The cosmology and cosmography of the ancient Vedas is awe inspiring to say the least. The more “modern” of the Vedic texts are known to originate from approximately 3000 B.C., thus being the oldest scientific and religious doctrines known to man. The descriptions of our solar system and what modern astronomy has discovered of the visible universe corresponds with the ancient Vedic knowledge, proving that man has had advanced knowledge of astronomy for thousands of years before our modern civilization began. This article describes the Vedic version of planetary systems from the topmost, eternal planets down through the temporary planetary systems within innumerable universes of this material world.
When saying “cosmic manifestation” we speak of two separate worlds, the spiritual and the material. The spiritual planetary systems are eternal, beyond the limits of the material universes, and belong to a “super dimensional” or “anti-material” dimension. These are beyond the limitations of material time and space and therefore beyond our vision, or powers of perception. In these planetary systems there is no occurrence of creation or dissolution, and these planets are unlimited, indestructible, and eternally existing. There are descriptions of these spiritual planets in the vedic literatures, but this article concentrates on those within the material universe.
The material planetary systems are created at some point in time and will be destroyed at another. They are bound by the influences of time and space. Both of these energies (spiritual and material) are of the same divine source called “brahmajyoti”, the spiritual light. About 1/4th of this brahmajyoti is covered by the “mahat-tattva”, the material energy, where are found innumerable material universes. The 3/4th portion is the eternal spiritual sky. In the spiritual world are two realms of existence, “Goloka-dhama” and “Hari-dhama”. The material world has one realm called “Devi-dhama”.
Goloka-dhama is the topmost planet and residence of the Supreme Godhead Sri Sri Radha-Krishna. Below this is Hari-dhama where the spiritual planets of the Vaikunthalokas are situated. Below the Vaikuntha planets is “Mahesh-dhama” (also called Sadasivaloka, or the abode of Lord Siva). This is the realm dividing the spiritual from the material universes. Below Mahesh-dhama is Devi-dhama, the realm of the material universe. It is said that the systems of yoga offer different destinations. Bhakti yoga directs one toward entering Hari-dhama or Goloka-dhama. Jnana yoga directs the aspirant toward entrance to Mahesh dhama, and karma yoga directs one to remain in Devi-dhama, experiencing repeated birth and death in the material worlds.
The Planetary Systems of Devi-Dhama
In the Bhagavad-Gita we find a statement that there are three divisions of material planets in our universe. They are “urdhva-loka” (highest), “madhya-loka” (middle), and “adho-loka” (lower). Above the urdhva-lokas are the coverings of the material universe beyond which lie the eternal realms of existence. Within these three spheres of existence are 14 main planetary systems with different standards of life and duration of existence. The residents of the upper three systems have almost no disease or aging of the body, and they have no sense of fear. As the planetary systems progress downward there is lesser duration of life and standard of living, as well as a greater manifestation of disease and anxiety.
The 14 planetary systems are named as follows, from highest to lowest:
In one of the Vedic scriptures called the “Hari-vamsa” there is a description as follows: “Above the planetary systems where humans live is the sky. Above the sky is the orbiting sun, which is the entrance point of the heavenly planetary systems. This is the middle of the universe where begins the planets of those elevated by great austerities and penances. The planets above these, up to Satya-loka are the residences of those advanced in spiritual knowledge. All these planets are within the material world and under the control of Devi (Goddess Durga), and therefore called Devi-dhama.”
The term “amara” (deathless) is often used to describe the residents of the heavenly planets because their span of life is inconceivable to us, but although they live for millions of years by our calculation, none within the material worlds can live here eternally. In Bhagavad-Gita there is given a description for the life span of those living on Satyaloka. One day is equal to 4,300,000,000 solar years. On other heavenly planets the day is considered to equal six months of our time, and the night also equal to six months on earth. These souls live in their bodies for 10 million of their years.
Time duration such as day, night, months, and years are different in different planetary systems, and there are also different types of human beings, animals, trees, and vegetation. Some of the planets that are visible to us are considered heavenly planets with different timings. Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon are examples of planets where one day is equal to six months on earth. How can that be, one may ask, when we can see these planets orbiting the Sun?
One point of reference that may be difficult for some to understand is crucial to this realization. All planets have different dimensions surrounding them. The dimension of existence visible to our eyes gives us the impression that the other planets in our solar system are mostly devoid of life. In actuality astronomers have found proof of intelligent life on other planets, regardless of the fact that little is yet public knowledge. The purview discernable by our physical eyes, though, cannot enter into the heavenly spheres of these planets where devas, angels, and higher beings exist, nor even that of humans who enjoy an existence far superior to what is obtainable on our planet earth.
Just as on and surrounding earth there are realms of existence inhabited by ethereal beings invisible to our eyes, some highly advanced and others bound by unfortunate circumstances (such as ghosts), all planets have different spheres of existence. We can never gain knowledge of the multi-dimensional reality on earth with our physical eyes, so how could we possibly expect to enter into the higher realities of other planets with them?
There are also different types of oceans on different planets in the material world. “Siddhanta-siromani”, an ancient vedic astrological text describes them as being of seven varieties:
1) an ocean of salt water
2) an ocean of milk
3) an ocean of curd
4) an ocean of ghee (clarified butter)
5) an ocean of sugar cane juice
6) an ocean of liquor
7) an ocean of sweet water
Our minds may balk at such a conception of different types of oceans, but why should any of these be more fantastic than the ocean of salt water that we have here on earth?
There are also some eternal planets seemingly situated within this material universe, but they are always inaccessible for human beings. The text “Laghu-Bhagavatamrita” describes these eternal planets as follows: “Above Rudraloka, the planet of Lord Siva, is the planet called Vishnuloka. It is 400,000 miles in circumference, and inaccessible for any mortal living being. Above that Vishnuloka is a golden island called Maha-Vishnuloka in the ocean of salt. Brahma and other demigods sometimes go there to meet Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu lies there with Lakshmi (the goddess of fortune). East of here is the “ocean of milk” where within is the island of Svetadvipa, where Lord Vishnu also resides with Goddess Lakshmi. His transcendental island is 200,000 square miles and covered with desire trees for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord.”
This planet is called “Dhruvaloka” and we see it as the polestar. It is said to be 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun (one yojana is equal to 8 miles). Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka. Above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, a further 80,000,000 yojanas lies Tapaloka, and above by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. The Vaikuntha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas beyond Satyaloka.
The scripture “Vishnu Purana” describes that the outer covering of the universe begins 260,000,000 yojanas above the sun. About 70,000 yojanas below the earth begin the seven lower planetary systems of Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. Below these planets 30,000 yojanas is the Garbhodaka Ocean where Sesa Naga lies. This ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. This gives an approximate diameter of the universe as 500,000,000 yojanas or 4,000,000,000 miles. These distances are calculated according to the distances between the planetary “planes” of existence. Actual distances between planets may be more.
The higher planetary systems are the realms of devas, demigods, and angels. Bhuvarloka is the abode of ghostly spirits, and the lower planets are populated by those of demoniac consciousness as well as the snakes known as “Nagas”. Development of higher consciousness, which also includes advanced intellectuality, starts with human beings and further increases among the denizens of higher planetary systems. The earth is situated close to the middle of these planetary systems.
Descriptions of the Planetary Systems
The following are descriptions of the 14 planetary systems in Vedic cosmology.
This is the abode of Lord Brahma, the progenitor of this material universe. Here there are airplanes controlled by mantra, not by any mechanical means. The residents have mind and intelligence, but no material gross bodies. They feel compassion for those suffering in the lower regions, but do not suffer fear, old age, or death. At the time of final dissolution of the material planets the residents here transform their subtle bodies into spiritual bodies and enter the eternal Vaikuntha planets. Great yogis finally reach this highest planet through the Milky Way, which is the “highway” to this most elevated planet where the duration of life is calculated as 15,480,000,000,000 years.
This is the abode of the four Kumaras named Sanat, Sanaka, Sanandana, and Sanatana. In this world many great sages also reside due to their advancement through spiritual austerity. The enjoyment available to the residents is inconceivable to us as it is beyond anything of our experience. When there is annihilation of the material universe the residents here also transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual sky.
This planet, still above the heavenly realms, is another abode of great saints and sages. This planet is populated by mystics who move to higher planets, and eventually transform their subtle bodies to spiritual, when the fire of devastation consumes the material planets. These residents can move between any planets within the material universe as mystic “spacemen” at speeds unthinkable to us.
When fully purified from material desire and contamination through sacrifice, penance, and charity one can reach the heavenly planets, and if advancing further can pass through the higher orbits to reach Maharloka. The greatest of sages, such as Bhrigu Muni, live in this place. It is situated beyond the “Sisumara”, which is the pivotal point for the turning of the universe. Advanced yogis reach this planet and live here for 4,300,000,000 solar years. When the fire of devastation almost reaches this planet the residents transport themselves to Satyaloka where they live further before this highest of planets is destroyed. They then transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual realms.
In every material universe is one Vaikuntha planet with an ocean of milk where Lord Vishnu resides on an island called Svetadvipa. This planet is Dhruvaloka. Living here are completely pure personalities. In our universe this planet is seen as the polestar and is situated above the planets of the Seven Rishis. As it is a spiritual planet, it is eternal and therefore remains when all other planets within the material universes are destroyed. It is said that this planet is the pivot for all material stars’ and planets’ orbits. All planets travel at high speeds in orbit, including the sun, which travels 16,000 miles per second in its orbit around Dhruvaloka. The planets of the seven sages are stars just below this planet that also orbit Dhruvaloka. They are always concerned with the welfare of the living entities within this material world and send emissaries to bring spiritual knowledge at various times and circumstances.
Saturn is considered an inauspicious planet astrologically, as he gives painful lessons to us here on earth. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Jupiter and passes through one sign of the zodiac every 30 months.
Jupiter is considered a most auspicious heavenly planet and is generally considered favorable astrologically, depending on placement at the time of our births here on earth. It is a planet of devas, and situated 1,600,000 miles above Mars.
Mars is considered to be a malefic planet, which creates lack of rainfall on earth and almost always is capable of creating unfavorable influences here. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Mercury.
Mercury is said to be the son of the moon and is 1,600,000 miles beyond the planet Venus. As does Venus, he sometimes moves behind the sun, sometimes in front, and sometimes along with it. Generally the influence of Mercury is said to be auspicious astrologically, except when not moving with the sun. At such times this planet causes great storms on earth.
Venus is considered a most auspicious and favorable planet, and is also of the heavenly planets. Venus is said to bring rainfall, another reason for it being considered auspicious to life on earth.
The Moon is one of the four most important residences of the demigods. Those who worship the demigods through sacrifice aimed at great material enjoyment are promoted to the Moon. Here the celestial, intoxicating beverage called “soma” is available. It is not possible to enter into or even see the actual heavenly dimensions of this planet with our present eyes. The Moon passes through the entire zodiac in approximately one month. He influences the growth of vegetation and therefore considered the life-giver for all living beings on earth.
The Sun is the source of light and heat for our universe. Modern science considers many stars to also be suns, but in the vedic literature they are considered to be planets of varying material elements, but not the center, as is the Sun. Surya, the sun god, is considered an expansion of Narayana (a form of Lord Vishnu). He controls the seasons here on earth. It is situated between Bhuloka and Bhuvarloka, rotating through the time circle of the zodiac. Yogis practicing hatha or ashtanga yoga, or those performing agnihotra sacrifices, worship the sun for their benefit. The demigods residing on the sun planet have bodies made of fire, necessary for life here.
Rahu is said to be an invisible planet, which is situated 80,000 miles below the sun. It causes solar and lunar eclipses, as Rahu, along with Ketu, are the north and south nodes of the moon respectively.
Siddhaloka, Caranaloka, & Vidyadharaloka
These planets are 80,000 miles below Rahu. The residents of these planets are born with natural mystic powers, including the ability to fly without mechanical means, even to other planets. They have all the mystic siddhis, and being materially perfect beings can control gravity, time, and space. Their arts, culture, and sciences are far superior to that knowledge possessed by we here in the earthly realm.
Yakshaloka & Rakshashaloka
Beneath these higher planetary systems, in the sky called “antariksha”, are the residences of the Yakshas, Rakshashas, Pisachas, ghosts, and other etheral beings. This realm extends as far as the wind blows and clouds float in the sky. Above this there is no air.
Bhu-mandala (Middle Earth)
The planetary systems of middle earth (Bhumandala or Bhuloka) are abodes of both standards of living such as we enjoy on our planet, as well as some heavenly abodes where living beings may “stop” on the way to, or from, births in the heavenly planetary systems. There are seven planetary systems, which are divided by seven oceans. The names of the planetary systems are Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kusha, Krauncha, Shaka, and Pushkara. Each system is twice as large as the one preceding it, and each ocean between the systems are made respectively of salt water, sugarcane juice, liquor, ghee, milk, emulsified yogurt, and sweet water.
Bhumandala is shaped like a lotus flower and the seven planetary systems are in the whorl of the lotus. The radius of Bhumandala extends as far as the sunshine, and the limits of our vision here to see the stars and moon. As the sunshine reaches earth from a distance of 93,000,000 miles, this is the radius of the plane of Bhumandala.
Lower Planetary Systems
Below the earth are seven other systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. These lower planetary systems are the same size as the earth planet, and begin 560,000 miles below earth. Sunshine does not reach these planets and light comes from jewels on the hoods of serpents. These planets are populated by persons of great power and opulence, yet of demoniac consciousness, who have reached here through austerity aimed at material enjoyment without spiritual development. They do not become old and diseased and fear only the time factor, which ultimately must destroy their abodes. Therefore they are given the name of “bila-svarga”, or subterranean heavenly planets.
The residents here enjoy a standard of material comfort more opulent than even the higher planets due to their desires for high standards of sensual enjoyment, wealth, and influence. The residents are known as Daityas, Danavas, and Nagas and are all engaged in illusory material enjoyment with no thought of spiritual liberation. There are incredible feats of architecture in their cities bedecked with valuable jewels in houses, gardens, compounds, etc. All residents drink juices and bathe in herbal elixirs which free them from any anxiety or physical disease, as well as any sign of physical aging. The visual beauty of these artificial heavens surpasses that of the higher planets and this sensual atmosphere completely captures the mind, allowing no thoughts but those directed toward sensual pleasure and happiness. Since time is not divided into days and nights due to no sunshine reaching these planets, they have no fear produced by time. Only at the time of dissolution does anxiety and fear consume them.
Narakaloka, the Hellish Planetary Systems
Beneath the planet Patalaloka, and slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka ocean, are the Naralokas, or the hellish planetary systems. These planets are of different degrees of suffering for those who must endure life there. Here on earth we can see many hellish circumstances of suffering for people, but nothing like what is experienced on these planets. They are said to be a place of rectification for those who commit the most abominable actions while living as humans on the earthly plane. Although life here seems like it goes on for an eternity, in actual fact the duration of one’s “karmic sentence” here may be only seconds or moments. There are 28 different hellish planets described in the Vedic literatures.
These descriptions of the material creation, as well as the spiritual planets, may be found in several Vedic literatures to a far greater depth. I have out of necessity greatly abbreviated the information given here.
All of the planetary systems in the material world will in time be annihilated. This annihilation takes place in two ways. Partial annihilation occurs every 4,300,000,000 solar years, or at the end of each day on Satyaloka. This extends from the hellish planets through all lower planetary systems up to the heavenly planets. The highest planets are not annihilated at this time. The entire cosmic manifestation is wound up in the universal form of God every 8,600,000,000 x 30 x 12 x 100 solar years. The spiritual world, which is never annihilated, simply absorbs the material creation. It is described that before the destruction there is no rain for hundreds of years. Everything dries up and dies due to continuous sunshine. The sun becomes 12 times as powerful as was previously. Then there are horrendous rains that absorb everything into water.
The mortal bodies of living entities, including all vegetation, merge into the earth. The earth merges into its subtle sensation of fragrance. Fragrance merges into water, and water merges into its quality of taste. That taste merges into fire, which merges into form. Form merges into touch and touch into ether. Ether finally merges into the sensation of sound. The senses all merge into their origins, the presiding devas and demigods, then they merge into the controlling mind, which merges into ego in the mode of goodness. Sound becomes one with ego in the mode of ignorance, and ego (the first of all the physical elements), merges into the total nature. The total material nature dissolves into the modes (goodness, passion, and ignorance). These modes then merge into the unmanifest form of nature, and that unmanifest form merges into time. Time merges into the Supreme Godhead, present as Maha-Vishnu, the original creator of the cosmic manifestation. The origin of all life merges into God, the unborn Supreme Soul who remains one without a second, and from whom all creation and annihilation takes place. This annihilation of the material world is the exact reverse of the process of creation. Everything ultimately rests within the Supreme Absolute.