Mathomathis would like to publish an article on Cosmos Graphical Mapping presented by Author: JOSEPH E. SCHWARTZBERG. Author in one of his text starts with a category of Underlying Cosmological Conceptions as follows: Commenting on the relative unpopularity of cosmological investigations among modern Indologists, R. F. Gombrich has opined that “the most discouraging feature of traditional Indian cosmology is not its fantastic and uncritical character, but its complexity.” He explains that complexity as follows:

  • Just as the Indian system of social organisation, caste, has grown throughout history by aggregation and inclusion, not abolishing the practices and customs of newly assimilated peoples but assigning them a low place in the social hierarchy, so Indian cosmology which remained largely a branch of Indian mythology- rarely abandoned a theory or idea, but allowed it to remain alongside the new ideas, even if it was inconsistent with them…. Nevertheless, there are certain Hindu texts, the Puranas, composed since the beginning of our era, which concern themselves with [among other things]… the universe in space and time, that is cosmology; and the Puranas do make attempts to reconcile various versions and to present a systematized picture-though no two attempts give quite the same result. Systematization proceeds, as I have just suggested, by aggregation and encapsulation; for instance, different cosmogonies are generally accommodated by making them occur successively, rather than by, say, interpreting one story as an allegorical alternative to another. It is this… which largely accounts for the notorious fact that the dimensions of both space and time in the classical Indian cosmologies are so unconscionably large; two systems are reconciled by putting the one inside the other, and making it a cosmo-graphical or temporal part of a much larger whole

In light of these remarks it is hardly surprising that in the lengthy article on cosmogony and cosmology in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, the sections on the Buddhist and Indian views are far longer than for any other religious tradition or world region; the former the longer of the two-is in fact allotted three times the space given to the section on the views associated with Christianity. Of Kirfel’s book, Die Kosmographie der Inder, Gombrich observes, not quite accurately, that it comprises “over 400 large pages with hardly anything more than bare quotations and tables.” Nevertheless, for our purposes the Kirfel text, despite being directed primarily to an audience of Indologists, possesses the great merit of containing what is perhaps the most representative sample of actual photographs of Indian cosmographic productions of any hitherto published work. Among other works treating the several traditions within Indian cosmology at some length, Bastian’s Ideale Welten analyzes at greatest length the specific cosmographic views presented, rather than the conceptual schema underlying them, though not, obviously, from the perspective of a historian of cartography.

Sircar’s approach: is not so dissimilar to Kirfel’s and, on cursory inspection, appears to be much in the nature of a catalog; but he strives less for completeness and more for critical analysis and comprehensibility. Moreover, to an extent unmatched by other authors cited in this essay, he considers the real-world referents of the many places named in the cosmographies. Within the present context, it will not be possible to consider, even in a cursory fashion, many of the numerous cosmographical conceptions that have enjoyed currency within the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. But within each of these traditions I do offer some generalizations on the purposes of the cosmographies; the media employed; their scale, orientation and directionality, use of color, and symbolization; and their degree of conformity to the real world. Finally, I shall consider the pervasiveness of cosmographic imagery in a variety of noncartographic contexts.
The inconsistencies in Indian cosmography-Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain-to which Gombrich draws our attention are evident even in the earliest of texts. Sircar notes that in the Rig Veda, composed over several centuries between 1500 and 1000 B.C., there are at least five different words to refer to the earth and that the universe therein was conceived “as consisting of either two or three units, i.e., of either the earth and the sky (heaven), or the earth, the air (atmosphere) and the sky.” Furthermore, “each of these constituents was regarded as having three parts or layers, so that there were either six units of three earths and three heavens or nine units of three earths, three atmospheres and three skies.” To these the later Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda (believed to have been composed between 900 and 500 B.C.) added a hemispheric “world of light, i.e. the vault of the sky,” which was in due course matched by an antipodal nether vault. Thus the world was seen as a disk-a form frequently used in later cosmographies-suspended between “two great bowls turned towards each other,” and that view led in time to the long-enduring conception of the universe as a “cosmic egg” commonly designated Brahmanda (egg of Brahma). A similar early conception is that of the Chandogya Upanishad (date uncertain, but probably composed about the time of the later Vedas), which speaks of the cosmic golden womb (or fetus) (hiranyagarbha) splitting apart to form the heaven and the earth.

On the size of the universe the Vedas themselves are silent, but the Aitareya Brahmana informs us that “the distance between the earth and the sky is … 1000 days’ journey for a horse,” while the Panchavimsa Brahmana puts it, more modestly, at “the altitude coverable by 1000 cows standing one upon another.” Whether the conceptions presented to this point were of purely Indian origin or were borrowed from Babylonia is debatable. Kirfel thinks the Babylonian influence is significant, whereas Gombrich finds little support for that proposition. This, however, is an argument we need not enter, since the concern here is not so much with cosmology per se as with cosmography; and of visible representations of the very early Vedic/Indian views we have no surviving example. But at least from the middle of the first millennium B.C., by which time the Brahmanda idea had gained currency, Indian cosmological and cosmographic speculation proceeded on a wholly independent course.

Over the next thousand years or more, during which time the Epics and Puranas were composed and written, Indian cosmography became ever more complex and expansive. Not only were our own earth and universe envisaged as increasingly differentiated segments of the cosmos, but new universes, in some views infinite in number, were imagined. At the same time, in each of the three main religiophilosophical traditions of India Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist-the cosmos became “ethicized.” This was a natural outgrowth of the eschatological preoccupations of those three faiths. Each held to a belief in the transmigration of the soul in a potentially endless round of rebirths; and the expanded, generally vertically stratified universe, with numerous heavens and nether worlds, provided the field within which the soul could find its proper niche at any stage in its long journey toward or away from ultimate release (moksa in Hinduism and Jainism and nirvana in Buddhism).  As a rule, within this ethicized universe “the good go up and the bad go down, the higher up you are the better,” and vice versa. The implication of this, from a cartographic perspective, is that the visual representation of the multidimensional universe in a two-dimensional image (i.e., a conventional map surface) sees it extended along a vertical rather than a horizontal plane. It is perhaps understandable, then, that historians of cartography, who have little trouble recognizing Western cosmographies for what they are, might fail to recognize as maps the surviving cosmographies of India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia. If only in passing, it is appropriate to note that just as souls moved through cycles of rebirth, so did the universe itself. Thus, although we are unaware of visual representations of the universe as it may have been imagined at different stages of its existence (apart from the early Vedic primordial egg conception), it seems reasonable to suppose that such works existed and would easily be spotted by appropriately trained specialists. As with the spatial dimensions of the universe, the temporal dimensions and constitution of time are staggeringly large and complex (e.g., the life of Brahma is calculated at 311,040,000 million years), and a host of cycles within cycles is postulated. Further, time, like space, is ethicized. The age in which we are now living, for example, the Kaliyuga, said to have begun in the year of the Mahabharata war (traditionally dated 3102 B.C.), is the least moral of all. IS But the present Kaliyuga is but one of a thousand Kaliyugas in the present kalpa, a cycle of time that in turn is but one of 720 kalpas in a single year of Brahma.

A concomitant of the expansion and growth in complexity of the cosmos was the remarkable multiplication and evolution of its denizens. Whereas in early Vedic times it was thought that there was but one primordial deity, or at most a few, there subsequently arose in various components of the cosmos an innumerable host of gods, demigods, bodhisattvas, spirits, demons (asuras), and diverse terrestrial creatures, some more or less human in size, form, and behavior, others in the nature of real or mythical animals. The cartographic significance of this is that in painted cosmographies, a particular component of the cosmos will be identified by the placement within a particular field-which in itself may be more or less nondescript-of some identifiable tutelary deity, creature, or plant that to the uninitiated would not be recognized as a map symbol. The sun, the moon, the planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and in the Indian view, Rahu and Ketu, the ascending and descending nodes of lunar eclipses), zodiacal mansions, and asterisms (nakshatras) were also deified and rendered iconically in sculpture and in painting, sometimes individually and sometimes in related groups. In some works, including both paintings and architectural monuments, these astronomical icons formed parts of larger cosmographic ensembles, typically incorporating numerous wholly mythic elements; in other instances they were depicted in isolation. IS Rarely, however, except on astrolabes and celestial globes, was any attempt made to represent an actual view of a portion of the heavens at a particular moment in time. Thus empirical celestial mapping, as it developed in other parts of the world, does not form a part of the Indian cartographic tradition.

Cosmographic texts also specified natural features but attributed to them fabulous sizes, shapes, and other physical properties. Certain realms came to be characterized by the presence therein of specific trees, typically of stupendous proportions, and these too became cartographic motifs. The continent (or world) containing India, for example, came to be known as Jambudvipa / Jambudweepa, the Rose-Apple Island, after the jambu tree that grew at its center. In the Buddhist view, this eponymous tree had a trunk fifteen yojanas in girth (the length of a yojana being taken as anywhere from two to nine miles), branches fifty yojanas long, and a height of one hundred yojanas. Shapes (e.g., bowlike, wedgelike, square) and positions were also elements of the cosmographies. Thus, in some views oceans and mountain ranges were conceived as concentric rings, whereas in others mountain ranges followed straight lines, generally either east-west or, less commonly, north-south. A feature common to most of the ancient Indian cosmographies is that the earth and universe are centered on an axis, specified as Mount Meru (or Sumeru), which is commonly identified either with the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia or with the sacred Mount Kailasa (Kailas) in Tibet. Even in Vedic times some such axis was thought to exist, joining the celestial vault and the nether world, which were viewed either as in-facing bowls, as author have noted, or as giant wheels like the earth itself.

The size, shape, and composition of Mount Meru and its immediate environs varied considerably from one view to another, as will be apparent from its representation in some of the illustrations in the following presentation. In most views it not only soared to heights no human could attain but was also deeply rooted in the earth. On its elevation, 84,000 yojanas, there is considerable agreement; the depth of its roots, however, was regarded in some vedic accounts to be a mere 16,000 yojanas and by the Buddhists was seen as equal to the mountain’s height. Meru’s shape was unlike that of other mountains. In most conceptions it comprised several distinct layers, each the domain of a different type of supernatural being; but whereas some viewed it as narrowing toward its summit, others thought precisely the opposite. Generally, however, the summit area was thought to be flat and, even in the most conservative view, quite capacious, as would befit its divine occupants. The number of sides attributed to Meru ranged from four, which was a common view, to a thousand. Around Meru were variously described buttress ranges, rocky ramparts, and other symmetrically and concentrically arranged physical features that, for want of space and more, author does not go into its specifications. In most Vedic Traditions, Jain, and Buddhist views of the universe, there were ranged about Mount Meru, the axis mundi, a number of continents. One such view as shown in the figure below

Mount Meru - Mathomathis
FIG 1: Early Brahmanic Vedic and Buddhist Conception of THE CATUR-DVfpA VASUMATf (FOUR-CONTINENT EARTH).

Identified with early Brahmanic Hinduism and Buddhism, was that there were four, one in each of the cardinal directions, like the leaves of a lotus of which Mount Meru formed the pericarp. An alternative Vedic conception, also identified-in somewhat modified form with Jainism, was that the earth consisted of seven concentric ring continents separated by ring oceans, each continent and ocean moving outward from the central continent (also called Jambudvipa) and being twice as large as the continent and ocean preceding it, below picture shows the views

Mathomathis - Cosmos
Mathomathis - Cosmos
Fig 3: Puranic Conception of the divisions of Jambudvipa, the innermost continent of:THE SAPTA-DVIPA VASUMATI.

(In the above figure: The seven named continents here alternate with seven seas. Starting with the innermost, Lavana Samudra, the names: of the seas translate as Salt Sea, Sugarcane Juice Sea, Wine Sea, Clarified Butter Sea, Curd Sea, Milk Sea, and Water Sea. The area of each successive continent is double that of the continent immediately inward from it, and the same relationship obtains for the dimensions of the rivers and mountains on those continents and the seas that separate them. After D. C. (Dineshchandra) Sircar, Cosmography and Geography in Early Indian Literature (Calcutta: D. Chattopadhyaya on behalf of Indian Studies: Past and Present, 1967), pI. II.)

Mathomathis - Cosmos

(From the figure above makes it clear that this is a derivative conception. Here Ketumala and Bhadrasva retain their positions as the western and eastern continents, but the earlier Uttarakuru and Bharata, in the north and south, have each been divided into three major parts separated by east-west mountain ranges. After Joseph E. Schwanzberg, ed., A Historical Atlas of South Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pI. m.D.3, adapted from D. C. (Dineshchandra) Sircar, Cosmography and Geography in Early Indian Literature (Calcutta: D. Chattopadhyaya on behalf of Indian Studies: Past and Present, 1967), pI. V. ). Oddly, though some texts are explicit in regard to the geometric progression of areas, the extant graphic representations of this worldview all seem to ignore it (Below represented figures are some of the examples)


But once again we have an embarrassment of riches, for there are also texts that specify nine, thirteen, eighteen, and thirty-two continents. Which of the views above is oldest cannot be said with certainty. Because most surviving cosmographies amalgamate the two major conceptions, they throw no useful light on the subject, and historical evidence suggests that hybrid views date back at least as far as the seventh century.

Brahmanda | Egg
Fig 6: Brahmanda | Egg
The Path of the Planets
Fig 7: The Path of the Planets

There was a high degree of consensus as to the names of the northern and southern dvipas (continents)-Kuru or Uttarakuru and Jambudvipa (though Bharata was also often used for the latter)-but the names of the eastern and western continents differed widely in the Vedic and Buddhist traditions. Similarly, whereas in the seven-continent view there is general accord in the Puranic texts on the names of the first and seventh dvipas-Jambu and Puskara-there is considerable diversity in the order of the others and also in their sizes and component varsas (parts). Mere toponymic differences from one cosmography to another may have little effect on their overall visual appearance, yet to those able to read the abundant text found in so many of the extant works, the lack of concordance may loom as a serious problem. This problem was noted as early as the eleventh century by the great Muslim scholar al-Biriini; but whether his concern was more with the Puranic texts, which seems most likely, or with actual cosmographic artifacts, which is also a possibility, is not known. A remarkable aspect of many Indian cosmographies is that they do not perceive distant realms as less glorious than their own revered home region (whether Jambudvipa or Bharatavarsha). In this they differ from the cosmographies of most other cultures. As Eck observes, as we move outward from Rose-Apple Island into the terrae incognitae of the outer islands, the world is not imagined to be shadowy and dangerous, but on the contrary is imagined to be more and more sublime. These outer islands are not thought of as heavens, since the heavens rise in the vertical dimension of the Brahmanda, but life is idealized beyond the horizon.”

This idealization of distant continents or, in some views, of distant worlds would help explain why certain visual representations of portions of the cosmos, particularly as conceived by Jains and, to a lesser extent, by Buddhists, appear so strange to the uninitiated. A painted rectangle studded with glowing jewels may appear to a Western observer as being merely an abstract design, whereas to a devout Jain it might represent a specific world with a definite name and a fixed place in the cosmos. The foregoing may be seen as a spatial analogue of the temporal conception that the age in which the world at present exists, the Kaliyuga, is the least happy and least holy of times. Also noteworthy in many cosmographic conceptions is the peripheral southerly position of Jambudvipa, displaying a certain lack of geocentricity that stands in marked contrast to the Jerusalem-centered or Mecca-centered cosmographies of the West. Radically different from the cosmographies discussed to this point is the one that views the world as “a tortoise” its arched shell the heaven, its flat underside the earth.” Although this view retains an elevated world center, it conspicuously lacks a Mount Meru. The origin of this idea is tooted in the Brahrnanas (mid-first millennium B.C.), but its elaboration appears to have occurred only in the time of the later Puranas (fourth to sixth century A.D.) and of the Markandeya Purana in particular. This conception, the kurmanivesa (tortoise abode), was of particular importance to astrology, and “astrologers prepared special topographical lists to which they gave the name of Kurma-vibhaga (divisions of the globe) which found their way into some major works on astronomy.

The world as known to the Kurma Vibhaga … is represented as resting upon Vishnu in the form of a tortoise with its head to the east. It is divided into nine parts each of which is assigned to a triad of nakshatras (lunar mansions or constellations). Peoples and countries are enumerated with the corresponding nakshatras as they were distributed over the various parts of the tortoise’s body, starting with the middle region and then running round the compass from the east to the north-east. 

Mathomathis - Cosmos_KORMAVIBHAGA

(This diagram indicates for each of its nine divisions a set of three nakshatras (lunar mansions that exert an influence over the peoples and countries occupying that division). For example, on the head of the tortoise, signifying the eastern region of the earth, under the influence of the constellations Ardra, Punarvasu, and Pusya, twenty-seven affected regions, peoples, mountains, and cities are listed in the Markandeya Purana. These include places that can be identified with locales in the present areas of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, and Assam (all in north eastern India); “cannibals dwelling on the sea-coast”; and places whose present-day referents cannot be ascertained (e.g., Mount jambu). This drawing incorporates, among hundreds of other diagrams used as aids for divination, the Puranic conception described above. In this diagram, only the Sanskrit initials are provided. From Ganeshadatta Pathaka, ed., Narapatijayacaryasuarodaya of Sri Narapatikaui (Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1971), diagram on 109.)

The special object of this mode of division is to determine what janapadas, countries or districts, suffer disaster when the respective lunar mansions with which they are associated are harassed by malignant planets. Regrettably, but not unexpectedly, the data of the kurmavibhaga, though partly relating to the geography of the day, do not permit an accurate historical reconstruction of the map of ancient India, “due in large measure to the futile attempt of making the shape of India conform to that of a tortoise.”