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Browsing: Aḍhāī-dvīpa (IS 6565)

Image: World of humans – bottom-right detail

Title: World of humans – bottom-right detail

Source:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Shelfmark:
IS 6565
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1844
Total number of folios:
not applicable
Place of creation:
Deshnok, Rajasthan
Language:
Gujarati / Rajasthani with Sanskrit and Prākrit quotations
Medium:
painting on cotton or linen
Size:
153 x 144.5 cms
Copyright:
V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Background

Aḍhāī-dvīpa is the Hindi phrase for 'Two and A Half Continents' and describes the only part of the universe where human beings live in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. Frequently depicted in maps or colourful diagrams, it is the only part of the universe where people can be born so it is also known as 'the World of Humans' – manuṣya-loka.

The Two and A Half Continents is formed of concentric rings of differing size. Every other ring is a continent, which is surrounded by a ring of ocean. Moving from the centre outwards, the order is as follows:

  1. the central continent, called Jambū-dvīpa
  2. the first ocean, known as Lavaṇa-samudra or 'Salt-Ocean'
  3. the second continent, Dhātakīkhaṇḍa
  4. the second ocean, called Kālodadhi or 'Black-water Ocean'
  5. half of the third continent known as Puṣkara-dvīpa.

Mount Meru is the centre of the universe in Jain cosmology, at the heart of the central continent of Jambū-dvīpa. Jambū is where human beings live and is in the Middle World, one of the three worlds of traditional Jain cosmology.

The Middle World is the smallest of the three worlds that make up world space – loka-ākāśa. In world space all the souls live in the different body-forms they take according to their rebirths, in the various worlds. Outside world space is the non world space – aloka-ākāśa – which is endless. However, the Middle World is the most important area from the spiritual point of view because it is the only part where human beings can live.

Pictures in cosmological works are not intended to be merely attractive. Spelling out in visual form the complex explanations found in the writings, cosmological paintings form a long-established tradition of artwork in Jain heritage.

Jains cannot advance spiritually without understanding and meditating upon cosmological theories so understanding them is crucial. Certain key religious concepts run through these theories. These include the notion of a physical soul shedding karma by moving through the cycle of rebirth to eventual omniscience and final liberation, along with the cyclical nature of time, the interconnectedness of the universe, and the importance of symmetry, repetition and balance.

Glossary

Dhyāna
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
Karma
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
Kevala-jñāna
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge , where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
Madhya-loka
There are three worlds in traditional Jain cosmology. The middle world is where human beings and animals live, and sits between the upper and the lower worlds.
Cosmology
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
Hindi
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
Mount Meru
The cosmic axis of the Jain universe. Located in the middle of Jambū-dvīpa, the innermost continent of Jain cosmology, Mount Meru consists of three forested terraces, each smaller than the one below. When a Jina is born, the gods visit the earth, take him away and wash him in the standard birth ritual on the mountain. Jain temples often have a tower symbolising Mount Meru. Mount Meru is also the centre of the universe in traditional Buddhist and Hindu belief.
Three worlds
In Jain cosmology three worlds make up world space, where life exists:
  • ūrdhva-loka – upper world
  • madhya-loka– middle world
  • adho-loka – lower world.
These are frequently represented in art as the Cosmic Man, a human figure whose legs stand for the lower world, whose waist symbolises the middle world and whose torso represents the upper world.

Related Manuscripts

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