Sunday, July 31, 2011

Black Holes and Bhagavatam

Time for new Gyaan people!!

In the last post, I had shared the description of our Universe and the TWO different types of Creations. For easy understanding of the descriptions from our Scriptures, we'll now take each topic individually beginning with our Galaxy, the Milky Way. As you are perhaps aware, ours is a Spiral Galaxy containing a Galactic Center, and various arms radiating outwards from it, in a spiral fashion.

Our Spiral Galaxy

As mentioned earlier, Puranic literature is full of Astronomical details and our Galaxy is quite vividly detailed in {Chapter 23, Canto 5 of the Bhagvat Puraan}.

When I went through the descriptions, I was pleasantly surprised to know that the Rishis of yore have described our galaxy EXACTLY the way it is described now by modern Astronomers!! Bhagavatam compares it with the Kundalini Chakra, the energy source seated at the base of Human Spine like a coiled serpent. As a person's Yogic Powers advance, the Kundalini Energy moves upwards from one Chakra to another ultimately leading the Yogi to complete Enlightenment just as was achieved by Gautam Buddha.

Kundalini rising through the Chakras

This celestial creature forming our Galaxy, is called Shishumar and is supposed to rest with its body wound around itself in a right-handed coil with the center formed by its tail end.

To the students of Science, this shape may be familiar as that of the Benzene Ring, which resembles a Snake biting its own tail!! Incidentally the symbol is also known by the Greeks as Ouroboros and by Chinese as the Dragon representing the never-ending cycle of Life and Death, the different Seasons, Time etc.


Scriptural description of the Galaxy

The Bhagvatam gives complete details of the various Lokas of the galaxy giving precise LOCATIONS of the various divine and semi-divine denizens of our Galaxy! Let us see what these locations are and try to find out a useful address or two from the descriptions ;o)

The Galactic Center, is the tail-end of the coiled serpent and is supposed to be a seat of Immense Power and Energy. According to the Bhagavatam, this Galactic Center is formed by the Dhruva Loka.

It is important to note that according to modern Astronomy, Galactic Center is made up of very large mass and density which scientists believe to be a Supermassive Black Hole. Black Holes are the evolutionary end-point of MASSIVE stars and pack within themselves the power of thousands of Nuclear bombs combined!

Supermassive Black Hole at the Galactic Center

Now,  Dhruva as we know is the Pole Star and according to Bhagavatam, it is supposed to be situated right at the CENTER of our Galaxy. At present, the Northern pole star is Polaris, which lies close to the Celestial North Pole, and is visible at the end of the constellation Ursa Minor (Little Dipper). However, after researching its location, I found that this particular Star does not lie as far as the Center of the Galaxy and it dampened my excitement a bit :o(

Present Pole Star Polaris

But, as I kept trying to find out more, I came across a phenomenon known as the Precession of Equinoxes. Simply put, it states that the role of the North Star PASSES from one star to another. This means that Other stars have occupied the position of the Pole Star before now!

Precession of the Equinoxes is slow, taking about 25,770 years to complete a cycle,  hence a single star typically holds that title for many CENTURIES, and since Hindu history measures time in billions of years, One of these stars could have been located in the vicinity of the Galactic Center at some point in our Ancient History!!

Pole Stars of Past and Future

Identifying that Star is beyond my current research capacity, but I believe if we can find  it, it would help us date our Scriptures in a more authentic fashion as well as give us a proof that our civilization is INDEED very ancient.

The scripture further states that Dhruv-loka is supposed to be the Supreme Seat of Lord Vishnu in the Mortal Realm where He reclines on the Divine Serpent Sheshnaag accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi in the Ocean-of-Milk called Ksheer-Sagar.

Demigods praying to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi seated on Sheshnaag

Now, Black Holes have always been conjectured to be portals between different Universes, sort of like Gateways to different dimensions. This makes me believe that our Supermassive-Galactic-Center-Black-Hole can fit the precondition of being the Abode of Lord Vishnu amazingly well, as it would connect Him with the Spiritual Realm outside as well as the Material realm contained within this Universe! 

Moving on from the Galactic Center

Near the central abode of Dhruva resides Prajâpati, worshiped  by the demigods Agni, Indra and Dharma near the tail and the Holy Saptarishi Mandal at its waist.

On the right side of the Celestial Wheel are stationed the fourteen Uttarayan Nakshatras (Northern Zodiacs) from Abhijit to Punarvasu, and on its left side are found fourteen Dakshinayan Nakshatras (Southern Zodiacs) starting from Pushya and ending with Uttar-Aashadh.

The back of Shishumar is formed by stars collectively called Ajavithi and its belly is formed by the Sacred Ganges reverently known as the Akash Ganga.

If you look at the clear night sky, you'll observe a faint band of light stretching across the darkness, either through the middle or near the horizon which is considered it the symbolic representation of the Descent of Heavenly Ganges to the Mortal Realm of Earth.

Akash Ganga, the Milky Way

The stars called Punarvasu and Pushya form the right and left loins of the Shishumar; Ardra and Ashlesha form the right and left feet while Abhijit and Uttar-Aashadh form the right and left nostrils.  

Shravana and Purv-Aashadh form the right and left eyes respectively; while Mula and Dhanishtha form the two ears; Magha, the group of Eight Stars form its ribs on the left side while the Eight stars of  Mrigashirsha, form the ribs on its right. The stars Shatabhish and Jyeshtha form the right and left shoulders, Agasti forms the upper jaw and Yama, the lower one.

The planet Mars forms its face; Saturn forms its organ of generation; Brihaspati forms the hump on the shoulders while Surya - The Lord of the planets, (which I have taken as the reference point for the Labelled image of Shishumar below) forms its breast.

The Supreme Lord Narayan remains seated in its heart and the Moon is situated in its mind. The two Ashvins form either sides of its chest; Ushana or Venus forms its navel; Mercury is its Prana; Rahu is the neck and Ketu is all over its body in the form of different Comets.

The innumerable other stars we see are the numerous pores of its body. I have tried to label the image of our Galaxy according to the descriptions I have shared in this post. Please find below the Image that has resulted from this exercise.

Our Galaxy Shishumar

What is astonishing for me is that without access to any form of modern technology like the Hubble Space Telescope and its like, the Rishis of Yore could still fathom the extent and shape of our Galaxy in such a detailed fashion!

It was only in 1610, that Galileo used the first telescope and determined that Milky Way is formed of billions of dim stars that surround us. Before that, for centuries the astronomers had struggled with the basic questions about this band of light in the sky which were difficult to answer because of several reasons.
  • One, as we live within the Milky Way, trying to fathom its dimensions is like living in one tiny corner of a gigantic box and analyzing its composition and shape!
  • Second, the early telescopes weren't large enough and hence did not have sufficient range to clearly view the galaxy around us.
  • Finally, the Milky Way contains large amounts of cosmic dust that obscures distant stars when we're using regular telescopes.

However, the 20th century brought great advancement in telescope technology and large Optical, Radio, Infrared, and X-ray telescopes allowed Astronomers to peer through the cosmic dust and look further into space. With these tools, they could piece together the puzzle of our Galaxy's shape but the point to be emphasized here is that all this became apparent only after the 20th Century!

Eye-of-God Nebula caught by Hubble Space Telescope

Yet, surprisingly, ancient Vedic rishis had not only described the shape of the Galaxy, they had also identified a huge POWER SOURCE at its Center; given descriptions of most of its major STAR SYSTEMS; as well as defined the relative positions of different Lokas in our  ever-expanding Universe!!

Whether it was due to their Superhuman Yogic Powers, or a result of direct observation (Space Travel?!?), I do not know. But, I hope this post opens the eyes of  my readers to a brand new perception of these religious texts and would encourage them to analyze our traditional culture and beliefs with a more open and scientific approach.

I will describe the various Lokas mentioned above in more detail in subsequent postsand will try to guide you through the structure of the Universe as per ancient Hindu Science. May Lord Vishnu guide me through this journey that I have embarked upon and help me bring hidden truths from our ancient scriptures to fore.

Shri Hari Vishnu, help me cross this Cosmic Ocean

It is only fitting that I end the post with the traditional prayer to Supreme Lord Vishnu residing in this Coiled Galaxy Shishumar and also pay my obeisance to the Ancients who were able to decipher its structure on the basis of their Yogic powers..

Thou art the Substratum of all Luminaries, 
Thou Createst and Destroyest all,
The Lord of all Celestials,
We meditate fully on Thee,

Planets, Galaxies and Stars are Thy body, 
Divinity is established in Thee alone,
Thou art Âdipurush, the Foremost of all Beings,
All sins are destroyed by remembering Thee.

 Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Astronomy in Hinduism

Namaste and Welcome to the First Post of this Blog!

Have been racking my brains about the right topic to start with, and I thought it would probably be good to begin at the beginning - implying the Beginning of our Universe.

There is a wealth of Astronomical data available in ancient Hindu scriptures. I’ll first share our current knowledge about Astronomy and then we can compare it with the details provided in our ancient texts to get a clear picture about where we stand. 

Modern Astronomy talks about a Single Universe comprising of Dark Matter and brighter Heavenly bodies like the Galaxies, Stars, PlanetsAsteroids, Satellites etc. This entire matter (and anti-matter) is believed to have emerged about 14 Billion Years ago in time, from a momentous explosion called the Big Bang.  

Zoom out from Earth to the Universe

Many of us may have encountered the number 108 in various ancient cultures.. There are 108 gopis of Vrindavan, Mukhya Shivaganas are 108 in number, Zen priests wear 108 bead rosaries, Chinese and South-Indian martial arts describe 108 pressure points on the body, Stonehenge is 108 feet in Diameter..

Did you know the astronomical significance of this number???
- The distance between EARTH and SUN = 108 times sun-diameter!
- The distance between EARTH and MOON = 108 times Moon-diameter!

Coincidence?? Or scientific facts that we tend to overlook?
Turning to the scriptures one can find descriptions of  the different planets from our Solar System and beyond; our Galaxy; different Planetary systems; as well as our ENTIRE Universe! Let's see what they have to offer to an interested reader in terms of Astronomy.

Universe according to Srimad Bhagvatam

Hindu Mythology talks about TWO separate Realms in this Creation - the SPIRITUAL and the MATERIAL.

The Spiritual Realm is full of the Effulgence of Supreme Lord that spreads throughout and banishes darkness from each and every corner of this Realm. Religions that envision God as a Being of Bright Light worship the same Brahmajyoti.

The Spiritual Realm

This Supreme Heaven is believed to be the abode of Supreme Brahman in Vedas, Allah in Koran, Jehovah in Jewish texts, Param Purakh in Sikhism and the King-of-Kings in Bible. This is the Supreme Abode that all souls in the material realm strive for, and reach after attaining Nirvana. Srimad Bhagvatam, calls this the dwelling place of Lord Krishna who resides in His Spiritual abode of Golok Vrindavan.

Around this central world, there exist other Spiritual planets that revolve around it like the planets in Solar System revolve around the Sun. These are collectively known as the Vaikunth planets and each of these is the Divine residence of a Vishnu form.

The Spiritual Realm of Bhagvat Puraan

On these planets reside Lord Vishnu's different incarnations alongwith Goddess Lakshmi and the Pure souls who have been able to transcend the bonds of Material Nature.

In one corner of this huge bright realm, like a ‘Dark cloud in a clear bright sky’, lies the Material Creation, where Individual Souls like YOU and ME take birth, evolve, exist, eat, earn, reproduce and ultimately die. This realm takes up about 1/4th of the entire space of the Spiritual Realm and is depicted beneath the lotus on the lower right corner of the image below.

Material Realm in a corner of the Spiritual Realm

Even though Material Realm is created for souls who want to live independent lives, the Lord, by means of His infinite expansions, still ensures they can have a smooth sailing. He takes the form of Shri Maha Vishnu for the Creation of this Material Realm and it is from Him that everything in this world emanates.

Now there is ONE MAJOR difference in the Hindu notion of the Material world and the current scientific understanding about it - Hindu scriptures state that the Material Realm is composed of Billions and Trillions of Universes (!!) and NOT just a single one!!

Billions and Billions of Universes

Scientifically, it is still undetermined whether the universe exists by itself or is just one of the countless trillions within a larger Multiverse, itself contained within the Omniverse that is the Material World. But, according to scriptures, the Universe that we live in, is just a TINY infinitesimal part of the entire Material Creation and all these zillions of Universes are born at the Same Time from the Same Primeval Source - Shri Maha Vishnu.

EVERYTIME the Lord exhales, a Universe emerges from EACH of his body pores and with EACH of His inhalations, ALL these Universes merge BACK into His body! The multiple universes generated are floating, and they are scattered all over the Causal Ocean.

Universes emerging from Sri Maha Vishnu

I was rendered speechless by the larger-than-life imagery inherent in this concept. The mere thought of so many Universes taking Birth, Expanding and Dissolving again in Maha Vishnu’s SINGLE breath is fantastic and indeed (to use the pun) breath-taking!!

Madam Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society describes this phenomenon thus-

The Great Breath goes forth and returns again.
As it proceeds outwards, objects, worlds, and men appear.
As it recedes all things disappear into the original source.
The Great Breath is, so to speak, the universal and eternal Perpetuum Mobile.

If ever there is a Grand description of God in World literature, it has to be this one! How infinitesimal and tiny our entire existence appears to be if we humbly give thought to this notion. Our entire lifetimes are nothing, not even a fraction of a second for Lord Maha Vishnu!

Indeed our entire Universe (which by current estimates is about 13.7 Billion years old), was born with a SINGLE exhalation of the Lord and will merge back into Him with His NEXT intake of Breath!! The concept also fits the Big Bang Theory, as the moment it emerges from Lord Vishnu's body pores is THE moment of Big Bang for each Universe!

 Big  Bang - The Birth of a Universe

I wished to check if this fits with our current concept of science in any way and I found data from NASA's WMAP Program (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) which has been studying the cosmic microwave background in the Universe.

This CMB is basically the light emitted by our Universe when it was just 400,000 years old. The study of this data which is being collected since 2001 suggests that apparently, new universes could be created spontaneously from what we perceive as empty space! The support for this view also comes from the observation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics or the Law of Entropy that states that each closed system (like our Universe) has a tendency to get into disorder spontaneously (hence it's expansion) - this implies that to begin with, the Universe was in an ordered state!

Caltech astronomers studying this CMB data claim that this initial order is entirely possible if the so called Big Bang happened in the cold space of a previous Universe. Imagine then, Lord Mahavishnu lying in the cold dark material realm, surrounded by this empty space, giving rise to multiple universes including our own! After exploding out of the body of Sri Maha Vishnu, each Universe continues to expand, and after reaching a critical threshold, again begins to contract until it is assimilated back in the body of Lord Maha Vishnu.

I thought this was probably one isolated example of the mention of a Multi-verse and maybe was not intended in the way I was interpreting it. But to my surprise, the concept of Multiple Universes is widely accepted and acknowledged in Hindu Cosmology!

Multiple Universes in Scriptures

Puranic literature is full of descriptions of multiple as well as parallel Universes. Hindu scriptures also declare there's Intelligent life out there in the Universe and this is gotta be the absolutely FIRST mention of ALIENS in World Literature ever!! I will share with you a few examples from different texts to illustrate the point.Srimad Bhagavatam [6.16.37] eulogizes the Supreme Lord Vishnu in following words:

There are Innumerable Universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called 'Without-limits'.

In verse 10.14.11, it again states:

Unlimited universes pass through the pores of Your body just as particles of dust pass through the openings of a screened window.

Lord Shiva in verse 9.4.56 again mentions thus:

My dear son, I, Lord Brahmā and the other devas, who move within this universe, cannot exhibit any power to compete with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for Innumerable Universes and their inhabitants come into existence and are annihilated by the simple direction of the Lord Hari.

Shri Hari Vishnu, the Cause of all Creation

Similar views are shared by Lord Brahma in the Brahma Vaivarta Puraan where a mention of Multiple, Parallel Universes is made-

And who will search through the wide infinities of space to count the universes Side by Side, EACH containing its Brahma, its Vishnu, its Shiva? Who can count the Indras in them, ALL those Indras Side by Side, who reign at once in all the innumerable worlds; those others who passed away before them; or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given line, ascending to godly kingship, one by one, and, one by one, passing away?

Hindu scriptures declare there's Intelligent life out there, and this is gotta be absolutely the FIRST mention of ALIENS in World Literature ever!!

The obvious take-away from this concept is that according to the scriptures, there exist MORE than One Universes in our Creation and this topic has long been debated by modern Scientists. Let us see what our current notions of scientific theory have to say about it.

Multiple Universes in Science

A large body of Scientific intelligentsia believes in multiple Universes existing perhaps in parallel dimensions. Here, I would like to introduce you to perhaps the most brilliant mind of our times - Stephen Hawking, whose phenomenal work - A Brief History of Time, is by far the most important book on Space Science ever.

Stephen Hawking's Masterpiece

In this monumental work, Mr. Hawking talks about something known as Chaotic Boundary Conditions and the Anthropic Theory. He states and I quote-

‘According to the Strong Anthropic Principle, there are either MANY different Universes or MANY different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science.’

Simply put, it states that, the likelihood of development of our Single Universe from the big-bang is much less than the likelihood of Multiple Universes being born out of it!!

Multiple Universes emerging from the Big Bang

The notion of Parallel/Alternate Universes has been widely used in many Hollywood movies such as the recent Star-Trek film (2009), FAQ (2004), and Jet-Li movie The One (2001).

What is interesting for me is that the mention of Multiple Universes comes from the scriptures much BEFORE modern Science came to terms with accepting their existence. Short of Time-Travel, the ancient Yogis could only have grasped the basic nature of our Universe through their rigorous meditation and penance!

Till now, Science has been unable to tell us, what existed BEFORE the Big Bang. WHERE did the explosion take place if there was nothing before it happened?? WHAT caused the explosion in the first place??

But if we grasp the concepts from Srimad Bhagvatam we can understand the Science as well as Faith behind this. The Scientific Spirit of ancient Rishis makes me bow down in reverence and if you read the texts with an open mind, will amaze you with their profound philosophical insight as well.

 Ancient Yogis deciphering the Universe through meditation

Our ancient beliefs are not just Myths, but Parables for explaining profound Scientific principles to the common man.

We will cover more such interesting topics in the Posts to follow and I will try to touch upon as many diverse scientific disciplines as I can use to understand and decode the myths and legends from ancient Hindu tradition.

For now, I conclude this post with the amazingly inquisitive Nasadiya Sukta from the most ancient text of Humanity -the Rigveda [10.129] which highlights the quest of ancient Rishis to find Origins of not only this Creation but that of GOD Himself-

At first was no Being neither Non-being,
There was yet no Air nor Sky spread.

So what was covering? Where was it present?
Was Water there, in the unfathomable depth? 

There was no Death, nor Immortality;
Of Night or Day there was yet no sign.
The One breathed windless, self-sustaining,
Other than HIM was nothing divine.

Darkness was there, wrapping more Darkness,
And All was Water indistinguishable, Dark.
The Cosmic seed was wrapped in the Void,
Rising at last, by the power of Thought.

In this beginning, Desire took form,
The primal seed, born of the Mind.
Wisely sifting, Existence from Non-existence,
Sages have found all this in their Heart.

A Ray was stretched across the Void,
Know what was below, and what above.
Bearers of seed were there and Mighty forces,
Below was Strength, and Creative-will above.

Who really knows? Who can declare?
When did it happen? How Creation came on?
Even the Devas came after its emergence.
So who truly knows, Whence it was born?

He, from Whom this Creation Arose,
Did He fashion it or did He not,
He, who surveys it from the Highest Heaven,
He surely knows or maybe even He does not!

 Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:

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