Structure of the Universe – Vedic

Chapter 1


Cosmology is the origin and evolution of the Universe treated as a subject for study like every other scientific field. After Copernicus and Galileo, theories about Universe have progressed significantly. The 20th century has seen tremendous progress in this field. This advancement of science in Europe and America is mainly due to developments in Physics, Astronomy, Radio Astronomy, Spectroscopy and many other sciences. Progress in Mathematics helps us formulate models, which provide plausible explanations of the physical reality of the origin of the universe and the galaxies. Using the models, one calculates (predicts) the outcome of experiments performed. If the predictions tally with the actual observations obtained with the help of sophisticated instruments, the model is accepted by all concerned. This is the approach of science.

The discoveries of science in this century, after Galileo and Copernicus, are significantly different and progressive. The progress from Copernicus (1473 – 1543 CE) and Galileo (1564 – 1642 CE) to the 20th century’s Physics-based Astronomy is equal to the progress from Aristotle (4th century BCE) and Ptolemy (2nd century CE) to Copernicus and Galileo. Thus there is acceleration in the progress of science. At this rate, we can hope for more exciting discoveries in the decades to come or even in the years to come, on account of the momentum gained in the speed of progress of science all round and particularly in the field of Astronomy and study of the Universe around.

All this science of 24 centuries so far is entirely based on observation, hypothesis and analysis of complex data obtained by instruments and modelling. The argument of Aristotle is to postulate the existence of a first cause to the universe, and to use this as an argument for the existence of a supreme and unconditioned being, usually identified as God. In other words, something caused the Universe to exist, and this first cause must be God.

Cosmology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the origin, structure, and space-time relationships of the universe or a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe. Cosmologists study the universe as a whole: its birth, growth, shape, size and eventual fate. Modem cosmology is dominated by the Big Bang theory, which brings together observational astronomy and particle physics. A more in-depth look at the word shows that cosmology (from Greek kosmos, “universe”; and logia, “study”), in strict usage, refers to the study of the Universe in its totality as it is now (or at least as it can
be observed now), and by extension, humanity’s place in it. The study of the universe has a long history involving science, philosophy, esotericism, and religion.

1.2 Vedic Cosmology and its Uniqueness 

In the case of Indian’s knowledge of the Universe, no Western texts or publications of science in Europe or America make a mention of the knowledge in ancient India on the subject of Cosmology2. Knowledge of ancient Indians has so far been a subject of study only for the Indologist and the historian. The sources of their knowledge available to them and the chronology of the Indian Sciences are the subjects of their attention and research. The subject matter related to cosmology or Astronomy found in the ancient texts and scriptures like the Vedas and the Puranas, has not been considered significant enough to warrant a serious study by modern astronomers.Historians and Indologists have not been willing to put Indian knowledge in centuries long before Aristotle or Ptolemy while giving a time frame for the development of such knowledge in India. Secondly, with a cursory and superficial study of the knowledge of the Indian cosmology, they compared it with the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and others and theorised that the knowledge of the Indians was mostly received from outside from countries such as Greece, Chaldea, Arabia etc. This viewpoint, therefore, made an in-depth study of Astronomy and cosmology of ancient India redundant and unnecessary. Moreover, the astronomical works of Ptolemy and Aristotle adopted a straightforward and explicit language in explaining their theories of the Universe.

The language used in the Vedas or Puranas sounded more like belief and religion. It was more symbolism, metaphoric or mystic. The theories about the Universe directly spoke of God as the creator and the life of the creation was equated with a day of the creator Brahma, etc. As regards the fundamental components of the Universe, the Indian Puranas explained their origin from spiritual causes like Mahat (the Universal mind), Ahankara (the ego-principle) and such things. Indians have always dealt with the spirit before matter, spirit in matter and spirit at the end of matter. Vedic India explained the creation more as a purposeful activity rather than as a causeless and random interaction of forces and matter. The Vedic religion, thus, explained the meaning of creation. In this metaphysical approach, Astronomy, Mathematics, and a study of the solar system were not the primary objects of attention but were relatively less important elements of material nature.

There is, however, a totally distinctive aspect of the Vedic culture. The utility of Vedas lies in a variety of yajnas. The performance of a yajna is regulated by many astrological conditions which meant a choice of time, season and prescribed planetary combinations. For this reason a study of Astronomy became necessary along with construction of a precise almanac. Astronomical treatises such as Vedanga Jyotisha were compiled in very ancient times for this purpose.

2. Today cosmology is classified into two branches – Physical cosmology and Religious cosmology. Hindu (Vedic) cosmology included the latter but comparative studies do not seem to exist.See Wikipedia article on cosmology.

For the Vedic Aryan – the Sunrise, the Tithi (the distance between the Sun and the Moon), the Full Moon, the New Moon, the Lunar month, the Solar month, the sun’s position in the Zodiac, the Season, the beginning and the end of the year, the entry and departure of the various planets in the 27 asterisms and the12 Zodiacal signs, Lunar and Solar Eclipses
– are all important and his day-to-day activity of Vedic ritualism is related to these. All these are elements of Time. Time is a flux and is progressive. Man, born on the Earth, is a product of matter and this time-flux in a limited framework. He has a cause of birth, a purpose in living and a goal to reach; only the goal lies beyond his physical existence. The entire process involves a great travel of the ‘inner man’, the soul, through this creation, which has to ultimately end in the absorption in the cause and the origin of creation. In this long journey, Vedic ritualism played a vital role.

In this mega perspective, the man is directed to look at his native place of creation (his own loka in Brahmanda and not the whole of creation) to which all his existence and his journey are confined. He has, therefore, to deal with and know his own limited home in the otherwise unlimited creation. This, his home, is finite and limited by self-contained matter, forces and laws with a boundary. The Vishnu Maha Purana advises that the outside Brahmandas need not be attempted to be studied and it is enough for the man on the Earth to know the structure of our Brahmanda with knowledge of the superior worlds above his own Earthly world.

The goal, referred to earlier, of a man, maybe realized in two ways:

1. Achieving the higher worlds through Yajna and Karma, which is the subject matter of Vedic ritualism, and

2. Emancipation of the soul which is the subject matter of Upanishads.
The knowledge of Brahmanda and its structure and contents was the starting point of the Aryan religious life, if one may call it a religion. It should be realised that religious beliefs were not the origin of this knowledge of Brahmanda. Even history and unbiased tracing of the beginnings of the present day Hinduism, which take us to at least50centuries BCE, would show that the Vedic religion was wide spread in India among the Brahmins and Kshatriyas and it spread to a large population by 30th century BCE.

Around the the6th century BCE when the Buddha was born and founded a new spiritual path, sans the Vedic ritualism, it attracted the masses because the spiritual goal had taken deep roots in the psyche of people long before and the religion of practices did not matter
in the new path. The importance of knowledge of the higher worlds and the related Vedic T
ritual was relegated to the second place. Without a clear concept about the structure of Brahmanda involving the higher worlds and knowledge of astronomy, there could be no basis whatsoever for the Vedic ritual and religion and a goal to be reached. So, the knowledge of spirit became primary and the ritualistic religion secondary.

Coming back to the ancient knowledge of our Brahmanda in this limitless cosmos, there may be and, indeed, there is any number of such Brahmandas. His own Brahmanda, therefore, is the finite object of study and understanding for the Vedic Indian. A description of Brahmanda involves its structure, function and contents. Without waiting for any new discoveries and observations in the course of time, all the necessary knowledge about this Brahmanda is given to start within the Vedas or Puranas so that a man knows the coordinates of his past and future and lives with a purpose and plan. The limitations of possibilities of knowing the Universe beyond our Brahmanda have clearly been stated in the Purana asking the man to realise the futility of any attempt to understand the unlimited Universe, which has no relevance to his existence or to his ends. It is a well-known truth to us that a limited frame of any phenomenon has to be selected with limited coordinates for the study of a phenomenon and the results of such analysis can be synthesised to arrive at an integral whole for purposes of general postulations. But, the attempts of modern scientists to study the Universe do not seem to be confined to the study of a finite galaxy. The observations and conclusions of the modem scientists are even now only postulates based on the assumption that the laws as finalised from our study are applicable all over our galaxy and even beyond. It is probable that the laws like gravitation, speed of light, path of light, the phenomenon oi expanding or collapsing (the explosion and implosion) do not apply to the entire Universe that our instruments can see.

Thus, the Vedic knowledge is neither a theory, nor is it a set of postulates, waiting to evolve into finality. For this reason, therefore, and for the reasons explained above, the Vedic knowledge has been adopted as a religion rather than being treated as an evolving science and as a religion not based on belief and imagination. The higher llie within the Brahmanda with nogross body buthigher intelligence is something that can never be proved by the man’s sensory perceptions and their related intelligence, such as logical inference which is the basic platform on which the science rests and develops. For this reason, the Vedic knowledge of creation can never meet science on the latter’s platform. It is for the science, if at all, to perceive one day the implications and the possible truth in the Vedic knowledge.

The following sections are devoted to an explanation of Vedic-cum-Puranic exposition of the finite universe and its contents as arranged by the Supreme Intelligence with a purpose meant for the man. The nomenclature in it is its own, largely unrelated to the language of the modern science. An attempt is therefore made in this monograph to make use of our scientific language where possible and necessary in explaining only one Universe,
Brahmanda, rather than the Universe in its totality.

1.3 The Vedas and Science – Divergent Paths

The Vedas are self-born and revealed in the consciousness of the Rishis in deep meditation. Why did the Rishis, go into meditation is a primary question. The Rishis, some of them born in the mind of Brahma, had no desire, purpose, or happiness to be achieved for their own sake. The in-born question as to the origin, the reality, the reason and the future of the creation arose in them. In the absence of available answers in the shape of scriptures or a master, meditation was resorted to. Meditation led to the revelations, which became the Veda. The definition ‘vedayati iti vedah’ conveys the meaning “Veda is that which makes us know.” In other words, this knowledge can have no other supporting evidence or authority. It also means that the knowledge revealed by Veda is not obtainable by any other means like intellectual investigation, observation by senses or instruments, or any specific experimentation. At best, these methods could lead to greater ability to understand what is meant to be conveyed by the Veda.

In other words, what is heard in the Veda without being understood and conceived
with clarity can be understood withsome more clarity by progressing investigative sciences. Modem knowledge, thus, tends to become total, never claiming to pe total itself.

1.4 Meditation

Techniques of meditation are resorted to, for crossing the limits of intellect. It is not viewed as scientific temper. The result of such a long meditational process can only be termed experience but not information. This is often referred to as realisation. This includes knowledge of the self within and the secret nature of creation at once. The revelation in scriptures, at the outset, is meant only for intellectual appreciation, after which an attempt to experience arises. Therefore, any amount of progress of science in the subject of cosmology cannot make meditation redundant since such investigation makes no attempt to reveal the secret spirit of creation or the self within. In meditational techniques, when the secrets of cosmos or of cosmology are sought to be known, the individual approaches the self from within, for such a revelation. In this, the self, reveals itself, as well as the secret of the cosmos. The self or atman to be more precise is part of the universal self or paramatma, fragmented and limited by ephemeral enclosures, like the sky in a pot. This led to its identification with a destructible physical body. This has to be conquered. The self can be approached but with a subconscious wakefulness which is dhyana and samadhi.

The scientific investigations can only look outward with the aid of instruments, mathematical modelling and inferences, which are always bound to be of limited scope because of the immensity of the physical creation around. The plane of understanding also is mere intellect, starting with the sense organs as its base and the extension of the self- same sense organs. In meditation, the limits of sensory perceptions are crossed and after the experience, what is spoken of in language is but an intellectual description of the experience. It does not totally convey the experience to the listener. For this reason, even the Vedic scripture conveys only a part of the experience and merely indicates some of the truth to its reader, oftentimes in a cryptic language. Thus, even after a study of the Veda, the truth remains to be experienced .Let us remember that the human body is defined as a miniature Brahmanda (Kshudra Brahmanda).

1.5 Authority of the Veda

In the Indian tradition, Veda has been accepted as an unquestionable authority since it is heard in a state of super conscious meditation by many – not one- Rishis, who had no intention of establishing any religion or a cult of their own. There is a great agreement as an undercurrent in all the Vedas revealed to all the Rishis in respect of many fundamental truths like the oneness of God, the functional Trinity, the need and efficacy of yajna, the soul’s goal to evolve and emancipate, the pervading principle of primordial Brahman in creation and a host of other truths. These formed the consistent system of Aryan thought, practice, goal and lifestyle. The great number of Rishis and their revelations did not introduce any contradiction in the great phenomenon. Hence the authority of the Veda is described in Indian Philosophy as Sabda Pramana.

1.6 Puranas

The Purana is a great bridge linking the Vedas with the common man. In matters like cosmology, the structure of the creation, the worlds and the concept of time, Puranas attempted to convey bydescriptive explanation, what is revealed in the Veda in an esoteric form. For this reason, the reading of Purana takes us closer to an understanding of these secrets. With the progress of the sciences of physics, mathematics, astronomy, spherical trigonometry, particle physics, spectroscopy and ultimately the rev.elation of the theory of relativity by Einstein, all of which are great instruments of definitive nature, the teachings
in the Puranas may today become clearer and make us capable of conceiving the truth. Let this be obvious from the fact that ancient astronomers like Aryabhata or Varahamihira had a much clearer understanding of what Puranas have conveyed. This is because of their greater acquaintance with the idiom of Puranas and Vedas, the texts themselves being available in clearer versions and redactions etc.

Secondly, it is because Vedavyasa is the author of Puranas besides being the general editor of Vedas, the Puranas did reflect the message of the Vedas in a much more intelligible language .The omissions and corruptions that sneaked into the Puranas together with the loss of texts of Vedas partially, today leave the matter to our conciliatory interpretations and conjectures. Today, with the knowledge of sciences becoming more definitive and precise and such knowledge being disseminated to large numbers of men, the Puranic explanation of the cosmos in general and our universe in particular should obviously become easier tounderstand. The Puranas could even be judged better for their correctness, if they are not at fundamental variance with our established scientific theories.
To start with, however, the Vedic explanation of the cosmology cannot be tested on logic and theories of our empirical sciences, even in the near future. But even when certain conclusions about cosmos etc. in the Puranas cannot be supported by modem sciences, the Puranas cannot also be rejected outright by the scientists in the absence of alternative postulates. For example, if the Purana is unequivocally telling us that there is life and even superior life, with greater abilities of all kinds elsewhere in the creation, the modem science, which can, at best, search for the presence of the nitrogen or oxygen at great distances in the creation, should be treated as being in a state of infancy. We do not yet know whether elements like nitrogen, which may be components in living physical bodies on the Earth, could be a necessary condition for living beings existing without such physical body. The sciences today are therefore studying only the physical aspects of life or creation, which we are acquainted with on the Earth.

The science is yet to locate a soul or to define consciousness.It is however interesting to note that our imagination today for thesake of entertainment is fertile in creatingfictitious superior life existing in space and those visiting our planet are being treated by us always as aliens hostile to our race. Why should the aliens be always hostile to men or the Earth if they are so superior to us that they can travel in space? What is it that they wish to achieve on the Earth by fighting with the mankind? What could it be that our Earth can offer them, which, they do not possess? Why should it not be so, that they could be benign and benevolent towards us? Is their hostility that obvious that we are afraid of them? The scientific fiction can be more positive in its imagination.

A brief presentation is attempted here as a preamble to the structure of universe as explained by the Puranas and Hindu astronomy. There are many exclusive philosophies apart from the Puranas, which explain the arising of cosmos. Generally they are known as six systems of philosophy (darsanas) although there are many more theories, which will be briefly treated elsewhere. By definition, the Purana treats the subject of the creation (Sarga), the re-creation (Pratisarga), the eons (Manvantaras), the dynasties of rulers and the genealogies of great sages (Vamsa and Vamsanucharita). We present here what the Brahmanada Purana, in particular, says on this matter.

1.7 The Brahmanda Purana

The Brahmanda Purana starts with an obeisance to the self-born Almighty who is alone responsible for the creation, sustenance and withdrawal of the Universe by virtue of his acquired qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas. The three different qualities of one Almighty perform three different functions. The religion of Hinduism assigns three different names to these three functional aspects of one God. The Purana as a narration is the gift of God Brahma to the sage Vasishtha who taught this to his grandson, Parasara, the father of Vedavyasa, who authored the Puranas. It is mentioned in the Vishnu Purana, however, that Parasara obtained the Puranic knowledge, as a result of his tapas, from Rudra i.e., Siva. The Vishnu Purana itself again says that God Brahma had heard this Purana as well as the word of the Veda. It was then that the desire to create had arisen in God Brahma.
‘Mahar is the name of that primary principle from which the creation is derived with all its differential objects known as the ‘Visesha’. The non-manifest stage before creation known asMahat is indefinable either as sat or asat meaning the existing or the non-existing. But it is eternal. The desire of God Brahma to create takes this Mahat for a source. The Brahmanda or the cosmic egg is the automatic outcome of God Brahma’s desire. Within the power of Mahat, this Brahmanda had the second cover, which is the ‘ego’ principle, the ‘Ahankara’ leading to the next power, the ‘space’ principle, which encircles in it the principle of element of ‘fire’ known as tejas. Inside the sheath of tejas is the ‘water’. Within this, the cosmic egg takes shape.

The three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas can be called tendencies and their origin is contained in the Brahman, which has neither a beginning nor an end. These gunas are not to be ascribed to the Brahman itself. The Brahman is not comprehensible to the mind. It is beyond the sat and asat. As long as the three gunas contained in the Brahman remained in a state of equilibrium, the creation could not come to exist and then it was all darkness only. At this time the Mahat was subtle and remained unmanifest (avyakta). This Mahat had an inherent predominance of sattva guna.

Kshetrajna – the knower of this dwelling – was present in this Mahat. The birth of a desire is in this Kshetrajna. This desire to create starts with the creation of God Brahma simultaneously with the onset of an imbalance of these three gunas. This is the birth of the primary ‘ego’ in the unqualified Brahman. The Kshetrajna or Brahma, the God creator thus woke up to create and enter the cosmic egg of Prakriti, and he is known as Purusha responsible for the Brahmanda with material elements as already described. The process of Mahat ending up in the arising of Brahmanda is the creation aspect of God. This evolution has given rise to two theories, the Vivarta and the Parinama. The former makes the Brahman independent of the process while the latter treats the Brahman as changing into the state of creation. It can safely be taken that in Brahman the cause of creation was at rest and it evolved into creation while Brahman remaining unchanged, pervades the creation too.

This God Brahma is also known as Hiranyagarbha, for, in Him, the Brahmanda is born. He is also known as Purana Purusha, the primordial being. He retains in him whatever qualities that existed in Pradhana which is a thin cover over Mahat when it remained in Brahman. We may understand this Pradhana as one with the Brahman outward and one with Mahat inside. It can also be inferred that this Pradhana maintains the Mahat as an entity without forever being absorbed in Brahman. These two remain there in Brahman even after the creation is withdrawn. The Purusha and Pradhana have two gunas, sattva and tamas respectively. During the existence of creation, the quality (or tendency), sattva is predominant. In the creation, the sustaining quality is personified as Vishnu, the desire to create and creating are personified as Brahma and tamas is personified as Rudra who is sometimes also called Prajapati. The link between these three personalities and the Pradhana­ Purusha is that the latter has distributed the three gunas into this trinity.
This phenomenon can be roughly equated with what is known as the Pancha Brahma Siddhanta, the theory of five Brahmas. The first, SadaSiva is the all-time absolute Truth, the Brahman itself. The second Brahma is the Pradhana-Purusha with the desire to create. This is described as the dual principle named as Kameswara – Kameswari, namely the desire and the desired. Kameswara and Kameswari are inseparable and are one as an entity. This Kameswari is also described as the Sakti of Kameswara, the Prakriti or the creation itself. This is identified as the female principle.

The third Brahma is the pure sattvic Vishnu, who is the creator of God Brahma. God Brahma is the fourth and the fifth is Rudra who is born out of Brahma. Rudra is also known as Kaala meaning ‘The Time’. God Siva is worshipped as Mahakala with his consort Mahakali at Ujjain on the river Kshipra, which is on the Tropic of Cancer, which is a demarcation of time marking the Sun’s entry into the southern course or dakshinayana in the solar year. Time is arising only with the creation and this is the principle in which the creation lasts and ends. The creation cannot exist in the absence of Rudra, the Time. From God Brahma emanate imminently the Time (Rudra) and the creation. Thus, the creation, which is in space, is inseparable from time. Time is the medium in which space with its contents can exist. Space and creation are one and the same inseparable with Time.

Let us, therefore, begin to realise that the creation has an intelligene of its own that went into its making. The Puranic concept of Brahmanda, which is collected from many versions often cryptic, vague and variant, is presented here using some of the modem scientific concepts and terms to make it understandable. The fragmentary information from several sources is attempted to be brought together to make an understandable and sensible model. All this conveys the message that there is a meaning to this creation. If it is mere matter and forces without intelligence or purpose, relevant to humans and other life, the creation makes no sense.

1.8 The Vishnu Purana and Others

A slightly different model of the Universe is given in the Vishnu Purana. Like other Puranas, this also represents the knowledge contained in the Vedas in intelligible language with all the embellishments of poetic narration. Puranas have expressed in our language, the otherwise cryptic and abstract thought contained in the Vedas. It is for this reason that the Indian tradition holds the Puranas in such high esteem and as much an authority as the Vedas themselves.

The Vishnu Purana in its second book gives a description of the Universe. Wilson has translated the Vishnu Purana and the text obtained by him is considered a complete one by scholars. The treatment of the creation in the Vishnu Purana is with the Sun as the centre connected to Pole Star which controls the position of the Sun in space. The North Pole of the Sun and that of all the planets including the Earth points to the Pole Star. The South Pole of all planets and that of the Sun are also pointing towards a southern Pole Star as it were, thus holding the system in balance in space. In the Brahmanda Purana the ellipsoid treats the Earth region as central to the Brahmanda. If the Earth, the Sun and planets are treated as lying in a plane at the centre of the Brahmanda ellipsoid, the two versions can generally agree in other aspects. This will be treated in detail later.

The detailed model presented in Vishnu Purana is discussed in Chapter 3, but a more comprehensive picture of Brahmanda based on other sources is attempted in the following chapters.