Article: The 'Three Worlds'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Jain conception of the universe is very complex, composed of symmetrical, repeating patterns based on mathematical principles. Central religious concepts such as the soul, karma, the cycle of birth and spiritual progression are tied into the structure of the universe and the cycle of time, so understanding cosmology is a key element of the Jain tradition.

The Jain universe is made up of two kinds of space. World space – loka-ākāśa – is limited, though enormous, and is where the three worlds of life are. Outside it stretches the infinite expanse of non-world space – aloka-ākāśa.

The universe is filled with three worlds, which are divided into lower, middle and upper.

'Sermon on the Universe' in the Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacarita
Hemacandra
translated by Johnson, page 104

The three worlds within world space are where all the souls are. They move through the lower, middle and upper worlds on their spiritual journey and at the end dwell above the worlds in eternal bliss in the siddha-śilā. This transmigration is called the cycle of birth. Where the souls are born and their condition in that birth depends on their karma, which comes from behaviour in earlier lives. Jains hope to advance spiritually to omniscience and then liberation from the cycle of birth so their souls can reach the siddha-śilā.

Understanding and meditating upon Jain cosmological theories are necessary parts of spiritual development. As essential elements of the religion, these complex notions have been passed down since the earliest times in oral, literary and visual art forms. The best-known diagram of world space is the cosmic man. This phrase is often used instead of the term ‘the three worlds’.

Cycle of birth and types of beings

This painting from a manuscript depicts examples of plants and two-sensed beings. Throughout the cycle of birth, a soul takes birth in different types of body according to the karma that has stuck to it. Beings can be classed according to their senses.

Plants and two-sensed beings
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The intertwined relationship of karma and cosmology in Jainism is clear in the notion of the    three worlds and how souls move among these worlds over their cycles of births.

Souls are born into a succession of various bodies in different parts of the worlds. There are four states – gati – into which they can be born. The world into which they are born and the body they have in that birth or lifetime depend on their spiritual condition. This is largely determined by the karma that has become attached to the soul over the course of the previous life and also, to some extent, the karma from previous lives. A soul may therefore be born in a hell in one rebirth and in a heaven in the next – it may not move among the different worlds in a straightforward way, going either all up in succession or all down in succession.

The more advanced a soul’s spirituality, the higher the world into which it is born. However, being born a human being in the middle world is better than being born into one of the heavens of the upper world. This is because only human beings can reach omniscience, which is a late, necessary stage on the way to liberation, and human beings can live only in the middle world.

Living beings can be classified in various ways, based on their state and on the number of senses they have. Certain types of beings are also categorised into different groups.

Four types of beings

The soul can be reborn in four types of conditions in each of the three worlds. The state of birth depends on the karma that has become attached to the soul in previous lives.

The soul can be born in one of the following ways – gati – namely as:

  1. a human being – manuṣya-gati
  2. a heavenly being, living in the heavens – deva-gati
  3. an infernal being, living in the hells – naraka-gati
  4. an animal or plant – tiryag-gati.

Sense-beings

All beings are also classified into groups according to their number of sense-organs, from one to five. The following hierarchy is a summary of extremely detailed sub-classifications and lists, based on Lecture 36, 'On Living Beings and Things Without Life' in the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra.

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.

Sense-beings

Number of senses

Sense

Examples

1

  • touch
  • the most basic form of life – nigoda
  • plants
  • bodies made of earth, air, fire and water, some of them extremely minute and invisible to the human eye

2

  • touch
  • taste
  • worms
  • shells
  • conches
  • leeches

3

  • touch
  • taste
  • smell
  • various insects
  • ants

4

  • touch
  • taste
  • smell
  • sight
  • flies
  • mosquitoes
  • bees
  • moths

5

  • touch
  • taste
  • smell
  • sight
  • hearing
  • inhabitants of the hells
  • higher animals
  • human beings
  • gods

Classes of gods

The eight groups of Vyantara gods are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The Vyantara – Vyantaravāsīn – are semi-deities who live between the highest hell and the surface of the earth in traditional Jain cosmology.

Eight groups of Vyantara gods
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

It is important to note that not all heavenly beings, who can also be called gods or deities, live in the upper world. It would be wrong to automatically connect the concept of 'god' with that of heaven.

The connection between the four classes of gods and their dwelling place is provided in the table.

Types of deities and their dwelling places

Type of god

Dwelling place

Bhavanavāsin or Bhavanapati

under the earth, in palaces in the first hell

Vyantara

under the earth, in palaces and cities in the space between the first hell and the surface of the earth

Jyotiṣka or astral bodies, such as the sun and moon

middle world, between earth and sky

Vaimānika

upper world, in the various heavens

Cosmic man

Possibly dating back to the 16th century, this manuscript painting of the 'cosmic man' shows an elaborately dressed and jewelled human figure. The cosmic man – loka-puruṣa – represents the three worlds of the Jain universe. The lower world of the hells is

Cosmic man
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The different elements of the world space in the Jain universe are very frequently drawn as parts of a stylised figure of a man. Called the cosmic man, this diagram is probably the most widely known representation of the Jain universe. The name is often used in place of the term ‘the three worlds’.

A statement found in the fifth Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures describes the shape of the world – loka – as broad at the bottom, narrowing towards the middle and gradually broadening again towards the top. The world is measured in length, breadth and height, in the unit known as ‘rope’ or rajju. The total height is 14 rajjus.

A good diagram of the cosmic dimensions and the representation of the three worlds is figure 7 in That Which Is.

In the early medieval period, the standard representation of the three worlds is the cosmic man – loka-puruṣa. He comprises the:

  • lower pyramid, representing the lower world – adho-loka – which is divided into seven levels, corresponding to as many hells
  • middle world – madhya-loka – at his waist
  • upside-down pyramid that is his torso, symbolising the upper world – ūrdhva-loka – which is divided into various levels that indicate the heavens.

Finally, liberated souls – siddha – live at the top of all the worlds in the siddha-śilā, signified by the white crescent moon on the cosmic man’s forehead.

The worlds are usually portrayed from a frontal view of the cosmic man, which emphasises that the middle world is the smallest of the three worlds. However, it is the most important from the spiritual point of view because it is the only part of the worlds where human beings can live.

Three worlds and the worlds in between

Each one of the three worlds is made up of several elements, all featuring noticeable repetition and symmetry.

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

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

Continent

Ocean

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.

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

Name

Location

Characteristics

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

Region

Himavant or Small Himavant

Bharata and Haimavata

Mahā-himavant or 'Large Himavant'

Harivarṣa

Niṣadha

Mahāvideha

Nīla

Ramyaka

Rukmin or Rūpī

Hairaṇyavata

Śikharin

Airāvata

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.

Dhātakīkhaṇḍa – the second continent
This manuscript painting of the trees and temples on the three terraces of Mount Meru demonstrates the symmetry and repetition that are notable features of Jain cosmology. Normally yellow in paintings, Mount Meru is the cosmic axis

Three terraces on Mount Meru
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The second continent is known as Dhātakīkhaṇḍa. A concentric ring of land around Lavaṇa-samudra, it is double the size of Jambū-dvīpa, but this difference never appears in paintings.

Dhātakīkhaṇḍa is split into an eastern and a western part by the mountain range named Iṣvākāra – 'Arrow-shaped'. Going from north to south, it is usually represented by vertical lines in pictures of the Two and A Half Continents. It is marked by four Jain temples, one on each side of the mountain range in the northern area and one either side of the range in the south.

The eastern and western parts have a Mount Meru each. Each part also has seven regions that have the same names as those in Jambū-dvīpa. Thus there are a total of 14 regions in Dhātakīkhaṇḍa. In addition, each part also has six mountain ranges, with the same names as those in Jambū-dvīpa, making a total of 12 mountain ranges.

Kālodadhi – the second ocean

The ocean called Kālodadhi – 'Black Water Ocean' – surrounds the second continent of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa.

Kālodadhi has no tides but has is governed by the two deities Kāla and Mahākāla, who have their seats in the western and eastern parts.

Puṣkara – the third continent
This detail of a manuscript painting shows the yellow and blue mountain range of Mānuṣottaraparvata or 'Mountain Beyond Mankind'. In Jain cosmology human beings can live only in the Two and A Half Continents, up to the inner half of the third continent.

Mountain Beyond Mankind
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The last element of the Two and A Half Continents is the inner half of the third continent, called Puṣkara-dvīpa. Only the half where human beings can live is normally included in pictures of this area.

Puṣkara is enclosed by a circular mountain barrier known as Mānuṣottaraparvata – 'Mountain beyond Mankind'. It is 1721 yojanas high and 1022 yojanas broad.

The continent is divided into eastern and western parts by the Iśvākāra mountains which pass through it. Each part has one Mount Meru.

Other important continents

Kuṇḍala, the 12th continent in the middle world, is illustrated in this manuscript painting. It clearly demonstrates the importance of symmetry and repetition in Jain cosmology. The ring of mountains called Kuṇḍala in its centre is marked in yellow.

Continent of Kuṇḍala
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The Nandīśvara-dvīpa is the 15th continent and is significant from the religious angle. It is the place where the gods come together to celebrate festivities. It contains 52 main sanctuaries, 13 in each of the four directions. The temples are described at length in various treatises on cosmology. At the four cardinal points of the continent stand the four ‘Antimony Mountains’ – Añjanagiri – which are crowned by sanctuaries of the siddhas. There are also four lakes called Nandā to the north, south, east and west of each of these mountains, making a total of 16 lakes. Between these lakes rise four pairs of mountains, known as the 32 Ratikara Mountains.

Stone models or slabs depicting the Nandīśvara-dvīpa are often found in Jain temples and are worshipped. This is common especially among Digambaras.

The Kuṇḍala-dvīpa, the 12th continent from the centre, has a ring of mountains called Kuṇḍala in its centre. Therefore the island consists of an internal and an external ring and is often called ‘Ring’ – Kuṇḍala.

Gods in the middle world

This painting from a manuscript shows the Jyotiṣka gods. Astral bodies such as the suns – sūrya – and moons – candra – make up the third class of gods. These luminous bodies cast light over the middle world of humans.

Jyotiṣka gods
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The third class of gods, the Jyotiṣkas – astral or luminous bodies – is present in the middle world. They live in a space that extends in width over the immeasurable expanses of the continents – dvīpas – and oceans – samudras – and in height from 110 yojanas to the highest limit of the middle world, between 790 and 900 yojanas above the foot of Mount Meru.

These luminous bodies are, from the lowest to the highest:

  • the suns – sūryas
  • the moons – candras
  • the planets – grahas
  • the constellations – nakṣatras
  • the stars – tārās.

The Jyotiṣkas in the Two and A Half Continents that form the world of humans are always on the move, so the light they cast changes all the time. They move around Mount Meru. Their palaces move on their own, but there are certain gods who touch them from below and raise them as if to support them and move them about. These gods have animal forms.

The Jyotiṣkas that are outside the world of humans, however, are static. Therefore the strength of their light never changes and their colour is always yellow.

Upper world – the heavens

This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology.

Heavenly pleasures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Those who live in the various heavenly realms have no suffering, instead leading lives of pleasures and happiness. But it is important to remember that these people are in the world of rebirths and transmigration. Even though they are gods – as opposed to humans or animals, because they live in the heavens – they are not liberated souls. Therefore rebirth as a god cannot be an ideal for Jains.

Deities in the upper world are divided into various categories. Those in the higher categories are progressively more spiritually advanced. There are three main groups, known as the:

  • gods of the paradises
  • gods of the neck
  • unsurpassables.

The last two groups are called the gods of ‘beyond heavens’ or ‘beyond ranks’ – kalpātīta – and are also beyond any sexual desire, which is a form of attachment.

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.

At the top of the worlds – the liberated souls

At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.

Siddha-śilā
Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

At the summit of the world is where the souls live that are freed for ever from karma and rebirth. Such a perfect being is known as a siddha, possessed of total omniscience and pure bliss. Their dwelling place is known as siddha-śilā – ‘crystal rock’.

It is a slim wheel-shaped stretch of land, 45 by 10.5 yojanas in diameter, 8 yojanas thick in the middle, and gradually attenuating, so that it is thinner than the thinnest wing of a butterfly at the periphery. Situated at the summit of the cosmic space, auspicious and bright – resembling the outer surface of a white parasol unfolded downward

Tattvārtha-sūtra 10.7
That Which Is, page 261

To become a siddha and live in the siddha-śilā one has to have been a human being who has made regular spiritual progression and moved up the scale of the guṇa-sthāṇas. At the 13th stage, the soul arrives at the level of an omniscient arhat. At the end of life, at the 14th stage, the soul is not active and is liberated from all forms of embodiment. It gets separated from the body, moves upwards like a flame and reaches the border of cosmic space. All this takes place at the same time.

Images

  • Plants and two-sensed beings This painting from a manuscript depicts examples of plants and two-sensed beings. Throughout the cycle of birth, a soul takes birth in different types of body according to the karma that has stuck to it. In traditional Jain cosmology, beings can be classed according to the number of senses they have. Plants are single-sensed beings, while snails have two senses.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Eight groups of Vyantara gods The eight groups of Vyantara gods are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The Vyantara – Vyantaravāsīn – are semi-deities who live between the highest hell and the surface of the earth in traditional Jain cosmology. The second class of gods, the Vyantaras are not liberated souls – they are trapped in the cycle of births – and can therefore be worshipped for worldly gains. The Vyantara gods are also found in Hinduism.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Cosmic man Possibly dating back to the 16th century, this manuscript painting of the 'cosmic man' shows an elaborately dressed and jewelled human figure. The cosmic man – loka-puruṣa – represents the three worlds of the Jain universe. The lower world of the hells is his legs while the middle world of human beings is at his waist and the upper world of the heavens forms his upper body. The crescent moon of the siddha-śilā, where liberated souls live, is on his forehead.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Tortures in the 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. Souls who have been born into bodies in the hells suffer according to their karma, which is mainly decided by bad behaviour in previous lives. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Vyantara gods and their emblems 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. The Vyantaras are the second class of gods, living between the highest hell and the middle world of human beings in traditional Jain cosmology. These demi-gods are also found in Hinduism.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Two and A Half Continents 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, according to Jain cosmology.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Temple and terraces of Mount Meru 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.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Uttara-kuru and Deva-kuru encircle Mount Meru 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 the fine detailing the artist has given to the trees, mountains and temples in the two lands that sit around the cosmic axis.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Niṣadha and Nīlavanta mountain ranges 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 where human beings live, Mahāvideha has 32 provinces.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Pots in Lavaṇa-samudra 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 are four large ones and 7,884 smaller ones. Lavaṇa-samudra surrounds the island of Jambū-dvīpa, which is the first continent of the Two and A Half Worlds where human beings live in traditional Jain cosmology. The stripes that mark out rivers, mountains and regions in Jambū-dvīpa are also clear in the painting.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Three terraces on Mount Meru This manuscript painting of the trees and temples on the three terraces of Mount Meru demonstrates the symmetry and repetition that are notable features of Jain cosmology. Normally yellow in paintings, Mount Meru is the cosmic axis, at the centre of the three worlds of the Jain universe.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Mountain Beyond Mankind This detail of a manuscript painting shows the yellow and blue mountain range of Mānuṣottaraparvata or 'Mountain Beyond Mankind'. In Jain cosmology human beings can live only in the Two and A Half Continents, up to the inner half of the third continent, Puṣkara. The Mountain Beyond Mankind cuts Puṣkara into two along the middle of its ring-like geography. Separating the human lands from other lands with an uncrossable barrier, the Mountain Beyond Mankind is normally depicted as a crenellated wall in maps or pictures of the human world. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Continent of Kuṇḍala Kuṇḍala, the 12th continent in the middle world, is illustrated in this manuscript painting. It clearly demonstrates the importance of symmetry and repetition in Jain cosmology. The ring of mountains called Kuṇḍala in its centre is marked in yellow and surrounds a Mount Meru encircled by water. Symmetrically laid out trees and temples are found in the part enclosed by mountains while symmetry is also noticeable in the land outside the mountains and in the fish in the ocean. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Jyotiṣka gods This painting from a manuscript shows the Jyotiṣka gods. Astral bodies such as the suns – sūrya – and moons – candra – make up the third class of gods. These luminous bodies cast light over the middle world of humans, one of the three worlds in Jain cosmology. They constantly move around, so their light is always changing.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Heavenly pleasures This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology. Though the souls born as gods in the upper world have lives of ease and enjoyment, they are still bound in the cycle of rebirth. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Heavenly symbols 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 one that is hardest to identify is the sixth one, representing the heaven of Lāntaka. This is the frog – śālūra – though many examples do not seem to depict a recognisable frog.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Siddha-śilā At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.. Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

Further Reading

Commentary on Tattvārtha Sūtra of Vācaka Umāsvāti
Pandit Sukhlalji
translated by K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 44
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1974

Full details

Steps to Liberation: 2500 Years of Jain Art and Religion
Jan van Alphen
Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen; Antwerp, Belgium; 2000

Full details

‘Une peinture cosmologique jaina déposée au Musée Guimet: texte et traduction’
Nalini Balbir
Bulletin d’Études Indiennes
volume 24–25
Association Française pour les Études Indiennes; Paris, France; 2006 to 2007

Full details

‘Le monde médian: une peinture cosmologique jaina sur tissu déposée au Musée Guimet’
Nalini Balbir
Arts Asiatiques
volume 64
École Française d’Extrême-Orient; Paris, France; 2009

Full details

Elements of Jaina Geography: The Jambūdvīpasaṃgrahaṇī of Haribhadra Sūri
Haribhadra
translated and edited by Frank van den Bossche
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2007

Full details

Jain Cosmology
Colette Caillat
and Ravi Kumar
translated by R. Norman
Bookwise (India) Pct. Ltd; New Delhi, India; 2004

Full details

Essays on Jaina Art
Anand K. Coomaraswamy
edited by Richard J. Cohen
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Manohar; New Delhi, India; 2003

Full details

Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection
Phyllis Granoff
Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd and Rubin Museum of Art, New York; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India and New York, USA; 2009

Full details

‘Oceans, Islands and Sacred Mountains: Representations of Cosmic Geography in Jaina Art and Architecture’
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Cosmos: the Journal of the Traditional Cosmological Society
volume 16
Traditional Cosmological Society; 2000

Full details

‘Meru, Samavasaraṇa and Siṃhāsana: The Recurrence of Three-Tiered Structures in Jaina Cosmology, Mythology and Ritual’
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Kalhar (White Water-Lily): Studies in Art, Iconography and Archaeology of India and Bangladesh – Professor Enamul Haque Felicitation Volume
edited by Gerd R. Mevissen, Gourishwar Bhattacharya, Mallar Mitra and Sutapa Sinha
Kaveri Books; New Delhi, India; 2007

Full details

Cosmology Old & New: Being a modern commentary on the fifth chapter of Tattvārthādhigama Sūtra
G. R. Jain
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series; volume 5
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭh Publication; New Delhi, India; 1991

Full details

Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa
Jinendra Varṇi
volume 38
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Publication; New Delhi, India; 2003

Full details

‘Lokākāśa and Lokadhātu: A Comparison of Jain and Buddhist Cosmology’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jain Literature
edited by Phyllis Granoff
Mosaic Press; Oakville, Ontario, Canada; New York, USA; London, UK; 1990

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 2
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1937

Full details

Die Kosmographie der Inder: nach den Quellen dargestellt
Willibald Kirfel
Georg Olms; Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany; 1967

Full details

The Scientific Foundations of Jainism
K. V. Mardia
edited by Dayanand Bhargava
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 5
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 1996

Full details

Die Erlösungslehre der Jaina: Legenden, Parabeln, Erzählungen
translated and edited by Adelheid Mette
Insel Verlag; Berlin, Germany; 2010

Full details

The Peaceful Liberators
Pratapaditya Pal
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Thames and Hudson; Los Angeles, California, New York USA and London, UK; 1994

Full details

Illustrated Jambudveep Prajnapti Sūtra
edited by Pravarttak Shri Mamar Muniji Maharaj, Amar Muni and Srichand Surana 'Saras'
Illustrated Agam series; volume 20
Padma Prakashan and Shree Diwakar Prakashan; New Delhi, India; 2006

Full details

The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

That Which Is: Tattvārtha Sūtra
Umāsvāti / Umāsvāmi
translated by Nathmal Tatia
Sacred Literature series
International Sacred Literature Trust in association with Harper Collins; London, UK; 1994

Full details

Treasures of Jaina Bhandāras
Umakant Premanand Shah
L. D. series; volume 69
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

Full details

Tiloyapannatti: Teaching on the Three Worlds
Yativṛṣabha
translated by Pandit Balchandra Shastri
edited by A. N. Upadhye and Hiralal Jain
Jaina Saṃskṛti Saṃrakshaka Sangha series
Jīvarāja Jaina Granthamālā; Solapur, Maharashtra, India; 2008

Full details

Glossary

Aḍhāī-dvīpa

The Hindi phrase for 'Two and A Half Continents' describes the only part of the universe where human beings live in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. It is made up of the central continent, Jambū-dvīpa, the second continent, Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, and Lavaṇa-samudra, the circular ocean that separates them. Kālodadhi is the ring of ocean around Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, dividing it from the 'half' continent, which is the inner part of the Puṣkara continent.

Arhat

Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Cosmology

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.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Dhātakīkhaṇḍa

The second continent in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. Dhātakīkhaṇḍa forms part of the Two and A Half Continents where human beings live.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. 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.

Dvīpa

Island or, by extension, continent, for instance Jambū-dvīpa, 'Rose-Apple Tree Continent'.

Guṇa

Quality, positive point.

Hindi

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.

Indra

Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jambū-dvīpa

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.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Jyotiṣka

The third class of gods, who are the astral or luminous bodies, such as the sun, moons, planets and stars. They live in the middle of the three worlds.

Kalyāṇaka

An auspicious moment in a Jina's life. There are five pañca-kalyāṇakas:

  • garbha – conception
  • janma – birth
  • vairāgya – renunciation
  • kevala-jñāna – enlightenment
  • mokṣa or nirvāna – liberation.

Karma

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.

Kevala-jñāna

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.

Lavaṇa-samudra

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.

Loka

The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.

Loka-ākāśa

To Jains the universe is composed of two types of space. A Sanskrit term meaning 'world space', loka-ākāśa is a vast but limited area, where all humans, deities and all other forms of life live. Here the souls live and travel through the cycle of rebirths. Outside it is 'non-world space' – aloka-ākāśa.

Loka-puruṣa

The ‘cosmic man’ whose standing form represents the upper, middle and lower worlds in Jain cosmology. The middle world of human beings is found at his waist.

Lotus

A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Mahā-videha

In Jain cosmology, one of the Lands of Action or karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the middle world of humans. Mahā-videha consists of 32 provinces between the Niṣadha and the Nīla mountain ranges. Thanks to the repetitive nature of Jain cosmology, there are also two Mahā-videhas on each of the continents of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa and Puṣkara-dvīpa.

Mokṣa

The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

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.

Nandīśvara-dvīpa

The 15th continent in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. It is religiously important as the place where gods come together to celebrate festivities in its 52 temples. The Nandīśvara-dvīpa is often carved in stone models or slabs found in Jain temples, where they are worshipped. This is especially common among Digambaras.

Naraka

Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Sanctuary

The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Siddha

An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.

Siddha-śilā

The realm of liberated souls, at the apex of the universe. All the liberated souls – siddha – dwell there in eternal bliss.

Śvetāmbara

'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.

Tattvārtha-sūtra

Extremely famous Jain holy text written in Sanskrit in perhaps the fifth century CE. Śvetāmbaras call the author Umāsvāti while Digambaras know him as Umāsvāmin. Going into the principles of karma in ten chapters, it discusses the principles and the reality of existence in a concise style – sūtra. The Tattvārtha-sūtra is a key text, fundamental to all Jain sects. Its title is often translated into English as That Which Is.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Ūrdhva-loka

The highest of the three worlds in Jain cosmology, the home of the various types of gods.

Uttarādhyayana-sūtra

An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.

Yojana

A measure of distance equal to about 14 kilometres.

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