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Our Universe as described in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Humans have always wondered and that has led to wonderful inventions and discoveries!!

The sheer scale of the cosmos is hard to imagine, and even harder to put an accurate figure on. But thanks to some ingenious meta physics we now have a good idea of just how big it is.

One question that would have haunted the intelligent tribe is “What our Universe looks like?” If you google, out of curiosity, you are returned with a response of millions results in less than a minute search time, mind blowing indeed!!!

For today’s generation it’s about how our universe got formed, how old it is,  what pervades our universe ,what’s the evidences we have. Throughout history, countless myths and scientific theories have relentlessly tried to explain the Universe’s origin and what surrounds or pervades our Universe. 

Image Source: Nasa.gov

Our Vedas, Upanishads and ancient scriptures contains immense encrypted knowledge of all fields viz. Science, Astronomy, Mathematics, and much more….; the term Upanishad connotes ‘sitting near devotedly’ Or ‘Secret word’ or ‘Secret import’ or ‘Secret doctrine.’  The Upanishads are “wisdom teachings” that explore Jnana – revolutionary wisdom that transforms and enlightens one’s consciousness – is an important goal of Upanishadic teachings. The concepts of Brahman (ultimate reality) and Ātman (soul, self) are central ideas in all of the Upanishads.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is known to include passages on metaphysics, cosmology, ethics and self-knowledge. 

We shall be limiting our conversation to how Our Universe looks like. There are several scriptures that has mentioned about the concept of universe. 

A basic idea of universe is depicted in This generic shloka that we chant on day today basis : 

ॐ। पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṃ pūrṇātpūrṇamadacyate |
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate ||
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

Om. That (Brahman) is infinite, and this (universe) is infinite. The infinite proceeds from the infinite. (Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite (universe), it remains as the infinite-(Brahman) alone. Om Peace! Peace.! Peace!

While modern scientists note that “the spatial size of the entire universe is unknown! Observable size can only be measured.” Our ancient texts said it thousands of years ago!!!

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, there is a section where Sage Yājñavalkya answers on the concept of Universe and what pervades our Universe. This happens during a debate  with  the most learned sages and philosophers at that point of time , in the assembly of King Janaka. The disputant debaters shy away from arguing with the Sage yajnavalkya while  Gārgī,  acknowledged lady philosopher challenges the sage in the debate.    

Gārgī and Yajnavalkya’s exchange centred on the ultimate “warp” of reality (“warp” means “the basic foundation or material of a structure or entity). Her initial dialogue with Yajnavalkya tended to be too metaphysical, such as unending status of the soul, away from practical situations. She then changed her approach and asked him pointed questions related to the environment existing in the world, the question of the very origin of all existence.

Her question was specific when she asked him “since this whole world is woven back and forth on water, on what then is woven back and forth”, a question that related to the commonly known cosmological metaphor that expressed the unity of the world, its essential interconnectedness. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.6), the sequence of her posing a bevy of questions to Yajnavalkya and his replies is narrated  below :  

The conversation between them goes this way : 

थ हैनं गार्गी वाचक्नवी पप्रच्छ; याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच, 

Then Gārgī, the daughter of Vacaknu asked. She called out ‘Yājñavalkya,’ 

यदिदं सर्वमप्स्वोतं च प्रोतं च, कस्मिन्नु खल्वाप ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘if all this is pervaded(प्रोतं) by water, what are the grains, plants, stones all those pervaded with?’

By This, she is referring to Earth!!! “If Earth is wrapped by Water, what is Earth wrapped with” is her question. 

As per our modern day scientists and theory, Earth was just covered with water and no life. And then we have theories of evolution. Now, It is mostly covered with water and less of land.   

वायौ गार्गीति; 

‘By air, O Gārgi.’ 

The answer Yājñavalkya provides is ‘Air’. 

Indeed, Earth is surrounded by air/atmosphere. 

कस्मिन्नु खलु वायुरोतश्च प्रोतश्चेति; 

‘By what is air pervaded with?’

Her next question is “What surrounds the atmosphere or air? “

अन्तरिक्शलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the sky, O Gārgī.’

We can see sky all over when we gaze up!! No wonder !!!

कस्मिन्नु खल्वन्तरिक्शलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the sky pervaded with?’ 

Her next question is “What exists in the sky or around our world? “ 

गन्धर्वलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of the Gandharvas [Celestial bodies], O Gārgī.’ 

By Yājñavalkya’s reply we can decipher that world of the Gandharvas may be referred to Grahas or planets. Around The Earth and in the Sky, nearest objects we find are planets.

कस्मिन्नु खलु गन्धर्वलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the world of the Gandharvas pervaded with?’ 

She further questions “What exists around the planets? “

आदित्यलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of Sun, O Gārgī.’ 

Our ancestors knew that planets orbit around Sun, all about Solar System, advanced astronomy and much more

कस्मिन्नु खल्वादित्यलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the sun pervaded with?’

Her further query is “Whats around Sun? “

चन्द्रलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of moon, O Gārgī.’ 

By the word “World of Moon” !! Probably referring to Heliopause in which Sun is surrounded by. Heliopause is the outer edge of the heliosphere which acts as the surface of the bubble that surrounds our solar system.

कस्मिन्नु खलु चन्द्रलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the world of moon pervaded with?’

Her further query is “Whats exists beyond the World of Moon? “

नक्शत्रलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of stars, O Gārgī.’ 

Stars!!! Yes, when we gaze sky we see billions of them.

कस्मिन्नु खलु नक्शत्रलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what are the stars pervaded with?’

“What exists beyond stars? “ is her next question

देवलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of the gods, O Gārgī.’ 

He replies saying “The World of Gods” 

Our modern day scientists are still exploring what’s there beyond the observable Universe filled with innumerous Stars and heavenly bodies. This says World of Gods!! As atheists, We can decipher it to be some alien world or as Theists, we can refer them to yaksha, kinnara Loka!! Where all the DemiGods exist. There are numerous references to such lokas in vedic literatures

कस्मिन्नु खलु देवलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the world of the gods pervaded with?’ 

इन्द्रलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of Indra, O Gārgī.’ 

We have always heard of Swarga, The Heaven, The Abode of Indra, explanations on how it looks,  all glorified. Again, We have absolute no clue if this is all real!!! 

This is beyond the observable universe, and even if it is within, modern day scientists have not explained much    are yet to explain it.  We only know that there could be life out side of our solar system as well, but nothing found in concrete. 

And the conversation between them further continues …..

कस्मिन्नु खल्विन्द्रलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति; 

‘By what is the world of Indra pervaded with?’

प्रजापतिलोकेषु गार्गीति; 

‘By the world of Prajapati, O Gārgī.’ 

कस्मिन्नु खलु प्रजापतिलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति;

‘By what is the world of Prajapati pervaded with?’

ब्रह्मलोकेषु गार्गीति; ‘By the world of Hiraṇyagarbha, O Gārgī.’ 

कस्मिन्नु खलु ब्रह्मलोका ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति;

‘By what is the world of Hiraṇyagarbha pervaded?’        

    The conversation ends here  as Yanjnyavalkya notes that Gargi’s question being inferential, disregarded the means of approach.  He points out “ you are questioning about a deity that should not be reasoned about, but known only thorugh its special means of approach, the scriptures. Therefore, do not, O Gargi. Push your inquiry too jar”. Its said on this being pointed out Gargi kept silent.                     

By now, the concept of universe neatly depicted!!!The above conversation is beyond our knowledge of explanation and amazingly our ancestors knew beyond this and means to view them as well. It is   frustrating to the same extent that   a matter of great concern  that  we have lost all the knowledge over overlooked the precious knowledge we inherited with the passage of time.   The great pleasant development is that, the present young generation have shown a great interest in the ancient Indian wisdom and are on the path of research to establish with the latest accepted techniques to prove that our ancestors indeed were at the altar of knowledge.   Its heartening to note that the researches on Ramayana and Mahabharata have succeeded in proving that they were historical events and not just epics. Interest has aroused to compare and contrast the commentaries written by foreign authors on our ancient wisdom which at one point of time we used to accept as the authenticated version of our undisputed eternal ancestral knowledge.

 It is time for us to realise and learn the divine language Sanskrit; Decipher the vast knowledge encrypted in the existing texts and preserve and carry them for the next generation. It is Possible. With more and more learned scholars from different field now studying Sanskrit to decrypt our ancient wisdom, we too should pledge to instil appetite within us to learn the Devanagari the mother of Indian languages and highlight its advantage to our children.  Statistics note that there are more Sanskrit universities and scholars exist in the West than in India. Awake now!!Where there is will there is way.  Proud to be Indian !!!

Due acknowledgements to vyasaonline.com where Upanishad translations are uploaded.

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