By Roli S
I am a person of words, not formally educated in astrophysics, but Space and all that it holds has always fascinated me since I was a child. I love to be in the arena of dreams and imagination, that is why my Mars has always been a planet around which I can weave my own magic of poems and stories. Thinking of Mars, the images of green Martians with antennas on their heads and large round eyes come to my mind, and a flying object landing in some remote field with Martians visiting planet Earth has remained a frequent fantasy. This has happened because of the overdose of reading comics as a child, I presume.
Talking of words, in Hindi, Mars is called ‘Mangal Grah’ and, in Hindu astrology, the ‘Mangal Grah’ has its own significance. I came to know about it when, at the time of my marriage, my mother prayed that my horoscope would not have any ‘Mangal Dosh’. I argued with my mother that I do not believe in any such thing. The word ‘Mangal’ is such a positive word in Hindi. Is not ‘shubh mangal mangalye’ a very auspicious chant? ‘Mangal’ means auspicious and good how could it have a ‘dosh’ or a fault? Moreover, I loved everything about ‘Mangal Grah’ and I had had conversations with ‘Mangal Grah ke Nivasi’ (Martians) in my imagination and they seemed to be okay people. In the future, people will reach ‘Mangal Grah’, and you never know I might also get a chance to go there.
My mother would be frustrated at my weird logic and would tell me not to talk all that rubbish before Panditji and keep my mouth shut. Oh yeah, that I had to always do, keep my mouth shut. But how can I keep my imagination shut? As a young girl when I was first introduced to the ‘Solar System’ at school and all the nine planets, I was dead sure that Earth was not the only planet that has life. And my gut told me that there are indeed Martians living on Mars.
As time passed by, I graduated in geography and later became a geography teacher and started dealing with the objects of space on regular basis. As a geography teacher, I gained more knowledge about my own planet Earth. Its climate, physical features, people, etc., but I kept my interest alive in the Cosmos and Space by reading books like ‘Cosmos’ by Carl Sagan and watching movies like ‘Apollo 13’, ‘Gravity’, ‘The Martian’ or our Bollywood’s ‘Mission Mangal’ . These movies conveyed to me the untiring human desire to explore more of the universe and the Cosmos.
My recent interest in the Vedas and Upanishads has reinforced my belief that humans’ basic instinct has remained to explore and decode the miracles of the Universe. Almost all hymns in the Vedas and Upanishads are directed towards the elements of the Cosmos. The Navagraha Stotra for Mangal Graha as taught by Maharshi Ved Vyasa in the Mahabharat is: “Dharani Garbha Sambhutam, Vidyut Kanti Samaprabham; Kumaram Shakti Hastam Tam, Mangalam Pranamamyaham”, which means, ‘I salute the one who is born from the womb of the earth, has the aura and glow of electricity or lightning; Holds the divine weapon Shakti in his hands, Is minute in nature, to that Mars or Mangal, I pay my obeisance!!
I have the highest admiration for all the scientists, astronauts and explorers who give their contribution towards unravelling the mysteries of the Universe. If you ask me about the missions to Mars, the technicalities, the physics, and the technology, I will not be able to tell you anything, but if you ask me about the efforts, enterprise, purpose, discipline, sweat and strife, I will hail and sing praises for all the scientists and astronomers who relentlessly engage themselves in the pursuit of exposing the unknowns of the Cosmos.
‘Curiosity’ Rover sent to Mars in 2012 carried with it the ‘curiosity’ of the entire human race that wanted to know more about a planet that looks and feels so much like planet Earth. Earth is the only known planet that has life, so does Mars also have life? Are all those green-coloured creatures that I have been noticing in the comic books indeed living on Mars? Someday, will a human fly across to Mars like it was just another continent? Is Mars born from Earth? Whether presence of water means possibility of life? Curiosity about Mars is unending and the ‘Curiosity’ Rover had represented the same.
We did not stop at that, did we? We pressed on and left no stone unturned in our quest to know more about Mars. After all we believe that Mars is a planet where life may have evolved in the past and Mars is the only planet that humans can visit or inhabit in the long term because it is comparatively hospitable in terms of temperature, with an approximate range between 20 degrees C at the Equator and minus 125 degrees C at the poles.
In, both, Vedic and Puranic mythology, Mars or Mangal is considered to be the son of the Earth! This could be so close to the truth! Isn’t Mars the only planet that has the closest resemblance to Earth, even according to modern scientists? ‘Mangal Grah’ is auspicious and the protector of Dharma. The sages in the Vedic times did the groundwork and modern man is still persevering to know more and more about ‘Mangal Grah’.
The name ‘Perseverance’ given to the Rover sent to Mars is so apt in this sense. It is understood that ‘Perseverance’ is not just another Rover mission, but it is the most advanced, most expensive, and most sophisticated mobile laboratory sent to Mars by the able scientists of NASA. The results of the experiments on ‘Perseverance’ will likely define the next couple of decades of Mars exploration for mankind and it will determine the course of the search for life and a future manned mission to Mars.
I hope that ‘Mangal’ turns out to be the offshoot of ‘Prithvi’ as our old sages believed and humans find water and oxygen over there and Elon Musk’s plan to provide commercial transportation to Mars becomes a reality!
Many people ask me why this fascination with the cosmos and the planets? I tell them that I don’t exactly know that but I think in our households in India, knowingly or unknowingly, so much is connected to these unseen planetary powers! My grandmother used to call me ‘Shanischar’ whenever I used to create a mess or noise or chaos in the house as a little mischievous girl. Later, I came to know that ‘Shanischar’ means Saturn, which is a planet of chaos. So, this explains why one can’t keep astronomy and planets away very easily from us because we are brought up listening to mythological tales and watching mythological movies and both are so closely linked with this Cosmos!!
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)