Hinduism,Cosmos ,Sanatan Dharma.Ancient Hinduism science.

Vimanas described in “Samarangana Sutradhara” of Bhojadeva

“Samarangana Sutradhara” of Bhojadeva

Shruthi.K.R.,2Dr.Rajani Jairam

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

water .

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.



[1] 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.

[2] Childress 1991:256 Childress, David Hatcher, and Ivan Terence Sanderson. Vimana Aircraft of Ancient

India and Atlantis. Adventures Unlimited Press, 1991.

[3] Raghavan 1952: Raghavan, Venkatarama. Yantras or mechanical contrivances in ancient India. Indian

Institute of Culture, 1956.

Journal Articles

[4] 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

Website Articles

[5] 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–

3191 http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/fs08grc.html


[6] 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


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