All Indian religions have a passion for describing in bold imaginative outline the history and geography of the universe. Their ideas are juster than those of Europeans and Semites in so far as they imply a sense of the distribution of life throughout immensities of time and space. The Hindu perceived more clearly than the Jew and Greek that his own age and country were merely parts of a much longer series and of a far larger structure or growth.
He wished to keep this whole continually before the mind, but in attempting to describe it he fell into that besetting intellectual sin of India, the systematizing of the imaginary. Ages, continents and worlds are described in detailed statements which bear no relation to facts. Thus, Brahmanic cosmogony usually deals with a period of time called Kalpa. This is a day in the life of Brahmâ, who lives one hundred years of such days, and it marks the duration of a world which comes into being at its commencement and is annihilated at its end. It consists of 4320 times a million years and is divided into fourteen smaller periods called manvantaras each presided over by a superhuman being called Manu.
A manvantara contains about seventy-one mahâyugas and each mahâyuga is what men call the four ages of the world. Geography and astronomy show similar precision. The Earth is the lowest of seven spheres or worlds, and beneath it are a series of hells. The three upper spheres last for a hundred Kalpas but are still material, though less gross than those below. The whole system of worlds is encompassed above and below by the shell of the egg of Brahmâ. Round this again are envelopes of water, fire, air, ether, mind and finally the infinite Pradhâna or cause of all existing things. The earth consists of seven land-masses, divided and surrounded by seven seas. In the centre of the central land-mass rises Mount Meru, nearly a million miles high and bearing on its peaks the cities of Brahmâ and other gods.