Article: The 'Three Worlds'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Gods of the Paradises

The emblems of the paradises – kalpa – are illustrated in this manuscript painting. In the upper world of the Jain triple world, each of the 12 lowest realms or heavens has an animal symbol. The frog, representing the sixth, is hardest to identify.

Heavenly symbols
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

First, there are deities of the paradiseskalpas. The standard number of these paradises is 12, each symbolised by an animal and each superior to the one before.

In each paradise the gods are organised in hierarchical ranks like a traditional human society, from servants at the bottom to king or chief at the top.

The god Śakra, the king or chief of the Saudharma heaven, plays a very prominent role in Jain tradition. He is always present at key episodes in the lives of the Jinaskalyāṇakas – and is therefore worshipped in temple rituals.

Information about the 12 paradises is provided in the table, moving from the lowest heaven to the top.

Details of the 12 paradises

Number

Name

Animal symbol

1

Saudharma

antelope

2

Īśāna

buffalo

3

Sanatkumāra

boar

4

Māhendra

lion

5

Brahmaloka

goat

6

Lāntaka

śālūra – 'frog', though many illustrations look like a leopard

7

Mahā-śukra

horse

8

Sahasrāra

elephant

9

Ānata

snake

10

Prāṇata

rhinoceros

11

Āraṇa

bull

12

Acyuta

a type of antelope

Goddesses can be born only in numbers 1 and 2, the lowest paradises. They can merely visit the paradises up to number 8 and are not allowed higher up. Gods who live in numbers 9 to 12 do not need to see the goddesses to be pleased because simply thinking about them is enough.

Gods of the Neck

One of the groups of kalpātīta gods – ‘beyond heavens’ or ‘beyond ranks’ – these deities are the Graiveyakas. This name comes from the word grīvā – ‘neck’ – because these gods are found at the cosmic man's neck in pictures of the universe.

There are nine of them, in three groups of three, placed one above the other, like a neck-ornament, which is another explanation of their name. This table presents the groups of three deities.

Three groups of Graiveyaka gods

Graiveyaka deities

  • Sudarśana
  • Suprabuddha
  • Manorama
  • Sarvabhadra
  • Suviśāla
  • Sumanas
  • Saumanasa
  • Prītikara
  • Āditya

Unsurpassable Gods

The second category of gods dubbed the deities ‘beyond heavens’ or ‘beyond ranks’ – kalpātīta – is the five deities called Anuttara or ‘Unsurpassable’. The names of the five layers of heaven where they live contain the idea of victory or total accomplishment. This is captured in the names of the five heavens, as follows:

  1. Vijaya – victory – in that a deity who is born there has only three more lives before liberation, two of which will be as human beings
  2. Vaijayanta
  3. Jayanta
  4. Aparājita
  5. Sarvārtha-siddha – ‘accomplishment of all goals’. Those who are born there, who are Jain mendicants of the highest order, will need only one more human rebirth before they reach liberation.
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