Vimana

Vaimanika Shastra

Vimāna [vi-mah-nuh] is a mythological flying palace or chariot described in Hindu texts and Sanskrit epics. The Pushpaka Vimana of the demon king Ravana is the most quoted example. Vimanas are also found in Jain texts. The word literally means ‘measuring out, traversing.’

Oxford Sanskrit scholar Monier Monier-Williams defined it as ‘a car or a chariot of the gods, any mythical self-moving aerial car (sometimes serving as a seat or throne, sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air; other descriptions make the Vimana more like a house or palace, and one kind is said to be seven stories high).’ It may denote any car or vehicle, especially a bier (a wheeled altar for transporting coffins), or a ship as well as a palace of an emperor, especially with seven stories.

The predecessors of the flying vimanas of the Sanskrit epics are the flying chariots employed by various gods in the Vedas: the Sun and Indra and several other Vedic deities are transported by flying wheeled chariots pulled by animals, usually horses. The existing Rigveda versions do not mention Vimanas, but verses have been taken as evidence for the idea of ‘mechanical birds.’ In the ‘Ramayana,’ the pushpaka (‘flowery’) vimana of Ravana is described as an ‘aerial and excellent Vimana going everywhere at will … that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky … and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.’ It is the first flying vimana mentioned in existing Hindu mythology texts. Pushpaka was originally made by Vishwakarma for Brahma, the Hindu god of creation; later Brahma gave it to Kubera, the God of wealth; but it was later stolen, along with Lanka, by his half-brother, king Ravana.

The ‘Vaimānika Shāstra’ is an early 20th-century Sanskrit text on aeronautics, obtained allegedly by mental channeling, about the construction of vimānas, the ‘chariots of the Gods.’ The existence of the text was revealed in 1952 by Hindu researcher G. R. Josyer, according to whom it was written by one Pandit Subbaraya Shastry, who dictated it in 1918–1923. A Hindi translation was published in 1959, the Sanskrit text with an English translation in 1973. Subbaraya Shastry allegedly stated that the content was dictated to him by Maharishi Bharadvaja (who is claimed to have lived at least 10,000 years ago). A study by aeronautical and mechanical engineering at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in 1974 concluded that the aircraft described in the text were ‘poor concoctions’ and that the author showed a complete lack of understanding of aeronautics.

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