The World Turtle (also referred to as the Cosmic Turtle or the World-bearing Turtle) is a theory of a giant turtle (or tortoise) supporting or containing the world. The theory, which is similar to that of the World Elephant and World Serpent, occurs in Hindu mythology, Chinese mythology and the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The World Turtle in Hindu mythology is known as Akupāra , or sometimes Chukwa. An example of a reference to the World Turtle in Hindu literature is found in Jñānarāja.
"A vulture, whichever has only little strength, rests in the sky holding a snake in its beak for a prahara [three hours]. Why can [the deity] in the form of a tortoise, who possesses an inconceivable potency, not hold the Earth in the sky for a kalpa [billions of years] ?"
Turtles all the way down
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down !".
"Turtles all the way down" is an expression of the problem of infinite regress. The saying alludes to the mythological idea of a World Turtle that supports the earth on its back. It suggests that this turtle rests on the back of an even larger turtle, which itself is part of a column of increasingly large world turtles that continues indefinitely (i.e., "turtles all the way down").
The exact origin of the phrase is uncertain. In the form "rocks all the way down", the saying appears as early as 1838. References to the saying's mythological antecedents, the World Turtle and its counterpart the World Elephant, were made by a number of authors in the 17th and 18th centuries. This theory is frequently assumed to have originated in ancient India and other Hinduism beliefs.
The Kurma Avatar
In the book Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, the turn-of-the-20th-century, anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor writes that the world turtle concept likely first appeared in Hindu mythology. In one Vedic story, the form of the god Vishnu’s second avatar, Kurma, is a great turtle, which provides a celestial foundation upon which a mountain is balanced.
Another popular popular says that earth rests on the head of a serpent, Seanaga. Earthquakes are supposed to take place when the tortoise or the serpent moves. The origin of the serpent theory is the story of serpent Vritra .Like most of the beliefs of the Hindus, the origin of this theory can also be traced to the Vedas. The Vedas tell us the following:
"Heaven is fierce and earth is firm due to him." Rigveda 10.121.5, Yajurveda 32.6
We should note here that firm here is used in the sense of being very hard and not as stationary.
Heaven (Dyau) is fierce because it is the abode of energy and earth (Prthivi) is firm because it is the abode of particles which do not have wave like characteristics. Prthivi is considered like a tortoise in Vedic scriptures. Tortoise has a very firm back without any hair on it. Observer space (Prthivi) is firm like the back of tortoise and it does not have hair as well.
"This Prthivi was without hair earlier." Satpatha Brahmana 220.127.116.11, Aitareya Brahmana 24.22
"This Prthivi is like the back of the tortoise." Mahabharata, Santiparva 300.6
Hair refers to the field lines. Even modern physicists use similar analogy when they say that black holes do not have hair meaning that field lines cannot emerge from a black hole. Prthivi does not have hair, because hair is a characteristic of the field, and the field resides in Antaria.
The Vedic ideas were picked up by the Semitic religions without having any clue as to the real scientific meaning behind these ideas. The Bible also says that earth was bald earlier in Genesis. In India massive efforts were made to preserve the scientific meaning of the Vedas. Still, the analogy between Prthivi and the back of the tortoise was forgotten long time back, and then a theory generated which supposes that earth rests on the back of a giant tortoise and earthquakes take place when the tortoise turns.