Hinduism,Cosmos ,Sanatan Dharma.Ancient Hinduism science.
“Samarangana Sutradhara” of Bhojadeva
1Research Scholar Jain University Bangalore
2Professor in Sanskrit Jain University Bangalore
Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhojadeva (Paramara ruler of Dhara) is a great work on ancient Architecture.
Bhojadeva was first and foremost man of great learning who has been credited for his works in almost every
branch of knowledge. Samarangana Sutradhara which is in eighty three chapters deals with town planning,
house architecture, temple architecture, various sculptural subjects, canons of paintings and devotes a big
chapter on art of mechanical contrivances, the yantras. Chapter thirty-one of this book specializes in mechanical
contrivances and yantras, specifically having verses 95-100 dealing with the construction of vimanas or aerial cars.
This article mainly summarizes the contents of chapter thirty one and specifically explains Named
Yantravidhanam and description of Dharu vimanas in detail.
Definition of Yantra
The word yantra is derived from „yam‟ dhatu which means to control. Yantra is a commonly used term in
ancient India for any contrivance or machine. Bhojadeva defines yantra as follows.
“Yadruchhaya pravruttani bhutani svena vartmana |
Niyamyasmin nayati yat tad yantramiti keertitam ||
Svarasena pravruttani bhutani svamanishaya |
Krutam yasmaad yamayati tad va yantramiti smrutam ||”
Dr. Sudarshan Kumar Sharma in his English translation of Samarangana Sutradhara translates the
above verses as follows.
“That which carries out having controlled the beings moved off wantonly by personal moving path, that verily is
(defined) as yantra or Mechanical contrivance.
Or Yantra or mechanical contrivance is remembered as that which controls the (activity) put into action as also
the beings activating by their personal tastes or sentiment as per inspiration of mind.” (Sharma 2012:363)
Dr. V.R. Raghavan in his article “Yantras or Mechanical Contrivances in Ancient India” describes that
yantra is so-called because it controls and directs according to a plan, the motions of things that act each
according to its own nature.
Constituent elements of Yantra
According to Bhojadeva, „Bija‟ or „Constituent elements‟ of yantra are four. They are „Kshitiraha‟ –earth,
„Aap‟- water, „Analaha‟- fire and „Anilaha‟- air with „Vijayat‟ – ether being the medium of action. „Suta‟ or
mercury has been declared as distinct element which by nature is „Parthiva‟along with earth, water and fire. By
the way its liquid state and combustibility is postulated, suta hardly bears any distinction from other constituent
elements. Suta‟s insusceptibility to fire, its nature of being brought under earth becomes unavoidably justifiable.
The constituent element of everything is the soul individually as well as distinctly. Due to intermingling of these
mutually, many varieties of mechanical contrivances stand justifiable. Bhojadeva classifies yantra mainly into
three categories. They are:
a. „Svayamvahakam‟ and „Sakrt Preryam‟ – These are the two classes of yantra, „that which is automatic‟
and „requires occasional propelling‟.
b. Other type of classification is „Antaritam‟- Having the principal of action or motor mechanism hidden or
concealed from public view with „Vahyam‟ or the machine to be carried by another.
c. Finally „Durataha vahyam‟- The one which is really obscure which might be distant or proximate but
carriagable from the place from which the machine acts.
„Svayamvahakam‟ is considered as the best and other classifications as inferior to it. Even among
„Svayamvahakams‟, „Antaritam‟ or concealed are considered being the best irrespective of whether they are
distant or proximate.
According to Bhojadeva in amachine of marvelous excitement, movement is automatic and in the one
carriagable by another it depends on the carrier being. He has compared the later with insect having the support
of water wheeled machine. He describes that movement of Svayam vahakam and Sakrt preryam machines
excites us, and the weirdness of machines which belong to „antarita‟ category marvels us. These machines might
be the one which require propulsion from inside or the one which require propulsion from the center or from the
combination of two or triad or four as well. By the terrestrial constituent element „Parthivam‟ the terrestrial
element becomes acquirable and by the water generatives orthermal resources the terrestrial norm or element
assumes form. The same is achieved by those generated by power and that same by the wind mills. That
generated by water is achieved as fit for water or thermal or turbine instruments, by power contrivances or
wheels and wind mills. In case of the one generated by fire or power, the constituent element may be mercury
(Suta) and the same as such in course of that generated from seeds of terrestrial elements, the constituent
element may be the one pertaining to waters as also of those thermal or turbined ones. Bhojadeva further
illustrates the constituent elements of everything in complete form. He describes:
Formulas dealing with the erection of walls or parapets.
Crushing or pounding or pulverization or grinding of cloddy weights or grinding of heavy clods.
Measurement of interval between the lines between earth‟s center and surface in case of plumber‟s activity.
The wheels of various kinds steel, copper and silver, the tin, their grinding and moulding.
The wood or timber, the leather or hide, the cloth, which is employed in those endowed with constituent
The rods- „Yasti‟, shafts – „Kartara‟, and caps – „Urdaka‟, a wheel and rotator – „Cakra and Bhramaraka‟.
The array of syringes, the sharp arrow normed instruments or clippers and choppers are the constituent
elements they know in „Aurvara‟ i.e a fertile track of „Sringavali‟ and „Naracha‟ or fertilizing elements
heating and boiling water, mixing and dissolving, pouring of and filling with water providing of a belt of
The fire‟s constituent element of earth machines are: „Dhara‟ – pouring, „Jalabharaha‟- the water filling and
circulation, and „Payasa Bhramanam‟- rotation of waters. The motion towards a higher plane being the spatial
features of parthiva yantras are the personal constituent elements of iron. The air as born by its own instinct is
stipulated as viable by thickest ligatures, by bellows – „drtis‟, by fanning- „bijanadyaha‟ and by flaps
„gajakarna‟. If it is encrackled and made to be left along it becomes a constituent element of earth in the world.
The wood, the hide and Iron, the two sprung out of water may be the earth machines. The other one the water
may even be that as hydraulic slanting, elevated and low lying one. In turbine machines constituent element
exists individually. The application of fire-bijas on earth-machines comprises heating and boiling;of water,
mixing and dissolving, pouring of and filling with water, and providing a belt of water. Height, size, closeness
and motion towards a higher plane are spatial featured in Parthiva-yantras. Similarly in machines which are
mainly jala-yantras the use of timber, hide and metal forms the Parthiva element and so on. (Raghavan 1952:18)
IV. Merits of good Yantra
According to Bhojadeva we just can‟t decide the capability of the yantra just by looking at its shape. He
describes the merits of good machine as follows.
i. „Yathavat bheeja samyogaha‟- Proper and proportionate utilization of constituent elements.
ii. „Soushlishtyam‟- Well-knit construction
iii. „Shlakshnata‟- Firmness of appearance
iv. „Alakshatha‟- Inscrutability
v. „Nirvahanam‟- Functional efficiency
vi. „Laghutvam‟- Lightness
vii. „Shabdaheenatha‟- Freedom from noise
viii. „Shabdhe sadhye tadadikyam‟ – A loud noise when noise is intended
ix. „Ashaitilyam‟- Freedom from looseness
x. „Aghadhata‟- Freedom from stiffness
xi. „Vahaneeshu samastaasu soushlistya‟- Smooth and unhampered motion
xii. „Chaskalaadgathihi‟ – Production of intended effects in cases where the ware is of curious category.
xiii. „Yathabeestharthakaritvam layata lanumanita‟ – The securing of the rhythmic quality in motion –
particularly in entertainment wares.
xiv. „Ishtakale arthadarshitvam‟-Going into action when required.
xv. „Punaha samyavatva samvrutthihi‟- Resumption of the still state when not required, chiefly in cases
of pieces for pastime.
xvi. „Anulbhanatvam‟- Verisimilitude in the case of bodies intended to represent birds, animals.
xvii. „Taadrupyam‟- Firmness
xviii. „Dardyam‟- Durability
xix. „Asrunata‟- Softness
xx. „Chirakaalasahatvam‟-Enduring capacity for a sufficient period of time.
Bhojadeva further describes varieties of things which can be accomplished through yantras such as
„Kshirabdhisayana‟ which is a serpent like bed, yantra which produces fire in the midst of water and vice versa,
a few kinds of chronometers, an astronomical model called „Gola‟, a mechanical contrivance which pores oil
into lamp, some entertaining yantras like singing and dancing birds and animals, an wooden bird which creates a
pleasing sound, „Ratha dola‟- Merry Go Round, bedroom accessories, aerial vehicles, robots, vari-yantras or
fountains, „Darigriha‟ shower-bower in garden, two storeyed „pranala‟ built like Pushpakavimana,‟Jalamagna‟-
chamber under water surrounded by mechanical lotuses, fishes, birds etc., some military equipments, „Ustra –
griva‟ similar to modern cranes, protective military yantras, etc. According to him movements which are
impossible in actual life are also possible through yantras. He suggests that many such yantras can be invented
by men who have good imagination using the same constituent elements and basic principles described by him.
He even describes that he has personally seen most of the yantras which he has described. He also mentions that
he has not explained more details related to construction of these yantras just with the intention of preserving the
important knowledge. (Raghavan 1952)
V. Description of Dharu Vimanas
Bhojadeva describes two types of Dharu vimanas.
Laghu Dharu Vimana
Verses 95-96 of chapter 31 of Samarangana Sutradhara describes Laghu Dharu vimana. It is the most
fascinating yantra described by Bhojadeva in his works. Even though he gives the barest details, this book is one
of the few sanskrit texts which speaks about the actual construction of vimanas. (Sharma 2012:380-81)
“Laghu dharumayam mahavihangam dhruda suslishta tanum vidhaaya tasya|
Udare rasayantram aadadeetha jvalanaadhaaramadho asya chaati poornam||
Taroodaha purushastasya pakshadwandwochaallaprojjitena anilena|
Sputasvantaha Paaradasyasya shaktya chitram kurvannambare yaati dooram||”
According to Bhojadeva main material of the body of vimana is lightwood-„Laghu Dharu‟, shape of the
vimana is that of a huge bird-„maha vihanga‟ with a wing on both the sides. He explains that the internal
structure has a fire chamber with mercury placed over flame which acts as a motive force. The power generated
by the heated mercury, helped by the concurrent action of the wings which are flapped by a rider inside, makes
the yantra go up and travel far. (Raghavan 1952:23-24)
Alaghu Dharu Vimana
Verses 97-98 of chapter 31 of Samarangana Sutradhara describes Alaghu Dharu vimana which is a heavier
Dharu vimana. (Sharma 2012:381-82)
“Ityameva suramandiratulyam sanchalatyam alaghu dharuvimanam|
Aadadheetha vidhinaa chaturo antastasya paradabruthan drudhakumbhaam||
Ataha kapaala ahita manda vahni pratapta tat kumbha bhuvaa gunena|
Vyomno jhagityabharanatvameti santapta garjadrasarajashaktya||”
While laghu Dharu vimana is in the shape of bird, alaghu Dharu vimana is in the shape of temple. It
flies along a heavy aerial car made of wood. It is a heavier Dharu vimana which contains four pitchers of
mercury over iron ovens. When mercury i.e. „rasaraja‟ is heated, it explodes quickly and becomes an object of
decoration in the sky mainly because of pots heated by the slow ignition burnt within the steel or Iron potsherds.
Indologist „William Clendenon‟ has described Mercury Vortex Engine in his translation of Smarangana
Sutradhara as follows.
“Inside the circular air frame, place the mercury engine with its electric/ultrasonic mercury boiler at the bottom
center. By means of the power latent in the mercury which sets the driving whirlwind in motion a man sitting
inside may travel a great distance in the sky in a most marvelous manner. Four strong mercury containers must
be built into the interior structure. When these have been heated by controlled fire from iron containers, the
vimana develops thunder-power through the mercury. And at once it becomes like a pearl in the sky.” (Childress
According to Bhojadeva the boiling mercury ovens produce a terrific noise which can scare away the
elephants. Hence it is used in battles for the same purpose. The roar could be increased by strengthening the
mercury chambers, so that elephants are thrown completely out of control.This specific military use of aircraft
against elephants tempts one to suggest that the Hasti-yantra advocated by Kautilya against elephants was
something like the heavier Dharu-vimana described by Bhoja. (Raghavan 1952:24)
VI. Analysis and Conclusion
Bhojadeva is considered as one of the greatest kings who ruled Paramara dynasty between 1010 and 1055
AD. Samarangana Sutradhara is written by him during this period. Bhojadeva mentions that he has seen many of
the mechanical contrivances which he has described. This shows that mechanical contrivances described in
Samarangana Sutradhara existed even before this period. This means our ancestors during and even before this
era were tech savvies. They were using yantras not only to assist them in their work but alsofor pleasure and
enjoying the luxurious life. There are many mechanical contrivances which were designed to assist construction
activities, protective military activities and even day to day activities. A few of the mechanical contrivances
described inSmarangana Sutradhara are not those which were available for common man‟s use but mainly
designed as luxury commodities for royal class of people.
Here as researchers our main focus is not on who used those mechanical contrivances or yantras but the fact
that it was being used, i.e. such a technology prevailed. Great king and scholar Bhojadeva has analysed the
constituent elements of yantras and described them in detail with many illustrations. An interesting fact here is
that „Suta‟ i.e. mercury being considered as one of the constituent elements and „Vijayat‟ or ether being
considered as medium of action. Classification of yantras such as Automatic, those which require propelling,
those which have concealed motor, those which are to be carried by another and those which are distant or
proximate stands prevalent even today. Even today people prefer automatic machines than other classes of
machines. The merits of good machines which Bhojadeva has described around thousand years ago are relevant
even to today‟s machines. He also mentions that he has not given the complete details regarding the construction
of such yantras mainly to protect such data reaching the wrong hands.
Another interesting aspect of Samarangana Sutradhara is the description of Dharu vimanas which we made
of lightwood. He describes bird shaped laghu Dharu vimana similar to our modern aeroplane and temple shaped
Alaghu Dharu vimana which flies inair along with a heavier aerial car. Concept of Alaghu Dharu vimana is
something which makes us think of a missile or a rocket which flies high in air with the help of a launcher. Most
interesting fact related to Dharu vimana is the usage of Mercury vortex engine, the forerunner of the ion engines
being made by NASA in mid 1950s to 1970s.
As per the article titled “Innovative Engines” written by Glenn Research center (NASA Facts), Dr. Harold
Kaufman designed and built the first broad-beam electron bombardment ion engine in 1959 which used mercury
as fuel. Later on these ion engines were modified and launched on the Space Electric Rocket Test I (SERT I) in
1964 and SERT II in 1970 which were successful. The main drawback of mercury ion engine was after exiting
the ion engine, some mercury or cesium atoms would condense onto the ground test hardware, causing
numerous cleanup difficulties. In the 1970’s, NASA managers decided that if ion propulsion research was to
continue, it would have to be environmentally clean and less hazardous. Glenn researchers soon turned to xenon
as a cleaner, simpler fuel for ion engines, with many of the same characteristics as mercury.
Ion engines are also described in Maharshi Bharadwaja‟s Vymanika Shastra. It is also said that India‟s first
unmanned aircraft Marutsakha which was designed and demonstrated by Professor Thalpade in year 1895 also
used Mercury Ion Engine. This shows that thousands of years before NASA developed mercury ion engines,
such engines were already being used by our ancestors. The astonishing fact is that no one knows how such
great works of our ancestors got lost as eras cruised by.
 Sharma 2012: Sharma, Sudarshan Kumar. “Named Yantravidhanam I.e. The Chapter Dealing with the
Preparation of Mechanical Contrivances.” Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhojadeva An Ancient Treatise
on Architecture. 2nd ed. Vol. I. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 2012. 363-406. Print.
 Childress 1991:256 Childress, David Hatcher, and Ivan Terence Sanderson. Vimana Aircraft of Ancient
India and Atlantis. Adventures Unlimited Press, 1991.
 Raghavan 1952: Raghavan, Venkatarama. Yantras or mechanical contrivances in ancient India. Indian
Institute of Culture, 1956.
 Roy 1984: Roy, Mira The Concept of Yantra in the Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhoja, Indian Journal
of History of Science, 19(2):118-124 , 1984
 NASA Facts: Accessed on 13th December 2015 Innovative Engines: Glenn Ion Propulsion Research
Tames the Challenges of 21stCentury Space Travel, Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio 44135–
 Mukunda 1974: Mukunda, H. S., et al. “A critical study of the work “Vymanika Shastra”.” Scientific
Option: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (1974): 5-12. Print