The Story of Vimanas

The Story of Vimanas
The Story of Vimanas

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he chariot had all necessary equipment. It could not be conquered by gods or demons, and it radiated light and reverberated with a deep rumbling sound. It’s beauty captivated the minds of all who beheld it. Visvakarma, the lord of design and construction, had created it by the power of his austerities, and it’s form.

In the Vedic literature of India, there are many descriptions of flying machines that are generally called vimanas. These fall into two cate- gories: (l) manmade craft that resemble airplanes and fly with the aid of birdlike wings, and (2) unstreamlined structures that fly in a mysterious manner and are generally not made by human beings. The machines in category (l) are described mainly in medieval, secular Sanskrit works dealing with architecture, automata, military siege engines, and other mechanical contrivances. Those in category (2) are described in ancient works such as the Rg Veda, the Maha-bha-rata, the Rama-yana, and the Pura-nas, and they have many features reminis- cent of UFOs. In addition, there is one book entitled Vaima-nika-sa-stra that was dictated in trance during this century and purports to be a transcription of an ancient work preserved in the akashic record. This book gives an elaborate description of vimanas of both categories.

In this chapter, I will survey some of the available literature on vima-nas, beginning with the texts dating from late antiquity and the medieval period. The latter material is described in some detail by V. Raghavan in an article entitled “Yantras or Mechanical Contrivances in Ancient India.” I will begin by discussing the Indian lore regarding machines in general and then turn to flying machines.

Mathines in Antienl and Medieval India

In Sanskrit, a machine is called a yantra. The word yantra is defined in the Samarangana-sutradhara of King Bhoja to be a device that “con- trols and directs, according to a plan, the motions of things that act each according to its own nature.” I There are many varieties of yantras. A simple example would be the taila-yantra, a wheel that is pulled by oxen around a circular track to crush seeds and extract their oil. Other examples are military machines of the kind described in the Artha- sastra of Kautilya, written in the 3rd century B.C. These include the sarvato-bhadra, a rotating wheel that hurls stones, the sara-yantra, an arrow-throwing machine, the udghatima, a machine that demo,ishes wa,ls using iron bars, and many more.

These machines are all quite understandable and believable, but there are other machines that seem less plausible from the point of view of modern historical thinking. Thus Raghavan mentions a device that could create a tempest to demoralize enemy ranks.2 Such a weapon is also mentioned by the third-century Roman writer Flavius Philostratus, who described sages in India who “do not fight an invader, but repel him with celestial artillery of thunder and lightning, for they are holy and saintly men.”3 Philostratus said that this kind of fire or wind weapon was used to repel an invasion of India by the Egyptian Hercules, and there is an apocryphal letter in which Alexander the Great tells his tutor Aristotle that he also encountered such weapons.4

Modern scholars tend to regard Philostratus’s work as fictitious, but it does demonstrate that some people in Roman times were circu- lating stories about unusual fire or wind weapons in India. In ancient epics such as the Mahabharata, there are manyreferencestoremarkablewindweaponssuch as

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