Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jain Geography

Here's something completely different:



It's a Jaina portrayal of the world, from an exhibit at the Library of Congress. According to the exhibit's website

Jainism has its own version of geography and cosmology. This chart from the nineteenth century shows the world of human habitation as a central continent with mountain ranges and rivers, surrounded by a series of concentric oceans (with swimmers and fish) and ring-shaped continents.


Indeed, that Jain cosmology and geography they speak of is a trip. Sez Wikipedia, the early Jains divided the universe into three parts: the heavens or realms of the gods (Urdhva Loka), the realms of the humans (Madhya Loka), and the realms of the hellish beings (Adho Loka). So the image above is a depiction of Madhya Loka, the realms of the humans.

Madhya Loka consists of at least eight continent-islands, arranged concentrically, each of which is surrounded by an ocean (typically with some sort of succulent name, like "Sugar Ocean" or "Ocean of Milk"); you can see those continent-rings clearly on this map (though why only two?). Humans live on Jambudvipa, the island at the center of the world; and at the center of Jambudvipa is Mount Meru, the highest point and center of the world. (According to trusty ol' Wikipedia, the quasi-mythical Mount Meru corresponds to the real world's Nagard Sarovar, in the middle of the Pamir Mountains.) At the summit of Mount Meru is Brahmapuri, the great city of Brahma, the god of creation.

From carbon dioxide emissions to eastern cosmology without so much as a segue. You see? You see why maps are so fun?

22 comments:

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