"The Sun said, I have become aware of your intention, I am satisfied with your penances and I shall impart the knowlwdge of the temporal heavenly bodies to you."
YES, knowlwdge of the temporal heavenly bodies and NOT ONLY a mechanical model or astronomical text for calculating the temporal position of the celestial bodies over the earth.
Because, Mayadanava then asks many questions about the Earth. And Surya responds all. Its circumference, shape (globular), movement, etc.
Note that there is often doubt when talking about round and circular that can be applied either in a globe or in a flat circle. But in the case of the Surya Siddhanta the spherical and globular form of the Earth is specified without margin of doubt and error.
The Surya Siddhanta is not a text only to explain the temporal position of the celestial bodies over the Earth. But also explain the Earth itself and apply the principle of correspondence projecting Meru, the higher systems of the Devas and inferiors systems of the Demons in this globular earth of our senses.
Thus the Surya Siddhanta describes Mount Meru as a small mountain at the North Pole, and the Siddhanta Siromani places the seven Dvipas in the Southern Hemisphere.
It is a treatise that harmonizes and PROJECTS (acording the principle of correspondence) the Cosmogeny of the universe, as given in all Puranas, in this globular earth of our senses.
Sriman Sadaputa Dasa explains brilliantly:
"We have argued that the spherical nature of this earth planet was known in Vedic times, and this, of course, is incompatible with a flat-earth interpretation of Vedic cosmology. However, even if we disregard this point, we can hardly suppose that a hypothetical pre-scientific sage living by the side of the Ganges would not have noticed that the sun moves high overhead in the course of a day.
We therefore propose that the Puranas could not be identifying the plane of Bhu-mandala with the horizon.
At this point, the objection will be raised that when we look at the sky at night, we do not see anything unusual in the direction of either the zodiac or the celestial equator. Indeed, we see nothing but stars in all directions.
If the surface of Bhu-mandala bisects the sky along one of these great circles, then we should see stars only on one side of the circle. On the other side we should see solid earth, as we do in the case of the horizon. Our answer to this objection is that since most of Bhu-mandala is not accessible to our senses, we cannot see it.
This may initially seem to be a rather unsatisfactory answer, but it is consistent with all of the material that we have gathered from the Bhagavatam thus far. For example, the height of Mount Meru is nearly equal to the diameter of the sun (according to modern data), so if it is indeed located "somewhere between the sun and the earth," then why can't we see it?
Also, if the plane of Bhu-mandala exists at all, and acts as a barrier to our vision, then the sky must be bisected along some circle, with all visible stars lying on one side. Yet, if we go from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, it is possible to look at the night sky in all directions, and wherever we look, we simply see stars.
This is true, for example, if we look towards the south celestial pole from New Zealand or South Africa.
Another question that may be raised is, If you are saying that Bhu-mandala is higher-dimensional and therefore invisible, why do you try to assign it a location in three-dimensional space at all? The answer is that a higher-dimensional structure can also have a three-dimensional location.
To illustrate this idea, consider a person who is trying to find a particular office in Manhattan. By moving north-south and east-west through the grid of streets, he may arrive at the address of the office but be disappointed to find that he cannot see it. To actually reach the office he may have to move fifty stories in the vertical direction by taking an elevator.
Thus, the office has a two-dimensional location, but to reach it, three-dimensional travel is necessary. Likewise, to reach a given location in Bhu-mandala, both three-dimensional and higher-dimensional travel may be required.
In summary, we propose that the Vedic cosmology corresponds to our observable world in the following way:
The earth of our experience is a small globe surrounded by the starry heavens in all directions. Bhu-mandala is a vast disc that extends for millions of miles into space but is not perceivable by our present senses.
Its projection on the celestial sphere must be ascertained on the basis of the movement of the sun, and this projection does not correspond to the variable horizon of this earth. We suggest that this is not simply an artificial reconciliation of Vedic cosmology with modern astronomical views. Rather, we propose that this is how Vedic cosmology was understood in ancient times.
The Principle of Correspondence
In a number of places, Shrila Prabhupada cites traditions identifying features of the earth with features of Bhu-mandala and the higher planets in general. Some examples are:
(1) "Bhauma-svarga [which corresponds to the eight varshas of Jambüdvipa other than Bharata-varsha] is sometimes accepted as the tract of land in Bharata-varsha known as Kashmir" (SB 5.17.11p).
(2) It is said that Shivaloka is "supposed to be situated near the Himalaya Mountains" (SB 4.24.22p).
(3) The Yakshas (who are associated with the demigod Kuvera) are identified as Himalayan hill tribes like the Tibetans (SB 4.10.5p).
(4) The words a-manasa-acalat, meaning "up to Manasa Mountain," are translated as referring to the Arctic region (SB 4.16.14).
(5) "Sapta-dvipa refers to the seven great islands or continents on the surface of the globe: (1) Asia, (2) Europe, (3) Africa, (4) North America, (5) South America, (6) Australia, and (7) Oceania" (SB 4.21.12p). Similar statements are made in SB 3.21.2p and TLC, p. 80.
We suggest that identifications of this kind either refer directly to higher-dimensional associations between earthly and celestial locations, or else they refer to traditions that have arisen because of ancient experience of the earth as a higher realm. Thus, Lord Shiva is always associated with the Himalayas, and in the Vedic literature there are many stories about him that take place in a Himalayan setting.
It is therefore natural to think of the Himalayas as the place of Lord Shiva, and he may indeed be especially accessible there to advanced yogis. Of course, we cannot simply regard Shivaloka or Sapta-dvipa as places in the three-dimensional earthly realm of our ordinary experience.
The astronomical siddhantas also contain passages identifying features of Bhu-mandala with parts of the earth globe. Thus the Surya-siddhanta describes Mount Meru as a small mountain at the North Pole, and the Siddhanta-siromani places the seven dvipas in the Southern Hemisphere. In his purports to CC AL 5.111 and CC ML 20.218, Shrila Prabhupada cites the Siddhanta-siromani's description of the seven dvipas.
Since Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura also cites this description in his Anubhashya commentary on these verses of Chaitanya-caritamrita, we will reproduce it here:
"Most learned astronomers have stated that Jambudvipa embraces the whole northern hemisphere lying to the north of the salt sea; and that the other six dvipas and the seven seas ... are all situated in the southern hemisphere.
To the south of the equator lies the salt sea, and to the south of it the sea of milk,... where the omnipresent Vasudeva, to whose lotus feet Brahma and all the gods bow in reverence, holds his favorite residence.
Beyond the sea of milk lie in succession the seas of curds, clarified butter, sugar cane juice, and wine; and, last of all, that of sweet water, which surrounds Vadavanala. The Patala lokas, or infernal regions, form the concave strata of the earth [SSB1, p. 116]."
We should note that these verses of Siddhanta-siromani describe a correspondence between the earth globe and Bhu-mandala that can be expressed in mathematical form. The points on the plane of Bhu-mandala can be mapped onto the earth globe by a stereographic projection.
This is a standard kind of map projection, in which countries on the curved surface of the earth are represented on a flat plane.
In this particular case, one can use a modified polar stereographic projection, which sends the North Pole of the earth to the center point on the plane and sends circles of latitude on the earth to ever-widening concentric circles on the plane. It is possible to set up such a projection so that
(1) The path of the sun in Pushkaradvipa maps to the tropic of Capricorn (see Section 3.d).
(2) The six dvipas surrounding Jambudvipa map to bands along parallels of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere.
(3) The equator cuts the salt ocean between Jambüdvipa and Plakshadvipa in half. Thus Jambüdvipa lies in the Northern Hemisphere.
(4) The base of Mount Meru maps to the Arctic Circle. Thus Mount Meru corresponds to the "land of the midnight sun," north of the Arctic Circle.
This correspondence agrees with the description of the dvipas in the Siddhanta-siromani, and it agrees with the account given in the Surya-siddhanta of the life of the demigods on Mount Meru. There it is stated that the demigods experience days and nights of six months each, and that their dawn and evening occur at the times of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (SS, p. 81). This, of course, is the situation at the North Pole.
The question is, What is the meaning of this mapping between Bhu-mandala and the earth globe? It is not possible for us to take it as a literal description of the earth, since the continents in the Southern Hemisphere are not at all arranged in concentric rings. It may be that this mapping refers to actual higher-dimensional connections between parts of this earth and parts of Bhu-mandala. This is suggested by the fact that Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati refers to it, and Shrila Prabhupada, following in disciplic succession, does also.
However, since the authors of the astronomical siddhantas often expressed doubts about Puranic cosmology, it seems likely that for them, at least, the mapping was simply an artificial attempt to force this cosmology into a three-dimensional framework and thereby make sense out of it.
We therefore suggest that although historical Indian astronomers such as Bhaskaracarya were carrying on a genuine Vedic tradition of astronomy, their understanding of Vedic cosmology was nonetheless imperfect. They did not understand the higher-dimensional nature of structures such as Bhu-mandala, and they consequently focused their attention on those features of Vedic astronomy that can be readily understood in three-dimensional terms.
In recent centuries, many Vaisnavas have also experienced perplexity in their efforts to understand the relationship between Bhu-mandala and the earth globe of our direct experience. This is shown in Appendix 1, where we reproduce a discussion of this relationship by the Vaisnava commentator Vamshidhara. If the existing Vedic literature consists of materials dating to an era in which people had direct experience of higher-dimensional reality, then it is not surprising that many statements in it are bewildering from our gross sensory perspective.
It is therefore reasonable to follow the example of the acaryas and simply receive these statements with faith. If this is done, then further insight may come in due course of time. (In contrast, the approach of skeptical rejection is not likely to lead to further study and insight.)
We will end this subsection by noting another correspondence principle involving Vedic cosmology-the principle of correspondence between microcosm (the body) and macrocosm (the universe and the universal form). In SB 5.23cs there is the statement that "yogis worship the Shishumara planetary system, which is technically known as the kundalini-cakra."
It appears that yogis in meditation would identify the central axis of the universe (which we will discuss in Chapter 4) with the series of cakras in the spinal column. By moving their life airs up the series of cakras, they would prepare their subtle bodies to travel up the axis of the universe to Brahmaloka. This basic idea appears in mystical traditions throughout the world, but it would take us too far afield to discuss it further here."