That Hindu scriptures talk about many lokas is well known. What is not so well known is that there is also some description of these Lokas. I am giving below Vyasa’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 3.26 where there is some discussion about lokas. I have also added the insightful commentary of Swami Hariharananda Aranya on Vyasa commentary. I have added in square brackets some materials in order to help the reader understand the material.
(By practising Samyama) On the Sun (The point in the Body known as the Solar Entrance) the knowledge of the Cosmic Regions is acquired.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra III.26 by Swami Hariharananda Aranya translated by P. N. Mukherji
The cosmic regions are seven in number. Starting from Avichi up to the summit of Meru is the Bhuloka (Loka =Region). The stellar region from the Meru to the pole-star (Dhruva), strewn with planets and stars, is called Antariksa [Bhuvar-loka]. Beyond that is the region known as Svar-loka having five planes, of which the first one, Mahendra by name, is known as the third Loka. The fourth is the Mahar-loka of Prajapati. Then there are the three Brahmalokas, viz, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka.
Then up to Avichi, one placed above the other, are the six great hells wherein are the excesses of earth (Ghana), water (Salila),fire (Anala), air (Anila), void (Akasa) and darkness(Tamas) respectively and called the Mahakala, Ambarisa, Raurava, Maharaurava, Kalasutra, and Andhatamisra, in which creatures are born to suffer painful long lives as consequences of their accumulated sinful actions. Next come the seven nether worlds called Mahatala, Rasatala, Atala, Sutala, Vitala, Talatala, and Patala. The eighth is called Vasumati with its seven Dvipas and the golden king of mountains called Sumeru in the middle……..
Sumeru is the land of garden of the deities; there are four gardens called Mitravana, Nandana, Chaitraratha and Sumanasa, the council of the deities called Sudharma, the city called Sudarsanapura and the palace called Vaijayanta. The planets and stars, fastened by the pole-star and restrained by the movement of the wind, are going round the Sumeru at different points above it. In the Mahendraloka [Svarloka] live six classes of deities, viz. Tridasas, Agnisvattas, Yamyas, Tusitas, Aparinirmita-vasvartis, and Parinirmita-vasavartis. They have all their desires fulfilled and are possessed of supernormal powers like power to reduce one’s body, their spans of life extend over kalpas; they are held in reverence, are fond of pleasures, their bodies are not of parental origin, and they have families consisting of good-looking and docile Apsaras (nymphs). In the great Prajapatya region [Maharloka] there are five group of deities – Kumudas, Rbhus, Pratardanas. Anjanabhas, and Prachitabhas. They have mastery over the gross elements, and meditation is their food. They live for a thousand kalpas (eons). In Brahma’s first sphere called Janaloka, there are four classes of Devas – the Brahma-purohitas, the Brahma-kayikas, the Brahma-mahakayikas and the Amaras. They have power over the elements and the organs and have double the longevity of those mentioned before. In the second sphere called Tapoloka, there are three kinds of Devas, the Abhasvaras, the Mahabhasvaras, and the Satya-mahabhasvaras. They have mastery over the elements, the organs and the Tanmatras. Their longevity is twice that of the former, they live on meditation, have full control over their passions, have the capacity of knowing what is happening in regions over them, while knowledge of everything in regions below them is laid bare before them.
In the third sphere of Brahma, the Satyaloka, there are found four kinds of Devas – the Achyutas, the Suddhanivasas, the Satyabhas and the Sanjnasamjnis. They have no material habitation, they live in themselves, each being one layer above the other, have control over the Pradhana and live to the end of creation. Of these, the Achyutas enjoy the bliss of Savitarka meditation. The Suddhanivasas are occupied with the bliss of Savichara meditation, the Satyabhas with Ananda-matra or blissful meditation and the Samjnasamjnis with Asmita-matra (pure I-sense) meditation.They also live within the three cosmic regions. All these seven regions come within Brahmaloka.
But the discarnates and those whose bodies are resolved into primal matter and have reached the Moksha-like stage, do not reside in the phenomenal world.
Yogis should see all these by practicing Samyama on the solar entrance (Suryadvara) or on any other region, until all these are seen thoroughly.
Excerpts of Swami Hariharananda’s commentary on Vyasa’s commentary
….On practicing Samyama [combination of dharana, dhyana and samadhi] on this particular ray of effulgent light [Susumna] a knowledge of the whole universe is revealed. The regions of the universe are both gross and subtle and of them, Avichi etc, are without illumination; therefore, they cannot be seen with gross material light. Ordinary sunlight cannot illumine them. It is only the developed power of sense-faculty, which does not wait for an illuminator but sees things by its own power of illumination,that can have knowledge of the universe. One reason for not taking the word ‘solar entrance’ to imply the sun, is that Samyama on the sun can reveal only the sun. How can it bring knowledge of other regions like Brahmalokaa etc?
On account of similarity between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the identity of the Susumna nerve and the regions of the unverse has been spoken of.
[Muladhara Chakra ———–Bhuloka
Svadhisthana Chakra ———Bhuvarloka (Svarloka)
Manipura Chakra ————-Maharloka
Anahata Chakra ————–Janaloka
Visuddhi Chakra ————-Tapoloka
Ajna Chakra —————–Satyaloka]
Every creature has its supra-mundane soul, and all pervading Buddhi is only limited by the action of the senses. As these limitations disappear the power of Buddhi goes on increasing and one goes up from higher to higher regions. Thus the elimination of the coverings on Buddhi is related to the attainment of different Lokas or regions. From the point of Buddhi there is no such thing as far or near. Thus Buddhi of each creature and the stellar regions are in the same plane, and the power of attaining them is gained when the Vrttis or modifications of Buddhi are purified.
Bhuh-Loka is not this earth but the large ethereal region attached to this earth. Sumeru hill, the residence of the Devas, is also such a region; it is not visible to the eye. The location of the different regions of the universe as described herein, was accepted by the ancient Yoga philosopher as being current at the time.
The Dvipas are inhabited by holy Devas and pious men after their death. The Dvipas must therefore be subtle regions.
The nether worlds are located inside the Bhuh-Loka (not this earth) and are also subtle regions. To one with subtle vision the seven hells have the same appearance as the different parts of the gross earth. The creatures living in these regions are endowed with subtle organs of reception but as their powers are restrained they suffer misery, being unable to fulfil their wishes. In a nightmare the body cannot act on account of the organs being inactive, but the mind being active suffers like an ensnared beast; so do creatures suffer in hell.
As in this world there are separate lower animals, so amongst the subtle-bodied creatures, the inhabitants of the seven hells form separate lower classes. The same gross regions are seen different according as the view point is gross, subtle or mixed. What men see as earth, water or fire, those in hell see as hell and those in the nether regions look upon as their wanted abode. The Deva-lokas start from the top of Bhuh-loka. Top of the Bhuh-loka does not mean top of the earth, but it is situated much above the aerial regions of the earth.
Residents of the nether regions and the Devas who come into existence without parents, are regarded as separate species. As the denizens of hell are transformed human beings, so also are there human beings residing in heaven. They retain the misery of their human existence. That is why in the Upanishads two separate classes as Deva-gandharva and Manusya-gandharva have been mentioned.
Unless the constitution of the different regions of abode and the nature of the residents thereof, described in this Sutra, are clearly understood the sanctity and greatness of the state of liberation would not be appreciated. Through piety the lower Deva regions are attained, while in accordance with the different Yogic states the higher Deva regions are reached.
The state of Kaivalya or liberation is beyond all Lokas and no one returns from there.
Yoga Philosophy of Patanjal by Swami Hariharananda Aranya translated by P. N. Mukherji
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I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.