The following article on Cosmo Graphical Mapping by JOSEPH E. SCHWARTZBERG is a continuation from the Previous article Cosmo Graphical Mapping | Cosmographies In Hindu Tradition | 103.


Apart from painted cosmographies, a half-dozen cosmographic globes (bhugolas), all based largely on Puranic texts, are known to exist. These are of types described by Hindu astronomers, as far back as Aryabhata (b. A.D. 476).  Two of these five globes are found today at the British Museum in London, and one each are at the Victoria and Albert Museum, also in London; the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford; and the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi.  Author tries to refer to them as BM(A), BM(B), VA, Oxford, and BKB globes. The sixth globe was reported to Gole by N. P. Joshi of the Archaeological Survey of India, who saw it in an Indian village (location unknown). The simplest of the five globes studied, the VA globe, is a solid wooden sphere, about nineteen centimetres in diameter (shown in previous articles – Figure 5). This globe is believed to have been made in Orissa in the early to mid-nineteenth century.  On it land is colored mainly in yellow, mountain ranges in a lighter peach tone, rivers in white, oceans in several colors, among which gray is most common, and text in red.

The northern hemisphere of this globe shows Jambudvipa according to the four-continent earth conception (catur-dvipa vasumati). It is depicted by a lotus with four petals whose tips virtually reach the equator. East-west mountain ranges extend across each petal: there are three ranges on each of two petals (those that appear to be centered on 0° and 180° longitude) and only one on each of the others (those that appear to be centered on 90° east and west longitude). The northernmost and southernmost of the former set of ranges are shown as forested. Near what would be the northern pole, a circle within a square denotes Mount Meru, and that appears within a larger square just north of the northernmost mountain ranges. From near Mount Meru, originating within the larger square, rivers flow southward through the middle of each continent. Painted in the four inlets of ocean that separate the northern hemisphere continents are aquatic animals, boats, and four white palaces signifying the cities of Lanka, Romaka, Siddhapura, and Yamakoti, described by astronomers as occupying cardinal points on the equator. The southern hemisphere differs completely from the northern. With its six ring continents and intervening oceans, it is essentially like that of the four globes still to be discussed. Interestingly, three of the southern ring oceans are in colors other than the prevailing gray-tan, pink, and turquoise.

Substantial text, written in a rather tiny Devanagari script, appears on the globe, but neither transliterations nor translations are available at present. Finally, there are unnumbered black tick marks at five-degree intervals South Asian Cartography along the prime meridian, along another meridian approximately 150 degrees to the west (in the northern hemisphere only), and around the equator. Much older and more interesting than the preceding globe is a not-quite-spherical thin brass container on which is inscribed not only a hybrid cosmography, but also a wealth of minute pictorial detail and text in Devanagari script. This artifact (plate 26), held by the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, has been the object of detailed scholarly scrutiny by Simon Digby, who considers it not only from the perspective of traditional Indian cosmology, but also as an art historian. Supplementing Digby’s observations are a pair of diagrams kept within the sphere that provide a complete inventory of the regional features it portrays. Many of these features are also found on the BKB globe (Figure: 6, from the previous article), to which Digby’s observations also are largely applicable. Rather exceptionally, the creator of the bhugola at Oxford, one Ksemakarna, undoubtedly a Brahman, inscribed on it both his own name and the date of his work, Saka 1493 (A.D. 1571). The area of provenance, however, is not known. Digby presents evidence for several possibilities but seems to favor the view that the globe was fashioned for a wealthy patron from Saurashtra.

He also suggests that the globe’s function was primarily utilitarian, probably for storing food or condiments, and that “the depiction of the regions of the earth upon it was an elegant conceit suggested by its shape.” The mean equatorial diameter of the bhugola is about 26 centimetres, and its height 22 centimetres. Joined by a hinge at the equator, both hemispheres are slightly flattened, but the northern one, though essentially round, comes to a rather gently sloping polar peak. Tick marks at one-degree intervals are inscribed around the equator and small circles are etched in at ninety-degree intervals. The bhugola’s cosmography draws primarily on Puranic sources but modifies their content in light of knowledge derived from post-Ptolemaic Sanskrit astronomers, reconciling the two “in an unscriptural but rational manner.”  The upper half of the container represents the continent of Jambudvipa, and the subequatorial remainder, except for the anomalously positioned islands of Lanka and Palanka (= ?), is given over to the other six ring-shaped continents and their intervening oceans in concentric latitudinal bands.

These continents necessarily diminish in size toward the southern pole, “in contrast to the common Puranic account in which they increase in size by geometrical progression (2, 4, 8 … ). As on the bhugola the largest ring of land is the closest to the Equator, they also in fact enclose one another in inverse order to that prescribed in the Puranas.” Digby notes that “theoretical distances” are inscribed in yojanas at the equator, but not below it; but he neglects to indicate which features those distances apply to. Meru-over which, astronomers reasoned, Dhruva (the Pole Star) was situated-is positioned at the northern pole rather than at the center of the four quarters of the world, which was the usual Puranic view. This placement meant that if the southernmost Puranic continent, Bharatavarsa (India), and the presumably northernmost Puranic continent, Uttarakuru, were to remain opposite one another, the latter would also have to be displaced to the equator 180 degrees away, longitudinally, from the former.

And Among the components of Jambudvipa, Bharatavarsa (India) is treated differently from the others on the Oxford globe in that it is devoid of pictorial elements and “divided by transverse lines into rhomboids with geographical names inscribed inside them”; but mysteriously, “the traces of an abandoned scheme of decoration similar to that on other areas of the globe, and imperfectly erased from the thin surface of the metal, are still visible.” Also, the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna Oumna), the only two rivers represented on the globe, issue there from the bounding Himagiri (Himalayas). They join not far to the south and then flow eastward as they do in reality. This special treatment suggests that Ksemakarna sought to impart some degree of verisimilitude to his depiction of India. But if so, that desire did not take him very far. The nine rhomboidal regions (khandas) constituting Bharatavarsa include Kumarikakhanda, which the anonymous nineteenth-century transliterator / translator / interpreter of the bhugola’s text identifies (mistakenly) with “N.W.P.” (i.e., the former North-Western Provinces, merged with Oudh to form the United Provinces in 1877) and eight surrounding regions.

Proceeding clockwise from the north, the regions are Varunakhanda, designated as “the sea” because of the identification of the god Varuna with Neptune; Gandharvakhanda, “where the Ganges flows”; IndraKhanda, identified as the “abode of mankind” (translating the accompanying Sanskrit gloss); Kaserukhanda; Tamarakhanda, “the copper portion”; Gabhastikhanda; Somakhanda; and Nagakhanda (the region of snakes). In general these regions seem to be following lists enumerated in the early Puranas, but Kumarikakhanda is sometimes used synonymously with the whole of Bharatavarsa. Not included among the nine regions of Bharatavarsa, but situated immediately to their south, is Lanka, the mythical geographic antecedent of which is well known. Within several of the regions are named specific places that exist in India to this day: Kuruksetra (Kurukshetra), site of the legendary battle described in the Mahabharata epic in Varunakhanda (the sea; but there is no mention in the epic that the battle was fought on, or even near, the sea); the major temple town, Jagannath; and Dwarika (Dwarka), another key temple town in Nagakhanda. All three are in locales that accord fairly well with their actual geographic locations: north, southeast, and northwest. Though most of Digby’s analysis relates to the pictorial elements of the bhugola, here it suffices to note that those elements were mainly secular, as would be in keeping with the object’s primarily nonreligious purpose.

Objects depicted include dancers, musicians, a hunting scene, vegetation, secular architecture, furniture, and household goods. Yet minute images of deities, Shaivite sages, a temple in the jungle, and a temple cart are also shown. The deities seem mainly to occupy spaces on or fairly close to Mount, Meru, on whose summit are Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra (an Apollo-like Vedic god). Shiva, flanked by prostrate devotees, appears elsewhere on the globe. Thus the work does not appear to be obviously associated with any particular branch of Hinduism. The most detailed of the five globes studied in terms of both cosmographic and geographic detail is a work of unknown provenance, probably dating from the mid-eighteenth century, and now at the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi. Though the BKB globe was purchased from an art dealer in Jaipur, a Rajasthani origin for it seems out of the question because Amer (Amber), the capital of the important Kachwaha Rajput state before the construction of Jaipur, is badly misplotted, being placed in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. Other misplottings (to be discussed below, in the section on world maps) seem to rule out a northwest, west, or south Indian origin. On the other hand, the prominence given to Jagannath temple in the state of Orissa suggests that general region as a source area. But then, one wonders, if the nineteenth-century dating of the wooden VA globe, thought to be from Orissa, is correct, how could the much more sophisticated BKB globe, also thought to be east Indian, significantly predate it? In dating the globe, the omission of the name Jaipur (founded in 1728) and the inclusion of Amer are noteworthy, as is the inclusion of Calcutta (founded in 1690).

One should not, however, conclude from these facts that the globe had to date from the period 1690-1728, for jaipur would not have overshadowed Amer-at least in the minds of non-Rajasthanis-until some time after its founding, and it was not until near the middle of the eighteenth century that Calcutta became significantly more prominent than other European factories along the Hooghly River that are not indicated on the globe. Although the globe is constructed without gores and appears to be a solid structure, it is in fact of fairly thin papier-mache construction, only a few millimetres thick. The process entailed was: to make a large ball of string; to apply wet papier-mache to it; to paint the dried papier mache as desired and add the script (all Devanagari) in ink; and finally, to remove the string from the globe through a preplanned hole in the surface. In many places the painting has chipped off and the writing has been worn away. Here and there changes in the original legends appear to have been made, which suggests that the globe received considerable use and was the object of discussion and possibly even controversy.

The essential point to make about the BKB globe is that conceptually it seems to differ little from the one at Oxford. In particular, it seeks to reconcile the received wisdom derived from the Puranas with the empirical data of subsequent astronomy. That the two globes are as far removed from one another in time as they are (probably close to two centuries) and very likely also in space (assuming that the west Indian location of Saurashtra for the Oxford globe and a northeast Indian location for the BKB globe are correct) leads one to wonder if there was not among the pandits of India an enduring late and widespread cosmographic school of thought that was responsible for creating these two artifacts, the two BM globes (discussed below), and perhaps others yet to be found. Support for such a position is provided by the existence at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute at Pune of an undated series of six ink drawings on paper (Figure 1) that are simply labeled “six geographical charts,” but seem to provide a nearly perfect fit for the BKB globe.

Figure 1: Projection of the cosmological Globe
Figure 1: Projection of the cosmological Globe

[About Figure 1: This drawing is undated (nineteenth century?), and its provenance is unknown. It is one of a collection of six perspectives, all in ink on paper. The set of diagrams, though of a much later date than the globes illustrated in plate 26 from the previous article, would have served admirably as a guide to their construction. It suggests the existence of some unknown text prescribing the latitudinal and longitudinal limits used to delineate the major components of the globes. Diameter of the original: 23.7 cm; size of folio: 28.5 x 24 cm. By permission of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune.]

The chief difference between the BKB and Oxford globes is the wealth of real-world geographic detail on the former, even though almost all of that detail is confined to Bharatavarsa(India) and nearby regions. Like the Oxford globe, the BKB bhugola has six concentric ring continents with intervening seas ranged south of the equator, and the seventh continent of Jambudvipa, with nine principal subdivisions, occupying the whole of the northern hemisphere. The number of toponyms and the amount of place detail, both real and mythological, it contains appear to be far greater, and it is relatively lacking in pictorial content. Few of the images it does contain (and none in the northern hemisphere) are of deities or of an anthropomorphic nature. But from a more narrowly cartographic point of view, the principal difference is that the major geographical divisions of the BKB globe are laid out with a concern for exactitude in their latitudinal and longitudinal limits. This is clear because the globe includes an equator ticked off in one-degree segments, numbered every five degrees, and a similarly graduated prime meridian extending from the northern pole at Sumeru (Mount Meru), through Ujjain, the Indian city whose observatory provides the prime meridian for Hindu astronomy, to Lanka on the equator.

An especially noteworthy feature of the BKB globe is its use of clear color conventions: light brown for undifferentiated areas of land, dark brown for mountains in the southern hemisphere and for coastlines, various colors for mountains in the northern hemisphere (e.g., white for Himachal, the Himalayas), blue for rivers, ivory for oceans in the southern hemisphere, dark blue for oceans in the northern hemisphere, text in dark brown, and important points and areas in gold. The important points/areas include: Sumeru (northern pole), Sumeruvadavanala (southern pole), Lanka (centered at 0°, 0°), Yamakoti (0°, 90°E), Romakapattana (Rome, 0°, 900 W), and Siddhapura (0°, 180°) (d. the four cities depicted on the VA globe). And as with the Oxford globe, Uttarakuru, the northern continent of the Puranas, is shifted so that it becomes the western continent, Uttarakurukhanda, just north of the equator and opposite Lanka, but without the rectification of the morpheme “uttara” (north), that we noted on the Oxford globe. In the northern hemisphere of the BKB globe, four lakes, each bordered by a characteristic tree, the eponymous trees of Jambudvipa, are ranged about Sumeru, centered at 0°, 90° east and west, and 180° of longitude. From each of these lakes, rivers flow due south along the respective meridians. Special treatment, however, is accorded the Ganga and Yamuna, which flow along the prime meridian in close parallel courses (in each of the other quadrants there is only a single river) until, crossing the Himachal (at roughly 45°N)87 and passing another unnamed range south of Kashmir, they turn more or less correctly to the southeast at Kurukshetra, the legendary site of the great Mahabharata war, not far northwest of Delhi. Other details will be provided below in the discussion of world maps.

A distinctive feature of the southern hemisphere is that on each of the ring island continents are seven named parvatas (mountains), from which named nadis (rivers) flow into the sea. These parvatas are arranged in rows as if along seven spokes of a wheel extending toward the equator from Sumeruvadavanala. This recalls the seven spokes that created the twenty-one lokas , described in the previous article. Of particular interest are the figures depicted in the first and second seas northward from the southern pole, regrettably too faint to be seen in figure  6(1) [b] from the previous artcile. In the southernmost sea, the Vaishnavite gods Narayana and Lakshmi (Vishnu’s wife) also appear, seated on Sesha, the cosmic snake, who like the turtle Kurma (and sometimes together with Kurma) is thought to support the universe. In the second sea are Vishnu himself and associated symbols of Vaishnavism (e.g., elephant, seven-headed horse, conch, bow, water jar, moon, and wishing tree [kalpavrksa]. In many Hindu legends, particularly some of a cosmogonic nature, Vishnu is associated with the ocean (e.g., the churning of the cosmic ocean, in which the snake, Sesha, serves as the rope and, in some accounts, Meru serves as the churning rod). This suggests that the BKB globe may have had a Vaishnavite connection. The two most recent, the most similar, and the smallest of the five globes-BM(A) and BM(B)-are those in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum. Both are etched in metal, the BM(A) globe (figs 2 and 3) in bronze and the BM(B) in copper. The former is dated Samvat 1915 (A.D. 1867). Although the latter bears no date, its similarity to the former suggests rough contemporaneity. Both globes were acquired by the museum in 1886. In neither case is the provenance known.

Figure 2: Southern Hemisphere of a Cosmographic Globe
Figure 2: Southern Hemisphere of a Cosmographic Globe

[About Figure 2: This globe is etched in bronze, cast in two hemispheres, and joined at the equator. Its provenance within India is unknown, and it is dated Samvat 1915 (A.D. 1867). This view depicts the seven concentric ring oceans and the intervening ring continents of the southern hemisphere. The former are identifiable by fish etched into the surface. In addition, one sees a smaIl part of the northern hemisphere (compare fig. 3) in the upper portion of the photograph. Equatorial circumference: 35.2 cm; diameter: 10.1 em. By permission of the Trustees of the British Museum, Oriental Collections, London (cat. no. 86.11-27 1).

Figure 3: Abstract of the Northern Hemisphere of a cosmographic globe
Figure 3: Abstract of the Northern Hemisphere of a cosmographic globe

[About Figure 3: The northern hemisphere of the globe in figure 2 is represented here. It is shown in an azimuthal equal-area projection with Mount Meru centered on the northern pole. The depiction is  authors freehand sketch, and the dimensions may vary slightly from those of the original. Since the Sanskrit text of the original has yet to be transliterated, the names of continents, mountain ranges, and rivers provided on this diagram are merely inferred, based on analogy to similarly positioned features in other known cosmographic maps, globes, and texts. Here the northern hemisphere appears essentially to be a conflation of the conceptions incorporated in the globes depicted in previous articles,  which reflect in turn the early Brahmanic and later Puranic views. Hence the dual indication of the names of the eastern and western continents Bhadrasva and Ketumala. No satisfactory explanation can be offered for the deviant shape of the inner of the two Ketumalas. The placement of Bharatavarsa(India) in the southern part of the hemisphere, centered on the Indian prime meridian, and the depiction therein of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers are the globe’s principal concessions to geographic reality.]

Conceptually, both globes resemble the ones at Oxford and the BKB but lack their elaborate ornamentation. The BM(A) globe, with equatorial and polar circumferences of 35.2 and 34.4 centimeters, is slightly larger than the BM(B), whose circumference is 30 centimeters, and somewhat more elaborate. Each globe originally consisted of two separately fabricated hemispheres welded together at the equator. But whereas BM(A) remains intact, with a seal that is virtually imperceptible, BM(B) has broken in two. This accident was fortuitous in that it provides a glimpse into the globe’s interior, which had been filled with porous, vitreous slag. Molten slag was obviously poured into the globe through a hole in the north polar region that was subsequently plugged with a metal seal representing the region of Mount Meru. Given the weight of BM(A)-heavy, but not as heavy as if it were solid bronze-we may assume that its construction followed the same procedure as for BM(B). Both globes abound in Sanskrit text, but none has as yet been translated. Hence all references to proper names in the description that follows are predicated on inferences based on the apparent analogies between these and other cosmographies, both globes and two-dimensional representations.

On both globes the partitioning of the northern and southern hemispheres is essentially like that of the Oxford globe, though the proportions differ. On the Oxford globe and on BM(B) the ring continents and oceans of the southern hemisphere are more or less equal in width, except for the broader southernmost polar sea (covering about seventeen degrees of arc) on BM(B). On BM(A), however, the southern ring continents are about two-thirds the width of most of the ring oceans, while the south polar sea is inexplicably large, extending to what would be approximately 58°S latitude (probably intended as 600 S). A more fundamental difference lies in the etching on BM(A) of four continents, similar to those of the VA globe but more widely spaced, extending outward from Mount Meru like petals of a lotus, roughly halfway to the equator. These are superimposed on the basic layout of the Puranic conception which we had been discussing in the previous articles. An inexplicable peculiarity of the petal continents is that three of them come to points, whereas Ketumala, the fourth (whose axis one might take as 900 W), has a distinctly different, blunt shape. Between the petal continents, four rivers run to circular lakes at the four corners of Ilavrta and then veer clockwise out of those lakes toward the equator, skirting the southern limits of the petal continents. Three of the rivers reach the equator at approximately 900 E, 180°, and 900 W, while the remaining river divides into what are presumably the Ganga and the Yamuna, which flow across Harivarsa and Kirppurusa to Bharatavarsa and then west to east across that continent without reaching the equator.

Conspicuously missing on both globes are any features directly on the equator (e.g., Lanka at 0°, 0°). On the whole, BM(B) presents a simpler picture in the northern hemisphere. While there is some indication of buttress mountain ranges on the four sides of Meru, the petal continents are absent, and beyond the lakes at the four corners of Ilavrta there are only two rivers that flow toward the equator, rather than the customary four namely, those extended to Bharatavarsa and the near antipodal continent, which author have tentatively designated Kuruvarsa on BM(A). Because the originally low relief on this globe has been further subdued by handling, interpreting its features is more difficult than for BM(A).