Friday, March 05, 2010

On the Nasadiya suktam and the Big-bang(not a comparitive evaluation)
                                  Is this representation of creation correct?

I have always wondered why there was something at all called "existence" instead of nothing. Though it became clear to me as time went by, that I would not be able to fully understand the answer(if i get one) due to our own inherent human limitations, I still wanted one. Thoughts flashed across my mind about the vedic "ekameva adviteeyam"(One only without a second) and how it had spawned a chain of interpretations and polemics in the ocean of Indian philosophy. Adi Shankara's advaitam and one of the Buddhist schools' absolute shunyavaadam and  visishtadvaita were important currents in this ocean. I thought about the reason why vedanta deshika(a visishtadvaitin and one of the greatest acharyas of India) and others had accused Shankara to be a prachanna-bauddha( a buddhist in disguise) while Buddhism was precisely one of the many schools he was trying to win over during his lifetime. Did Shankara and Buddha tell the one and the same thing? Then one day i came across this one. "To me, nothingness is philosophically indistinguishable from undifferentiated oneness". This is a quote of a physicist.(Same as what our poorvacharyas were teaching us).

In my quest to find an answer to the question "Why not nothing?" and hence the related ones, why and how the universe came into being, I decided to look into two sources, employing two entirely different methods of inquiry. One of those was the vedic lore and the other, modern physics. While the Vedas are the eternal texts which codify eternal truth, science is an equally interesting field which is  essentially a self-modifying field(based on its trials and travails). One must at the outset, however remember that science is in its infancy now and even if developed cannot lead to god consciousness because there is no way science transcends space and time due to its inherent limited premises.

The vedam is the 'pramana', the fountainhead of all knowledge in India from time immemorial. It is both anadi(without beginning) as well as apauresheya (not created by any human). It is often asserted(though a modern trend) that the vedas, in a cryptic manner contain some extremely advanced scientific truths, including those yet to be discovered by science. I was looking into the Rig veda to see if i could get an answer to my questions. While I was turning the pages of the 10th mandala of Rig veda Samhita, I landed  on this specific suktam nicknamed by scholars as the Nasadiya suktam, because it begins as "Naasadaasi..". This is the 129th suktam of the 10th(and the last ) mandala. The reason why it has attracted considerable attention is that it talks about the moment of creation and what was there prior to it.

There are some parallels that can be recognised between this suktam and Big-bang theory(and this is to be taken with a pich of salt as there are vast differences as well and in no way one validates the other. There is obviously nothing 'Scientific' about Vedas in the sense that Science is limited by sensory perceptions.)
It begins in a very interesting way. (In another type of division of Rig veda this suktam belongs to the vargam 17 in 7th dhyayam in 8th ashtakam.)
परमेष्ठी प्रजापतिर्ऋषिः  ,  त्रिष्टुप् छन्दः,  भाववृत्तं देवता

1. नासदासीन्नो सदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नो व्योमा परो यत् |
किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ||

Neither there was non-existent, nor the existent; nor there was any realm or region.What was wrapping? Where? In whose protection? Was water there, unfathomable deep?

This is the earliest idea revealed to humanity about creation and can be called the first cosmological insight. It is sad that most of us are not even aware of such a literature with us. The profundity of their meaning strikes a chord with us. Before the Big-bang there was the singularity, which cannot be explained by current level of scientific knowledge. Since the singularity was there, we cannot say that there was non-existence(asat). On the other hand, there was no existence (sat) either, because the measurements of singularity (which is a point) were zero. There was no air, nor any sky or space(alternatively any realm or region).
Moreover, the singularity was not  covered or surrounded by anything like space or water. Water, here is not the liquid water as we know but a plasma kind of substance that came after the big-bang.

In short, the first verse precisely talks about the singularity or rather more generally a pre-big bang state. I also think that vatapatrasayi or aalilai krishna was a deep symbolism of this singularity.

 Though we see water in the painting, i feel it signifies the unfathomable indescribable darkness before creation.

Vatapatrasayi is often thought of as the final stage of pralayam(or when all of existence merges with Lord Krishna). In the bhagavatham, we find that there is a beautiful description of the moment of creation from the anantashayana Narayana. To me it seems to be logically following the previous state of pralayam. We will take a look at it later in this post.

[ Indian philosophy of subsequent yugas represented in the itihasas and puranas are quite at home with this fact of existence and non-existence. We find that in the Vishnu sahasranamam and Bhagavatham, Sriman Narayana is addressed as both sat and asat, ie, both existence and non-existence]

2. न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः |
   आनीदवातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किं चनास ||

Neither was there death nor immortality then. There was no indication of day or night. That breathless one breathed upon by its own impulse/nature. Apart from that one, there was nothing else whatsoever.

(In sanatana dharma this verse indicates that paramatma,jivatma and acit(insentient matter) were together before creation. That is, though they were distinct, they seemed to be indistinguishable). There were no stars, planets or sun to demarcate night from day. Time also did not exist. This verse further emphsises the very different nature of singularity. The common misconception is that Big bang occured at a point in space which is false. The singularity contained space and time and it was present everywhere. Hence here we see that the verse stresses on the fact that nothing else whatsoever was there apart from it. Also, it introduces consciousness clearly into the picture of creation. Unlike being dry and indicating that we are here by chance, this verse indicates an intelligent being behind creation.

The next 2 verses are also equally interesting.

3.  तम आसीत्तमसा गूळ्हमग्रेऽप्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वमा इदम् |
तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपस्तन्महिनाजायतैकम् ||

Darkness was there;enveloped by darkness, a plasmic continuum, in which there was nothing distinguishable. And then, an empty(world), united under a causal covering came out on account of the austere penance(of that supreme one).

From the big bang theory we have a postulate: 

Before a time classified as a Planck time, 10-43 seconds, all of the four fundamental forces are presumed to have been unified into one force. All matter, energy, space and time are presumed to have exploded outward from the original singularity. Nothing is known of this period.

There is a striking similarity between this statement and the above verse of our suktam.

4. कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः प्रथमं यदासीत् |
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन्हृदि प्रतीष्या कवयो मनीषा ||

In the beginning, there was the divine desire, which was the first seed of the cosmic mind. The sages seeking in their hearts, have discovered by their wisdom the bond that operates between the existent(the manifested) and the non-existent(the unmanifested).

The 'sankalpa sakti' of paramatma as the cause for creation of the universe is pointed out in these two verses. It would be appropriate to look at the following bhagavatham verses 
In the beginning(of creation), with the desire of evolving the different worlds, the Lord assumed the form of purusha consisting of sixteen component principles and constituted of the cosmic intellect. (1.3.1)
While he was in yoga nidhra reposing on the causal waters, there appeared from the lake of his navel a lotus wherefrom sprang up brahma, the lord of the progenitors of the world. (1.3.2)

This form of the lord is the imperishable seed of various avataras and the abode to which they all return. It is by a ray of his ray that gods, human beings and the lower forms of life are created. (1.3.5)

Here, the "knowledge of connection between existence and non-existence" is very significant.
The question is how could something as big as our universe have come from a point that was smaller than even a proton. We struggle to imagine how all of existence can be packed into a dimensionless point. Science is yet to explain this. Atheists argue that the fact that we do not know how it happened does not necessarily prove that there is a creator. However, according to me it neither disproves a creator. More precisely, the easiest, most understandable and at the same time satisfying answer is 'intelligent design'

The simple explanation offered in religion to this question is, since brahmam is 'sarvashakta' or 'one capable of everything' , he can shrink his size arbitrarily as well as expand to any extent. Science plays with its usual ways of building a 'jargon mountain' and explaining around this problem in some way using obscure quantum effects which are equally unproven anywhere till now.

5. तिरश्चीनो विततो रश्मिरेषामधः स्विदासीदुपरि स्विदासीत् |
रेतोधा आसन्महिमान
आसन् स्वधा अवस्तात् प्रयतिः परस्तात् ||

Their controls(rays or reins) were stretched out, some transverse, some below and others above. Some of these were shedders of seed and the others strong and superb- the inferior, the causal matter here and the superior, the creator's effort there. 

I think this rk might have also been an inspiration for sankhya philosophy (which deals with prakriti and purusha)  propagated later on by kapila.

It also explains the process of expansion as well as simultaneous creation of matter from condensing energy. It is said that the young universe was a hot place with a huge soup of sub-atomic particles, which later on condensed and bonded to form all the variety of elements and objects that we observe today. This view is also corroborated in vedic literature where prior to creating brahma, 24 tattvas were created by parabrahmam sriman narayana. These all started from moola prakriti, which was nothing but the primordial matter forming the body of paramatma before expansion. Based on some latest scientific speculations such as string theory(which is discussed later), we are inclined to accept the fundamental unity of all matter.
 6. को अद्धा वेद क इह प्र वोचत्कुत आजाता कुत  इयं विसृष्टिः |
अर्वाग्देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यत आबभूव ||

Who really knows, who in this world can declare it, whence came out this creation? When was it engendered? When will it end? Nature's bounty came much later and hence who knows whence this creation was manifested?

This has a huge philosophical import as well as scientific dilemma about the age of our universe. Though vedic scriptures describe in detail the time scales of manvantara, kalpa and hence are aware of when the creation came about, this cryptic verse conveys the meaning of an eternal cycle of creation and absorption. Also it gives a voice to the human awe at the gigantic timescales involved in this existence(so huge that it is as good as unkown beginning and end). 

Science , after revising its estimate for the age of the universe several times has now come up with a value of 13.7 billion years(and now there are few members of the scientific community who have proposed that the Universe might be much older than 13.7 billion years). To explain any further, we need to grasp the fundamentals of a current theory about the universe. 

In a quest for a unified theory of the universe, scientists came upon what is called the string theory.It states that the fundamental building block of the whole universe including all the forces observed in nature, are infact ‘strings’ which are nothing but tiny threads of energy oscillating/vibrating at various frequencies. The mathematics of the theory predicts(and also requires) that there are tiny curled up extra dimensions(upto 6) at every point of space and we are unable to see them because they are billions of times smaller than even an atom. These dimensions gain prime importance because according to string theorists the actual nature of vibration of strings would depend on the precise shapes and curls of these extra dimensions. Hence, we could even stumble upon an explanation of why we have the exact scientific constants that we have in the universe if we can know more about these dimensions.[ An interesting comparative study here is that while string theory explains the universe as a symphony of strings, vedic idea is that  the whole existence is made of vibrations, a part of which is the Vedas that we have inherited. The idea of shabda brahmam is a notable one. Vedas are given the ultimate authority and importance in Indian culture because it represents the cosmic vibration in a fundamental way. Om, infact encompasses the whole of existence.]

The “M-theory”, an extension of the string theory is the latest development in this field. It is yet to be verified by observation from experiments but has striking resemblances to what we already know from ancient Indian cosmology and science. M-theory, among others could stand for Membrane theory, which talks about 3 dimensional membrane universes floating on a 11 dimensional space. Bhagavatha mahapuranam praises the lord as the infinite power who just breathes out countless universes as he wishes. One theorist describes the possibility of our universe as a tiny bubble floating in higher dimension multiverse that contains infinite other universes! (Note: Here again there is a fundamental difference between science and religion. While bhagavatam talks about all these universes having separate brahmas creating life in each of these, M-theory just speculates on random universes sprung up by chance where we happen to be in a universe supporting life)

This gives a twist to the big-bang theory, that it was not a unique beginning. The big-bang, according to M-theorists is nothing but a collision of two 3d membranes in the 11 dimensional space. They also further theorise that big-bangs could be happening all the time in the 11 dimensional space and ours was not anything unique. In fact this does not really seem to contradict vedic cosmology as well because, it says that srushti(creation) and pralayam(the ultimate deluge) happen cyclically and as seen earlier also admits multiple universes. This might be one of the possible explanations between the difference in the ages of the universe as given by Vedas(~311 trillion years) and the one predicted latest by science(13.7 billion years)

As said before, the devas came much later than initial creation of 24 tattvas and brahma and hence sail in the same boat with us when it comes to knowing when creation started.
Apart from the foregoing discussion on the age of the current universe or kalpa or maha-kalpa, there is a very important concept in this verse. It is "anaadi" or beginninglessness. It is a concept which is virtually impossible for human mind to comprehend. The universe has been created and destroyed infinite number of times in the past and will continue to be so into the future forever. So, no one knows when the creation began(in fact it did not!).

7. इयं विसृष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन् सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा नवेद

He from whom this creation arose- verily he may uphold it or he may not(and then of course none else can do it). The one who is sovereign in this highest heaven he assuredly knows or even he knows not(or who else knows)

Contrary to popular interpretation that this verse is on a skeptical note and is the source of atheism in indian thought etc., this actually talks about the greatness of paramatma. The sense of this rik is that brahmam is infinite in all attributes that he himself does not know his extents and powers(this is a statement to emphasise the infinity to finite people like us).

Interestingly, no one knows the size of the universe. We always talk about the extent of the visible universe only and have absolutely no idea of the size of the universe, leave alone the multiverse. It is impossible to know this quatity because it changes with every unit of time. In other words even now space is constantly expanding everywhere as you are reading this sentence.

A nice video about the big-bang

It appears that  non-existence and existence do not differ as we think from a limited, conditioned point of view. Paramatma shrinking all this creation unto himself can be said to be the state of non-existence( though absolutely speaking, it is not so).
One last note is a quote by aurobindo regarding the inadequacy of science when it comes to metaphysics, in the context of rebirth

"Rebirth is for the modern mind no more than a speculation and a theory. It has never been proven by the methods of modern science or to the satisfaction of the new critical mind formed by a scientific culture. Neither has it been disproved; for modern science knows nothing about a before life or an after life for the human soul, knows nothing indeed about the soul at all, nor can know; its province stops with the flesh and the brain and nerve, the embryo and its formation and development.Neither has modern criticism any apparatus by which the truth or untruth of rebirth can be established. In fact modern criticism with all its pretensions to searching investigation and scrupulous certainity, is no very effiecient truth-finder. Outside the sphere of the immediate physical it is almost helpless. It is good at discovering data, but except where the data themselves bear on their surface their own conclusion it has no means of being rightly sure of the generalisations it announces from them so confidently in one generation and destroys in the next."

This is true for any issues related to religion and science. So, I take a cautious step here by saying that as of now we can sense a parallel between the nasadiya suktam and big-bang(sans its atheistic interpretations).

To see the Nasadiya suktam with the svara marks(accent marks) see the following link, hymn 129


  1. WOW ! Which is the shortest thing I could come up to a post such as this.

  2. Mind boggling blog is what this is Anand. Your blog is written at a time when I had just read about the creation and evolution of the Universe from Reader's Digest and also when people are spreading rumors about the destruction of the world in 2012 (how ridiculous!). The article I read is based only on scientific observations. Yours on the other hand beautifully embraces both science and religion and offers a comprehensive view about the origin of the Universe in a neat package. But I have to admit and I am sorry that I am still too mortal to appreciate the intricacies of the theories about the origin of the Universe. Keep the good work going! Hope to see more such posts.

  3. Anonymous11:43 AM

    very inspiring and seems like it involves lot of research..good wrk!! and i wish such wonderful posts keep coming from your end.
    i learnt many things aftr reading it...

  4. On your blog ' big bang and nasadiya suktam'...

    that was a very nice interpretation involving knowledge from different areas...

    Astrophysics could probably (better, if atmost not in a best way..) explain the proper opposite of 'existence' as one mentions ''Earth coalesced from a gaseous disk'.

    Well, if this 'gaseous disk' would represent a positive form of energy amounting to existence, then things (we) do 'exist'.

    Fundamentally, I think, it is all about 'energy' and 'matter', in scientific terms (all religions support this statement). Birth and rebirth could be then related as transformationand refreshment in forms of energies.

  5. Hi Anand,

    A truly great work involving lot of research, a quest for realization understanding of the truth. Here I am compelled to bring up the concept of 'Chaos theory' which I will get in to in a moment. This is in no way intended to oppose your arguments but is just another way to look at the creation.

    A very interesting point that flashed through my mind is this: since every thing was just one [before the bigbang], there should not be any outer intelligence that would have paved way to creation and there by existence. So the force responsible for creation should have been contained with in the single entity. This is 'Chaos Theory'. Assumption made here is the existence of a single universe. In the case of a multiverse, as is the case :-), this theory might still be valid though the human mind always tends a draw a boundary and make all answers to fit with in that.

    Chaos theory & there by atheism springs from this very question - Was there an external intelligence involved in the creation of this universe? A very radical thought sparks in my mind- Is theism & atheism one & the same? Most of the evolutionary biologists are atheists and their supporting arguments have the same fundamental question & answer.

    Chaos theory states that many systems in this universe are capable of self-formation. There needs to be no external force for a pattern to emerge. A pattern can emerge from it self and the reason for this is FEEDBACK. Yes, the same feedback that we study in electronic circuits. Remember the oscillator!!! Where does it get its input from? The answer is from itself. This coupled with feedback, gives you an oscillator. This is a beautiful explanation of Chaos theory.

    I have always believed that theists & atheists come under this analogy of 4 blind guys trying to describe an elephant. The first touches the elephant trunk and describes the elephant to be a long , thick worm like creature. The second touches the belly and describes it to be a big fat balloon. The third touches the legs & describes it to be like a strong pillar. The fourth touches the tail and describes it to be a thin worm like creature. Though all four blind men have the correct description of the elephant, the paradox is quite evident here.

    As humans , all of us are taking observations and hence forming inferences. The more the number of observations , the better the inference. But in our case, we need infinite observations to make a correct inference. In other words, it is logically impossible to come to a correct inference. So the only thing that can save us from this paradox is "Our Belief". Assumption is an inseparable part in science & mathematics. So we have to come up with assumptions. The point I want to emphasize is atheists need not be correct or theists need not be wrong and vice versa.

    Now coming back to the original question of creation, I strongly believe that science & religion though look radically different from one another, in actuality merge into one. The following statement sums up my exact thoughts: Science & Religion are nothing but basic beliefs or assumptions.

  6. As we have been discussing, it is very foolproof that the vedic religion does not rest upon perception or inference. In the brahmasutram, Vedavyasa rests our life and dharma on the Shabda pramanam.
    So, chaos theory cannot cause any rifts here.

    I find that some comparisons between religion and science are really worthwhile(though we should be cautious not to take it to a level of insanity), science is incapable of answering many pressing questions of the human mind and consciousness. For people who are in a hurry to know all that is there to know and attain freedom, science is a poor guide. This is my opinion. So, the assumption is made in this case that shabda is the revealed scripture.

    Your statement that atheists and theists look at the same thing in different ways is what i have also mentioned in the essay. This is clear from all scriptures also. Eg, 1st verse of Nasadiya suktam, vishnu sahasranaamam names "sat asat" both are given to brahmam. However we have to agree that the way of life and the goal attained radically change depending on whether you are a theist or atheist.

    I find an atheist's life bland and dry due to a sense of 'purposelessness'. Anything is random and so morality is not something to worry about.
    Intuitively, dharma makes a lot of sense.

  7. Nice article. But i will have to point out certain points here. most popular beliefs in science need not necessarily be congruent with religious scriptures. And the congruence is not necessarily a test of the veracity of either of the arguments. That apart though, unless as a hindu one believes in multiple universes the sanatana dharma concept of creation fails. For this exact reason, Big Bang is something that does not complement Sanatana dharma thought of creation.

    the thought that space is expanding is an apalling thought. I would rather think that space is infinite and that matter expands onto it. This is because, something can only expand if it has a volume (n-dimensional) which is bigger than it to expand onto. A Gas can only expand as much as a balloon can!.

    Moreover, String theory and worse the M-theory are just theories. The more the number of people you have that work on research, the more the number of theories on these kinds of exotic topics that you will have flooding the local dailies. Unless something is experimentally proven (which still does not necessarily mean that any sort of exaggerated thought is acceptable on the basis of an experimental evidence of a basic premise) there is no point floating arguments in favour or against the congruence of the vedic thought of creation with that of science.

    the reason i point out this repeatedly is because, general public's acceptance of science much more in the present generation does not necessarily mean that we dig out meanings of statements from the vedas and if they seem related in the current context, just compare and convince. If truly the vedas are the source of everything around us (which includes creation), then only the most realised soul can perfectly decipher the thoughts expressed in the Vedas. If science is infact premature (as most theists argue), then y trouble urself to compare and contrast religion with science? Science is evolving and so what u accept today may turn out to be not so perfect after all tomorrow. So its better that these kind of comparisons are not encouraged.

  8. I dont agree with you when you say comparisons should not be encouraged. It is quite true that we do not stand on what science says and also science can keep on changing. Yet it is an interesting activity to do a comparison with the most current knowledge as it shows what a purely pratyaksha and anumana can do at any point of time. Moreover, some scientists have said that they were inspired to discover things in science due to some cue from philosophy. So, even if the person who compares does not invent anything, it may be a small source of thought for sciences too. In fact there is an idea about inspiring the sciences from the arts to get the wholesomeness to it.

    This is especially true when consciousness comes into the picture since scientists have poor knowledge of this and most ancient cultures have their insights into this subject.

    Big-bang does not exclude multiple universes. It can be only one big-bang that we are noticing or that the big-bang we are observing is a white whole out of a mother universe. It could also be just a three dimensional slice of what is happening in all multi-dimensional universes together.

    Space coming before anything else is precisely what sanathana dharma says. Akashaat vaayu: and so on. So, the sukshma bhutam expanding into sthoolam is what is said(as singularity is still undefined anyway)

    Having said all that, I agree with you that bizarre comparisons should be kept out. For eg, a person said that adisesha's coils are DNA or RNA etc. Essentially it should be more of a idea and symbol comparison than an actual correspondence.

    For or against comparisons are done just to see where we are heading due to two different types of knowledge gathering. So, I personally think there is no harm in it. This should not turn into a fanaticism that says that everything in Science is already there in Vedas.

    It is true that Vedas can be understood fully only by yogis but that does not stop anyone to give their interpretations and ideas on the same (unless it is totally against the spirit of the scripture)