Vayu Purana and Nephology
There are many things in life, old and new; known and unknown; seen and unseen, that need to be explored with child-like enthusiasm, student-like inquisition and scientist-like rationale.
Puranas, the ancient scriptures of India, which run into several thousands of verses and deal not just with fascinating stories but also about certain presumably scientific topics, for example, take the case of Jyotishprachaara in Vaayu Purana which makes precise observations that are in sync with Nephology.
What is Nephology:
Before bringing up the Jyotishprachaara excerpts let us understand what Nephology is all about?
Oxford Dictionary explains Nephology as below:
So, in plain language Nephology is a branch of science that deals with clouds.
As per Google, this phrase is borrowed from Greek and came into existence in 19th century.
Interestingly, this branch of science has found its place in Vayu Purana which predates the coining of this word in the West.
As a curtain raiser, let us understand how the modern scholars have tried to date the Vayu Purana such that we can understand its antiquity.
Dating of Vayu Purana
Wikipedia, the online ready-reckoner, says that there are various versions of Vayu Purana with varying number of chapters & verses.
Nevertheless, one school of scholars think that the oldest version can be placed at first half of the 1st millennium CE. Another group of scholars believes that the earliest text of Vayu Purana might have been written anytime between 300 to 500 CE.
The Dharmik tradition believes that this text is part of 18 Mahapuranas written by Sage Veda Vyasa in the bygone eon called Dwapara. This yuga has ended before the advent of Kaliyuga some 5,117 years ago (excluding a yuga sandhi of 5,000 years). So, if we add the intervening period of 5000 years and the lapsed 5000 years of Kaliyuga, it can be understood that this Purana has been written more than 10,000 or more years ago.
But for now & for the purpose of understanding Nephology in Vayu Purana, I have considered the “300-500CE” as the compilation of Vayu Purana. By keeping this as the base figure, let me try to present the remarkable “science of clouds” in Vayu Purana.
What does Vayu Purana say about Clouds:
In the previous chapter (Chapter-50), Suta Bhagawan explains to Shaunaka & others about the worlds above & below the Earth. In the subsequent 51st chapter, he narrates about the concept of planetary motion and allied subjects. This chapter beings with an intriguing question put to Suta by Shaunaka & other sages.
They ask Suta :
“How does this jyOtiShchakra [Zodiac] revolve? Even after revolving in a zig-zag manner, why do they not collide with each other? Who is making them to revolve like they are doing now? Or are they revolving on their own? We are seeking to know answers for a reason that this subject can create confusion in many living beings. So, O Suta, we request you to share the knowledge with us.”
It must be observed here that the above questions that form the basis of this 51st chapter are scientific and rational in nature than being ‘blind belief’ or ‘superstitious.’
Suta begins to answer these questions by saying “Please listen to the account that I will be narrating to you. Though it can be seen with naked eyes it can still cause puzzlement to the people.”
At first he narrates the importance of Dhruva [Polaris] and it control over the movements of planets, Sun, Moon & stars. Later he describes how the Sun rays suck water from water-bodies.
Suta says that:
“The rays of Sun, joined by the wind, suck water from the entire world. The water, thus evaporated by the Sun, will be held by the Moon and through the nADi of wind, it will be secreted into the clouds. Later, due to the pressure exerted by the wind, clouds release the water on to earth in the form of a rain. This is how the release and evaporation of water happens for the welfare of the living beings.”
This description exactly matches with the modern theories of ‘Evaporation & Water cycle.’ Read this link to know more:
Read here how Moon affects Evaporation & Water cycle.
Suta says further that the Sun’s heat and Moon’s coolness are beholding the well-being of the earth. He also states that the bodies of living beings contain water which evaporates after the death of the living beings. Even this evaporated water also causes formation of clouds.
Later, Suta explains the three methods by which three types of clouds are created.
Clouds are of three types:
agnEya type clouds: “These clouds originate from water. They have coldness, airy & forming cloudy weather as their characters. These clouds move close to the earth. They look in the shapes of bison, pig or huge elephant.
jImUta type of clouds: “These clouds release water as rain for longer durations but they don’t cause lightning. They only know to rain for the benefit of the living beings. These clouds hover above the earth at a distance of half-a-krOs to one-krOs (approx 3.07 KM or 1.91 Miles). These clouds can be seen in mountain plains as well.”
brahmaja type of clouds: “The clouds born out of Brahma’s exhalation are called Brahmaja-s. These are the most thunderous of all the clouds types. Upon hearing the thundering sound of these clouds, earth will feel thrilled like a queen watching the coronation [of her husband]. These clouds hover above the earth at a distance of 1/4th to 1 full yOjana [i.e. 13 KM or 8 Miles].
The above image shows the type of clouds and the height at which they hover over the earth. A comparison made between the modern scientific findings and Vayu Purana w.r.t. the distance between earth and types of clouds gives an astonishing fact.
Type of Cloud
|jImUta||Half-a-krOsha to one-krOsha (1.53 KM to 3.07 KM =4605 ft to 9210 ft. )||<6000 ft to 20000ft|
|brahmaja||1/4th to 1 full yOjana [i.e. 3.25 to 13 KM or 2 Miles to 8 Miles = 9750 ft to 39000 ft]||>20000 ft to 50000 ft|
Not only the distance but the characteristics of the clouds specified in Vayu Purana also almost match with the Nephological findings.
Here is the NatGeo’s URL which lists the types & characteristics of the clouds. Readers can read this first & scroll up this article to read the narratives of Vayu Purana.
This video [duration 06:34 mins] presents the basic information of clouds:
This article is not an exhaustive, authentic & foolproof study of the Nephology but a layman’s attempt to bring together science & Puranas where there is a commonality between their respective accounts exist.
The sequences/events/observations recorded in the Puranas that have scientific temperament need to be looked deeper.
If seen from this perspective, the above said Nephology in Vayu Purana compels us to identify & acknowledge the ‘rational’ part of the Puranas in addition to their ‘supernatural’ elements.
- The critical inference that could be drawn from the above comparison is that the ‘rational’ estimation of the period of writing of Vayu Purana is 3rd to 5th century CE. If this period is taken on its face value, it becomes clear that the writer/writers of this Purana were very much aware of Nephology and have described the types & characteristics of clouds without any equipment/instrumentation that the modern day scientists use.
- Another useful inference that can be drawn is that of the scientific advancement in Bharatadesha during the period in which Vayu Purana was purportedly ‘written.’ A near accurate Nephlogic findings recorded in Vayu Purana affirm that there were scientists at that time in Bharatadesha during which many parts of the rest of the world.
Also, the scientific information given in Puranas are in addition to the individual discoveries and inventions made by the scientists such as Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Varahamihira etc.
It has been a wide spread opinion among Hindus that the Puranas are meant for gaining Punya only. But the descriptions as the one (of Nephology) mentioned in this article present the same Puranas in a different way and drives away the long standing misconception of “Puranas are for retired & god-fearing people.” This and many narratives of Vayu Purana on Solar system, formation of galaxies, calculation of time (in terms of eons) etc. specifically tell us to revisit them with a ‘clean-slate’ mindset.
There is a need for the Dharmik followers to take up a close scrutiny and scientific study of the rational aspects of the Puranas. Teachers, students & researchers of Dharmik ecosystem should work together to bring-out the scientific purports of the Puranas to the fore and make them part of the mainstream study of sciences.