International Journal of Jaina Studies (Online) ISSN: 1748-1074
What can the lifespans of Ṛṣabha, Bharata, Śreyāṃsa, and Ara tell us about the History of the concept of Mount Meru?
Author: Ruth Satinsky
International Journal of Jaina Studies (Online) Vol. 11, No. 1 (2015) 1-24
Willibald Kirfel (1920/1990), in his major study of Indian cosmology, Die Kosmographie der Inder nach den Quellen dargestellt, compares the Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina cosmological systems, and concludes that the early Brahmanical cosmology forms the basis of the later cosmology found in the epics and Purāṇas, and that of the Buddhist and Jaina systems, as well. Contrary to Kirfel, this paper will present some provisional ideas which suggest that the concept of Mount Meru entered Brahmanical literature under the influence of the culture out of which Jainism and Buddhism arose, the culture of Greater Magadha. This hypothesis is based on three observations: 1) the concept of Mount Meru ("the golden mountain at the center of the earth and the universe, around which the heavenly bodies revolve") is prominent in the Jaina and Buddhist canons, but strikingly absent from Brahmanical literature prior to the Mahābhārata; 2) its late introduction into Brahmanical literature marks the shift from Vedic to epic and Purāṇic cosmology at a time when Brahmanical contacts with Buddhism, Jainism, and their region of origin, Greater Magadha, were possible and presumably established; and 3) a special group of numbers, "the number eighty-four and its multiples," is also prominent in the Jaina and Buddhist canons, and in Ājīvikism, but likewise absent from Brahmanical literature prior to the Mahābhārata. The lifespans of Ṛṣabha, Bharata, Śreyāṃsa, and Ara, and the height of Mount Meru are linked to this special group of numbers, and will serve, amongst others, as examples.