This is a question I hear often from people who have read or have heard about the 5th Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam . The Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies will soon be publishing a book that deals with this issue in scholarly detail, but I can give you my personal view having gone through the different evidence. The short answer is: No, the Bhagavatam does not explicitly say that the earth is flat, though it is sometimes interpreted in that way.
The Bhagavatam talks about a cosmic structure called Bhu-mandala (literally, the earth disk/region), which is one of the 14 planetary systems of the Vedic universe. Some descriptions of this region seem contrary to our normal experience of the world around us. And yet, both traditionally and currently, some people interpret this realm as a literal flat earth. Most of the recent evidence for this interpretation can be found on YouTube videos and web pages. I suggest this may be a simplistic way to appreciate the Bhagavatam. From a broader perspective, many verses in the 5th Canto appear to be describing a multi-dimensional view of the universe, with multiple levels of meanings that we are continuing to unpack the analysis that presently resonates most with me is viewing Bhu-mandala as a 2-dimensional representation of 3-dimensional reality. This vantage point suggests that the vertical dimension of the Puranic cosmos may have more to do with increasing proportions of the mode of goodness ( sattva-guna ) than with a spatial dimension: Brahma-loka at the top with the highest amount of sattva-guna and Patala-loka at the bottom with the lowest amount of sattvaguna. Thus, the moon could be said to be situated further away from us than the sun, in the vertical dimension, because it takes a higher amount of sattva-guna to get to the “higher-dimensional” moon – if you want to experience the kingdom of Candraloka and not just a bunch of dusty rocks. Thus from this perspective, our perception of these more subtle realms would collapse to a single plane: the plane of Bhu-mandala. Yet if we could increase our level of sattva-guna, we could travel along the vertical dimension to these heavenly realms. Therefore, as per this analysis, Bhu-mandala is not considered as a flat earth, but as a 2-dimensional representation of a 3dimensional reality within a multi-dimensional universe.
To see more from Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Education, visit bihstudies.org
Jan 23, 2022
Anandini Tikunov (8th-grade student)
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org