Flat Earth? Geocentrism? Puranik Astronomy


Chapter 21 of Bhāgavata’s 5th Division

I have described an approximation of the observable characteristics of the circle of existence.

bhū-valaya –“Earth Bracelet,” the circle of existence, the place of existence, Earth

I’ve explained the measurements of the upper half of this circle (the heavens). Experts say that one can understand the second part of anything by understanding the first half or visa-versa.

Between the celestial half and the earthly half of the circle lies local space.

antarikṣa – space

In the middle of local space lies the Sun, the divine master of radiance, which warms and illuminates the three realms with its own splendor.

tri-loka – “three worlds” refer to the lower half, Earth, bhū, the upper half, the celestial heavens of outer space, svarga, and the local space between them, bhuva.

There, he attains different states by rising toward a high-point, falling to a low-point, and moving through the midpoint sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, and sometimes even-paced.

udak-ayana – beginning the motion towards the highest point. Though it is named for the movement (ayana) northward (udak), it occurs at the Sun’s most southerly point below the equator, commonly misnamed the “Winter Solstice.” A synonym is uttara-ayana.

dakṣiṇa-ayana – beginning the motion towards the lowest point. Though named for the movement (ayana) southward (dakṣiṇa), it occurs at the Sun’s most northerly point above the equator, commonly misnamed the “Summer Solstice.”

viṣuvata – the two equinoxes, which occur when the Sun is directly over the equator.

His movement to the highest, lowest, and middle points defines the passage of time, and is the basis defining the zodiac signs Capricorn, etc. It causes the days and nights to increase, decrease or equalize.

abhipadyamāna – “the strides by whose measure the constraints [borders] are laid out;”

rāśī – Zodiac signs;

makara-adi – Capricorn, etc.

When the Sun enters Aries or Libra, then the days and nights equalize. As it moves through the five zodiac signs headed by Taurus, then the daylight expands, and then recedes, by about 24 minutes month by month.

Upon entry to Aries, days and nights are equal. From Taurus, the length of the day begins to exceed the length of the night. Upon entry into Cancer, the imbalance in favor of daylight is at its maximum, and then begins to recede again towards equilibrium, which is obtained upon entry into Libra. The rate of change is roughly 24 minutes (ghaṭikā) per month.

When the Sun enters the five zodiac signs headed by Scorpio, then the days and nights change in the opposite manner.

First the length of the night exceeds, and then recedes again to equilibrium at the entry into Aries.

Daylight expands until the Sun reaches its highest point. 

The dakṣiṇa-ayana point, widely known as the “Summer Solstice”

Night expands until the Sun reaches its lowest point.

The udak-ayana point, widely known as the “Winter Solstice”

The Sun also covers 95,100,000 yojana [every day] by revolving around an imaginary point called “The Center” in an imaginary circumference called “the Mountain Beyond Imagination.”

mānasa-uttara giri – “The Mountain Beyond Imagination” – refers to an imagined point at the circumference of the Sun’s motion; Meru – “The Center” – refers to an imaginary point at the center of the Earth. The word “imaginary” is used because these are theoretical points useful for calculating and understanding the Sun’s motion, and because they are descriptions of the Sun’s apparent motion around the earth.

A yojana is generally considered to measure somewhere between 12 and 15 km. It describes the imaginary circumference of approximately a bit over 1 billion kilometers traveled by the Sun around the center of the earth. This is roughly equivalent to the modern estimate of the circumference of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

To the East is Indra’s abode, The Abode of Light. Here the Sun rises and inspires people to pursue their goals. To the South is Yama’s abode, named The Judge’s Court. Here the Sun reaches mid-day. To the West is Varuṇa’s abode, named Twilight. Here the Sun sets, inspiring people to relax and desist from their ambitions. To the North is Soma’s abode, named Darkness. Here the Sun reaches midnight.

Previous texts described the Sun’s yearly apparent circumambulation of the Earth. Now the texts turn their attention to its daily circumambulation. In the East is the abode (dhāna) of light (deva), which could also be called paradise, or the god’s realm. It belongs to Indra, the ruler of paradise. The South, in the context of a daily circumambulation and the location in which the statements are made (northern hemisphere), points to the Sun’s zenith at noon. Yama sees all from this high vantage point, called The Court (saṁyamanī). To the West, Varuna takes the Sun into the underworld, the sky dims (niṁlocana) and people relax. In the North, which here points to the Sun’s nadir, Soma owns the midnight point, called Darkness (vibhāvarī).

Those who live near the central point always have warm weather, because the Sun always rises high into the sky. Though the Sun moves with the center to the left (counterclockwise) in reference to the zodiac, it moves with the center to the right (clockwise) in reference to the earth over the course of a day.

The Sun moves “backwards” in relation to the stars, and forwards, with the stars, in relation to the horizon.

When it appears to rise at one point, a person on the opposite diameter from that point would see it set. Where it makes people work and sweat at mid-day, at the opposite diameter it is invisible and makes people sleep and rejuvenate [at midnight].

The mechanics involved, and the use of the word “diameter” makes it apparent that this paradigm conceives of the earth as a globe.

It moves from Indra’s place to Yama’s place (a distance of 285.3 million kilometers) in 6 hours. At the same speed it goes from there to the places of Varuna and Soma, and then returns to Indra’s place.

23.775 million yojana

The planets, headed by the Moon, and all the stars in the circle of lights rise and set along with the Sun.

The Sun’s chariot, essential to the three worlds, seems to revolve through these four points at a speed of roughly 14,170 km per second.

The value given in the text is 3,400.800 yojana in a muhūrta. If we use 12km per yojana and consider a muhūrta to last 48 minutes, the speed is 40,809,600 km / 48 minutes, or 850,200 km per minute, or 14,170 km per second.

That chariot has one wheel – the year. This wheel has twelve spokes,  six segments, and a three-fold hub – the constituents of a year.

The twelves spokes are the twelve months / rāśī. The six segments of the wheel’s rim are the six seasons: spring, hot season, rainy season, autumn, cold season, and snowy season. The three rings of the hub are the three four-month periods. The imaginary wheel is enormously big and makes one rotation in the course of a year.

The wheel is affixed to an axle. On one end, the axle is fastened to the top of the imaginary center-point. The other end is fastened to the far point Beyond Imagination. The movement of that far point enables the Sun’s chariot-wheel to act like a grinding mill revolving around the central point.

A second axle one-quarter the length of the original, is attached to the first, like a grinding mill. The upper end of this vertical axle is fastened to the north celestial pole.

dhruva – the north celestial pole. Since the dimensions are given as a quarter the length of the main axle, the lower end of the vertical pole must be affixed to Meru, the imaginary center point. So, the Sun travels on a plane affected by both the center of the earth and the earths axis (north pole).There is no third axle because the distance between the Sun’s chariot and the top of the vertical axle affixed to dhruva is not constant. This allows for the rotation (“wobble”) of the axis itself to generate the precession of equinoxes. 

The interior of the chariot carrying the divine Sun is approximately 43 million kilometers long and 10 million wide. Seven horses named for the Vedic poetic meters are yoked to a bridge the same size and driven by Aruṇa.

3,600,000 yojana  long. About long and 10 million kilometers wide. The actual size of the Sun, measured by modern instruments, is about 10 times smaller, but this is an imaginary size to fit the mathematical constructs of the system being described. An enormous chariot is required so the wheel of the year turns but once around the enormous circumference. 

The driver of the chariot is Aruṇa, whose name means redness. Redness proceeds the Sun at dawn and dusk.

 Though in front of Savitur, Aruṇa always looks back towards him as he drives the chariot.

This shows that the redness in the sky at dawn and dusk comes from the Sun and is not independent of it, also it illustrates that the redness comes before and slightly after (“looking back”) the sunrise and set.

Sixty thousand feminine beams of light, centimeters in breath, shine forth in front of Sūrya. Like sages, they speak eloquent praises.

vālikhilyāḥ – female beams of light.

Besides them, fourteen others (a couple from each of seven groups: sages, celestial musicians, celestial dancers, dragons, nature spirits, ferocious beings, and the gods) come to worship Divine Sūrya, the soul of named things, referring to him by specific names and performing specific ceremonies in specific months.

Each month has its own climactic character. So, Sūrya’s has a unique name while in each. The differing character of differing months bring different types of beings to worship the sun and perform different types of ceremonies. This signifies different types of weather surrounding the Sun over the course of a year.

Sanskrit names for the seven groups: Ṛṣi, Gandharva-Apsarā, Nāga, Yakṣa, Rākṣas, Deva.