The four cosmological depictions represent the mortal world according to Jain philosophy. In Jain texts the universe is divided into three worlds – the upper occupied by the gods, the middle by mortals and the lower belonging to the damned. The most significant is the middle world, manushya-loka (world of the mortals), where liberation from the chain of rebirth is possible and where the Jinas (of saints and devotees) are born. Paintings of the phenomenal world therefore have remained popular in the jain tradition and survive from the fourteenth century through to the present day.
The world of mortals is abstracted as a diagram of concentric circles. The blue circles and narrow streamer like (often symmetrical configurations) that traverse these represent water whilst the buff in-between areas represent land masses. The central circle is of particular significance as it depicts Jambudvipa (the island of the wood apple trees) which includes the Indian sub-continent with the cosmic Mount Meru at its the very centre. The inner-continent is encircled by two oceans and two further continents; the outer most landmass ends amorphously with a chain of mountains and shrines with sages or Jinas at the four quarters. This is why such depictions are often called adhaidvipa pata or paintings of the two-and-a half continents.
The four paintings presented here are fine examples of adhaidvipa patas ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The first example, dating from the 15th Century, small in size and rich in detail is comparable (in painting style and chromatic palette) to Jain manuscripts of the period, most significantly the Kalpa Sutra. The outer ridge of mountains is less defined compared to later examples as is characteristic of the early period. The second example, dating from the early 17th century (or possibly late 16th century) is rich in detail and draws in scale and format from its earlier predecessor, however, shows firmer geometry and a stronger representation of the outer mountain range. This sensibility of formalization is taken forward through the mid and late 17th century as is evident from the third painting. The fourth example, dating from the mid18th century is a fine example of the stylization and incorporation additional embellishments – in this instance the strong circle of mountains, trees, banners and larger shrines located in the outer rim– characteristic of this period where such paintings clearly become more decorative.