New Delhi, May 9: A claimant to history's greatest half-truth will undoubtedly be the immortal words of Yudhishthir, the Pandava big brother: " Ashwatthama hathaha iti narova kunjarova (Ashwatthama is dead... I don't know if it is a man or elephant)."
The declaration - the latter half of which was uttered in a mutter amid the clatter of Pandava trumpets - had prompted a crestfallen Drona, the father of Ashwatthama, to lay down his weapon, and the magnificent master was beheaded on the battlefield.
Cut to the here and now: a challenger has emerged to give Yudhishthir a run for his money on the half-truth sweepstakes.
Turns out that some champions of " garbhasanskar", a supposedly Vedic method to ensure the "best babies in the world" who will build a strong India, swallowed the tail-end of an ancient Sanskrit prescription for such progeny.
Believe it or not: the " narova kunjarova" that has been devoured now is little other than beef!
The Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project of Arogya Bharati, an organisation aligned to the RSS, has skimmed on veal or beef that a couple should have for a learned son. This is prescribed in Brihadâranyaka Upanishad, VI, 4, said historian D.N. Jha, who authored the book The Myth of the Holy Cow.
"Why have they forgotten this Upanishadic precept?" Jha asked while pointing to the relevant paragraph of the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad.
The territory is a bit tricky from here, especially for those who are not familiar with Sanskrit.
"Now if one wishes that a son, learned, famous, a frequenter of assemblies, a speaker of delightful words, that he should study all the Vedas, that he should attain a full term of life, they should have rice cooked with meat and eat it with clarified butter, then they should be able to beget (such a son) - either veal or beef."
Jha cited this from The Principal Upanisads, translated and edited in 1953 by the then Vice-President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, which also provides the original in Vedic Sanskrit.
" Atha ya icchet putro me pandito vigitah, samitim-gamah, susrusitam vacam bhasita jayeta, sarvan vedan anubruvita, sarvam ayur iyad iti, mamsodanam pacayitva sarpismantam asniyatam, isvaravu janayita vai, auksnena varsabhena va." (Auksnena is veal, varsabhena is beef and va stands for or.)
A translation of this paragraph by Robert Ernest Hume says: "Now, in case one wishes, 'That a son, learned, famed, a frequenter of council-assemblies, a speaker of discourse desired to be heard, be born to me! that he be able to repeat all the Vedas! that he attain the full length of life!' - they two should have rice boiled with meat and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget (him), with meat, either veal or beef."
If this is indeed what the Upanishad meant, it would mean that great injustice has been done to countless couples who could have had their super-babies and eat their beef steak too.
Those who swallowed the beef-end of the formula would do well to remember the price of Yudhishthir's half-truth.
So enraged was the real Ashwatthama by the deceitful manner in which his father was killed that he unleashed the Narayanastra, a missile with awesome powers of destruction. Only Lord Krishna's ingenuity - and inside information since the missile was the personal weapon of Lord Vishnu - could save the Pandavas from annihilation.
Evidently, in modern times, ingenuity is not needed. An outright denial would do.
Dr Karishma Mohandas Narwani, the national convener of the garbhasanskar project, said there was no such mention in the "Upanishads" while maintaining that her prescriptions for the "best progeny in the world" are drawn from the same text. But she did not specify the Upanishad. (There are several Upanishads.)
To repeated questions on why beef or veal was excluded, Narwani insisted: "There is nothing like this prescribed in the Upanishads."
Happy to speak about her work, Narwani, who recently conducted an awareness campaign in Calcutta for Arogya Bharati, said she had been working on her programme for Vedic motherhood for the past 14 years.
The RSS got involved only two and a half years ago, she said, adding that her module was rooted in ayurveda.
She has her own establishment in Jamnagar, Gujarat, and advises about 20 to 30 new couples every month. "Our programme at Ved Garbha was in sync with the Arogya Bharati's motto of 'Swastha Vyakti, Swastha Parivar, Swastha Gram, Swastha Rashtra (healthy person, healthy family, healthy village and healthy nation)," she said.
The total package of pre-natal, ante-natal and post-natal care includes diet, care of the expectant mother, body cleansing measures and an exercise routine - complete with the specific time to attempt conception as per cosmic energy - besides delivery through allopathic techniques.
Some critics have drawn parallels between this programme and the Lebensborn Breeding Project that Hitler's Germany had conducted for a decade from 1935 to create a blond and blue-eyed Aryan master race.
"We want to build a strong India by creating perfect children using ancient ayurvedic garbhasanskar techniques," Narwani said, echoing what is mentioned on the Ved Garbha website: "Our aim is to deliver genius, well cultured, righteous, magnificent, healthy and beautiful child as the gift of God."