Mathomathis would like to present an article on Cosmo Graphical Mapping by JOSEPH E. SCHWARTZBERG. The following article would start a conversation on a topic called as: COSMOGRAPHIES: THE JAIN TRADITION


Of the three ancient Indian religious traditions, that of the Jains appears to have had the greatest and most continuous preoccupation with cosmographical questions. To this day it is said, “Every [Jain] monk knows by heart, from the time of his noviciate, the verses of the samgrahanis [cosmographic texts]. He knows how to draw representations of them, and can sometimes even make models of them. He can also comment upon them in detail, following a long-established tradition.” Even to the laity the subject remains one of “absorbing interest,” and allegedly “cosmographic diagrams appear in all Jain temples.” The purpose of preparing cosmographies was essentially didactic. “All in all, the representation of the world which the Jains have elaborated permits them to show, in a condensed way, which would have a greater impact upon the mind of a believer, the myriads of destinies through which one will transmigrate in the course of innumerable aeons.” The same would, of course, also have been true of cosmographies of Hindu and Buddhist conception, though their religious use-especially in Hinduism, where metaphysics was largely left to the Brahman elite-was less than in the case of the relatively well-educated and affluent Jains. There are, in fact, so many surviving examples of premodern Jain cosmographies, not only in India but in major museums and art galleries throughout the world, that an inventory of those author have seen or know of would be far from complete and serve little purpose.

Most of the known Jain cosmographies derive from Rajasthan and Gujarat, the two Indian states with the largest proportions of Jains in their population. Most of the surviving works were painted in gouache on paper, mainly in pastel hues, as parts of illuminated samgrahani manuscripts, the oldest thought to have been composed in the sixth or seventh century A.D. Of the extant illustrated recensions, however, none is said to be older than the fourteenth century. Additionally, there are many Jain cosmographies painted in gouache on cotton cloth, and surviving examples date at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Perhaps the principal reason ancient Jain cosmographies are so much more plentiful than those of the Hindus is that they were carefully preserved both in monasteries and in the bhandaras (libraries) that are characteristic adjuncts to Jain temples. There are no corresponding institutions in Hinduism. A third medium in which Jain cosmographies survive is stone, especially bas-reliefs in Jain temples and shrines, as in the case of the representation of Nandisvaradvipa. Not surprisingly, given the durability of the medium, the oldest of all the known cosmographies are sculpted in stone. These works date as far back as A.D. 1199-1200.121. Figure 1 presents a fifteenth-century view of Manusyaloka, in which the central continent, Jambudvipa. The circular mountain range midway across the ring continent of Pushkaradvipa,marking the limit of the world of man, is shown by the wavy outermost circle. Though the arrangement of land areas, mountains, rivers, lakes, and other features is essentially symmetrical, there are several places where rivers diverge like opposite spokes of a swastika, long a sacred symbol in Indian culture. Reproduction in black and white does not convey an idea of the colors, often vivid, that are characteristic of cosmographies of this sort.

Figure 1: Manushyaloka
Figure 1: Manushya Loka

[About Figure 1: Manushya Loka(THE WORLD OF MAN) ACCORDING TO JAIN COSMOGRAPHICAL TEXTS. Depicted here are the so-called two and a half continents (adhai-dvipa) within which humans may be born. Jambudvipa, the central continent, is surrounded by the first ring ocean, Lavana Samudra (Salt Sea); and successively Dhatakikhanda, the first ring continent; Kalodhadi, the Black-Water Ocean; and the inner half of Puskaradvipa, the next ring continent up to Manusottara, the circular mountain range that limits the world of man. This artifact is gouache on cloth from western India, fifteenth century. Size of the original: 54.5 x 54.5 em. Courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Circ. 91-1970, negative no. GB3636).]

Conventions vary from one work to another, but there are certain broad tendencies. For example, it is usual to show water in blue with visual reinforcement provided by fish and a basket-weave pattern suggesting waves. Mountains are typically portrayed in one or more distinctive colors of a more intense hue than that of the continents where they are situated (though that is not so for the mountains of Pushkaradvipa, Meru in gold or some other prominent color, and so forth. On this work there is substantial text identifying various portions of Jambudvipa but not of the one and one-half surrounding continents. Other representations have even more extensive text, sometimes identifying several hundred individual features. Still others have little text or no text at all. In this view, as in most, the detail is greatest for the area of Mahavideha, the region bounded north and south by transverse mountain ranges and extending in a broad east-west band across the center of Jambudvipa to the Lavana Samudra (Salt Sea) to the east and west. Within Mahavideha, in addition to Mount Meru, are four “elephant-tusk mountains” (Vaksara) with tips close to Meru; the regions of Uttarakuru to the north and Devakuru to the south, bounded by the tusk like mountains; ten small lakes, five each in a north-south line; in each of the two kurus, emblematic trees on either side of the chains of lakes (the jambu being placed in Uttarakuru); the great rivers Sita and Sitoda, flowing east and west, respectively, from the two lakes closest to Meru; and thirty-two provinces, known as vijayas, ranged about those two rivers, eight each to the north and south, each with its own central mountain range and bounding rivers.

Another noteworthy area of Jambudvipa is Bharata (India), the bow-shaped region at the continent’s southern extremity. An east-west Vijayardha mountain range crosses this region, and through it flow the rivers Ganga to the southeast and Yamuna to the southwest. The central portion of Bharata is Aryakhada the pure land of the Aryans, and around it on all sides is Mleccha, the land of impure peoples. Small though Bharata appears here, it ought to occupy an even smaller area, since the Samgrahanti texts state that it occupies only 1/90 the area of Jambudvipa. That the area actually known firsthand to the Jain sages who composed the text should occupy so minuscule a portion of the total cosmos and, within Jambudvipa, so eccentric a location is wholly in keeping with the religious traditions of India. Further details about the nature of Jambudvipa are provided by figures 2, 3, and 4. Apart from its interesting detail, figure 2, which represents Uttarakuru, just north of Mount Meru, is noteworthy in several respects. First, its orientation, with south at the top, contrasts with the prevailing northern orientation of virtually all views of Jambudvipa as a whole. This change in orientation was probably intended to allow for a better composition, in portraying-within the tusk like Vaksara Mountains-the jambu tree, the wish-granting tree (kalpavrksa), and the representative inhabitants of the region, who are here born in couples (yugalikau), whose desires can be met from the kalpavrksa above them. Also noteworthy is the departure from symmetry. Note the mountains crowned by nine (left) and seven (right) sanctuaries.

Figure 2 - Uttarakuru, The region North of Mount Meru
Figure 2 – Uttarakuru, The region North of Mount Meru

[About Figure 2: Represented here is a very small part of  Jambudvipa just to the north of Mount Meru, the small circle at the top of the map. The bar at the bottom represents the east west Nila (Blue) Mountains from which two arcs, the Vaksara (Elephant-Tusk) Mountains, project toward Meru. Midway between them flows the Sua River through five lakes. Also shown are a couple (humans here being always born in pairs) beneath the wish-fulfilling kalpavrksa tree, and to their left is the jambu tree, from which the continent’s name is derived. This leaf from a manuscript (?) is gouache on paper, Rajasthani, from the eighteenth century. Size of the original: not known. By permission of Ravi Kumar, Basel, Switzerland.]

Figure 3 - Profile View of Mount Meru (Jain Conception)
Figure 3 – Overhead View of the flat Summit Area of Mount Meru (Jain Conception)

[About Figure 3: This illustration is from a relatively recent recension of a thirteenth-century Sanskrit cosmological text, Candrasuri’s Trailokadipika. Written by one Indravarman in Jaipur in the year Samvat 1793 (A.D. 1850), the manuscript comprises eighty-six folios of eleven lines each in gouache and ink. Rising to a height of 100,000 yojanas, Mount Meru forms the axis mundi of the Jain universe (as it does also for Hindus and Buddhists). In Jain cosmography, Meru comprises three truncated cones, decreasing in diameter but increasing in their vertical dimension toward the summit. Though rarely drawn to scale, the dimensions are noted, as in this case, on many representations. Terraces at the foot of each level are marked by forests and gardens. Also present, though not shown in this view, are palaces and temples. Size of the original: not known. By permission of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune (ace. no. 603 of 187576, fol. 25b). ]

Figure 4 - Overhead View of the flat Summit Area of Mount Meru (Jain Conception)
Figure 4 – Overhead View of the flat Summit Area of Mount Meru (Jain Conception)

[About Figure 4: The medium, provenance, and date of this artifact are not known. Like the terraces leading toward the summit of Meru (compare fig. 3), the summit itself is a place of forest parks and palaces. This view provides a relatively rare top-down perspective. Diameter of the original: 10.5 em. By permission of the British Library, London (Add. MS. 26374, p. 18). ]

The meaning of the rectangle at the base of the mountain on the left is not known. At the top center one can see where the Sita River begins its easterly course. Finally, this view, like so many others in South Asian cosmographies, combines the horizontal representation of features associated with most modern maps with variously oriented frontal perspectives in showing the figures, trees, and sanctuaries. Figures 3 and 4 relate to Mount Meru, which the Jains envisage as a series of three narrowing platforms, often portrayed as truncated cones, the highest (the culika) surmounted by a great sanctuary. At the foot of the mountain and around each platform are terraces with parks full of trees and flowers, and their pictorial representation takes many forms. A view of the summit area of Meru from above is provided in figure 4. Two such contrasting perspectives on a single feature are common in the cosmographic art of the Jains. Of the plethora of surviving Jain cosmographic diagrams, those relating primarily to Jambudvipa (with or without the additional one and a half continents included within the Manushya Loka) are without a doubt the most common. Despite substantial differences in the styles of painting, one is struck by the apparent consistency of not only the broad outlines, but also many of the lesser details that the works display. Cosmographies dating from the sixteenth century and later seem to be in no way affected by advances in non-Jain astronomy, either Indian or Western, or by the burgeoning of geographic knowledge. In that respect they differ substantially from the Hindu globes discussed above. In short, the hold of the canonical texts on the minds of Jains-or at least of those monks who were responsible for painting cosmographies appears to be unbroken.

Figure 5, relating to a single feature of Jambudvipa, the mountain range at the outer limit of tr.e Manushya Loka, indicates the variety among Jain cosmographies attributable to individual artistic license and the absence of established cartographic canons. But the drawings remain faithful to the substance of the samagrahani texts. Even though the Jains appear never to have produced a globe, their representations of the cosmos are not confined to two dimensions or even to sculpted bas-reliefs. In the Digambara Jain temple in Ajmer, Rajasthan, one encounters a grand two-story atrium wherein are “gilt wooden representations of scenes from Jain mythology.. .. manufactured at Jaipur and installed in … 1896.” At least a portion of this imposing display is cosmographic, and it includes suspended gods sailing about in the skies in vimans (airships). Other parts include representations of the sacred cities of Ayodhya and Prayaga (modern Allahabad) and of the Tribeni, the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythic underground river Saraswati.

Figure 5 - Varying Methods of Depicting the Manusottara Mountain Range MIDWAY Across The Third Jain Continent, Pushkaradvipa
Figure 5 – Varying Methods of Depicting the Manusottara Mountain Range MIDWAY Across The Third Jain Continent, Pushkaradvipa  | Designed by Joseph E. Schwartzberg
Figure 6 - The length and dimension of the cosmic man (Lokapurusha)
Figure 6 – The length and dimension of the cosmic man (Lokapurusha)

[About Figure 6: This diagram, gouache on paper, Gujarati, seventeenth century, shows greater concern for the actual dimensions of the cosmos than does the similar conception portrayed in plate 28. Those dimensions (expressed as numbers of khandakas) are indicated by numbers at each successive level among the hells and heavens. Separating the two is the plane of Jambudvipa, here represented by a double line in the middle of the diagram, with Mount Meru rising just above it. The dome of perfection (siddhi), whose attainment brings an end to the cycle of rebirth, is shown at the top of the universe. Size of the original: not known. By permission of Ravi Kumar, Basel, Switzerland.]

As author have noted that, the Jain universe is ordered along a vertical axis and is composed of a series of hells and heavens below and above the world of man. Plate 28 and figure 6 present two variations of the way our own universe-only one among many-is characteristically represented in Jain paintings. Plate 28, an anthropomorphic rendition, shows Jambudvipa and its immediately surrounding ocean as a disk at the waist, where it is rotated ninety degrees from its actual horizontal position (a not uncommon convention). Alongside the view in figure 6 are numbers giving the dimensions, including the depths from front to back, of the various portions of the universe in khandakas , four of which constitute a rajju. The lowermost, “Thick Darkness Hell,” for example, is 28 khandakas along each side and 4 in height and comprises 3,136 cubic khandakas out of a total for the whole of the lower world of 15,296 cubic khandakas . But the concern with scale that we find in this figure and on many other paintings is by no means a general attribute of the extant representations of Jain cosmographies. (It appears to be even less of a concern in Hindu and Buddhist cosmographies.) On this subject, Caillat observes:

The extreme minuteness with which the smallest details of this geography are analysed and depicted is certainly more striking than the indifference of the painters to the proportions of the various parts, however strictly they are stipulated by the texts. When, from Bharata (or Airavata) to Videha, the widths of the lands and the mountains which border them are supposed to increase geometrically, i.e. from 1 to 2, from 2 to 4 … from 32 to 64, all the intermediate zones are invariably reduced in size in the illustrations, to the benefit of the north, south, and center…. It is the same when one considers the oceans and continents which encircle Jambudvipa. In relation to the diameter of the latter, the width of Lavanasamudra is theoretically double, that of Dhatakikhanda which surrounds that is quadruple, and so on. This does not stop them being represented, at the limits, by mere lines.

Enough has been said in regard to our discussion to this point to convey the flavor of Jain cosmographical thinking and its visual representation. Given the availability of numerous relevant published works, especially the magnificently illustrated Jain Cosmology, little purpose will be served here by providing comparable details for other portions of the Jain cosmos. The identifiable source areas for the cosmographies showing the three major components of the Jain universe are west Indian, either Rajasthan or Gujarat, and the dates of surviving works go back at least to the sixteenth and possibly to the fifteenth century. The paintings, typically in at least four colors, may be on either cloth or paper and vary greatly in size, even more so than representations of Jambudvipa alone. The discoid portion of the cosmos representing Jambudvipa is almost always rotated ninety degrees to a vertical position so that the viewer can discern its three major components, even though they are ordered vertically and joined by a central column.

Within Jambudvipa the long axis of the central region of Videha is most frequently oriented east-west, but occasionally it is north-south. Much more often than not, an androgynous anthropomorphic figure is an icon for the entire universe. The diminishing widths of successively higher hells and the widening, then diminishing widths of successively higher heavens are generally signified by a step like outline within which a checkered grid represents the specific number of rajjus for the height and width of each layer, frequently supplemented by dimensional notations. Anthropomorphic, geometric, and other illustrations ancillary to the central figure are common. Most of the works have borders, rendered in a variety of ways but on the whole fairly simply. In concluding this discussion of Jain cosmography, Author presents and briefly comment on four additional paintings that reflect the remarkable diversity of the domains constituting the Jain universe. A complete exposition, regrettably, would be well beyond the realizable scope of this history. The first of the paintings to be considered is of Nandisvaradvipa, the eighth Jain continent (the seventh ring moving outward from Jambudvipa, and hence in the same horizontal plane in the middle of their vertically disposed universe). We next move upward to the heavens immediately above these several rings, but still within the same middle stratum, and Author present two views of celestial bodies.

Finally, we ascend to an even more ethereal realm to regard some of the many wonders to be found in the fifth of the seven heavenly strata above the plane of Jambudvipa. Views of the other heavenly realms and of the many components of the seven levels of hell lying below Jambudvipa, as well as of the various continents ranged around Jambudvipa itself, may be found in various sources indicated in the introductory section of this chapter. The view of Nandisvaradvipa presented in figure 7 stands in marked contrast to the bas-relief of the same area shown in previous articles. One sees here, in reduced scale, the numbered inner continents that it encircles. The authors of many views, have either shown these inner continents at an exceedingly small scale or have not bothered to depict them at all and have sometimes inserted in their stead some icon, such as a representation of one of the major Jain tirthankaras (preceptors), of whom Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, was the greatest. To the Jains, Nandisvaradvipa is the continent where lesser deities (Siddhas) assemble for festivities. Figure 7 portrays, in each of the four cardinal directions, a mountain of antimony crowned by a sanctuary for the Siddhas and surrounded by four lakes (nandas, of which there are sixteen in all) between which four pairs of mountains rise up.

Figure 7 - Nandisvaradvipa | The Eight Jain Continent
Figure 7 – Nandisvaradvipa | The Eight Jain Continent

[About Figure 7: Six ring continents and seven ring oceans separate Nandisvaradvipa and the innermost continent of Jambudvipa. On this diagram, which is gouache on paper, Rajasthani, and dated to about the seventeenth century, the scale of all the features encompassed by Nandisvaradvipa is reduced to provide more space for  that continent. Nandisvaradvipa is marked by four mountains of antimony, each crowned by a sanctuary with lakes to its north, east, south, and west (right portion of diagram), and by thirty-two additional mountains arranged in four sets of eight mountains each (shown here as small triangles). Size of the original: not known. By permission of Ravi Kumar, Basel, Switzerland.]

On these thirty-two mountains are palaces for the Siddhas’ wives. Sixteen additional palaces or sanctuaries (four in each of the four secondary directions) bring the total to fifty-two. The plan of a set of four sanctuaries about one nanda appears in the right half of the diagram. Celestial mapping based on accurate observations of the heavens does not form a part of the Jain tradition. Representations of heavenly bodies and associated phenomena within the Jain cosmos, however, are abundant. Among these representations, for example, are simple paintings of the Jyotisas, the five types of gods of light, who are more or less analogous to the Hindu navagrahas. These deities-suryas (suns), candras (moons), grahas (planets), naksatras (asterisms), and taras (stars) occupy successively higher levels within a horizontal band of immeasurable breadth above the various ring continents and oceans. Vertically, they are distributed within the relatively narrow range of from 110 to 900 yojanas above the highest point of the middle world. Those above Jambudvipa revolve about Mount Meru and, like others in the remainder of Manushya Loka(the world of man), are ceaselessly in motion, whereas those beyond the world of man are fixed in position and shine with uniform brightness sufficient to carry their light outward for 100,000 yojanas. The Jyotisas may be symbolically portrayed by the vimanas, which are at once their chariots and palaces.

In some views these vimanas are rendered by colored circles or semicircles (e.g., red for the sun, black for Rahu) within surrounding circular fields; in others their characteristics are more explicitly depicted. In the vast cosmographic diorama in the three-story atrium of the principal Jain temple in Ajmer, the Jyotisas are rendered anthropomorphically, and they and their vimanas are shown in great detail and in three dimensions. A peculiarity of Jain cosmology in respect to the heavenly bodies above Manushya Loka the belief that they occur in pairs separated by 1800 within their respective orbits. Figure 8 illustrates this point with reference to the paths of the sun and the moon. The diagram relates to the day of Capricorn (the winter solstice). Hence the areas of the diagram assigned to the moon, signifying night, are somewhat broader than those assigned to the sun, signifying day, and are divided into a larger number of parts (six versus four). The attendant belief is that the sun and the moon each take two days to make a complete revolution around the earth, illuminating its southern half on one of those days and its northern half on the other.

Figure 8 - Suns and Moons on the day of the Capricorn
Figure 8 – Suns and Moons on the day of the Capricorn

The seeming superfluity of suns and moons illuminating Jambudvipa pales in comparison with those for Manushya Loka as a whole. The actual numbers are indicated on figure 8, where they are written on the four diagonal spokes. The forms Jain artists used in depicting portions of their cosmos are not always as regular as in figures 7, 8, and 9. Thus, we find in figure 10 an illustration of “eight black fields” (krishnarajis) in the third layer of the fifth heaven of the Brahmaloka (universe), which the texts describe “as being triangular or square, and very thin,” and “made up of particles of watery matter full of vegetable fragments which … flow from the Arunavara ocean of the middle world right up to the dizzy heights of the Brahmaloka.” Allegedly the “triangular figures must be orientated to the north and south, the hexagonal ones to the east and west. It is in these masses, where every living being is born several times in the course of transmigration, that gods … produce rain or thunder.”

Figure 9 - Mathomathis
Figure 9 – Mathomathis
Figure 10 - The eight black fields in the third layer of brahma loka
Figure 10 – The eight black fields in the third layer of brahma loka

[About Figure 10: In the third of the four layers of the Brahmaloka, the fifth Jain heaven, lie the  krshnarajis (eight “black fields”). The artifact is gouache on paper, Rajasthani, eighteenth century. Size of the original: not known. By permission of Ravi Kumar, Basel, Switzerland.]