If Cleopatra could, why can’t Modi?

Commentators can be spoilsports. Now they are making disapproving noises about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that there was plastic surgery in ancient India.
That’s how Lord Ganesha came to acquire the head of an elephant.

Mr Modi also referred to the magnificent character of Karna from the epic battle of Mahabharata who was not born from his mother’s womb. This phenomenon indicated the presence of genetic science in prehistoric India, Mr Modi told the nation last week. It would be safe to cite directly from the speech in Mumbai, which was quoted by an Indian newspaper from his official website. It reinforces his pride in India’s distant past. Intellectuals who are smirking at Mr Modi never questioned Britain’s national symbol, the unicorn, or China’s dragon. If orthodox Hindus see their past the way they do, so be it. Who can deny that the current Prime Minister of India has reinvented himself as a mascot of resurgent Hinduism of a unique variety?

Why should Mr Modi be excoriated for his beliefs? Sonia Gandhi, even in indifferent health, allowed herself to be led to the ghats by her close advisers to perform the Ganga bath even in freezing temperatures. The rituals may not have helped her win elections, but why should this shake her faith in her adopted religion? In prehistoric Egypt, Cleopatra believed in the supreme power of several gods that had heads of animals. There was, for example, a baboon god Hedj-Wer. What is wrong if Hanuman is worshipped as Bajrangbali? And our children will know more about these surgical facets of Indian beliefs thanks to the resolve of the Modi government to enlighten the nation about our hidden secrets. If there was Pushpak Viman in ancient India, as many admirers of Mr Modi claim, be sure the government has enough resources in science and historical research to prove that there were aeroplanes zipping across the Indian skies hundreds of thousands of years ago. Since the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia shows that ancient Hinduism had spread to eastern Asia, it should not be far-fetched to assume that there was flight connectivity between India and the world sharing similar belief systems.

However, while teaching schoolchildren about Indian deities such as the Garuda, Narsimha it would be useful to also share with them the stories from Egypt where Anubis was the jackal-headed god in ancient Egypt who helped Isis find Osiris after he was murdered and embalmed the pieces so that they resisted decay, thus inventing the burial rites. Bast was Egypt’s cat goddess, considered the fertilising power of the sun. She was a patron of music and dance. Apis, according to prehistoric Egyptian beliefs, was the sacred bull born of a virgin cow impregnated by the god Ptah.

Buto was the Greek name for the cobra goddess Wadjet, protector of Lower Egypt. Her twin sister Nekhebet, the vulture goddess, was the patroness of Upper Egypt. Hathor was the cow goddess who stood on the earth in the form of a cow and her four legs held up the sky. She reminds me in some ways of Kamadhenu, also known as Surabhi, a divine bovine-goddess of India’s ancient Brahminical religion. The god of rain and crops, Min, was worshipped during Cleopatra’s reign at harvest festivals in the form of a white bull. Mut was the chief female counterpart of the solar god Amen-Ra, and was usually depicted with both male and female reproductive organs.

Historians seeking to revive the glory of ancient Hinduism might be tempted to investigate in her their variant of the concept of ardhanareshwar, half-man, half-woman. Nephthys, the Egyptian goddess of death, was sometimes connected with the god Min, who symbolised virility, reproduction and regeneration. In art, she often appeared with outstretched wings in a gesture of protection. Similarly, Selket was a scorpion goddess who bit only men, not women. Taueret was a hippopotamus goddess, patroness of childbirth and maternity. Sebek was a crocodile god.

With all this in mind, a question Mr Modi could consider if he ever wishes to question some of his beliefs, always a healthy idea, is: Did the ancient Egyptians have their own notion of advanced surgical sciences, or did they by some chance steal the idea from ancient India’s treasure trove of ancient knowledge. Perhaps the next generation of Indians will explain things Modi’s detractors were never taught in school.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi

By arrangement with Dawn

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