Article: Writings on the universe

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Prakrit treatises

This painting from a manuscript shows the ring-shaped oceans of Lavaṇa-samudra and Kālodadhi. In the middle world of Jain cosmology, Lavaṇa-samudra – 'Salt Ocean' – separates the central continent of Jambū-dvīpa from the second continent of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa.

Lavaṇa-samudra and Kālodadhi oceans
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

There is a vast number of specific works in Prakrit on cosmological teachings. These derive from the teachings in the canonical scriptures but can be considered a modernisation for two leading reasons.

Firstly, the language used is now Māhārāṣṭrī Jain Prakrit instead of Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit. Secondly, the form is no longer that of emphatic canonical prose but that of verses. These are often very concise, meant to be memorised. They have given birth to a long tradition of commentaries in Sanskrit and vernacular languages, especially Gujarati. Many such commentaries were written in the 17th century, proving a renewed interest in the topic of cosmology at that point.

Although there is some overlap, there are essentially two categories of Prakrit works:

  • kṣetra-samāsas – 'condensed expositions of the regions'
  • saṃgrahaṇīs – 'résumés'.

To some extent, kṣetra-samāsas are more technical and more geographical, dealing with the description of the continents, the planets and so on. The latter are more concerned with the beings who live in different parts of the Jain worlds, especially their lifespans, karma and spiritual progress.

Among other specialised treatises, at least one has to be mentioned because it is part of the fundamentals of the monastic curriculum. It has been copied many times, demonstrating its popularity. Called the Vicāraṣaṭṭriṃśikā or Cauvīsadaṇḍa, Daṇḍakaprakaraṇa and Laghu-saṃgrahaṇī, it was produced by Gajasāra. He also wrote a Sanskrit commentary in 1522 (Vikrama Saṃvat 1579). In 44 stanzas, it discusses the various limits of cosmological concepts, such as the body size of the classes of gods, their type of knowledge and their physical structure.

Kṣetra-samāsas

There are three kṣetra-samāsas that have been most influential.

The earliest is the Kṣetra-samāsa by Jinabhadra, which is also known as Samayakhitta-samāsa or Bṛhat-kṣetra-samāsa. Written in the sixth century, it gained commentaries by Haribhadra in the eighth century and Malaya-giri in the 12th century.

It was replaced in eminence by Somatilaka-sūri's Kṣetra-samāsa, composed around 1300 CE.

Finally, there is Ratnaśekhara-sūri's Kṣetra-samāsa or Laghu-kṣetra-samāsa, produced around 1370 CE. The most popular kṣetra-samāsa, it has been copied many times and plenty of illustrated manuscripts survive.

Saṃgrahanīs

The two paintings of infernal palaces on this manuscript page demonstrate the symmetry and repetitive patterns that are characteristic of Jain cosmology.

Palaces of hellish gods and demi-gods
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The most authoritative saṃgrahanīs number three.

The first is the Saṃgrahaṇī or Bṛhat-saṃgrahaṇī by Jinabhadra, authored in the sixth century.

Next is the Jambū-dvīpa-saṃgrahaṇī, composed in Prakrit by Haribhadra in the eighth century (van den Bossche 2007). Sometimes called Laghu-saṃgrahaṇī, it consists of 30 stanzas giving definitions and calculations relating to the description of the 'Rose-apple continent'. Prabhāṇanda wrote a Sanskrit commentary in the 13th century.

Śrīcandra-sūri's Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna was written in 1136 CE (Vikrama Samvat 1193). It is also known as Saṃkṣipta-saṃgrahaṇī or Trailokyadīpikā or by the name Bṛhat-saṃgrahaṇī, which is given to it by some modern Jain editors. One of the most popular treatises, it comprises roughly 273 stanzas, according to the edition, and has commentaries by Devabhadra-sūri and other leading scholar-monks.

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