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Hindu Concept of the Beginning and End of Universe

The video below compares the concept of beginning and end of universe in Hinduism with that of modern cosmology. The video is presented by Carl Edward Sagan - an American astronomer and astrobiologist and a highly successful popularizer of astronomy, astrophysics, and other natural sciences.

Below is the transcript of the video. This is because the subject matter is very complex and you might need repeated listening.

Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite number of deaths and rebirths.

It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt, by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the earth or the sun and about half of the time since the big bang. And there are much longer time scales still.

There is the deep and the appealing notion that the universe is but the dream of the god who after a 100 Brahma years… dissolves himself into a dreamless sleep… and the universe dissolves with him… until after another Brahma century… he starts… recomposes himself and begins again the dream… the great cosmic lotus dream.

Meanwhile… elsewhere… there are an infinite number of other universes… each with its own god… dreaming the cosmic dream…

These great ideas are tempered by another perhaps still greater it is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods but rather that the gods are the dreams of men.

In India, there are many gods and each god has many manifestations. These Chola bronzes cast in the eleventh century include several different incarnations of the god Shiva. Seen here at his wedding.

The most elegant and sublime of these bronzes is a representation of the creation of the Universe at the beginning of each cosmic cycle – a motif known as the cosmic dance of Shiva. The god has four hands. In the upper right hand is the drum whose sound is the sound of creation. And in the upper left hand is a tongue of flame… a reminder that the universe now newly created… will billion of years from now will be utterly destroyed. Creation. Destruction.

These profound and lovely ideas are central to ancient Hindu beliefs as exemplified in this Chola temple at …. They are kind of reminiscent of modern astronomical ideas. Without doubt the universe has been expanding since the big bang but it is by no means clear that it will continue to expand forever. If there is less than a certain amount of matter in the universe, then the mutual gravitation of the receiving galaxies will be insufficient to stop the expansion and the Universe will run away forever. But if there is more matter than we can see…hidden away in black holes… say or in hot but invisible gas between galaxies, then the universe holds together, and partakes in every Indian succession of cycles… expansion followed by contraction… cosmos upon cosmos…Universes without end. If we live in such an oscillating universe, then the Big Bang is not the creation of the cosmos but merely the end of the previous cycle the destruction of the last incarnation of the cosmos.

Neither of these modern cosmologies may be altogether to our liking. In one cosmology, the universe is created somehow from nothing 15 to 20 billion years ago and expands forever. The galaxy is mutually receding until the last one disappears over our cosmic horizon. Then the galactic astronomers are out of business… the stars cool and die…matter itself decays…and the Universe becomes a thin cold haze of elementary particles.

In the other, the oscillating universe, the cosmos has no beginning and no end… and we are in the midst of an infinite cycle of cosmic deaths and rebirths. With no information trickling through the cusps of the oscillation…nothing of the galaxies, stars, planets, life forms, civilizations evolved in the previous incarnation of the universe trickles through the cusp filters past the Big Bang to be known in our universe.

The death of the universe in either cosmology may seem little depressing. But we may take some solace in the time scales involved. These events will take tens of billions of years or more. Human beings or our descendants whoever they might be can do a great deal of good in the tens of billions of years before the cosmos dies.