Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Indian Who Flew A Plane Before The Wright Brothers

On the occasion of the Indian Independence Day today 15th August 2009, paying homage to two of the pioneers in the History of

Indian aviation---Anekal Subbaraya Shastry from Bangalore and V.S.Talpade from Bombay----who put India on the top of the global aviation

history 114 years back, I have pleasure in enclosing an article on their achievements.

I am also enclosing an article on " Vande Mataram and Its Creator Bankim Chandra Chatterjee", in view of its importance on the

Independence Day. This article is a repeat of Article No.273 issued on 20th August 2005 and is primarily meant for the information of

those who got enlisted in my mailing list after August 2005

Best Wishes

B.M.N.Murthy, Saturday 15th August 2009

ANEKAL SUBBARAYA SHASTRY—Pioneer in the science of Aviation
SB. TALPADE —World’s First Creator of an Aircraft.

“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its fragrance in the desert air”-----Thomas Gray

When I read these immortal lines of the poet in his ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” I recollected the life and achievements of two of the greatest scientists of our country who remain unnoticed, unrecognized and unhonoured in their own land of birth even today. One is Anekal Subbaraya Shastry of Bangalore [1866-1940] who pioneered the study of aeronautics in accordance with the magnificent treatise on aeronautics written in Sanskrit by Sage Bharadhwaja thousands of years ago and called
‘Brihad Vaimanika Shastra’. The other is S.B.Talpade [1864-1916] from Bombay who had flown the first unmanned aircraft built by himself called ‘Marut Sakha’ to a height of 1,500 feet in the Chowpathy Beach, Bombay in 1895 before it crashed, eight years before the Wright Brothers flew a manned aircraft in America on 17th December 1903

Anekal Subbaraya Shastry: Anekal Subbaraya Shastry was born in a village called Tagare in Anekal Taluk, Bangalore in 1866 as the eldest son. His parents were Lakshsamma and Krishna Shastry-- a pious and devout Brahmin couple. Krishna Shastry was an erudite Vedic scholar. He was extremely poor and it was a day- to- day struggle for existence for him to maintain the family. In keeping with the then prevailing tradition, he got Subbaraya married to one girl Nanjamma in Anekal when the boy was just eight years old. Sometime after his marriage, Subbaraya contacted leprosy, considered contagious. Opressed both physically and mentally, he even tried to commit suicide. One day, sometime in 1890 at the age of 24 years he left the house and moved out to an unknown destination without informing any one. He roamed from place to place and finally landed on the slopes of a thick forest in Kolar district. He lived wandering in the forest for nine years, subsisting on whatever he could get in the form of vegetables, fruits etc available in that forest area.

Extremely exhausted and thirsty, one day he went to a river side to drink water. Suddenly he felt giddy and lost consciousness and fell into the river. When he regained consciousness and woke up, he found himself on the banks of the river at a distance in the midst of beautiful natural surroundings. He saw a great sage in front of him who blessed him. This blessing had the effect of curing Shastry of his leprosy .Thereafter he spent quite sometime in the company of the sage. It was this unknown sage who initiated Shastry into Vedantic wisdom and taught him the famous Vedantic Treatise on aeronautics “Brihad Vaimanika Shastra” of Sage Bharadwaja, in addition to teaching him the secrets of Shastras like ‘Bhautika Kala Nidhi’ and Jala Tantra.

The Brihad Vaimanika Shastra is monumental treatise on aeronautics written in Sanskrit thousands of years ago by Sage Bharadwaja. It consists of 3,000 verses [shlokas] and 500 sutras [aphorisms] like grammarian Panini’s Ashtadhayi. The very first sutra defines an aircraft when it states ‘Vegasamyath Vimanah Andajam iti’ which means
‘An aircraft is like a flying bird’. The treatise describes in detail the construction and manufacture of an aircraft with all the relevant drawings, different types of aircrafts, metals used in the manufacture, varieties of machines and yantras required etc including details of dress to be worn by the pilot while flying etc. A condensed version of the treatise is available in the Oriental Library, Baroda.

After Shastry was given sufficient instructions on the Vimana Shastra and allied sciences, he was asked by the sage to return home and renew his life as a householder. In keeping with the advice, Shastry returned to Anekal and spent the next 25 years of his life in Anekal. It is only in the last few years that he shifted to Bangalore. When Shastry’s name and achievements spread by word of mouth, several leading scientists of the country such as Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sir C.V.Raman went to Anekal and got enlightened by Shastry’s Vedic knowledge on aeronautics. It is learnt that it was at the instance of Sir J.C.Bose that Shastry agreed to share this rare knowledge and gave some details about his career and the knowledge that he had acquired from the sage. As he was not himself not well read nor did he write down anything, he dictated whatever he had learnt to one Gotur Venkatachala Sharma who was an erudite Sanskrit scholar. Sharma took down all these dictations during a five year period between 1918 and 1923. In the early seventies, one G.R.Josyer of the International Academy of Sanskrit in Mysore brought out the English translation of Sharma’s book.. In his introduction to the book, Josyer confirms that Shastry dictated the treatise to Gotur Venkatachala Sharma.

Anekal Subbaraya Shastry passed away in 1940—unrecognized, unhonoured and unsung in his own motherland.

S.B.Talpade: The credit for putting India on the top in the history of world aviation belongs to a Bombay based scientist by name S.B.Talpade. He was the first to fly an unmanned aircraft to a height of 1,500 feet before it crashed. This feat was achieved by him at the Chowpathy Beach, Bombay in 1895, eight years before the launch of the world’s first manned aircraft into space in America on 17th December 1903. This magnificent feat was witnessed by no less celebrities than the Maharaja of Baroda Sayyaji Rao Gaekwad and Justice M.G.Ranade, well known freedom fighter and nationalist.

Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was born in 1864 in a locality known as Dukkurwadi in Bombay. He hailed from a Maharashtrian Brahmin family. He was a well read scholar in Sanskrit, well versed in most of the Sanskrit scriptures. Right from his younger days he used to evince a lot of interest in flying and flight mechanics. When he heard about the great aviation treatise ‘Brihad Vaimanika Shastra’ of Sage Bharadwaja, he cherished a desire to study it under a scholar who could teach him about it. At that time Anekal Subbaraya Shastry was the only known person who was knowledgeable about it and who could teach. Talpade was keen on going to Shastry at Anekal and study. But since he hailed from a poor family he could not afford it. Fortunately he came in contact with the Maharajah of Baroda, himself a great supporter of sciences in India. The Maharajah volunteered to assist Talpade in the acquisition of this rare knowledge. Talpade’s joy knew no bounds when he felt he could realize his long cherished desire to fly an aircraft. He wasted no time in getting lessons from Shastry and finally built his own aircraft in Bombay as per the guidelines from the Vaimanika Shastra.

The D-Day finally arrived sometime in 1895 when the first flying machine built by Talpade and named “Marut Sakha’ [Friend of the Wind] took off from ground before a large scholarly audience at the Chowpathy Beach in Bombay. The witnesses to this rare event included the famous nationalist and freedom fighter Justice M.G.Ranade and the Maharajah of Baroda. The aircraft took off to a height of 1,500 feet before it crashed. The event was reported with pride and jubilations by the Marathi newspaper from Poona ‘Kesari’ founded by Lokamanya Bala Gangadhar Tilak. Talpade was profusely congratulated by Justice Ranade and the Maharajah of Baroda.

However, the success of the Indian scientists was not liked by the British Government who arrested Talpade on some flimsy grounds. However Talpade was soon released due to the intervention of some influential leaders. The British Government also warned of dire consequences such as withholding the Privy Purse to the Maharaja of Baroda, if he continued to assist Talpade. In the meanwhile, Talpade lost his wife and was not in a frame of mind to continue his work with no one to back him up. It is learnt that with a view to discharging the loans he had raised towards his dream project, Talpade had to sell the salvage materials of ‘Marut Sakha’ to a British firm by name Raleigh Bros. Thus ended the saga of a glorious beginning on a sad note.

With a view to giving wide publicity to the glorious achievements of S.B.Talpade and emphasize the importance of Vedic wisdom even in sciences, Several Indian intellectuals and scholars got together and honoured Talpade with the title ‘Vidya Prakasha Pradeep”.



Glorified by many as the last word in patriotic ardour, the song ‘Vande Mataram’ is not just a song but a symbol of the national culture of India. Even with a lapse of more than 130 years since its composition, it continues to hold an indelible place in the national psyche as is evident from its popularity even today. Sometime in 1992 when the B.B.C. London invited nominations for the most popular song in India, nearly 25,000 listeners of the BBC World Service nominated Vande Mataram as one of the most two popular songs. In 1915, M.K.Gandhi, not yet known as the Mahatma, spoke at a meeting in Madras which began with the singing of Vande Mataram for invocation. Addressing the huge gathering, Gandhiji said: “You have sung that beautiful national song on hearing which all of us sprang to our feet. The poet Bankim Chandra has lavished all the adjectives we possibly could do, to describe Mother India. It is for you and me to make good the claim that the poet has advanced on behalf of his Motherland”

Vande Mataram, which literally means “Mother! I bow to thee”, was the soul stirring slogan of the Indian freedom fighters during their struggle against the British regime .It forms part of a song which appears in a Bengali novel called ‘Anandamath’ published sometime in 1881 and written by the doyen of Bengali literature, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee [1838-1894]. Bankim Chandra was born in a village in Bengal in 1838. Even when he was studying in a high school in his village near Calcutta, his teachers were awed at his extraordinary intelligence and grasping power. Creating records at every step of his academic career, Bankim coveted the top honours in the Presidency College, Calcutta and was the first graduate of the Calcutta University along with his compatriot Jadunath Bose. In the year 1858 when he was 20 years old he became a Deputy Magistrate—the highest administrative position a contemporary Indian could have reached in those days under the British Government. In spite of the coveted position he held. Bankim’s real genius lay in Bengali literature. He wrote about 15 novels in Bengali like Durgesh Nandini, Kapala Kundala, Mrinalini, Visha Kanya etc but it was his novel Anandamath and the song in it , Vande Mataram, that brought him fame all over the
country. Anandamath, before it came out in the form of a book, had been serialized in a Bengali literary journal called ‘Banga Desh’ edited by Bankim himself.

One day, sometime about 1875, Bankim was returning home in the evening by train from Calcutta where the office of ‘Bangadesh’ was located. Looking on either side of the window, he was enjoying nature in all its pristine glory. The sylvan beauties of the river, the brook, the chirping of birds, flora and fauna etc totally absorbed his attention. Even when he reached home, the pleasant thoughts continue to dominate his mind. The inherent literary genius in the man manifested itself when Bankim took out a piece of paper and jotted down these pleasant memories in the form of a poem, as and when they occurred to him. Some lines came out in his mother tongue Bengali while the others were in Sanskrit. These are the very lines which eventually became famous as ‘Vande Mataram’ and which found a place in his novel ‘Anandamath ‘at a much later date.

In the memoirs written by Bankim Chandra’s younger brother, it has been recounted that the poem had been lying around for several years in Bankim’s study. One of the assistants who helped Bankim in editing ‘Banga Desh’, one day picked up the poem and said “This is not so bad and will do quite well as a filler to fill up an empty space we have in the galley-proofs for the number”. It is learnt that Bankim refused to have it published in that fashion and said “You cannot possibly guess now if this is good or bad. Time will tell—I shall be dead by then. It is possible that you may see that day”. That was the end of the matter and the poem as we know remained unpublished till Bankim went back to the poem he had written many years ago to make it the centerpiece of a complete mosaic of ideas, the novel ‘Anandamath’.

Sometime in 1881, Bankim’s novel was serialized in his own magazine ‘Bangadesh’. This novel contained the first few lines of ‘Vande Mataram’ which Bankim first composed and also included some additional lines. A notable fact was that when the poem was inserted in the journal, the first 12 lines constituting the first two poems were put within quotation marks while the rest of the poems namely lines 13 to 27 did not have any such quotation marks. It could therefore be inferred that the first twelve lines were those written earlier, sometime in 1875 and the others were written sometime later, probably in 1881, bearing in mind the theme of ‘Anandamath’. This distinction gains importance because it was the latter part which contained those explicitly and idolatrous imageries which were objected to by many outside the Hindu community. It would be of interest to note that the central theme of Anandamath pertains to the determined struggle of a band of patriotic Sanyasis who fought against the oppressive rule of the East India Company and died in the battle with the cry of ‘Vande Mataram’ in their lips.

Vande Mataram remained dormant and did not get wide publicity or popularity for quite a few years after its publication in the magazine. However, in the year 1896 when the Indian National Congress held its Session in Calcutta, the Session started with the invocation of ‘Vande Mataram’ The singer was no other than Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore who set the tune to the song and sang it in the presence of a distinguished audience. When the song was over there was thunderous applause. Reacting to the popular response to ‘Vande Mataram’, Tagore observed sometime later:
“When I set the tune to the song and sang it before a vast assemblage of people in the Congress Session at Calcutta, I felt myself electrified from top to toe. It was not a song. It was molten fire. Every word and every line engulfed the audience with the fire of patriotism”. In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru sometime later in 1937, Tagore writes “The privilege of originally setting its [Vande Mataram’s] first stanza to the tune was mine when the authour was still alive and I was the first person to sing it before a gathering of the Calcutta Congress”. With the singing of Vande Mataram in Calcutta in 1896, it attained fame, popularity and publicity and also the importance which it deserved, all over the country.

With the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the rise of the Swadeshi Movement all over the country fighting for independence, Vande Mataram got a terrible boost. Practically it became a Mantra on the lips of every patriotic Indian. The great Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi translated into Tamil in 1905 and this was followed by several other translations in Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Gujarati, and Malayalam etc – all between 1905 to 1908. The song was heard in public meetings and processions in many places across India. It was on the lips of every Bengali Swadeshi agitator during the partition of Bengal..

Another event which made the song popular was the Congress Session held in 1905 in Benares when it was sung as an invocation song. The President of the session, Sri. Gopalakrishna Gokhale, requested a Bengali lady by name Saraladevi Chodhurani to sing Vande Mataram before the commencement of the session. She was no other than Rabindranath Tagore’s niece. Commenting on Vande Mataram some time later, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the ‘Indian Opinion’ dated 2nd December 1095 “The song has proved so popular that it has come to be our National Anthem. Just as we worship our mother, so is this song a passionate prayer to India”

The tradition of singing Vande Mataram in the Congress Sessions continued till 1930 when some Muslims objected to the singing of the same. When the Congress came to power in six of the eleven provinces in 1937, the song acquired the status of a National Anthem to which the Muslim League protested vehemently, describing it as ‘anti-national and idolatrous in its inspiration and ideas’. With a view to accommodating the feelings of the Muslims, the Congress Working Committee met in October 1937 and passed the following resolution:

“The Committee recognise the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song. While the Committee have taken note of such objection in so far as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wish to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of national life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape. Taking all things into consideration the Committee recommend that wherever the Vande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two songs should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organizers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in place of, the Vande Mataram song”.

The Congress resolution, widely perceived as a concession, did not satisfy the Muslim League who wanted the deletion of Vandemataram in toto. Mahatma Gandhi was unwilling to allow the song to be a pawn in politics. In July 1939, Gandhiji published an essay about this in his ‘Harijan’dated 1st July 1939 where he recalled that ‘Vande Mataram was a powerful battle cry and that he himself as a lad was enthralled by the song’. He went on to say: “It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song nor meant only for Hindus. Unfortunately now we have fallen on evil days. All that was pure gold has become base metal today. In such times it is wisdom not to market pure gold and let it be sold as base metal. I would not risk a simple quarrel over singing Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering. It will never suffer from disuse. It is enthroned in the heart of millions”

Describing the significance of the song Vande Mataram, Maharshi Aurobindo said sometime in 1907 “ It was 32 years ago that Bankim wrote his great song and few listened : but in a sudden moment of awakening from long delusions the people of Bengal looked around for the truth and in a fated moment somebody sang ‘Vande Mataram’. The mantra had been given and in a single day a whole people had been converted to the religion of patriotism. The Mother had revealed herself. Once that vision has come to the people, there can be no rest, no peace, no further slumber till the temple has been made ready, the image installed and the sacrifice offered. A great nation which has had that vision can never again bend its neck in subjection to the yoke of a conqueror”

About 30 years later, some time in November 1938, Sri Aurobindo had a fracture in his thigh and many of his close disciples used to go to the Ashram and spend some time with him in the evening to get the benefit of his advice on some of their doubts on varied subjects. One such disciple met him at the Ashram on 30th December 1939 and raised the problem of the Muslims’ objection to the singing of Vandemataram. The dialogue went on like this:

Disciple: Sir, there are some people who object to ‘Vande Mataram’ as a national song. And some congressmen support the removal of some parts of the song.

Maharshi: In that case the Hindus should give up their culture.

Disciple: The argument is that the song speaks of Hindu gods like Durga and that is offensive to Muslims

Maharshi: But it is not a religious song. It is a national song and the Durga spoken of is India as the Mother. Why should not the Muslims accept it? It is an image used in poetry. In the Indian concept of nationality, the Hindu view would naturally be there. If it cannot find a place here, the Hindus may as well be asked to give up their culture. The Hindus don’t object to ‘Allah-ho-Akbar. Why should not the Hindu worship his God? Otherwise, the Hindus must either accept Mohammedanism or the European culture or become atheists. I told C.R. Das in 1923 that this Hindu-Muslim question must be solved before the Britishers go as otherwise there was a danger of civil war. He also agreed and wanted to solve it.

The Vande Mataram controversy was finally resolved on the final day of the Constituent assembly on January 24th 1950 when Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Assembly, ruled from the chair that whereas Jana-gana-mana would be the National Anthem, Vande Mataram “shall be honoured equally” and “shall have equal status “with the National Anthem. It is significant that there was neither a discussion nor a vote on the subject. This lends credence to the suggestion that a free vote would probably have led to the founding fathers enshrining Vande Mataram as the National Anthem.

B. M. N. Murthy.

ARTICLE NO.515--Anekal Subbaraya Shastry from Bangalore andV.S.Talpade from Bombay--Pioneers in Aviation
Created: Friday, August 14, 2009 9:16 PM


At August 30, 2011 at 1:51 AM , Blogger santosh said...

it really feels very nice about ancient 'vaimanika shastra'. can you please tell me name of the book that contains all about the "vaimanika shastra". Kindly inform about this to my mail @ ''


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