Feb 8, 2014

Book review: The Krishna Key

Hindus insist on calling Hinduism the oldest religion,  ven though relics of several older religions have been found all over the world. Mesopotamia, in particular, was a hotbed of ancient civilizations. But Ashwin Sanghi, in his book The Krishna Key, claims that the Saraswati civilization is the mother of all Mesopotamian civilizations. As we know, Saraswati is a mighty river described in the Vedas, which has dried to a mere trickle in our times (possibly because its tributaries changed course, one becoming the Sutlej and the other Yamuna, both mighty rivers in their own right today). Sanghi claims that the major events of the Mahabharata happened on the banks of Saraswati, tracing the cities of Mathura, Dwarka, and Hastinapura on the bank of what would have been Saraswati. He also claims that cities like Mohenjo Daro, hitherto known as cities without literature, are the origin of the Vedas, hitherto known as literature without corresponding civilization. So far, so good. His maps and data are pretty convincing.

But in his bid to prove that Babylonian civilizations were mere offshoots of the ancient Saraswati civilization of South Asia, Sanghi makes some pretty farfetched claims. He claims the Sumerians were Hindus who took the name (Su)Meru (the name of the centre of the world in Hindu mythology) with them and established a civilization in its name in the Middle East. What about other Mesopotamian civilizations like the Hittites and Akkadians and many others? Sanghi is silent on them, but I would not be surprised if someone came up with ancient Hindu names that correspond with these. Sanghi also argues that the Moon that Muslims have adopted as their symbol is a Hindu one. Certainly all these similarities in language and mythology point to a shared culture and knowledge base, but not to a particular order of origin. I, for one, would be sceptical without carbon dating evidence. They could easily have been parallel civilizations, or have developed in the opposite order.

Sanghi opens his book with a disclaimer—none of his writing is true. But he obviously has a base in well researched facts. Indeed, by now (many) scholars agree that the Assyrians were what Hindus would call Asura, and that Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrian mythology was simply Asura Medha, or the great Asura. The villains in Zoroastrian mythology, Daeva, may be what we call Devas, led as they are by Indra. Sanghi also recounts a medieval traveller’s writing about the Somnath Temple in western India, where the idol was suspended in midair, with no support. He even provides a logical explanation: magnets. When Mahmud of Ghazni, the most hated plunderer of Somnath, ordered the top of the temple removed brick by brick to test the theory, the suspended idol fell down. Was the thirteenth century writer, Zakariya, fabricating the story? We may never know, but the fact that he wrote this fantastic story is not contested.

Sanghi then tells us that nuclear technology can turn lead into gold. I checked, and it’s true (only the process is so costly it’s not worth it). So, maybe medieval alchemists were on the right track. So it really raises the curiosity on Sanghi’s other claims—how many are true?
Among his other fascinating claims is that the famed city of Atlantis is none other than Dwarka, which, if we remember, was also a famed city that drowned. One has to applaud him for working in all kinds of controversies in his plot: that the Taj Mahal was originally a Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalaya and was appropriated by the Mughals. Or that the Russians believed Mount Kailash was a manmade pyramid to store nuclear armaments. Or that the word ‘Allah’ comes from the name of the forgotten Vedic goddess Ilah.

But as is normal in a canvas so large, the plot has gaping holes. For example, neither Shiv nor Vish (short form for Vishnu, which suspiciously sounds like Sanghi’s own creation since it is not found elsewhere) were prominent gods during the Vedic times. Shiv, in fact, was known as Rudra in the Vedas, the name Shiv coming into existence much later. But to Sanghi, these are both ancient Vedic entities.

He gives tantalizing clues, only to completely dismiss them later. We start out with a seal that has the face of three animals on it, which we are told later are inconsequential. Instead we turn our focus to the swastika, which again leads to three red herring chases, before finally ending in an underwhelming conclusion.

Sometimes he gets bogged down by his own inconsistencies. In the beginning he tries to tell us that seven is the most important number there is (there are seven colours in the spectrum, seven sapta rishis), then moves on to eight (eight is infinity), then says nine is everything (because nine is the sum of one and eight), five is the centre of the world (there are five elements, five amrits, five Pandavas), then 18 is sacred to Hindus (there are 18 chapters in the Mahabharata, Jarasandha attacked Mathura 18 times—as if that makes it a holy number). In fact, such arbitrary associations can be made with almost every number: there are two sides to everything, three is the number of the Holy Trinity, there are four cardinal directions, etc. One wishes Sanghi had been consistent in listing the significance of each number and not tried to elevate each as the supreme number.

The plot, in essence, is paper thin. Random questions are asked by characters, whose only purpose is for the writer to dump vast amounts of mythological information. Which is all gripping, by the way. For example, the myth of Syamantaka, a fabulous jewel that Krishna pursued. Among other things, it creates gold. Sounds familiar? Sanghi would have us believe that this was the original Philosopher’s Stone. But then Sanghi’s hopeless sense of plot kicks in, and he tells us how the Syamantaka could have turned the lead pillars of Somanth temple to gold, only to backtrack and point to a completely different location for the jewel. He never solves the mystery of the Somnath pillars.

Basically, if you have a head for mythology, this book will give you a fascinating glimpse into all kinds of ancient legends, forgotten except by academia where they are heatedly contested. But the most inspiring thing about the book is probably its thriller style. Valorization of famed jewels, unearthing of mythological mysteries, we have read all these about Western artefacts. It is so delightful to read all of it in a South Asian context. Jewels that we have all heard of, mountains that we worship, are parts of conspiracy theories and such inventive plots! The prospect of more such fantasy/ thrillers with local elements is exhilarating!
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