Excerpt from the introduction to ‘Bhu-mandala Tattva-darshana’.
An analytical study of Vedic cosmology as described in the 5th Canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam
By the author His Grace Rajasekhara Das Brahmachari ACBSP
The World’s First Vedic Planetarium
It was Shrila Prabhupada’s fervent desire that Iskcon should establish a magnificent temple at Sridhama Mayapur that was to be named as ‘The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’.
1 Shrila Prabhupada’s intention was to present the Vedic version of the cosmology based exclusively on the Srimad Bhagavatam.
2 Shrila Prabhupada intention was to prove beyond all doubt, the absolute authority of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which could be accomplished by presenting Vedic cosmology as revealed in the 5th canto, as opposed to the speculations presented by modern science, whose atheistic version of cosmology was being promoted as the only authoritative version.
3 Shrila Prabhupada believed that by proving the authenticity of Vedic cosmology contained in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the authority of this pre-eminent Vedic literature’s would be firmly established, while simultaneously defeat the impersonal concept propounded by modern science, which poses a direct challenge to the very existence of God, while also claiming that God has no part in the process of universal creation.
4 Shrila Prabhupada wanted that the ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’ should be designed along similar architectural lines as the Capital Building in Washington DC., with a large dome that would contain a detailed working-model of the Vedic cosmos with its fourteen divisions of planetary systems.
5 Shrila Prabhupada did not want any deviation from the details described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and requested his scientifically-trained disciples to present a model exclusively based on Bhagavatam cosmology.
6 Shrila Prabhupada did not accept the modern scientific view that the Earth orbits the Sun, but accepted the Bhagavatam’s version that the Sun orbits the Earth.
7 Shrila Prabhupada had said that if the changing seasons, the phases of the moon, including eclipses and the passage of day and night, can be explained through the medium of the Bhagavatam, it would be very powerful propaganda against the modern scientists.
8 Shrila Prabhupada also said that if it could proven that the Sun is actually moving and not fixed as the modern scientists were claiming, then the whole atheistic theory presented by the materialistic scientists would be finished.
9 Shrila Prabhupada was not Fully Satisfied
The topic of the Vedic planetarium was first mentioned by Shrila Prabhupada in March 1975 and he often discussed the subject with his disciples.
In 1976 serious discussions took place in Mayapur and Vrindavana regarding Shrila Prabhupada’s dream of building the ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’.
In a letter to Svarupa Damodara dasa, April 27, 1976, Shrila Prabhupada wrote,
“Now our Ph.D.’s must collaborate and study the Fifth Canto to make a model for building the Vedic Planetarium. My final decision is that the universe is just like a tree, with root upwards. Just as a tree has branches and leaves, so the universe is also composed of planets which are fixed up in the tree like the leaves, flowers, fruits, etc….So now all you Ph.D.’s must carefully study the details of the Fifth Canto and make a working model of the universe. If we can explain the passing seasons, eclipses, phases of the moon, passing of day and night, etc., then it will be very powerful propaganda.”
During 1976, Shrila Prabhupada held a number of meetings in Vrindavana with his disciples where further discussions on the 5th canto and the model for the Vedic planetarium were discussed.
Shrila Prabhupada had mentioned during a particular meeting in his room on April 30th 1977, that he was feeling somewhat dissatisfied because he was unable to fully envision the cosmos as it was described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Shrila Prabhupada also mentioned to his disciples that translating the 5th canto had been difficult and he had only accomplished it because Lord Krishna had directly helped him.
At that time Shrila Prabhupada had said, “It was not possible for me to digest. Somebody else helped me, I am a layman. I do not know. That somebody, Krishna, He helped me. He manufactured. When I was writing, I was praying to Krishna that I do not actually accommodate all this knowledge. Please help me.”
While translating the Shrimad Bhagavatam into English, Shrila Prabhupada had utilized all the important commentaries written by the previous Vaishnava Acharyas. However, none of the previous acharya had actually presented a composite model of the Bhagavatam cosmology.
The previous Acharyas have presented their commentaries on the 5th canto, without elucidating on the various details found in the text, such as the enormous yojana measurements ascribed to such places as Jambhudwipa, Mount Meru, Bharata-varsha and the Himalayas, or how the moon is actually located above the sun.
Not even the famous Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, who were all highly learned and erudite Vedic scholars, had dwelt at length on the subject of the 5th canto’s cosmology, or presented a model of the Bhu-mandala planetary system.
However, this is perfectly understandable, because the previous Acharyas, who were the greatest philosophers and theologians of their age, were primarily preachers of love of God and concerned with propagating Sanatana Dharma.
Needless to say, they were not mathematicians or astronomers, which are the basic qualifications required in the field of cosmology. Even the original speaker of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Shrila Sukadeva Goswami, has stated that he was simply repeating what he had heard from learned sages.
Sukadeva Goswami himself never attempted to elaborate on the subject of the 5th canto. On the contrary, Sukadeva Goswami said that even if one possessed a lifetime equal to that of Lord Brahma, one could never comprehend all the details of the creation.
Shrila Sukadeva Goswami has also clearly stated that the details contained in the 5th canto are meant for contemplating the universal form of the Lord, because such details help the conditioned souls, to realize their own insignificance in relation to the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Supreme Creator of the universe, Lord Vishnu.
The Age of Space Exploration
Prior to the recent advancement in material science, it had never been deemed necessary for the Vaishnava acharyas to present in any great detail, the cosmology mentioned in the Bhagavatam.
This was because the followers of Sanatana Dharma have never doubted the version of the Bhagavata, and whatever was revealed in the sacred text, was always accepted as a matter of faith.
However, since the great leap forward in scientific knowledge during the last century, and specifically during the last five decades, with the advent of space travel and man’s exploration of the universe, many questions have arisen regarding the authenticity of the cosmology as revealed in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature’s.
The most important point to consider is the fact that the subject of cosmology actually belongs to a minor division of the Vedic literature’s known as the Jhotish-shastra or Jhotir-veda, consequently, it is not considered to be of such vital importance with regard to actual spiritual advancement.
The Sanskrit word “jyotish” means “jyoti” (light) and “isha” (lord).
Therefore jyotish translates into “Light of the Lord” or ” Light by which one can see God”, as well as ‘Light of the Vedas’. Although the cosmos is present before us, we cannot envision it without the help of the Jyotish-veda, which ‘illuminates’ the cosmic order of those things that are beyond our sensory perception.
The Jhotir-veda belongs to a division of the Vedic literature’s known as the Vedangas, which constitute an auxiliary arm (anga) of Vedic knowledge and are simply corollaries that support the Vedic conclusion.
There are six such Vedangas including;
Jyotish (astronomy and astrology),
Shrila Vyasadeva’s own father, Parashara Muni, was one of the foremost authorities on Jyotir-veda and wrote a number of important books on the subject of astronomy and astrology, the most famous being the Brhat Parashara Hora Shastra.
Almost every Purana contains details of Vedic cosmology. The various works on Jyotir-veda are called Siddhantas. The Sanskrit word ‘siddhanta’ means ‘perfection’, however with regard to the subject of jyotsh, the word means ‘accuracy’ as well as ‘theory’ because the Siddhantas are based on complex mathematical equations.
There are said to be eighteen major Siddhantas and the celebrated authors are;
However, only five of these Siddhantas survive today as fragments of the original texts.
It must be stated that the Siddhantas do not always conform to the cosmology detailed in the Puranas and there has always been a difference of opinion between the followers of the Puranas (puranicas) and the followers of the Siddhantas (siddhantins).
As opposed to the secondary Vedic knowledge contained in the various Vedangas, the most important section of Vedic knowledge is referred to as Vedanta.
The word ‘veda’ means ‘knowledge’ and ‘anta’ means ‘the end of all knowledge’ or the ‘final conclusion’. Vedanta literature deals only with transcendental subject matters concerning spiritual advancement culminating in realization of God and liberation from repeated birth and death.
The foremost among these transcendental literature’s is the Vedanta Sutra of Shrila Vyasadeva, and its superlative commentary, by the same author known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is said to be the ripened fruit of all Vedic knowledge, although appearing as the eighteenth Purana known as the Bhagavata Purana, is revered as being the truly spotless Purana, because its subject matter is purely transcendental.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam is simultaneously eulogized as a literature specifically meant for the most advanced transcendentalists known as paramahansas, or swan-like liberated souls, who refer to the Shrimad Bhagavatam as the Paramahamsa-samhita.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam directly reveals that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, also known as the Supreme Brahman, possesses a transcendental spiritual form composed of sat-cit-ananda. This means that the Supreme Lord has an eternal spiritual form composed of complete cognition (sat), eternity (cit) and bliss (ananda).
Thus this topmost Vedic literature establishes beyond doubt that Lord Shri Krishna is the very same Supreme Brahman, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Adi-Parusha (Original Being) who is directly the cause of the universal creation and the original source of all Vishnu incarnations.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam presents the highest form of Vedic philosophy and emphasizes that unalloyed devotion to God (Lord Shri Krishna), is the only means of achieving ultimate self-realization.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam was the final literary work undertaken by Shrila Vyasadeva. It was written at the time of Shrila Vyasadeva’s full maturity in Vedic knowledge and after he had completed the work of dividing the one Veda into four separate Vedic divisions namely;
He also divided the one Purana into eighteen individual histories with the Shrimad Bhagavatam as the final synopsis of Vedic literature which encompasses the entire sphere of transcendental Vedic knowledge.
The great Vaishnava Acharya, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, has said that the four Vedas namely, Rg, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva, as well as the Vedangas and other corollaries, are categorized as materialistic knowledge (apara-vidya), whereas the Vedanta Sutra and Shrimad Bhagavatam are in the category of spiritual knowledge (para-vidya).
Shrila Prabhupada has also said that the four Vedas are considered to be apara-vidya or inferior knowledge because they primarily deal with the three modes of material nature and the performance of various rituals and worship of demigods for mundane material benefit.
It may therefore appear surprising that in the 5th canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we find aspects of Vedanga and so-called ‘apara-vidya’ with regard to Sukadeva Goswami explaining the details of Vedic cosmology to the inquisitive Parikshit Maharaja.
However, because such descriptions presented by Sukadeva Goswami are directly related to understanding the omnipotence and omniscience of the Supreme Personality of Godhead,
Lord Shri Krishna, then such knowledge becomes immediately elevated to the para-vidya category of transcendental spiritual knowledge.
Sukadeva Goswami, being a mendicant preacher concerned with propagating transcendental knowledge (para-vidya) in the form of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, did not dwell on, or attempt to elaborate on the cosmological details presented in the 5th canto.
It has always been the prime duty of the Vaishnava Acharyas to present the most essential aspects of Vedic knowledge concerned with elevating the conditioned souls to the platform of pure Krishna consciousness.
When Shrila Vyasadeva was compiling the Vedic literature’s into various divisions, he delegated certain less important sections of the Vedic literature’s to his disciples, whereas he himself focused his attention on the essence of Vedic knowledge (para-vidya), in the form of the Vedanta Sutra and Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Presenting Bhagavatam to the Western World
Shrila Prabhupada was the first Vaishnava Acharya in world history to present the Shrimad Bhagavatam before the scientific and technologically advanced societies of the western world.
In this endeavor, Shrila Prabhupada had to contend with immense opposition and skepticism from modern scientist, who generally reject the authenticity of the Vedic literature’s.
Although Shrila Prabhupada had been extremely successful in spreading Krishna consciousness among the multitude of ordinary people, one of the greatest hurdles he had to face, was in trying to convince the world’s modern scientists that Vedic literature’s like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, are thoroughly scientific and contain highly advanced knowledge of man’s eternal relationship with God, including the process of creation of the cosmology of the universe.
Until the present day, none of the previous Vaishnava Acharyas had ever attempted to present a detailed explanation of the Vedic universe or a practical model of the cosmos based on the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Consequently, Shrila Prabhupada was without support in trying to explain the mysteries of the 5th canto before the western world. Even though Shrila Prabhupada was aware that there was a book published in 1896, entitled Surya-siddhanta, an important treatise on Jyotir-Veda, translated and edited by his spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, this book could not be located and appeared to be out of print.
Shrila Prabhupada was hoping that this book would help him in unraveling the almost unfathomable details contained in the 5th canto of the Bhagavatam, however, because this important book could not be found, Shrila Prabhupada was naturally feeling some degree of dissatisfaction, that he was unable to present a detailed model of the Vedic cosmos based on the 5th canto.
Even though Shrila Prabhupada could have concentrated all his efforts on deciphering the details revealed in the 5th canto, it would have taken a considerable amount of time.
At one point, Shrila Prabhupada did attempt to get support from some of India’s foremost Vedic astronomers, but none of them could provide any substantial information on Bhagavatam cosmology.
As it was not possible for Shrila Prabhupada to spend valuable time in pursuing the single subject of Vedic cosmology, he decided to give this responsibility to his disciples.
Shrila Prabhupada had said that if the changing seasons, the phases of the moon, including eclipses and the passage of day and night, can be explained through the medium of the Bhagavatam, it would be very powerful propaganda against the modern scientists.
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