Advanced Astronomy In the Srimad-Bhagavatam
by Sadaputa Dasa
This ancient Vedic text gives an accurate map of the planetary orbits known to modern astronomy.
Today we take for granted that the earth is a sphere, but the early Greeks tended to think it was flat. For example, in the fifth century B.C. the philosopher Thales thought of the earth as a disk floating on water like a log.1 About a century later, Anaxagoras taught that it is flat like a lid and stays suspended in air.2 A few decades later, the famous atomist Democritus argued that the earth is shaped like a tambourine and is tilted downwards toward the south.3 Although some say that Pythagoras, in the sixth century B.C., was the first to view the earth as a sphere, this idea did not catch on quickly among the Greeks, and the first attempt to measure the earth’s diameter is generally attributed to Eratosthenes in the second century B.C.
Scholars widely believe that prior to the philosophical and scientific achievements of the Greeks, people in ancient civilized societies regarded the earth as a flat disk. So to find that the Bhagavata Purana of India appears to describe a flat earth comes as no surprise. The Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, is dated by scholars to A.D. 500-1000, although it is acknowledged to contain much older material and its traditional date is the beginning of the third millennium B.C.
In the Bhagavatam, Bhumandala—the “earth mandala”—is a disk 500 million yojanas in diameter. The yojana is a unit of distance about 8 miles long, and so the diameter of Bhumandala is about 4 billion miles. Bhumandala is marked by circular features designated as islands and oceans. These features are listed in Table 1, along with their dimensions, as given in the Bhagavatam.