Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade, the man who first flew an airplane?

Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade

It is, by all means, clear and documented that the Wright brothers invented and flew the first airplane in 1903. It was the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight. But though the Wright brothers build and flew the first model in the 20th century, the idea of an airplane came much earlier. Paper on ancient Indian aviation technology claimed sages and scientists had written about aircraft-making as early as 7000 B.C. Maharshi Bharadwaj, one of the revered Vedic sages in Ancient India first narrated guidelines for making an airplane.

If we go by the theory of success, it is the final and accurate event that is marked as successful, not the ones that came before in search of the right method. If success is to be counted, it is Aryabhata who is credited for giving the world the digit “0”, not the ones that came before trying to find the right number. The same way the Wright Brothers are the one who invented and flew the first airplane and is credited for the same, however for Indians, the man was someone else.

Indians believe that Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade was the one who first invented and flew the airplane much before the Wright Brothers.

Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was born in South Bombay in1864. He worked as a technical instructor in the art and craft department of Sir JJ School of Art. His life history is however unknown and nobody for sure knew how Talpade was in real life. According to Prathap Velkar, an author who studied Talpade, he had an interest in studying Sanskrit. He had a son who remained childless, therefore Talpade left no direct descendent to claim his story.

Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade

Talpade while working as a technical instructor at Sir JJ School of Art, was interested in aviation. He is reputed for making an unmanned, heavier-than-air aircraft and flew it in in 1895. The plane was named Marutsakhā. It seemed that Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was inspired by the descriptions of airplanes in Hindu mythology in the Vaimanika Shastra. He wanted to create the supposedly Vimaan and thus created an airplane by using a cylindrical bamboo base and mercury or urine as fuel. On the day of the flight, very few were in attendance but some accounts state that the event was witnessed by Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the then Maharaja of Baroda. The event took place eight years before the Wright brothers flew their plane.

Few of Talpade’s initial blueprints were said to have been sent to Hindustan Aeronautics but no one was able to trace them. Thus, in reality, the whole concept of Talpade being the first successful person to fly an airplane is shrouded in mystery. According to Pratap Velkar, Talpade’s plane stayed in the air for a few minutes at over 1,500 feet and then crashed down. He stated that the mercury used in the plane reacted with sunlight and buoyed the plane.

But if we go by the real theory, mercury does not easily react with sunlight, it reacts only moderately with oxygen thus it is not clear where the hydrogen came from. Yet even if we believe in Talpade’s accomplishment, then anyone today using the same principles can recreate the same airplane, however, that’s not the case. Velkar says that after making the airplane, Talpade was unable to raise any funds and so finally dropped his efforts. The research papers therefore we tracked down and were found with a scientist named G.H. Bedekar. According to Bedakar, Talpade did try making an airplane but it was a failed attempt.

Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade

A film based on the life of Shivkar Babuji Talpade, Hawaizaada, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, was released on 30 January 2015. The movie is not a biopic but is based on the real-life events of Talpade.

“We have no proof that he flew the first plane. We do not know if it was true or not but we should know that someone like him existed. The film is about a conspiracy theory,” Ayushmann Khurrana told in an interview.

Was he the real pioneer behind airplanes? It is not clear, yet Talpade managed to gain a reputation as the “first man to fly an aircraft” owing to his accomplishment. Today, Indians believe that it was indeed Talpade who first flew an airplane but going by the facts, it would be unfair to the Wright Brothers whose success has been widely recorded.

One can conclude, that Shivkar Talpade tried and that’s what is important. However, we cannot claim somebody else’s success as ours. We shouldn’t emphasize that Talpade succeeded instead we should praise him for trying to be the one behind the creation. Much before the people could even grasp the concept of engine cars, Talpade ambitioned for an unimaginable feat. And it is his this endeavor that we should be proud of.


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