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Browsing: Aḍhāī-dvīpa (IS 6565)

Image: World of humans

Title: World of humans

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


This is the traditional representation of the world of human beings in Jain cosmology. It is made up of alternate concentric circles representing continents, mountains and oceans. Since symmetry and repetition are two of the major organising principles of the Jain world, geographical features – including names – are often the same in different regions.

The main part of the diagram consists of concentric rings in alternating grey, blue and yellow around a central circle. In the centre of the diagram is Mount Meru, shown as a yellow disc, the heart of the Two and A Half Continents.

Mount Meru is in the middle of the circular continent of Jambū-dvīpa, shown with a pale background.

Around Jambū-dvīpa is the ocean of Lavaṇa-samudra – 'Salt Ocean' – shown as a blue-grey circle.

Around Lavaṇa-samudra is the continent of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa.

Around that is the ocean of Kālodadhi or 'Black Water Ocean', again a blue cicle.

Around Kālodadhi is another circle of land. This is half of the Puṣkara continent.

Together, these continents and oceans form Aḍhāī-dvīpa, which is a Hindi term meaning 'Two and A Half Continents'. Thus the painting is a map of the cosmological concept of the Two and A Half Continents. The Two and a Half Continents is in the centre of the Middle World madhya-loka. There are three worlds in the Jain conception of the universe. The Two and A Half Continents is the only part of the universe where human beings can be born so it is also known as 'the World of Humans' – manuṣya-loka.

At the perimeter of Puṣkara-dvīpa is a slim crenellated yellow band. This is the outer mountain range beyond which no human beings live. It is known as Mānuṣottara.

Large-scale maps such as this one became popular from the 15th century onwards among Śvetāmbara circles in western India, especially Rajasthan. This is precisely the region where this painting comes from (see below).

Mount Meru

The three concentric circles in Mount Meru represent its three terraces. On the top is the pinnacle with the customary temple to the Jinas.

On each side of each Mount Meru are two semicircles, one yellow, one red and grey. They are the boundaries of two regions. The northern one is called Uttara-kuru, the southern one Deva-kuru. Each region has a specific tree.

Regions around Mount Meru

Colour in this painting



Name of the tree




Jambū tree

Red and grey



Śālmalī tree

Five small dark rectangles in each of the two regions represent lakes. The River Sītā flows through Deva-kuru while the River Sītodā runs through Uttara-kuru. These regions are the Lands of Enjoyment – bhoga-bhūmi – where people get all they need from 'wishing trees' – kalpa-vṛikṣa – and do not need to make any effort. Couples made up of twin boys and girls live in the Lands of Enjoyment. The regions of Uttara-kuru and Deva-kuru are also shown in the western and eastern halves of the two other continents, mirror images of Jambū-dvīpa.


Across the centre of Jambū is a large rectangular strip marked out by a green line in the north and a red one in the south. These are ranges of mountains, which are easily recognisable in most paintings because of their standard colours. The Nīla mountain range is in the north and is marked in green while the Niṣadha mountain range in the south is outlined in red. They mark the boundaries of the Mahā-videha, which has Mount Meru at its centre. The Mahā-videha is a land of wonders, where Universal Monarchs go and where Jinas preach.

The Mahā-videha is divided into 32 provinces, distributed as eight groups of four, equally in the north-east, south-east, north-west and south-west. They are always shown as small rectangles, like here. On this painting the names of these provinces and their capitals are given.

The green trees on the borders of the Mahā-videha stand for the forests in this region.


The first ocean, starting from the centre, is the thick blue-grey ring around Jambū. Called Lavaṇa-samudra, it has one pot in each of the four directions. These are the 'great receptacles' – pātāla-kalaśas – that cause the tides.

Fish and other aquatic animals live here, often depicted as realistic or semi-fantastic creatures.

There are two horizontal yellow lines ending with double hook shapes shown in the north and south of this ocean. These are two mountain chains that end with double pairs of 'tusks' jutting out into Lavaṇa-samudra. These tusks carry the 56 islands known as Antara-dvīpas. The islands are divided into seven groups of eight, shown here as dots.


From north to south there are parallel red vertical lines dividing the Dhātakīkhaṇḍa and Puṣkara-dvīpa continents into two halves, eastern and western. Each half has temples dedicated to the Jinas. The four segments of these parallel lines on land represent a mountain range known as Iṣvākāra or 'Arrow-like' because it is perfectly straight.

On the right and left sides of the red vertical lines, the yellow lozenges are capital cities with palaces. The royal couples who live in them are shown on the map in yellow structures representing the palaces.

There are two yellow discs on the left and right and two semicircles on each side of these discs. These are replicas of Mount Meru and the two Lands of Enjoyment, Uttara-kuru and Deva-kuru.

The numerous snake-like dark blue shapes are rivers flowing in the continents. The small black rectangles in many places are the lakes where these rivers rise.


This ocean is the blue ring separating the continents of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa and Puṣkara-dvīpa. It often contains fantastic creatures.

Half Puṣkara-dvīpa

The Puṣkara continent is a replica of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa. However, the outer border of Puṣkara-dvīpa is shown by a slim yellow ring. This is the outer mountain range called Mānuṣottara. Even though half of the continent lies on the far side, no human beings can live outside this mountain range.

Other visual elements

The painting has captions identifying the elements of the world and also paragraphs giving details of dimensions and so on.

As is usual, a Jain temple has been set at each of the four corners of the painting. One is missing because the artefact is damaged.

There is an image of a Jina in the centre, which is meant to be worshipped. This is a standard representation to suggest that Jain teaching is everywhere.

The floral border around the edge of the painting is a fine ornamentation.


Besides individual captions, such large-scale maps often contain a lot of text inside the main diagram and in the four corners, as here. Here it is written in the local language, which is Rajasthani or a mixture of Gujarati and Hindi. It often includes quotations from earlier treatises in Prakrit or Sanskrit. The text is rather crowded, providing more details about the dimensions and the ordering of the elements in the painting.

The most important item of text is on the right-hand side, giving information about who created this painting and when and where. This is valuable because, although there are several such paintings, those that have such facts are rather rare.

The text reads:

Bṛhatkharataragaccheṃ bha° / jaṃ° / yu / pra / śrī Jinasaubhāgyasūrijī vijayarājye saṃvat 1901 varṣe mitī Poha śudi 11 dine Desaṇoka nagare li / paṃ/ Devarāja

Translated, it reads:

While the pontiff of the Large Kharatara-gaccha order was the teacher Jinasaubhāgya-sūri, the then prominent teacher of our era, in 1901 of the Vikrama Era [= 1844 CE], on the 11th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Pauṣa, it was written by Pandit Devarāja in the town of Deshnok

The Kharatara-gaccha is one of the most important Śvetāmbara monastic orders, dating back to at least the 12th century. It has always been powerful in western India, especially in Rajasthan. Other sources reveal that having paintings of the human world was popular among this order.

Pandit Devarāja wrote the textual parts. He could also have been the painter but this is not certain. He was probably not a Jain monk, but rather a learned brahmin who was employed here probably for his expertise in Jain cosmology.

The script is written as if the reader is at the edge of the material, looking into its centre. This means the reader must move around the border of the fabric to read it, because staying in one place would mean reading some of the script upside down or at right angles.


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.


'Lands of Enjoyment' in Sanskrit, where people do not need to make any effort because all their needs are met by wish-fulfilment trees. The Lands of Enjoyment are in Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live.
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
The second continent in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. Dhātakīkhaṇḍa forms part of the Two and A Half Continents where human beings live.
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.
Island or, by extension, continent, for instance Jambū-dvīpa, 'Rose-Apple Tree Continent'.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
The innermost island-continent in the Middle World, in Jain cosmology. It is divided into seven continents separated by six mountain ranges. It takes its name - 'Rose-Apple Continent' - from a rock formation that resembles a rose-apple tree, which is found on Mount Meru in the centre of the island.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation . A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world , but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
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.
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.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
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.
The third continent of the middle world of Jain cosmology. Human beings can live only in the first two circular continents and the inner half of the third. Puṣkara-dvīpa is enclosed by a circular mountain barrier known as Mānuṣottara-parvata or 'Mountain beyond Mankind'. Human beings cannot live on the outer side of these mountains.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
'Learned one' in Sanskrit and used originally for a Hindu brahmin scholar and teacher. Nowadays a Jain pandit is a scholar who has been educated traditionally and is expert in the sacred texts of at least one of the Jain sects.
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.
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.
The Lavaṇa-samudra or 'Salt Ocean' in Sanskrit is the first ocean in the Two and A Half Continents of the Middle World in Jain cosmology. It encircles the central continent, Jambū-dvīpa.
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.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
The language spoken in Rajasthan, in north-western India, and surrounding states. It is also spoken in some parts of neighbouring Pakistan. Also the adjective describing people, things or places in or associated with the state of Rajasthan.
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.

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