ADMITTEDLY, the overprojection of one verse has given a completely different meaning of what the Gita or the Indian knowledge tradition means. It is part of the understanding of the universe: the beginning, the middle and the end. It is a time-cycle that encompasses all the stages. The tradition also has the concepts such as Kali which is beyond Kal or time, and Bhdrakali controller of life and death. Indeed, nuclear weapon, to a great extent, had created an imagination during the Cold War that it may control the issues of life and death of mankind.
This particular verse, which had been supposedly chanted by Oppenheimer, became officially known much later in a 1965 NBC television documentary. However, a 1948 issue of the Time magazine and the book of William L. Laurence, Men and Atoms had mentioned that the verse had been muttered by Oppenheimer during the Trinity test.
This was not the only verse that is relating to Oppenheimer. He was fascinated by other verses of the Gita and many other Sanskrit texts.
However, Professor Zuberi would frequently quote Verse 12 of Chapter 11 of the Gita while remembering Oppenheimer: [divi sūrya-sahasrasya bhaved yugapad utthitā yadi bhāḥ sadṛiśhī sā syād bhāsas tasya mahātmanaḥ].
It is translated as “If the splendour of a thousand suns were to blaze out at once (simultaneously) in the sky, that would be the splendour of that mighty Being.”
The book American Prometheus, which was one of the works used by Nolan, had given several examples of the influence of the Gita and the Indian philosophy on Oppenheimer. The later edition of the book has discussed the work of James A.
Hijiya, published by the American Philosophical Society in details. Oppenheimer found the Gita’s relevance in resolving his dilemmas. At that time, the dilemma was to do his duty, which was to work on nuclear science and the nuclear weapon development programme.
He was even criticised in a section of the academic community for being a fatalist. The authors of the book also inform that the night before the Trinity test, all were tense and nervous. Oppenheimer chanted another shloka from the Gita to cheer up the team which says that the God defends a person who does good deeds.
Naming of test site
The book mentions that even the test site (Trinity) may have been named by Oppenheimer after the Indian Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. But in the film, this fact is not pictured or told. The authors of the book write:
Oppenheimer dubbed the test site ‘Trinity’—though years later, he wasn’t quite sure why he chose such a name. He remembered vaguely having in mind a John Donne poem that opens with the line ‘Batter my heart, threeperson’d God . . .’ But this suggests that he may also have once again been drawing from the BhagavadGita; Hinduism, after all, has its trinity in Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
Earlier, too, according to the authors, Oppenheimer considered the Gita relevant for a person in overcoming emotional distress. In a long letter to his brother, Frank Oppenheimer, he explained the beauty of the Gita in managing life.
Although in taking a decision on a crucial issue like nuclear weapons development, he was seen acting like Arjun looking for an answer from Krishna, for the management of his inner self, he looked towards the Gita as a philosophy of life.
Even later, in his struggle with President Roosevelt, he drafted a short note taking the help of the Gita highlighting the significance of faith.