Bhartiya History

Reexamining history from a Hindu perspective and exposing the colonial distortion of their Vedic heritage that fails to recognize the spiritual root of Indic civilization.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ancient Hindus could navigate the air

By Shachi Rairikar

“The ancient Hindus could navigate the air, and not only navigate it, but fight battles in it like so many war-eagles combating for the domination of the clouds. To be so perfect in aeronautics, they must have known all the arts and sciences related to the science, including the strata and currents of the atmosphere, the relative temperature, humidity, density and specific gravity of the various gases...”

—Col. Olcott in a lecture in Allahabad, in 1881.

The Rig Veda, the oldest document of the human race, includes references to the following modes of transportation: jalayan—a vehicle designed to operate in air and water (Rig Veda 6.58.3); kaara—a vehicle that operates on ground and in water (Rig Veda 9.14.1); tritala—a vehicle consisting of three storeys (Rig Veda 3.14.1); trichakra ratha—a three-wheeled vehicle designed to operate in air (Rig Veda 4.36.1); vaayu ratha—a gas or wind-powered chariot (Rig Veda 5.41.6); vidyut ratha—a vehicle that operates on power (Rig Veda 3.14.1).

Ancient Sanskrit literature is full of descriptions of flying machines—vimanas. From the many documents found, it is evident that the scientist-sages Agastya and Bharadwaja had developed the lore of aircraft construction.

The Agastya Samhita gives Agastya’s descriptions on two types of aeroplanes. The first is a chchatra (umbrella or balloon) to be filled with hydrogen. The process of extracting hydrogen from water is described in elaborate detail and the use of electricity in achieving this is clearly stated. This was considered to be a primitive type of plane, useful only for escaping from a fort when the enemy had set fire to the jungle all around. Hence the name agniyana. The second type of aircraft mentioned is somewhat on the lines of the parachute. It could be opened and shut by operating chords. This aircraft has been described as vimanadvigunam, i.e. of a lower order than the regular aeroplane.

The process of extracting hydrogen from water is described in elaborate detail and the use of electricity in achieving this is clearly stated.

Aeronautics or Vaimaanika Shastra is a part of Yantra Sarvasva of Bharadwaja. This is also known as Brihadvimaana Shastra. Vaimaanika Shastra deals with aeronautics, including the design of aircraft, the way they can be used for transportation and other applications, in detail. The knowledge of aeronautics is described in Sanskrit in 100 sections, eight chapters, 500 principles and 3,000 shlokas. Great sage Bharadwaja explained the construction of aircraft and the way to fly it in air, on land, on water and use the same aircraft like a submarine. He also described the construction of war-planes and fighter aircraft.

Vaimaanika Shastra explains the metals and alloys and other required material, which can make an aircraft imperishable in any condition. Planes which will not break (abhedya), or catch fire (adaahya) and which cannot be cut (achchedya) have been described. Along with the treatise, there are diagrams on three types of aeroplanes—Sundara, Shukana and Rukma.

The aircraft is classified into three types—Mantrika, Tantrika and Kritaka, to suit different yugas or eras. In krita yuga, it is said, Dharma was well established. The people of that time had the divinity to reach any place using their ashtasiddhis. The aircraft used in treta yuga are called Mantrika vimana, flown by the power of hymns (mantras). Twenty-five varieties of aircraft including Pushpaka vimana belong to this era. The aircraft used in dwapara yuga were called Tantrika vimana, flown by the power of tantras. Fifty-six varieties of aircraft including Bhairava and Nandaka belong to this era. The aircraft used in kali yuga, the on-going yuga, are called Kritaka vimana, flown by the power of engines. Twenty-five varieties of aircraft including Sundara, Shukana and Rukma belong to this era.

Bharadwaja states that there are 32 secrets of the science of aeronautics. Of these, some are astonishing and some indicate an advance even beyond our own times. For instance, the secret of para shabda graaha, i.e. a cabin for listening to the conversation in another plane, has been explained by elaborately describing an electrically worked sound-receiver that did the trick. Manufacture of different types of instruments and putting them together to form an aircraft are also described.

It appears that aerial warfare was also not unknown, for the treatise gives the techniques of shatru vimana kampana kriya, and shatru vimana nashana kriya, i.e. shaking and destroying enemy aircraft, as well as photographing enemy planes, rendering their occupants unconscious and making one’s own plane invisible.

In Vastraadhikarana, the chapter describing the dress and other material required while flying, talks in detail about the clotheswear for both the pilot and the passenger separately.

Ahaaraadhikarana is yet another section exclusively dealing with the food habits of a pilot. This has a variety of guidelines for pilots to maintain their health through strict diet.

Bharadwaja also provides a bibliography. He had consulted six treatises by six different authors previous to him and he gives their names and the names of their works in the following order: Vimana Chandrika by Narayanamuni; Vyoma Yana Mantrah by Shaunaka; Yantra Kalpa by Garga; Yana Bindu by Vachaspati; Kheta Yaana Pradeepika by Chaakraayani; Vyoma Yaanarka Prakasha by Dundi Natha.

As before Bharadwaja, after him too there have been Sanskrit writers on aeronautics and there were four commentaries on his work. The names of the commentators are Bodh Deva, Lalla, Narayana Shankha and Vishwambhara.

Vaimaanika Shastra explains the metals and alloys and other required material, which can make an aircraft imperishable in any condition.

Evidence of existence of aircraft are also found in the Arthashastra of Kautilya (c. 3rd century b.c.). Kautilya mentions amongst various tradesmen and technocrats the saubhikas as ‘pilots conducting vehicles in the sky’. Saubha was the name of the aerial flying city of King Harishchandra and the form saubika means ‘one who flies or knows the art of flying an aerial city’. Kautilya uses another significant word, akasa yodhinah, which has been translated as ‘persons who are trained to fight from the sky’. The existence of aerial chariots, in whatever form it might be, was so well-known that it found a place among the royal edicts of Emperor Asoka and which were executed during his reign from 256-237 b.c.

It is interesting to note that the Academy of Sanskrit Research in Melkote, near Mandya, had been commissioned by the Aeronautical Research Development Board, New Delhi, to take up a one-year study on ‘Non-conventional Approach to Aeronautics’, on the basis of Vaimaanika Shastra. As a result of the research, a glass-like material which cannot be detected by radar has been developed by Prof. Dongre, a research scholar of Benaras Hindu University. A plane coated with this unique material cannot be detected using radar.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the Indian science of aeronautics and Bharadwaja’s research in the field was that they were successfully tested in actual practice by an Indian over a 100 years ago. In 1895, full eight years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade and his wife gave a thrilling demonstration flight on Chowpatty beach in Mumbai.

An even more astonishing feature of Talpade’s aircraft was the power source he used—an ion engine. The theory of the ion engine has been credited to Robert Goddard, long recognised as the father of liquid-fuel rocketry. It is claimed that in 1906, long before Goddard launched his first modern rocket, his imagination had conceived the concept of an ion rocket. But the fact is that not only had the idea of an ion engine been conceived long before Dr Goddard, it had also been materialised in the form of Talpade’s aircraft.

Talpade, a resident of Mumbai, was an erudite scholar of Sanskrit literature, especially of the Vedas, an inventor and a teacher in the School of Arts. His deep study of the Vedas led him to construct an aeroplane in conformity with the descriptions of the aircraft available in the Vedas and he displayed it in an exhibition arranged by the Bombay Art Society in the Town Hall. Its proving the star attraction of the exhibition encouraged its maker to delve deeper into the matter and see if the plane could be flown with the aid of mercurial pressure. For, the one hundred-and-ninetieth richa (verse) of the Rig Veda and the aeronautical treatise of Bharadwaja mention that flying machines came into full operation when the power of the sun’s rays, mercury and another chemicals called naksha rasas were blended together. This energy was, it seems, stored in something like an accumulator or storage batteries. The Vedas refer to eight different engines in the plane and Bharadwaja adds that they are worked by electricity.

Talpade carried on his research along these lines and constructed an aeroplane. In his experiments he was aided by his wife, also a deep scholar of the Vedic lore, and an architect-friend. The plane combined the constructional characteristics of both Pushpaka and Marut Sakha, the sixth and eighth types of aircraft described by Bharadwaja. It was named Marut Sakha meaning “friend of the wind”.

With this plane, this pioneer airman of modern India gave a demonstration flight on the Chowpatty beach in Mumbai in the year 1895. The machine attained a height of about 1,500 feet and then automatically landed safely. The flight was witnessed, among many others, by Shri Sayajirao Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda and Justice Govind Ranade and was reported in the Kesari, a leading Marathi daily newspaper. They were impressed by the feat and rewarded the talented inventor.

Unfortunately, Talpade lost interest in things after his wife’s death, and after his own death in 1917 at the age of 53, his relatives sold the machine to the Rally Brothers, a leading British exporting firm then operating in Mumbai. Thus, the first ever attempt at flying in modern India, undertaken and made successful by an Indian, in a plane of Indian manufacture and built to Indian scientific specifications, slid into the limbo of oblivion.

(The writer can be contacted at


Post a Comment

<< Home

Home | Syndicate this site (XML) | Guestbook | Blogger
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors.
Everything else © 2005 Bhartiya History