Cyclic Creation & Astronomy

Creation accounts in the Vedas speak of a cosmic egg or embryo from which " the lord of creation" was born as the great oceans heated up. But later hymns were increasingly skeptical of such symbolism; the tenth book of the Rig Veda includes a verse asking,
"Who truly knows, who could here declare when was born, whence comes this creation?'

In one of the story of The Upanishads, referred to by Joseph Campbell in his series of interviews with Bill Moyers, Brahma is the creative force behind a series of universes:

Brahma sits on a lotus, the symbol of divine energy and divine grace. The lotus grows from the navel of Vishnu. who is the sleeping god, whose dream is the universe. . . . Brahma opens his eyes and a world come into being . . . Brahma closes his eyes, and a world goes out of being. (Campbell 63)

This story is similar to some modern ideas on the creation of the universe in continuous cycle, like the one proposed by John Wheeler, all constants and laws of previous cycles are lost at the end of the contracting phase, and new universes can be created in an infinite number of cycles.

Astronomy

* Earliest known precise celestial calculations:
As argued by James Q. Jacobs, Aryabhata, an Indian Mathematician (c. 500AD) accurately calculated celestial constants like earth's rotation per solar orbit, days per solar orbit, days per lunar orbit. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, no source from prior to the 18th century had more accurate results on the values of these constants! Click here for details. Aryabhata's 499 AD computation of pi as 3.1416 (real value 3.1415926...) and the length of a solar year as 365.358 days were also extremely accurate by the standards of the next thousand years.

* Astronomical time spans:
The notion of of time spans that are truly gigantic by modern standards are rarely found in ancient civilizations as the notion of large number is rare commodity. Apart from the peoples of the Mayan civilization, the ancient Hindus appear to be the only people who even thought beyond a few thousand years. In the famed book Cosmos, physicist-astronomer-teacher Carl Sagan writes "... The dates on Mayan inscriptions also range deep into the past and occasionally far into the future. One inscription refers to a time more than a million years ago and another perhaps refers to events of 400 million years ago, ... The events memorialized may be mythical, but the time scales are pridigious". Hindu scriptures refer to time scales that vary from ordinary earth day and night to the day and night of the Brahma that are a few billion earth years long. Sagan continues, "A millennium before Europeans were wiling to divest themselves of the Biblical idea that the world was a few thousand years old, the Mayans were thinking of millions and the Hindus billions" [See 5].

* Theory of creation of the universe:
A 9th century Hindu scripture, The Mahapurana by Jinasena claims the something as modern as the following: (translation from [5]).

Some foolish men declare that a Creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill-advised, and should be rejected. If God created the world, where was he before creation?... How could God have made the world without any raw material? If you say He made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression... Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end. And it is based on principles.

Theories of the creation of universe are present in almost every culture. Mostly they represent some story portraying creation from mating of Gods or humans, or from some divine egg, essentially all of them reflecting the human endeavour to provide explanations to a grave scientific question using common human experience.

Hinduism is the only religion that propounds the idea of life-cycles of the universe. It suggests that the universe undergoes an infinite number of deaths and rebirths. Hinduism, according to Sagan, "... is the only religion in which the time scales correspond... to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of the Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang" [See 5]. Long before Aryabhata (6th century) came up with this awesome achievement, apparently there was a mythological angle to this as well -- it becomes clear when one looks at the following translation of Bhagavad Gita (part VIII, lines 16 and 17), "All the planets of the universe, from the most evolved to the most base, are places of suffering, where birth and death takes place. But for the soul that reaches my Kingdom, O son of Kunti, there is no more reincarnation. One day of Brahma is worth a thousand of the ages [yuga] known to humankind; as is each night." Thus each kalpa is worth one day in the life of Brahma, the God of creation. In other words, the four ages of the mahayuga must be repeated a thousand times to make a "day ot Brahma", a unit of time that is the equivalent of 4.32 billion human years, doubling which one gets 8.64 billion years for a Brahma day and night. This was later theorized (possibly independently) by Aryabhata in the 6th century. The cyclic nature of this analysis suggests a universe that is expanding to be followed by contraction... a cosmos without end. This, according to modern physicists is not an impossibility.

And here is how -- a few billion years ago, something known as the Big Bang happened and it is believed that the universe, as we "know" it, came into existence; one that is continually expanding after the Big Bang. That the galaxies are receding from us can be proved by showing Dopler shifts of far off galaxies. Common belief is that it happened from a mathematical point with no dimension at all. All the matter in our universe was concentrated in that miniscule volume. Although we know that we are living in an expanding universe, physicists are not sure whether it will always be expanding. This is because it is not known whether there is enough matter in the universe such that there is enough gravitational cohesion in it that the expansion will gradually slow down, stop and reverse itself resulting into a contracting universe. If we live in such an oscillating universe, then the Big Bang is not the beginning or creation of the universe, but merely the end of the previous cycle, the destruction of the last incarnation of the universe in the very way suggested by Hindu philosophers thousands of years ago!

A brand new theory -- that of a "CYCLIC MODEL", developed by Princeton University's Paul Steinhardt and Cambridge University's Neil Turok, made its highest-profile appearance yet in April 2002, on Science Express, the Web site for the journal Science. But past incarnations of the idea have been hotly debated within the cosmological community from 2001. A jist of the claims can be found here. The PDF preprint of the entire paper can be downloaded from here. The Hindu belief that the Universe has no beginning or end, but follows a cosmic creation and dissolution can be found here.

* Earth goes round the sun:
Aryabhata, it so happens, was apparently quite sceptical of the widely held doctrines about eclipses and also about the belief that the Sun goes round the Earth. He didn't think that eclipses were caused by Rahu but by the Earth's shadow over the Moon and the Moon obscuring the Sun. As early as the sixth century, he talked of the diurnal motion of the earth and the appearance of the Sun going round it.

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