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When the World's History Makes A Complete Circle

The need to protect a kingdom led to an innovation which marked an important milestone in history of science and rocket technology.

Source: @IndianArtHistory

Paintings depicting wars tell us a story. The teens at the Young Writers’ Club used their keen observation skills and prior knowledge of history to decipher the story behind this painting.

Based on the colour of the uniforms of the soldiers upfront, they concluded that these must be British soldiers. They are using rifles where as the other army is using swords. This is when they hit a wall. Could this be in India? The British colonised many parts of the world. Did other countries use swords? Many other questions followed to which answers need to be found.

What about those rocket like objects shown flying across in flames? What are those? Rockets of some kind?

A clue

This painting is on display in NASA today.

“Maybe this is an experiment that went wrong.”

“A new weapon that the British did not know about and the Americans made it. So it is an honor to the technology.

“Maybe it is a misfired missile.”

“Or it is a sign of respect for a technology that enabled the Americans to win against the British. Remember the Americans were also colonised by the British.”

A partial reveal

The painting depicts a scene from the Anglo Mysore war of 1776. Those rocket like objects were weapons that had been developed with experimentation. Iron was available in plenty at the time. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan had experimented using iron for these rockets. Previously, the Chinese had developed a similar technology possibly using bamboo in the 13th century. The Europeans used it too until the advent of canons and then this technology had become obsolete. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan discovered that using iron instead of bamboo gave more range and sustainability in addition to higher bursting pressures in the combustion chamber. This technology came in use while fighting against the British more than once. When the British finally managed to win the war, they took the technology back to England to study and develop similar weapons for their own use. These rockets could cover a distance of 2 kms- a significant feat at a time when humankind did not know how to defy gravity. From there to the first trip to space and to the present time where multiple countries are in the race to make new discoveries in space, humankind has come a long way. NASA having this painting could be a tribute.

An Indian connection alright but why is there a reference to these rockets in the national anthem in the U.S?

"...And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there..."

-An excerpt from the national anthem of America

This reference was unexpected and sent the group on a silent thinking mode.

Fort McHenry
Photo by Joshua Woods on Unsplash

This was written by the American poet, Francis Scott Key who wrote this poem after witnessing the victory of the Americans over the British. Inspired by seeing the American flag go up after witnessing the bombardment of the Fort McHenry, this poem came into being and later was chosen to be the national anthem of America.

A puzzled teen was quick to point out that the United States of America got its independence in the 1776. The painting depicts an Anglo British war at about the same time. So how was it possible for the British to use the same rocket technology against the Americans?

These are the kind of questions that help bring more flavour to the discussion and gives the group a chance to peep into history with an inquisitive sense rather than to study for an exam. The war being referred to in Scott Key’s poem is the war that happened between the U.S and the British in 1812. The trigger for the war is said to be on account of the British violating the U.S maritime rights.

A rocket weapon that came into existence in India, made its way to Britain and subsequently to the U.S. The victory of 1812 against those rockets must have been a considerable one, so much so the poem including the note about the red glare from these rockets became the national anthem of the U.S.

Completing the circle

This connection with India might have gone unnoticed but for Abdul Kalam. As a young man, Abdul Kalam stood mesmerized by this painting while he was training at NASA. Intrigued by the details of the painting, he sought to find out more information. Clearly, the painting had a deep impact on him, so much so it got mentioned in his autobiography, Wings of Fire.

More recently, a reference was made to the same painting in an ISRO podcast Mission ISRO with Harsha Bhogle which strives to bring to light the story of the journey taken India’s space research industry, starting from very little to where it is today. Today, space missions carried out by the ISRO are in collaboration with NASA thus completing the circle.


Previously published in the Young Writers' Club magazine-


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