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The Epics of Ancient India – Their Relevance to Ufology

Author : Colin Biggs ©

Many readers of UFO Encounter will be familiar with the works of certain researchers who scoured the remaining texts of various ancient peoples in search of material which could conceivably be fitted into a context of alien visitation in remote eras of human history. This essay will focus solely on the evidence provided by the two great epics of ancient India (to be described shortly) and the way in which that evidence has been handled, or rather, mishandled, by modern researchers. Singled out for my attention will be two of the early classics in the field of UFO contacts, namely Desmond Leslie’s contribution to Flying Saucers Have Landed, and W. Raymond Drake’s Spacemen in the Ancient East, both of whom devote entire chapters to alleged UFO-related references in ancient Indian texts. Pater Kolosimo, Andre Tomas, Charles Berlitz, Erich von Daniken and others have all written on this topic, but it seems to me that only Leslie and Drake have conducted any original research in this field, with others simply endorsing their conclusions and accepting the accuracy of their quoted ancient references in blind faith.

The central thesis of these early researchers runs as follows: ancient Indian literature in general, and the two great epics in particular, contain copious references which can only be interpreted in a modern context as pointing to either a) extensive human/alien contact and interaction in ancient times, or b) a past advanced civilisation based on Earth itself, subsequently destroyed, scattered records of which had been passed down the ages to be eventually incorporated into old Indian literature (and that of other peoples as well). Often these two themes are combined. The epic material of possible relevance to these hypotheses falls into several categories: contact with a wide variety of otherworldly, non-human entities such as devas, asuras, gandharvas, yakshas, apsaras, rakshasas, and many more; numerous references to flying vehicles (vimanas) or even great flying cities; and references to super weapons supposedly beyond the imagination capabilities of ancient poets and writers. In this essay I will deal only with the latter two categories. Readers interested in the broader subject of contact and interaction with the many different varieties of non-human entities recorded by the ancient Indians are urged to consult Richard Thompson’s book Alien Identities, an excellent, in-depth treatment of this vast subject.

When we actually come to examine the ancient material adduced by Leslie, Drake, et al to support their case, it is apparent that their treatment of this source material leaves much to be desired. Part 1 of this essay will perform a regrettable but necessary ‘demolition job’ on the way these early researchers have presented their case. Part 2 will take a more positive approach, analysing those ancient references which can conceivably be fitted into a Ufological framework. Both parts will contain numerous quotations from both ancient and modern sources. To avoid the confusion inherent in citing page numbers from different editions of the works consulted, I will supply chapter numbers only in the case of modern works, and section numbers in the ancient works (eg The Mahabharata is divided into 18 great chapters or parvas, in turn subdivided into numerous sections), these being sufficiently short to enable any readers interested in following up the references to locate them with a minimum of confusion.

Let us being with a brief history of the epics in question, namely the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, surely two of the greatest literary legacies bequeathed to us by Indian civilisation. Both are of uncertain date, with the Ramayana perhaps attaining its final form in the 1st or 2nd century B.C., but the central core of the Mahabharata may even reach back into the 2nd millennium B.C. The latter attained its final form around 200 A.D., by which time it had reached the incredible length of over 90,000 stanzas, probably the world’s longest single poem. Originally composed in oral form by bards attached to the courts of Indian kings, they finally were committed to writing and passed into the hands of the priestly class (Brahmans) who interpolated vast amounts of material, particularly into the Mahabharata, in the course of which its character changed from an account of martial exploits for the edification of the warrior class to a huge compendium of morals, duties, statecraft, philosophy and didactic teachings.

The numerous errors committed by Leslie, Drake et al In their handling of epic source material seems to me to fall into several distinct categories. First may be mentioned errors pertaining to a basic misunderstanding of the very nature and purpose of epic poetry itself, illustrated by the following: Drake (chapter 4) quotes from the Mahabharata (I was not able to locate this reference) ‘that mace of adamantine strength, hurled like Indra’s thunder by Indra himself, crushed, Oh King, thy soldiers in battle. And it seemed to fill, Oh King, the whole earth with a loud noise — beholding that mace of impetuous curse and endowed with lightning flashes coursing towards them, thy warriors fled away uttering frightful cries.’ Throwing caution to the winds, Drake interprets this as ‘atomic warfare with defenders vainly launching anti-missiles to counter nuclear rockets.’ This is utterly preposterous. Anyone remotely familiar with the stirring ‘battle chapters’ of the Mahabharata will know that references like the above can be multiplied a thousandfold, in contexts where it is perfectly clear that only normal, conventional weapons are involved. If we are to believe that every such use of language indicates nuclear warfare, then atomic bombs must have exploded over the north Indian plains with such frequency as to reduce said region to an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland, a misapprehension which any visit to the area will rapidly dispel.

In fact, epic poetry, by its very nature, freely indulges in this kind of extreme hyperbole and overblown phraseology, with is heroes routinely performing superhuman exploits. The epics most familiar to us, namely the Iliad and Odyssey of the ancient Greeks, are models of restraint when compared with their Indian counterparts. Then again, the purpose of epic poetry is quite different from historical literature in general. Originally composed for oral recitation at royal courts to recount the heroic deeds of royal ancestors, historical accuracy fared a poor second to the need to glorify and extol the exploits of the latter. Many a classical scholar has come to grief trying to ‘prove’, for example, that the Trojan war really occurred as a historical fact. Similarly, while most Indian scholars concur that the Mahabharata may record an actual conflict in the distant past involving many kings of northern India, the epic account of a huge, apocalyptic battle fought over 18 consecutive days resulting in the impossible death toll of one billion, 660 million and 20 thousand people simply cannot be taken at face value (Sree Parva, Section 26). In this class of literature, we cannot expect anything like literal truth in the recounting of alleged historical events, in the heroic exploits of its human protagonists, and in accounts of combat and warfare in general, it is in the latter, especially where the composers of the Mahabharata soar to their loftiest heights of fanciful description. Leslie et al seem completely oblivious to the basic nature and function of epic poetry in this regard, as well as the bards’ constant use of stock formulae and conventional phrases in certain contexts.

The latter point is well illustrated by the following quotation recounting the use of a terrible weapon called the Agneya. In their eagerness to prove their case, nearly all the early researchers in this field have seized upon this account of total carnage as indicating a nuclear explosion, but as we shall see, all is not as it seems:

Meteors flashed down from the firmament. A thick gloom suddenly shrouded the host — inauspicious winds began to blow, the sun himself no longer gave any heat. Ravens fiercely croaked on all sides. Clouds soared in the welkin [ie. the sky], showing blood — the very elements seemed to be perturbed, the universe, scorched by heat, seemed to be in a fever. The elephants and other creatures of the land, scorched by the energy of that weapon, ran in fright, breathing heavily and desirous of protection against that terrible force. The very waters heated, the creatures residing in that element — seemed to burn — hostile warriors fell down like trees burnt down by a raging fire. Huge elephants, burnt by that weapon, fell down on the earth all around — other elephants scorched by that fire, ran hither and thither and roared aloud in fear, as if in the midst of a forest conflagration. The steeds, Oh King, and the cars [ie. chariots], also, burnt by the energy of that weapon, looked, Oh King, liked the tops of trees burnt in a forest fire — we had never before, Oh King, heard of, or seen the like of that weapon — the forms of the slain could not be distinguished. (Drona Parva, section 201)

Read in isolation, this dramatic account could conceivably be interpreted as a nuclear event, but a closer examination reveals otherwise, the first part of the above quote, down to ‘seemed to be in a fever’ owes its form to a kind of stereotyped list of what may be termed ‘omens and portents’ occurring throughout the epic with a fair degree of frequency. Compare it with the following: ‘Meteors began to shoot. The points of the compass seemed to be ablaze. The earth trembled — the trees began to cast off their branches and the mountains their summits — the sun seemed at that moment to be shorn of splendour’ (Shanti Parva, section 334). ‘Meteoric showers became noticeable and all the quarters seemed ablaze. Thunder fell from a cloudless sky and fierce winds began to blow — a frightful shower of bones fell from the sky, these and may other terrible an awful portents appeared —‘ (Karna Parva, section 37). I could go on and on.

The above two quotes occur in contexts where super weapons are definitely not involved. In fact, the falling meteors, trembling earth, and turmoil in the nature generally are nothing more than a conventional list, a literary device, heralding some dramatic or awful event that is soon about to unfold. No two lists of these phenomena are exactly the same, however. On those occasions where the dreadful event portended is the discharge of one of these so-called ‘celestial weapons’ (ie. super weapons) it is noteworthy that the stereotyped listing of omens always occurs before, not after, the weapon is actually used. This fact alone should have alerted the early UFO researchers as to the true literary functions of those ‘omens and portents.’ A conventional set of omens heralding some dramatic event has been misunderstood by them as the effect of that event/ the apparent cause of confusion in the case of the Agneya weapon is the lack of any interval between the omens and the specific effects of the weapon, making it seem as if the y were concurrent events. With regard to the specific effects, I will grant that the depiction of total carnage is unusually graphic even by the standards of the Mahabharata, and the number reputedly slain by it is exceptionally large. To further confuse the issue, there exist a couple of instances where the ‘omens’ are specifically identified as the effects of a particular weapon. I shall have more to say on this point later in this essay.

Another category of error committed by Leslie, Drake et al results from apparent confusion over certain niceties of the Hindu religion. Drake (chapter 4) correctly quotes part of a translator’s footnote occurring in Bhishma Parva (section 120) concerning the so-called ‘Brahma Danda’ which he then incorrectly assumes is some kind of super weapon: ‘Brahma Danda is infinitely more powerful than even Indra’s bolt. The latter can strike only one, but the former can smite whole countries and entire races from generation to generation’. Drake leaps to the conclusion that this must represent the effects of radioactive contamination producing genetic mutations down the generations. This is a classic instance of selective quotation leading to erroneous conclusions, as the full quote actually begins: ‘Brahma Danda literally means a Brahmana’s (member of the priestly class) rod – a bamboo stick. In consequence of the Brahmana’s ascetic power, this thin rod symbolical (sic) of the Brahmana’s power of chastisement, is infinitely more powerful than even Indra’s bolt etc etc.’ Another translator’s footnote, this time from Anusasana Parva (section 93) removes all doubt: ‘Brahma Danda literally means the stick in the hands of a Brahmana. Figuratively, it implies the chastisement inflicted by a Brahmana in the form of a curse. As such it is more effective than a thunderbolt in the hands of Indra himself, for the thunderbolt blasts only those objects that lie within its immediate range. The Brahmana’s curse, however, blasts even those that are unborn.’ The Brahma Danda is thus not even a weapon at all, merely a symbolic instrument representing the power of a Brahman’s curse and the implied superiority of the priestly class over the warrior class, the latter symbolised by Indra’s bolt.

Of a similar kind is the following error which occurs in Leslies chapter nine: ‘Before using the Brahma weapon, the operator invariably ‘touches water’, which to us would imply the making of an electrical contact, or a good earthing.’ Quite apart from the fact that ‘touching water’ in the epics has no specific connection with the Brahma weapon, Leslie displays a woeful ignorance of basic Hindu religious practices that any good Hindu could have dispelled. The following translator’s footnotes fully explain the situation: ‘Persons of the regenerate classes, when saying their morning, midday or evening prayers have to touch water often.’ What is meant, therefore, by Bharadvaja (a great sage) ‘touching the water’ is that Bharadvaja was saying his prayers (Shanti Parva, section 343).

‘Before performing any rite or act of a grave nature, Hindus are required to touch water or perform what is called the Achamana. A little quantity of water is taken on the palm of the right hand, and with it are touched the lips, the nostrils, the ears and the eyes. (Aswamedha Parva section 64). Leslie’s ‘electrical contact’ thus turns out to be nothing more mysterious than a common Hindu rite of purification.

We move on to a more serious type of error committed by early UFO researchers, involving a quite incredible degree of carelessness and sloppiness on their part, verging in may instances on what can only be described as sleight of hand or outright deception. Let us take one example. In his chapter nine, Leslie recounts the destruction of the so-called Triple City by lord Shiva, one of the greatest gods in the Hindu pantheon: ‘He (Shiva) flings a missile which contained the power of the universe at the Triple City — the city began to burn — smoke, looking like 10,000 suns, blazed up in the splendour.’ Charles Berlitz, in Mysteries from Forgotten Worlds (chapter twelve), goes one better: ‘an incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its splendour.’ The latter is pure invention, as can be clearly seen when compared with the actual source quotation, which runs: ‘Then he called Nila Rohita – that terrible deity robed in skins, looking like 10,000 suns — blazed up with splendour’ (Karna Parva, section 34). Now a translator’s insert explains that Nila Rohita means ‘blue and red’ or ‘smoke’, (which could be rendered in English as the ‘Smokey One’ or something similar) being nothing more than one of Lord Shiva’s innumerable epithets. It is obvious that it is not the Triple City which is blazing in splendour, but Shiva himself. In fact, it is not until a full three pages after the above even that the city’s destruction occurs: ‘That lord of the universe — sped that shaft which represented the might of the whole universe at the Triple City — thus was the Triple City burnt.’ By cleverly combining widely separated quotations and mistaking a manifestation of Lord Shiva for a nuclear explosion, Leslie has made a complete mess of this event, and Berlitz has only compounded the original error.

Also in Leslie’s chapter nine occurs another misquote, this time in connection with the rather fearsome looking chariot of a certain Ghatotkacha: ‘a huge and terrible vimana of black iron, it was 400 yojanas high and as many wide, equipped with engines set in their proper places. No steeds or elephants propelled it. Instead, it was drawn by machines that looked like elephants.’ Firstly it should be noted that vimana is a special Sanskrit term usually referring to the flying vehicles of the Gods, and is not used so much as one in the translation of the Mahabharata that Leslie claims to be using. The translator, instead, usually employed terms such as ‘celestial car’ when referring to flying vehicles, and Leslie has no right in substituting the word vimana at his own sweet whim in this instance where an aerial vehicle is not involved. The actual quote is as follows: ‘Ghatotkacha rushed at him, riding on a huge and terrible car of black iron covered with bear skins. Both the height and the width of that car measured 30 nalwas (not yojanas). Equipped with machines set in proper places it was (sic); it rather resembled that of the night mass of clouds. No steeds or elephants were yoked unto it, but instead, beings that looked like elephants. On its tall standard perched a prince of vultures with outstretched wings and feet, with eyes wide expanded and shrieking awfully. And it was equipped with red flags and decked with entrails of various animals.” (Drona Parva section 156)

I am familiar with many different descriptions of UFOs, but never yet have I come across a report in which said craft was bedecked with bear skins and entrails, with a shrieking vulture perched on its antenna. By making a few ‘creative adjustments’ to the translation, Leslie has changed the entire aspect of what is certainly no ordinary vehicle, but neither is it an aerial vimana. At best when W. R. Drake is quoting from the Mahabharata, he generally gets it right, but Leslie’s errors in quotation are so egregious that one wonders if he is even quoting from the same translation, which is a bit worrying in that the only complete English prose translation ever made is that of a certain P. C. Roy, dating from the 1880s. if Leslie is using an (unknown?) alternative translation, or even translating himself directly from the Sanskrit original (I have no idea whether Leslie was proficient in Sanskrit or not) then he should have informed his readers of the fact, but the only references to the Mahabharata in Leslies own bibliography are from the Roy translation. We must therefore presume that he used the only available complete English translation, but saw fit to make ‘improvements’ if the actual text did not agree with the points he was trying to make. [I note in passing that the Feb/March issue of this journal (UFO Encounter) reports the poor man as recently deceased, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on him.]

I have one further barb to hurl at Leslie before I take my leave of him, this time in connection with a weapon which he quite erroneously assumes to have some kind of effect on metallic substances only. Says Leslie: ‘We are told that only those wearing metal or grasping metal objects will be hurt by the Brahma weapon — the importance of avoiding metal when the weapon is active is frequently stressed’ (Flying Saucers Have Landed, chapter 9). There are two errors contained therein. Firstly, Leslie has mistaken the Brahma weapon for another much more mysterious weapon called the Narayana (about which I will have much more to say later). More seriously, though, not only is the importance of avoiding metal not stressed, it is not so much as briefly alluded to even once. This appears to be a complete invention of misapprehension on Leslie’s part.

In my opinion, the nadir of deceptive misrepresentation is attained not by Leslie but by Charles Berlitz in his 1974 book The Bermuda Triangle (chapter 8), in which occurs the following: ‘A description of a special weapon launched against an opposing army goes as follows:” thence comes this lengthy quotation from the Mahabharata:

‘A single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its splendour…. It was an unknown weapon, and iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and Andhakas…. The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognisable. Their hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without any apparent cause, and the birds turned white. After a few hours, all foodstuffs were infected…. To escape from this fire, the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and all their equipment.’

I have reproduced this quotation exactly as it appears in Berlitz’s book in order to illustrate my point. Readers could naturally assume that Berlitz was quoting one single passage with a few superfluous words omitted here and there, which on face value reads like an ancient writer’s account of an atomic explosion and its aftermath. How wrong they would be. What Berlitz has done is to collate various totally unrelated excerpts from different chapters of the Mahabharata and weave them into one apparently seamless fabric, but a dissection of the passages in question reveals the truth. The front part, ‘a single projectile — all its splendour’ has its origin in Karna Parva, section 34. The second part, ‘it was an unknown weapon — Andhakas’ derives from Mausala Parva section 1, reconnecting events which occurred no less than 36 years after the great battle which is the central focus of the Mahabharata. A third part ‘the corpses — unrecognisable’ refers back in time to the much earlier Drona Parva section 201, and the already mentioned Agneya weapon. The fourth part, ‘the hair and nails — infected’ leaps forward in time once again to Mausala Parva, section 2. In the fifth part, ‘to escape — equipment,’ we are time-warped back to Drona Parva section 197. In just one paragraph, Berlitz has managed to cobble and stich five unrelated excerpts, widely separated in both place and time, and presented them as one coherent whole allegedly representing a nuclear explosion. It is a totally dishonest cut and past job which does Berlitz no credit at all. It is this kind of cavalier disregard for the ancient source material and the search for truth which casts all serious research in this field into disrepute, and only serves as ammunition for those sceptics and debunkers who belittle the very notion of alien/human interaction in ancient times.

In a final parting shot, I simply cannot pass over in silence the fourth part of the above passage, which must rank as a classic of selective misquotation. Hair and nails falling out, birds turning white, food being infected – all very evocative of radioactive contamination in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. What section 2 of the Mausala Pareva actually says, however, paints a very different picture. The full passage is rather lengthy, so I have presented the relevant excerpts:

‘Day by day strong winds blow and many were the evil omens that arose, awful and foreboding the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas. The streets swarmed with rats and mice. Earthen pots showed cracks or broken (sic) from no apparent cause. At night, the rats ad mice ate away the hair and nails of slumbering men. — many birds appeared, impelled by death, that were pale of complexion but that had legs red of hue — the Vrishni’s, committing sinful acts, were not seen to feel any shame — they insulted and humiliated their preceptors and seniors — wives deceived their husbands and husbands their wives — the sun, whether when rising or setting over the city, seemed to be surrounded by headless trunks of human form. In cook rooms, upon food that was clean and well boiled were seen, when it was served out for eating, innumerable worms of diverse kinds,’ etc.

It should be quite apparent that, as clearly and unambiguously stated at the beginning of the passage, what we have here is yet another example of the ‘omens and portents’ discussed earlier, but presented in a novel form. Hair and nails did not fall out, they were eaten by mice. To say that white birds appeared is quite different from birds turning white. (I am simply analysing this passage at face value. We need not suppose that any of this actually happened.) it is almost superfluous of me to ad that the destruction of said Vishnis and Andhakas does not occur until two pages after the above passages, not before it. The latter is not describing the effects of such destruction but rather the portents which preceded it.

Failure to comprehend the literary genre and religious milieu they were dealing with; cutting, splicing and recombining of unrelated excerpts; and the making of adjustments and ‘improvements’ to the translated texts to suite their convenience are just a few of the egregious errors committed by some of the early pioneers in UFO research. They deserve some credit, it is true, for at least bringing the ancient within the purview of the interested reader, but their slipshod methods render most of their research invalid. Serious research demands much more careful attention to detail, not to mention adherence to truth, than displayed by most of these early writers. If it was so easy for myself, basically sympathetic to the notion of human/alien interaction in ancient times to tear to shreds the arguments and alleged evidence of these people, the true debunker would have a field day. It behoves all of us in the UFO community to be as scrupulously honest as we can in the research and presentation of our material. As I hope to demonstrate later, it is possible to mount a reasonable case for the possibility of human/alien contact and/or a very ancient, lost, high civilisation native to Earth itself, based on the evidence of the Indian epics, without resorting to the questionable methods adopted by those early researchers.

Having performed a regrettable but necessary ‘hatchet job’ on the way some pioneer UFO researchers handled material from the two great epics of ancient India of possible relevance to our subject in the first part of this essay, it is now my pleasant duty to adopt a more positive approach. In a recent reading of both epics from start to finish (a task not to be undertaken lightly, given the immense length of the works involved, and reserved only for those with a keen interest in ancient Indian civilisation and several months to spare), I succeeded in culling many references to possible advanced technologies and knowledge indicative of human/alien contact in antiquity, and/or the existence of a lost, high civilisation preceding all those presently known. Some of these references were known to the early UFO researchers, but others seem to have been missed by them entirely. These references seemed to fall into three broad categories: flying vehicles or cities, super-weapons, and ‘miscellaneous’. Let us being with the latter.

Occasional, isolated lines hint at knowledge which modern historians of science declare with certitude that the ancients could not have possessed. The conclusion of Shanti Parva section 202, for instance, speaks of the soul becoming an object of the Understanding even ‘as a minute object appears to be possessed of large dimensions,’ causing the translator to observe in a footnote that ancient India apparently had knowledge of spectacles and perhaps even the microscope. A possible knowledge of outer space beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is indicated in a passage which speaks of a great sage ‘proceeding through that region of the firmament that is above the region of the winds’ (Shanti Parva, section 334). Another reference is even more intriguing:

‘The sky thou seest above is infinite. It is the abode of persons crowned with ascetic success and of divine beings. It is delightful, and consists of various regions. Its limits cannot be ascertained… there where the rays of the Sun and the Moon cannot reach are luminaries which are self-effulgent and which posses splendour like that of the Sun or the fire… even these last do not behold the limits of the firmament in consequence of the inaccessibility and infinity of those limits. This space which the very Gods cannot measure is full of many blazing and self-luminous worlds each above the another.’ (Shanti Parva, Section 182). We must not read too much into the passage, for the ancient Hindus held very different ideas of the configuration of the Earth and the heavens from what modern astronomical knowledge has revealed, but at least they seemed to poses some idea of the sheer vastness and infinite distances of outer space.

Consider next, the very suggestive passage:

‘I then beheld, Oh Bharata, in the firmament an effulgence that seemed to be as dazzling as that of a thousand suns combined together. Toward the centre of that effulgence… I saw a cloud looking like a mass of blue hills adorned with rows of cranes, embellished with many a grand rainbow, with flashes of lightning and the thunder-fire looking like eyes set on it. Within that cloud was the puissant Mahadeva (an epithet of the god Shiva), himself of dazzling splendour, accompanied by his spouse Uma… surrounded by diverse clans of spirits and ghosts, he looked like the autumnal Sun difficult of being gazed at for its dazzling brightness.’ (Anusasana Parva, section 14). Of course, this may be nothing more than yet another epiphany of the great god Shiva, but readers might like to compare it with the oft-quoted Ezekiel Chapter 1 from the Old Testament. There is a suggestion that what the witness to Shiva’s manifestation is describing exists in another plane of reality, or ‘higher vibrational’ level, as some may care to put it, in that a sight of Shiva was only granted to an ascetic after a period of prolonged austerities and penances leading to the acquisition of advanced yoga powers, such spectacles were not granted to the common man.

The second category of noteworthy references involves aerial vehicles usually termed ‘vimanas’ in Sanskrit literature, thought that world does not occur in the translated versions of the epics which I possess, the translators preferring terms like ‘celestial care’ or similar. References to such are scattered throughout both epics, though not as copiously as some early UFO researchers maintained. Let us first consider the Mahabharata, and begin with a description of a ;wonderful care moving on land and water and through mid-air according to the wish of the rider.’ (Adi Parva, section 2) later in the same chapter occurs the following: ‘I shall give thee a crystal car such as the celestials alone are capable of carrying through midair. Thou alone , of all mortals on Earth, riding on that best of cars, shalt course through midair like a celestial endued with a physical frame.’ (Adi Parva, section 63) already we observe two constantly recurring themes concerning this class of vehicle, ie. their ability to move by the will of their occupants, and their exclusive ownership by the ‘celestials’ (the Gods and other types of heavenly denizens), to be bestowed on humankind only as a special boon or gift.

But these aerial vehicles pale into insignificance when compared with the huge flying cities of enormous dimension evidently capable of bearing many thousands of occupants, that receive occasional mention in the Mahabharata. The Vana Parva, (sections 14-22), relates a very spirited encounter between lord Krishna and his implacable foe, Salwa, the lord of Saubha. Salwa is a human king, but Saubha is described as a great flying city of the Danavas, a class of otherworldly beings generally hostile to the interests of the gods, over which Salwa had acquired lordship. The authors of Vana Parva were evidently confused as to the true nature of Saubha, occasionally referring to it as a much smaller vehicle, eg. ‘He (ie. Salwa) rose into the sky on his car of precious metals capable of going everywhere at will.’ (Vana Parva, section 14) after a prolonged battle in which all kinds of ‘super-weapons’ are used, including one capable of rendering the whole city invisible and another even more intriguing ‘sound-seeking’ weapon about which I will have more to say later, Krishna destroys Saubha with one of his divine attributes, a great discuss called Sudarsana, in a passage which I cannot resist reproducing here. Says Krishna: ‘I launched with the might of my arms and in wrath, with mantras, the great powerful discus Sudarsana which reduceth to ashes in battle Yakshas, Rakshasas, Danavas, and kings born in impure tribes, sharp edged like the razor and without stain, like unto Yama the destroyer, and incomparable and which killeth enemies. And rising into the sky, it seemed like a second sun of exceeding effulgence… and approaching the town of Saubha whose splendour had disappeared, the discuss went right through it, even as a saw divideth a tall tree. And cut in twain by the energy of the Sudarsana it fell like the city of Tripura shaken by the shafts of Maheswara (another epithet of Shiva). And after the town of Saubha had fallen, the discus came back into my hand… beholding their town, high as the peak of Meru, with its palaces and gateways utterly destroyed and all ablaze, the Danavas fled in fear.’ (Vana Parva, section 22) It is probably just as well that the early researchers like D. Leslie, W.R. Drake et al were apparently unaware of this passage. They would have had a field day, doubtlessly interpreting Krishna’s discus Sudarsana as a UFO. Being of a more cautious nature, I shall not go so far, but simply present this passage let the reader make of it what they will.

The Vana Parva (sections 171-172) also relates the destruction by the hero Arjuna of another great flying city of the Asuras (Asuras, Daityas and Danavas are almost interchangeable terms referring to very similar classes of non-human entities) called Hiranyapura. Reports Arjuna: ‘I happened to descry a mighty unearthly city, moving at will, and having the effulgence of fire or the sun… the Daityas supported themselves easily on that sky-ranging unearthly aerial city, going anywhere at will, and like unto the sun. and now the city entered into the earth and now it rose upward and at one time it went in a crooked way and at another time it submerged into water…battered and broken by the straight coursing iron shafts shot by me, the city of the Asuras, oh king, fell to the earth.’

The next instance of a great flying city has already received a mention earlier this essay; namely, the Triple City or Tripura, once again inhabited by Asuras, and so-called as it originally consisted of three separate cities, one of gold, one of silver, and one of iron, which eventually combined to form a single flying city. ‘The golden city was set in heaven, the silver city in the welkin (ie. the sky) and the iron city was set on the earth, all in such a way as to revolved in a circle.’ (Karna Parva, section 33) I am not sure exactly what is meant by the latter expression. Does it mean they were each revolving on their own axes or were they set in fixed orbit around the earth? The above passage continues: ‘each of these cities measured 100 yojanas in breadth and a hundred in length. And they consisted of houses and mansions and lofty walls and porches. And though teeming with lordly palaces close to each other, yet the streets were wide and spacious.’ For all its strengths and opulence, however, Tripura was destroyed by lord Shiva after the three cities had united to become one. ‘That lord of the universe, then drawing that celestial bow, sped that shaft which represented the might of the whole universe, at the Triple City. Upon that foremost of shafts being shot… loud wails of woe were heard from those cities as they began to fall down towards the earth. Burning those Asuras, he (ie. Shiva) threw them down into the western ocean.’ (Karna Parva, section 34)

The final example of a great flying vehicle comes not from the Mahabharata, but from the second great epic of ancient India, the Ramayana, which has hitherto received scant mention in this essay. Unless one takes an extreme position and considers that any reference to the gods, flights in the sky etc., must necessarily represent aliens in their UFOs, then there is precious little in the Ramayana which relates to the kind of issues I am discussing here. That is, except for the great Pushpaka chariot, but the world ‘chariot’ hardly does justice to this magnificent vehicle, of which the epic’s alleged composer, Valmiki, surpasses himself in flowery hyperbole as he describes it. Pushpaka resembles a vast aerial palace more than a mere conveyance. The following excerpt conveys the general flavour of his description. As Rama’s friend and ally, the famous monkey Hanuman, roves secretly through the palace of the Rakshasa king Ravana, in search of Rama’s abducted wife Sita, he spies ‘the vast aerial chariot Pushpaka, gleaming like pearl… fashioned of plated gold, embellished with lovely images, regarded by Vish Wakarman himself (chief architect and artisan of the gods) as an incomparable artistic achievement, travelling in space like a guiding light in the orbit of the sun, it was immeasurably resplendent. No detail of that car had been executed unskilfully, no ornament but appeared to be a jewel of great price, nor was there anything surpassed by the chariots of the gods, each part being excellently wrought. By the merit of his asceticism and contemplation Ravana had obtained it and it repaired wheresoever its master directed it by the power of his thought. Irresistible and swift as the wind… capable of ranging the firmament, containing many apartments and furnished with innumerable works of art, captivating to the mind, stainless as the autumnal moon, resembling a mountain with splendid peaks… etc.’ (Sundara Kanda, chapter 8 – NB Unlike the ‘parvas’ of the Mahabharata, the larger divisions of the Ramayana are known as ‘handas.’)

Valmiki indeed waxes lyrical in his admiration of the great vehicle and its splendid furnishings. ‘Shines like the sun, bright as a cloud, as swift as thought that went everywhere at one’s will and resembled a mountain; are typical of the rapturous encomiums bestowed upon this remarkable vehicle. After the defeat of Ravana, Rama assumes control of the Pushpaka, and, together with his rescued wife Sita and a vast assemblage of his friends and allies, undertakes an aerial journey from Lanka (modern Sri Lanka) back to his home city of Ayodhya in the far north of India. Then follows a fascinating account of the locations of various incidents in Rama’s quest for Sita as seen from a great height on their northward journey. In no time at all, the Pushpaka delivers all its occupants safely to Ayodhya, where occurs perhaps the most amazing incident relating to this amazing vehicle: ‘Rama alighted from his aerial car and thereafter spoke to that most excellent of chariots, saying “Now go hence and place thyself at Vaishravana’s disposal, I give thee leave to depart.” Thus dismissed by Rama, that excellent car proceeded in a northerly direction and reached Dhanada’s abode. The celestial car Pushpaka which had been borne away by Ravana, returned at Rama’s command with all speed to Dhanada.’ (Yuddha Kanda, chapter 129. Vaishravana and Dhanada are both epithets of Kuvera, a minor deity who was the original owner of the Pushpaka.)

Now what, we may well ask, is going on here? This is a vehicle which responds instantly to the voice commands of its owner and, despite a couple of occasions in which it is described as being harnessed to swans (I strongly suspect poetic licence is at work here ) is almost invariably said to move at the ‘will’ of its commander. This feature seems to be a distinctive characteristic of divine vehicles in general and it is even said many times in the Mahabharata that deceased humans worthy of ascending to the heavenly regions will be supplied with, among other things, a celestial car capable of roving at the will of the rider. If we were to interpret this in modern terms, we would say that the propulsive mechanisms of said vehicles are somehow linked to the consciousness of their occupants, and where have we come across such notions before? In many accounts of UFOs and their occupants, particularly of the earlier, so-called ‘contactee’ variety (also in several channelled messages from alleged ET sources for what they are worth). The mention of a ‘crystal car’ with which I opened this account of flying vehicles should strike a resonant chord in anyone familiar with UFO literature, while the immense flying cities of the epics evoke the giant ‘motherships’ of UFO lore. Of course, we must never underestimate the power of the poetic imagination. It is highly likely, for example, that the gilded opulence and splendour that characterise such vehicles as the Pushpaka owe more to the epic bard’s familiarity with earthly Indian palaces than the interiors of spaceships. However, it is hard to deny a possible connection between these ancient epic accounts and the modern world of UFOs.

I have restricted myself here to the theme of flying vehicles in India’s two famous epics, but the field is of course much broader than this. Any readers desiring a fuller exploration of this theme, whether it be a discussion of ‘vimanas’ throughout the whole vast range of ancient Indian literature or more specific details of Pushpaka, Saubha, Hiranyapura etc. are urged to consult the excellent 1993 book by Richard Thompson, Alien Identities.

I shall now pass on to a subject more enigmatic and controversial than the flying vehicles of the epics: namely, the mysterious ‘super weapons’ that so fascinated early UFO researchers like Leslie, Drake, et al. The modern translator of the Mahabharata invariably calls them ‘celestial weapons’, sharply distinguishing them from the ordinary conventional weapons of the day (but as we shall soon see, matters are not nearly so clear cut.) most of the early UFO researchers seemed to have regarded these weapons, quite erroneously in my opinion, as some form of nuclear missile thought Leslie, to his credit for once, advances the idea of weapons operating on some vibrationary principle, which may be much closer to the mark. Before proceeding to discuss individual weapons of this class, a few general characteristics of this so-called celestial weaponry are in order.

The first point to note is that, as the term ‘celestial’ implies, they are very much the property of the gods. Their very names state as such, eg. The Brahma weapon belonged to the god Brahma, the Agneya weapon to the god Agni, the Vayavya weapon to the god Vayu, etc. they were only given to humans under special circumstances. After prolonged ascetic practices and penances on the part of the human supplicant, a great god might bestow the use of such a weapon as a special boon, with the strict injunction that they were not to be used indiscriminately but only when in extreme distress or in emergency situations. Thus they could only be obtained by those humans who had attained a certain level of spiritual expertise and self-control, hopefully accompanied by the moral restraint necessary if such powerful weapons were not to be misused. With reference to on eof these weapons, it is explicitly stated that ‘no person of uncleansed soul can bring it back after it had once been let off.’ If such a one attempted to withdraw it, ‘it strikes off his head and destroys him with all his equipment.’ (Sauptika Parva, section 15)

The most important point to observe is that these weapons were not in the permanent possession of their new human ‘owners’, not something to be physically carried around with them on their chariots. What they were given by a gratified deity was not so much the weapon itself, but a mantra, or sacred formula with which to cause those weapons to magically manifest in time of need. ‘invoked into existence’ is the usual term employed when such weapons are conjured up during the course of battle. According to a translator’s footnote, ‘the celestial weapons were forces dependent on mantras. Ordinary shafts (ie arrows) inspired with these mantras were converted into celestial weapons. (Drona Parva, section 98) so it appears that quite prosaic weaponry could be magically turned into much more powerful and deadly ‘celestial’ weapons by the correct utterance of an appropriate sacred formula. Another footnote explains that the ‘celestial weapons were all living agents that appeared at the bidding of him who know how to invoke them.’ (Drona Parva, section 192) Hindus believe that a mantra (literally a ‘thought-form’) acts as a bridge between different orders of reality. In the present context it would seem to function as a means of channelling the power of the particular deity invoked in the form of a weapon.

Some of these celestial weapons seem to produce special effects applicable to them alone, while others seem only to multiply the number of quite ordinary weapons discharged. Through the appropriate mantra, one could fit a perfectly normal arrow to ones bowstring and magically convert that single arrow into thousands of arrows raining down on one’s enemies, or for that matter, anything the invoker desired, such as spears, maces, a hail of stones etc. On one occasion, even a common blade of grass was converted into something much deadlier: ‘He then took up a blade of grass with the left hand. Fallen into great distress, he then inspired that blade of grass with proper mantras and converted it into that powerful celestial weapon.’ (Sauptika Parva, section 13)

That category of celestial weapons which produced unusual specific effects are much more interesting than those which merely produced a ‘multiplier’ effect on ordinary arrows. One class of such weapons evidently caused illusions of various kinds, eg. on such weapon caused thousand of separate, false images of the hero Arjuna to appear throughout the battlefield, which proved an effective tactic to confuse and overawe the enemy (Drona Parva, section 19). The denizens of the great flying city of Saubha mentioned earlier possessed the power to render their city invisible. To counter this move, however, Lord Krishna attacked his invisible enemies with some kind of sound seeking missile ‘capable of striking at the perception of sound alone.’ (Vana Parva, section 19) If this is only a flight of the poetic imagination, then it is extraordinary indeed.

Another class of weapons induced paralysis sleep in its victims, one such weapon is called the Antardhana, which ‘endued with energy, prowess and splendour, is capable of sending the foe to sleep.’ (Vana parva, section 41) Another passage speaks of certain warriors being ‘deprived of their senses, their minds, and strength, being afflicted by the Pramohana weapon,’ upon which the great hero Drona neutralised it with another weapon called Prajna. (Bhishma Parva, section 77) This property of neutralisation of one celestial weapon with another is a common feature of this kind of combat. By the use of another such weapon invoked by Arjuna, the sanmohana, the entire army opposing him was rendered insensible, standing still in a state of frozen paralysis long enough for Arjuna’s charioteer to rush in and strip off the robes of their leaders as trophies of victory before they regained their senses. (Virata parva, section 65) Finally, we have the naga weapon, once again invoked by Arjuna, which possessed the capability of paralysing only the legs of its victims. ‘Thus tied by those foot-tying bans by the high souled sons of Pandu (ie. Arjuna), all of them stood motionless, Oh king, as if they had been petrified… their legs being paralysed they could not, Oh king, move a step.’ (Karna Parva, section 53) A few lines later we read that the enemy troops had their lower limbs encircled by snakes. Their leader invoked a weapon of his own which took the form of birds of prey which promptly devoured the snakes and set his troops free. More illusions, perhaps, or just poetic licence at work.

The above weapons, however, are mere toys when compared with others such as the terrible Agneya weapon, already discussed earlier. Probably the most frequently mentioned weapon of this kind in the Mahabharata is that known as Brahma, about which there seems to be some confusion regarding its nature and effects. On the one hand, there is the following: ‘With proper mantras, Arjuna then fixed the Brahma weapon his (bow) string and shrouded all the points of the compass with arrows. Partha (ie. Arjuna) struck Karna with many arrows.” (Karna Parva, section 90) Here the Brahma weapon is just one of those above mentioned normal arrows which are magically converted into thousands of their kind upon utterance of the appropriate mantras. On other occasions however, the Brahma weapon appears to be something else altogether. Witness the following single combat between the great heroes Bhishma and Rama, (a different personage from his namesake of the Ramayana). Bhishma narrates their duel: ‘He (Rama) invoked the great Brahma weapon, for baffling it I also used the same excellent weapon. Clashing against each other, the two weapons began to blaze forth brightly… without being able to reach either myself or Rama those two weapons… met each other in mid-air. Then the whole welkin (sky) seemed to be ablaze… the earth with her mountains and seas began to tremble, and all creatures heated with the energy of the weapon were greatly afflicted. The firmament, Oh king, became ablaze and the ten points of the horizon became filled with smoke. Creatures, therefore, that range the welkin were unable to stay in their element.’ (Udyoga parva, section 187). A similar clash of Brahma weapons occurs in Sauptika Parva, section 14, where one such weapon is said to have ‘blazed up with terrible flames within a huge sphere of fire,’ producing turmoil in the natural work similar to that in the duel between Bhishma and Rama.

Quite apart from the inconsistency in accounts of these various Brahma weapons, a further anomaly presents itself. Readers will remember how I roundly admonished those early UFO researchers who confused a stereotypical list of omens and portents (meteors falling, the sky ablaze, the earth trembling, nature in turmoil etc) with the supposed effects of super weapons. However, I also said that there were exceptions to the rule, notably the effects consequent upon the clash of Brahma weapons quote above, where it is expressly stated that they are indeed actual effects of the weapons as opposed to omens preceding their use. What to make of this apparent confusion I am not sure, we must remember that the epics were the work of many hands over a long period of time, in which inconsistencies of the kind noted above are bound to occur as a matter of course. Indeed, it is just conceivable that the dimly remembered effects of such weapons in time long gone could have inspired the poetic device of ‘omens and portents’ in the first place. This matter must unfortunately remain unresolved.

Before closing this account of celestial weapons, I shall mention just one more, the narayana, which is a fascinating weapon indeed. After the death of Drona in battle, his enraged son Aswatthaman, out to avenge his slain father, embarks on a veritable orgy of destruction by first unleashing this very powerful weapon (it is the same Aswatthaman, by the way, who shortly after this discharges the terrible Agneya weapon). Krishna, however, seeing what is about to happen, orders his troops: ‘speedily lay down your weapons, all of you, and alight from your vehicles… if you stand weaponless on the earth, this weapon will not slay you… they, however, that will even in imagination contend against this weapon will all be slain by this weapon, even if they seek refuge deep beneath the earth. The warriors of the Pandava army, hearing, Oh Bharata, those words of Vasudeva (Krishna), threw their weapons and drove away from their hearts all desire of battle.’ (Drona Parva, section 200) All, that is, except Bhima, Arjuna’s headstrong brother, who ignored Krishna’s order and promptly found himself at ground zero of the powerful Narayana weapon. ‘As one cannot perceive a fire if it penetrates into the sun, or the sun if it enters into a fire, even so none could perceive that energy which penetrated into Bhima’s body.’ whereupon Arjuna and Krishna rush to forcibly drag the fiercely resisting Bhima from the chariot. Unable to abide this, Bhima ‘began to roar aloud. Thereupon that terrible and invincible weapon of Drona’s son began to increase in might and energy.’ Finally, Arjuna and Krishna succeed. ‘When, however, he (Bhima) was dragged down from his car and made to lay aside his weapons, the Narayana weapon, that scorcher of foes, became pacified.’

I found the whole sequence of events extraordinary. Leslie (chapter 4) thought that the primary effect of this weapon was on objects of metal, hence the injunction to lay aside all weapons, but this seems to me an entirely erroneous notion. I think that there we have something far more subtle and sophisticated. The Narayana seems somehow keyed to human thought and emotion, affecting only those who contend against it ‘even in imagination.’ Conversely, temporarily releasing all hostile thoughts of battle, facilitated by laying aside one’s weapons and vehicles, renders the weapon ineffective.

What are we to make of these epic accounts of celestial weapons? We cannot help but note the numerous inconsistencies in the descriptions of their nature and effects, even in the few quoted references supplied by this essay. Perhaps the greatest inconsistency of all is the association of what we today would class as weapons of mass destruction with traditional, pre-modern modes of warfare. Infantry, cavalry, chariotry, and the elephant corps constituted the traditional four division of ancient Indian armies. The celestial weapons just do not fit’ into this scheme of things, as if the ancient bards who composed the epics were attempting to graft weaponry of another time and place altogether on to the conventional modes of warfare current in their own culture. What time and place, we may well ask?

To summarise then, I would suggest that what we are dealing with here is a blend of ideas. On the one hand, it would be unwise to take all these accounts of celestial weapons and flying vehicles at face value. We must not look for literal truth or historical accuracy in the epic literary genre. As explained at the very outset, the inherent nature of epic poetry almost precludes this. On the other hand, I do not think that the exuberance of the poetic imagination alone can account for these extraordinary narratives. With regard to flying vehicles, what we seem to have are tales of UFO-like craft, perhaps handed down through many generations from a far distant past, embellished with details reminiscent of the most splendid Indian palaces with which the bards were familiar in their own day. The super weapons may very well be those through which, as some say, a past great worldwide civilisation was totally destroyed. Such weapons, perhaps extremely sophisticated devices activated by voice commands or even responsive to human will and consciousness, may have become transposed in poetic imagination into weapons invoked into existence by the recitation of mantras. This is also hinted at by the frequency with which these various weapons are said to neutralise one another, implying that some kind of harmonic or vibrationary principle was involved in their operation as Leslie suggested, perhaps for once correctly. Many hands contributed to the authorship of the epics in their final form, thus multiplying the chances for confusion and inconsistency as each bard interpreted the ancient raw material available to him in a different way.

I am neither a Sanskrit scholar or UFO ‘expert’. All I have been able to do in this essay is exactly what those early researchers whom I so severely criticised earlier did: namely, comb the relevant English translations of the epics for material of possible relevance to our topic – but hopefully with greater honesty and integrity than some of them were able to manage – a rather unscientific and highly subjective way of proceeding. We are not helped by the fact that the only complete English prose translation of the Mahabharata dates from the 1880s, written in a quirky style of archaic Indian English which is a delight to read but does nothing to enhance one’s comprehension of what the ancient poets were actually trying to say. In similar fashion, I consider the King James version of the Bible a superior literary work to any modern translation, but for the finer points of comprehension I would certainly consult the latter. What is really needed is a new, up-to-date translation of the Mahabharata, but considering its immense length, this is probably a forlorn hope. With the much shorter Ramayana we are on somewhat surer grounds, as several modern translations exist. When Sanskrit scholars sit down beside UFO experts over updated translations of the epic material and begin various dialogues, real progress in this field will be made. Until then, all we can do is peruse the imperfect translations that do exist and draw uncertain conclusions based on perceived comparisons with material drawn from latter day Ufology. In this brief overview, I hope that I have at least stimulated some interest in this fascinating body of literature and the many secrets of the past which lie concealed within its depths.

Berlitz, C. 1972, Mystery from Forgotten Worlds, Souvenir Press
Berlitz, C. 1974, The Bermuda Triangle, Souvenir Press
Drake, W.R. Spacemen in the Ancient East, Neville Spearman
Leslie, D. & Adamski, G. 1953, Flying Saucers Have Landed, British Book Centre, Inc.
Thompson, R. 1993, Alien Identities, Govarchan Hill Publishing Roy,
Pratap Chandra 1972, The Mahabharata, Munshiram Manoharlal
Shastri, Hari Prasad, 1962, The Ramayama of Valmiki, Shantisadan

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