India is a country full of idiots. It is extremely easy to manufacture bullshit and sell it to them. Of course, I mean bullshit in the figurative sense – the one that is synonymous with ‘nonsense’ – although it is just as easy to sell them literal cow crap and pee, but that’s a discussion for another time. One can exploit their gullibility for monetary gain and be quite successful at it. The worst thing about being a rational mind in India is to watch people waste their lives and their hard earned money on those predators and not being able to do much about it.
It’s not that relatively educated people are immune to this kind of idiocy. They can be fooled too, but it takes a level of sophistication to pull it off. Their vulnerability is the illusion of knowledge, which means their lack of information can be used against them. I’m can sympathise with those whose profession simply doesn’t compel them to question what they’ve learnt. However, there exist doctors with actual medical degrees who continue to believe in homeopathy, Ayurveda and other health related woo. We’ve got engineers who think writing ‘Rama’ on a stone will make it float on water. We’ve got people who believe breathing a certain way can cure one of Cancer and AIDS. We’ve got businesspeople who consult their personal astrologer before making essential business decisions. You can get a degree in Astrology (not a typo) in India, enough said.
Recently, there seems to be an upsurge of material aimed at wooing extremely patriotic educated people. They appear to make sense unless some sceptic deconstructs its frosting and reveals the underlying bullshit. Have a look at this one, henceforth referred to as ‘the hoax’.
I’ve often heard that the counter to gullibility is information. But what can one do when they’re presented with woo masquerading as information? The average person is more likely to believe it than dismiss it. How can one counter this?
Well, the answer is still information – accurate information, mind you. Let’s get debunking, shall we?
The quote in question
I’ve searched the Hanuman Chalisa for that “extremely scientific” verse and can confirm that it indeed exists. It’s verse 18 and reads,
जुग सहस्त्र जोजन पर भानू लिल्यो ताहि मधुर फ़ल जानू
If you can’t read in the Devanagari script, here’s how it sounds phonetically:
d͡ʒugə səhəst̪rə d͡ʒod͡ʒənə pərə bhaːnuː lɪljo t̪aːhɪ məd̪hurə fələ d͡ʒaːnuː
Consider using a browser that supports Unicode characters if the verse isn’t visible.
That particular verse translates to:
“The journey to the sun takes years; it’s very distant. But you ate it; you thought it was a sweet fruit.”
The word जोजन (d͡ʒod͡ʒənə) refers to an ancient unit of distance, that is different for different situations. The value is disputed but for terrestrial use it is said to fall between 5 and 8 miles and is about 6,400 kilometres for extra-terrestrial usage. In this verse, it appears that the word only means “distant”. The word सहस्त्र (səhəst̪rə) is a number – a thousand – which in this verse might only mean a very large number.
Of course, we need some context to understand what all of that is supposed to mean.
The Hanuman Chalisa is a hymn addressed to Hanuman, one of the many gods in Hinduism known especially for his devotion to Rama – the protagonist (mostly) from an ancient Indian fiction story Ramayana. He is usually depicted as a human being with a tail and the face of a monkey. His weapon of choice is a mace. His appearance is a matter of speculation; some scholars suggest he looked just like any other human and dwelt in the forest. That’s of course, discounting that the story is fiction and his appearance, like Dumbledore’s sexuality, has no bearing on the story, much less reality.
That verse is an attempt – one of forty – at praising the god Hanuman by acknowledging his feat of swallowing the sun. It’s quite fun to imagine someone doing something like that, which is the whole point of fiction stories. The author, Tulsidas, was obviously the medieval equivalent of a nerd who was a bit too obsessed with Hanuman that he wrote him a tribute. That is all there is to it. There just cannot be a hidden message within those ten words.
How hidden messages work
To write something with an embedded hidden message or a secondary meaning, there are a few things one must keep in mind:
- The intended recipient should be familiar with all of the terminologies you use in the message. If you want it only to be deciphered by a select few, it would need you to use words you’d commonly use with them and them alone. Sometimes context matters, so a message would be meaningless even to the recipient unless they try decoding it at the right time.For instance, the sentence “I think you’ll never be able to crack my password.” was one I said very often to my colleagues. To most people it was simply an assertion. Then came a day where I had to hand over my password to a friend in need. I simply repeated that sentence.
- If the hidden message is some factual information, it would only make sense to those who are already aware of the fact. There is nothing of value one can extract from such messages if they’re unaware. Either way, this kind of hidden message is utterly useless.The words in “May I have a large container of coffee?” are 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2 and 6 characters long which makes it an excellent mnemonic for π accurate up to seven decimal places.
Of course, in the case of this verse, if there was any hidden message, anyone who knew the distance between the sun and the earth would easily pick up on it. But there are a few hundred million people who read the Hanuman Chalisa every single day and it is only quite recently that this tidbit has attained some popularity. It has been around for four centuries and yet this hidden message was uncovered less than a decade ago. Were people just that stupid? Was Tulsidas extremely clever?
I don’t doubt their stupidity one bit. They still read the Hanuman Chalisa as a hymn and not a science text book. However, I don’t think Tulsidas was clever. He supposedly wrote a scientific fact and then immediately followed it with some fantasy about someone swallowing the sun? No, it’s probably none of those two, but likely a third factor is: it’s a hoax.
Here’s what is claimed:
जुग = 12,000 years सहस्त्र = 1,000 (a dimensionless number) जोजन = 8 miles
The word सहस्त्र (səhəst̪rə) is the only one with an agreed upon value and is indeed equal to a thousand. It’s the only thing that’s consistent between the hoax and the scholarly translation.
As mentioned earlier जोजन (d͡ʒod͡ʒənə) can be anywhere between 5 and 8 miles and is still in dispute. It makes no sense for one to believe that it equals exactly 8 miles when in cosmological context, the same word refers to a measure of distance equivalent to about 6,400 kilometres which is about 4,000 miles.
The word जुग (d͡ʒugə) means a lot of things. It loosely translates to “era” in general speech. However, attempts to place it’s value have been made. It is known to be equivalent to 12,000 god years. The thing though, is they’re not the same as earth years. A god year is 360 earth years which would have its value placed at 4,320,000 years. Again, somehow it appears someone has arbitrarily chosen जुग to mean 12,000 years.
Isn’t it just weird to simply multiply the words in the phrase जुग सहस्त्र जोजन, or any phrase for that matter, to see what value it yields? Doing it right after arbitrarily picking values to substitute for those words just makes it more arbitrary.
I guess, it’s okay to choose the absolute upper limit of the terrestrial value of जोजन to arrive at the final value. Why would one choose the terrestrial value when this is clearly an extraterrestrial matter? Also, why does the hoax make use of human years instead of god years when Hanuman is obviously a god? I don’t understand the point of using terrestrial distance and terrestrial time to praise a god when there are better alternatives.
Let’s keep an open mind and try substituting the phrase with the entire range of values instead.
|12,000 years||1,000||5 miles||60,000,000 mile years|
|8 miles||96,000,000 mile years|
|6,400 km||76,800,000,000 km years|
|4,320,000 years||5 miles||21,600,000,000 mile years|
|8 miles||34,560,000,000 mile years|
|6,400 km||27,648,000,000,000 km years|
But that’s the least of our concerns. Notice how every single product is either in mile years or km years. Wait?! Those aren’t units of distance.
The results obtained in the calculation table aren’t dimensionally the same as the dimensions of distance. Miles and kilometres signify distance. Mile years and kilometre years don’t. It is a physical impossibility to equate a distance time product with distance. Therefore, it’s wrong to conclude that the product of a time-span and a distance would yield a distance.
“So what? I’ve heard people use lightyears to measure distance between us and the stars. Why is this wrong?”, one might say. One did actually say that to me.
Well, the ‘light’ in ‘lightyear’ is not a distance but the speed of light which is in distance per time usually described with the unit metres per second. The word light, here, is exactly equal to 299,792,458 metres per second. That along with the word ‘year’, which is 31,556,926 seconds, would bring the value of lightyear to 9,460,528,412,464,108 metres or about 9.46 quadrillion metres. Not metre years, but metres which is the unit of distance, unlike that in the hoax.
Fine, let’s just go with the arbitrary values for now. Let’s see if it checks out.
जुग = 12,000 years, सहस्त्र = 1,000, and जोजन = 8 miles.
We have multiplied the three to get 96,000,000 mile years. Let’s say we forgot about the ‘years’ altogether. That would bring our result to 96,000,000 miles. One mile is 1.60934 km. Hmm, well, the hoax rounds it off to 1.6 km. I’ll play.
96,000,000 miles = (1.6)(96,000,000) km = 153,600,000 km
The detour of disturbance
I’m a bit disturbed here. The hoax has been consumed by tens of thousands of people. Amitabh Bachchan posted this on his Facebook page once and it got over fifty thousand likes. (Despite my sincerest efforts, I’m unable to locate it. I’m guessing it must’ve been removed after I sent his page a scathing retort; I make no claims, however, that I’m personally responsible for it.) He also posted the same thing on his Twitter.
T 1394 – In the Hanumaan Chaalisa it is said : 'Yug sahastra yojan per Bhanu ! Leelyo taahi madhur phal janu (cont) http://t.co/ldx0ZKaIAw
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) February 20, 2014
I’m not trying to single out Amitabh Bachchan here. All I’m saying is he has the ability to reach a few millions with ease. Whether or not this piece has some truth in it, the simplest thing one could have done is to check if the numbers multiply correctly. The hoax has a multiplication error that no one, among the millions who saw it, had a problem with. That doesn’t really have a bearing on the rest and can be dismissed. However, in its thousands of reposts, no one has corrected the error. It shows no one really has cared to check if the information is accurate. Then again, if one’s standards for accepting a piece of information is that low, you can’t really expect them to think critically.
Is it accurate?
Not at all. The average distance between the earth and the sun (also known as the Astronomical Unit) is 149,597,870,700 metres or 92,955,807.3 miles. See that decimal point in the AU’s definition in miles? That’s what signifies it’s the exact value of the astronomical unit. It’s a little under 93 million miles and not exactly 96 million.
Wait! I’ve used the average distance. What about the maximum and minimum distance?
The earth is at about 147.1 million kilometers (91.4 million miles) from the sun at its closest, and about 152.1 million kilometers (94.5 million miles) at its farthest. So, the part about the earth being exactly 96 million miles is false. Besides, if you haven’t already noticed, the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun in a perfectly circular orbit, so there is no such thing as an exact distance.
The hoax provides a result that doesn’t fall within the range.
More bullshit alarm triggers
I’ve mentioned already that it is quite odd that the value of 8 miles was arbitrarily picked for जोजन. When one claims to know the exact answer to a question, it’s their duty to prove it. We’ve seen no such thing happen here. Ask yourselves this: How is it that जोजन turned out to be exactly 8 miles? That is certainly beyond me. It could’ve been a whole range of values between 5 and 8 miles, but the absolute maximum and was picked. Isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that the जोजन is perfectly divisible by the mile?
Another thing that caught my eye is that the distance of the sun from the earth as mentioned in the hoax can simply be obtained by multiplying three constants. How exactly does that work? The universe is really messy. The odds of that happening is astronomical. Did they just decide that a जोजन would be equal to a thousandth of a twelve thousandth of the exact distance between the earth and the sun? And if that’s the case, why is the value of जोजन in dispute? It all seems too convenient, doesn’t it?
That’s the beauty of scripture. It can be manipulated to approximately, within a limit of error, mean whatever one want’s it to.
The supernatural conclusion
We started with a hymn, then dabbled a bit in mathematics and then failed at confirming the resulting answer. That, apparently wasn’t enough. The hoax concludes that all of this, somehow, proves that Hanuman did in fact jump at the sun. I’m not wracking my brain on this one. For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to assume that there was some invisible proof for it in there somewhere which simply cannot be seen without god goggles.
How it was done…
I don’t believe for one second that the hoax might have some merit to it. It was concocted to seem that way. This is how I think it all went down:
- Some individual was tired of reading the Hanuman Chalisa daily and kissing his non-existent ass. His elders, however, told him that it has some hidden value and he must look for it. (They lied. That’s what über religious elders do to keep one from escaping superstition. Evidently it worked.)
- He looked and looked and finally came upon verse 18 which mentions something related to time, distance and the sun.
- He tried making sense of it but he failed until one day he decided to get a bit goofy and substituted the words with some arbitrary values.
- In one such instance, his result came very close to the distance between the earth and the sun. He was enthralled.
- He posted this all over the internet with the typos and the multiplication error and the faulty conclusion and earned mighty praises from patriotic fools.
- Those who fell for it (pretty much everyone who laid their eyes on it) shared the same with as many people as they could. This was so impactful that celebrities began to share it.
How science works
One of the main remarks that accompanies this post in its many reposting iterations is the following. (It’s a paraphrasis. I’ve removed the grammar and spelling errors along with the written yelling.)
“Unfortunately, our ancient texts are barely recognised, interpreted accurately or realised by any in today’s time!!!”
Nope, the unfortunate thing here is people are willing to believe anything without verification. It clearly shows the vast majority of Indians don’t understand how science works. Science is not about validating scriptural nonsense. It is certainly not concerned with forcibly adjusted interpretations of ancient texts. It’s about the truth. It doesn’t matter what guesses one makes or what piece of literature seems to vaguely reference a phenomenon. Those references are utterly useless without science.
They fail to realise that, without science, the distance between the sun and the earth would remain unknown. The scripture would thus, at best, only make a claim – an unverified one. A claim like that has no leg to stand on.
Think about it. If one were told that the Hanuman Chalisa mentions the distance between the earth and the sun accurately, most people won’t simply believe it unless they already knew what the answer was. Even if they did just believe it, their belief is worthless unless it were confirmed by science. In both those cases, the scripture proved useless. The scriptures really had no net transaction.
The same goes for everything else – the Vedas, the Upanishads, etc. There are tall claims about how they are compendia of all ancient knowledge. The “knowledge” trapped in them is absolutely useless. One cannot use any of the “facts” mentioned in those texts in the present day until it’s reliably translated and demonstrated to be true. They cannot be classified as scientific unless its contents are actually verified. The very process of verification itself would show they have no merit of their own.
That’s besides the fact that the only times those texts are ever mentioned are after real scientific discoveries and not prior to them. Once something important is discovered using modern science, they open up their books and try to “prove” that the discovery was already made in India. There have been times when multiple verses “referred” to the same phenomenon, while a singular verse happened to refer to multiple unrelated phenomena.
Even funnier is that those texts only ever make assertions of a phenomenon, which is to say they only provide the final conclusion and never the experimentation that led to it. The records of the process of hypothesis and experimentation are, oddly but not surprisingly, absent. Of course, we all know the reason – it’s much easier to fake a few statements than it is to fake a few hundred.
Attempting to reconcile scripture with science is an exercise in futility.
Here are some funny tidbits about this hoax that shows that its creator clearly didn’t think it through.
- There are no fallbacks to this hoax. When it fails, it just fails. Hindu nerds are just not as devoted to the canon as Potterheads.
- If जुग, here, literally means 12,000 years rather than simply meaning a long long time, one will have to concede that it would take Hanuman 12,000 years to get there, simply because there is no reason to believe otherwise. That’s not very godlike now, is it? That would be especially unbearable in god years.
- It also would’ve been better if the phrase सहस्त्र जोजन were left the way they were – as a poetic reference to large distance instead of literally 8000 miles. Hanuman could only travel 8000 miles in a year? Humans of today can travel twice that in under half a day.
- 8000 miles a year is a little over 4 metres per second. That’s teeny compared to the earth’s escape velocity which is about 11.2 kilometres per second. Hanuman is not going anywhere.
- Most importantly, the guy is a god. Isn’t he supposed to know everything? Why did he think the sun was a fruit?
- The sun is referred to as a planet and not a star. It is clear that this goldmine is the brainchild of a person who believes in geocentrism. The Indian brand of Astrology is based on geocentric notions of the universe and purports that the sun is a planet. The creator is likely an astrologer or an astrology enthusiast. That’s the final piece of the puzzle – it’s all made up. So, we didn’t really need the aid of science to refute the hoax. This piece was self refuting.
This was fun, wasn’t it? Is there some other material you’d like me to deconstruct? Let me know via the comments along with your thoughts about this one. I’ll be sure to check them out.