Carl Sagan (1934-1996), a renowned American astrophysicist, astronomer and astrobiologist admired the Hindu view of the cosmos. In an undated video, he explained how the ancient cosmological ideas that were central to Hinduism form the basis of modern cosmology. At the very onset, Carl cited the ancient Hindu sacred text of Rigveda and conceded, “The most sophisticated cosmological ideas came from Asia and particularly from India. Here, there is a tradition of sceptical questioning and unselfconscious humility before the great cosmic mysteries.”
American astronomer explains Hindu cosmology
“Most cultures imagine the world to be a few hundred human generations old. Hardly anyone guessed that the cosmos might be far older but the ancient Hindus did,” Carl stated. He then talked about the harvest festival of Pongal which is celebrated in South India and especially in Tamil Nadu. Carl emphasised that the Hindu festival had ties with an ‘elegant and much deeper cosmological tradition’ and that it rejoiced the cycles in nature.
The American astronomer further stated, “The Hindu religion is one of the world’s great Faiths dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time skills correspond no doubt ‘by accident’ to those of modern scientific cosmology. The cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma – 8.64 billion years long. It is longer than the age of the Earth, the Sun, and half the time since Bing Bang.”
The American astronomer then highlighted the Hindu belief that the universe is the dream of God who dissolves Himself, in dreamless sleep, and the universe after 100 Brahma years. “This is until another Brahma century that He stirs, recomposes and begins again to dream the great cosmic Lotus dream.”
Carl Sagan explains the significance of the ‘Cosmic dance of Shiva’
Following his visit to an ancient Chola temple in Dharasuram, Carl Sagan explained the significance of a bronze-cast Nataraj idol. He stated that the idol represented the beginning of each cosmic cycle. The American astronomer then pointed to the motif, known as Cosmic dance of Shiva, and said, “The God has four hands. In the upper right hand is a drum whose sound is the sound of creation. In the upper left hand, there is a tongue of flame – a reminder that the universe now newly created will billions of years from now be utterly destroyed.”
He conceded that the ‘lovely’ cosmic ideas were central to ancient Hindu beliefs. “They are kind of premonition of modern astronomical ideas,” Carl Sagan reiterated. “Do we live in a universe that expands forever or in one where there is a nested set of infinite cycles? There is a way to find out the answer to this question not through mysticism but through science – by making an accurate census of the total amount of matter in the universe or by seeing to the very edge of the cosmos,” he concluded.