Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, said a peculiar thing at a Defence Research and Development Organisation conference on Thursday. He said the rishis (sages or hermits) from our mythologies were "scientists" as well as the epitome of calm and restraint.
"...But the major difference that I find in those days and today is that rishis had control over ego, control over anger. These are very important for an educated person," Parrikar told the community of scientists.
While it isn't unusual for ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party to attribute every invention from dentistry and missiles to plastic surgery to the rishis of yore, it now appears they are getting their mythology 101s wrong too. Several legendary rishis, or ascetics, had legendary tempers.
To guide Parrikar along on brushing up on his mythology, here are just a few salient instances of sage rage:
Anger apparently was in Durvasa's name as it translates into 'one who is difficult to live with.' Durvasa was conceived because Shiva was in a rage and--the details are fuzzy here--got Anasuya, the wife of sage Atri, to conceive a son, Durvasa. Durvasa had several anger-management issues and two of the standout ones birth two of the most evocative episodes in Indian mytho-literature, namely the churning of the ocean, or the Samudra Manthan, and the curse of Shakuntala as recounted by Kalidasa.
1. Durvasa gifted a charmed garland to Indra, the king of the Devas (demigods). Unfortunately the magical garland was hurled, rather than given, and it landed on the trunk of Indra's elephant who flung it to the ground. Durvasa was enraged to see his gift treated so callously and cursed Indra that he would be cast down from his position of dominion over the three worlds, just as the garland was cast down. Indra immediately begged Durvasa's forgiveness, but the sage refused to retract or even soften his curse, and went on his way. Because of the curse, Indra and the devas were diminished in strength and shorn of their lustre.
The weakened devas were then defeated by the asuras, the anti-gods (demons) and to regain their dominance they were advised to churn a vast ocean of milk that exuded a variety of endowments including elixir, Lakshmi--the goddess of wealth, Kamdhenu, the cornucopian cow, sloth, Kalpavriksha and poison. Shiva drank this poison and was said to have gained his legendary blue complexion. All because of the rage of Durvasa.
2. A Quora post succinctly puts it thus: In the Abhijnanshakuntalam, written by Kalidasa, when the maiden Shakuntala ignored Durvasa's demands to be welcomed as a guest because she was daydreaming about her lover, Dushyanta.
The enraged Durvasa cursed her that this lover of hers would forget her. Shakuntala's aghast companions managed to mollify Durvasa, who softened the curse, saying that Dushyanta would remember Shakuntala when he saw the ring that he gave her as a token of their love. The sage's curse came true of course, and was eventually lifted, just as he said it would be. All said and done, the story of Durvasa curse inspired one of India's greatest literary creations.
3. If Durvasa was Wolverine, Viswamitra was the Incredible Hulk. Though originally a king and not a sage, his quest to rishi-hood was paved purely by his conflict with sage Vashishta. The latter's power overwhelmed the might of Vishwamitra's army and his wounded pride led him on the path of penance and becoming a rishi. However this quest was frequently interrupted--again by the pesky Indra--who sent the celestial nymphs, Rambha and Menaka, at different times to interrupt his tapas (meditation). Both the maidens were cursed; one to lose her beauty and Menaka to turn into a stone for 1,000 years.
4. Parashuram was a legendary hermit, appearing at various epochs and known as the scourge of the martial Kshatriyas. A powerful rishi like him was easily angered. There's a story about how Karna, the eldest of the Pandavas, masqueraded as a Brahmin to be tutored by Parasurama. One day, the sage who was taking a siesta and resting with his head on Karna's lap, discovered Karna's lie and flew into a rage and cursed him that he would forget how to use the great weapons he had learned from the sage when he needed it the most. One of the epic turns in the Mahabharata war was due to this curse, and it eventually cost Karna his life.
5. A well-loved deity who crossed Parashuram's path to self-inflicted misfortune was Ganesha, who stalled the sage on his way to meeting Shiva. The infuriated Parashuram hurled his deadly axe at him and it was only some unusual diplomatic intervention by Shiva himself that eased tensions. Along with Agastaya, Parashuram is also known to be progenitor of the martial arts and that axe, which severed Ganesha, also played a role in dredging out Kerala and Goa from the Arabian sea.
So by all means DRDO's scientists would do well to emulate sages' quest for knowledge, steadfastness and ardour but not quite their tempers.