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Interstellar, King Muchukunda and Time Dilation

Christopher Nolan is without a doubt one of the best directors of our time. He takes incredibly complex subjects, mixes it with an equally complex story and beautiful cinematography and makes it accessible to regular people with a topping of great music. One of his most popular films is the sci-fi — Interstellar, which deals with the topics of Black Hole, Wormhole, Parallel Dimension and Time Dilation.

Interstellar is a story set in a dystopian future where humanity is on the verge of destruction due to crop blights and dust storms. The film follows five astronauts who travel through a wormhole(which was placed by unknown beings near Saturn) to different planets to find a suitable home to rehabilitate human beings. One such planet, that the protagonists of the film travel to, is — Miller’s Planet which is near a black hole, Gargantua. And due to its proximity to Gargantua, there’s severe gravitational time dilation, so much so that one hour on Miller’s Planet was equal to seven years on Earth! Interstellar was the first movie dealing with Time Dilation but not the first piece of fiction, but I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s first understand what exactly is Time Dilation.

Time dilation is the relative difference in time elapsed measured by two clocks due to their relative velocity to each other or due to gravitational potential difference. What that basically means is that even after compensating for the Doppler Effect (the varying signal delays between two clocks, one observer and one moving), the observer will measure that the moving clock is ticking slower than his/her own clock which is at rest in his/her own frame of reference. And the other way time dilates is that a clock near a massive body will record less elapsed time than one situated away from that massive body. The latter one is so apparent that it is even observable near pyramids, and in satellites that are in orbit! Though this is not a new concept and has been predicted since the turn of the 20th Century by various scientists and authors like — Poincare and Einstein, evidence suggests that it may even be older than that.

Hindu scriptures talk about 14 Lokas or Dimensions — Brahma Loka being on the top and Paatala Loka (something like hell but not exactly)being the bottom-most. Earth is situated in Bhu Loka which is the 7th dimension and Swarga (something akin to Heaven but not exactly) or Indra Loka is the 5th one. One of the features of these dimensions is that time runs at different speeds. One such legend about time dilation in Hindu scriptures is that of King Muchukunda. King Muchukunda was from Ikshvaku Dynasty and an ancestor of Lord Rama (the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu and a major Hindu Deity). His story is found in Vishnu Purana, which is believed to have been written around 700-300 BCE. He was a brilliant war strategist and an accomplished General. So much so, that when Devas (Deities) were outnumbered and on the verge of defeat in a battle against Asuras(~Demons, although not all Asuras were evil) due to lack of a formidable commander, they sought help from Muchukunda, who was just a human. They asked for him to join them and help them in their fight against Asuras in Indra Loka. The fight was long and bloody, he got so caught up in the war that he didn’t even get to sleep. He protected them from Asuras until they got Kartikeya the son of Lord Shiva as their commander. For his services Indra, the king of Devas thanked him and said —

“O king, we, the Devas are indebted to you for the help and protection which you have given us, by sacrificing your own family life. Here in heaven, one second equals one year of the earth and you had fought with asuras for one year of heaven. Since it has been a long time, there is no sign of your kingdom and family because it has been destroyed over time. We are indebted to you, so ask for any boon except Moksha (liberation from rebirth cycle) because Moksha is beyond our capabilities”.

Muchukunda asked to return to his family and kingdom, to which Indra, apologetically informed, that Time runs differently in Indra Loka and that the year spent here was equivalent to many centuries on earth. His entire dynasty had ended and so had his kingdom. Saddened and depressed he asked for a boon of sleep that wouldn’t end until he wanted it to, to compensate for all the sleepless nights he had spent fighting. He also asked that whoever disturbs his sleep, would burn to ashes. These events happened before the events of Ramayana, and just like all good sequels, this was an important callback event in the times of Mahabharata. When Yavana(Greek) warrior Kalayavana invaded India, he was invincible and was said to have gotten a boon from Lord Shiva that no weapons could defeat him. Lord Krishna, being an avatar of Lord Vishnu, knew about Muchukunda’s boon and used it to defeat Kalayavana.

This, while being the most striking incidence of Time Dilation used in Hindu Scriptures surprisingly isn’t the only one! Some other legends that I could find were — Princess Revati who travelled to Brahma Loka and King Indradyumna who commissioned The Jagannath Icon of Puri, who also travelled to Brahma Loka. Does that mean Hindus knew about the concept of Time Dilation since ancient times? Hard to say, and I say that because on the one hand, India has always had a rich culture of Science and Mathematics since ancient times, on the other hand, Time Dilation has been used by a lot of modern writers as it technically allows forward Time Travel, since our current understanding of Space-Time doesn’t allow us to travel back in time. And what’s interesting is that we have yet to come across a Hindu scripture that mentions Backward Time Travel as well! The Indians believed that time is cyclic in nature rather than linear (Closed Timelike Curve), there even was a Sage who was gifted to be beyond time and could see multiple outcomes for the same events (Sage Kakbhushundi — the OG Dr Strange), but not even one mention of backward time travel! A trivial concept in fiction and a hell lot easier to imagine a time travel story than a time dilation story, especially, given that, this is supposed to be “Mythology”, why bother with such an arbitrary omission. Did the ancient Indians know about this limitation, if yes, then how?! This certainly, is something significant to think about. But I guess it’ll always remain a mystery as a lot of ancient knowledge that India had, was destroyed in numerous invasions that it was subjected to throughout history.

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