The ancient Indian epics go into considerable detail about aerial warfare over 10,000 years ago. Aerial battles and chases are common in ancient Hindu literature. The functions of military planes that have been given in detail read like science fiction today, but factual possibility cannot be ruled out either.
The aerial vehicles described therein (vimana) fell into two categories:
- Airplanes that could fly in a mysterious manner and were generally not made by earthly human beings. Those are described in ancient works such as the Rig Veda, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas. They have many features reminiscent of UFOs.
- Man-made craft that resembled airplanes and flew with the aid of bird-like wings. The machines of this category are described mainly in medieval and secular Sanskrit works dealing with architecture.
Aeronautics in Ancient Literature
What we know about ancient Indian flying vehicles comes from written texts in Sanskrit that have come down to us through the centuries. There are literally hundreds of them and most of them have not even been translated into English. Some of the ancient texts are mentioned as follows:-
- The Rig Veda: There are at least 20 passages in the Rig Veda that refer exclusively to the three-storied, triangular and three-wheeled flying machines of the scientists called Ashvins. The machines were made of gold, silver and iron, and had two wings. At least three passengers could be carried through them.
The Vedas described vimana of various shapes and sizes; such as the Ahnihotra-vimana with two engines, the ‘elephant-vimana’ with more engines, and other types named after the kingfisher and other animals. The Rig Veda has references to the following modes of transportation:-
- Jalayan – designed to operate in air and water. (Rig Veda 6.58.3)
- Kaara – operated on ground and in water. (Rig Veda 9.14.1)
- Tritala – a vehicle consisting of three stories. (Rig Veda 3.14.1)
- Trichakra Ratha – a three-wheeled vehicle designed to operate in the air. (Rig Veda 4.36.1)
- Vaayu Ratha – a gas or wind-powered chariot. (Rig Veda 5.41.6)
- Vidyut Ratha – a vehicle that operated on Electric power. (Rig Veda 3.14.1).
- The Yujur Veda: The Yujur Veda also described the movement a flying machine that was used by the Ashvins (two heavenly twins) to rescue King Bhujyu from distress at sea.
- The Vaimanika Shastra: The Vaimanika Shastra, written by Rishi Bhardwaja, was rediscovered in 1875 from a temple in India. The text referred to about 97 previous works about Aeronautics out of which at least 20 works dealt with the mechanism of aerial Flying Machine. Of course none of the previous works are now traceable but the text of Vaimanika Shastra has been translated into English. It deals with the operation of Vimans:
- The text has eight chapters with diagrams; describing three types of aircraft, including apparatuses that would be fire-proof and un-breakable.
- It also mentions 31 essential parts of these vehicles and 16 materials from which they are constructed. As the recommended materials could absorb light and heat; they were considered suitable for the construction of vimana.
- It included information on precautions during long flights, such as steering, protection of the airships from storms and lightning, and how to switch the drive to solar energy from a free energy source that sounds like anti-gravity.
- The position and functioning of the solar energy collectors are described. It said that eight tubes had to be made of special glass capable of absorbing the Sun’s rays. Though the details are comprehensive but some of those are unintelligible.
- Yantra Sarvasva: This work is also attributed to Sage Bhardwaja. It consists of as many as 40 sections of which the Vaimanika Prakarana dealing with aeronautics has 8 chapters. About hundred topics have been explained in 500 sutras. Sage Bhardwaja classified airplanes (vimans) into three categories:-
- Domestic airplanes – that could travel from place to place;
- International airplanes – that could travel from one country to another;
- Interplanetary airplanes – that could travel between planets.
Of special concern among those were the military planes whose functions were delineated in some very considerable detail and which match to the science fiction of today. For instance, those aircrafts had the following capabilities:-
- Impregnable, unbreakable, non-combustible and indestructible. They were capable of coming to a dead stop in the twinkling of an eye;
- Invisible to enemies;
- Technically proficient to see and record things, persons, incidents and situations going on inside enemy planes;
- Know at every stage the direction of the movement of other aircraft in the vicinity;
- Capable of rendering the enemy crew into a state of suspended animation,
- Intellectual to recover from complete loss of consciousness;
- Capable of destruction;
- Manned by pilots and co-travelers who could adapt in accordance with the climate in which they moved;
- Temperature regulated from inside;
Constructed of very light and heat absorbing metals; provided with mechanisms that could enlarge or reduce images and enhance or diminish sounds.
Notwithstanding the fact that such contraption would resemble a cross between an American state-of-the-art Stealth Fighter and a flying saucer, it adequately points to the existence of concept that air and space travel were well-known to ancient Indians and airplanes flourished in India when the rest of the world was just learning the rudiments of agriculture.
- The Samarangana Sutradhara: It is a scientific treatise dealing with every possible angle of air travel in a Vimana. There are 230 stanzas dealing with the construction, take-off, cruising at thousands of miles, normal and forced landings, and even possible collisions with birds.
In the Samarangana Sutradhara five flying machines were originally built for the gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Yama, Kubera and Indra. More additions were made later. Four main types of flying Vimans are described:
- Rukma: The Rukma were conical in shape and dyed gold.
- Sundara: Sundara were like rockets and had a silver sheen.
- Tripura: The Tripura was three-storied.
- Sakuna: The Sakuna looked like birds.
Ten sections deal with uncannily topical themes such as pilot training, flight paths, the individual parts of flying machines, as well as clothing for pilots and passengers, and the food recommended for long flights.
The texts also explained how to clean metals, the acids such as lemon or apple to be used and the correct mixture, the right oils to work with and the correct temperature for them.
Seven types of engine are described with the special functions for which they are suited and the altitudes at which they work best. The catalogue is not short of data about the size neither of the machines, which had stories, nor of their suitability for various purposes.
The movements of the Vimana are such that it can vertically ascend, vertically descend, and move slanting forwards and backwards.
- Katha Saritsagara: This work refers to highly talented woodworkers called Rajyadhara and Pranadhara. While Rajyadhara was so skilled in mechanical contrivances that he could make ocean crossing chariots, Pranadhara manufactured a flying chariot to carry a thousand passengers in the air. These chariots were stated to be as fast as thoughts.
The Arthasastra of Kautilya mentions amongst various tradesmen and technocrats, the Sauvikas as pilots to fly vehicles in the sky. Kautilya used 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 the Emperor Ashoka which were executed during his reign from 256 BC – 237 BC.
In the Vedic texts the configuration of the machines has been broadly shown as triangular, but the description of these machines in old Indian texts is amazingly precise to specific details. However the difficulty is that the texts mention various metals and alloys, which have not been identified so far. The above texts cannot be dismissed as mere fantasies without going into critical evaluation since most of the possibilities are realities of our age today.
Chand K Sharma
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