Dr Vineet Aggarwal is a medical professional, a blogger, and an author of three beautiful books – Bharat, Vishwamitra, The Legend of Parshu-Raam.
An absolute bomb of knowledge regarding Bharatiya texts, culture, and history, his blog – Decode Hindu Mythology is an attempt to remove the tag of “myth” from Bharatiya stories and show them as what they are – our history.
Today on Icy Tales, we feature Dr Vineet Aggarwal.
Q) How was your childhood?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – I think it’s a mix of destiny and free will. I’ve always found it fascinating whenever people ask questions about destiny and free will, and I see it playing out in our lives. Destiny because I grew up in a household where I had access to religious teachings through my grandparents. There was a culture of teaching the Indian ethos in the family.
As well as the school, because I have studied in a school in Bhavan that focuses a lot on Indian culture. While growing up, at our home and in the school, there was this beautiful Indian ethos that was developing inside me. Freewill came in when I grew up, and I did my master’s in science, and I realised that there is a lot of science in what we tend to assume as just legends or stories or myths. I think that’s the destiny bit of it.
I think destiny again jumped in when I got a job where I was supposed to travel mainly in South East Asia, where I saw a lot of interesting Indian influence, in many customs, temples, religion, etc. And again, I think all of them tied up very beautifully together, and that’s how the books were born. I can’t say that there was one thing that I did or one thing that made me reach where I am today. I think it has been a lifetime journey.
Q) About the word “Mythology”. What do you comprehend it as? Fact or Fiction?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – I think our scriptures are very clear in that respect, wherein many of them are stories of a bygone era, of previous days of Brahma. For us, there’s no way to check the historicity of those stories. But whatever’s happened in the present day of Brahma, significantly closer to our timeline, that is possible to explore. And that is why our scriptures are also divided into Shruti, Smriti and Itihas.
Itihas is what Ramayan and Mahabharat are termed as. So these two scriptures are historical, and of course, there would’ve been done embellishments for main the story to become a little more appealing to the audience, but they’re primarily historical texts.
Other texts, like the Puranas, are based on the previous days of Brahma, and some of them are even based on the future. As a man of science, I feel there’s no way for me to judge whether they are absolute truth or not. Therefore I generally like to follow the middle path, and I believe that a lot of it is history, and a lot of it is stories meant to impart specific lessons to us. I believe in following a middle path and not going to extremes.
Q) About Shruti Smriti and Itihaas. Are these divisions based on timelines?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – In a way, yes. Based on the timeline as well. But also based on the content. The Puranas are composed of Ved Vyas. Like the Vedas, they are called Shruti because the rishis heard them. They did not compose the verses themselves, whereas someone penned down the later literature. All 18 Maha Purans except for the Vishnu-Puran, narrated by his father, Parāśara.
These weren’t visualised events but were written down from memory and hence are called Smriti. Itihas is the Epics. Which are primarily the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. There’s also another text named Harivansh, which deals with the life of Lord Krishna and his Dynasty. Majorly the division is based on content and how it was written.
Q) How is the conversion from divine time to human time (days, months, years) done? What is the calculation, the formula?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – It is all there in the scriptures. It’s a little challenging to explain here, but in my blogs, I have dedicated an entire page to the description of the Hindu timeline. But broadly, 360 days of Brahma form a year of Brahma, and his life is 100 years. And that is why we follow this, and we believe in this timeline.
Each day of Brahma, each Kalpa is divided into 14 “manvantars”, which are like the 12 hours of our day. Fourteen manvantars, and each of these manvantars have 71 cycles of “majayugs”, which has 4 “yugs”. So 71 majayugs in each manvantar, and each majayug has a cycle of four Yugas. So the entire calculation comes out of this. It’s pretty interesting and is a little bewildering sometimes.
When done to human years, this entire conversion, 100 years of Brahma come out to be about 311 trillion human years. So that’s the broad calculation that comes from the scriptures.
Q) According to the scriptures and texts, what happens after death?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – There’s this entire description in the Garud Puran of a soul’s journey. It has to be read to be adequately understood, but the details of how many days a soul takes to reach the court of Yamraj, how is it taken there, what all does it encounter on the way, what is the fate of a soul after the judgement of Yamraj, what are the different kinds of hells, the different kinds of heavens where the soul can be reborn etc., it’s all given there.
It can be a little scary when you go through the details, but it’s quite interesting. There is a lot of detail, and I would suggest going through the Garud Puran to find out what exactly happens.
Many people say that you shouldn’t recite the Garud Puran inside your house because it is a little sinister, what all is being mentioned there. But from a theoretical point of view, you can go through it and read what’s written.
The entire journey of a soul is mentioned there. From a spiritual or a philosophical point of view, the Bhagavad Gita mentions in short and precise terms that it’s the journey of a soul. We consider it as the journey of our identity.
We consider this is my journey; I am Dr Vineet Aggarwal, and this is my journey, but no. The soul has been various bodies before this, and it will inhabit bodies after this. And the Bhagavad Gita tell us that just as we take up new clothes and discard the old ones, similarly, the soul discards an old body and enters a new one. So it is not my journey; it is the soul’s journey that is within my body.
Q) What is your advice for youngsters who seem to look down upon our history as mere stories?
Dr Vineet Aggarwal – I think I wouldn’t blame them for this. It isn’t entirely their fault, as nobody has taught them these stories when growing up. Many people grow up without that knowledge, even in their households. Schools do not teach this.
Children who grow up without listening to these stories in their homes are bound to be a little flippant because they’ve never heard them. When you grow up listening to these stories, a different faith arises in you, and there’s a different level of respect that’s there because you’ve heard these stories as a child.
They’re impressive stories that have fascinated you ever since a child. But when growing up, you come across many Hollywood movies with Avengers, Greek mythology, the Roman mythology. Then you are exposed to Indian stories or legends, and then you don’t feel anything significant about it. But when as a child you’re first exposed to the world of fantasy in this fascinating world of Indian scriptures, I think that sort of builds respect, which is a little challenging to come later in life.
But I agree with you that without exploring, many people dismiss it, but if you try to find out, you’ll find there are so many similarities in these stories that you are accustomed to listening to.
Like Thor, the thunder god, many youngsters would know if Thor was just because of Avengers, but that wouldn’t realise that Thor comes from Norse mythology. They would’ve never heard of Norse mythology. There would be many people who’ve watched the series called “Vikings”, but they wouldn’t relate it with Thor. And that is why there’s so much disconnect between what we watch and what we know that we fail to appreciate.
As a thunder god, Thor is very similar to Indra, who’s the thunder god in our stories, or Zeus, who’s the thunder god in Greek mythology. There are many commonalities and similarities, but people need to explore them a little. I also feel that it needs to be said to them in a more modern setting, a more cool format, for people to get attracted to it.
It is a shortcoming of ours that we haven’t been able to bring out movies or series which are at par with what has been coming out of Hollywood. Why can’t we do it? Why can’t we bring out something that fascinating and that well-executed? So that we can rekindle that interest in the minds of people.
That’s what we are trying. I am trying, and there are other people I know who are trying to ignite that spark in the youngsters today for their ancient legends and scriptures and stories.
They are Indian stories at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice today. These are the stories that your ancestors told. These are the stories that have shaped India. They have shaped Indian history; they have shaped the lives of millennia of people who’ve been living in our country. So they do deserve a lot more respect and indulgence, rather than just dismissing them.
I feel a change is happening with youngsters like you and many other 20-21-year-olds I’ve interacted with, who are trying to explore their heritage, history, and culture. I think you guys are doing a great job of bringing it out for a bigger audience. I feel the change is happening, but it’s also the responsibility of many people who read and are interested in spreading the word. To introduce people who don’t know their history to their heritage.
There’s a whole treasure of stories that are lying to be explored. Whether it’s for series, movies or books, there’s a whole treasure trove of exciting legends and stories to explore.
As you read, Dr Vineet Aggarwal strongly believes that our ancient texts have a lot of contribution to the foundation of our nation. He is hopeful that today’s youth will rekindle people’s interest in these texts and give them the respect they deserve.
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