Vedic cosmology - Our position within the Universe

Madan Gopal Das

Madan Gopal Das

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With this contribution, we do not want to engage in any controversy. We simply want to describe what is presented in the Vedic Scriptures, in particular the 5th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam.

Vedic vs Modern Understanding of the Universe

The more we dive into the Vedic literature, the more we will become astonished by the incredible details in which the Vedas describe the metaphysical functioning of the Universe. Also, the geographic descriptions are mind-blowing. In the fifth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, there is an extensive description of the structure of the Universe. 

In this blog post, we are going to have a closer look. 

We’ve already discussed that Vedic science is based on a completely different paradigm than modern empirical science. The difference is that empirical science accepts gross matter as the basis of everything. On the other hand, Vedic science accepts consciousness as the origin of everything, particularly the supreme consciousness, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna. 

Since modern science castrated itself by only accepting gross matter as truth, they are stuck with explanations such as the big bang and static laws of nature such as gravity. It denies the existence of consciousness. Rather empirical science dogmatically says without logic nor proves that consciousness results from matter. In Vedic, Science consciousness is postulated to be above matter and not depending on matter. In that case, it is evident that the Universe is created by intelligent design and not by chance by impersonal laws. Unsurprisingly, The Vedic description of the Universe differs from what we know from modern science. 

Vedic Cosmology Universal Shell

The Vertical Structure of the Universe

The Veda is very clear about it; there are innumerable universes. And they clustered together like grapes. They have a very thick covering. The hollow part is filled with water in the middle, and the upper half is structured in 14 different levels or planetary systems—one above the other. The Vedas inform us that throughout the whole Universe, there are various types of intelligent living beings. The earthly plane we live on is the 8th from below or the 7th from above. The lower seven planetary systems are underground and are not exposed to sunlight. They refuge those living entities who are not accepting the supremacy of the Supreme Lord. They are called Asuras or Daityas. The six planetary systems above the earthly plane are a refuge for those living entities accepting the supremacy of the supreme lord. They are called Suras or Devas. 

The structure of the earthy planetary system is compared to a lotus flower. The stem comprises seven lower planetary systems, which hermit underground civilisations of asuric nature, and the Earth itself is the lotus flower. The long-extending petals are enormous mountain ranges within which the sun, moon, planets and stars rotate like a chandelier. The highest among the stars is the polar star, the area between the sun and the polar star is considered Svargaloka, the heavenly realm, where all the highly elevated demigods live. 

The region between the sun and the earthly plane is Bhuvarloka, the residence of the angels. 

Above the Bhumandala, with its giant mountain containing the heavens up to the pole star, are another four planetary systems where highly advanced yogis and mystics live. The highest among them is Brahmaloka, the residence of Lord Brahma, the first-born living entity and the head of the universe who is in charge of the creation. 

Beyond the coverings of the Universe is the spiritual world, starting with the residence of lord Shiva. That is the vertical structure of the universe, as described in the fifth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. 

The Horizontal Structure of the Universe

When we talk about the horizontal structure of the Universe, we are talking about the most prominent middle planetary system called Bhumandala. It extends almost until the coverings of the Universe. Its diameter is 4 billion miles. The unit the Srimad Bhagavatam uses is called Yojana, which equals  8 miles. In other words, the Srimad Bhagavatam states that the Universe has a diameter of 500 million Yojanas. In comparison, the track of land we call Earth and that we inhabit has a height of 12’000 miles and a width of 24’000 miles. 

Vedic Cosmology 3 Bhumandal

In the descriptions of the horizontal structure of the Universe, one pattern always repeats itself. The same amount of inhabited area surrounds an inhabited area. Following this logic is the first half of the diameter on either side is an uninhabited, completely dark place called Aloka Varsha. It’s roughly 125 million yojanas or 1 billion miles in total, 250 million yojanas or 2 billion miles on each side. It is ring-shaped, surrounding the inner portion. 

The remaining 2 billion are again divided into two parts. The Lokalola mountain range occupies one-half. This mountain range contains all the luminaries within itself, blocking the light from reaching the outer regions. It reaches above the last of the star, the polar star. The width is roughly 67 million, and it surrounds the inner portion like a ring.

This mountain gives the mandala the look of a lot of flowers. The various mountains are like the petals of a lotus. Roughly half of the remaining inner portion is the golden land that is only enjoyed by the best among the demigods. The other half is the living place of the different human civilisations.

Vedic Cosmology 3 Outer Islands

There are seven concentric Islands surrounded by oceans with different characteristics. In the middle, it starts with the Island Jambudvipa, with a diameter of 100’000 yojanas. It is surrounded by the saltwater ocean, which also has a width of 100’000 Yojana. The track of land we call home is situated at the southernmost shore of that Jambudvipa

Each following Island with its ocean is twice the size of the previous Island. So the second Island, Plaksadvipa, has a width of 200,000 and is surrounded by an ocean of liquor-like water with the same width of 200,000 yojanas. 

Then comes Salmlidvipa, with 400,000 Yojanas surrounded by the ocean with water that has sugarcane juice characteristics. 

The next ring-shaped Island, Kusadvipa, with a width of 800,000 and is surrounded by an ocean of water with the characteristics of ghee-clarified butter. Then follows Krauncadvipa, with 1,600,000, surrounded by an ocean of yoghurt, and then Sakadvipa, with 3,200,000, surrounded by an ocean with the characteristics of milk. The last of the seven islands is called Pushkaradvipa and has a width of 6,400,000 yojanas and is surrounded by a clear water ocean with the same width. After the clear water ocean comes a track of golden land. It is only inhabited by the best among the Demigods. Its width is the same as the distance from Mount Meru until the Manasotra Mountain, the mountain that divides the last of the seven Islands, Pushkaradvipa in half. The with of the golden land is: 50,0000+100,000+200,000+200,000+400,000+400,000+800,000+800,000+1,600,000+1,600,000+3,200,000+3,200,000+3,200,000=15,750,000 yojanas.
Lokalika Mountain starts after 41,100,000 yojana and extends up to 123,300,000 yojana. Aloka Varsha extents for 115,100,000 yojanas and ends at 238,400,000 yojanas. There is a remaining gab between Aloka Varsha and the universal shell of 11,600,000 yojanas.


The middle Island, Jambudvipa 


We are situated on the Southern shores of the Middle Island of JambudvipaJambudvipa is divided into nine sections called Varshas by extremely high mountain ranges. These mountains are border mountains extending up to 10’000 yojanas (80’000 miles or 1.2 million km)

The Varsha we live in is called Bharatavarsha. It is named after the famous king Bharat. Bharatavarsha is again divided into nine subsections, each of which is mutually inaccessible. The landmasses we know are situated in a small portion of one of these sections. 

The middle portion of Jambudvipa, called Ilavritavarsha, has the golden mountain in the middle, an upside-down cone of solid gold called Meru. The width at the bottom is 16’000 yojanas. The width of the top is 32’000 yojanas, and the height of Meru from the ground is 84’000. On the top, the city of lord Brahma and in all eight directions, the cities of the principal demigods are situated.  

Around Mount Meru, in all four cardinal directions, are four famous mountains. On top of these mountains, huge trees are situated from whose fruits heavenly rivers emanate that fill the lands below with fragrance, beauty and opulence. The various lakes between these mountains are sporting places for the demigods and other heavenly beings. 

The there are two Varshas East and West of Ilavritavarsha, named Ketumala in the East and Badhravarsha in the West. The three Varshas to the North are called Ramyalvarsha, Hiranmayavarsha and Kuruvarsha. The three Varshas to the South are called Harivarsha, Kimpurushavarsha and Bharatavarsha. 

The outer Island

The five ring-shaped islands from Plaksadvip to Sakadvipe are divided into seven portions. The names of the border mountain and the most prominent rivers emanating from these mountains are mentioned. 

The last ring-shaped Island, Pushkaradvip, is divided into two parts by a ring-shaped mountain range called Manasottara Mountain. On the top of this mountain range, in all eight directions, the demigods have their cities. Above this mountain range, the sun is circulating. 

The Wheel of Time

The sun and the other planets are in a fixed orbit at different heights around Mount Meru. 

Vedic Cosmology 4 Kala Chakra 2

The sun is at the height of 100’000 yojanas above the Bhumandala. The moon is at the height of 300’000 yojanas. At the height of 500’000, there are the various star constellations, the 28th nakshatras. 200’000 above them is an orbit of Venus, followed by another 200,000 of Mars, then Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, each 200,000 above the other. 

1’100’000 yojanas above Saturn, seven stars of the great dipper are situated. These are the stars of the seven great sages that are always in great respect and circumpolar Druvaloka, the Pole Star. The Pole Star is firmly situated at the height of 3’900’000 above Bhumandala. Druva Loka serves as a pivot. Around him, all the others stars remain in their fixed orbit.

  • Sun at 100’000
  • Moon at 300’000
  • Nakshatras at 500’000
  • Venus at 700’000
  • Mercury at 900’000
  • Mars at 1’100’000
  • Jupiter at 1’300’000
  • Saturn at 1’500’000
  • The Seven Sages at 2’600’000
  • Druvaloka (Pole Star) 3’900’000

All these planets, the sun and the moon, are connected by ropes of wind to the pole star. By the power of their past karma, the arrangement of the supreme, and their devotion, these planets and stars remain in the fixed orbit day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium. 

  Vedic Cosmology Kala Chakra 3

The whole system, the whole sky, rotates once in 24 hours around its axis, carrying all the chariots of the planets and sun and moon. This rotation of the “Wheel of Time” creates the rising and setting of the sun and all the zodiac signs and stars we experience daily on Earth. 

At the same time sun, moon, and other planets have independent movement on the wheel of time. By that independent movement, the planets appear in different constellations throughout the year. 

The sun has an additional movement towards the North and the South, creating the seasons. When the sun is in the inner circle, closer to the North, at that time, the sun doesn’t rise and set precisely in the East but rises and sets in the northeast direction. The days are longer, and the nights are shorter in places positioned north of the equator. 

When the sun is in its southernmost place, it rises and sets in the south Eastern and southwestern direction and has a much lower angle towards the Earth; the nights are longer, and the days are shorter for the places positioned north of the equator. For the places south of the equator, it is the opposite. 

Vedic Cosmology 4 Kala Chakra

The localised suns and boundaries established by Priyavrata

The Srimad Bhagavatam in the 5th Canto narrates the story of King Priyavrata, the grandson of Lord Brahma, the first living entity. He was asked to become the ruler of the whole Universe. At that time, the Bhumandala was mostly uninhabited and not yet structured as described above. He was unhappy with how the sunlight was distributed unevenly, leaving large portions in darkness for an extended period. By the strength of his mystical power, he created his duplicate suns replicating the path of the sun through the zodiacs. 

By following the course of the sun and creating a replica of the sun in different areas, he made these concentric circles that became boundaries between different civilisations so that they may not disturb each other and could live in peace. Priyavrata established the oceans as boundaries between the seven Dvipa, and after retirement, he gave each Dvipa to one of his sons. The sons also divided the lands further with boundary mountains and gave each part to their sons. For example, King Agnidra took charge of Jambudvipa and gave the jurisdiction of the nine Varshas of Jambudvipa to his nine sons. The boundaries that make the different tracks of land mutually inaccessible by the ordinary people were consciously established by King Priyaravata for a peaceful advancement of life within the various civilisations without disturbing each other. 

Those who are serious about the progress of their individual life should take note of that. It is not the goal of life to travel and explore the various regions of the Universe. The Universe is only a place for the enjoyment of the material senses, and it’s against the nature of the spiritual soul. The realisation of our spiritual nature and our spiritual activities is the goal of human life. That is the essence of the Vedic message. 

The activities of King Priyvarta give some indication that the sun, moon and stars that we see by our eyes in the sky, and that are creating our day and night, seasons and different climates, are not the original sun, moon and stars described in the Srimad Bhagavatam, but are replicas, managed by the descendant of Priyavrata. This system also serves the purpose of keeping us among ourselves. The borders of the track of lands that we call Earth are by the sweet will of the Creator, unsurpassable by the common people. It is expected that the same amount of uninhabitable land will surround the inhabited area.

It is quite natural that everyone will be curious as to what and who is beyond. Still, it should be noted that we have incarnated here in this part of the Universe for a very good reason. Everyone will do good to understand and fulfil his purpose and not waste time in unnecessary speculation and adventures.  

However, the Vedic liturate describe what is beyond our tracks of land. As we learn from the stories of the Mahabharata, King Yudhisthira was Just 5000 years ago ruling and travelling to the whole of Jambudvipa. This topic has been very nicely presented by Māyeśvara dāsa in his article: SAILING TO JAMBŪDVĪPA.

The Diary of Olaf Jansen is also an account worth reading. It is my opinion, though, that Jansen and his father were not travelling to the “inner earth” but to the neighbouring lands on Jambudvipa: click here to read their story.

The various inhabitants and civilisations. 

The inhabitants of the highest planetary systems

Above Durvaloka, the pole star, there are another four planetary systems. Mahar-loka, Jana-Loka, Tapa-Loka and Satya-loka. These planetary systems do not depend on sunlight or the support of Durvaloka. They are of a more subtle nature. The most prominent feature there is not enjoyment as it is in the heavenly planets, but meditation and practice of Yoga. These planetary systems are not destroyed during the annihilation that takes place during the night of Lord Brahma. The inhabitants of these four planetary systems are great sages and yogis who have all eight mystical powers from birth. They are free to travel around in the Universe at their will, and the purest among them will leave the Universe with Lord Brhama at the time of the complete annihilation of the Universe. 

The inhabitants of the lower and the upper heavenly planets 

The Vedas do not remain silent on who inhabits all the various areas of the Universe. As mentioned above, the lower planetary systems are primarily for Asuras, and the upper planetary systems are for Suras. The difference between the Asuras and Suras is in consciousness. The asuras do not accept the supremacy of the lord and consider the enjoyment of the senses to be the goal of life. The Suras, on the other hand, also enjoy life, but they’re always aware of the transcendental position of the lord and that He is ultimately the only shelter and goal of life. 

The Inhabitants of the upper planetary systems are predominantly in the mode of goodness. In contrast, the lower planetary systems are predominantly in raja-guna and tama guna, the mode of passion and ignorance. These lower modes of nature give a heightened desire for material enjoyment and forgetfulness about the eternal identity of the soul. 

Besides that major difference in consciousness, both the upper and the lower planetary systems are places of enjoyment. The inhabitants have very long lives, some 10 of thousand, some millions of years. They have strong bodies and experience hardly the miseries of birth, death, old age and diseases. They can indulge in sensual pleasure with the opposite sex without fatigue and unplanned parenthood. They conceive once at the end of their life, with hardly any complication caused by a prolonged pregnancy. Their cities and parks are extremely beautiful and opulent. They live in abundance and have various miraculous foods and drinks with healing and intoxicating effects. 

Vedic Cosmology 11 Lower Planetary Systems

The living beings who have gathered many pious deeds are allowed to incarnate in these heavenly realms. That may it be in the upper or lower planetary systems. That depends on whether the living entity is pious and believes in God or not. They can stay there as long as the bank balance of their pious deeds is still intact after they have to incarnate again in our earthly realm. 

The demigods living on the higher planetary systems have mystical powers by birth. These mystic perfections are as follows: becoming small like a particle (aṇimā-siddhi), or lighter than a soft feather (laghimā-siddhi), getting anything and everything (prāpti-siddhi), becoming heavier than the heaviest (mahima-siddhi), to act freely even to create something wonderful or to annihilate anything at will (īśitva-siddhi), to control all material elements (vaśitva-siddhi), to possess such power as will never be frustrated in any desire (prākāmya-siddhi), or to assume any shape or form one may even whimsically desire (kāmāvasāyitā-siddhi). The higher up in the Universe, the more prominent these eight mystical perfections become. 

They live for millions of years, getting a higher grade of enjoyment, and they are involved with very beautiful heavenly society-girls without sin. They have devotion to the lord, but because the enjoyment is so much, and the suffering from old age disease, birth and death is minimal, they are not able to become serious about the welfare of the eternal soul. Because they live very long lives and do not feel the urgency to prepare their consciousness for spiritual upliftment in the next life. 

Once the bank balance of their pious deeds, their “good karma” is empty, they must come down to this earthly plane as human beings. In this human form of life, only the soul has an opportunity, by the association of pure devotees, to purify themselves from the desires of enjoying this world and turning their face towards the service of the lord. The happiness the living entity experiences in the service of the lord cannot be compared to the happiness of the heavenly planets, and the sastras urge us not to fall for the trap of the desire for the shiny life of the demigods. After all, it is temporary, and it must end. 

Vedic Cosmology 12 Svargaloka

Though that demigods are very elevated, in truth, human beings are more fortunate because they have the opportunity to be blessed with the association of pure devotees. 

The living place of the Asuras is very tiny in comparison to that of the demigods. There seven lower planetary systems, Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Mahātala, Rasātala and Pātāla, are only 10’000 yojanas in width. That might be the reason the demons are always envious of the demigods and desirous of conquering their lands and abodes. There were countless occasions when the demigods were conquered by the demons and had to hide. 

The Areas between Heaven and Earth.

Svarga, the heavenly planetary system, starts 100’000 yojanas above the sun. The 200’000 yojanas between the greater Earth and Svarga is called Antariksa, outer space! 

10’000 yojanas below the SunRahu is situated. He is a demon who was awarded the position of a planet, but still, he was not allowed to be part of the kala chakra and is moving on his own in outer space below the sun. 

Vedic Cosmology 13 Bhuvarloka 

10’000 yojanas below Rahu is BuvarlokaBuvarloka is the residence of the semi-demigods. Angel-like beings, called Siddhas, Cāraṇas and Vidyādharas. The Siddhas, for example, possess the mystical perfections of the yogis that allow them to travel from one planet to another using their natural magical powers without requiring the use of aeroplanes or similar technology. 100 Yojanas above the Earth, in outer space, is the playground for ghosts and evil spirits

Vedic Cosmology 19 Ghost Loka

The Different Islands of Bhumandala. 

The fifth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam describes the consciousness of the different human societies on Bhumandale by stating their prayers. Whom they worship shows a lot about their consciousness. From the outer Island of Pushkaradvipa to the inner Island, the worship is as follows: 

  • Pushkaradvipa – Lord Brahma (God of Creation)
  • Sakadvipa – Vayu (Gof of Wind)
  • Krauncadvipa – Varuna (God of Water)
  • Kusadvipa – Agni (God of Fire) 
  • Plaksadvipa – Chandra (Moon God)
  • Sakadvipa – Surya (Sun God)

Vedic Cosmology 9 Outer Islands

In the middle Island of Jambudvipa, the devotion to the Supreme Lord is highest. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes that each of the nine Varshas is inhabited by an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, and the inhabitants worship him with various prayers. It is also mentioned that those who exhausted the reactions of their pious deeds and thus have to come down from the heavenly planets but still have some “good karma” left will incarnate into the heavenly realms of Jambudvipa.

The living conditions within the various regions of Bhumandala are like in the Treta Yuga. That means, in general, they’re living for 10,000 years, they’re highly cultured, have very few bad habits, and are organised well in healthy social structures. 

They procreate like the demigods. It means they are free to enjoy intercourse with their spouse, without losing their vigour and youthfulness. Only towards the end of their life, they beget one child that, after a very short pregnancy, grows up fast to be an adult. Though these areas are on the earthly plane, the pains of birth, death, old age and disease are minimal. 

This type of heavenly condition of life is true for almost 99.9% of the whole Universe. Therefore the Srimad Bhagavatam speaks of three kinds of svarga, heavenly realms; the upper planetary system (svarga), the lower planetary system (bila svarga) and most of the Bhumandala, the earthy realm (bhauma svarga). 

The Hellish Planets and the Ancestors

Besides the 14 planetary systems, there are also hellish planets that are situated below the lowest planet near the Garbhodaka Ocean. Those human beings that waste their spiritual potential in the human form of life will be judged there by the superintendent of death, Yamaraja. Yamaraja will award them with a suitable punishment. What type of hell is waiting for what type of actions, this is described in the last chapter of the fifth count of the Srimad Bhagavatam. It’s worth a read.  

Just beside the 28 hellish planets, Pitriloka is situated. It is a planet with heavenly living conditions. Yamaraja, the superintendent of death, is the leader of that realm. The inhabitants of that place depend on their descendants on Earth to make sacrifices every year in their name so that their stay can be extended. Therefore in some traditions is so important to have a male child that will keep ut the family tradition and make sacrifices in the name of the ancestors. 

Vedic Cosmology 20 Pitiri and hell

The importance of the human form of life and our Earth

Only the place that we call Earth and where we are currently incarnated, a small part of Bharatavarsha, the southernmost part of Jampudvipa, is not meant for enjoyment. It is the place for karma and liberation. By the arrangement of the Supreme Lord, sooner or later, every living entity will take birth here on our Earth as a human being and has the possibility to get liberated from the cyclic order of birth and death or will reincarnate again in one of the 8’400’000 species of life, anywhere in the Universe, according to their good or bad deeds and desires. 

Since all the other parts of the Universe are places of enjoyment, it is only here that the soul can become serious about leaving this Universe for good and returning home to godhead, the actual home of the soul. The happiness experienced in the heavenly realms of the Universe, whether in the upper, lower, or earthly realms, does never satisfy the soul. How opulent and perfect it may be, it is still of lower material nature. The spirit soul is only satisfied by experiencing love in association with the supreme lord. That is the constitutional position of the soul and the ultimate goal of life. That is the intimate message of the Vedas. They say that our real home is the spiritual world, our real activities are the loving service to the Supreme Lord in association with other liberated souls and that this love of God is the ultimate goal of human life. 

The Earth we are living in and this human form of life that we have been given are especially meant for this purpose. Therefore it is a great loss when this chance awarded to us in the human form of life is wasted for materialism and not for pursuing the Love of God. That love is fundamentally different from the love we believe to know. The love in this world is lust because, ultimately, it is geared to satisfy ourselves. This fact might be hidden behind many clever psychological mechanisms, but it is true. 

If we do not achieve perfection in the human form of life and have to retake birth in this material world, based on our activities and the consciousness we develop, we will get birth again. That might be in the human form again or on the higher or lower planetary systems. As soon the fruits of the past karma are used up, we will return here again. In the worst case, when we completely lose our way and waste our human potential entirely, we will be punished with birth in an animal species. As an animal, we have to reincarnate. The evolutionary ladder until our consciousness is restored and ready again to become a human being. There again, we have the chance to become serious about the spiritual life. 

The Extraordinary Position of the Pure Devotees

These pure devotees are not ordinary living entities. They are not born like us due to the bondage of desires. They are directly the associates of the Supreme transcendental Lord, Whose residence is beyond the coverings of the material Universe. They bring the message from that abode. If we receive that message that flows like nectar of immortality from their lotus-like lips, we will have a good chance to once and for all leave the cycle of birth and death within the different parts of the Universe within the 8’400’000 species of life behind us. These true spiritual masters, the messengers of God, are not going to the heavenly planets and speaking to the demigods because they are busy with their enjoyment. They will only take birth in this earthly realm to give a chance to human beings willing to listen and follow. 

That is the rarest gift and the highest achievement for the soul to get the association of his true spiritual master in the human form of life. That is the chance to go back home, back to the spiritual world and leave this material universe behind. 

The Vedas compare the wandering of the soul through the Universe from one species to another, from one planet to another, to the ride on a Ferris wheel. One time will be in the heavenly planets. One time we will be on the hellish planets. Then again, we might be a king and one time might be a beggar, and this wandering will continue until, by great fortune, we will receive the seed of the love of God from the true spiritual master. 

In the next blog post, we will discuss the Vedic time. Espacially the four yugas. The Satya-, Treta-, Dvapara- and Kali-yuga. 

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