The Map: Madhyaloka, 1850

A map of the Jain universe.

Jainism is an indigenous religion of India founded on the principles of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-attachment. It is the sixth largest religion in modern India and has its roots in the Indus Valley Civilisation – archaeological and inscriptional evidence can place Jain monks in south India in the first or second centuries bc.

The Jain universe consists of three worlds: a world of the damned, a celestial world and Madhyaloka, the middle world, where mortals live and from which they can become liberated. Madhyaloka is shown here with many continent-islands and, at the centre, on the continent called Jambudvipa, is Mount Meru.

A sacred mountain in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cosmology, Mount Meru is, in Jainism, in the centre of the world and orbited by two sets of suns, moons and stars, which take turns working and resting behind the mountain. The map, painted with gouache on fabric, shows Jambudvipa surrounded by continents, filled with people, animals, rivers and other topographical features, and oceans, filled with fish and other sea life. At the bottom is a bow-shaped India.

Kate Wiles