Invention of bicycle credited to ancient India based on misleading photos

A photograph of a wall carving showing a figure riding a bicycle is being shared with the claim that this is at Panchavarnaswamy Temple in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli city. The temple is dedicated to Hindu deity Shiva. Facebook user Narayana Murthy Gollapati while posting the image along with a separate collage of the carving claimed, “Who invented a cycle, a remote? Was there any astronaut in our country some 2000 years back? Answer, see the scultupters at Panchavarnaswamy Temple.” The message hypothesised, “There is a bicycle, an astronaut and a remote is carved in temple walls. And the modern science says that bicycle is invented some 200 years ago in Europe by McMillan.”

It is being argued on social media that inventions like the bicycle credited to inventors of European origin were long discovered in India some 2000 years ago. Many other Facebook users shared the same claim with the photographs.

Fact-check

By reverse searching the first image on Google, Alt News found that the carving is on the Balinese temple Pura Maduwe Karang (Temple of Land-owner) located in Kubutambahan of Bali Province, Indonesia. According to the caption given to a Getty Images photo, the carving depicts Dutch Artist WOJ Nieuwnkamp. You can see the other image of the same carving here.

Author David Shavit in his 2003 book Bali and the Tourist Industry writes, “He explored the northern part of the island by bicycle to the amusement of the Balinese people, who had never seen such a thing. A stone relief immortalizing Nieuwenkamp riding his bike, which can still be seen in a little North Balinese village of Kubutambahan, shows how deeply the Balinese were impressed by the novelty.”

Credit: Bali and the Tourist Industry: A History (1906-1942) by David Shavit

Collage lifted from a fact-check

Image 1

A cursory look at the second image reveals a watermark of SMHoaxSlayer, a fact-checking outlet, on the image. Starting from the image on the extreme left in the collage, this an actual carving in the Panchavarnaswamy Temple.

The claim gained popularity after Vlogger Praveen Mohan published a video showing the carving in the temple while hypothesizing it as “Advanced Ancient Technology Proved?”. UK Media outlets- Daily Star & Mirror– published articles days after the video was uploaded on the Internet.

However, Dr Kalaikovan, an ophthalmologist who was the brain behind a historical research centre based in Tiruchirappalli, gave a logical explanation for the carving’s existence in the Chola-era temple. As told to The Hindu, he was invited by the priest of the temple for a thanksgiving prayer after he conducted a successful cataract operation on him. Seeing the carving of a cycle in an ancient temple, he found it funny and intriguing “but neither the officials nor the scholars who wrote its history were able to explain how it came there.” 

After studying the history of the bicycle and Chola-period Woraiyur temple, Dr Kalaikovan theorised that the vehicle was possibly a novelty in the city in the1920s when the temple was renovated. “Perhaps the sculptor had seen someone on a cycle, was impressed by it and had recorded it forever on stone,” explained Dr Kalaikovan to the media outlet.

Image 2

An image of a supposed mobile phone carved in the wall is placed in the middle. With a Google reverse image search of the image, Alt News found a 2009 blog which identified the carving to be from Calahorra Cathedral in Spain’s La Rioja province.

According to a 2017 article by Spanish website Infolibre, the cathedral was restored in the 1990s. A stonemason, who was part of the Cathedral’s restoration process, sculpted a mobile phone, which is believed to inspired by Nokia models in 1990s. As Ángel Ortega, the archivist of the Cathedral summarized, “The explanation he gave was that the same as in Salamanca they put an astronaut, with the same authority, why I can’t put an instrument that I use at all hours (-Google translated)”

Image Credit: Infolibre/AYUNTAMIENTO DE CALAHORRA.

Image 3

The image, on the right side of the photo-collage, is an astronaut carved on the wall. This stone carving also belongs to a cathedral in Spain’s Salamanca city.

The Cathedral of Salamanca refers to two churches joined together. One is the old cathedral which dates to 12th-13th Centuries while the new cathedral is from the 16th century, according to Spain’s official tourism website. In 2016, Spanish daily El Comercio stated that a stonemason named Miguel Romero carved an astronaut into the stone during the cathedral’s restoration work in 1992. Jerónimo García, the chief restorer, in a 1994 interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, said, “Yes. Our stonemason sculpted an astronaut in the cathedral of Salamanca as a symbol of this century.” It is worthwhile to note that the mobile carving on the Calahorra cathedral was inspired by Romero’s astronaut. You can watch the astronaut carved in Salamanca cathedral in the below video.

Out of the four stone carving claimed to be from Tamil Nadu’s Panchavarnaswamy Temple, three are not even from India. Dr Kalaikovan, who has researched on the temple history, has linked the bicycle-riding-man sculpture with the time when the structure was renovated in the 1920s.

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