by John Bruno Hare
Have I lost my mind? This was the first reaction when I saw this listed for sale at the used book site, ABEBooks. I had heard rumors of this book for years, but for a long time I thought it was like the Necronomicon, a book which doesn't exist except as an urban myth. Yes, you can buy a Necronomicon at amazon.com, but let's get real. You will not be shredded by shambling extra-dimensional entities if you do . . .
The Vymanika Shastra, however, is not a myth. In recent years, I had seen the English text reproduced in Vimana Aircraft of Ancient India & Atlantis, published by Adventures Unlimited, which I highly recommend for the fascinating background material on vimanas. However, that edition waffles a bit as to when the VS was actually first published. It also omits the first half of the book, consisting of over a hundred pages of Sanskrit, which, in my mind at least, is the most notable part of the book. And the original edition is almost unobtainable. Now I was face to face with an offer to purchase a first edition, at $160. That is probably on the low side; probably because the book looks so terrible, but (as will become clear below) that is probably the case with any copy of the 1973 edition. So I didn't hesitate.
The story of this book is as follows: sometime in the period just before World War I, a Brahman named Pandit Subbaraya Sastry began to dictate previously unknown texts in Sanskrit which purported to contain ancient Indian technological knowledge. He in turn, credited a Vedic sage named Maharshi Bharadwaja, as well as other Rishis who appear in legitimate Hindu texts.
One of these 'channeled' texts was, on its face, a technical manual for the construction and use of 'vimanas,' the flying machines of the Vedic sagas. It is unclear as to whether any part of the present work was actually published in print at that time, even though it is implied in the introduction, so it is unclear whether it was published (in the legal sense) prior to 1923. The Sanskrit manuscript of the VS lay unpublished for over fifty years. In 1973, this text was published in a very limited edition by G.R. Josyer, along with a translation which he had produced over a twenty year period. In 1991, the English portion and the illustrations from the Josyer book were reprinted in the above-mentioned Vimana Aircraft of Ancient India & Atlantis.
It as if someone in the early 20th century wrote a 100 page book on ancient aircraft in Biblical Hebrew and attributed it to Moses and other prophets. However, the fact that the book was originally written in Sanskrit, while very impressive, isn't any indication of authenticity. Sanskrit is to some extent still a living language, used everyday in Hindu ritual. It is plausible that a well-educated high-caste Hindu from that period would be able to compose a Sanskrit text of this length given enough time.
If you are looking for an ancient manuscript on this fascinating topic, you'll need to keep on looking. The Vymanika Shastra was first committed to writing between 1918 and 1923, and nobody is claiming that it came from some mysterious antique manuscript. The fact is, there are no manuscripts of this text prior to 1918, and nobody is claiming that there are. So on one level, this is not a hoax. You just have to buy into the assumption that 'channeling' works.
Finally my copy of Josyer's book arrived. Instead of the holy grail of UFO bibliophiles, at first sight this book (self-published in India) looks like a defective vintage US high school yearbook. The binding is askew and the book is difficult to open. The first couple of signatures are printed on slick paper, and the remainder on much lower grade which is quickly browning. For some reason it is bound in cheerful pink silk with what appears to be a photocopy of one of the illustrations glued to the front center. There is no printing on the spine or either cover. Frankly, nobody would look at it twice at a garage sale. It is no wonder that a large quantity of the 1973 print run ended up dumped in a root cellar in Bangalore (which made it even rarer).
So, does it live up to its billing? Yes, and no. There is an intriguing list of Vimana capabilities, particularly what we today call countermeasures, This includes means to view remote images on screens, listen to remote sounds, disguise the vimana as clouds or other images, create terrifying sounds, and so on. There is an extensive discussion of the various types of vimanas and their construction, including some that can double as boats or submarines. There are discourses on the structure of the atmosphere, aeronautic hazards and how to avoid them, and even a section on diet and clothing for aviators! Of interest is the discussion of flying through the various yugas (epochs): in the earliest, most spiritual yuga, people could fly without any mechanical contrivances.
On the other hand, there is no exposition of the theory of aviation (let alone antigravity). In plain terms, the VS never directly explains how vimanas get up in the air. The text is top-heavy with long lists of often bizarre ingredients used to construct various subsystems. This includes items such as monkey skin, eagle bones, sea-foam, and many that are only named in Sanskrit. Often the recipes are a mix of plant, animal and mineral ingredients, and involve mixing these ingredients and cooking them at high temperature in a furnace shaped like an animal, such as a frog. One wonders whether we are talking about metallurgy here, or some kind of alchemy. Most of the systems are described as mechanical devices, powered by steam, electricity or even solar power; a number literally involve smoke and mirrors.
There is nothing here which Jules Verne couldn't have dreamed up, no mention of exotic elements or advanced construction techniques. The 1923 technical illustration based on the text (all of which are reproduced here), are absurdly un-aerodynamic. They look like brutalist wedding cakes, with minarets, huge ornithopter wings and dinky propellers. In other words, they look like typical early 20th century fantasy flying machines with an Indian twist. These illustrations do not (except in cross-section) resemble 'modern' UFOs. Nor do they look like ancient portrayals of vimanas, for that matter.
However, even if this book is an elaborate modern creation, it doesn't invalidate the mystery of vimanas. Vimanas are widely described in the genuine ancient texts such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as other later texts such as the dramas of Kalidasa. They are not metaphors or hyperbole, nor do you have to be a god to own or ride one as in other mythologies. They are treated as manufactured, physical objects, even if portrayed as fanciful flying houses, invested with magical powers of levitation. Sometimes they are simply employed as a plot device to get characters from one end of India to the other quickly. Often they are portrayed as weapons of war. Also compelling, in my mind, are the descriptions of ancient Indian weapons that bear a striking resemblance to artillery, mechanized infantry, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, as well as high powered lasers or other energy beams. So there are abundant mysteries to explore in the ancient texts, which you can do at sacred-texts' Hindu texts area.
So what have we learned?
1) this book does exist
2) there is extensive Sanskrit text in it, all written very recently
3) the English portion is all about vimanas
It does beg the question: what does the Sanskrit portion of this book actually contain? Not personally able to read Sanskrit, I await a critical edition of this work with an independent translation into English.
There is one other question about this book, namely its copyright status. Formally, this book is still under copyright, not only in the United States but in every other country (including India). However, that is only half the story. I decided to call up Adventures Unlimited and ask them what they knew. I was surprised when I found myself talking to their founder, David Hatcher Childress. Mr. Childress told me that although they had published the Josyer text in his Vimana book without any clearance since 1991, no claimant had ever turned up, even though it had gone through several editions. He also said that he had no objection to it being posted at sacred-texts.
It is my belief, therefore, that this is an orphaned copyright. This is not surprising since the introduction mentions that Josyer was 81 when he began to publish the book (so he is presumably dead in 2005), and his oldest son also died tragically prior to its publication. So for this reason I've decided to relax my usual procedures and go ahead and post this text, due to the rarity and cultural significance of this book.
This page (c) 2005, John Bruno Hare
April 21, 2005,
Santa Cruz, CA.