Tattvartha Sutra ► Jain Concepts Of Geography And Cosmology

Posted: 16.08.2017

In this annexure we propose to analyze the quantitative aspects of Jain geography and cosmology. For that purpose we need to have an idea of its measurement of time and space. Standards of such measurements vary from source to source. The following standards can, however, be considered as generally acceptable:


Jain measurement of time starts with Samay, which is an infinitesimal part of a second.

Innumerable Samays = 1 Āvalikā 4446.65 Āvalikās = 1 Pulse-beat 7 Pulse-beats = 1 Stok 7 Stoks = 1 Lav

77 Lavs (3773 Pulse-beats) = 1 Muhurta (2 Ghadies or 48 minutes)

30 Muhurts (60 Ghadies) = I Day

30 Days = 1 Month

12 Months = 1 Year

8.4 million years = 1 Poorvāng

8.4 million Poorvāngs = 1 Poorva

Innumerable Poorvas = 1 Palyopam (Chasm-measured time) 1000 trillion Palyopams = 1 Sāgaropam (Ocean-measured time)

2000 trillion Sāgaropams = 1 Time cycle

Jain measurement of space starts with the size of an atom, which is an infinitesimally small size.

Innumerable atom sizes = 1 Finger-breadth

6 Finger-breadths = 1 Pad

16 Pads - 1 Dand or Dhanushya (about 6 feet) 2000 Dands = 1 Gauy (Gāu) 4 Gauys = 1 Yojan = 48000 feet = 9.09 miles Innumerable Yojans x 14.19 trillions = 1 Rajju The size of Universe is equal to 14 Rajjus.


The concept of Jamboodweep lies at the center of Jain geography. It represents the area where we live. It is supposed to be disc-shaped with a diameter of 100,000 Yojans, and Mt. Meru with an altitude of 100,000 Yojans lies in the center thereof. These concepts were in vogue in ancient India and Jain seers might have adopted the same. Jamboodweep is divided into 7 continents. It is not possible to relate six of them to any specific part of the earth. As such, our discussion will have to be restricted to the seventh known as Bharat Kshetra. The particulars of that Kshetra obviously relate to the Northern Indian sub-continent.

Bharat Kshetra lies to the extreme South of Jamboodweep. It is arc-shaped and covers 190th part of Jamboodweep. Its east-west length measured by its longest chord is 14471.31 Yojans, while its maximum north-south width is 526.31 Yojans. It is bounded by Mount Himvān in the North and by Lavan sea on the remaining three sides. Gangā and Sindhu are its two main rivers. They rise from the eastern and western ends of Lake Padma on Mt. Himvān. Initially they flow towards east and west respectively. Thereafter they turn southward and flow parallel to each other spanning almost the entire width of Bharat Kshetra. At the end Gangā turns east and meets Lavan sea at its eastern coast; Sindhu turns west and meets the said sea at its western coast. Both of them have a width of 6.25 Yojans at the roots and 62.5 Yojans at the mouths. Five major rivers, viz. Yamuna, Sarayu, Adi, Kosi and Mahi meet Gangā; other five, viz. Shatadru, Vitastā, Vibhāsā, Irāvati and Chandrabhāgā meet Sindhu.

There is a 25 Yojans high Mount Vaitādhya lying in the middle of Bharat Kshetra spanning its entire East-West distance and divides it into two parts. There are two caves called Tamisrā and Khandprapātā. They are 12 Yojans wide and penetrate the entire width of Vaitādhya. Gangā and Sindhu pass through those caves. Vaitādhya mountain range together with Gangā and Sindhu divides Bharat Kshetra into six parts, which are termed as Khands. Let us now relate these details to the present knowledge of geography.

Mt. Himvān could be the same as Himalayan range and the Lavan sea could comprise the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Perhaps our ancients did not have concept of Southern India and seem to have ignored the existence thereof. Moreover they seem to have guessed that Lavan sea could be encircling the entire Jamboodweep.

Of the five rivers meeting Gangā, Yamuna, Sarayu and Kosi are known; Mahi could be the same as river Mahā, while it is hard to identify Adi. Of those meeting Sindhu, Shatadru, Vitastā and Vibhāsā have been identified as Sutlaj, Jhelum and Beās. The remaining two could be Chināb and Ravi. The actual flow of Gangā right from its root to the mouth is not in agreement with what the texts specify. That of Sindhu more or less corresponds to what is stated in the texts, except that the texts specify its southward flow in perpendicular direction, while it actually slants westward.

It is hard to relate the concept of Mt. Vaītādhya to any existing mountain range. The way it is described, it resembles Vindhya, which virtually stretches from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal and divides the subcontinent into Northern and Southern India. But there is a snag. Jain geography shows Ayodhyā to the south of Vaitādhya, while it actually lies fairly north of Vindhya.

Since the sizes in the above description are given in Yojans, let us examine that concept. The length of a Yojan is considered to be ranging from 8 to 9.9 miles. Even if we adopt the minimum range of 8 miles, the diameter of Jamboodweep and the altitude of Mountain Meru work out to 800,000 miles. Those sizes are apparently fantastic and we need to explore the possibilities for arriving at more reasonable ones.

One possibility is that a Yojan could actually be a smaller unit. That seems plausible in view of several factors. Let us first take the size of Meru. As per given details, the distance of Meru from the extreme south of Bharat Kshetra is 45000 Yojans, which would be equal to 3,60,000 miles. Since moon is about 240,000 miles from the earth, the distance of Meru from Bharat works out to about one and a half times the distance of moon from the earth. Meru being of gold and silver, it must have a shining surface, which can brightly reflect the sunlight. The moon does not have such shining surface and still we can see it by the sunlight reflected from it. How can then Meru with its height of 800,000 miles remain beyond our sight?

īn the above description Gangā and Sindhu are said to have a width of 62.5 Yojans at their mouths. That much width of Gangā is collaborated by Jnātādharmakathāng, the sixth Agam. Its chapter 16 relates to the story of Draupadi. It is said therein that Shrikrishna had to cross 62.5 Yojans width of Gangā. There is thus no possibility of error in stipulating that width. At the rate of 8 miles a Yojan, that works out to a width of 500 miles, which is inconceivable. If we take the maximum width of Gangā near its mouth as five miles, the above-said size turns out to be 100 times higher. We can believe that the ancient seers could not have measured the length of Gangā and might have guessed about it. But how could they go wrong about the width?

The size of Tamisrā and Khandprapātā caves in Vaitādhya provides another example of the exaggerated dimensions. Those caves are supposed to be 12 Yojans wide. At the rate of 8 miles a Yojan, that works out to 96 miles. Can a gap of that size be termed as a cave? Even a 1000th part of that size works out to more than 500 feet, which would be too wide to be termed a cave.

The size of Ayodhyā city provides one more illustration. That city is said to have a length of 12 Yojans and breadth of 9 Yojans. At the rate of 8 miles a Yojan its area works out to 96 x 72 = 69X2 sq. miles. Even if we assume that it was the largest city in ancient India, the size of 6912 sq. miles is inconceivable. That is worth comparing with 321 sq. miles of New York, 185 sq. miles of Chicago and 239 sq. miles of Mumbai.

There is one more illustration that leads to the same conclusion. It relates to 14471.32 Yojans east-west length of Bharat Kshetra. That length works out to 115770 miles, which is inconceivably long. One/ 100th part of that length could make sense, as it would come close to the actual length of Indo-Gangā plain.

Jamboodweep Prajnapti is the basic source of information about Jamboodweep. Sthānāng and Samavāyāng, the third and fourth original Āgams, do contain the information about the subject. They are, however, in the form of numerical series of various aspects. The compilation thereof was continuing for a long time and additions were made from time to time. Jamboodweep Prajnapti therefore remains the original source. That was composed a couple of centuries after passing away of Lord Mahavir. As such, its particulars do not necessarily conform to what Lord Mahavir or revered Ganadhars could have said. Those particulars should therefore be taken as reflecting the concepts of geography as prevalent when the said text was composed.

It is obvious that on the basis of 8 miles a Yojan, the sizes given in the texts are exaggerated. Since the exaggeration varies from illustration to illustration, it is difficult to generalize the extent thereof. Moreover, the concepts of Meru, Vaitādhya or Tamisrā-Khandprapātā caves cannot be related to any geographical areas. As such, it is not possible to arrive at the level of exaggeration for any of them even separately. That also applies to the size of Ayodhyā, because the present size of the city is fairly small and we have no idea of its actual size in ancient times.

There are, however, two aspects where we can gauze the extent of exaggeration. One pertains to the time of different places. We know that the time of a place depends upon its longitude and that the distance between two adjacent longitudes makes a difference of 4 minutes. Since the circumference of the earth in the tropical zone, where India is situated, is about 24000 miles, and since it takes 24 hours to complete one rotation, it can be said that in that area every 1000 miles makes a difference of one hour.

The Jain concept stipulates two suns moving over the surface of Jamboodweep one after the other at an interval of 24 hours. Each of them takes 48 hours to complete one round. As Jamboodweep has a diameter of 800,000 miles, its circumference works out to about 2,512,000 miles. Since a sun is supposed to cover half of it in 24 hours, it works out to about 51000 miles in an hour. The Jain concept thus implies an exaggeration of 51 times in the size of Jamboodweep.

Another aspect pertains to the width of Gangā. Our assumption of its maximum width of five miles during monsoon is reasonable. Since the texts stipulate 500 miles width at the mouth, the exaggeration works out to 100 times. That is almost double the exaggeration noticed in time-distance phenomena.

Since we have only these two cases to gauze the level of exaggeration, it would not be appropriate to take their mean as the rate of exaggeration. Moreover, the rotation of earth cannot be directly related to the supposed movement of suns above the surface of Jamboodweep. As such, it would be better to arrive at the likely rate of exaggeration on the basis of the width of Gangā, which rests on hard facts. It would therefore not be out of place to gauze the rate of exaggeration as 100 times.

Thus if we assume that the size of Yojan could be 100th part of what is normally accepted, the diameter of Jamboodweep would work out to 8000 miles, which is close to the actual diameter of the earth (7926 miles). The area of Ayodhya in that case could be about 69 sq. miles, which would be reasonable, because it was the principal city of India. The width of Gangā at the mouth would work out to 5 miles, which could be very likely in monsoon. Similarly the east-west length of Bharat Kshetra would work out to 1152 miles, which is not far away from the size of Indo-Gangā plain.

The problem would, however, arise about its north-south breadth, which would work out to about 42 miles; and that is ridiculously low. That was partly due to the fact that scriptural texts conceive of a smooth arc from Saurāshtra to Orrisa as the coastal line forming the southern boundary of Jamboodweep. That arc would pass through south Gujarat, Vidarbha and north Vijayvādā. Jain concept thus virtually ignores the existence of peninsular India and treats that area along with Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal as the outer rim of Lavan sea. The entire area of Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean constituted the parts of the said sea.

Distances of the stellar bodies from the surface of Jamboodweep also present a problem. They are believed to be moving around Mt. Meru. The stars are supposed to move at an altitude of 790 Yojans, suns at 800, moons at 880, constellations at 884 and planets at 888 to 900 Yojans. Irrespective of their relative positions, these distances are far shorter than their known distances from the earth.

There are, however, several features of Jain concepts that can give credit to the ancient seers. For instance, Bharat Kshetra is said to have the east-west length of 14471.32 Yojans and north-south breadth of 526.32 Yojans. On the basis of its location at the southern end of Jamboodweep disc, the proportion between the length and the breadth is mathematically accurate. That could not have been arrived at without the adequate knowledge of algebra and geometry.

Their knowledge of mathematics is also evident in the formula for circumference and area of a circle presented in Laghu Sangrahani. It states:

Vikkhambhvaggadahgun-karani, Vattassa Parirao Hoi; Vikkhambhpāyagunio, Parirao Tassa Ganiyapayam'

It means that the circumference of a circle is equal to the square root of ten times the square of its diameter, and its area is equal to the circumference multiplied by the quarter of the diameter.

The first part states that the circumference of a circle is equal to the square root of ten times the square of its diameter. The square root of ten is 3.16, which is close to the value of ñ (3.14), and the square root of a square diameter is the diameter. Thus the formula virtually specifies ñD, which we use for arriving at the circumference of a circle. The second part states that the area of a circle is equal to the circumference multiplied by the quarter of the diameter. That means ñDD/4, which is the same as ñ RR that we use for working out the area of a circle.

Similarly they worked out the length of a year, varying lengths of days and nights, temperatures during different seasons, summer and winter solstices, vernal and autumnal equinoxes, etc. fairly accurately as can be seen from the following description.

The ancient seers could not conceive of the spherical earth moving around the sun. They were perhaps guided by the apparent movement of the sun and other stellar bodies around the earth and seem to have formulated their theories on that basis. As such, sun and moon were conceived of the smaller sizes and were not considered capable to spread light over entire Jamboodweep. Jain seers therefore conceived of two suns and two moons for Jamboodweep. They revolve one after the other around mountain Meru over the surface of Jamboodweep. Each of them takes two days for completing a round. While one sun rises in the east and proceeds towards the west via south, the other sun rises in the west and proceeds towards the east via north. That very time one moon rises in the south and proceeds towards the north via west, while the other moon rises in the north and proceeds towards the south via east.

The distance of suns from Meru ranges from 44820.787 Yojans (inclusive of 0.787 Yojans width of the sun) in mid­summer to 45330.787 Yojans in mid-winter. Our ancients minutely worked out their orbits so as to almost correctly gauze the length of the solar year. For instance, they conceived of 184 orbits of the solar movement extending over a range of 510 Yojans. It was calculated that there is a distance of 2.787 Yojans between two adjacent orbits. A sun would take 183 days for moving from the first orbit to the last one. Thus it needs 183 days to cover the distance of 510 Yojans and other 183 days to return to the original orbit. This works out to a year of 366 days, which is close to the solar year of 365.25 days.

When the suns revolve on the closest orbit, it is midsummer (June 21). That is the time of summer solstice, when the day in India would be of 14 hours and 24 minutes and the night of 9 hours and 36 minutes. As the suns move from one orbit to another, they continue to go further from the surface every day. Consequently the days become less warm and get shorter at the rate of || minutes per day. As they pass the 91st orbit, it would be September 21 (close to the autumnal equinox) when day and night would be of equal length.

As the suns proceed beyond that orbit, the temperatures get cooler, days become shorter and nights are longer. When the suns reach the last orbit on the 183rd day, it would be December 22. At that time, the day in India would be of 9 hours and 36 minutes and the night of 14 hours and 24 minutes. That would be the winter solstice, when the day is shortest, the night is longest and the temperature is very low. As the suns take the inward route, the reverse situations would occur. These concepts were thus good enough to justify the actual geographical phenomena.



While concluding it would be pertinent to say about Kālchakra (time cycle). The concept of repeating time cycles has been in vogue in India. Vaidic tradition believes in the cycle of an ascending and a descending order. Each half cycle consists of four eras known as Saryug, Tretayug, Dwāparyug, and Kaliyug. There are varying notions about the length of such time cycles. Generally acceptable one is of 24000 years.

Jainism believes in time cycles of immeasurably long periods. Every such time cycle consists of 2000 trillion Sāgaropams. Those cycles have an ascending order called Utsarpini and a descending order called Avsarpini. Bharat and Airvat Kshetras experience an ever-increasing improvement during the ascending order and an accelerating deterioration during the descending order. Each half cycle is divided in six eras and 24 Tirthankars arise one after another in those Kshetras during the third and fourth eras of every Utsarpini and Avsarpini.

Mahāvideh Kshetra is not subject to such periods of improvement and decline. The moderately favorable conditions prevail there forever. Moreover, there are always some extant Tirthankars. It īs said that there would be at least one Tirthanakar in each of its four major divisions, as it is at present. There can, however, be as many as 32 Tirthankars at the rate of one Tirthankar for every Vijay. As there are 5 Mahāvideh Kshetras, there could be maximum 160 extant Tirthankars in those continents. Since each of the five Bharats and Airvats can have one Tirthankar during that period, there could be maximum 170 extant Tirthankars at a time. That is believed to have happened during the time of Lord Ajitnāth.

Share this page on:



Title: Tattvartha Sutra
Manu Doshi
Manu Doshi
Federation of Jain Associations in North America & Shrut Ratnakar