Hindu cosmology

Hindu cosmology is the description of the universe and its states, cycles, structure, and effects on living entities according to Hindu texts.

There are three states of the universe root matter, primal matter and matter, all of which are based on three inert gunas (qualities or tendencies): sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness). Pradhana (root matter) are the gunas in an unmixed and unmanifested (pure, equilibrium) state. Prakriti (primal matter) is the mixed and unmanifested state. The universe (matter) is the mixed and manifested state. Pradhana, which has no consciousness or will to act on its own, is initially agitated by a primal desire to create. The different schools of thought differ in understanding about the ultimate source of that desire and what the gunas are mixed with (eternal elements, time, jiva-atmas).

The universe is guided by eternal kala (time), which repeats general events ranging from a moment to the lifespan of the universe, which is cyclically created and destroyed.[1] Prakriti remains mixed for a maha-kalpa (life of Brahma) of 311.04 trillion years, and is followed by a maha-pralaya (great dissolution) of equal length. The universe remains manifested for a kalpa (day of Brahma) of 4.32 billion years, and is followed by a pralaya (partial dissolution, a.k.a. night of Brahma) of equal length. Smaller cycles within the universe are a manvantara (age of Manu, progenitor of mankind) and chatur-yuga (epoch), which contains four yugas (dharmic ages): satya-yuga, treta-yuga, dvapara-yuga and kali-yuga.

The material elements that manifest range from the most subtle to the most physical (gross). Subtle elements are ahamkara (ego), buddhi (intelligence), and citta (mind). Physical elements are the pancha bhoota or five great elements (space/ether, air, fire, water, earth), and their associated senses (sound, touch, sight/form, taste, smell) and sense organs (ear, skin, eye, tongue, nose). These material coverings allow the individual, spiritual jiva-atmas (embodied souls) to interact with material sense objects.

Brahma, the first born and secondary creator, during his kalpa, divides the universe up into fourteen lokas (planes or realms)—sometimes grouped into heavenly, earthly and hellish planes—and creates the first living entities to multiply and fill the universe. Some Puranas describe innumerable universes existing simultaneously with different sizes and Brahmas, each manifesting and unmanifesting at the same time.

The jiva-atmas are not created, but rather covered by the gunas in various ways based on their karma and impressions, leading to samsara (cycle of reincarnation), only to end when moksha (liberation) is achieved. The different schools of thought differ in understanding about the initial event that led to the jivas entering the material creation and the ultimate state of moksha. The material creation is called maya ("that which is not") due to its impermanent (non-eternal), temporary nature of sometimes being manifest and sometimes not. It has been compared to a dream or virtual reality, where the viewer (jiva) has real experiences with objects that will eventually be unreal. Through these interactions, the jiva starts to identify the temporary material body as its true self, and in this way becomes influenced and bound by maya.


According to Hindu vedic cosmology, there is no absolute start to time, as it is considered infinite and cyclic.[2] Similarly, the space and universe has neither start nor end, rather it is cyclical. The current universe is just the start of a present cycle preceded by an infinite number of universes and to be followed by another infinite number of universes.[3]

The dominant theme in Puranic Hindu cosmology, state Chapman and Driver, is of cycles and repetition. There are multiple universes, each takes birth from chaos, grows, decays and dies into chaos, to be reborn again. Further, there are different and parallel realities. Brahma's one day equals 4.32 billion years which is a Kalpa.[4] Each Kalpa is subdivided into four yuga (chaturyuga, also called mahayuga).[5] These are krita (or satya), treta, dvapara and kali yugas. The current time is stated to be one of kali yuga. The starting year, length of each, or the grand total, is not consistent in the Puranas. According to Ludo Rocher, the total of four yugas is typically 4,320,000 years, of which 432,000 years is assigned to be the duration of the kali yuga.[6][7][note 1]

One complete cycle of the four (Kṛta or Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali) Yugas is one Mahā-Yuga (4.32 million solar years) and is confirmed by the Gītā Śloka 8.17 (statement) "sahasra-yuga-paryantam ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ rātriṁ yuga-sahasrāntāṁ te 'ho-rātra-vido janāḥ", meaning, a day of brahma is of 1000 Mahā-Yuga. Thus a day of Brahma, Kalpa, is of duration: 4.32 billion solar years. Two Kalpas constitute 24 hours (day and Night) of Brahma. A Manvantara, which consists of 71 Mahā-Yuga (306,720,000 solar years) is ruled by a Manu. After each Manvantara follows one Sandhi Kāla, of the same duration as a Kṛta Yuga (1,728,000 Solar Years). It is said that during a Sandhi Kāla, the entire earth is submerged in water. According to Hindu scriptures, the world would be destroyed at the end of the Kali Yuga.

Rigveda- speculation on universe's creationEdit

The Rigveda presents many theories of cosmology. For example:

  • Hiranyagarbha sukta, its hymn 10.121, states a golden child was born in the universe and was the lord, established earth and heaven, then asks but who is the god to whom we shall offer the sacrificial prayers?[11]
  • Devi sukta, its hymn 10.125, states a goddess is all, the creator, the created universe, the feeder and the lover of the universe;[12]
  • Nasadiya sukta, its hymn 10.129, asks who created the universe, does anyone really know, and whether it can ever be known.[13]

According to Henry White Wallis, the Rigveda and other Vedic texts are full of alternative cosmological theories and curiosity questions. For example, the hymn 1.24 of the Rigveda asks, "these stars, which are set on high, and appear at night, whither do they go in the daytime?" and hymn 10.88 wonders, "how many fires are there, how many suns, how many dawns, how many waters? I am not posing an awkward question for you fathers; I ask you, poets, only to find out?"[14][15] To its numerous open-ended questions, the Vedic texts present a diversity of thought, in verses imbued with symbols and allegory, where in some cases forces and agencies are clothed with a distinct personality, while in other cases as nature with or without anthropomorphic activity such as forms of mythical sacrifices.[16]

The Rigveda contains the Nasadiya sukta hymn which does not offer a cosmological theory, but asks cosmological questions about the nature of universe and how it began:

Darkness there was at first, by darkness hidden;
Without distinctive marks, this all was water;
That which, becoming, by the void was covered;
That One by force of heat came into being;

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
Gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whether God's will created it, or whether He was mute;
Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not;
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,
Only He knows, or perhaps He does not know.

— Rigveda 10:129-6[17][18][19]
Upper seven Lokas in Hindu Cosmology

Vedic: 3 lokasEdit

Deborah Soifer describes the development of the concept of lokas as follows:

The concept of a loka or lokas develops in the Vedic literature. Influenced by the special connotations that a word for space might have for a nomadic people, loka in the Veda did not simply mean place or world, but had a positive valuation: it was a place or position of religious or psychological interest with a special value of function of its own. Hence, inherent in the 'loka' concept in the earliest literature was a double aspect; that is, coexistent with spatiality was a religious or soteriological meaning, which could exist independent of a spatial notion, an 'immaterial' significance. The most common cosmological conception of lokas in the Veda was that of the trailokya or triple world: three worlds consisting of earth, atmosphere or sky, and heaven, making up the universe."[20]

Lower seven Lokas in Puranas

Puranas: 14 lokasEdit

The later Puranic view asserts that the Universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. A day of Brahma, the creator, endures for about 4,320,000,000 years.[1] This view is also found in the Manusmriti (1.67–73).

In the Brahmanda Purana, there are fourteen worlds. However, other Puranas give different version of this cosmology and associated myths.[21] In the Brahmanda version, the loka consist of seven higher ones (Vyahrtis) and seven lower ones (Pātālas), as follows:[22][23]

  • Bhuloka, Bhuvar Loka, svarga, Mahar Loka, Jana Loka, Tapa Loka, and Satyaloka above, and
  • Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasaataala, Talatala, Mahaatala, Patala and naraka below.

The same 14 lokas (worlds) are described in chapter 2.5 of the Bhagavata Purana.[24]

The Puranas genre of Indian literature, found in Hinduism and Jainism, contain a section on cosmology and cosmogony as a requirement. There are dozens of different Mahapuranas and Upapuranas, each with its own theory integrated into a proposed human history consisting of solar and lunar dynasties. Some are similar to Indo-European creation myths, while others are novel. One cosmology, shared by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts involves Mount Meru, with stars and sun moving around it using Dhruva (North Star) as the focal reference.[25][26] According to Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus, the diversity of cosmology theories in Hinduism may reflect its tendency to not reject new ideas and empirical observations as they became available, but to adapt and integrate them creatively.[27]

Multiverse in HinduismEdit

The concept of a multiverse (nonparallel, jivatma in one of many) is well known and mentioned many times in ancient Hindu Puranic and Vedanta literature, such as in the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana and Yoga vasistha:

Every universe is covered by seven layers — earth, water, fire, air, sky, the total energy and false ego — each ten times greater than the previous one. There are innumerable universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called unlimited (Bhagavata Purana 6.16.37)


Analogies to describe multiple universes also exist in the Puranic literature:

Because You are unlimited, neither the lords of heaven nor even You Yourself can ever reach the end of Your glories. The countless universes, each enveloped in its shell, are compelled by the wheel of time to wander within You, like particles of dust blowing about in the sky. The śrutis, following their method of eliminating everything separate from the Supreme, become successful by revealing You as their final conclusion (Bhagavata Purana 10.87.41)[30]

The layers or elements covering the universes are each ten times thicker than the one before, and all the universes clustered together appear like atoms in a huge combination (Bhagavata Purana 3.11.41)[31][32]

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 (Brahma Vaivarta Purana)[33]

Every thing that is any where, is produced from and subsists in space. It is always all in all things, which are contained as particles in it. Such is the pure vacuous space of the Divine understanding, that like an ocean of light, contains these innumerable worlds, which like the countless waves of the sea, are revolving for ever in it. (Yoga vasistha) Source

You know one universe. Living entities are born in many universes, like mosquitoes in many udumbara (cluster fig) fruits (Garga Samhita) Source

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The concept of four cosmic periods (yuga) is also found in Greek, Roman, Irish and Babylonian mythologies, where each age becomes more sinful and of suffering.[8] For example, the Roman version found in the early 1st-century Metamorphoses of Ovid calls it Silvern (white), Golden (yellow), Bronze (red) and Iron (black) ages.[9] Plato too divides the concept of universal time into ages, and suggests time being cyclic.[10] The total number of years in the Babylonian mythology is the same 432,000 years (120 saroi) as the Indian mythologies.[9]


  1. ^ a b Dick Teresi. Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science—from the Baby. SimonandSchuster. p. 174.
  2. ^ Sushil Mittal, Gene Thursby (2012). Hindu World. Routledge. p. 284. ISBN 9781134608751.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ Andrew Zimmerman Jones (2009). String Theory For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 262. ISBN 9780470595848.
  4. ^ James G. Lochtefeld (15 December 2001). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 180. ISBN 9780823931798.
  5. ^ Graham Chapman; Thackwray Driver (2002). Timescales and Environmental Change. Routledge. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-1-134-78754-8.
  6. ^ Ludo Rocher (1986). The Purāṇas. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 123–125, 130–132. ISBN 978-3-447-02522-5.
  7. ^ John E. Mitchiner (2000). Traditions of the Seven Rsis. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 141–144. ISBN 978-81-208-1324-3.
  8. ^ Robert Bolton (2001). The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony. Sophia Perennis. pp. 64–78. ISBN 978-0-900588-31-0.
  9. ^ a b Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1915). Mythology of the Babylonian People. Bracken Books. pp. 310–314. ISBN 978-0-09-185145-3.
  10. ^ Robert Bolton (2001). The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony. Sophia Perennis. pp. 65–68. ISBN 978-0-900588-31-0.
  11. ^ Charles Lanman, To the unknown god, Book X, Hymn 121, Rigveda, The Sacred Books of the East Volume IX: India and Brahmanism, Editor: Max Muller, Oxford, pages 49–50
  12. ^ Charles Lanman, Hymns by Women, Book X, Hymn 125, Rigveda, The Sacred Books of the East Volume IX: India and Brahmanism, Editor: Max Muller, Oxford, pages 46–47
  13. ^ Charles Lanman, The Creation Hymn, Book X, Hymn 129, Rigveda, The Sacred Books of the East Volume IX: India and Brahmanism, Editor: Max Muller, Oxford, page 48
  14. ^ Henry White Wallis (1887). The Cosmology of the Ṛigveda: An Essay. Williams and Norgate. p. 117.
  15. ^ Laurie L. Patton (2005). Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice. University of California Press. pp. 113, 216. ISBN 978-0-520-93088-9.
  16. ^ Henry White Wallis (1887). The Cosmology of the Ṛigveda: An Essay. Williams and Norgate. pp. 61–73.
  17. ^ Kenneth Kramer (January 1986). World Scriptures: An Introduction to Comparative Religions. Paulist Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8091-2781-8.
  18. ^ David Christian (1 September 2011). Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. University of California Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-520-95067-2.
  19. ^ Robert N. Bellah (2011). Religion in Human Evolution. Harvard University Press. pp. 510–511. ISBN 978-0-674-06309-9.
  20. ^ Soiver, Deborah A., State University of New York Press (Nov 1991), ISBN 978-0-7914-0799-8 p. 51, The Myths of Narasimha and Vamana: Two Avatars in Cosmological Perspective
  21. ^ Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.
  22. ^ John A. Grimes (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. State University of New York Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-7914-3067-5.
  23. ^ Ganga Ram Garg (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Concept. p. 446. ISBN 978-81-7022-375-7.
  24. ^ Barbara A. Holdrege (2015). Bhakti and Embodiment: Fashioning Divine Bodies and Devotional Bodies in Krsna Bhakti. Routledge. pp. 334 note 62. ISBN 978-1-317-66910-4.
  25. ^ Mircea Eliade; Charles J. Adams (1987). The Encyclopedia of religion. Macmillan. pp. 100–113, 116–117. ISBN 978-0-02-909730-4.
  26. ^ Ariel Glucklich (2008). The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture in Historical Perspective. Oxford University Press. pp. 151–155 (Matsya Purana and other examples). ISBN 978-0-19-971825-2.
  27. ^ Annette Wilke; Oliver Moebus (2011). Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 259–262. ISBN 978-3-11-024003-0.
  28. ^ Bryan E. Penprase. The Power of Stars. Springer. p. 137.
  29. ^ Mirabello, Mark. A Traveler's Guide to the Afterlife: Traditions and Beliefs on Death, Dying, and What Lies Beyond. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 23.
  30. ^ Amir Muzur, Hans-Martin Sass. Fritz Jahr and the Foundations of Global Bioethics: The Future of Integrative Bioethics. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 348.
  31. ^ Ravi M. Gupta, Kenneth R. Valpey. The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition. Columbia University Press. p. 60.
  32. ^ Richard L. Thompson. The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana: Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 200.
  33. ^ Joseph Lewis Henderson, Maud Oakes. The Wisdom of the Serpent: The Myths of Death, Rebirth, and Resurrection. Princeton University Press. p. 86.


Further readingEdit

  • Date Panchang – an Indian calendar published from Solapur city in Marathi language.[1]

External linksEdit