Mythology and The Science of Pregnancy

  Dr. K K Aggarwal

Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy National Awardee
President, Heart Care Foundation of India

Most of the research claims of today by the West scientists are re-searches and not researches as the Vedic era has examples of every possible scientific explanation of all happenings in life. During Rama and Krishna era, there were nuclear weapons, planes and what not.

Examples of in-vitro fertilization, stem cell therapies, asexual mode of reproduction, organ transplantation, surrogate motherhood, cloning etc were either existing in the ancient Vedic era or their descriptions available as mentioned in the epics and publications of those eras.
The following examples are my scientific imagination comparing the Vedic happenings with the possible science of today. The article is not meant to hurt the religious sentiments of anyone.

Artificial insemination
The ancients in the Vedic time were familiar with the concept of artificial insemination where semen is transferred to the womb without sexual act. Magic potions created by sages for queens of childless kings to make women pregnant were a common happening in those eras. What were these magic substances? “Fertility drugs” or the metaphors for ‘donated semen’?

• Birth of Hanumana: The first known mythological example is the birth of Hanumana. When Lord Shiva spurted semen on seeing Vishnu in the form of the celestial enchantress Mohini (semen donation after getting excited is a normal process today). Sages collected this semen and gave it to the wind-god Vayu (symbolizes the process of centrifugation to select the best of the sperms?) who poured it into the ‘ear’ (mythical metaphor for the womb?) of Anjani, who gave birth to Hanuman.
• Birth of Hanumana: In another story a part of the sweet food given to Dashratha was snatched by an eagle pudding and dropped it where Anjana was meditating, and Pavana, the god of wind delivered the drop (centrifuged sperms?) to her outstretched hands (the female genitilia?) of Anjana. After she took the divine dessert, she gave birth to Hanuman.
• Birth of Rama: Agni gave Dasharath, a bowl of sacred sweet food to share among his wives by the mouth (Explanations: Agni means incubated, sweet foods means sperms and to be taken by mouth means the lower mouth of the womb?).

Test-tube babies
1. Birth of Agastya: There is a hymn in the Rig Veda (VII.33.13), it says, when the Vedic Gods Mitra and Varuna saw the beautiful nymph Urvasi, their seeds fell. One of these fell into a jar, and it was from there that the sage Agastya was born. Seeds here may represent the sperm and the jars either the womb (artificial insemination) or the petri dish for the in vitro fertilization.

2. Birth of Kauravas: In the Mahabharata (MB: I.114)” while Queen Gandhara was carrying an over due embryo, she heard that her husband’s brother’s wife had given birth to a son which would make him eligible for royal succession. In her anger: “She struck her womb with great violence… And as a result there came out of her womb … a hard mass of flesh. When she was about to throw it away, a wise instructed her: “Let a hundred pots full of clarified butter be brought instantly, and let them be placed at a concealed spot. In the meantime, let cool water be sprinkled over this ball of flesh.” That ball of flesh, then, sprinkled over with water, became divided into a hundred and one parts about the size of a thumb. These were then placed in pots with clarified butter that had been placed at a concealed spot and watched. Then, in due course, the hundred brothers and one sister were born, and they who came to be called Kauravas because they were from the family of Kuru.

Medically it all may mean that the birth of kauravas might have been due to some type of IVF (test tube baby) procedure.

Clones and Procreation: Daksha
In Puranic literature one speaks of a certain Daksha who was asked by the Supreme to procreate living creatures. He is said to have produced ten thousand sons who were called “Hayashvas” (Joyful Horses). These may be regarded as the first recorded instances of human clones since all the children were said to have been perfectly identical.

The core idea represents that there has been biological evolution attempts to propagate the species through asexual means, and that the feature of sexual reproduction that is common for the human species today is only a later biological invention.

Birth of Kartikeya
The Ramayana has two chapters on Kartikeya birth in the Balakanda (chapters 36-37). The stories of Salya, Anusasana (86th chapter in Mahabharata) and Balakanda consistently make Kartikeya the son of all five deities: Siva, Agni, Ganga, Uma and the Kittitas.

As per Siva Purana (page 162) Shiva and Parvati were married and the demi-Gods eagerly awaited their son. However Shiva and Parvati were so engrossed in their amorous activities that they had no time for the travails of the world. Ultimately the demi-Gods had to disturb
Shiva and remind him of his duties.

“Shiva gave his seed to Agni and vayu. They went near a river where the wives of the seven sages were bathing. Six of them went to the fire to warm themselves and were impregnated. On realising their predicament they left the seed in the form of an embryo in the Himalayas. The Himalayas, unable to bear the heat of the embryo, placed it in the river Ganga. There Kartikeya was born”.

Some versions state that the six women left six embryos and six babies were born. Parvati embraced all six of them, thereby fusing the bodies to one but leaving it with six heads.

Scientific version
The whole story may explain the process of in-vitro fertilization in great details:
1. Shiva gave his seeds: the sperms
2. The sperms were handled by vayu, the process of centrifugation, so that the healthy sperms can be taken out.
3. Next they were handles by agni, the process of incubation.
4. The next process was the entry into the river, which means the Petri dish containing the eggs.
5. Now starts the process of fusion into an embryo. The six headed infant here means the six cell stage of the embryo ready for implantation in the womb.
6. The same was implanted in the Parvatis’ womb (in one story as she embraced the same) and in the Krttikas (the native girls) in another part of the story.
7. Karttikeya is described as five or six-headed GOD representing that a cell of five or six cell stage can be implanted.

Organ transplants: Ganesha
Transplant involves parts like hands, arms, and legs, which are not vital organs and transplants of vital organs. The one instance where one can conceive of a combination of the two is transplanting the entire head. It would be the most sophisticated organ transplant one can imagine. We find an instance of this in the story of Ganesha as one of the earliest examples of organ transplant.

Stem cell: asexual form of reproduction
Ganesha was born by Parvati without Shiva from the dirt of her skin. Probably it was the first example of stems cells being used for the birth of a child using asexual means. Only recently scientists have used bone marrow cells as a means of asexual reproduction in animal studies. Latest is use of skin cells to make liver cells.

Scientific Evidence from uptodate: In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues took genes that were expressed in pluripotent embryonic stem cells, but not generally in mature cells, and introduced them into mature cells. They did so in a manner such that the genes would now be “ectopically” expressed, ie, expressed in a cell type where the gene is normally not expressed. A small number of the mature cells reverted back to a highly immature cell state that resembled an embryonic stem cell. This process, now called reprogramming, induced a pluripotent state in a previously differentiated cell type. These cells are therefore called induced pluripotent cells (iPS).

It indicates that the state of a given cell (its level of differentiation) can be manipulated, resulting in drastic shifts in cell function. Cells have a plasticity that is far greater than previously recognized and can be programmed by specific manipulations to achieve a different cell state. A keratinocyte derived from the skin can be induced to become a pluripotent stem cell, essentially rewinding the cell’s history of the cells to revert to an embryonic-like state.

The surrogate mother
In the Bhagvata Purana, there is a story that suggests the practice of surrogate motherhood. Kans, the wicked king of Mathura, had imprisoned his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva because oracles had informed him that her child would be his killer. Every time she delivered a child, he smashed its head on the floor. He killed six children. When the seventh child was conceived, the gods intervened.

They summoned the goddess Yogamaya and had her transfer the fetus from the womb of Devaki to the womb of Rohini (Vasudeva’s other wife who lived with her sister Yashoda across the river Yamuna, in the village of cowherds at Gokul). Thus the child conceived in one womb was incubated in and delivered through another.