The author of the Vedas, India’s timeless treasure of spiritual and material knowledge, Srila Vyasadeva, as the culmination and perfection of his literary achievements, wrote Srimad-Bhagavatam in eighteen thousand verses. It is a conversation between Sukadeva Goswami, a great self-realized saintly person, and the king, Maharaja Pariksit. Due to a misunderstanding the king had been cursed by the foolish son of a brahmana to die within seven days. In those days the brahmanas had power and their curses were effective. So Pariksit Maharaja, with only seven days left to live, went to the banks of the Ganges and inquired from the great sages who assembled there what his duty was, now that his death is immanent. Sukadeva Goswami was chosen as the leader of that assembly so the king was asking him questions and Sukadeva was answering.
There was a great historical king named Maharaja Priyavrata who ruled the world long, long ago. At that time the earth we are on now, called Bhu-mandala, was just one huge circular expanse of land. The rolling wheels of Maharaja Priyvrata’s chariot created seven ditches, in which the seven oceans came into existence thus dividing Bhu-mandala into seven islands, each surrounded by an ocean. The central island is called Jambhudvipa and it is the earth planet we are now living on surrounded by an ocean of salt water. Maharaja Priyavrata had seven sons and he gave each son one of the islands so his sons became the rulers of these seven islands.
While describing the character of Maharaja Priyvrata and his descendants Sukadeva Goswami, in the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, also described Meru mountain and the planetary system known as Bhu-mandala.
A Description of Jambudvipa
Mount Meru is situated in the center of Jambhudvipa, it is a mountain made of solid gold and it is 84,000 yojanas
high. One yojana
is approximately eight miles. Mount Meru is 32,000 yojanas
wide at its summit and 16,000 yojanas
at its foot. 16,000 yojanas
of the mountain are below the earth making a total height of 100,000 yojanas
. This king of mountains, Sumeru, is the support of the planet earth. Because Mount Meru is made of solid gold and has a highly polished surface it acts as a mirror. So from earth we would not expect to be able to see it. It is similar to approaching a mirror, you do not see the mirror, you see your reflection in the mirror. Because of the presence of this curved and tapered mirror, and other mirrors as well, within our universe, at least some of things we see in the sky may be reflections in these mirrors, and we may not be directly viewing the objects we see in the sky. They may be quite differently situated in reality from what they appear to be from us on earth. As one can get very confused and disorientated in a house of mirrors, similarly, this universe is also a house of mirrors, and from our limited vantage point on earth we can not tell what is real and what is a reflection.
The Bhu-mandala planetary system is very beautiful. Bhu-mandala is like a lotus flower, and its seven islands are compared to the whorl of that lotus. The place known as Jambhudvipa is in the middle of that whorl. The radius of Bhu-mandala extends as far as the sun spreads its light and heat and as far as the moon and all the stars can be seen.
The stars are not different suns, as modern astronomers suppose. From Bhagavad-gita (10.21) we understand that the stars are similar to the moon. Like the moon, the stars reflect the sunshine.
Apart from our modern distinguished estimations of where the planetary systems are located, we can understand that the sky and its various planets were studied long, long before Srimad-Bhagavatam was compiled. Sukadeva Gosvami explained the location of the planets, and this indicated that the information was known long, long before Sukadeva Gosvami related it to Maharaja Pariksit. The location of the various planetary systems was not unknown to the sages who flourished in the Vedic age.
King Pariksit wanted more details on the structure of the universe so he asked Sukadeva Gosvami, “You have given a very general description of the measurement, names and characteristics of the Bhu-mandala planetary system. Now I wish to know of them in detail. Kindly fulfill my desire.”
Sukadeva Gosvami replied, “My dear King, there is no limit to the expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s material energy. This material world is a transformation of the material qualities yet no one could possibly explain it perfectly, even in a lifetime as long as that of Brahma. No one in this material world is perfect, and an imperfect person could not describe this material universe accurately, even after continued speculation. O King, I shall nevertheless try to explain to you the principle regions, such as Bhu-goloka (Bhuloka), with their names, forms, measurements and various symptoms. The tiny scientists, whose senses and instruments are all imperfect, cannot give us information of even this one universe. We should therefore be satisfied with the information obtainable from Vedic sources as spoken by authorities like Sukadeva Gosvami.
The planetary system known as Bhu-mandala resembles a lotus flower, and its seven islands resemble the whorl of that flower. Jambhudvipa, which is situated in the middle of the whorl, is is round like the leaf of a lotus flower.
In Jambudvipa there are nine divisions of land, each with a length of 9,000 yojanas. There are eight mountains that mark the boundaries of these divisions and separate them nicely. Amidst these divisions is Illavrta which is situated in the middle of the whorl of the lotus. Within Illavrta-varsa is Sumeru Mountain which is made of gold. Sumuru Mountain is like the pericarp of the lotus-like Bhu-mandala planetary system. The mountain’s height is the same as the width of Jambudvipa–or, in other words, 100,000 yojanas. Of that 16,000 yojanas are within the earth and therefore the mountain’s height above the earth is 84,000 yojanas. The mountain’s width is 32,000 yojanas at its summit and 16,000 yojanas at its base.
In the Ilavrta-varsa, Lord Siva is the only male. There he lives with his wife, Bhavani, who is attended by many maidservants. If any other male enters that province, Bhavani curses him to become a woman. Lord Siva worships Lord Sankarsana by offering various prayers, one of which is as follows: “My dear Lord, please liberate all Your devotees from material life and bind all the nondevotees to the material world. Without Your mercy, no one can be released from the bondage of material existence.”
Just north of Ilavrta-varsa—and going further northward, one after another—are three mountains named Nila, Sveta and Srngavan. These mark the borders of the three varsas named Ramyaka, Hiranmaya and Kuru and separate them from one another. The width of these mountains is 2,000 yojanas. Lengthwise, they extend east and west to the beaches of the ocean of salt water. Going from south to north, the length of each mountain is one tenth less than the previous mountain, but the height of them all is the same. Similarly, south of Ilavrta-varsa and extending from east to west are three great mountains named (from north to south) Nisadha, Hemakuta and Himalaya. Each of them is 10,000 yojanas high. They mark the boundaries of the three varsas named Hari-varsa, Kimpurusa-varsa and Bharata-varsa [India]. In the same way, west and east of Ilavrta-varsa are two great mountains named Malyavan and Gandhamadana respectively. These two mountains, which are 2,000 yojanas high, extend as far as Nila Mountain in the north and Nisadha in the south. They indicate the borders of Ilavrta-varsa and also the varsas known as Ketumala and Bhadrasva.
As indicated in Srimad-Bhagavatam by Sukadeva Gosvami, we should not try to comprehend the greater mountainous areas of the universe merely by our calculations. Sukadeva Gosvami has already stated that such calculations would be very difficult even if one had a duration of life like that of Brahma. We should simply be satisfied with the statements of authorities like Sukadeva Gosvami and appreciate how the entire cosmic manifestation has been made possible by the external energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The measurements given herein, such as 10,000 yojanas or 100,000 yojanas, should be considered correct because they have been given by Sukadeva Gosvami. Our experimental knowledge can neither verify nor disprove the statements of Srimad-Bhagavatam. We should simply hear these statements from the authorities. If we can appreciate the extensive energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that will benefit us.
On the four sides of the great mountain known as Sumeru are four mountains—Mandara, Merumandara, Suparsva and Kumuda—which are like its belts. The length and height of these mountains are calculated to be 10,000 yojanas.
Standing like flagstaffs on the summits of these four mountains are a mango tree, a rose apple tree, a kadamba tree and a banyan tree. Those trees are calculated to have a width of 100 yojanas and a height of 1,100 yojanas. Their branches also spread to a radius of 1,100 yojanas.
O Maharaja Pariksit, best of the Bharata dynasty, between these four mountains are four huge lakes. The water of the first tastes just like milk; the water of the second, like honey; and that of the third, like sugarcane juice. The fourth lake is filled with pure water. The celestial beings such as the Siddhas, Caranas and Gandharvas, who are also known as demigods, enjoy the facilities of those four lakes. Consequently they have the natural perfections of mystic yoga, such as the power to become smaller than the smallest or greater than the greatest. There are also four celestial gardens named Nandana, Caitraratha, Vaibhrajaka and Sarvatobhadra. The best of the demigods, along with their wives, who are like ornaments of heavenly beauty, meet together and enjoy within those gardens, while their glories are sung by lesser demigods known as Gandharvas.
On the lower slopes of Mandara Mountain is a mango tree named Devacuta. It is 1,100 yojanas high. Mangoes as big as mountain peaks and as sweet as nectar fall from the top of this tree for the enjoyment of the denizens of heaven. When all those solid fruits fall from such a height, they break, and the sweet, fragrant juice within them flows out and becomes increasingly more fragrant as it mixes with other scents. That juice cascades from the mountain in waterfalls and becomes a river called Arunoda, which flows pleasantly through the eastern side of Ilavrta. Similarly, the fruits of the jambu tree, which are full of pulp and have very small seeds, fall from a great height and break to pieces. Those fruits are the size of elephants, and the juice gliding from them becomes a river named Jambu-nadi. This river falls a distance of 10,000 yojanas, from the summit of Merumandara to the southern side of Ilavrta, and floods the entire land of Ilavrta with juice. The mud on both banks of the River Jambu-nadi, being moistened by the flowing juice and then dried by the air and the sunshine, produces huge quantities of gold called Jambu-nada. The denizens of heaven use this gold for various kinds of ornaments. Therefore all the inhabitants of the heavenly planets and their youthful wives are fully decorated with golden helmets, bangles and belts, and thus they enjoy life. On the side of Suparsva Mountain stands a big tree called Mahakadamba, which is very celebrated. From the hollows of this tree flow five rivers of honey, each about five vyamas wide. This flowing honey falls incessantly from the top of Suparsva Mountain and flows all around Ilavrta-varsa, beginning from the western side. Thus the whole land is saturated with the pleasing fragrance. The distance between one hand and another when one spreads both his arms is called a vyama. This comes to about eight feet. Thus each of the rivers was about forty feet wide, making a total of about two hundred feet. The air carrying the scent from the mouths of those who drink that honey perfumes the land for a hundred yojanas around. Similarly, on Kumuda Mountain there is a great banyan tree, which is called Satavalsa because it has a hundred main branches. From those branches come many roots, from which many rivers are flowing. These rivers flow down from the top of the mountain to the northern side of Ilavrta-varsa for the benefit of those who live there. Because of these flowing rivers, all the people have ample supplies of milk, yogurt, honey, clarified butter [ghee], molasses, food grains, clothes, bedding, sitting places and ornaments. All the objects they desire are sufficiently supplied for their prosperity, and therefore they are very happy.
The residents of the material world who enjoy the products of these flowing rivers have no wrinkles on their bodies and no grey hair. They never feel fatigue, and perspiration does not give their bodies a bad odor. They are not afflicted by old age, disease or untimely death, they do not suffer from chilly cold or scorching heat, nor do their bodies lose their luster. They all live very happily, without anxieties, until death.
On the eastern side of Sumeru Mountain are two mountains named Jathara and Devakuta, which extend to the north and south for 18,000 yojanas. Similarly, on the western side of Sumeru are two mountains named Pavana and Pariyatra, which also extend north and south for the same distance. On the southern side of Sumeru are two mountains named Kailasa and Karavira, which extend east and west for 18,000 yojanas, and on the northern side of Sumeru, extending for the same distance east and west, are two mountains named Trisrnga and Makara. The width and height of all these mountains is 2,000 yojanas. Sumeru, a mountain of solid gold shining as brilliantly as fire, is surrounded by these eight mountains.
In the middle of the summit of Meru is the township of Lord Brahma. Each of its four sides is calculated to extend for 10,000 yojanas. It is made entirely of gold, and therefore learned scholars and sages call it Satakaumbhi. Surrounding Brahmapuri in all directions are the residences of the eight principal governors of the planetary systems, beginning with King Indra. These abodes are similar to Brahmapuri but are one fourth the size.
The Nine Varsas of Jambudvipa
Among the nine varsas, the tract of land known as Bharata-varsa is understood to be the field of fruitive activities. Learned scholars and saintly persons declare the other eight varsas to be meant for very highly elevated pious persons. After returning from the heavenly planets, they enjoy the remaining results of their pious activities in these eight earthly varsas.
In each of those tracts of land, there are many gardens filled with flowers and fruits according to the season, and there are beautifully decorated hermitages as well. Between the great mountains demarcating the borders of those lands lie enormous lakes of clear water filled with newly grown lotus flowers. Aquatic birds such as swans, ducks, water chickens, and cranes become greatly excited by the fragrance of lotus flowers, and the charming sound of bumblebees fills the air. The inhabitants of those lands are important leaders among the demigods. Always attended by their respective servants, they enjoy life in gardens alongside the lakes. In this pleasing situation, the wives of the demigods smile playfully at their husbands and look upon them with lusty desires. All the demigods and their wives are constantly supplied with sandalwood pulp and flower garlands by their servants. In this way, all the residents of the eight heavenly varsas enjoy, attracted by the activities of the opposite sex.
In the opinion of some learned scholars, eight smaller islands surround Jambudvipa. When the sons of Maharaja Sagara were searching all over the world for their lost horse, they dug up the earth, and in this way eight adjoining islands came into existence. The names of these islands are Svarnaprastha, Candrasukla, Avartana, Ramanaka, Mandara-harina, Pancajanya, Simhala and Lanka. (SB 5.19.29-30)
The Descent of the River Ganges
Lord Visnu, the enjoyer of all sacrifices, appeared as Vamanadeva in the sacrificial arena of Bali Maharaja. Then He extended His left foot to the end of the universe and pierced a hole in its covering with the nail of His big toe. Through the hole, the pure water of the Causal Ocean entered this universe as the Ganges River. Having washed the lotus feet of the Lord, which are covered with reddish powder, the water of the Ganges acquired a very beautiful pink color. Every living being can immediately purify his mind of material contamination by touching the transcendental water of the Ganges, yet its waters remain ever pure. Because the Ganges directly touches the lotus feet of the Lord before descending within this universe, she is known as Visnupadi. Later she received other names like Jahnavi and Bhagirathi. After one thousand millenniums, the water of the Ganges descended on Dhruvaloka, the topmost planet in this universe. Therefore all learned sages and scholars proclaim Dhruvaloka to be Visnupada [“situated on Lord Visnu’s lotus feet”].
After purifying the seven planets near Dhruvaloka [the polestar], the Ganges water is carried through the spaceways of the demigods in billions of celestial airplanes. Then it inundates the moon [Candraloka] and finally reaches Lord Brahma’s abode atop Mount Meru.
The Ganges River, emanating from the lotus feet of the Lord, inundates the heavenly planets, especially the moon, and then flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Meru. Here the river divides into four branches (known as Sita, Alakananda, Caksu and Bhadra), which then flow down to the ocean of salt water. The branch known as Sita flows through Sekhara-parvata and Gandhamadana-parvata and then flows down to Bhadrasva-varsa, where it mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The Caksu branch flows through Malyavan-giri and, after reaching Ketumala-varsa, mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The branch known as Bhadra flows onto Mount Meru, Mount Kumuda, and the Nila, Sveta and Srngavan mountains before it reaches Kuru-desa, where it flows into the ocean of salt water in the north. The Alakananda branch flows through Brahmalaya, crosses over many mountains, including Hemakuta and Himakuta, and then reaches Bharata-varsa, where it flows into the southern side of the ocean of salt water. Many other rivers and their branches flow through the nine varsas.
The Other Six Islands of Bhu-Mandala
As Sumeru Mountain is surrounded by Jambudvipa, Jambudvipa is also surrounded by an ocean of salt water. The breadth of Jambudvipa is 100,000 yojanas, and the breadth of the saltwater ocean is the same. As a moat around a fort is sometimes surrounded by gardenlike forest, the saltwater ocean surrounding Jambudvipa is itself surrounded by Plaksadvipa. The breadth of Plaksadvipa is twice that of the saltwater ocean—in other words 200,000 yojanas. On Plaksadvipa there is a tree shining like gold and as tall as the jambu tree on Jambudvipa. At its root is a fire with seven flames. It is because this tree is a plaksa tree that the island is called Plaksadvipa. Plaksadvipa was governed by Idhmajihva, one of the sons of Maharaja Priyavrata. He endowed the seven islands with the names of his seven sons, divided the islands among the sons, and then retired from active life to engage in the devotional service of the Lord. [SB 5.20.2]
The inhabitants of the five islands beginning with Plaksadvipa worship the sun-god, the moon-god, the fire-god, the air-god and Lord Brahma respectively. Although they engage in the worship of these five demigods, however, they actually worship Lord Visnu, the Supersoul of all living entities. [SB 5.20.5 Purport]
Plaksadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of sugarcane juice, equal in breadth to the island itself. Similarly, there is then another island—Salmalidvipa—twice as broad as Plaksadvipa [400,000 yojanas] and surrounded by an equally broad body of water called Surasagara, the ocean that tastes like liquor. [SB 5.20.7] The master of this island is Yajnabahu, one of the sons of Maharaja Priyavrata. Like Plaksadvipa, this island is also divided into seven regions, each with a mountain and a very large river. The inhabitants of this island worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of Candratma [or Soma, the moon god].
On Salmalidvipa there is a salmali tree, from which the island takes its name. That tree is as broad and tall as the plaksa tree—in other words 100 yojanas broad and 1,100 yojanas tall. Learned scholars say that this gigantic tree is the residence of Garuda, the king of all birds and carrier of Lord Visnu. In that tree, Garuda offers Lord Visnu his Vedic prayers. [SB 5.20.8]
The third island, outside the ocean of liquor, is known as Kusadvipa, which is 800,000 yojanas wide, twice as wide as the ocean of liquor. As Salmalidvipa is surrounded by a liquor ocean, Kusadvipa is surrounded by an ocean of liquid ghee as broad as the island itself. On Kusadvipa there are clumps of kusa grass, from which the island takes its name. This kusa grass, which was created by the demigods by the will of the Supreme Lord, appears like a second form of fire, but with very mild and pleasing flames. Its young shoots illuminate all directions. [SB 5.20.13]
The fourth island, Krauncadvipa, which is surrounded by an ocean of milk, is 1,600,000 yojanas wide and is also divided, like the others, into seven regions, each with a large mountain and a large river. The master of this island is Ghrtaprstha, another son of Maharaja Priyavrata. The inhabitants of this island worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of water.
Although the vegetables living on the slopes of Mount Kraunca were attacked and devastated by the weapons of Karttikeya, the mountain has become fearless because it is always bathed on all sides by the ocean of milk and protected by Varunadeva. [SB 5.20.19]
The fifth island, Sakadvipa, which is 3,200,000 yojanas wide, is surrounded by an ocean of yogurt. Its master is Medhatithi, another son of Maharaja Priyavrata. It is also divided into seven regions, each with a large mountain and a large river. In Sakadvipa there is a big saka tree, from which the island takes its name. This tree is very fragrant. Indeed, it lends its scent to the entire island. Its inhabitants worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of Vayu, air.
The sixth island, Puskaradvipa, which is twice as wide as the previous island [6,400,000 yojanas], is surrounded by an ocean of sweet water. Its master is Vitihotra, another son of Maharaja Priyavrata. The island is divided in two by a large mountain named Manasottara. The inhabitants of this island worship Svayambhu, another feature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. On Puskaradvipa there is a great lotus flower with 100,000,000 pure golden petals, as effulgent as the flames of fire. That lotus flower is considered the sitting place of Lord Brahma, who is the most powerful living being and who is therefore sometimes called bhagavan.
In the middle of the island Puskaradvipa is a great mountain named Manasottara, which forms the boundary between the inner side and the outer side of the island. Its breadth and height are 10,000 yojanas. On that mountain, in the four directions, are the residential quarters of demigods such as Indra. In the chariot of the sun-god, the sun travels on the top of the mountain in an orbit called the Samvatsara, encircling Mount Meru. The sun’s path on the northern side is called Uttarayana, and its path on the southern side is called Daksinayana. One side represents a day for the demigods, and the other represents their night.
Beyond the ocean of sweet water is a tract of land as broad as the area between the middle of Mount Sumeru and the boundary of Manasottara Mountain. In that tract of land there are many living beings. Beyond it, extending to Lokaloka Mountain, which divides the countries that are full of sunlight from those not lit by the sun, is another land, which is made of gold. Because of its golden surface, it reflects light like the surface of a mirror, and any physical article that falls on that land can never be perceived again. All living entities, therefore, have abandoned that golden land. [SB 5.20.35]
By the supreme will of Krsna, the mountain known as Lokaloka has been installed as the outer border of the three worlds—Bhurloka, Bhuvarloka and Svarloka—to control the rays of the sun throughout the universe. All the luminaries, from the sun up to Dhruvaloka, distribute their rays throughout the three worlds, but only within the boundary formed by this mountain. Because it is extremely high, extending even higher than Dhruvaloka, it blocks the rays of the luminaries, which therefore can never extend beyond it. [SB 5.20.37]
Learned scholars who are free from mistakes, illusions and propensities to cheat have thus described the planetary systems and their particular symptoms, measurements and locations. With great deliberation, they have established the truth that the distance between Sumeru and the mountain known as Lokaloka is one fourth of the diameter of the universe—or, in other words, 125,000,000 yojanas. [SB 5.20.38]
On the top of Lokaloka Mountain are the four gaja-patis, the best of elephants, which were established in the four directions by Lord Brahma, the supreme spiritual master of the entire universe. The names of those elephants are Rsabha, Puskaracuda, Vamana and Aparajita. They are responsible for maintaining the planetary systems of the universe. [SB 5.20.39]
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the master of all transcendental opulences and the master of the spiritual sky. He is the Supreme Person, Bhagavan, the Supersoul of everyone. The demigods, led by Indra, the King of heaven, are entrusted with seeing to the affairs of the material world. To benefit all living beings in all the varied planets and to increase the power of those elephants and of the demigods, the Lord manifests Himself on top of that mountain in a spiritual body, uncontaminated by the modes of material nature. Surrounded by His personal expansions and assistants like Visvaksena, He exhibits all His perfect opulences, such as religion and knowledge, and His mystic powers such as anima, laghima and mahima. He is beautifully situated, and He is decorated by the different weapons in His four hands. [SB 5.20.40]
My dear King, outside Lokaloka Mountain is the tract of land known as Aloka-varsa, which extends for the same breadth as the area within the mountain—in other words, 125,000,000 yojanas. Beyond Aloka-varsa is the destination of those who aspire for liberation from the material world. It is beyond the jurisdiction of the material modes of nature, and therefore it is completely pure.
Vertically, the sun-globe is situated just in the middle of the universe, in Antariksa, the space between Bhurloka and Bhuvarloka. The distance between the sun and the circumference of Anda-golaka, the globe of the universe, is estimated to be 250,000,000 yojanas. Because the sun enters the universe and divides the sky, it is known as Martanda, and because it is produced from Hiranyagarbha, the body of the mahat-tattva, it is also called Hiranyagarbha.
The Movements of the Sun
The sun is not stationary; it is also moving like the other planets. The sun’s movements determine the duration of night and day. When the sun travels north of the equator, it moves slowly during the day and very quickly at night, thus increasing the duration of the daytime and decreasing the duration of night. Similarly, when the sun travels south of the equator, the exact opposite is true—the duration of the day decreases, and the duration of night increases. When the sun enters Karkata-rasi (Cancer) and then travels to Simha-rasi (Leo) and so on through Dhanuh-rasi (Sagittarius), its course is called Daksinayana, the southern way, and when the sun enters Makara-rasi (Capricorn) and thereafter travels through Kumbharasi (Aquarius) and so on through Mithuna-rasi (Gemini), its course is called Uttarayana, the northern way. When the sun is in Mesa-rasi (Aries) and Tula-rasi (Libra), the duration of day and night are equal.
The learned say that the sun travels over all sides of Manasottara Mountain in a circle whose length is 95,100,000 yojanas. On Manasottara Mountain are the abodes of four demigods. East of Sumeru Mountain is Devadhani, where King Indra lives, and south of Sumeru is Samyamani, the abode of Yamaraja, the superintendent of death. Similarly, west of Sumeru is Nimlocani, the abode of Varuna, the demigod who controls the water, and north of Sumeru is Vibhavari, where the demigod of the moon lives. Sunrise, noon, sunset and midnight occur in all these places because of the movements of the sun. Diametrically opposite the place where the sunrise takes places and the sun is seen by human eyes, the sun will be setting and passing away from human vision. Similarly, the people residing diametrically opposite the point where it is midday will be experiencing midnight. The sun rises and sets with all the other planets, headed by the moon and other luminaries.
The living entities residing on Sumeru Mountain are always very warm, as at midday, because for them the sun is always overhead. Although the sun moves counterclockwise, facing the constellations, with Sumeru Mountain on its left, it also moves clockwise and appears to have the mountain on its right because it is influenced by the daksinavarta wind.
The entire kala-cakra, or wheel of time, is established on the wheel of the sun-god’s chariot. This wheel is known as Samvatsara. The seven horses pulling the chariot of the sun are known as Gayatri, Brhati, Usnik, Jagati, Tristup, Anustup and Pankti. They are harnessed by a demigod known as Arunadeva to a yoke 900,000 yojanas wide. Thus the chariot carries Adityadeva, the sun-god. Always staying in front of the sun-god and offering their prayers are sixty thousand sages known as Valikhilyas. There are fourteen Gandharvas, Apsaras and other demigods, who are divided into seven parties and who perform ritualistic activities every month to worship the Supersoul through the sun-god according to different names. Thus the sun-god travels through the universe for a distance of 95,100,000 yojanas.
The chariot of the sun-god has only one wheel, which is known as Samvatsara. The twelve months are calculated to be its twelve spokes, the six seasons are the sections of its rim, and the three caturmasya periods are its three-sectioned hub. One side of the axle carrying the wheel rests upon the summit of Mount Sumeru, and the other rests upon Manasottara Mountain. Affixed to the outer end of the axle, the wheel continuously rotates on Manasottara Mountain like the wheel of an oil-pressing machine. (SB 5.21.13)
As in an oil-pressing machine, this first axle is attached to a second axle, which is one-fourth as long [3,937,500 yojanas]. The upper end of this second axle is attached to Dhruvaloka by a rope of wind. [SB 5.21.14]
My dear King, the carriage of the sun-god’s chariot is estimated to be 3,600,000 yojanas long and one-fourth as wide [900,000 yojanas]. The chariot’s horses, which are named after Gayatri and other Vedic meters, are harnessed by Arunadeva to a yoke that is also 900,000 yojanas wide. This chariot continuously carries the sun-god.
The Orbits of the Planets
According to the movements of the moon and other planets, all the inhabitants of the universe are prone to auspicious and inauspicious situations. This is referred to as the influence of the stars.
Residing in outer space, which is in the middle of the universe, between Bhuloka and Bhuvarloka, the sun rotates through the time circle of the zodiac, represented by twelve rasis, or signs, and assumes different names according to the sign he is in. For the moon, every month is divided into two fortnights. Similarly, according to solar calculations, a month is equal to the time the sun spends in one constellation; two months constitute one season, and there are twelve months in a year. The entire area of the sky is divided into two halves, each representing an ayana, the course traversed by the sun within a period of six months. The sun travels sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly and sometimes at a moderate speed. In this way it travels within the three worlds, consisting of the heavenly planets, the earthly planets and outer space.
King Pariksit inquired from Sukadeva Gosvami: My dear lord, you have already affirmed the truth that the supremely powerful sun-god travels around Dhruvaloka with both Dhruvaloka and Mount Sumeru on his right. Yet at the same time the sun-god faces the signs of the zodiac and keeps Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on his left. How can we reasonably accept that the sun-god proceeds with Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on both his left and right simultaneously? (SB 5.22.1)
Sri Sukadeva Gosvami clearly answered: When a potter’s wheel is moving and small ants located on that big wheel are moving with it, one can see that their motion is different from that of the wheel because they appear sometimes on one part of the wheel and sometimes on another. Similarly, the signs and constellations, with Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on their right, move with the wheel of time, and the antlike sun and other planets move with them. The sun and planets, however, are seen in different signs and constellations at different times. This indicates that their motion is different from that of the zodiac and the wheel of time itself. (SB 5.22.2)
When the moon is waxing, the illuminating portions of it increase daily, thus creating day for the demigods and night for the pitas. When the moon is waning, however, it causes night for the demigods and day for the pitas. In this way the moon passes through each constellation of stars in thirty muhurtas [an entire day]. The moon is the source of nectarean coolness that influences the growth of food grains, and therefore the moon-god is considered the life of all living entities. He is consequently called Jiva, the chief living being within the universe. (SB 5.22.9)
The moon is situated 100,000 yojanas above the rays of the sunshine. Day and night on the heavenly planets and Pitrloka are calculated according to its waning and waxing. Above the moon by a distance of 200,000 yojanas are many stars, and above these stars is Sukra-graha (Venus), whose influence is always auspicious for the inhabitants of the entire universe. Above Sukra-graha by 200,000 yojanas is Budha-graha (Mercury), whose influence is sometimes auspicious and sometimes inauspicious. Next, above Budha-graha by 200,000 yojanas, is Angaraka (Mars), which almost always has an unfavorable influence. Above Angaraka by another 200,000 yojanas is the planet called Brhaspati-graha (Jupiter), which is always very favorable for qualified brahmanas. Above Brhaspati-graha is the planet Sanaiscara (Saturn), which is very inauspicious, and above Saturn is a group of seven stars occupied by great saintly persons who are always thinking of the welfare of the entire universe. These seven stars circumambulate Dhruvaloka, which is the residence of Lord Visnu within this universe.
Situated 1,100,000 yojanas above Saturn, or 2,600,000 yojanas above earth, are the seven saintly sages, who are always thinking of the well-being of the inhabitants of the universe. They circumambulate the supreme abode of Lord Visnu, known as Dhruvaloka, the polestar. (SB 5.22.17)
The Sisumara Planetary System
All the planetary systems take shelter of the polestar, Dhruvaloka. The totality of these planetary systems is described as Sisumara, another expansion of the external body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
When bulls are yoked together and tied to a central post to thresh rice, they tread around that pivot without deviating from their proper positions—one bull being closest to the post, another in the middle, and a third on the outside. Similarly, all the planets and all the hundreds and thousands of stars revolve around the polestar, the planet of Maharaja Dhruva, in their respective orbits, some higher and some lower. Fastened by the Supreme Personality of Godhead to the machine of material nature according to the results of their fruitive acts, they are driven around the polestar by the wind and will continue to be so until the end of creation. These planets float in the air within the vast sky, just as clouds with hundreds of tons of water float in the air or as the great syena eagles, due to the results of past activities, fly high in the sky and have no chance of falling to the ground. [SB 5.23.3]
Dhruvaloka, the abode of Lord Visnu within this universe, is situated 1,300,000 yojanas from the seven stars. In the planetary system of Dhruvaloka are the planets of the fire-god, Indra, Prajapati, Kasyapa and Dharma, all of whom are very respectful to the great devotee Dhruva, who lives on the polestar. Like bulls yoked to a central pivot, all the planetary systems revolve around Dhruvaloka, impelled by eternal time. Those who worship the virat-purusa, the universal form of the Lord, conceive of this entire rotating system of planets as an animal known as sisumara.
This great machine, consisting of the stars and planets, resembles the form of a sisumara [dolphin] in the water. It is sometimes considered an incarnation of Krsna, Vasudeva. Great yogis meditate upon Vasudeva in this form because it is actually visible. [SB 5.23.4]
This form of the sisumara has its head downward and its body coiled. On the end of its tail is the planet of Dhruva, on the body of its tail are the planets of the demigods Prajapati, Agni, Indra and Dharma, and at the base of its tail are the planets of the demigods Dhata and Vidhata. Where the hips might be on the sisumara are the seven saintly sages like Vasistha and Angira. The coiled body of the Sisumara-cakra turns toward its right side, on which the fourteen constellations from Abhijit to Punarvasu are located. On its left side are the fourteen stars from Pusya to Uttarasadha. Thus its body is balanced because its sides are occupied by an equal number of stars. On the back of the sisumara is the group of stars known as Ajavithi, and on its abdomen is the Ganges that flows in the sky [the Milky Way]. [SB 5.23.5]
On the right and left sides of where the loins might be on the Sisumara-cakra are the stars named Punarvasu and Pusya. Ardra and Aslesa are on its right and left feet, Abhijit and Uttarasadha are on its right and left nostrils, Sravana and Purvasadha are at its right and left eyes, and Dhanistha and Mula are on its right and left ears. The eight stars from Magha to Anuradha, which mark the southern course, are on the ribs of the left of its body, and the eight stars from Mrgasirsa to Purvabhadra, which mark the northern course, are on the ribs on the right side. Satabhisa and Jyestha are on the right and left shoulders. [SB 5.23.6]
On the upper chin of the sisumara is Agasti; on its lower chin, Yamaraja; on its mouth, Mars; on its genitals, Saturn; on the back of its neck, Jupiter; on its chest, the sun; and within the core of its heart, Narayana. Within its mind is the moon; on its navel, Venus; and on its breasts, the Asvini-kumaras. Within its life air, which is known as pranapana, is Mercury, on its neck is Rahu, all over its body are comets, and in its pores are the numerous stars. [SB 5.23.7]
This imaginary sisumara is another form of the Lord. The head of the sisumara form is downward, and its body appears like that of a coiled snake. On the end of its tail is Dhruvaloka, on the body of the tail are Prajapati, Agni, Indra and Dharma, and on the root of the tail are Dhata and Vidhata. On its waist are the seven great sages. The entire body of the sisumara faces toward its right and appears like a coil of stars. On the right side of this coil are the fourteen prominent stars from Abhijit to Punarvasu, and on the left side are the fourteen prominent stars from Pusya to Uttarasadha. The stars known as Punarvasu and Pusya are on the right and left hips of the sisumara, and the stars known as Ardra and Aslesa are on the right and left feet of the sisumara. Other stars are also fixed on different sides of the Sisumara planetary system according to the calculations of Vedic astronomers. To concentrate their minds, yogis worship the Sisumara planetary system, which is technically known as the kundalini-cakra.
Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura estimates that Dhruvaloka, the polestar, is 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun. Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuntha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas above Satyaloka. Thus the Visnu Purana describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas away from the sun. The distance from the sun to the earth is lower planetary systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. Below these lower planets by 30,000 yojanas, Sesa Naga is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean. That ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. Thus the total diameter of the universe is approximately 500,000,000 yojanas, or 4,000,000,000 miles.
The Subterranean Heavenly Planets
This chapter describes the planet Rahu, which is 10,000 yojanas below the sun, and it also describes Atala and the other lower planetary systems. Rahu is situated below the sun and moon. It is between these two planets and the earth. When Rahu conceals the sun and moon, eclipses occur, either total or partial, depending on whether Rahu moves in a straight or curving way.
Below Rahu by another 1,000,000 yojanas are the planets of the Siddhas, Caranas and Vidyadharas, and below these are planets such as Yaksaloka and Raksaloka. Below these planets is the earth, and 70,000 yojanas below the earth are the lower planetary systems—Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. Demons and Raksasas live in these lower planetary systems with their wives and children, always engaged in sense gratification and not fearing their next births. The sunshine does not reach these planets, but they are illuminated by jewels fixed upon the hoods of snakes. Because of these shining gems there is practically no darkness. Those living in these planets do not become old or diseased, and they are not afraid of death from any cause but the time factor, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.