Air Travel in Ancient India
Possible technical details of ancient Vimanas based upon the descriptions in the Vimanika Shastra
"Our vision of "prehistory" is terribly inadequate. We have not yet rid our minds from the hold of a one-and-only God or one-and-only Book, and now a one-and-only Science." ~ Shri Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950)
The concept of traveling by air using flying machines was popular in ancient India and for that matter in medieval and modern India much before the invention of modern airplanes by the Wright brothers. There is ample literary evidence to suggest that in ancient India people were familiar with the possibility of men flying in aeroplanes to travel long distances or traverse interstellar spaces. These aeroplanes used mechanical, spiritual and tantric power to fly. In the ancient literature of Hindus we have detailed descriptions of flying machines that could carry people from one place to another or one planet to another to conduct wars, participate in religious ceremonies, rescue someone in trouble or accomplish some adventurous mission.
In Sanskrit, which was the language of communication in the Vedic period, the word "vimana" means an air plane or flying machine. It is not mere coincidence that the long towers adorning the Hindu temples are also called vimanas. The word "vimana", in this context, has a far more deeper spiritual meaning. According to this, vimana is that which is different from or turned away from the ordinary mind consciousness. It is the higher consciousness pointed towards the heavens, belonging to the higher realms, and simply indifferent to the mind and the senses. It is of the higher mental planes, of the gods, where higher energies submit to higher purpose and higher will. In contrast, the ordinary mind draws us into samsara and renders us into mere two legged animals. Blinded by the illusion it creates, we become earth (bhur) bound, incapable of flying or moving freely into the mid (bhuva) and higher (suva) realms.In the form of an elongated tower jutting out of the face of the earth through the roof of the temple, the vimana thus serves a very important purpose in the religious world of Hindus. It serves as a strong reminder of our lost worlds and lost consciousness. The mesmerizing tower filled with colorful figurines of numerous gods and goddesses, above the ground, away from the humdrum of earthly life, in the air but still reachable, conveys a symbolic message that before entering the world of gods we need to turn away from the distractions of the mind and turn inward towards God for our salvation.
The word vimana also means a space vehicle or a flying object that can help us over come our ordinary limitations of time and space and reach out to the far ends of creation. It is the missing link between our worlds and the worlds of gods and goddesses and the worlds of which we have no knowledge. It is not of this world but heavenly. We as human beings cannot use it because we rely upon mental and physical energies bound by the limitations of our beliefs and earthly life. We may perhaps regain our lost power and ascend to the higher worlds by going beyond the mind. We can attain God and His innumerable worlds through the "vimana" (pure consciousness) by turning away from the temptations of the mind and the body and worshipping God with single minded devotion.
We have references to the use of incredible spaceships and flying machines in the Indian lore by gods, demons and people alike. The most ancient of all epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata mention the use of vimanas or special aerial devices in ancient times. These are comparable in several respects to the spaceships of Hollywood science fiction movies such as Star Trek and Star Wars.
In the Ramayana we have descriptions of a special airplane called Pushpak Vimana. The plane originally belonged to Kubera. He was the king of Yakshas and that too the wealthiest being in all the worlds. By relation Kubera was also a half brother of Ravana, the demon king and arch villain in the story of Ramayana. We are told that Pushpak Vimana was built by Vishavakarma under the orders of Brahma who had developed compassion toward Kubera as he was disabled. As per the orders of Brahma, Vishwakarma built the plane and gave it to Kubera for his personal use. The Pushpaka Vimana was a gigantic plane, of the size a large city entirely, capable of holding unlimited number of people. It was propelled by its own tantric power. Having got the gift, Kubera used to travel in the plane from place to place to distribute wealth and help the needy people with his abundance and generosity.
Unfortunately, sometime later Ravana stole the ship from him and began using it for his own wicked ends. He used it to even kidnap and carrya away Sita to his capital Lanka. He also used it in his war against Rama. After he was killed in the final battle with Shir Ram, his brother Vibhishana, who succeeded him as king, suggested Shri Ram to use the plane to go to Ayodhya without losing further time. Shri Ram accepted the offer and was able to take his people and the entire army in it. The plane was so big and accommodative that it had no dearth of space. The author of the epic gave a graphic description of the aerial view of the earth as the plane traveled over the subcontinent on its way to Ayodhya. The description was so accurate that according to some it correspond with the aerial view of the subcontinent form the outer space. Considering the fact that the epic was written some three or four thousand years ago, it is difficult to imagine how such a scenery from the earthly plane could be envisioned by someone without the actual direct experience of flying.
The Mahabharata also mentions the use of flying chariots powered by lightening, capable of flying long distances into the solar system and beyond. There are descriptions of a demon king Salva using a flying machine to attack Dwaraka, the capital of Madura, and how Lord Krishna fought with him and destroyed the flying machine. In the epci Srimad Bhagavatham (sixth Canto, Part 3)we come across the following reference:
"One time while King Citaketu was traveling in outer space on a brilliantly effulgent airplane given to him by Lord Vishnu, he saw Lord Siva..." "The arrows released by Lord Siva appeared like fiery beams emanating from the sun globe and covered the three residential airplanes, which could then no longer be seen."
Many scholars in the past expressed awe and amazement at the mention of spaceships and aeroplanes in ancient Hindu literature. About the knowledge of flying machines in ancient India, Col. Henry S Olcott (1832 1907) wrote:
"The ancient Hindus could navigate the air, and not only navigate it, but fight battles in it like so many war-eagles combating for the domination of the clouds. To be so perfect in aeronautics, they must have known all the arts and sciences related to the science, including the strata and currents of the atmosphere, the relative temperature, humidity, density and specific gravity of the various gases... ~
Prof. D. K. Kanjilal made the following observation referring to the description of the use of flying machines in the Matsyapurana 1*:
"Behind the veil of legend and scientific truth comes out that three flying-cities were made for and were used by the demons. Of these three, one was in a stationary orbit in the sky, another moving in the sky and one was permanently stationed in the ground. These were docked like modern spaceships in the sky at particular time and at fixed latitude/longitudes. Siva's arrow obviously referred to a blazing missile fired from a flying satellite specially built for the purpose and the brunt spaceship fell in the Indian ocean. Vestiges of onetime prosperous civilization destroyed in battles only flicker through these legends.
The Vedas also mention flying chariots of multiple shapes and configurations. There are references to the fire chariot with two engines, the elephant-chariot with more engines, and other types of vehicles named after some animals.Surya the sun god is described as traveling across the skies every day from east to west illuminating the worlds in his radiant chariot. When invocated gods descended from heavens in their space vessels to bless the worshippers. In his Anti-Gravity Handbook, writing about the "Ancient Indian Aircraft Technology", D. Hatcher Childress made the following comments:
According to ancient Indian texts, the people had flying machines which were called vimanas . The ancient Indian epic describes a vimana as a double- deck, circular aircraft with portholes and a dome, much as we would imagine a flying saucer. It flew with the "speed of the wind" and gave forth a melodious sound . There were at least four different types of vimanas; some saucer shaped, others like long cylinders ( cigar shaped airships )."
Apart from the description of these mechanical devices, we also find references to men and gods materializing instantaneously wherever they wantedthrough the exercise of their supreme will power and also be present at different places at the same time. In the age of Truth all men had the same power which they lost gradually as men become more materialistic and lost their inner purity. Sage Narada could traverse through the three worlds instantaneously chanting the name of Lord Vishnu. The Yoga Shastra of Patanjali describes the attainment of siddhis or special powers by the practitioners of yoga whereby they can levitate in the air or travel astrally long distances.
With all due respect to these descriptions and references, it needs to be mentioned that from the historical and archaeological perspective, other than the literary references, there are actually no first hand descriptions of any instances of people flying in the air using mechanical or aerial devices.The ancient vimanas of Hindus were powered mostly by mantric and tantric power in contrast to the yantric (mechanical) power used by the modern airplanes. So in all probability we have lost the power to use such machines and also all memory associated with their construction and use.
In ancient India as we know it academically, there were no airplanes, no rockets and no flying machines that flew with the help of mechanical power. People used simple means of traveling. They traveled either by foot, or by using animals such as horses, elephants, camels and asses. They used chariots, bullock carts, boats and ships to travel long distances or carry merchandise from one place to another. Traveling in ancient India was a very risky venture because of wild animals, bandits and fear being held as a spy or foreigner.
Some of the descriptions we find in the ancient Indian literature may be the work of pure imagination just like the description of incredible spaceships we find in modern science fiction. Others could be attributed to the residual memories we have in our collective consciousness about our innate capability to travel by means of mantric and tantric powers or the powers of our higher minds. Any real knowledge of the spaceships such as the ones mentioned above or the ones that are described in the Vimaanika Shastra of Maharshi Bharadwaaja, which could be powered by the spiritual nature of man, are probably lost to the mankind just as the knowledge of ancient science known to the people of Atlantis was lost in the depths of time.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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