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Priyavrata Makes “Seven Islands”

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Bhāgavatam 5.1.30

yāvad avabhāsayati sura-girim anuparikrāman bhagavān ādityo vasudhā-talam ardhenaiva pratapaty ardhenāvacchādayati tadā hi bhagavad-upāsanopacitāti-puruṣa-prabhāvas tad anabhinandan samajavena rathena jyotirmayena rajanīm api dinaṁ kariṣyāmīti sapta-kṛt vastaraṇim anuparyakrāmad dvitīya iva pataṅgaḥ.⁠2

Prior to his [Priyavrata’s] reign, while the sun encircled the equator half the world would be overheated, while the other half was under-heated. He decided “I shall adjust night and day.” With the supernatural power he gained by worship of the All-Attractive he created seven charriots made of light, as powerful as the sun. He set them sequentially to follow at seven distances from the Sun.


ye vā u ha tad-ratha-caraṇa-nemi-kṛta-parikhātās te sapta sindhava āsan yata eva kṛtāḥ sapta bhuvo dvīpāḥ⁠3

The rims of the wheels of those chariots created furrows, which made the ocean into seven by creating the world’s seven “islands.”


jambū-plakṣa-śālmali-kuśa-krauñca-śāka-puṣkara-saṁjñās teṣāṁ parimāṇaṁ pūrvasmāt pūrvasmād uttara uttaro yathā-saṅkhyaṁ dvi-guṇa-mānena bahiḥ samantata upakḷptāḥ.⁠4

These islands are called Rose Apple, Holy Fig, Silk Cotton, Salt-Reed, Lotus, Vegetation, and Blue Lotus. Each one is twice as big as the previous, and between each, the oceans accumulated.


kṣārodekṣu-rasoda-suroda-ghṛtoda-kṣīroda-dadhi-maṇḍoda-śuddhodāḥ sapta jaladhayaḥ sapta dvīpa-parikhā ivābhyantara-dvīpa-samānā ekaikaśyena yathānupūrvaṁ saptasv api bahir dvīpeṣu pṛthak parita upakalpitās teṣu jambv-ādiṣu barhiṣmatī-patir anuvratānātmajān āgnīdhredhmajihva-yajñabāhu-hiraṇyareto-ghṛtapṛṣṭha-medhātithi-vītihotra-saṁjñān yathā-saṅkhyenaikaikasminn ekam evādhi-patiṁ vidadhe⁠5

Salt-water, sugar-water, liquor-water, ghee-water, milk-water, cream-water, pure-water – these filled the seven trenches between the seven islands, in that order. Each one completely encompassed its island. It’s broadness seemed to cover the entire breath of the island. 

Bharhiṣmatī’s Husband made his seven sons his deputies to rule these islands.


At first glance the Fifth Canto’s tale of Priyavrata appears to be a wild mythology about a Flat-Earth with an impossibly big “Mount Olympus” at its center, which gets divided by gigantic charriots into seven concentric continents shaped like donuts, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the actual world we inhabit and see every day. On closer inspection, however, it winds up being a description of a heliocentric solar system remarkably compatible with the world observed by empirical science.

This is a story about a transformation in the space around the earth as a result of an attempt to modify the Sun’s apparent motion. The agents of this transformation are seven temporarily luminous celestial bodies created by Priyavrata’s mystic power (5.1.30). The visible solar system indeed consists of seven celestial bodies,⁠6 and cosmologists say they were indeed luminous when they first began to coalesce from the more uniform mass that previously filled local space.

The “weight” of these celestial bodies had an effect on space – it created “depressions” in the space (parikhyāta) which then caused matter to “coalesce” (upaklpta). This is exceedingly reminiscent of Einstein’s model of the relationship between gravity and space, and also matches the description cosmologists currently give for the formation of the solar system.

The coalesced matter is portrayed as “islands” (dvīpa) surrounded by massive traverses described as “oceans” (sindava – 5.1.31). The distance between the islands is “almost entirely taken up by the oceans around them” (ivābhyantara-dvīpa-samānā – 5.1.33) and doubles in size between each island (5.1.32). When mapped out this looks quite similar to modern maps of the solar system. If this is indeed a description of the solar system, the outermost ocean would correspond to interstellar space, which would also make sense because it is by far the largest “ocean” and has no definite outer edge.

Priyavrata did all this in an attempt to balance the unequal lengths of day and night over the course of a year, because that causes unstable seasonal climates. The tale informs us (5.1.30) that these changes result from the Sun’s orbital motion north and south of a central point (this is the “Mount Olympus” of the tale, Suragiri Meru. This name conventionally means, “The Tall Mountain of the Gods” but literally means, “The Line on which the Sun Rises and Falls.” In other words, the equator!). From the description it seems Priyavrata accelerated the sun through its solstices and decelerated it at its equinoxes by subjecting it to various gravitational forces from variously sized bodies at various distances (the larger ones being further away – similar to how the further planets in our observable solar system are remarkably larger than the closer ones). The luminosity of these objects may have also balanced whatever imbalance remained after this. It is safe to say Priyavrata would have had to make the Sun the focal point for the orbits of these seven celestial bodies. This would mean that the tale actually describes the creation of a heliocentric solar system. 

The “oceans” between each “island” are not identical to one another. Each one has a unique element mixed with water (Only the outermost ocean is pure water).  It seems that the unique element in a particular ocean is the seed for the unique features of the island formed in it. Indeed, the naming system for the oceans and islands bears this out – the ocean is always named after a type of water, and the island is named for a type of plant. Plants, after all, grow from the nutrients in water.

The quality of life on each island can be ascertained from the type of “water” it formed from, and from the name of the son Priyavrata established as it’s regent. For example, the first realm (our world) coalesces from a “salty” ocean (kṣāra), like our sweat, and is ruled by Āgnīdhra, which means “initiating an effort” (lit. “lighting the sacrifical fire”).  The second realm coalesces from a “sugary” ocean (ikṣurasa) and is ruled by Idhmajihva, which means “the fuel-tongue.” Life in the second realm, then, is less characterized by sweat has more abundance of the “sweet” things in life that people always want to “taste.” 

This tale primarily describes the formation of the seven realms upwards from earth (bhuva). “Realms” and “planets” may be related, but are not entirely identical. It seems that the planets of our empirical solar system echo the relationship of the seven realms of Bhuva. In other words, bodies in our empirical space are analog to supra-empirical levels of existence in the earth’s local universe. 

2 yāvad – up till then; avabhāsayati – illuminates; sura-girim – the “god’s mountain” (center of the world – equator); anuparikrāman – encircling; bhagavān ādityo – the Sun; vasudhā-talam – Earth’s surface; ardhena eva – only half; pratapati – overheated; ardhena – half; avacchādayati – under-heated; tadā hi – so then; bhagavad-upāsana upacita – with a blessing from Bhagavan’s worship; ati-puruṣa-prabhāvaḥ – supernatural power; tat – that (sun); anabhinandan – without meeting; samajavena – equally powerful; rathena jyotirmayena – a charriot made of light; rajanīm api dinaṁ kariṣyāmi iti – “though it is night, I shall make it day”; sapta-kṛt – sevenfold; vastaraṇim anuparyakrāmat – sequentially following it in its orbit; dvitīya iva pataṅgaḥ – like a second sun.

3 ye – that; vā u ha – as a result; tad-ratha-caraṇa-nemi-kṛta –  created by the rims of the wheel of that charriot; parikhātās – furrows; te sapta sindhava āsan – these became seven oceans; yata eva kṛtāḥ sapta bhuvo dvīpāḥ – and that, in turn, created seven islands in bhuva (the upper universe).

4 jambū – Rose Apple; plakṣa – Holy Fig; śālmali – Silk Cotton; kuśa – Salt-Reed; krauñca – Sea Hawk; śāka – Vegetable; puṣkara – Blue Lotus; saṁjñās – known as; teṣāṁ parimāṇaṁ – their dimensions; pūrvasmāt pūrvasmād – from the previous to the next; uttara uttaro – more and more; yathā-saṅkhyaṁ – count up; dvi-guṇa-mānena – doubling; bahiḥ – outside; samantata – each of them; upakḷptāḥ – the oceans accumulated.

5 kṣāra uda – salt-water; ikṣu-rasa uda – sugar-water; sura uda – liquor-water; ghṛta uda – ghee-water; kṣīra uda – milk-water; dadhi-maṇḍa uda – yogurt-cream-water; śuddha udāḥ – pure water; sapta jala-dhayaḥ – seven oceans; sapta dvīpa-parikhā – seven island-trenches; iva abhyantara-dvīpa-samānā – as if equal in size to the island they enclose; ekaikaśyena – in each one; yatha anupūrvaṁ – in order; saptasv – seven; api bahir – bordering; dvīpeṣu pṛthak parita – completely encompassing each island; upakalpitās – arranged; teṣu jambv-ādiṣu – those, starting from Jambu; barhiṣmatī-patir – Barhiṣmati’s husband; anuvratān ātmajān – sons, who followed his principles; āgnīdhra idhmajihva yajñabāhu hiraṇyaretah ghṛtapṛṣṭha medhātithi vītihotra saṁjñān – known by these names; yathā-saṅkhyena eka ekasminn ekam – one in each, in order; eva – certainly; ādhi-patiṁ – ruler; vidadhe – installed;

6 The seven planets in the visible solar system are Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. However, in this case, we should not include the Sun, for it already existed. Perhaps then the seventh is a planet between Mars and Jupiter – currently destroyed and leaving behind a belt of asteroids? Further, the Moon also existed prior to Priyavrata, so we should remove that as well and consider the astounding possibility that this description includes Uranus and Neptune!



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