Vimanas or flying crafts as well as aerial cities have been mentioned in many places in the ancient Indian texts. There is a colourful description of the Pushpaka vimana in the Ramayana, in which Rama returns to Ayodhya from Lanka. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes the Saubha vimana in which King Salva had attacked Dvaraka, the city of Krishna. The Mahabharata tells us of the celestial chariot of Indra, on which Arjuna traveled to Amaravati - the heavenly city of Indra. 

The Mahabharata also tells us of large “aerial cities” belonging to the asuras and danavas, which were furnished with gates, towers and houses, just like any terrestrial city. A couple of these aerial cities have been described in detail – Hiranyapura and Tripura. In the following sections, I have selected passages from the primary texts to illustrate what these vimanas and aerial cities looked like and how they functioned.

Rama Returns from Lanka on the Pushpaka Vimana

Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka, had abducted Rama’s wife Sita, at which Rama marched there with an army of monkey-chiefs headed by Hanuman. After Rama killed Ravana, he installed Ravana’s brother Bibhisana on the throne of Lanka. When Rama expressed his desire to return to Ayodhya quickly, Bibhisana told him about the Pushpaka Vimana which could take him to Ayodhya in a day. This is described in Chapters 124, 125 and 126 of the Yuddha Kanda (Book 6) of the Valmiki Ramayana.[1] Here are some excerpts from the text that describe how the Pushpaka vimana conducted Rama and his army of monkey chiefs from Lanka to Ayodhya.

Thus did Rama speak and Bibishana answered: “I will arrange for you to reach that city in one day, O Prince! May happiness attend you! There is an aerial car named Pushpaka that shines like the sun, which the powerful Ravana forcibly took from Kuvera, having overcome him in combat. That celestial and marvellous chariot, going everywhere at will, is at your disposal, O You of unequalled prowess! That car, bright as a cloud, which will transport you to Ayodhya in perfect safety, is here.”
…Hearing Rama’s words, that Indra among the Titans, Bibishana, hastened to order the aerial Chariot Pushpaka, gilded and bright as the sun, with its seats of emerald and pearl, its rooms ranged round about, silvered all over, its white banners and supports and gilded apartments enriched with golden lotuses which were hung with many bells. Round the windows, set with pearls and rare gems, rows of bells were placed giving forth a melodious sound, and that moving palace, resembling the peak of Mount Meru, constructed by Vishvakarma, abounded in rich ornaments, gold and jewels and sparkled with silver, and its floors were inlaid with crystal and the thrones of emerald (displayed there) furnished with rare coverings.
Having prepared that indestructible vehicle, the Chariot Pushpaka, which was as swift as thought, Bibishana stood before Rama, and that aerial car, that went everywhere at one’s will and resembled a mountain, having been placed at his disposal, the magnanimous Rama who was accompanied by Saumitri, was astonished.
…Rama ascended the chariot of his adversary, holding the chaste and illustrious Vaidehi (Sita) to his breast and accompanied by his brother Lakshmana, that valiant bow-man…Thereupon Sugriva with the monkeys and Bibishana with his counsellors, took their places in the celestial Pushpaka Chariot and, all being installed, that marvellous aerial car belonging to Kuvera rose into the air under Raghava’s command. In the chariot, which shone brightly, and was harnessed to swans, Rama exulted, overcome with delight, and resembled Kuvera himself, whilst all the monkeys, bears and titans, full of vigour, seated comfortably in that celestial car travelled at ease. Under Rama’s command, that aerial chariot harnessed to swans flew through the air with a great noise…”

pushpaka vimana
Figure 1: Pushpaka Vimana, Pahari art, Himachal Pradesh, India c. 1650 CE. San Diego Museum of Art. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In a single day, Rama and the monkey chiefs of his army, returned from Lanka to Ayodhya, crossing over the seas and the mountains in the Pushpaka vimana, in a journey that would have otherwise taken many months of arduous walking. Throughout the journey, Rama looked out of the windows of the vimana, and described to Sita all the places that he had roamed, while looking for her, until the great battle with Ravana in Lanka. The spacious vimana, which was gilded and shone like the sun, was dome-shaped or conical (for it resembled a mountain), was operated by the power of the will or by voice instructions and moved through the air making a great noise. 

pushpaka vimana
Figure 2: A miniature of the Phnom Rung temple, Thailand, being drawn through the air by Hanuman's monkey army. It has been identified as Ravana's Pushpaka vimana. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Michael Gunther CC BY-SA 4.0

King Salva Attacks Dvaraka on a Vimana

King Salva had aquired a vimana called Saubha from Lord Shiva, which was made by Maya Danava. He attacked Lord Krishna’s city Dvaraka from the vimana, when Krishna and Balarama had gone to Indraprastha. Upon returning, Krishna fought against Salva, destroyed the vimana using his mace, and killed Salva with his discus weapon, the Sudarshana Chakra. This event has been described in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 10, Chapters 76 & 77. (SB 10.76.2 – 10.76.33; 10.77.1 – 10.77.37).[2] Here are a few selected passages from the text that illustrate the nature of this fantastic flying machine and how it was eventually destroyed by Lord Krishna.

The great Lord Umapati [Shiva] is known as “he who is quickly pleased,” yet only at the end of a year did he gratify Salva, who had approached him for shelter, by offering him a choice of benedictions. Salva chose a vehicle that could be destroyed by neither demigods, demons, humans, Gandharvas, Uragas nor Raksasas, that could travel anywhere he wished to go, and that would terrify the Vrsnis. Lord Siva said, “So be it.” On his order, Maya Danava, who conquers his enemies’ cities, constructed a flying iron city named Saubha and presented it to Salva.
This unassailable vehicle was filled with darkness and could go anywhere. Upon obtaining it, Salva went to Dvaraka, remembering the Vrsnis’ enmity toward him. Salva besieged the city with a large army, O best of the Bharatas, decimating the outlying parks and gardens, the mansions along with their observatories, towering gateways and surrounding walls, and also the public recreational areas. From his excellent airship he threw down a torrent of weapons, including stones, tree trunks, thunderbolts, snakes and hailstones. A fierce whirlwind arose and blanketed all directions with dust. Thus, terribly tormented by the airship Saubha, Lord Krsna’s city had no peace, O King, just like the earth when it was attacked by the three aerial cities of the demons….
At one moment the magic airship built by Maya Danava appeared in many identical forms, and the next moment it was again only one. Sometimes it was visible, and sometimes not. Thus Salva’s opponents could never be sure where it was. From one moment to the next the Saubha airship appeared on the earth, in the sky, on a mountain peak or in the water. Like a whirling, flaming baton, it never remained in any one place. Wherever Salva would appear with his Saubha ship and his army, there the Yadu commanders would shoot their arrows…As the Yadus and Salva’s followers thus went on attacking one another, the tumultuous, fearsome battle continued for twenty-seven days and nights.
Invited by Yudhisthira, the son of Dharma, Lord Krsna had gone to Indraprastha. Now that the Rajasuya sacrifice had been completed and Sisupala killed, the Lord began to see inauspicious omens. So He took leave of the Kuru elders and the great sages, and also of Prtha and her sons, and returned to Dvaraka. The Lord said to Himself: Because I have come here with My respected elder brother, kings partial to Sisupala may well be attacking My capital city. After He arrived at Dvaraka and saw how His people were threatened with destruction, and also saw Salva and his Saubha airship, Lord Kesava [Krishna] arranged for the city’s defense and then addressed Daruka as follows. [Lord Krishna said:] O driver, quickly take My chariot near Salva. This lord of Saubha is a powerful magician; don’t let him bewilder you.
Thus ordered, Daruka took command of the Lord’s chariot and drove forth. As the chariot entered the battlefield, everyone there, both friend and foe, caught sight of the emblem of Garuda. When Salva, the master of a decimated army, saw Lord Krsna approaching, he hurled his spear at the Lord’s charioteer. The spear roared frighteningly as it flew across the battlefield. Salva’s hurtling spear lit up the whole sky like a mighty meteor, but Lord Sauri tore the great weapon into hundreds of pieces with His arrows. Lord Krsna then pierced Salva with sixteen arrows and struck the Saubha airship with a deluge of arrows as it darted about the sky. Firing His arrows, the Lord appeared like the sun flooding the heavens with its rays…
While Salva continued to hurl torrents of weapons at Him with great force, Lord Krsna, whose prowess never fails, shot His arrows at Salva, wounding him and shattering his armor, bow and crest jewel. Then with His club the Lord smashed His enemy’s Saubha airship. Shattered into thousands of pieces by Lord Krsna’s club, the Saubha airship plummeted into the water. Salva abandoned it, stationed himself on the ground, took up his club and rushed toward Lord Acyuta. As Salva rushed at Him, the Lord shot a bhalla dart and cut off his arm that held the club. Having finally decided to kill Salva, Krsna then raised His Sudarsana disc weapon, which resembled the sun at the time of universal annihilation. The brilliantly shining Lord appeared like the easternmost mountain bearing the rising sun. Employing His disc, Lord Hari removed that great magician’s head with its earrings and crown, just as Purandara had used his thunderbolt to cut off Vrtra’s head. Seeing this, all of Salva’s followers cried out, “Alas, alas!”
In this manner, the magical “flying city of iron” fashioned by Maya Danava– which could go anywhere, appear in many identical forms, and disappear at will – was eventually destroyed by Lord Krishna using his mace. This tells us that, although vimanas were said to be indestructible, they could be smashed into pieces by very powerful weapons.   

Arjuna Goes to Indra’s heaven on a flying chariot

The Pandava prince Arjuna had performed great austerities and penances on Mount Mandara, upon which Lord Shiva became pleased with him and granted him the invincible weapon called the “Pasupata astra”. Soon afterwards, he was visited by Indra, the King of the Gods, who informed him that his celestial chariot, driven by Matali, shall conduct Arjuna to Indra’s heavenly city Amaravati, where he shall bestow on Arjuna all his celestial weapons. This event has been described in the Vana Parva, Chapter 42 (Indralokagama parva) of the Mahabharata.[3] Here are some extracts from the text that describe Arjuna’s fantastic journey on the flying chariot.

After the Lokapalas had gone away, Arjuna - that slayer of all foes - began to think, O monarch, of the car of Indra! And as Gudakesa (Arjuna) gifted with great intelligence was thinking of it, the car endued with great effulgence and guided by Matali, came dividing the clouds and illuminating the firmament and filling the entire welkin with its rattle deep as the roar of mighty masses of clouds. Swords, and missiles of terrible forms and maces of frightful description, and winged darts of celestials splendour and lightnings of the brightest effulgence, and thunderbolts, and propellors furnished with wheels and worked with atmosphere expansion and producing sounds loud as the roar of great masses of clouds, were on that car…And the car was drawn by ten thousands of horses of golden hue, endued with the speed of the wind. And furnished with prowess of illusion, the car was drawn with such speed that the eye could hardly mark its progress…And while Arjuna was occupied with his thoughts regarding the car, the charioteer Matali, bending himself after descending from the car, addressed him, saying, 'O lucky son of Sakra (Indra)! Sakra himself wisheth to see thee. Ascend thou without loss of time this car that hath been sent by Indra. The chief of the immortals, thy father - that god of a hundred sacrifices - hath commanded me, saying, 'Bring the son of Kunti hither. Let the gods behold him…’
"Arjuna replied, 'O Matali, mount thou without loss of time this excellent car, a car that cannot be attained even by hundreds of Rajasuya and horse sacrifices. Even kings of great prosperity who have performed great sacrifices distinguished by large gifts (to Brahmanas), even gods and Danavas are not competent to ride this car. He that hath not ascetic merit is not competent to even see or touch this car, far less to ride on it. O blessed one, after thou hast ascended, it, and after the horses have become still, I will ascend it, like a virtuous man stepping into the high-road of honesty.'"
…Thus having bidden farewell to the mountain, that slayer of hostile heroes – Arjuna- blazing like the Sun himself, ascended the celestial car. And the Kuru prince gifted with great intelligence, with a glad heart, coursed through the firmament on that celestial car effulgent as the sun and of extra-ordinary achievements. And after he had become invisible to the mortals of the earth, he beheld thousands of cars of extra-ordinary beauty. And in that region there was no sun or moon or fire to give light, but it blazed in light of its own, generated by virtue of ascetic merit. And those brilliant regions that are seen from the earth in the form of stars, like lamps (in the sky) - so small in consequence of their distance, though very large - were beheld by the son of Pandu, stationed in their respective places, full of beauty and effulgence and blazing with splendour all their own. And there he beheld royal sages crowned with ascetic success, and heroes who had yielded up their lives in battle, and those that had acquired heaven by their ascetic austerities, by hundreds upon hundreds. And there were also Gandharvas, of bodies blazing like the sun, by thousands upon thousands, as also Guhyakas and Rishis and numerous tribes of Apsaras. And beholding those self-effulgent regions, Phalguna (Arjuna) became filled with wonder, and made enquiries of Matali. And Matali also gladly replied unto him, saying, 'These, O son of Pritha, are virtuous persons stationed in their respective places. It is these whom thou hast seen, O exalted one, as stars, from the earth.' Then Arjuna saw standing at the gates (Indra's region) the handsome and ever victorious elephant – Airavata - furnished with four tusks, and resembling the mountain of Kailasa with its summits. And coursing along that path of the Siddhas, that foremost of the Kurus and the son of Pandu, sat in beauty like Mandhata - that best of kings. Endued with eyes like lotus leaves, he passed through the region set apart for virtuous kings. And the celebrated Arjuna having thus passed through successive regions of heaven at last beheld Amaravati, the city of Indra.

Figure 3: King Nemi riding through the skies on the chariot of Indra drawn by Matali, scene from the Nemi Jataka in a paper folding book. Central Thailand, 1894. Source: British Library, Public Domain

There are a few interesting points in this rather extraordinary passage. Firstly, Arjuna mentioned that a person could ride a vimana only after he has aquired sufficient ascetic merit. This means, ordinary mortals couldn’t buy tickets and go on a joyride in a vimana. This was a privilege granted only to a few. Secondly, when Arjuna passed through the celestial regions, he saw “thousands of cars of extra-ordinary beauty”. This tells us that vimanas were extensively used as the means of transport by the heavenly dwellers. Finally, Arjuna saw that the bodies of the celestial beings blazed with a light which illuminated the entire area. This is an imagery that recurs multiple times in the ancient texts. The divine and semi-divine beings appear as “shining orbs of light”, and most ordinary mortals are not able to make out their bodily form.   

Figure 4: Krishna and Rukmini as Groom and Bride in a Celestial Chariot Driven by Ganesha. Rajasthan 1675 - 1700, watercolour. Source: LACMA, Public Domain

These are the three well-documented instances of vimanas that have been described in detail in the ancient Indian texts. We can see that, in every case, the vimana had been built by the “archiects of the gods or asuras” and gifted to humans for their use. The Pushpaka vimana, on which Rama returned to Ayodhya, had been built by Vishwakarma – the architect of the gods - and gifted to Kuvera, the Lord of Wealth, from whom it was taken away by Ravana. The Saubha vimana, which used by King Salva to attack Dvaraka, was built by Maya Danava – the architect of the asuras - and was given to Salva by Lord Shiva. Finally, the celestial chariot on which Arjuna reached the heavenly city of Amaravati, belonged to Indra, the King of the Gods. Therefore, the ancient texts make it abundantly clear that vimanas were not built by humans - which means, vimanas were not a product of human technology; they represent the “technology of the gods”.

The Aerial Cities – Hiranyapura and Tripura

In addition to the vimanas, we also read of some “aerial cities” in the Mahabharata. One of these was called Hiranyapura. Arjuna saw this beautiful, effulgent, aerial city – furnished with gates and towers - from the aerial chariot driven by Matali, when he was returning to Amaravati after defeating the demons called Nivata-Kavachas. When Arjuna asked Matali about the city, he said this city was given to the daityas and asuras as a boon by Brahma. It was,

“A highly effulgent and surpassingly fair aerial city, furnished with all manner of gems and invincible even by the celestials…this city is furnished with all desirable objects, and is unknown of grief or disease. And, O hero, celebrated under the name of Hiranyapura, this mighty city is inhabited by the Paulamas and the Kalakanjas…Formerly, Brahma had destined destruction at the hands of mortals.”[4]

When Arjuna attacked that aerial city - since it was inhabited by the enemies of the gods - he found that, the sky-ranging unearthly aerial city, which resembled Amaravati, the city of Indra, was capable of going anywhere at will.

“And now (the city) entered unto the earth and now it rose upwards; and at one time it went in a crooked way and at another time it submerged into water. At this, O represser of foes, I assailed that mighty city, going anywhere at will, and resembling Amaravati. And, O best of the Bharatas, I attacked the city containing those sons of Diti, with multitudes of shafts, displaying celestial weapons. And battered and broken by the straight-coursing iron shafts, shot by me, the city of the Asuras, O king, fell to the earth.”
The Mahabharata also describes three aerial cities of the demons, collectively called Tripura, which were received by the demons as a boon from Brahma. Three asuras performed great penances and propitiated Brahma. They requested him for a boon saying, “Residing in three cities, we will rove over this Earth, with thy grace ever before us. After a 1,000 years then, we will come together, and our three cities also, O sinless one, will become united into one.” The cities were then constructed by the architect of the demons called Maya. The text states,
“Then Maya, of great intelligence, by the aid of his own ascetic merit, constructed three cities, one of which was of gold, another of silver, and the third of black iron. The golden city was set in heaven, the silver city in the welkin (upper atmosphere), and the iron city was set on the Earth, all in such a way as to revolve in a circle, O lord of Earth. Each of those cities measured a hundred yojanas in breadth and a hundred in length. And they consisted of houses and mansions and lofty walls and porches.”[5]
When the demons began to oppress the inhabitants of all the worlds, and defeated the gods in battle as well, Lord Shiva fired a single missile at the three aerial cities, when they came together in the heavens (like a conjunction of planets) after 1000 years. This weapon, called the Pasupata astra, burnt the three cities to ashes, along with the host of danavas who lived in them.
“The illustrious deity, that Lord of the universe, then drawing that celestial bow, sped that shaft (Pasupata astra) which represented the might of the whole universe, at the triple city. Upon that foremost of shafts, O thou of great good fortune, being shot, loud wails of woe were heard from those cities as they began to fall down towards the Earth. Burning those Asuras, he threw them down into the Western ocean. Thus was the triple city burnt and thus were the Danavas exterminated by Maheswara.”[6]
Evidently, both the aerial cities mentioned in the Mahabharata – Hiranyapura and Tripura - were given as boons by Brahma to the demonic beings called the asuras and daityas. The text explicitly mentioned that Tripura – the triple city - was built by the architect of the demons, Maya, on the advise of Brahma. The aerial cities were not gifted to humans or inhabited by them at any stage. 

The ability of the aerial cities to revolve around the Earth, and move at will in any direction, suggests that they could be “enlarged versions” of the vimanas themselves. In other words, the same kind of technology was probably used to propel both the vimanas and the aerial cities. In the modern parlance, we could refer to the vimanas as “UFOs” and to the aerial cities as “UFO Motherships”. 

I would like to stress that, at no point, is it suggested in the texts that humans were involved in the construction of the vimanas or aerial cities, nor has it been specified how they were constructed. They were given as “gifts” by the gods; and if we think of the ancient gods of humanity as alien beings – for there is no other way to visualize them – then they represent “alien technology”.

The Fraudulent Vaimanika Shastra

An early 20th century fraudulent text called the Vaimanika Sastra has introduced a lot of erroneous ideas into the topic of vimanas. The Vaimanika Sastra was written in Sanskrit by Pandit Subbaraya Shastry sometime between the years 1918 to 1923. Shastry claimed that the text was telepathically transmitted to him by the ancient sage Bharadvaja. In other words, its not an “ancient text” at all, as has been incorrectly claimed by many people who have written about it. It is purported to be “channeled text”, which, in itself, makes its authenticity extremely doubtful. While telepathy or channeling may work to a limited degree in some specific situations, to channel a entire technical manual on vimanas from an ancient sage who lived thousands of years ago is pure nonsense. It is good to be open-minded while investigating ancient civilizations. But we should not become gullible and put our faculties of reason and logic in abeyance.

In the 1950s a Hindu academic called G R Josyer found a copy of the text written by Subbaraya Shastry, and brought out a Hindi translation in 1959, followed by an English translation in 1973. The book is filled with absurd diagrams of vimanas, resembling wedding cakes and minarets, along with a mass of bizarre items for building and powering the vimana. For instance, Angela Saini notes,

“On the baby-pink cover of his book was a small pencil drawing of one of these planes. Part submarine, part mechanical fish, it was built in four tiers like a wedding cake, with three fins and a thin propeller at the front. Among the substances powering this unlikely contraption, the book said, was mercury, the silver-coloured liquid metal used in thermometers. Other ingredients included snake poison, rhinoceros bones and camel urine…And there was a detailed description of how to generate electricity to power the dynamos that would drive the aircraft (‘get a . . . flame-faced lion’s skin, duly cleaned, add salt, and placing in the vessel containing spike-grass acid, boil for . . . 15 hours. Then wash it with cold water’).”[7]
Right. Camel urine-powered vimanas running on lion-skin electricity! Sounds like the kind of aircraft the penguins made to get out of Madagascar.

Thankfully, in 1974, a detailed study of this text was carried out by the researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. They found that aircrafts that the Vaimanika Sastra described were aeronautically unfeasible, and the discussion of the principles of flight in the text were largely perfunctory and incorrect. The study concluded:

“Any reader by now would have concluded the obvious – that the planes described above are at best poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real. None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make them resist rather than assist flying. The text and the drawings do not correlate with each other even thematically.”[8]
Obviously, the Vaimanika Sastra is not an ancient doctrine on vimanas but a modern fabrication that is often bandied around as a proof of high technology in the ancient times. No flying craft has ever been built, or can ever be built, using those specifications. As we have already noted, the ancient Indian texts make it very clear that vimanas and aerial cities were given as boons by the “gods”. They were not built by humans, and therefore, the question of a human technology does not arise at all. Unfortunately, the Vaimanika Sastra has gained a lot of undue popularity due to continuous repetition by people who do not bother to check for facts or logic.

I would like to conclude by saying that there are ample descriptions of vimanas and aerial cities in the “truly ancient” Indian texts, and it is not necessary to take recourse to modern-day fraudulent texts as proof of high technology in the ancient times. Both vimanas and aerial cities were given by the “gods” as boons to humans, asuras and danavas. We do not know who these gods were or what technologies were used in the construction of vimanas or aerial cities. However, the fact remains that the ancient Indian texts are replete with information about flying vehicles and cities, that could perform astonishing manoeuvres in the sky. This suggests that the ancients may have been in contact with higher-order beings, perhaps from other dimensions or stellar systems, who interacted with humanity and nurtured and guided the growth of the civilizations on our planet in the past.



End Notes

1 Ramayana 6.124, https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/the-ramayana-of-valmiki/d/doc424752.html
2 Srimad Bhagavatam 10.76, https://www.srimadbhagavatamclass.com/srimad-bhagavatam-canto-10-chapter-76-text-01/
3 Mahabharata 3.42, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03042.htm
4 Mahabharata 3.172, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03172.htm
5 Mahabharata 8.33, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08033.htm
6 Mahabharata 8.34, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08034.htm
7 Angela Saini, "The Strange Library: A visit to the Academy of Sanskrit Research in Melkote", The Caravan, 25 January 2015, https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/grjosyer-academy-sanskrit-research-melkote
8 Mukunda, H. S.; Deshpande, S. M.; Nagendra, H. R.; Prabhu, A. & Govindraju, S. P. (1974). "A critical study of the work "Vyamanika Shastra"" (PDF). Scientific Opinion: 5–12. Retrieved 2007-09-03.

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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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