• UDAYA BHAASKAR BULUSU

    WITH THE BLESSING OF SRI LALITHA KAMESWARI MAHA TRIPURA SUNDARI

    SUPREME CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE

  • UDAYA BHAASKAR BULUSU CATEGORIES

15. COSMOLOGY

The inquisitive human mind naturally yearns to understand the universe and man’s place within it. Today scientists rely on powerful telescopes and sophisticated computers to formulate cosmological theories. In former times, people got their information from traditional books of wisdom. Followers of India’s ancient culture, for example, learned about the cosmos from scriptures like the Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. But the Bhagavatam’s descriptions of the universe often baffle modern students of Vedic literature. Here Bhaktivedanta Institute scientist Dr. Richard Thompson suggests a framework for understanding the Bhagavatam’s descriptions that squares with our experience and modern discoveries.

Jambudvipa: The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes that the universe lies within a series of spherical shells which is divided in two by an earth plane called Bhu-mandala. A series of dvipas, or ‘islands,’ and oceans make up Bhu-mandala. In the center of Bhu-mandala is the circular ‘island’ of Jambudvipa (inset), whose most prominent feature is the cone-shaped Mount Meru. The main illustration here shows a closer view of Jambudvipa and the base of Mount Meru.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam presents an earth-centered conception of the cosmos. At first glance the cosmology seems foreign, but a closer look reveals that not only does the cosmology of the Bhagavatam describe the world of our experience, but it also presents a much larger and more complete cosmological picture. I’ll explain.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam’s mode of presentation is very different from the familiar modern approach. Although the Bhagavatam’s “Earth” (disk-shaped Bhu-mandala) may look unrealistic, careful study shows that the Bhagavatam uses Bhu-mandala to represent at least four reasonable and consistent models: (1) a polar-projection map of the Earth globe, (2) a map of the solar system, (3) a topographical map of south-central Asia, and (4) a map of the celestial realm of the demigods.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu remarked, “In every verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam and in every syllable, there are various meanings.” (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 24.318) This appears to be true, in particular, of the cosmological section of the Bhagavatam, and it is interesting to see how we can bring out and clarify some of the meanings with reference to modern astronomy.

When one structure is used to represent several things in a composite map, there are bound to be contradictions. But these do not cause a problem if we understand the underlying intent. We can draw a parallel with medieval paintings portraying several parts of a story in one composition. For example, Masaccio’s painting “The Tribute Money” shows Saint Peter in three parts of a Biblical story. We see him taking a coin from a fish, speaking to Jesus, and paying a tax collector. From a literal standpoint it is contradictory to have Saint Peter doing three things at once, yet each phase of the Biblical story makes sense in its own context.

A similar painting from India shows three parts of a story about Krishna. Such paintings contain apparent contradictions, such as images of one character in different places, but a person who understands the story line will not be disturbed by this. The same is true of the Bhagavatam, which uses one model to represent different features of the cosmos.

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