“Size and Position of Bhu-mandala” (SB 3.13.23)
Thompson offers a brief introduction to the Puranic concept of the Bhu-mandala, which means literally “earth disc.” He then explores its interesting role in the Lord Varaha creation story.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 13, Text 23. “Size and Position of the Bhu-mandala.” San Diego – February 21, 1990 / (015)
While Brahma was deliberating with his sons, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Visnu roared tumultuously like a great mountain.
It appears that great hills and mountains also have their roaring power, because they are also living entities. The volume of sound vibrated is in proportion to the size of the material body. While Brahma was guessing about the appearance of the Lord's incarnation as a boar, Lord confirmed Brahma's contemplation by roaring with his gorgeous voice.
This is part of the description of the incarnation of Visnu as Lord Varaha. Here we have the statement by Srila Prabhupada that hills and mountains can roar, because they are living entities, which is an interesting idea. Actually in… you might say, world folklore, the idea of mountains that are personalities is definitely there. You find that in different literary works; as I recall in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that also came up. That was a fictional book based on the old European folklore. So, he also had mountains that were conscious living entities. In fact, if you tried to climb a certain mountain, it would bring down avalanches on you, because it didn't like to be climbed, and things like that.
In any case, here we have a reference to hills and mountains as living entities. In fact, there used to be flying mountains; and it is said that Lord Indra would cut off the wings of certain flying mountains and they would come crashing down to the earth where they would remain as large dead bodies. That’s stated somewhere else here. So, this sounds rather remarkable. Of course, this whole story of the appearance of Lord Varaha sounds rather astonishing, because the story is that you have a boar, who appears out of the nostril of Lord Brahma. Hmm, I'm surprised there's no picture in this volume. I thought there was one.
Well, in any case, you have this boar that appears from the nostril of Lord Brahma and expands in size and goes flying up into outer space. That's where the roaring is taking place now. This roaring was heard on... in three planetary systems namely in Maharloka, Janaloka and Satyaloka. So it would seem that the other planetary systems at least up to Svargaloka were inundated at that time. So, after Lord Varaha flew through outer space he dove into the ocean in which the earth was drowned at that time, and then he lifted up the earth. Also there's an incident there in which he slew a demon named Hiranyaksa. As a matter of fact, the picture must be in the volume that describes in more detail the slaying of Hiranyaksa, come to think of it.
So this seems to be a very remarkable story. You might say, “What is this ocean in outer space that the earth fell into?” So, a few things can be said to clarify all of this. Basic principle here is that one can appreciate these rather extraordinary accounts in the Bhagavatam by realizing that they're even more extraordinary than you thought, and expanding your framework of reference so as to accommodate what is being said. So, I'm going to say a little bit about that. I should mention, by the way, it's pointed out that in one of the reports later on here, that there are two stories of the boar incarnation. And Srila Jiva Goswami suggested that in the passages we're reading here, those two stories were amalgamated together into one by Maitreya Muni, because this particular story of the incarnation of Lord Varaha began with Svayambhuva Manu. So, the story there is that Svayambhuva Manu had taken birth from the mind of Brahma in the manner described in the preceding verses. And Brahma had asked him to produce population for the universe, and he pointed out to Brahma that the earth was submerged in the waters of devastation.
So, this boar had appeared from the nostril of Lord Brahma in order to lift up the earth. So this occurred during the Svayambhuva Manu period. So that, in terms of time, would be about two billion years ago as far as the chronology is concerned. We're in the seventh manu period right now, called the period of Vaivasvata Manu, and each manu period lasts about 307 million years. We're about a hundred and twenty million years into this seventh manu period. So, it was in the first manu period, Svayambhuva Manu in fact, right in the beginning of it, that this first boar incarnation appeared.
So, as a matter of fact, the reason that the earth was inundated at that time was that at the end of every day of Brahma the earthly planetary system, in fact everything up to Svargaloka, becomes inundated – this is the devastation that occurs at the end of the day of Brahma. So, at the beginning of the next day of Brahma, after Brahma’s sleeping period, then the earth is under water at that point, so that something has to be done to bring the earth out of the water. So that's the situation that we have here. That's the first incarnation of Lord Varaha and the second one took place during the period of Caksusa Manu, that was the sixth manvantara, and that was the one in which Hiranyaksa was slain.
So, there are those two. So, in each case, Lord Varaha lifted the earth from the waters of devastation. But what was the earth that he lifted? It turns out it's not the earth planet as we know it, not exactly. Later on in text 41, the text says “Oh, Lord as the peaks of great mountains become beautiful when decorated with clouds, Your transcendental body has become beautiful because of your lifting the earth on the edge of your tusks.” So the earth here is Bhu-mandala, that is the word used. It says Bhu-mandala: bhū-maṇḍalenātha datā dhṛtena te, which means if we look at the word-for-word: “the earth planet is now by your tusks sustained.” So, that's what that means. So, the earth there is Bhu-mandala. So, this Bhu-mandala is a very large structure which is flat and is four billion miles in diameter. That is the description in the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam of what Bhu-mandala is. And that is what Lord Varaha lifted.
So, I thought I would make another reference here to this indication. There's a purport by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura which Srila Prabhupada cites in his purport to text 38, in the 20th chapter of the Fifth Canto. So that text says that,
Learned scholars who are free from mistakes, illusions, and the propensity 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 that the diameter of the universe, or in other words 125 million yojanas or 1 billion miles.
So that's the verse. So, as I say, I'm giving this as background – you can try to assimilate this if you're new to it – for understanding also what's happening with Lord Varaha. So Srila Prabhupada points out that Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has given accurate astronomical information about the location of Lokaloka mountain, the movements of the sun globe, and the distance between the sun and the circumference of the universe. But he doesn't translate this – he gives a passage of Sanskrit here on... in the Bhagavatam, which I had translated using the method of having three different people translate and comparing the results.
So anyway, it gives an interesting description. Well, I don't know if I should go through all the details of this. In one sense I should, so you can see what kinds of details there are. So, here's the translation, this block of Sanskrit starts out: sa tu lokālokas tu bhū-golakasya bhū-sambandhāṇḍa-golakasyety arthaḥ and it goes on and on. So the translation was: ”The expression sa tu stands for Lokaloka mountain, which is the subject of the verse. Bhū-golakasya means of the egg-like sphere of the universe.” And then it says, “Like the sun the earth is also midway between two egg-like hemispheres. Like the space-sphere, which is kha-gola [kha is ether], the earth sphere measures 500 million yojanas. Turīya-bhāgaḥ means that one-fourth of this, or 125 million yojanas, is the radius of Lokaloka mountain. So, I’ll describe what the picture is that is here. Imagine two hemispheres and a plane slicing between the two hemispheres. That plane is Bhu-mandala and it's described here that that's 500 million yojanas in diameter. So, the sphere is this bhū-gola, which is the universal sphere – it's the sphere of the inside shell of the universe. That's the sphere that's involved. Huh?
Answer: Well there's ether outside of it also, but there's certainly ether inside of it, because that's where space... outer space is. So kha-gola, the ether sphere, would be all the ether of space out to this sphere of the universe. So, that of course has the same diameter, because the ether goes right out to the sphere of the universe.
A: Well, there's more, but we can only mention things step by step. So, there's a sphere, which you can think of as having two hemispheres, and a plane slicing between those two hemispheres – that gives you a circle. That circular disk cut out of that plane is Bhu-mandala. Now that's what Lord Varaha lifted. But what did he lift it from? So, hmm… so anyway, we should understand these things because Lord Varaha is Visnu. So, we're supposed to understand all these things, that's why they're there in the Bhagavatam.
So, in any case, Visvanath Chakravarti Thakura corrects this verse in the Bhagavatam and he says, “The earth should be known however is extending 496,600,000 yojanas in diameter.” So, he gives a whole series of calculations. Now, in the center of Bhu-mandala there's Mount Meru. And there's a series of different structures going out from Mount Meru that have different radii. So Visvanath Chakravarti Thakura adds up all the radii of all these different structures. So one of them is from the middle of Mount Sumeru to the middle of Manasottara Mountain... is 15,750,000 yojanas. So then there's a whole series of different distances that he gives here. So, it comes up to a distance of this 496 million in so forth, which is a little bit less than the radius of the sphere of the earth. So, the final conclusion that he gives is,
Thus a gap of 1,700,000 yojanas exists in all directions between the earth in the inner sphere of the universal egg [which by the way is called anda-gola, which means egg sphere]. Due to this gap it is meaningful for the earth to be supported by Lord Sesa Naga and to be held steady by the elephants of the four directions. But if the earth were 500 million yojanas across, then it would contact the universal egg sphere on all sides and this would be meaningless. The sudden immersion of the earth in the Caksusa Manu epic and its lifting by Lord Varaha should also be difficult to explain. This and other difficulties should be considered.
This is the statement by Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura. So what he's saying here then, if you can see this picture: you have the sphere; the disk, which is Bhu-mandala, has a slightly smaller diameter than the sphere. So, if it went out and touched the sphere, then how could it fall down? It couldn't. But it can fall down because there's a gap of 1,700,000 yojanas all the way around. So, this makes it possible for the earth bend to be movable. And Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura is saying that makes it meaningful that… that Sesa Naga should have to hold it up and also that the four elephants should make it steady, because if it were just rigidly bolted onto the outer shell then what would be the point in that?
So, in any case, that’s the earth that was lifted by Visvanath... by Lord Varaha. So, then more information, let's see, I thought this was interesting to refer to the Matsya avatara so... because the story here is very similar to the story of Lord Varaha. So in the case of the Matsya avatara, there was a King Satyavarata and he was... just looking for... yeah, the river Kṛtamālā. This is in the 8th Canto; it's in chapter 24, text 15 is just where I was just looking if you want to see. But does anyone know where the river Kṛtamālā is? I presume this is a river in India, I don't know. But in any case there was a king; it must be in southern India because it's in Dravida Desa – I believe that's in southern India.
So, he was a king there and he was engaged in some austerities; he was offering water in his palms, sitting by the river side. This little fish swam into his hand and, you know, he immediately threw it away: Oooh! A fish.” You know? And the fish spoke to him and said “Please don't throw me out into this river. There’re big fish here in this river and they'll eat me up.” So the king, knowing that he was supposed to be merciful to all the praja, or citizens of the realm, put the fish in a little bowl. So, overnight the fish grew until it completely filled the bowl, so it complained to him that, “I don't have enough room here.” So let's see, what came next? A larger container, let's see… yeah, well, he was put in a... what was he put in next? Well, there was a series of reservoirs here basically.
The king kept putting the fish in to bigger and bigger reservoirs and the fish kept growing and complaining that it was too small for him. Then the fish[king] put him into a big lake and immediately the fish grew so much that he couldn't fit within the lake. And I don't know how the king began to manage this now, but he then put the fish into the ocean. And by the next day... of course, when he did that the fish complained that, “There are fierce sharks in this ocean, they'll eat me.” But the next day the fish had grown to several hundred miles in length, and at this point the king asked the fish, well, who he was. And the fish revealed... well actually the king had figured it out at this point, that this fish was Lord Visnu. And the king revealed... the fish revealed that yes, in fact, that was the case and He told them told him that this was a pastime of His that He enjoyed during the time of the devastation. He would swim around in the waters of devastation and that the devastation at the end of the yuga, was about to take place.
In fact, this was at the end of the Caksusa Manu period, and that during this time a boat would appear and the king and some sages would ride upon that boat on the waters of devastation. And as it turns out that did happen – there were tremendous rains and so forth. All the continents became covered over with the ocean and the boat appeared and the fish was pulling it. It describes here, let's see, “Then while the king constantly meditated upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a large golden fish appeared in the ocean of inundation. The fish had one horn and was 8 million miles long. Following the instructions formerly given by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the king anchored the boat to the fish’s horn using the snake Vasuki as a rope. Thus being satisfied he began offering prayers to the Lord.”
So, the interesting feature in the story here is that the fish was eight million miles long.
A: So, well yes, there are other interesting features, let's see actually it says niyuta-yojanaḥ, which would mean, I believe, a million yojanas. And Srila Prabhupada is using eight miles per yojana, so he translates that as eight million miles. So, eight million miles is a considerable distance, if you consider that the earth as we know it today is 25,000 miles in circumference going around the equator. So, in that case imagine a fish eight million miles long, it would have to wrap around the earth like string on a ball of twine basically – not very much room for swimming.
So, the... what is the solution there? Well, the earth once again is this Bhu-mandala, and that whole Bhu-mandala flooded. So the Matsya avatara was swimming in the ocean that had flooded all of Bhu-mandala and so since Bhu-mandala is as big basically... as we in terms of present scientific understanding, Bhu-mandala really corresponds to the solar system in terms of size. In fact, the distance out to the edge of Bhu-mandala would correspond to three times the radius of Saturn, according to modern measurements. That gives you the idea of the size. So, all of that region, basically in a plane, because another interesting feature is the solar system is flat – right, all the planetary orbits line up basically in a plane. So, that's where Bhu-mandala essentially is, and what is being described here is that that is what flooded. So, that whole region flooded and the Matsya avatara was swimming in that.
So that is... gives some perspective on this pastime of Lord Varaha and also Matsya avatara. So the basic principle involved in all of this is that there are different mystic potencies, and let's see, where is the right volume? I just noted a little bit later on there's the following verse, which is interesting, the translation of this one – this is 3.13.45 – is: “Oh Lord, there's no limit to your wonderful activities” (actually, this is in praise, then, of Lord Varaha by the sages, I believe, on Tapaloka or one of those upper planetary systems). “Oh Lord, there's no limit to your wonderful activities. Anyone who desires to know the limit of your activities is certainly nonsensical. Everyone in this world is conditioned by the powerful mystic potencies. Please bestow your causeless mercy upon these conditioned souls.”
So mystic potencies bewildered by mystic potency – in the Sanskrit here that's yoga-mohitaṁ, moha means bewilderment. So yoga is the mystic power bewildered by mystic power. So, one thing to realize is that there are tremendous mystic potencies involved in the universe. We tend to see things in a certain familiar way, because the world that we have direct experience with works according to certain rules. Those who really get into this subject call those rules the laws of physics. And those who study the laws of physics for a while tend to become filled with the conviction that they understand everything – of course this is very natural.
What time is it by the way? Twenty after, okay. So, yeah, the people who study these laws tend to naturally feel that they understand everything, but these laws are only, you might say, a subset of the total set of laws governing the universe. So these mystic potencies are involved. There are all kinds of worlds that we don't directly perceive and there are powers involving them. For example, the mahima siddhi is one of the mystic potencies that is specifically named; and that is what is involved in this story of both Varaha and Matsya, namely this power to expand in size. So, the situation of the earth also is something that we don't fully comprehend in terms of our ordinary experience. So... just a few observations to put in perspective this pastime of Lord Varaha. Of course Lord Varaha is Visnu, so He's quite incomprehensible in terms of His powers and what He can do. But the earth that He lifted is also something beyond our current understanding.