Atomic Bomb

The story of Robert Oppenheimer has once again found itself in the global spotlight with the release of its namesake film, Oppenheimer, based around the man who invented the atomic bomb. The film, directed by Christopher Nolan known for his other projects like Interstellar showcasing his attention to detail and accuracy, has been a smash hit around the world, but faced a controversial reception in India.

This is because the film depicted Cillian Murphy as the famous scientist, quoting a very popular and respected Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita or The Lord’s Song, after an explicit scene. When placed in context, the scene shows Oppenheimer, in an attempt to calm his nerves just hours before a detonation, reciting the English translation of a Sanskrit stanza:

“In battle, in forest, at the precipice of the mountains

On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds a man has done before defend him”

However, this scene in the movie is not far from the truth. The real Robert Oppenheimer, a man known as “the father of the atomic bomb”, was reportedly a fan of this 2000 year old book and was taught Sanskrit by a Arthur W Ryder to properly understand it, citing it as one of his favourite pieces of literature. His love for the book and knowledge of the Hindu language were prominent parts of his personality as narrated by those around him, and it is said that he had a “taste of the mystical and the cryptic”. He also told his friends that the Bhagavad Gita was “the most beautiful philosophical song existing in any known tongue” and was known to gift copies to those he cared for.

However, there is a certain disparity between topics like poetry and philosophy and sciences like physics and atomic studies, such as those that led him to invent weapons of mass destruction. Robert Oppenheimer proved that neither are mutually exclusive, as he was known to read and write poetry on abstract philosophy. Additionally, after having created a bomb with the potential to kill thousands if not millions, and start wars capable of ending the human race, the morality of his actions was something that often plagued him. His famous quote, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds,” is also a quote from the Bhagavad Gita.

Still, even though it can be proven that these aspects of Sanskrit and Hinduism were integral to the story of Oppenheimer, many conservative Hindus felt disturbed by the contextual placing of the holy text and demanded cuts. The censor boards in India disagreed however, and the film was allowed to play earning huge numbers on opening night and locally beating Barbie, which released on the same day.

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