Article: The 'Three Worlds'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Two Realms
Usually yellow in paintings, Mount Meru is surrounded by the Lands of Enjoyment – bhoga-bhūmi – of Uttara-kuru and Deva-kuru. They are separated from Meru by the pairs of 'Elephant-tusk' – Gajadanta – mountains. This painting on a manuscript page shows th

Uttara-kuru and Deva-kuru encircle Mount Meru
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Around each half of Mount Meru are the pairs of 'Elephant-tusk' – Gajadanta – mountains, which enclose two regions. Each region has a tree associated with it. Uttara-kuru in the north is connected with the jambū tree while Deva-kuru in the south is known for the śālmalī tree.

These twin realms are known as the Lands of Enjoyment – bhoga-bhūmi – because people living there need not work or make any effort. The counterpart of the Lands of Enjoyment is the Lands of Action – karma-bhūmi.

The following table gives information about the major differences between the two lands. 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 Lands of Enjoyment and the Lands of Action




bhoga-bhūmi – Lands of Enjoyment

  • Haimavata
  • Hari
  • Ramyaka
  • Hairaṇyavata
  • Deva-kuru
  • Uttara-kuru
  • Dhātakīkhaṇḍa
  • Puṣkara
  • some islands in the oceans
  • all inhabitants' needs are fulfilled by ten kinds of wishing trees
  • there is no suffering
  • there is no cycle of time
  • there is no spiritual progression
  • people are twins and form couples
  • Jinas are not born there
  • human beings cannot reach liberation

karma-bhūmi – Lands of Action

  • Bharata
  • Airāvata
  • Mahāvideha
  • inhabitants must act and work to survive
  • suffering exists
  • the cycle of time exists in Bharata and Airāvata but time is not cyclical in Mahā-videha
  • society is organised, with institutions such as marriage, social hierarchy, and working activities such as agriculture
  • spiritual progression is possible only here
  • Jinas are born only here
  • human beings can gain liberation
  • total of 15 lands of action
  • Ṛṣabhanātha or Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, is the one who introduced ways of earning livelihoods and social institutions like marriage, and the fourfold Jain community

The Lands of Action have ten capital cities, all called Ayodhyā. There are five in the south and five in the north. The cities sit between the twin rivers in the Bharata and Airāvata regions.

Other parts of Jambū-dvīpa
This manuscript painting depicts the mountain ranges of Niṣadha and Nīlavanta, which mark the northern and southern boundaries of Mahāvideha. Part of the central continent of Jambū-dvīpa in the middle world, Mahāvideha has 32 provinces.

Niṣadha and Nīlavanta mountain ranges
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jambū-dvīpa is divided into seven regions – varṣas – marked by six parallel mountain ranges – varṣadharas. These are usually represented as coloured lines, which are not totally standardised, except for the northernmost and southernmost mountain ranges. The northernmost range is normally green, in accordance with its name, Nīla. Meaning 'dark blue' or 'dark', it refers to a shade that can be shown as green. The southernmost mountain range is normally red.

This table presents the seven regions and six mountain ranges, from south to north. This information 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.

Mountain ranges and regions in Jambū-dvīpa

Mountain range


Himavant or Small Himavant

Bharata and Haimavata

Mahā-himavant or 'Large Himavant'






Rukmin or Rūpī




On the mountaintops are the following lakes:

  • Padma
  • Mahā-padma
  • Tigiñcha
  • Kesarī
  • Mahā-puṇḍarīka
  • Puṇḍarīka.

Two rivers rise from these lakes and flow across the seven regions. One runs east, the other west but both reach the surrounding ocean known as Lavaṇa-samudra.

At the extreme north and the extreme south are the northern and southern mountain ranges called Vaitāḍhya.

Between the Niṣadha and the Nīla mountain ranges are the 32 provinces that comprise the Mahā-videha. In images of the universe, they are shown as two sets of eight rectangles either side of each of the two rivers. Each pair of sets therefore makes up 16 rectangles to the east and west. The total of 32 rectangular provinces forms a wide band in the map, bordered by forests.

At the four cardinal points of Jambū-dvīpa, four gates open to the ocean, as follows:

  • east – Vijaya
  • north – Vaijayanta
  • west – Jayanta
  • south – Aparājita.
Lavaṇa-samudra – the first ocean
The four large pots – pātāla or kalaśa – in the ocean of Lavaṇa-samudra can be plainly seen in this detail from a manuscript painting. Controlling the tides in Lavaṇa-samudra, the pots are continuously filled with and then emptied of water and air. There

Pots in Lavaṇa-samudra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jambū-dvīpa is encircled by the first ocean, the Lavaṇa-samudra or 'Salt Ocean'. Eight tusk-shaped promontories jut out from Jambū-dvīpa into it. Each of them has seven inhabited regions. These are the 56 Intermediate Islands – Antara-dvīpa.

In the water are sets of pots – pātālas or kalaśas – in the four directions. These are said to control the tides. They are successively filled with water and then emptied, filling with air under the impulse of the winds and movements of the sea. There are four large ones and 7,884 smaller ones, with 1,971 of the latter at each of the cardinal directions.

The movements of the tides are regulated by the Shore Retainers – Velaṃdharas – which guarantee that the lands are not flooded. This term refers both to the mountains and to the dragons that live in them. There are four large ones at the cardinal points and four small ones at the intermediate points.

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