Vimana in Sanskrit has been attributed by several meanings. These include temple or palace to mythological flying machines described in Sanskrit epics. Sanskrit vimana literally means "measuring out, traversing" or "having been measured out."
A vimana is a mythological flying machine, described in the ancient mythology of India. References to these flying machines are commonplace in ancient Indian texts. These texts even described their use in warfare. Vimanas were able to fly within Earth's atmosphere. Apart from this, the vimanas were also said to be able to travel into space and travel submerged underwater.
The word Vimanas comes from Sanskrit and seems to be vi-mana which means 'apart' or 'having been measured." The word also means a part of a Hindu temple. The meaning of the word likely changed in this sequence:
1. An area of land measured out and set apart to be used for sacred purposes.
3. A god's palace
4. In the Ramayana: the demon-lord Ravana's flying palace called Pushpaka.
5. In later Indian writings: other flying vehicles, and sometimes as a poetic word for ordinary ground vehicles.
In some modern Indian languages, however, the word 'vimana' implies an 'ordinary real aircraft.'
Descriptions in the Vedas and later Indian literature have observed that these vimanas were of various shapes and sizes:
1. In the Vedas: the Sun and Indra and several other Vedic deities are transported by flying wheeled chariots pulled by animals, usually horses (but the Vedic god Pusan's chariot is pulled by goats).
2. The "agnihotra-vimana" with two engines. (Agni means fire in Sanskrit.)
3. The "gaja-vimana" with more engines. (Gaja means elephant in Sanskrit.)
4. Other types named after the kingfisher, ibis, and other animals.
The ancient Sanskrit texts are filled with references to gods who fought battles in the sky using Vimanas equipped with weapons. These weapons were as deadly as any we can deploy in these more enlightened times. In fact, the Ramayana there is a passage in the Ramayana which reads:
"The Pushpaka chariot that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent car going everywhere at will .... the car resembling a bright cloud in the sky ... and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent car at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.'"
The special characteristic of this vehicle was, "Whatever may be the number of people sitting in it, always there will be one more seat vacant i.e., If N people sit, There will be (N+1) seats". It was basically a vehicle that could travel the skies for long distances. It shows that even in ancient times, people were curious about flight and might have tried to design flying vehicles.
The core epic of the Mahabharata does not mention vimanas. However, vimanas were often occurred in the large amount of matter. This matter was subsequently added to the Mahabharata corpus. One example is that the Asura Maya had a Vimana measuring twelve cubits in circumference, with four strong wheels.
The Mahabharata complimented "the all-knowing Yavanas" as the creators of the vimanas. Vimana-vasin who was the 'dweller in vimana' was a class of deities who served the tirthankar Mahavir. These Vaimanika deities dwelled in the Urdhva Loka heavens.
The Mahabharata was an authentic gold mine of information relating to conflicts between gods. These gods are said to have settled their differences using weapons as lethal as those we have now. Apart from 'blazing missiles', the poem records the use of other deadly weapons. 'Indra's Dart' (Indravajra) operated via a circular 'reflector'. When switched on, it produced a 'shaft of light.' This light when focused on any target, immediately 'consumed it with its power'.
What is important to note, that these kinds of records were not isolated. They could be cross-correlated with similar reports in other ancient civilizations. The after-effects of this Iron Thunderbolt had a threateningly recognizable ring. Apparently, those killed by it were said to be so burnt that their corpses were unidentifiable. The survivors fared little better, as it caused their hair and nails to fall out.
There was also information about these allegedly mythical Vimanas in the ancient records. According to these records, there were some matter-of-fact records, describing how to build one. In their way, the instructions were quite precise. However, this was perhaps the most disturbing and challenging information.