Vanity thought #1671. Digging up dirt

I’m waiting for scientific response to yesterday’s Flat Earth phenomenon, it might not be forthcoming, however. It’s hard to imagine how seeing that island would be possible either because it should be obstructed or hidden behind Earth’s curvature. In the meantime, let’s look at something else.

Yesterday’s video came accompanied with some other claims. One was, iirc, that instead of bending into a sphere, Earth’s surface expands four times to keep its flat shape. I don’t know what to say to this, it wasn’t mentioned in the video and there aren’t any clues why that might be the case. Another claim was that Lord Varāha lifted not the globe Earth but the disk of Bhū-maṇḍala. That we can investigate.

As far as I can see from clicking on various relevant chapters in the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the text mentions bhū-maṇḍala only once and it was in the prayers by demigods. Bhāgavatam uses great many words to refer to Earth there but usually they do not define it as either a globe or a flat disk. The selection of words, however, is interesting in itself and might give us some clues to what had actually happened.

Another problematic area is that Bhāgavatam, and specifically the conversation between Vidura and Maitreya, combine two different stories of Lord Varāha into one. I don’t remember the exact inconsistency but I don’t think it has any bearing on flat vs globe debate about Earth’s shape. Anyway, let’s see how Bhāgavatam addresses the Earth in that story/stories.

One popular word is gām, it’s what Maitreya called the Earth himself in the very beginning in his own words rather than repeating words of others (SB 3.13.16), like Manu and Brahmā. Actually, the very first mention was mahī in the previous verse but it probably derives from mahā, meaning great, a rather generic adjective. Anyway, gām appears a million times in our books and it clearly relates to “go” – meaning go, just like in English. I’m kidding, of course, but Sanskrit go is all about wandering around, which is what cows do.

Once again, without deep knowledge of Sanskrit we are reduced to taking literal translation which do not always convey the root meanings of words. We think of a cow as an animal of a certain shape and the one that gives milk, too, but in Sanskrit principal meaning of cow is to wander about and graze peacefully, I believe. Cows don’t impose themselves on anyone and they have no other purpose in life but to wander around and eat their grass. They don’t defend the property like dogs do, they don’t carry people like horses, they don’t hunt, they don’t beg, they don’t come into the house to be petted, they aren’t interested in anything else but walking around in search of food. That’s what I heard from farmers, too.

This choice of word for the Earth, gām, indicates its purpose, too – a place with idyllic pastures for cows to enjoy, not a place to fight battles or display prowess or practice meditation – the universe has other planets better suited for those other purposes.

Another word that appears a couple of times is dharā, another common name for the Earth that appears a million times in our books. Dharā means providing support, the same root as dharma. The Earth as dharā matches very well with the Earth as gām. It supports peaceful life – these cows need something to graze on, right?

There’s one other word that was used several times, mahīm, but it looks the same as mahī and doesn’t convey any specific information, just an acknowledgement of Earth’s importance. Another word that doesn’t seem to be significant is pṛthvī – quite a common name for the Earth but it was given to it after Mahārāja Pṛthu, at the time of Lord Varāha incarnation it probably was still unknown but was admissible in the conversation of Maitreya and Vidura. There were also bhū and bhūvaḥ, words I can’t attach any particular meaning to.

Finally, we come to a group of words which refer to Earth as earth, the material element. There were various derivation from “kṣ-” like kṣmām or kṣitī which appear numerous times, and two other words that refer to earth itself – avanim and urvīm. Both are used to talk about soil, things like river beds etc – the earth, clay, dirt, that kind of thing.

So, when the Earth was lost at the bottom of the ocean what was actually missing is a peaceful place suitable for cows, sustaining life, and the earth as the material element itself. When Lord Varāha dived in He was looking after Earth by smell – a property of the earth element, though the word used in that particular verse was pṛthvī.

I’m not saying that we should take this story metaphorically but we can’t dismiss these particular features being lost either. Why? Because I’m afraid we are extending our own interpretations of what the Earth is to the story, especially when we think that it was a globe normally floating near the shore of Jambudvīpa that got drowned and then dug up by the Lord. It’s not a shot at our semi-official model of the universe but just a reminder that we are trying to place OUR concept of Earth into Bhāgavatam narrative while we should be going the other way – try to understand what Earth is from Bhāgavatam POV and ignore everything we know about it ourselves. I bet it would be a lot easier to reconcile things if we approach these topics with this attitude.

Lord Brahmā’s body is made of pure intelligence, they say, and other demigods probably don’t have an earthly bone in their bodies, too, only air, fire, and water, so the loss of earth as an element didn’t affect them at all but if this element can’t sustain life of cows then it becomes totally useless. Was the Earth inhabited at the time? Possibly not, possibly it just became mud at the bottom of the ocean and to perform its two other functions of sustaining life and cows it needed to be dug up and shaped into Bhū-maṇḍala. There are verses talking about Lord Varāha balancing it on the end of His tusks, however, which means the Earth already had some sort of a shape when it was rescued.

Another interesting point is that Hiraṇyākṣa told Lord Varāha that the Earth belonged to the lower regions and so the Lord had no right to take it away and that particular verse (SB 3.18.3) is filled with double meanings, just read the purport. Maybe demons had plans for using it down there, which would make sense if they were talking about the Earth as clay but not as much if they were talking about a globe or even Bhū-maṇḍala.

Speaking of Bhū-maṇḍala – the verse is there (SB 3.14.41) while there’s no mention of the Earth as a globe. Maybe it was the entire disk of Bhū-maṇḍala that fell down but then I’m not sure that would make sense, too – isn’t Bhū-maṇḍala too big to fit at the bottom of the universe? Or maybe it lost its shape and became a lump of clay and demons thought they could make whatever they wanted out of it?

So many speculative thoughts, it’s confusing.

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