When I was school going child, we used to have sometime open debates arranged, and we were asked to participate. Of course, topic of the debate would be known before hand. One of the speakers would be making a point and other would need make counter-point. This is a typical attack and defend style open debates. Everyone used to enjoy them. Since those school days, I never across such a thing again, until recently.
Couple of years back, due to my association with subject of Indology and my groups and people in Pune with similar interest, I got a notification about open debate program. The topic was vedic science and technology. The debaters were Shreenand Bapat and Satish Kulkarni. Shreenand Bapat was my teacher during my Indology course. He is known for his intense views, and most of the times corroborated with proofs. I was thrilled and attended the debate with keen interest. The house was packed. Looks like many of them had not witnessed, like me, an open debate. Plus it is always nice to watch two groups/people fight!
So this debate was organized by famous Marathi magazine Prasad, dedicated to Indian heritage. Satish Kulkarni was the first one to go with his points. He is technologist by profession and has been very passionate about exploring ancient Indian science and technology. He runs an organization focused on this effort. His organization’s name is Pradnya Vikas Shikshan Sanstha. He, obviously, was taking the audience through various examples what kind of evidences exist in Vedic literature and other sources, and kind of effort he has been involved in reconstructing them. Shreenand Bapat came in later with his counter points. He had more practical approach and advised not to day-dream about the superiority of Indians in science and technology due to the fact that we don’t get many materialistic evidences.
The debates of such nature are usually never black or white. They act as a tool to ignite the fire in all the involved to study harder in the quest of true knowledge. Any form or extreme approach, opinion, views and perception will cause this quest to get handicapped. All of us have learnt to not take anything for granted and evaluate all possibilities. Shreenand Bapat’s presentation focused more on war technology and also references to some entertaining statistics and scientific achievement(rather non-achievements), while the debate was about ‘shashtra’ wherein the expectation was to talk more about fundamental science. I felt Satish Kulkarni made good effort to present his work in front of us. Of course, he could have done it better in terms of accuracy, references and obviously he was not as fluent as Shreenand Bapat. The most important thing in his approach was that he had made efforts to conduct experiments based on references in ancient literature. The positive take-away for me out this debate was that community outside Indology is taking interest in such topics, without being ‘nationalistic’, using modern techniques and methodologies, they are trying to reinterpret and rediscover what might be hidden. Mankind is the only beneficiary in such an endeavor.
I had covered a conference which took place in Pune on the same theme sometime back. You might be interested in that. I must state that India has a tradition of argumentation. In fact the whole philosophical systems was evolved out of points and counter points, dialog and scope for arguments. This is covered, as many of you must have read, in Amartya Sen’s famous book Argumentative Indian. Prof V N Jha, the famous expert on Indian intellectual traditions, also believes that the tradition evolved through systematic argumentation and inquiry. Plus the format used had 3 different sections-purva paksha(point, पूर्वपक्ष), khandana(counter point, खंडन) and siddhanta(thesis, सिद्धांत). To conclude, I liked the debate and it has underlined the need to not ignore the ancient knowledge system and the need to evaluate rationally and re-purpose. I am, myself, particularly interested in Indian Logic system as it is referred to one of philosophical systems called Nyaya Darshan, and its applications towards problems of computer science and information technology. Such deliberations need to happen and should keep happening.