VEDIC, BUDDHIST AND JAIN TRADITIONS
of Cosmological Ideas in Vedas
is an important aspect of ancient Indian thinking and wisdom. Vedas,
the towering monuments of human race contain some important ideas on
cosmology. Before attempting to examine the cosmological insights revealed
in the Vedas, let us examine
some of the modern scientific theories on the origin of the universe.
modern views of cosmogony are summarised by Richard J. Ordway (1971) in
his book Earth Science. Kuiper's
'protoplanet hypothesis' in a
way is a modification of the 'nebular hypothesis' of Kant and Laplace. The
latter presupposes a great cloud of slowly rotating hot gaseous material
as the starting point of the universe. As this cloud cooled, it shrank and
rotated more rapidly. The cloud got gradually compressed at polar regions
into a lens-shaped disc which gradually left off masses of gases which
cooled down first to a liquid state and then to solid state, giving rise
to planets. If this hypothesis were to be valid, the gases should disperse
instead of collecting into planets; the sun should be rapidly spinning and
all satellites should be
revolving in the west-to-east direction. This
and a number of other theories like the 'binary star hypothesis'
unsuccessfully attempted to explain cosmogony. According to Kuiper's 'protoplanet hypothesis', the solar system originated from a hot
gaseous cloud or nebula, perhaps one-tenth as massive as the sun, that
surrounds a large dark central mass that would subsequently form into a
star. As the nebula contracted, and flattened, it becomes unstable, and
divided into a number of separate clouds
of 'protoplanets'. Solid particles accumulated into a central core in each
protoplanet and became surrounded by a very large gaseous envelope. The
composition of the nebula was chiefly hydrogen, with some helium, and 1 to
2 per cent of heavier elements. The protoplanets were of different sizes,
but all were far larger and more massive than the present planets. The
satellites were also formed in a similar manner, but they were relatively
closer. The rotation of the protosatellites was slowed down by tidal
friction until they rotated and revolved at the same rate and in the same
direction. Thus they remained spherical and did not subdivide further. The
original nebula rotated in a counter-clockwise direction. The tidal
attraction of the sun on the protoplanets stretched them into elongated
shapes and kept their long axes always pointed towards the sun. This made
the direction of rotation the same as the direction of revolution, with
periods of rotation and revolution once equal.
this time the central mass had contracted enough to become a star. As the
sun's temperature rose, its radiations and ejected particles ionized the
gases around it. These gases interacted with the sun's rotation and
transferred most of its angular momentum to the particles in the nebula;
they moved faster as a result of the transfer. This solar wind of
raditions and ejected particles gradually swept off into space the
remaining portion of the nebula and most of the lighter gases of the
protoplanets. A comet's tail is directed away from the sun for the same
reason. Only a small fraction of the original nebula remains as the masses
of the present planets.
the most modern theory on cosmology assumes the pre-existence of a
rotating, hot gaseous nebula, but is silent on how this came into being,
and which motivated such rotation. With this background let us examine the
cosmological ideas and cosmogony in Vedas.
Hymn of Creation (X.129) explains the origin of the world as the evolution
of existent from non-existent. Water came into being first; from it was
intelligence by heat.
n¡sad¡s¢nno sad¡s¢ttad¡n¢Æ A
was not the non-existent nor the existent then.
tama ¡s¢ttamas¡ g£lhamagre 'praketaÆ salilaÆ sarvam¡ idam A
was in the beginning hidden by darkness. This all was water.
Aitareya UpaniÀad states:
¡tm¡ v¡ idameka ev¡gra ¡s¢t A
n¡nyat ki´cana miÀat A
the beginning this was but the absolute self alone. There was nothing else
A ambhomar¢cirmaram¡po . . . .
created these worlds, viz., ambhas;
mar¢ci; mara and ¡paÅ.
praj¡patirv¡ idamagra ¡s¢t
A . . . tasm¡tpuruÀ¡ttaptad¡po
j¡yante A. . . . ap¡Æ tapt¡n¡Æ
pheno j¡yante A
the beginning there was only the Creator. From him the 'water' was formed;
from the water heated, the 'foam' was formed.
kiµcan¡gra ¡s¢t A m¤tyunaivedam¡v¤tam¡s¢t A
tanmano'kuruta so'rcannacarat A tasy¡rcata ¡po'j¡yanta A
the beginning there was nothing. The universe was enveloped by death
alone. He produced mind. He moved about worshipping himself. As he was
worshipping himself, water was produced.
vkiks ok vdZ% rn~;nika 'kj vklhÙkegU;rA lk i`fFkO;Hkor~A
¡po v¡ arkaÅ tadyadap¡Æ ¿ara ¡s¢ttamahanyata
A s¡ p¤thivyabhavatA
verily is arka. What was there
as froth of water hardened and it became earth (the cosmic egg, embryonic
state of the Universe).
asadv¡ idamagra ¡s¢t
A tato vai sadaj¡yata A
A tasm¡ttatsuk¤tamucyata iti AA
the beginning all this was unmanifested. From that emerged the manifested.
The Brahman created Itself by
Itself. Therefore it is called the self-creator.
na tatra s£ryo bh¡ti na candrat¡rakaÆ nem¡ vidyuto bh¡nti
tasyabh¡s¡ sarvamidaÆ vibh¡ti AA
the sun does not shine, neither do the moon and the stars; nor do these
flashes of lightning shine. How can fire? He shining all these shine;
through his lustre all these are variously illuminated.
y¡r¸ave'dhiÆ salilamagra ¡s¢t
(K¡¸·a; XII. 8)
was formerly water upon the ocean of space.
rohito dy¡v¡ jaj¡na A
. . . . aja ekap¡do'hahaddy¡v¡
. . . .
produced heaven and earth. The one footed goat, the sun made firm the
heavens and earth with his strength.
Mu¸·aka UpaniÀad (II.ii.10)
reiterates the words of Ka¶hopaniÀad
etasm¡jj¡yate pr¡¸o manaÅ sarvendriy¡¸i ca
khaÆ v¡yurjyotir¡paÅ p¤thiv¢ vi¿vasya dh¡ri¸¢
him originate - vital force, mind, all senses, space, air, fire, water and
earth that support everything.
tasm¡dagniÅ samidhayo yasya s£ryaÅ A
him emerges the fire (heaven) of which the sun is the fuel.
M¡¸·£kya K¡rik¡s say:
svapnam¡ye yath¡ d¤Àte gandharvanagaraÆ yath¡
tath¡ vi¿vamidaÆ d¤ÀtaÆ ved¡nteÀu vicakÀanaiÅ
as dream and magic are seen to be unreal, or as is a city in the sky, the
whole universe is known to be unreal.
Pra¿na UpaniÀad (III.8)
equates the Sun with pr¡¸a,
Earth with ap¡na, Space with sam¡na, Air with vy¡na
and Luminosity with ud¡na.
pr¡¸¡cchraddh¡Æ khaÆ v¡yurjyotir¡paÅp¤thiv¢ndriyaÆ manaÅ
pr¡¸a, Space, Air, Fire,
Water, Earth were created.
addition to these traditional four Vedas,
the Paµcama Veda Mah¡bh¡rata
also has important observations on cosmogony:
was formed from the space; from water, fire and wind, and from their
reaction the earth was formed.
agnipavana saÆyukta kh¡t samukÀipate jalam
saÆyog¡t ghanatvamupapadyate AA
tasy¡k¡¿¡nnip¡taÅ sneh¡ttiÀ¶hati yo'paraÅ
sa saÆghatv¡m¡p¡tto bh£mitvamanugacchati
water produced in the sky by fire and wind attains solid state owing to
the reaction of fire and wind. The oily quality of the water produced from
the sky takes the form of the earth.
S¡Ækhya system of Dar¿ana
considers the origin of the paµcamah¡bh£tas
in the atomic form by means of combinations of the tanm¡tr¡s:
(tattvatrayavivara¸am)atr¡yaÆ kramaÅ - bh£tadeÅ ¿abdatanm¡traÆ j¡yate, ¿abdatanm¡traÆ
bh£t¡dir¡v¤¸oti, tata ¡k¡¿o
j¡yate, tato'sm¡t ¿abdatanm¡tr¡t spar¿a tanm¡traÆ j¡yate, spar¿atanm¡traÆ
¿abdatanm¡trav¤t¡d ¡k¡¿asah¡yak¡t spar¿atanm¡tr¡d v¡yurj¡yate,
tato'sm¡t spar¿atan-m¡tr¡t r£patanm¡traÆ
j¡yate, r£patanm¡traÆ spar¿atanm¡tra-m¡v¤¸oti,
evaÆ spar¿atanm¡tr¡v¤t¡d v¡yusah¡yak¡t
r£patanm¡tr¡d tejo j¡yate A
¿abdatanm¡tra produced the
Space and also the spar¿atanm¡tra
and the combination of the Space with the spar¿atanm¡tra
produces the Atmosphere (V¡yu).
The r£patanm¡tra is produced
from the spar¿a tanm¡tra and
envelopes the spar¿atanm¡tra.
From the enveloped spar¿atanm¡tra,
the r£patanm¡tra with the help of the V¡yu produces the fire etc.
cosmological ideas in Vedas can
thus be summarised as:
1. In the beginning
there was neither the non-existent nor the existent.
2. The Supreme
cosmogonic force by the sheer Will to produce the universe first in the
form of darkness enveloped in darkness.
cosmological waters ambhas got manifested next in the form of undifferentiated fluid in
darkness where there was no light whatsoever.
4. From the cosmic
waters, combined with the motivation to move and probably as a
consequencce of the friction, fire called arka
5. Due to the
action of the fire and water, wind was produced and the combination of
wind, fire and water produced a froth which got solidified subsequently to
form the earth.
6. The Supreme Brahman who is like an uplifted thunderbolt, makes the entire
universe to emerge and to move. Thus the cosmic fluid originates due to
the motion induced by the Will of the Supreme Soul moves the
undifferentiated atoms into an undifferentiated cloud of dark fluid which
because of the friction of motion attains heat and gives rise to the
cosmic earth (the cosmic egg or the embryonic state of the universe),
which is the protostar of the modern concept of cosmogony. The further motion of
the cosmic fluid along with the cosmic earth produced the ekapada aja, the sun. The
sun is the Pr¡¸a and from this
Pr¡¸a the Paµcabh£tas originated.
specific contributions by Vedas
to the cosmogony, in superiority to the most modern cosmological concepts,
thus include: (a) The concept of non-existent and non-non-existent state
simultaneously; (b) The Supreme Will which motivated the
non-differentiated atoms to combine to get differentiated into various
forms like the nebula - ambhas;
the frictional fire - arka; the
protostar - cosmic earth (brahm¡¸·a) and finally the sun which is the pr¡¸a which differentiated the paµcamah¡bh£tas.
spite of the unprecedented advancements in the science and technology, we
are still as enlightened as the Vedic seers and their philosophical idea -
iyaÆ vis¤Àtiryata ¡babh£va yadi v¡ dadhe yadi v¡ na A
yo'sy¡dhyakÀaÅ parame vyoman so a´ga veda yadi v¡ na veda AA
Where from has this cosmogony come; who is its chief architect? whether he knows or not - is still as valid and as beautiful as when it was composed.
Gambhirananda, Eight UpaniÀads,
Vol. II pp. 1-76, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.
Sripad Damodara, 520 p.
: Ramakrishna Mission, Madras.
Gambhirananda, Eight UpaniÀads,
Vol. I, pp. 91-220, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.
: Gambhirananda, Eight
UpaniÀads, Vol. II, pp. 173-404, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.
: Gambhirananda, Eight UpaniÀads,
Vol. II, pp. 77-172, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.
Richard, J., 1971, Earth Science,
705p. Affiliated East-West Publication.
: Gambhirananda, Eight
UpaniÀads, Vol. II, pp. 405-506, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.\
Veda: Arthur A. MacDonnel, 1971, A
Vedic Reader, Oxford Publication.
: Ed., by A. Chinnaswami Sastri, 1984, Chowkambha Publication.
Krishnapadacharya, quoted in Gaur, D. S., and Gupta, L.P., 1970, Paµcamah¡bh£ta
with special reference to Ëyurveda, I.J.H.S., Vol. 5, no.1, pp.
Ed. by S. Suktankar, Vishnu.
: Gambhirananda, Eight
UpaniÀads, Vol. I, pp. 221-398, Ramakrishna Mission Publication.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi