Vimanas: Greater Understanding on a Hotly Debated Topic
It is an intellectual pleasure to find friends and topics that intertwine over time and lead to greater understanding. It is like lifting a heavy velvet cloth and discovering ancient and precious details thanks to someone who holds a piece of information that was of interest.
Reading the article on the Vimana by the author and publisher Enrico Baccarini gave me further knowledge on a topic that I had dealt with in my autobiography just published by him. So, reading Alicia McDermott's "call" to discuss this theme, I thought that combining my information with his could create greater understanding on a hotly debated topic. Furthermore, I wish to clarify that the facts I described in my book Tre Vite in Una (Three Lives in One) - (Enigma Edizioni 2020)- date back to the 1980s - when talking or writing about Vimana could seem like an affront to rationality.
Pushpaka vimana depicted three times, twice flying in the sky and once landed on the ground. (Public Domain)
The Explanation Evaporates in Thin Air…
I am always very disappointed when I feel close to an explanation—a new understanding-- only to see it evaporate into thin air. Since, according to current norms, my goals are almost always unusual and quirky, I have met this disappointment more than once.
When I met David W. Davenport, who co-authored the book 2000 BC: Atomic Destruction with Ettore Vincenti, (first edition 1979 by Sugarco) I felt very close to a major breakthrough and a fresh understanding of my device. He was introduced to me by the aerospace engineer, Franco Piccari, who had told me, in confidence, that they were working together to attempt to reconstruct an aircraft described in ancient Sanskrit texts. Davenport, I thought, might be the only person able to understand how my device could work—especially if something about its mechanism recalled the technology of the ancient world.
David Davenport (on the left), Ettore Vincenti (on the right) and Mr. Josyer, director of the International Academy of Sanskrit Research in Mysore, who was responsible for the publication of the precious Vaimānika Shāstra, or manual of Aeronautics, compiled 4000 years ago. From ‘2000 BC: Atomic Destruction.’ (Author provided)
He had the skills and the right background of experiences. Perhaps he had come across something in his Sanskrit readings which would be relevant to the workings of my device. Unfortunately, his sudden and premature death prevented the realization of his ambitions and dreams, and those of many others—including mine.
His work was extraordinary. Davenport was born in India to English parents and was an expert in archeology and oriental languages. 2000 BC: Atomic Destruction he wrote about his work comparing the original Sanskrit texts, Rig Veda, Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, and dozens of other ancient texts, after having found what appeared to be an “aeronautics manual” in the Indus Valley.
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Davenport and his co-author theorized that the city of Mohenjo-Daro (now in modern-day Pakistan) was destroyed 4000 years ago by an explosion powerful enough to raze the city, incinerate its inhabitants, and vitrify bricks and pottery. Upon examination of their findings, an Italian laboratory found that samples from Mohenjo-Daro did show evidence of having been exposed to a shockwave of brief and extreme heat of many thousands of degrees centigrade. According to our current knowledge of matter, the only force capable of producing such an effect would have been a nuclear explosion.
An Ancient Text Covering the Science of Aeronautics?!
Among the other ideas discussed in his book, Davenport dedicated considerable space to the possible technical/technological translation of the ancient aeronautical manual, the Vaimānika Shāstra (Science of Aeronautics), by Maharashi Bharadwaja, which briefly describes the operation of the Vimanas, an ancient aircraft that sailed the skies around 4,000 years ago, and the equipment that aircraft used. His exhaustive study led Davenport to conclude that this text should be integrated with other Sanskrit manuscripts, little known even in India and never translated into the West.
Shakuna Vimana drawing done by T.K. Ellappa. From ‘2000 BC: Atomic Destruction.’ (Author provided)
The Vaimānika Shāstra however, could not be considered a true treatise of aeronautical engineering, if only because of its extreme brevity. The entire manuscript is only 124 pages and much of it concentrates on instructions for pilots: what they should eat and wear, what types of metals to be used to build the Vimanas, geological information on finding these metals, instructions on the use of furnaces, bellows, and crucibles to prepare the metals for construction, the description of the three types of Vimana and their equipment, electric generators, and electric motors.
There are many different ideas included in too few pages and, unfortunately, the text lacks the precise instructions needed to attempt to rebuild the machines today. More than anything else, the book suggests a kind of scientific summary written to allow non-scientists to get a general idea about the subject.
The Pushpaka vimana flying in the sky. (Public Domain)
Among the translated passages of the Vaimānika Shāstra that Davenport quotes in 2000 BC Atomic Destruction, the one below particularly struck me:
“Take, for example, the electric motor. It is described as follows:
“The electric motor consists of a thin metal wire wound in turns with a thin wire cage in the middle. The current is brought from the generator to the engine through a glass tube. Appropriate wheels are fixed to the wire cage to connect it with the rotating device of the generator or the pinion shaft.”.”
“Whoever wrote these lines,” explains Davenport in 2000 BC,
“certainly knew the electric motor, because he accurately cited the three fundamental elements: the winding (or “solenoid” to use more technical language); the central rotating part (it is curious to note that in modern three-phase motors, this rotating part is called “squirrel cage”) and the insulator (“glass,” says the text and we immediately imagine the tubes used today, but nothing prevents the use of actual glass, which is excellent insulation, little used today because of its high cost). Furthermore, it is said that the mobile part must be connected on one side to the pole of a generator and on the other side to a pinion, which transmits the movement to the machine in question. It does, however, make only vague reference to basic physical principles, and is confused as regards to the links. The result is that the reader must have good knowledge of electrical engineering in order to interpret what is written, otherwise, even with the best will, all he can get, following the instructions to the letter, will be a “proto-motor”: a contraption that looks like an electric motor, but does not work. It is a description that fits with our notion of scientific vulgarization. It seems more like how an electrical engineer might explain to a layman how, in very general terms, an engine works.”
Shakuna Vimana Technical Scheme according to the data obtainable from the Vaimānika Shāstra. From ‘2000 BC: Atomic Destruction.’ (Author provided)
Problems of Language and Communication
Once again, we run into the difficulty of language and the problem of communicating complex ideas. Davenport also struggled with the difficulties of translation from a strange, ancient language to the terms of our modern technological era. To this, we must add that G.R. Josyer, the director of the International Academy of Sanskrit Research in Mysore, completed the initial translation of the Vaimānika Shāstra that Davenport worked from.
Although Mr. Josyer was a distinguished Sanskritist and an expert in ancient Indian culture, he wasn’t a scientist and certainly did not have the vocabulary for the most modern aeronautical, electronic, chemical, and metallurgicaltechniques that would have enabled Davenport to create a more complete scientific understanding of the craftdescribed in the text.
Davenport analogizes the communication difficulty in this passage:
“In a very distant future, a scholar of our civilization could have difficulty understanding what a tiger’s eyenecklace could be. Everyone knows perfectly well that it is a necklace formed by a particular type of iridescent hard stone, yellow and brown. If, however, between several centuries, a hypothetical scholar came across the same sentence and translated it to the letter, and by “tiger’s eyes” we really meant the eyeballs of the big cat, he would certainly have strange ideas about the habits of twentieth-century women.”
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Or he might have difficulty figuring out what the “gooseneck” could be (the jointed shaft that transmits movement to the pistons). Or decode the “whiskers,” the very long and thin crystals obtained in the laboratory which are used as non-metallic aircraft components because of their very high resistance to heat and stress. These carbon crystals have been named “Whiskers” (cat whiskers). But translating the term to the letter would not help the scholar to understand why our planes are built with cat whiskers.
There are hundreds of examples in today’s terminology that can be understood only if we live in the time when these terms are used.
A modern depiction of a flying vimana – can the terminology surrounding them be fully understood today? (Gustavoc/DeviantArt)
When I describe the construction of my device, I relate it with the terms I know and the knowledge I have. To the scientist, my description inevitably translates as “pizza”—or at least that’s what my Roman aerospace engineer friend told me. Similarly, I imagine that if a scholar of the future explained something “technological” to us, something that works on different principles than we know today, what would we understand at first glance? I believe very little.
Top Image: Vimanas are a hotly debated topic! Source: extraterrestrialarts/CC BY-NC-ND-2.0
By Daniela Giordano
Daniela Giordano is the author of her autobiography, Tre Vite In Una.
Let’s keep the discussion going! The theme of ancient flight and flying machines is just one of many fascinating presentation topics at the Ancient Origins Ancient Hi-Tech Uncovered conference on April 24-25, 2021!