The Nature Of Stars by Sadaputa Dasa
In modern astronomy stars are regarded as suns that are so far away from us that they appear as the minute points of light we see at night. Some stars are regarded as being as large and bright as our sun, and some are regarded as being much brighter or much dimmer. Modern astronomers have worked out an elaborate theory of the inner workings of stars, and they claim to be able to explain in detail their origin, life history, and final demise.
In contrast, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has repeatedly compared the stars to reflecting planets or moons. His reasoning is presented in the purport to the verse in Bhagavadgītā, where Krishna states, “Among the stars I am the moon” (10.21). There Srila Prabhupada says, “It appears from this verse that the moon is one of the stars; therefore the stars that twinkle in the sky also reflect the light of the sun. The theory that there are many suns within the universe is not accepted by Vedic literature. The sun is one, and as by the reflection of the sun the moon illuminates, so also do the stars. Since the Bhagavad-gītā indicates herein that the moon is one of the stars, the twinkling stars are not suns but are similar to the moon.”
In Bhagavad-gītā (15.12), it is directly said that the sun illuminates the entire universe, and Srila Prabhupada comments, “From this verse we can understand that the sun is illuminating the whole solar system. There are different universes and solar systems, and there are different suns, moons, and planets also, but in each universe there is only one sun.” A similar statement is made in Bhagavad-gītā (13.34), and Srila Prabhupada speaks of the unique position of the sun and the moon-like nature of the stars in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.15.2, purport), (4.29.42, purport) and (5.16.1, purport) as well as in Teachings of Queen Kunti (20 purport).
It is clear that from the viewpoint of demigods and yogīs, all the stars and planets of the universe lie within a fairly small region and can be reached by interplanetary travel. Thus, the stars in the Kṛttikā constellation (Pleiades) are associated with the wives of the moon-god (ŚrīmadBhāgavatam (6.6.23), and the seven stars of the big dipper are associated with the seven sages. (We also read in SB 1.9.8p that Candramasi, the wife of Brihaspati, was “one of the reputed stars.”)
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.22.11) it is stated that 28 important stars headed by Abhijit are located 200,000 yojanas (2574950.4 km )above the moon. This distance seems short indeed, but we should consider that in this verse the word nakṣatra, or star, has a special meaning. In Vedic astronomy, there are 28 important constellations, headed by Abhijit. Of these, 27 lie along the ecliptic and are used to divide it into 27 equal units of 13-1/3 degrees. These constellations are referred to as nakṣatras or lunar mansions. They are particularly connected with the motion of the moon since the moon completes one orbit in about 27.3 days. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.22.5) the nakṣatras are referred to in the following statement: “According to stellar calculations, a month equals two and one-quarter constellations.” (Note that 2-1/4 times 13-1/3 degrees equals 30 degrees.)
The 28 nakṣatras are mentioned in the description of the śiśumāra-cakra in Chapter 23 of the Fifth Canto. The śiśumāra-cakra is an imaginary form in the heavens that is made up of constellations and visualized as a gigantic animal. This form is worshiped by some yogīs as a manifestation of the virāṭa-rūpa, or the external form of Krishna. Table on page (7) lists the 28 nakṣatras and the Western (Greek and Arabic) names for their principal stars, or yoga-tāras. We have also indicated the different parts of the śiśumāra-cakra that these nakṣatras represent. These are taken from SB 5.23.7. The central comumn lists the 28 nakṣatras, or lunar mansions. The column on the right lists the Western names for their principal stars. On the left are the parts of the body of the śiśumāra-cakra represented by these stars. The n’s represent the right side and the course of the sun to the north; the s’s represent the left side and the course of the sun to the south.
Apart from the 28 nakṣatras, the only stars for which distances are given in the ŚrīmadBhāgavatam are the planets of the seven sages, which are said to lie 1,100,000 yojanas (1770278.4 km ) above Saturn, and the polestar, Dhruvaloka, which is said to be 1,300,000 yojanas (2092147.2 km ) above these planets Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.22.17 and 5.23.1). These distances, of course, are also very small and, they should be interpreted as heights perpendicular to the plane of Bhū-maṇḍala. They conform to the idea that the stars, in general, are fairly close – from the point of view of the demigods that they are planets reflecting the light of the sun, and that the sun has the unique role of illuminating the entire universe. This does not mean, however, that the distances to the stars as they appear to us will necessarily be this small. The distances may seem larger to us than they would to a demigod who was actually traversing them. As we have already indicated, the higher modes of travel used by the demigods may involve transformations of both space and time that make the distances shorter for them than they would be for a man-made machine traveling in the ordinary three-dimensional fashion. Thus, it might be that a spaceship launched from the earth toward the polestar would actually have to travel for many years at nearly the speed of light to get there.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.15.26, purport) Srila Prabhupada makes an interesting remark: “By present standards, scientists calculate that if one could travel at the speed of light, it would take forty thousand years to reach the highest planet of this material world. But the yoga system can carry one without limitation or difficulty.” If the distances to the stars are really very short, one might ask why Srila Prabhupada would apparently give credence to this example of the modern idea of interstellar travel. It makes perfect sense to do so, however, if the distances as experienced by a three-dimensional traveler are very large, whereas the distances experienced by a yogī are relatively small. At this point one might object that if the ordinary, three-dimensional distances to the stars are very large, then the inverse square law for the diminution of light intensity with distance implies that the stars must be shining very brightly. For the stars to appear as bright as they do to us, they must actually be shining as brilliantly as suns. Furthermore, the fact that the light of the stars has an emission spectrum shows that they are actively generating light and not just passively reflecting it.
In response to this objection, two points should be made. The first is that it is not necessary to suppose that stars do not generate their own light. Srila Prabhupada compares the stars to moons, but he also gives an “educated guess” to the effect that there are mild and pleasing flames on the moon that generate illumination Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.20.13, purport). Thus the conclusion is that stars may be fiery and thus generate an emission spectrum, but they are not independent suns. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada has said, “The stars may have the same composition as the sun, but they are not suns” (letter to Svarupa Damodara dāsa, Nov. 21, 1975).
The second point is that the inverse square law for the propagation of light may not hold universally. If that is the case, then we cannot conclude that if a star is at a distance of many lightyears, it must therefore be as brilliant as the sun. In general, we propose that it cannot be taken for granted that the laws prevailing in remote parts of the universe are the same as the laws that hold here on the earth. The Vedic literatures describe phenomena on the higher planets that are quite different from the phenomena we experience on the earth, and they also indicate that the operation of the material energy on the earth was significantly different in earlier yugas ŚrīmadBhāgavatam (1.4.17, Purort). This suggests that laws governing the production and propagation of light might also be different in different parts of the universe. Of course, if the laws of physics are different in different parts of the universe, then it might also be that stars appear to be more distant than they actually are. It may even be that the very idea of distance as we know it breaks down in remote regions of the universe. Once we allow the laws of physics to vary, the possibilities are limitless.
— An Excerpt from the book Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy by Richard L. Thompson also known as Sadaputa Dasa. Sadaputa Dasa (Dr. Richard L. Thompson) passed away at his home in Florida in 2008 from a heart-attack. Sadaputa, who received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell University, was one of the Hare Krishna movement’s foremost thinkers, and a founding member of ISKCON’s scientific branch the Bhaktivedanta Institute. He published many technical papers on the study of the relationship between science and Krishna conscious philosophy, and wrote eight books and the bestselling Forbidden Archeology