Article: The 'Three Worlds'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Lower world – the seven hells

In this manuscript painting, beings in hell are tortured by animals, demons and other infernal beings. Suffering is the hallmark of the seven hells that make up the lower world of three in the Jain universe.

Tortures in the hells
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The lower world is the world of suffering. The lower one lives, the more one suffers. Depictions of life there and the varieties of tortures one can suffer there are among artists’ favourite topics, producing very lively paintings.

There are seven hells in the lower world, with several formed of layers of hells. The following table presents information about the hells. This table is based on Śvetāmbara sources. Details of the Digambara tradition can be found in Jainendra Siddhānta-kośa. A comprehensive scholarly survey of both sects' sources is Kirfel 1920.

Details of the seven hells

Number

Name

Meaning

Depth – yojanas

Number of layers

1

Ratna-prabhā

jewels

180,000

2

Śarkara-prabhā

gravel

132,000

3

Vālukā-prabhā

sand

128,000

9

4

Paṅka-prabhā

mud

120,000

7

5

Dhūma-prabhā

smoke

118,000

5

6

Tama[ḥ]-prabhā

darkness

116,000

3

7

Tamatama[ḥ]-prabhā

extreme darkness

108,000

1

The lower a hell is, the wider its base is. But the thickness of the hells decreases the lower it is. For example the seventh hell has one layer whereas the third hell has nine layers. These characteristics can be seen in the cosmic man.

The first hell from the top is where the ten groups of beings live that comprise the category Bhavana-pati or Bhavana-vāsin – ‘Residents of Dwellings’. They are princes – kumāras – and form the lowest group of deities that can be found in the triple world.

Details of the Bhavana-vāsin deities

Number

Names of princes

Meaning

Emblem

Names of kings – indras

1

Asura-kumāra

fiendish youths

head-jewel

Camara and Bali

2

Nāga-kumāra

serpentine youths

snakehood

Dharaṇa and Bhūtānanda

3

Vidyut-kumāra

lightning youths

thunderbolt

Hari and Harisaha

4

Suparṇa-kumāra

vulpine youths

garuḍa

Veṇudeva and Veṇudārin

5

Agni-kumāra

fiery youths

jar of plenty

Agniśikha and Agnimāṇava

6

Vāyu-kumāra

stormy youths

horse

Velamba and Prabhañjana

7

Stanita-kumāra

thundering youths

symbol of prosperity – vardhamāna

Sughoṣa and Mahāghoṣa

8

Udadhi-kumāra

oceanic youths

dolphin – makara

Jalakānta and Jalaprabha

9

Dvīpa-kumāra

island youths

lion

Pūrṇa and Avaśiṣṭa

10

Dik-kumāra

youths ruling the cardinal points

elephant

Amita and Amitavāhana

The three highest hells are where the semi-divine beings live, who are known as the Paramādharmika – ‘Extremely Unjust’.

All these beings live in palaces – vimānas – that are round, triangular or square. They are grouped around a circular palace where their respective kings live.

Rebirth in the lower world

Rebirth in the hells results from violent behaviour and extreme possessiveness.

The types of infernal beings are born in different hells, as shown in the following table, which is based on page 76 of Jaini in Granoff 2009. The hells are numbered according to how deep they are, with number one at the highest level.

Animals born in the seven levels of hells

Level of hell

Type of animal born there

1

only five-sensed animals without the faculty of mind

2

reptiles with legs

3

birds

4

land animals, such as lions

5

legless reptiles

6

female humans

7

male humans and aquatic animals, such as fish, sharks and crocodiles

If they do not gain enough good karma to be reborn in a higher world, they are born in a lower hell in their next birth.

Apart from those born in the top hell, infernal beings are reborn with five senses and the faculty of mind. They have a sort of negative capacity of knowledge – vibhaṅga – through which they can remember their earlier enemies and carry on holding feelings of hostility. They can change their appearance and form to frighten other beings.

Between the first hell and the middle world

The eight types of Vyantara gods and their tree emblems are depicted in this manuscript painting. The Vyantaras are not liberated souls – they are trapped in the cycle of births – and can therefore be worshipped for worldly gains.

Vyantara gods and their emblems
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Above the first hell live the semi-divine beings called Vyantaras. There are eight categories of Vyantara. They are the second class of gods and are recognisable by their different emblems. Each of the eight groups is governed by two kings – indras – with full courts and retinues.

The following table gives key details of the Vyantara deities. The table is based on Śvetāmbara sources. Details of the Digambara tradition can be found in Jainendra Siddhānta-kośa. A comprehensive scholarly survey of both sects' sources is Kirfel 1920.

Details of the Vyantara gods

Type

Name

Meaning

Emblem

Names of the two kings

1

Piśāca

goblins

kadamba tree

Kāla and Mahākāla

2

Bhūta

devils

sulasa tree

Surūpa and Apratirūpa

3

Yakṣa

treasure keeper

banyan tree

Pūrṇabhadra and Maṇibhadra

4

Rākṣasa

demons

khaṭvānga tree

Bhīma and Mahābhīma

5

Kinnara

deformed humans

aśoka tree

Kinnara and Kimpuruṣa

6

Kiṃpuruṣa

deformed persons

campaka tree

Satpuruṣa and Mahāpuruṣa

7

Mahoraga

great serpents

nāgadru tree

Atikāya and Mahākāya

8

Gandharva

celestial musicians

tumburu tree

Gītarati and Gītayaśas

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