Article: The 'Three Worlds'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Middle world – the world of humans

This 19th-century aḍhāī-dvīpa demonstrates the importance of symmetry and repetition in traditional Jain ideas of the universe. An aḍhāī-dvīpa is a colourful, detailed diagram of the Two and A Half Continents where human beings live

Two and A Half Continents
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The mathematics of the universe is complicated and highly detailed, making descriptions and images of the universe very intricate, but mathematical principles are closely observed. Repetition is a major trait of the Jain universe, which is very clear in the middle world in particular. The middle world is circular and is constituted of concentric rings of continents separated by rings of oceans. Each continent is a duplicate of the central one, Jambū-dvīpa, which itself is a complex of mathematical proportions. Each landmass and ocean increases by a factor of two going outwards from the middle, although this is not always obvious from illustrations.

There are 90 continents and oceans in the middle world but many are merely names, with very few details in cosmological texts. There are some significant continents, however. Jambū-dvīpa, the first or central continent, is the most important and is at the heart of the area known as the 'Two and A Half Continents'. The 15th continent, Nandīśvara-dvīpa, is important since it is where the gods gather to celebrate. It is often described elaborately. Finally, Kuṇḍala-dvīpa, the 12th continent from the centre, is often called ‘Ring’ or Kuṇḍala after its geography.

This chart gives the names of the continents and oceans of the middle world, starting from the centre. It 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.

The 90 continents and oceans of the middle world



1. Jambū-dvīpa

2. Lavaṇa-samudra

3. Dhātakīkhaṇḍa

4. Kālodadhi

5. Puṣkara-dvīpa

6. Puṣkaroda

7. Vāruṇīvara

8. Vāruṇoda

9. Kṣīravara

10. Kṣīroda

11. Ghṛtavara

12. Ghṛtoda

13. Kṣodavara

14. Kṣododa

15. Nandīśvara-dvīpa

16. Nandīśvaroda

17. Aruṇa-dvīpa

18. Aruṇa ocean

19. Aruṇavara

20. Aruṇavarāvabhāsa ocean

21. Kuṇḍala-dvīpa

22. Kuṇḍala ocean

23. Kuṇḍalavara-dvīpa

24. Kuṇḍalavara ocean

25. Kuṇḍalavarāvabhāsa-dvīpa

26. Kuṇḍalavarāvabhāsa ocean

27. Śaṅkha

28. Śaṅkha ocean

29. Śaṅkhavara

30. Śaṅkhavara ocean

31. Śaṅkhavarāvabhāsa

32. Śaṅkhavarāvabhāsa

33. Rucaka

34. Rucaka ocean

35. Rucakavara

36. Rucakavara ocean

37. Rucakavarāvabhāsa

38. Rucakavarāvabhāsa ocean

39. Hāra

40. Hāra ocean

41. Hāravara

42. Hāravara ocean

43. Hāravarāvabhāsa

44. Hāravarāvabhāsa ocean

45. Ardhahāra

46. Ardhahāra ocean

47. Ardhahāravara

48. Ardhahāravara ocean

49. Ardhahārāvabhāsa

50. Ardhahārāvabhāsa ocean

51. Kanakāvali

52. Kanakāvali ocean

53. Kanakāvalivara

54. Kanakāvalivara ocean

55. Kanakāvalivarāvabhāsa

56. Kanakāvalivarāvabhāsa ocean

57. Ratnāvali

58. Ratnāvali ocean

59. Ratnāvalivara

60. Ratnāvalivara ocean

61. Ratnāvalivarāvabhāsa

62. Ratnāvalivarāvabhāsa ocean

63. Muktāvali

64. Muktāvali ocean

65. Muktāvalivara

66. Muktāvalivara ocean

67. Muktāvalivarāvabhāsa

68. Muktāvalivarāvabhāsa ocean

69. Ājina

70. Ājina ocean

71. Ājinavara

72. Ājinavara ocean

73. Ājinavarāvabhāsa

74. Ājinavarāvabhāsa ocean

75. Sūrya

76. Sūrya ocean

77. Sūryavara

78. Sūryavara ocean

79. Sūryavarāvabhāsa

80. Sūryavarāvabhāsa ocean

81. Deva

82. Deva ocean

83. Nāga

84. Nāga ocean

85. Yakṣa

86. Yakṣa ocean

87. Bhūta

88. Bhūta ocean

89. Svayambhūramaṇa

90. Svayambhūramaṇa ocean

Two and A Half Continents

The first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, is the model for the other continents, which are its duplicates. Its name means ‘Rose-apple continent’, from a rose-apple tree in the Uttara-kuru region, at the north of Mount Meru. This ‘tree’ is in fact a rock formation that looks like a tree (Jaini in Granoff 2009: 83). At its centre is Mount Meru, the cosmic axis.

Jambū-dvīpa is the centrepiece of Aḍhāī-dvīpa, which means ‘Two and A Half Continents’ in Hindi. It is the only part of the universe where human beings live.

The Two and A Half Continents is comprised of:

  • Jambū-dvīpa
  • Lavaṇa-samudra, the ocean around it
  • the second continent, Dhātakīkhaṇḍa
  • the ocean around that, called Kālodadhi
  • the inner half of the Puṣkara continent.
Jambū-dvīpa – the first continent
This manuscript painting shows the three beautiful garden terraces of Mount Meru and the temple at its peak. Mount Meru is the cosmic axis, centre of the three worlds of the Jain universe, and is usually yellow in paintings

Temple and terraces of Mount Meru
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, plainly demonstrates the mathematical nature of the Jain universe. The original template for the other continents, which replicate it, the 'Rose-apple Continent' is formed of repetitive, often symmetrical, mathematical ratios of mountains, regions, lakes, rivers and so on.

Jambū-dvīpa is set within a rampart of diamonds, which is surrounded by a fence of jewels crowned by a high garland of lotuses made of gems.

In the centre of Jambū-dvīpa, normally yellow in pictures, is Mount Meru, the cosmic axis. It has three terraces, each smaller than the one below, all planted with parks and forests. A temple dedicated to the Jinas is at the top. Models of Mount Meru are often found in Jain temples and are objects of worship.

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