By R. Cedric Leonard

The ancient vimanas described in the Vedic and Puranic literature of India are so fabulous in their capabilities and construction, one might, with good reason, wonder if such things were actualities, especially those in particular which seem to savor of daiva (myth). However, good evidence does exist indicating that more modest versions were actually built in ancient times by the aeronautical engineers of India, Mesopotamia, and a few other places. Especially is this true when details of construction, materials used, and theory of operation are given. Propulsion systems are addressed in a deliberately obscure fashion.

A manuscript, composed in Sanskrit by King Bhoja in the 11th Century A.D., deals with techniques of warfare, and in particular with certain types of war machines. The work is called Samarangana Sutradhara, or "Battlefield Commander"(sometimes abbreviated "the Samar"), and the whole of chapter XXXI is devoted to the construction and operation of several kinds of aircraft having various methods of propulsion.

King Bhoja, who used the Sanskrit term yantra more often than the more familiar vimana, claims his knowledge was based on Hindu manuscripts which were ancient even in his time. Some of the techniques of manufacture described therein have been in use by British and American aircraft companies since World War I, and have been found to be sound aeronautical principles even though described nearly a thousand years earlier in this old Sanskrit work. The Sancrit term vimana is used only once in the following passages, in spite of the proliferation of the term in some English translations I have seen.

In looking over the complete text, it is perfectly clear that several types of aerial machines are being described in some detail. Those described below are limited to the atmosphere; yet some of these machines are said to be capable of flying into the Suryamandala (Solar sphere), and others even of interstellar travel i.e., the Naksatra mandala (stellar sphere). Below is my translation of the 11th century Sanskrit text.

"Battlefield Commander"

Translated from the Sanskrit
By R. Cedric Leonard

"Strong and durable must the yantra's body be made, of light material and having wings joined smoothly with invisible seams. It can carry passengers, it can be made small and compact, it can move in silence. If sound is to be used successfully, there must be great flexibility in the driving mechanism, and all must be put together flawlessly. In order for it to accomplish its intended purpose, it must be extremely durable, it must be well covered in . . . it must not become too hot, too stiff, nor too soft, and its sharp-pointed battering ram must also be indestructable. Indeed, the machine's main qualities, which are remembered by one and all, include unending motion—which is to say perpetual motion. Smoothness is one of the machines supreme qualities; thus, the workings of the machine must be versatile, complete, not given to expansion, never complaining, and always applicable to the task."

At this point the text becomes most interesting . . . but also the most difficult. It is evident that essential elements in the propulsion system are deliberately vague—or completely left out. The reason for this is explained later in the text. I can see why the following has never appeared in any of the current English translations.

"At the critical time the beam of fire must be released, which will make the action possible. The time-beam expands, accompanied by the thunder of the expanding medium. This resultant expansion performs work like an elephant in an endless cycle."

Further along in the text is a paragraph which mentions using wood as a potential building material in the construction of one of these amazing machines (a yantra); then it immediately launches into a description of a propulsion system using a combustible fuel similar to gasoline.

"The manufacturing of a conquering yantra is greatly to be desired . . . using light-weight wood to build a great air-going machine of a strong-bodied type. In the central container is the liquid consumed by the engine, which gradually burns away during complete combustion."

Immediately following is a list of the possible motions and maneuvers available to the pilot. Several of these would have been deemed incredible by modern aircraft engineers until the introduction of the "hovercraft" and the more recent British aircraft commonly known as the Harrier (see further below).

"Fully renown are the techniques for mastering the following motions: vertical ascent; vertical descent; forwards; backwards; normal ascent; normal descent; slanting; progressing over long distances through proper adjustment of the working parts . . . its air-rending sound and roaring thunder can easily drown out the trumpeting of an elephant in panic—but it can also be moved by musical tones.

"Shining in every direction, their machine (yantra) could travel wherever the imagination dictated. From their great height they saw stimulating dances, drama plays, and pristine ritualistic ceremonies. Their yantra gained renown among Royal dynasties and various nations. In such a manner the High-Souled ones flew, while the lower classes walked. All those friends succeeded in their much-deserved acquisition of a yantra, by means of which human beings can fly in the air, and non-earthling, Celestial Beings, can come down to mortals when visiting the Earth."

Certain of the aircraft described seem to be winged like a modern aeroplane; but such a craft could not go backwards, nor could it ascend or descend vertically. The term "dual-winged" without doubt appears in the following text in conjunction with some sort of air, or jet, propulsion.

". . . Thus, inside one must place the Mercury-engine; and properly mounted beneath it, the iron heating apparatus. Men thusly set the dual-winged, driving whirlwind in motion; and the concealed pilot, by means of the mercury-power, may travel a great distance in the sky."

Then what follows is the description of a much larger, more complex vimana, which is powered by four mercury-engines. (Note: this is the only place the term "vimana" is used in the Sanskrit passages translated on this page.)

"An extremely swift and nimble vimana can be built, as large as the temple of the God-in-motion. Into the interior structure four strong mercury containers must be installed. When these have been heated by a controlled fire from iron containers, the flying machine develops thunder-power through the mercury, becoming a highly desirable yantra. Moreover, if this iron engine with properly welded joints be filled with fluid [mercury?], when ascending or descending over land it generates power with the roar of a lion.

"The machine's construction and operating details are not publicly disclosed. For if their motivative power be made known publicly to others—giving out results described elsewhere—elements of these machines could be wrongly used."

My apologies to Sanskrit experts for any deficiencies in the rendering of Bhoja's text. The script is difficult, and the frequent use of ligatures (combining several characters into one) complicates the task for all but the experts. I have been as faithful to the original text as my ability allows. Should I learn of ways to improve the translation, I will be prompt in making the desired changes. (R.C.L.)

Drawing of small, delta-winged, Solar-Mercury powered
"vimana" reportedly based on a medieval original

Ancient Blueprint of Airship

From J. S. Churchward's "The Children of Mu"
Ives Washburn, New York, 1931

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"These are the most detailed accounts I have found about the airships of the Hindus 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, except one which is a drawing and instructions for the construction of the airship and her machinery, power, engine, etc. The power is taken from the atmosphere in a very simple inexpensive manner. The engine is somewhat like our present-day turbine in that it works from one chamber into another until finally exhausted. When the engine is once started it never stops until turned off. It will continue on if allowed to do so until the bearings are worn out. These ships could keep circling around the earth without ever coming down until the machinery wore out. The power is unlimited, or rather limited only by what metals will stand. I find various flights spoken of which according to our maps would run from 1000 to 3000 miles." (NOTE: Italics are Churchward's)


Col. J. S. Churchward was assigned to India in 1868, where he spent twelve years assisting in famine relief. He became good friends with a Rishi in a Temple School Monastery where he was able to familiarize himself with the history, religion and customs of ancient India. He was enthusiastic and undoubtedly sincere in his efforts, but was often lead astray by con men and charlatans in the field of archeology. However, since the above description is in conformity to what numerous other people have found in India, and being a basically honest person, he is most likely describing something he actually saw. I see no reason to doubt the authenticity of his report.


The British-American Harrier AV-8B

* * * * *

Think the stories, myths, and claims of the ancient Sanskrit chronicles are nothing more than children's fairy tales? After nearly a thousand years of technical development, the two most advanced nations in the modern world combined their efforts to develop a Vertical-Take-Off/Landing vehicle using the so-called "thrust vectoring" technique similar to that utilized a thousand years ago in India—and possibly even earlier in Atlantis.

The Harrier Jump Jet, sometimes referred to as simply the "Harrier", is a British designed military jet aircraft capable of Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing via thrust vectoring. The Harrier family is the only truly successful design of this type emerging from the various attempts in the 1960s.

The problem of vertical takeoff and landing was first approached by the Bristol Engine Company in 1957, who were planning a directed thrust engine. Hawker Aircraft came up with a design for an aeroplane that could meet the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) specifications. Work on an early prototype, called the P-1127, began in the early 1960s.

These started flying in 1964 and were assessed by the "Tri-partite Evaluation Squadron" which consisted of British, American, and German pilots. The RAF (British Royal Airforce) ordered a modified P-1127 as the Harrier I in 1966. The AV-8B is the second generation Harrier, and the BAE (British Aerospace Engineering) Harrier II is the British version.

Just as the modern Harrier utilizes wings for lift, after rising vertically or for short runway takeoffs, certain of the ancient vimanas were described as using wings. But more commonly they utilized what we now term "thrust vectoring" in order to accomplish several innovative maneuvers. Vimanas (like the Harrier) were often described as producing a thunderous roar.

With designs like the above in existence, and proving themselves extremely successful (the Falkland Islands Incident), it is no longer a stretch of the imagination to believe the venerable Sanskrit reports of successful aeronautical accomplishments in ancient times. Maybe we are just now beginning to catch up.

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Copyright © by R. Cedric Leonard, Apr 2002.
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Latest update: 23 Nov 2010.