sent to foreign rulers (obviously no one liked to do that) to avoid their wrath.

Conclusion: I had to be honest in my compilation of facts from the history. However, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against the modern day successors of the invaders of that age and I believe that India and Indians are mature enough to understand that if someone's ancestor invaded our ancestors centuries ago, we should hold nothing against them in the modern world.