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21 October 2007

The Baghavad Gita passages which J. Robert Oppenheimer thought at the instant the first atomic bomb detonated

Click on images and
surely good things will happen.

Trinity atomic bomb photo
from
Los Alamos National Laboratory

I am an Old Guy and just because I know absolutely nothing about Sanskrit or the Baghavad Gita, I am impatient waiting for multisubj yb to get back to me and explain what the heck is going on here, so I will continue to bumble along cluelessly and irresponsibly.

In the West, these are almost the only two passages from Baghavad Gita with which anyone is in the slightest familiar. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist from the University of California at Berkeley appointed to lead the Anglo-American development of the atomic bomb, was a brilliant polymath and polyglot and had studied Sanskrit at Harvard. He recalled that these passages flew through his mind when he watched the first atomic bomb detonate in the New Mexico desert on 16 July 1945.

Oppenheimer was born and raised an American. Many of the key physicists who helped him design and build the bomb were European fugitives from the Nazis, and had worked feverishly to build the bomb before the Germans could build one. To their horror and dismay, Germany surrendered to the Allies and was out of the war, but now the bomb continued on its destructive destiny to be dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August.

For what it's worth, now India and Pakistan are among the 20-odd nations who possess atomic bombs. It's a secret and nobody's supposed to know, but Israel has about 200 fission weapons.

Oppenheimer translated Sloka 32 as "Death," but other scholars believe the more accurate word is "Time."

On this site, you can hear the passages spoken in Sanskrit. Maybe multisubj yb can comment on how dependably we know how ancient Sanskrit was pronounced, and we'd appreciate just about any bit of commentary he can provide. He might start by telling us what the Devanagari alphabet/script is; I guess that's what I've filched in these images.

Until he gets back to us from India, we'll just keep blundering and careening through these ancient texts as best we can.

15 comments:

patromch said...

Nowp, i am not going to rant, i had a good weekand. I was unable to see tha lady of my thoughts, dreams and desires but I found a few old Motown songs in my collection i have not heard in ages, Uptight just to name one. so i am quite mellow and unwilling to rant. here is a quote from wikipedia, anyone interested in the subject may want to check out the movies trinity and Beyond, and Atomic Cafe (and even duck and cover starring burt the turtle on archives.org). here is the quote

Oppenheimer later recalled that while witnessing the explosion he thought of a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita:

“ If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one... ”

Years later he would explain that another verse had also entered his head at that time:

It is the famous verse, which begins as "Kalo Asmi" and was quoted by Oppenheimer after the successful detonation of the first nuclear weapon. He unfortunately mistranslated it as "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds". The correct meaning of the Sanskrit words is "Now I am Time (not death), the destroyer of all."

“ We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another.'[44] ”

According to his brother, at the time Oppenheimer simply exclaimed, "It worked." News of the successful test was rushed to President Harry S. Truman, who authorized the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Oppenheimer later became an important figure in the debates on the repercussions of this act

Now back to Motown...

patfromch said...

nawp, i am not going to rant, i had a good weekend, although i was not able to see the lady of my dreams and desires. but i dug out some ol Motown stuff i had not herd in ages, Uptight just to name one. Men tend to get funny in the head when they are in love, even james taylor is not out of the q anymore.

anyway here is an interesting quote from wikipedia, anyone interested in the subject may check out the movies trinity and Beyond, atomic Cafe and even duck and cover on archives .org. and here comes the quote:

Oppenheimer later recalled that while witnessing the explosion he thought of a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita:

“ If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one... ”

Years later he would explain that another verse had also entered his head at that time:

It is the famous verse, which begins as "Kalo Asmi" and was quoted by Oppenheimer after the successful detonation of the first nuclear weapon. He unfortunately mistranslated it as "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds". The correct meaning of the Sanskrit words is "Now I am Time (not death), the destroyer of all."

“ We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another.'[44] ”

According to his brother, at the time Oppenheimer simply exclaimed, "It worked." News of the successful test was rushed to President Harry S. Truman, who authorized the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Oppenheimer later became an important figure in the debates on the repercussions of this act


Now back to motown........

Vleeptron Dude said...

DankeGrazieMerciGrazcha!

In my (mercifully and unusually) brief comments about the Birth and Spread of the Bomb, I neglected to mention Vleeptron's Very Favorite Atomic Bomb -- the Swiss Atomic Bomb, which CH pondered and studied and spent ƒƒƒƒƒƒ on for 30 or 40 years -- and finally decided Not To Build. You can detonate The Swiss Atomic Bomb in my neighborhood anytime!

The Euro fugitive scientists working on the Manhattan Project had good reason to be worried about the Deutschebomb. They knew who the head of the Deuteschebomb Projekt was -- Werner Heisenberg, who thunk up The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, a fundamental cornerstone of Nature, and our ability to perceive it. This was One Smart Guy. At one time the US spies had a scheme going to lure Heisenberg to visit CH, and to assassinate or kidnap him.

But when the war ended and Allied Intelligence swarmed into Germany, they discovered the Germans had made almost no progress in building a bomb. There's a lot of historians' speculation that Heisenberg intentionally dragged his feet and let the clock tick away. They had the Heavy Water (from Norway) and they had the Pitchblende (Uranium ore) from Czechoslovakia -- but they hadn't come anywhere close to putting these elements together to make a military weapon.

Just at the last month before Surrender, the Germans loaded a U-Boot with their enriched Uranium and shipped it off to their Ally, Imperial Japan -- but the U-Boot commander obeyed his radio orders after the Surrender, and surrendered the U-Boot and its Uranium to the Americans. Japan had its share of brilliant nuclear physicists, but was even further behind Germany in weapons development.

I myself am a member of the Duck And Cover Generation. I went to elementary school in Washington DC, and we were expected to believe that putting our arms over our heads while we knelt on our knees facing the wall would protect us from the effects of a Soviet thermonuclear missile detonating 2 miles away.

Uh-huh.

The United Nations should pass a new addition to the Charter forbidding governments and teachers from telling children such astonishing bullshit crap. They've got international treaties against Child Soldiers -- I think 14 years old is the youngest permitted soldiers -- but governments can still teach all kinds of Total Bullshit/Scheisse/Merde to little children, and that's still legal.

So ... please say Wie Gehts to your Sweetie-Pie with the Car, and have you guys driven into the countryside to see Zentrum Paul Klee yet? What does it look like Up Close & Personal in Kolor and 3D? A great new architectural achievement? Or not quite so great an achievement? (I still want to see it.)

patfromch said...

Art ? Oh no, not yet. we still argue about what we like. she thought Life Of Brian was silly and offensive while i dont like Everlast, she hates the r while i hate her german rap music. art is pretty low on the food chain right now. but you never know.....

another cool movie i saw waaaaaay back in the 80s is shadow makers, a film about the manhattan project, but i have not sssen it in ages because it was ony shown on hacked pay tv way back in 1988 or so. watch it it you can find it somewhere

Ayan Chakraborty said...

Hello,

In one of the books, i have come across a Sanskrit phrase recited by Oppenheimer when
the first nuclear bomb was tested.

...nabhah sprisham diptamanekavarnam
vattyananam diptavishalnetram
drishtva hi tvaam pravyathitaantaratma
dhritim na vindami shamancha vishno||

(It's touching the sky above with a multitude of colors, and this very sight has terrified us. Seeing the intense effulgence and huge eyes, my mind cannot hold itself.)

Just felt like contributing to the topic.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Dear Ayan Chakraborty --

Wow! and congratulations! Googling the Ghitas, or however you wandered here, has brought you to the most hopelessly ignorant Ghita site in the Solar System, perhaps in the entire Milky Way!

Welcome! And thanks very much for the Comment! You've made Vleeptron less ignorant than we were yesterday -- and we're sincerely grateful!

I take special pleasure that you've taken the time to share this passage with us from Mumbai. Clearly the people of Mumbai are recovering their spirits and awakening from shock and devastation. I wish you, your family, and your neighbors much more of this recovery.

Also thanks for the gentle encouragement to find a map of Maharashtra state. Now I have a much more focused notion of where Mumbai is (and the train routes in the vicinity).

Oppenheimer was a very strange fellow. From a background of pure theoretical physics (he was a pioneer in imagining and describing Black Holes), he was chosen (by the army engineer general who had just built the Pentagon, Leslie Groves) to undertake the overwhelmingly practical project of creating the atomic bomb. To do this, he had to babysit the world's strangest collection of brilliant scientific primadonnas, stellar intellects like Fermi and Teller.

Unlike me, Oppenheimer knew the Ghitas in the original Sanskrit. His mind was vast and voraciously curious.

Forbidden during the War from flying, he often had to cross the USA by train, and on one 3-day journey read the entire "Remembrances of Things Past" by Marcel Proust -- in French, of course. He later said it was the singlemost profound intellectual experience of his life.

(I've made it to about Page 25 of Volume 1, in English.)

I like your cartoons! They're funny, and they give me a very rare peek at the politics and culture of India. (I don't get a lot of Indian politics here in New England.)

Our famous news service, Agence-Vleeptron Presse (AVP), hereby appoints you our Man-On-The-Ground in Mumbai! We pay our correspondents in Pizza, shipping and transportation costs not included -- I have to go there, or you have to come here. What's your favorite Mumbai Pizzeria?

If it is not too painful in your heart, please tell Vleeptron a little about Mumbai's recovery from the tragedy. Have you been to the Leopold Cafe? Do you like it? Will it re-open, or has it already re-opened?

Can Pakistan and India negotiate these tense and difficult times politically and diplomatically enough to steer away from a direct military conflict? What pressures do the Indian government and political community face right now?

Well -- just tell us ANYTHING! And ask me ANYTHING! (Like, how cold it is in my Massachusetts, and how miserable it is making me. Do you know what snow is? Slush? Sleet?)

Thanks again! Write back! Send cartoons! Also any insight into the Hindu religion! By the time it reaches North America, the Hindu religion is much too quiet and shy, it makes learning about it very difficult.

Bob
Massachusetts USA
(& a holiday condo on Planet Vleeptron)

persiflage said...

Hey Bob

Greetings from India. The Sanskrit word Kaal does have a dual meaning, 'death' as well as 'time'. Think about this: you die when your time has come.

Or looked at another way, we start dying the moment we're born. Tick tock tick tock.

PS: it's the Bhagavad Gita. Not Baghavad, not Ghita.

Vleeptron Dude said...

hey hey hi hi persiflage, greetings back at ya from North America.

(wow, I actually know what persiflage means, very cool olde-fashionede worde!)

Aw c'mon ... INDIA is Very Large. Can't you give me just an itty-bitty hint WHERE in India you are?

Turnabout is fair play. I'm in Massachusetts. Hire a car in Boston, drive west 3 hours, look for a blue house, park. (Use the kitchen door.)

Watch out for our neighbor Molly:

http://vleeptronz.blogspot.com/2007/06/tip-to-tail-tale-of-bob-and-new-york.html

Likewise, if I visit you, I will look around carefully for man-eating tigers. Do you know this poem?

*+*+*+*+*

Most chivalrous fish in the ocean
In manner both gentle and mild
Though his legend be dark
Is the man-eating shark
Who will eat neither woman nor child

+*+*+*+*+

Meanwhile ... you have accidentally careened into the ONE THING I actually know about the sacred Sanskrit literature -- how to spell it when it's re-spelled in the Roman alphabet.

It's exactly like the 40 different Roman alphabet spellings of Hannukah / Chanukah etc. from the Hebrew alphabet, or the 380 different Roman spellings of Mohammar Ghadaffy / Muamar Qadaffi etc. from the Arabic alphabet. It's a transliteration, and all stabs and guesses about how to do it "properly" are equivalently correct or equivalently wrong.

So your Roman/English spelling of BG and my spelling of BG are equally wrong or equally right. Only the original spelling in the Sanskrit alphabet is authoritative.

But because you're in India and I'm in Massachusetts, from now on I'll spell it your way.

Look -- has it become clear yet that Vleeptron is Dirt Ignorant about India and Sanskrit and the Hindu religion?

So do us a Big Favor and post More about these things. Help bring the Vleeptron Dude out of his pathetic Darkness, and into the Subcontinental Sunshine.

Tell us your thoughts about the recent election, for example.

Tell us your thoughts and observations about the situation in Sri Lanka. Is this truly the end of the Tamil Tigers??

ANYTHING! Recipes, jokes, gossip about the stars of Slumdog Millionaire ... we are STARVING for Local News and Gossip from India!

Yours Very Sincerely,

The Prince of Ignorance
Bob the Vleeptron Dude

PS

Enough already about Oppenheimer's quotes! What's your favorite verse from the BG? Sock it to us in Sanskrit and English, with your personal commentary to explain what it means to you.

Anonymous said...

now stop bickring about usa atomic bomb the world first atomic bomb was used in mahabharats named barahsatra

karanveer12 said...

now stop bickring about usa atomic bomb the world first atomic bomb was used in mahabharata named barahsatra

Vleeptron Dude said...

namaste karanveer12!

Bombs that exploded 10,000 years ago are understandably less frightening than bombs which exploded during our lifetimes.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed 2 years before I was born. During my lifetime, lots of A-bombs and H-bombs have been detonated -- at first above-ground, then underground -- but so far no nuclear bombs have been used against human populations since 1945.

I'm not dying to get political about this, but I have not been happy that India and Pakistan

(1) permanently and perpetually hate each other, have frequently gone to war, and

(2) both possess nuclear weapons (fission, I don't think either has fusion weapons yet)

Then there's Israel, which has an arsenal of about 300 nuclear weapons -- of both kinds, fission and fusion -- and the region's most effective delivery systems, air force AND submarines with missile launch capability. But Israel officially refuses to acknowledge that it possesses nuclear weapons. And the USA criticizes every nation which tries to build nuclear weapons -- but never mentions Israel.

Okay, karanveer12, your Profile link goes nowhere. Who are you, where are you, what are you, can you really read and understand Sanskrit? Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit at Harvard University, where did you?

And thanks for Commenting on Vleeptron and making us smarter!

Ajit said...

Only encountered this ancient link today, but feel obliged to comment on a couple of things in the hope that at least one of the original contributors might read this!

First, I think this is a horrible construction:
"Many of the key physicists who helped him design and build the bomb were European fugitives from the Nazis, and had worked feverishly to build the bomb before the Germans could build one. To their horror and dismay, Germany surrendered to the Allies and was out of the war, but now the bomb continued on its destructive destiny to be dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August."

“THE BOMB continued on its destructive destiny”??? Why not attribute the agency to whom it belongs? WE AMERICANS -- including, notably, Oppenheimer, et al. -- continued to develop and deploy the atomic bomb. Even if you add justifications for its development and deployment, say “We did it”.

Second, if Oppenheimer did in fact remember all three of the verses referenced in this message string (and not just the first, which I have seen a video clip of) then it seems likely he was more than marginally familiar with the Gita. And yet, he has made two rather egregious errors in translating the first verse. The Gita is largely a conversation between Arjuna, ambivalent about warring with his kinsmen, and Krishna, his friend and an avatar of god. Now, while in Hinduism all gods are mere avatars of one another, assuming different forms to fit the particular myth constructed to make deeper points about leading a good life, in the Gita it is Krishna, not Vishnu, who is the Main Man. I wonder why Oppenheimer identifies him as Vishnu. Also, as others have pointed out, it is clearly Time (kaala), not Death (mrityu -- or perhaps Yama, the "death god") that's mentioned in the verse. But in this case, Oppenheimer may be given the benefit of the doubt and may be considered to have used poetic license to translate Time as Death because it is not incongruous in the verse even outside the context of how Oppenheimer was applying it – to the nuclear explosion.

Third, the spelling and the pronunciation of the central tract of Hinduism:
Words from other languages need to be transcribed into the Roman alphabet the way they are pronounced, since there's no a priori etymology that ordains how they should be spelled. But this is easier said than done (for a number of linguistic/phonetic reasons). In the case of the Sanskrit poem we're talking about, the Roman alphabet transliteration I favor is “Geeta”, because that will result in the most correct pronunciation. The first syllable is a long one (like the French pronunciation of "guy"). (The second consonant is the unaspirated, dental t in Spanish words – not the aspirated, retroflex t in English words.) And since there is no aspiration of the initial consonant (g), there's no need to add an h after it. But people less familiar with Sanskrit have overlooked the need to disambiguate between the short (i) and the long (ii or ee) vowel (both of which exist in Sanskrit), and “Gita” has become the more common transliteration. Well, it is a free country (unless you're in Trump's America), so you decide.

Vleeptron Dude said...



It's an ancient link because I'm ancient. (For even more ancient & remarkable stuff, try my original Vleeptron blog.) Vleeptron has always been a one-man band, so I am indeed one of the original contributors. Except for stuff I filch, I write (and draw) everything.

And THANKS for your Comment! Lately nobody's been sending comments so I've been feeling that

nobody loves me
everybody hates me
guess i'll go eat worms
big black juicy ones
itty bitty skinny ones
guess i'll go eat worms

THANKS particularly for the only Comment I've ever received that tutored me on Sanskrit and the Vedic epics. I'm always grateful for lessons about any Indo-European languages. I'm pretty good (sufficient to read menus and find my train) at 3 or 4 of them.

Oppenheimer had a huge brain he'd stuffed full of all sorts of stuff, including (I think at Harvard) fluent Sanskrit. He said his singlemost thrilling intellectual experience was reading (in French, of course) all 7 volumes of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu on a 3-day coast-to-coast train trip -- during the bomb project, he was forbidden from flying.

Where'd you hose up your Sanskrit? Is there a generally accepted guide to pronounciation? I like transliterations to the Roman alphabet because (like the dozen spellings of Hanukkah) you can spell anything any way you like. The late Muammar Ghadaffy holds the record for most transliterated spellings of his name, as noted in an old scientific paper in The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

I live in the Land of the Free (the nation with the most humans behind jail and prison bars of any nation on Earth). I didn't vote for Trump. Neither did the majority of American voters. (My travel buddy and I enjoyed telling confused, curious Mexicans during the Watergate scandal that neither of us or our states -- Massachusetts and the District of Columbia -- had voted for Nixon.)

Somewhere more recently than this post, I read that the passage really means not sudden mass A-bomb-like Death, but Time, the ultimate Destroyer of Everything.

I get your point about assessing personal or, at fuzziest, national blame for dropping two A-bombs on cities. But I've read everything I could find about this episode of human and American history, and have concluded something not more forgiveable or less shameful, but something True and Inevitable:

When a nation (actually three) spends a decade and billions of dollars on the most expensive scientific/military weapons project in history, and finally succeeds, they'll use the weapon on any enemy still waging war. This calculus leads to a conclusion that overwhelmingly transcends morality, responsibility, civilized behavior, etc.

In the last months, Graves and Oppenheimer teamed up to keep the (European refugee) scientists' petition not to drop the bomb on Japan away from Truman's eyes and consideration. From another corner, Truman was most persuaded by projections of American deaths in a conventional invasion of never-surrender Japan. Americans were very tired of American war deaths and casualties.

So I've concluded that something like the bomb project indeed quickly and certainly develops a destiny of its own which individual people become powerless to resist or thwart.

Who are you, what are you, where are you, how'd you find Vleeptron?

Ajit said...

Hehe! There's a scientific paper on Moammar Ghaddafi's name spellings? I had, in fact, come up with my own calculation on that. Let me see if I can recreate it here:

moa/mua - that's 2
* (times)
m/mm - 2
*
er/ar - 2
*
ka/kha/ga/gha -- 4
*
da/dda - 2
*
f/ff - 2
*
i/y - 2
= 2*2*2*4*2*2*2
= 256.

Ran into your blog as I was searching for Oppenheimer's Geeta quote, which I had never looked up before.

I'm an Indian American living almost simultaneously in the U. S. and India -- in the manner of Schroedinger's Cat. However, I don't owe my Sanskrit familiarity (which is actually quite basic) to that, but to my interest in linguistics. The average Indian Joe knows as much Sanskrit as the average American knows Latin.

As for Sanskrit pronunciation, there's plenty of primers on the internet -- YouTube, etc. Google, and ye shall find.

And don't feel bad about the low hits on your blog. There's too much stuff being put up on the 'net these days.

Vleeptron Dude said...

I'm an American Bob who was so bored in high school that I studied 3 or 4 years of Latin, so I could talk to dead people and the Pope. So I guess I'm not average. (The year before, my high school had stopped offering ancient Greek, so I had to settle for Latin.)

I seem to recall that India = Big Place. When you're there, what's the nearest Big Dot? When you're in USA, same question? What else comes out of your mouth, Hindi?

The Journal of Irreproducible Results -- it should get lots of Google hits -- is or was a journal that liked to print ... oh ... gems of Bad Science, or Stupid Science. I think in recent years it's morphed into the annual Ig Nobel Prizes.