Robots in ancient India? That doesn’t sound right.
Well, at the very least, there seems to be a large repository of early science-fiction stories featuring robots in ancient Sanskrit texts many of which had been translated into languages like Chinese, Tibetan and Pali indicating their widespread popularity in their eras.
Let’s go over a few of these tales, shall we?
King Ajatashatru, one of Buddha’s contemporaries from the 5th century BCE, had appropriated certain holy relics from the Buddha’s body upon his death. In order to hide them from the outside world, he had an elaborate shrine built to house them. The shrine itself was protected by seven concentric walls.
Due to Ajatashatru’s distrust of human greed, he had robotic guards deployed at the entrance. These robots were capable of sensing any approaching being’s presence upon which they would quickly be decapitated or fatally injured by a sword-equipped whirling motion. It is said that these seemingly lifeless guards succeeded in protecting the relics for over two centuries.
Jumping to the 3rd century BCE, emperor Ashoka sought these elusive relics out to make them available to devout Buddhists. Upon managing to locate and excavate the shrine, he employed the help of a descendant of the man who engineered Ajatashatru’s armed robots to finally access the relics. Beyond this, the man helped Ashoka build his own robotic army.
In a Sanskrit text, dating before the 6th century CE, there are mentions of tales of robots who kill robot makers.
Were robots really a possibility in such ancient civilizations? It has been speculated by historians that Ashoka’s era probably saw the existence of lifelike automata on a widespread level. This is reinforced by an account of a first-century CE philosopher being taken aback by “dumb waiters and other automata” used by Indians on his visit to Taxila.
Fact or fiction? Whatever it may be, speculating about the possibility is itself quite a rush!
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