Writing Prompts: Bhuta Vahana Yanta

I is the letter, and India is the country up next, in our rundown of mythological creatures. This one is quite fascinating, for you see, it concerns robots.

The Bhuta Vahana Yanta were said to be guardians of Buddhist relics, though it is worth noting they also appear in Hindu texts. When Buddha himself died, King Ajatasatru, who reigned from 492 BC to 460 BC, was given the duty of defending Buddha’s remains. He turned to the Bhuta Vahana Yanta, which translates as ‘spirit machines’. These mechanical beings would unwaveringly perform their sacred duty, and were said to be most formidable.

What’s particularly interesting here is how much of a link exists between this Indian legend, and the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It is said that Greek-speakers were the makers of these machines, and the secret of how to make them was so closely guarded, that the machines themselves would ruthlessly hunt down anyone who revealed that information, or who stole that information.

The latter element is quite pertinent. In the legend, a young man from Pataliputta learns of the robots, and steals the plans. He fears he will not make it home without being killed, so he slices open his thigh, slips the plans into his wound, and sews himself up again. The man is indeed killed, but his body is returned to India by his son, who finds the plans, and uses them to built the machines that become the Bhuta Vahana Yanta.

Stories like this are fascinating and compelling. The ancient world certainly theorised a great deal about a lot of the scientific stuff we almost take for granted today. It is easy to dismiss the notion of automations guarding tombs, but it is also the stuff that drives the imagination, and the more, shall we say, creative theories (the ones that often link extra-terrestrial and supernatural situations to events in human history) might well jump upon the idea of robots protecting important sites. Whilst the idea almost certainly belongs in the realm of fiction, there’s a little part of me that can’t help but wonder ‘what if?’

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