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The structure of the universe.
Maharaja Parikshit said, “My dear lord, you mentioned how the rolling of Maharaja Priyavrata’s chariot wheels had created seven ditches that became the seven oceans dividing Bhu-mandala into seven islands. Now, kindly give me a detailed description of the cosmic manifestation, and thus fulfill my desire.”
Shukadeva Gosvami replied, “My dear King, there is no limit to the expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s material energy, and thus even with a lifetime of Brahma, no one could possibly explain it perfectly. However, even though it is not possible to describe the universe with perfect accuracy, I shall try to explain to you the principle regions, such as Bhu-loka.”
Bhu-mandala resembles a lotus flower, and the seven islands resemble its whorl. In the middle of that whorl is Jambudvipa, which is round like a lotus leaf and is 100,000 yojanas in diameter (one yojana equals approximately eight miles). In Jambudvipa there are nine divisions (varshas), and each has a length of 9000 yojanas. In the center of Jambudvipa is Ilavrita-varsha, and within Ilavrita-varsha is Mount Sumeru, which is made entirely of gold. Mount Sumeru is at the center of the lotus-like Bhu-mandala planetary system and it is its support. The height of Mount Sumeru is 100,000 yojanas, 16,000 yojanas of which are below the surface of Bhu-mandala, and its width at the peak is 32,000 yojanas whereas its width at the base is only 16,000 yojanas.
Nicely marking the boundaries of the nine varshas are eight mountain ranges, each 2000 yojanas in width and extending to the shore of the salt-water ocean that surrounds Jambudvipa. North of Ilavrita-varsha is the Nila Mountain, which marks the border of Ramyaka-varsha. North of Ramyaka-varsha is the Sveta Mountain, which marks the border of Hiranmaya-varsha. North of Hiranmaya-varsha is the Shringavan Mountain that marks the border of Kuru-varsha. The length of the Shringavan Mountain is ten times greater than that of the Sveta Mountain, which in turn is ten times greater than the length of the Nila Mountain. South of Ilavrita-varsha is the Nishadha Mountain, which marks the border of Hari-varsha. South of Hari-varsha is the Hemakuta Mountain which marks the border of Kimpurusha-varsha. South of Kimpurusha-varsha is the Himalaya Mountain which marks the border of Bharata-varsha. Each mountain is 10,000 yojanas high. East of Ilavrita-varsha is the Gandhamadana Mountain, which marks the border of Bhadrashva-varsha, and west of Ilavrita-varsha is the Malyavan Mountain, which marks the border of Ketumala-varsha. Both mountains are 2000 yojanas high, and extend from the Nila Mountain in the north, to the Nisadha Mountain in the south.
On the four sides of Mount Sumeru are four mountains named Mandara, Merumandara, Suparshva, and Kumuda, which are like its belts. The length and height of each mountain is 10,000 yojanas, and on top of each one is a tree, 1100 yojanas high, standing like a flagstaff. On top of the Mandara mountain is a mango tree named Devachuta whose fruit, which are as big as mountain peaks, falls and breaks so that the juice cascades down the mountainside like waterfalls and then becomes the Arunoda River that flows through the eastern side of Ilavrita-varsha. Because the wives of the Yakshas, who are the maidservants of Lord Shiva’s wife, drink that water, their bodies become very fragrant, perfuming the air for 80 miles around.
On top of the Merumandara Mountain is a jambu tree, the juice of whose fruit, which are as big as elephants, flows down to become the Jambu-nadi river, which floods the southern side of Ilavrita-varsha. When the mud of the riverbank becomes moistened by the Jambu juice and then dried by the air and the sun, it produces gold that is called Jambu-nada. The denizens of heaven and their wives use this gold to make ornaments, and thus they enjoy life.
On top of the Suparshva Mountain is a tree called Mahakadamba, and from its hollows flow five rivers of honey, each of which is about forty feet wide. Because the honey flows through the western side of Ilavrita-varsha, the whole land is permeated with a very pleasing fragrance. On top of the Kumuda Mountain there is a great banyan tree called Shatavalsa, because of its one hundred main branches. Rivers flow from its roots down to the northern side of Ilavrita-varsha, and thus the inhabitants are abundantly supplied with all the necessities of life.
Between these four mountains are four huge lakes whose waters taste like milk, honey, sugarcane juice and pure water, and they are surrounded by four gardens named Nandana, Chaitraratha, Vaibhrajaka, and Sarvatobhadra. Because the celestial beings- the Siddhas, Charanas and Gandharvas enjoy these four lakes, they naturally possess the perfections of mystic yoga.
Due to enjoying the products of the rivers that flow there, the residents of Ilavrita-varsha have no gray hair or wrinkled skin. They never feel fatigue, nor do they become afflicted by old age, diseases or untimely death. Their bodies do not lose their luster with age nor do they emit a bad odor due to perspiration. They do not have to suffer the miseries of extreme cold and heat and thus they live very happily, without anxiety, up until the time of death.
There are many other mountains beautifully arranged around the foot of Mount Meru, just like the filaments around the whorl of a lotus flower. In addition, there are eight more mountains surrounding Mount Meru, each of which is 2000 yojanas in height and extends for 18,000 yojanas. On the eastern side are two mountains named Jathara and Devakuta, which extend north and south. On the western side are two mountains named Pavana and Pariyatra, which also extend north and south. On the southern side are two mountains named Kailash and Karavira, which extend east and west, and on the northern side are two mountains named Trishringa and Makara. At the summit of Mount Meru is the abode of Lord Brahma called Shatakaumbhi, since it is made entirely of gold. Surrounding Brahmapuri in all directions are the residences of the eight loka-palas (principle governors of the planetary systems). These abodes are similar to that of Lord Brahma, except that they are one fourth in size.
When Lord Vamanadeva had extended His left foot to the limits of the universe, He pierced through the coverings with the nail of His big toe. As a result, water from the Causal Ocean leaked through the hole and became the River Ganga, which is tinged with a beautiful pinkish color due to having washed the reddish powder from the Lord’s lotus feet. After 1000 yuga-cycles, the water of the Ganga descended upon Dhruva-loka, and thus ever since that time Dhruva Maharaja and the seven rishis who live below him have accepted this water upon their heads with great devotion.
After purifying the planets of the sapta-rishis, the Ganga is carried through space by the demigods in billions of celestial airplanes. In this way, the Ganga finally inundates the moon, and thereafter reaches the abode of Lord Brahma atop Mount Meru. From the top of Mount Meru, the Ganga divides into four branches, named Sita, Alakananda, Chakshu and Bhadra, which flow down in the four directions to the ocean of salt-water. From Brahmapuri, the Sita River flows onto the peaks of the Kesharachala Mountains, which are almost as tall as Mount Meru and surround it like a bunch of filaments. From the Kesharachala Mountains, the Sita-Ganga falls onto the peak of the Gandhamadana Mountain, and then into the Bhadrashva-varsha until it reaches the ocean in the east.
Similarly, the Chakshu falls onto the summit of the Malyavan Mountain and then cascades down onto the land of Ketumala-varsha in the west. The branch of the Ganga known as Bhadra falls onto the peaks of the Kumuda Mountain and then, in succession, the peaks of Mount Nila, Sveta and Shringavan from where it flows into the Kuru-varsha to the northern sea. The Alakananda falls onto the peaks of the Hemakuta and Himakuta Mountains, and then flows through Bharata-varsha to the southern ocean. In addition, there are many other rivers, big and small, which flow from the top of Mount Meru and then separate into hundreds of branches.
Among the nine varshas, Bharata-varsha is known as the field of fruitive activities, whereas the other eight are meant for highly elevated persons to enjoy the remaining results of their pious activities after returning from the heavenly planets. In these eight heavenly varshas human beings live for 10,000 earthly years and thus they are almost like demigods. They have the bodily strength of 10,000 elephants, and both men and women enjoy sexual union with great pleasure for a long time. Finally, after so many years of sensual pleasure, when one year of life remains, the wife conceives a child. In this way, the standard of pleasure in these earthly heavens is like that of the human beings during Treta-yuga. The inhabitants of these eight varshas enjoy themselves in very beautiful gardens along with their wives, who playfully smile and look upon them with lusty desires. Still, they never forget that they are the eternal servants of the Supreme Lord, as the inhabitants of this earth do when they achieve a little imitation pleasure in the form of sex and intoxication.
To show mercy to His devotees, the Supreme Lord expands Himself and resides in the nine varshas of Jambudvipa. In this way, the rulers and inhabitants of the various varshas worship the Lord in His archa-vigraha, or Deity form.
In Ilavrita-varsha, the only male is Lord Shiva, for the goddess Durga does not like any other man to enter there. If any foolish male dares to do so, she immediately turns him into a woman. While surrounded by Goddess Durga’s ten billion maidservants, Lord Shiva meditates upon Lord Sankarshana, knowing Him to be the original cause of his existence.
In Bhadrashva-varsha, the son of Dharmaraja, named Bhadrashva worships Lord Hayashirsha, along with his associates. At the end of the millenium, ignorance personified assumed the form of a demon named Tamasa and stole the Vedas, taking them down to the Rasatala planetary system. In the form of Hayagriva, the Supreme Lord returned the Vedas to Lord Brahma.
In Hari-varsha, Prahlada Maharaja worships Lord Nrisinghadeva, along with his associates and the other residents, and while doing so he prays as follows: “O my Lord, who possesses nails and teeth just like thunderbolts, kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for fruitive activity. Please appear in out hearts and drive away the darkness of ignorance, so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this material world. May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practicing bhakti-yoga, because by accepting devotional service, they will think of each other’s welfare.”
“My dear Lord, we pray that we may never feel attraction for the prison of family life, consisting of home, wife, children, friends, relatives, wealth and so on. If we do have some attachment, let it be for the devotees, whose only dear friend is Krishna. A person who is actually self-realized and who has controlled his mind is perfectly satisfied with the bare necessities of life. He does not try to gratify his senses and he very quickly advances in Krishna consciousness. Others, however, who are too attached to material things, find advancement in spiritual life very difficult.”
“By associating with unalloyed devotees of the Lord, one can hear of His transcendental activities. Such topics are so potent that simply by hearing them, one immediately associates with the Lord. In the form of transcendental sound, the Lord enters the heart of the person who hears His narrations with great eagerness, and cleanses it of all contamination. Therefore, who is the sane man who will not associate with devotees so that he can quickly perfect his life? All of the good qualities of the demigods become manifest in the person of one who has developed pure devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. On the other hand, a person who is devoid of devotional service cannot factually have any good qualities.”
In Ketumala-varsha, Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, as well as Prajapati Samvatsara and his 18,000 sons and 18,000 daughters, who are the controllers of the days and nights that comprise the lifetime of a human being, worship Lord Vishnu in the form of Kamadeva. This Kamadeva is Vishnu-tattva and He acts spiritually, although His body is material.
In Ramyaka-varsha, Vaivasvata Manu worships Lord Matsya, along with his followers.
In Hiranmaya-varsha, Aryama worships Lord Kurma along with the other residents.
In Uttarakuru-varsha Lord Varaha is worshiped by Bhumi (Mother Earth), along with the other inhabitants.
In Kimpurusha-varsha, Hanuman worships Lord Ramachandra, along with Arshtisena, the ruler of that land and a host of Gandharvas who chant the glories of the Lord.
In Bharata-varsha, Narada Muni worships Lord Nara-Narayana, along with the other inhabitants. In Bharata-varsha, the people are divided according to their situation under the modes of material nature and thus some are born as exalted personalities, some as ordinary human beings, and some that are extremely abominable. The reason for this is that in Bharata-varsha, one is born exactly according to his past karma. After many, many births, when the results of one’s pious activities mature, he gets an opportunity to associate with pure devotees. As a result, one gradually renders service unto the Supreme Lord, which is the real path of liberation.
Because the human form of life is the sublime position for spiritual realization, all of the demigods in heaven sometimes speak like this: “How wonderful it is for these human beings to have been born in the land of Bharata-varsha! They must have executed pious acts and austerities in the past, or else the Supreme Personality of Godhead must have been pleased with them. Otherwise, how could they now be engaged in devotional service in so many ways? We demigods can only aspire to achieve a human birth in Bharata-varsha so that we may execute devotional service, whereas these human beings are already engaged in that way.”
“After having performed the difficult tasks of executing Vedic sacrifices, undergoing austerities, observing vows and giving in charity, we have become inhabitants of the heavenly planets. But, what is the value of this achievement? Because we are engaged in sense gratification, we can hardly remember the lotus feet of Lord Narayana.”
“A short life in Bharata-varsha is preferable even to residence in Brahmaloka, for one can elevate himself very quickly to Krishna consciousness by fully surrendering unto the Lord, and thus return to Vaikuntha. Bharata-varsha offers one the proper place and circumstances to execute pure devotional service. Therefore, if one obtains a human body in that land and yet does not take to devotional service, he is certainly like the careless forest animals that are caught by the hunter. We are now living in the heavenly planets as a result of our past pious activities, but one day this will all come to an end. We pray that, at that time, if any of our previous merit remains, we may be born as human beings in Bharata-varsha, so that we may be able to remember the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.”
When the sons of Maharaja Sagara were digging up the earth, they created eight smaller islands surrounding Jambudvipa, and their names are Svarnaprastha, Chandrashukla, Avartana, Ramanaka, Mandaraharina, Panchajanya, Simhala and Lanka.
As Jambudvipa surrounds Mount Sumeru, the ocean of salt water, which is also 100,000 yojanas in breadth, encircles Jambudvipa. Just as a garden-like forest may surround a moat that encompasses a fort, the salt-ocean is surrounded by Plakshadvipa, whose breadth is twice that of Jambudvipa, or in other words, 200,000 yojanas.
In Plakshadvipa there is a plaksha tree of golden color that is as tall as the jambu tree in Jambudvipa. Idhmajihva, the son of Priyavrata, divided Plakshadvipa into seven parts and then gave them to his seven sons to rule. The very beautiful inhabitants of Plakshadvipa live for one thousand years and beget children like the demigods. In Plakshadvipa there are four caste divisions, and by worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead as represented by the sun-god the inhabitants ultimately attain to the sun planet. The sun-god is a jiva who represents one of the parts of the Lord’s universal body. Although the residents of the various dvipas worship the demigods, they do so while considering them to be parts and parcels of Lord Vishnu.
Surrounding Plakshadvipa is an ocean of sugarcane juice, 200,000 yojanas in breadth. Surrounding the ocean of sugarcane juice is Salmalidvipa, which is twice as broad as Plakshadvipa, or, in other words, 400,000 yojanas. On Salmalidvipa there is a salmali tree that is 1100 yojanas tall, as is the plaksha tree and it is the residence of Garuda. Priyavrata’s son, Yagyabahu, divided Salmalidvipa into seven tracts that he later on gave to his seven sons to rule. Here also, the inhabitants have a heavenly standard of living, like the residents of Plakshadvipa and the four outer islands. They are divided into four groups and strictly follow the system of varnashram, and they worship the moon-god.
Surrounding Salmalidvipa is an ocean of water that tastes like liquor, and is also 400,000 yojanas wide. Surrounding the Surasagara is Kushadvipa, which is twice as broad as Salmalidvipa, or in other words, 800,000 yojanas. On Kushadvipa there are clumps of kusha-grass that appear like fire, although the flames are very mild and pleasing, and they illuminate all directions. Hiranyareta, the son of Priyavrata divided the island into seven parts and them to his seven sons, so that he could devote himself to a life of austerities. As in the other islands, there are four divisions of people that exactly resemble the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras, and they engage in worshiping Agni, the fire-god.
Surrounding Kushadvipa is an ocean of liquid ghee that is also 800,000 yojanas wide. Surrounding this ocean is Kraunchadvipa, which is twice as wide as Kushadvipa, or in other words, l,600,000 yojanas. The island derives its name from the Krauncha Mountain that is found there. Although the vegetation on this mountain was destroyed by the attack of Karttikeya’s weapons, it has become fearless due to being washed by the Milk Ocean, and due to being protected by Varuna. Ghritaprishtha, the son of Priyavrata, divided the island into seven parts and gave them to his seven sons. The inhabitants of Kraunchadvipa are divided into four classes and they worship Varuna as the representative of the Supreme Lord.
Surrounding Kraunchadvipa is an ocean of milk having the same width, and surrounding the ocean of milk is Shakadvipa, which is twice as wide as Kraunchadvipa, or in other words 3,200,000 yojanas. The island derives its name from a big shaka tree that is found there, and because the tree is very fragrant, the whole tract of land is very nicely scented. Medhatithi, the son of Priyavrata, divided the island into seven parts and gave them to his seven sons to rule. The inhabitants are divided into four social orders and they worship Vayu in the trance of mystic yoga, considering him to be the representative of the Supreme Lord, Vishnu.
Surrounding Shakadvipa is an ocean of churned yogurt, which is the same breadth, and outside the yogurt-ocean is Pushkaradvipa, which is twice as broad as Shakadvipa, or in other words 6,400,000 yojanas. In Pushkaradvipa there is a great lotus flower having one hundred million golden petals that are as effulgent as fire. This lotus flower is considered to be the sitting place of Lord Brahma.
In the middle of the island is the Manasottara Mountain, which forms the boundary between the inner and outer sides of Pushkaradvipa. It’s breadth and height are 10,000 yojanas, and the sun-god travels around its peak in his chariot, thus encircling Mount Meru. The sun’s orbit, which is called Samvatsara, is divided into two parts- uttarayana (the northern side) and dakshinayana (the southern side). This corresponds to day and night for the demigods. Vitihotra, the son of Priyavrata, gave the two divisions of Pushkaradvipa to his two sons before retiring for the purpose of rendering devotional service unto the Supreme Lord. For the fulfillment of material desires, the residents of Pushkaradvipa worship Lord Brahma as the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Surrounding Pushkaradvipa is an ocean of sweet water that is also 6,400,000 yojanas wide. Beyond the sweet-water ocean is a tract of land as broad as the distance from the middle of Mount Meru to Manasottara Mountain. Beyond this land, which is inhabited by many living beings, there is another portion of land made entirely of gold, which extends to the Lokaloka Mountain. Because the golden surface of this land reflects light like a mirror, anything that falls to the ground can never be seen again, and, for this reason, no one lives there. Beyond the Lokaloka Mountain is uninhabited land called Aloka-varsha, which is shrouded in darkness. The Lokaloka Mountain is so high that it extends upwards, beyond Dhruva-loka, and thus it blocks the rays of the sun and other luminaries. By the will of the Lord, Lokaloka has been established as the outer boundary of the three worlds.
The distance from Mount Meru to the Lokaloka Mountain is one-fourth the diameter of the universe, (125 million yojanas). On top of Lokaloka Mountain are the four gaja-patis (gigantic elephants), named Rishabha, Pushkarachuda, Vamana and Aparajita, who were established in the four directions by Lord Brahma to help maintain the planetary systems. The Supreme Lord also manifests Himself on top of that mountain in a four-armed spiritual body, to increase the power of the gaja-patis and the demigods. Aloka-varsha also extends for 125 million yojanas, up to the point where the coverings of the universe begin.
The sun is situated vertically near the middle of the universe, 100,000 yojanas above the earth, in the area between Bhurloka and Svargaloka, which is called antariksha (outer space). The distance that the sun travels around the Manasottara Mountain is 95,100,000 yojanas. Because the sun traverses this distance in twenty-four hours, its speed is approximately 16, 000 miles a moment (kshana).
Due east of Mount Meru, an abode of Indra known as Devadhani is located upon Mount Manasottara. Similarly, the abode of Yamaraja called Samyamani is located due south- the abode of Varuna named Nimlochani is due west- and the abode of Soma called Vibhavari is in the north. Sunrise, midday, sunset and midnight occur at these four places, whereas those who reside on Sumeru Mountain find that the sun is always overhead. People who live in countries diametrically opposite to where the sun is seen rising in the morning will see the sun setting.
The chariot of the sun-god has only one wheel, which is known as Samvatsara. The axle that supports the wheel has one end resting upon the summit of Mount Sumeru, and the other end upon Mount Manasottara. Since the wheel is affixed to the outer end of the axle, it continuously rotates on the Manasottara Mountain like the wheel of an oil-pressing machine. Similarly, as in such a machine, this axle is attached to a second one that is one-fourth as long, and the upper end of this second axle is attached to Dhruvaloka by means of a rope of wind. The twelve months are considered to be the twelve spokes of this wheel, the six seasons are the six sections of its rim, and the three chaturmasya periods are its three-sectioned hub.
The carriage of the sun-god’s chariot is estimated to be 3,600,000 yojanas long and one-fourth as wide. The horses, which are named after Gayatri and other Vedic meters, are harnessed by Arunadeva to a yoke that is 900,000 yojanas wide. Although Aruna sits in front of the sun-god while controlling the horses, he continuously looks backward from his left side toward his master. There are 60,000 thumb-sized rishis named Valikhilyas, who are also situated in front of the sun-god and they offer him eloquent prayers in glorification.
The moon is 100,000 yojanas above the sun, and because it travels much faster, in two lunar fortnights it passes through one samvatsara of the sun (one year).
Many of the stars, including twenty-eight very important ones, headed by Abhijit, are situated 200,000 yojanas above the moon. They are fixed to the wheel of time, and rotate around Mount Sumeru, keeping it to their right.
Venus is 200,000 yojanas above these stars, and moves with three speeds, almost exactly like the sun. Sometimes Venus moves ahead of the sun, sometimes behind the sun, and sometimes along with it. Its presence is considered very auspicious, and is the cause of rainfall.
Mercury, which is the son of the moon is 200,000 yojanas above Venus and moves in a similar way. It is usually considered to be very auspicious, but when it does not move along with the sun, it may create fearful conditions resulting in natural disasters.
Mars is 200,000 yojanas above Mercury, and almost always creates unfavorable conditions.
Jupiter is 200,000 yojanas above Mars and when its movement is not curved, it is considered very favorable for brahmanas.
Saturn is 200,000 Yojanas above Jupiter, and is always very inauspicious.
1,100,000 yojanas above Saturn are the sapta-rishis, who are always thinking of the well-being of the inhabitants of the universe.
1,300,000 yojanas above the sapta-rishis is Dhruvaloka, the abode of Lord Vishnu. This polestar is the central pivot for all the stars and planets, which are forced to circumambulate it by the most powerful time factor. As bulls are yoked together and tied to a central pivot, to thresh rice- one closest to the central post, one in the middle, and one on the outside- so all of the planets and stars are fastened to the machine of material nature and driven around the polestar by the wind. These planets float in the air just as very heavy clouds float in the sky and shyena eagles fly high into space without a chance of falling to the ground. Being servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, these planets and stars sit in their chariots and travel in their respective orbits under His order.
This great mechanism comprising all of the stars, planets and their orbits resembles the form of a sishumara (dolphin) within the water, and this imaginary form is sometimes meditated upon by the yogis as the Lord’s virata-rupa. This sishumara has its head downward and its body coiled. Dhruvaloka is situated upon the end of its tail, and on the body of its tail are the planets of the demigods like Indra and Agni. At the base of the tail are the planets of Dhata and Vidhata. The sapta-rishis are situated on the hips and numerous stars occupy the main trunk of the body.
The Ganga that flows in the sky and is known as the milky way is situated on the abdomen of the sishumara. Yamaraja is situated on its lower chin, Mars upon its mouth, and Saturn upon its genitals. On the back of its neck is Jupiter and on its chest is the sun. The moon is within its mind, Venus is on its navel, and the Ashvini-kumaras upon its chest. Mercury is within the Sishumara’s life-air, Rahu is on its neck, Lord Narayana is within the core of its heart, and innumerable stars are the pores of its body. Thus, the Sishumara-chakra is the resting place of all the demigods, stars and planets.
10 million yojanas above Dhruva-loka is Maharloka, and 20 million yojanas above Maharloka is Janaloka. 80 million yojanas above Janaloka is Tapoloka and 120 million yojanas above Tapoloka is Satyaloka. The local Vaikuntha planet of Lord Vishnu is 26,200,000 yojanas above Satyaloka, and the coverings of the universe begin from just above this point.
10,000 yojanas below the sun is Rahu, the son of Simhika. The sun-globe extends for 10,000 yojanas, the moon is twice as large, and Rahu is 30,000 yojanas across. What is known as an eclipse is the attack of Rahu during the dark-moon day or full-moon night. After hearing from the sun and moon about Rahu’s attack, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu sends His Sudarshana chakra to protect them. The intense heat caused by that effulgent disc is unbearable for Rahu and thus he immediately flees out of fear.
10,000 yojanas below Rahu are Siddhaloka, Charanaloka and Vidyadhara-loka. Beneath these planets, one hundred yojanas above the earth, in the antariksha, are the abodes of the Yakshas, Rakshasas, Pisachas and other such beings. Antariksha extends for as far as the wind blows and clouds float in the sky. Above that, there is no more air. Below the earth are seven planetary systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala, which all have the same diameter as the Bhu-mandala planetary system. The first, Vitala is located 10,000 yojanas below the earth, and the last, Patala is 70,000 yojanas below the earth. 30,000 yojanas below Patala is Sesha Naga, lying upon the Garbhodaka Ocean, which is 249,800,000 yojanas deep.
The seven lower planetary systems are called bila-svarga (subterranean heaven), for the opulence that is enjoyed there by the demons exceeds even that which is found in the higher planets. Although the sense enjoyment of the demigods is sometimes disturbed, the Daityas, Danavas and Nagas enjoy in their very beautiful houses and gardens without disturbance, and thus they become very attached to such illusory happiness. In these imitation heavens, Maya Danava has built many brilliantly decorated cities, within which the houses of the planetary leaders are constructed by using the most valuable jewels. The beauty of the gardens there excels those in the heavenly planets, and can make the mind of anyone blossom with the pleasure of sense gratification.
Many great serpents reside in these regions, and the effulgence from the jewels upon their hoods dissipates the darkness, due to the absence of sunshine. Because the sun does not penetrate, there is no division of day and night in these subterranean regions, and thus the residents have no fear of time’s influence. Since the inhabitants of these planets drink and bathe in elixirs that are made from wonderful herbs, they are freed from diseases and anxieties. They have no gray hair or wrinkled skin, and their bodies do not fade in luster or become invalid. Perspiration does not cause a bad odor, and they are never troubled by fatigue, or lack of energy and enthusiasm, even in old age. The only fear of the inhabitants in these regions is from death’s established time, which is the effulgence of the Sudarshana chakra. When the Sudarshana chakra enters these regions, the pregnant wives of the demons suffer miscarriages due to fear.
In Atala, the son of Maya Danava named Bala created ninety-six varieties of mystic power that so-called svamis and yogis take advantage even today to cheat the people. Bala also created three kinds of women from his yawning- svairini, who marry men from their own group- kamini, who marry from any group- and pumschali, who change husbands one after another.
When a man enters Atala, these women capture him and induce him to drink an intoxicating beverage that endows him with great sexual prowess. The women then induce him to enjoy sex with them by enchanting him with attractive glances, intimate words, smiles of love, and embraces. In this way, the women take advantage of the man’s increased sexual prowess and enjoy their own lusty desires to their full capacity. By dint of his sexual strength, the man also becomes highly illusioned, thinking himself to be more powerful than 10,000 elephants and as good as God, and thus he ignores impending death .
Below Atala is Vitala, where Lord Shiva lives along with his ghostly associates. There, Lord Shiva is engaged in sex with his wife, Bhavani, so that he can produce living entities, and from the mixture of their vital fluids, the River Hataki is formed. When fire, fed by the wind drinks that river and then, while sizzling, spits it out, the gold called Hataka is produced. The demons living on Vitala decorate themselves with ornaments that are made from this gold, and thus they live very happily.
Below Vitala is Sutala, where Bali Maharaja resides even now, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead mercifully stands at his door with club in hand. When Ravana once came to challenge Bali Maharaja, Lord Vamanadeva kicked him a distance of 10,000 yojanas with His big toe.
Beneath Sutala is Talatala, which is ruled over by Maya Danava, the acharya for all those who can invoke mystic powers. After destroying Tripura, Lord Shiva once again became pleased with Maya Danava and returned his kingdom, and has also been protecting him ever since. For this reason, Maya Danava falsely thinks that he need not fear the Sudarshana chakra of the Supreme Lord.
Below Talatala is Mahatala, the abode of many serpent descendents of Kadru, such as Takshaka and Kaliya. These snakes live in constant fear of Garuda, but still they try their best to enjoy life along with their family members.
Beneath Mahatala is Rasatala, the abode of the demoniac sons of Diti and Danu, who reside in snake holes. These include the Nivata-kavachas.
Beneath Rasatala is Patala, which is also called Nagaloka, and is presided over by Vasuki. Some of these serpents have five hoods, some seven, some ten, and others as many as a thousand. The light that emanates from the jewels that bedeck the heads of these Nagas illuminate the entire bila-svarga planetary system.
30,000 yojanas below Patala lives Lord Ananta, who is also called Lord Sankarshana, and who is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the Lord of Lord Shiva and He is the predominating Deity of the false ego of the conditioned souls. When one thinks, “I am the enjoyer, and this world is meant to be enjoyed by me” this conception of life is dictated by Sankarshana. The entire universe is situated upon one of Lord Ananta’s thousands of hoods, and it appears just like a white mustard seed. In other words, the universe is infinitesimal in comparison to Lord Ananta’s hood.
At the time of devastation, Lord Anantadeva becomes slightly angry because the vast majority of living entities’ having misused the opportunity to finish up their material life and go back home, back to Godhead. From between His two eyebrows comes Rudra, carrying a trident and he proceeds to devastate the entire creation. When the devotees offer their obeisances unto Lord Ananta, they become joyful upon seeing their faces reflected in His pink, transparent toenails, which are just like gems polished to a mirror finish.
When the beautiful princesses of the serpent kings smear the Lord’s long, white arms with aguru paste, Sandalwood paste and kunkuma, hoping for His auspicious blessing, the touch of His limbs awakens their lusty desires. Understanding their minds, Lord Ananta looks at the princesses with a merciful smile and thus they become very bashful. At this time, the princesses smile attractively while looking upon the Lord’s face, which is beautified by reddish eyes rolling slightly from intoxication, and delighted by love for His devotees.
Anantadeva’s main mission is to destroy the material creation, and although He becomes very angry to see how the conditioned souls simply try to lord it over the material nature, he restrains His anger and intolerance until the proper time. Dressed in bluish garments and wearing a single earring, Lord Ananta, whose two-armed form is very white, holds a plow on His shoulder.
After hearing about the various planetary systems within the universe, Maharaja Parikshit inquired, “My dear great sage, why are the living entities put into different material situations? Kindly explain this to me.”
Shukadeva Gosvami replied, “O King, in the material world there are three kinds of activities- those in the mode of goodness, those in the mode of passion, and those in the mode of ignorance. Because people are influenced by these three modes, the results of their activities are also divided into three. One who acts in the mode of goodness is religious and happy. One who acts in passion achieves mixed misery and happiness. Any one who acts under the influence of ignorance is always unhappy and lives like an animal. Due to the varying degrees that the living entities are influenced by these modes of material nature, their destinations are of a great variety. Just as by executing pious activities one achieves different positions in heavenly life, so by acting impiously, one attains various situation in hellish life.”
“Those who are activated by the mode of ignorance act impiously, and according to the extent of their ignorance, they are placed into different grades of hellish life. Those who act in ignorance due to madness receive the least severe misery as a result. Those who act impiously in spite of knowing the distinction between pious and impious activities, are placed into a hell of intermediate severity. Those who act impiously on account of atheism have to suffer the worst kind of hellish life. Due to ignorance, every conditioned soul has been carried by various desires into thousands of hellish planets since time immemorial.”
The hellish planets (Naraka-loka) are situated below Patala-loka, slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka Ocean. Pitriloka, which is presided over by Yamaraja, is also located in this space between the Garbhodaka Ocean and the lower planetary systems. The Yamadutas bring sinful persons to their master after death. Yamaraja properly judges them according to their specific sinful activities and then sends them to one of the many hellish planets for suitable punishment. Shukadeva Gosvami describes twenty-eight of these hellish planets as follows:
One who appropriates another’s legitimate wife, children or money is thrown into the very dark hell know as Tamishra. There, he is starved and given no water, and due to being beaten and rebuked by the Yamadutas, he sometimes falls unconscious.
One who slyly cheats another man and then enjoys his wife and children is put into the hell known as Andhatamishra. Even before reaching there, the sinful living being is subjected to such extreme misery that he loses his intelligence and sight, and for this reason, the planet has received its name.
One who works very hard, day and night, and commits unnecessary violence against others to maintain his own body and the bodies of his family members, is thrown into the hell called Raurava. There, all of the living beings that he had injured appear as animals called rurus, which are more envious than snakes, and they inflict very severe pain upon him.
Persons who live by hurting others must also go to the hell known as Maharaurava, where the ruru animals called Kravyada severely torment him and eat his flesh.
The cruel persons who cook poor animals and birds alive, for the satisfaction of their tongues, are carried by the Yamadutas to the hell known as Kumbhipaka, where they are cooked in boiling oil.
The killer of a brahmana is put into the hell known as Kalasutra, which has a surface made entirely of copper, ten thousand yojanas in circumference. Being heated by fire from below and scorching sun from above, the copper surface of this planet is extremely hot. The killer of a brahmana also burns from within due to hunger and thirst as he sometimes lies down, sometimes sits, sometimes stands up, and sometimes runs here and there on the copper surface, for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of an animal.
A person who deviates from the Vedic path in the absence of an emergency is put into the hell called Asi-patravana. The Yamadutas beat him with whips, so that when he flees here and there due to extreme pain he runs into palm trees that have leaves like sharpened swords. Because these trees are growing everywhere, his body soon becomes covered by injuries. While practically fainting at every step, the sinful man cries out, “Oh, what shall I do now? How shall I be saved?”
A sinful king or government representative who punishes an innocent person, or inflicts bodily punishment upon a brahmana is taken by the Yamadutas to the hell named Sukharamukha. There, he is crushed just as sugarcane is squeezed to extract the juice. While being tortured like this, the sinful person cries out very pitiably and faints, just like the innocent persons whom he had punished.
Low-grade living beings, such as mosquitoes suck the blood of human beings, but they are unaware that their bites are painful. However, human beings with developed consciousness know how painful it is to be killed or injured. Therefore, if one who possesses such developed consciousness kills or torments insignificant creatures, he is punished by being sent to the hell known as Andhakupa. There, he is attacked by all of the birds, beasts, reptiles, mosquitoes, flies and worms that he has tortured during his life, and thus he is deprived of sleep. Being unable to rest, he spends his time wandering endlessly in the dark and thus suffers.
One is no better than a crow if he simply eats food upon receiving it, without first dividing it among guests, the aged, and children. Such persons, as well as those who eat without performing the pancha-yagya, are put into the most abominable hell known as Krimibhojana. Within that hell is a lake that is 100,000 yojanas wide and filled with worms. The sinful living being has to become a worm in that lake for 100,000 years and thus feed on the other worms, just as they feed upon him.
One who steals jewels or gold from another person, especially a brahmana, in the absence of an emergency is put into the hell called Shandamsha. There, his skin is torn and separated by red-hot iron balls and tongs so that his entire body is cut to pieces.
One who indulges in sexual intercourse with an unworthy member of the opposite sex is punished by the Yamadutas in the hell known as Taptasurmi. Such men and women are beaten with whips and then forced to embrace red-hot iron forms of the opposite sex.
One who indulges in sex indiscriminately, even with animals, is put into the hell called Vajrakantakasalmali, which is so-called because of the silk-cotton tree found there whose thorns are as strong as thunderbolts. The Yamadutas hang the sinful man on that tree and then pull him down very forcibly so that the thorns tear apart his body.
One who is born into a responsible family but then neglects to perform his prescribed duties according to religious principles and thus becomes degraded is thrown into the river of hell known as Vaitarani. This river is like a moat that surrounds hell, and it is filled with stool, urine, pus, blood, nails, bone, flesh, fat, and marrow, as well as aquatics that eat at his body. However, since he does not die, the sinful man continues to suffer terribly in that river while constantly remembering his past impious acts.
The shameless husbands of lowborn shudra women who could not improve themselves and thus lived like animals, bereft of good behavior, cleanliness, or regulated life, are put into the hell called Puyoda. There, they fall into an ocean filled with pus, stool, urine, mucus, and saliva, and are forced to eat these disgusting things.
Those of the higher three classes who take their pet dogs into the forest, to hunt and kill animals unnecessarily, are placed into the hell known as Pranarodha, where the Yamadutas make him act as a target so that they can pierce him with their sharp arrows.
A person who is very proud of his aristocratic position and thus sacrifices animals for the sake of material prestige is thrown into the hell called Vishasana, where the Yamadutas kill him after torturing him with unlimited pain.
If a member of the three twice-born classes forces his wife to drink his semen out of a lusty desire to keep her under control, he is put into the hell called Lalabhaksha. There, he is thrown into a flowing river of semen and forced to drink it.
Dacoits who set fire to others’ houses or give them poison, as well as government officials who plunder mercantile men by forcing them to pay income-tax or by some other method, are put into the hell called Sharameyadana. There, under the order of the Yamadutas, 720 dogs having teeth as strong as thunderbolts devour such sinful people.
A person who bears false witness or lies while giving charity or doing business is thrown headfirst from a mountain one hundred yojanas high into a hell called Avichimat (waterless). This place has no shelter and is made of stone that resembles the waves of a river, although in actuality, there is no water at all. Even though the sinful man is repeatedly thrown from the mountain top so that his body is broken into tiny pieces, he does not die, and thus he has to continue suffering from such chastisement.
A brahmana, or the wife of a brahmana, who drinks liquor; or a kshatriya or vaishya who drinks soma-rasa, is taken to a hell known as Ayahpana where the Yamadutas stand on his chest and pour molten iron into his mouth.
One who is lowborn and abominable and yet is falsely proud, thinking “I am great”, and thus fails to show proper respect to those who are more elevated than him in terms of birth, austerity, education, behavior, caste, or spiritual order is thrown headfirst into the hell called Ksharakardama, where he suffers greatly.
Those who perform human sacrifices to the goddess Bhadra Kali and then eat their victim’s flesh are put into the hell called Rakshogana-bhojana. There, their victims take the form of Rakshasas and cut them to pieces with sharp swords and then drink their blood while indulging in a great celebration of singing and dancing.
Persons who pretend to give shelter to animals and birds and then cruelly pierce them with lances or threads, playing with them like toys, are taken by the Yamadutas to a hell called Sulaprota. There, their bodies are pierced with needle-like lances. Then, while suffering from hunger and thirst, sharp-beaked birds like vultures and herons attack them from all sides, tearing at their bodies. While being tormented like this, such persons can remember all of the sinful acts that they had committed in the past.
Those who are like envious snakes and are thus always angry and give pain to others, are put into the hell known as Dandasuka, where five or seven-hooded serpents eat them as if they were mice.
Those who confine others in dark wells, caves or other such places, are put into the hell called Avata-nirodhana. There, these sinful persons are pushed into dark wells where they suffocate due to poisonous fumes and smoke, and thus suffer severely.
A householder who receives guests with cruel glances, as if ready to burn them to ashes, is put into the hell called Paryavartana, where vultures, herons, crows, and other birds give him cold stares and then suddenly swoop down and forcibly pluck out his eyes.
One who earns money sinfully and then becomes very proud of his wealth, always fears that someone may steal it. Suspecting even his superiors, he looks like a wretched fiend because his heart and face have dried up at the thought of losing his wealth. After death, the Yamadutas take him to a hell called Suchimukha and punish him by stitching thread throughout his entire body, just like weavers manufacturing cloth.
Shukadeva Gosvami then concluded, “My dear King, in the province of Yamaraja, there are thousands of hellish planets where the impious persons that I have mentioned, and those whom I have not mentioned, must enter according to the degree of their sinfulness. Although pious persons enter into the planetary systems of the demigods, nevertheless, both pious and impious are once again brought back to the earth, after the results of their respective activities have become exhausted.