The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes Bhuvanakosha: Evolution of the Universe which is chapter 37 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the thirty-seventh chapter of the Kaumarika-khanda of the Maheshvara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 37 - Bhuvanakośa: Evolution of the Universe

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Note regarding “Bhuvanakośa: Evolution of the Universe: Description of Dvīpas or Continents”:—Bhuvanakośa or ‘the description of the universe’ is an important topic in Purāṇas. Its importance lies not so much in the traditional Sāṅkhya idea of the evolution of the universe or in the mythological description of the seven higher worlds and seven nether worlds, but in the light it sheds on the geographical information about the earth and its continents etc. There is similarity in the description of Bhuvanakośa recorded in different Purāṇas as in VāP 45.109-137, KP 1.47, MtP 114.34ff and others.

Nārada said:

1-2. O Arjuna, I shall describe to you the greatness of Barbarī Tīrtha, how the princess Śataśṛṅgā well-known as Kumārikā became Barbarikā (i.e. a she-goat). It is after her name that this Khaṇḍa (Section) is called Kaumārikā-Khaṇḍa. It yields the four-fold aim of life.

3. It was by her that the different kinds of villages were constructed on the earth. It was by her that this Bhārata Khaṇḍa was rendered well-ordered and established.

Dhanañjaya (Arjuna) said:

4-5. O sage, this extremely miraculous story must be heard by me. Narrate to me the story of Kumārī in detail. How was this universe evolved through Karman (actions) and Jāti (birth and parentage)? How was the sub-continent of Bhārata (well-ordered)? This has always been my desire to hear.

Nārada narrated:

[Note: Purāṇas in general accept the Sāṅkhya theory of evolution of the universe. ]

6. In this Unmanifest (principle) devoid of light, both Pradhāna and Puruṣa, that are unborn came into contact as one unit. This much only we have heard.

7. Then merely on being looked at by Prakṛti and urged by its own nature and time that are its forms, the principle of Mahat came into being.

8. When the principle called Mahat was being evolved, the principle called Aham (Cosmic Ego) was born. It is said by the sages as being of three-fold nature, viz. Sāttvika, Rājasa and Tāmasa.

9. Learned men know that five subtle elements known as Tanmātras were evolved out of the Cosmic Ego of the Tāmasa type. Five different gross elements (Bhūtas) were born of Tanmātras.

10. Know that the (five) organs of actions and (five) sense-organs are born of Sāttvika Ahaṃkāra. They know that the eleventh Manas (mind) is Rājasa.

11. Thus they know that the twenty-four principles were born formerly. O descendant of Bharata, they were seen by Sadāśiva, the Puruṣa (Primeval Person)

12. They had the form of a bubble wherefrom was born the splendid Aṇḍa (Egg). This Brahmāṇḍa (Cosmic Egg), it is said, extended to a hundred crores (of Yojanas in dimension).

13-14. Brahmā is said to be its soul. He divided this into three (parts). Devas were stationed (in the portion) above, human beings in the middle and Nāgas and Daityas in the nether worlds. It was (divided and) arranged into three divisions. Thereafter, each of them was further divided into seven by him

15. Each of these, viz. the nether worlds, the continents (of the earth) and the heavenly worlds, consists of seven (parts). I shall describe the seven continents.[1] Listen to their arrangement.

16. It is proclaimed that the Jaṃbū Dvīpa extends to a hundred thousand Yojanas. It has the shape of the solar disc. It is surrounded by the briny ocean extending to as much (i.e. a hundred thousand Yojanas).

17. The Śāka Dvīpa is twice as much as Jaṃbū Dvīpa (in extent). It is surrounded by the Milky Ocean extending as much (as the dimension of Śāka Dvīpa).

18. Then there is the Puṣkara Dvīpa twice (as much as Śāka Dvīpa). It is surrounded by the ocean of liquor extending to that much (i.e. Puṣkara Dvīpa). It causes confusion and delusion to Daityas.

19. Thereafter, it is said that there is the Kuśa Dvīpa which is twice (as much as Puṣkara Dvīpa). It is surrounded on all sides by the Ocean of Curds extending to that much (space)

20-22a. Thereafter is the Dvīpa called Krauñca which is twice (as much as the Kuśa Dvīpa). It is surrounded by the Ocean of Ghee. Then there is the Śālmali Dvīpa which is twice (as much as Krauñca Dvīpa). It is surrounded by the Ocean of Sugarcane Juice extending to as much (as the Śālmali Dvīpa). Then there is the Gomeda (Plakṣa elsewhere) Dvīpa which is twice (as much as Śālmali Dvīpa). It is surrounded on all sides by the beautiful Ocean of Pure Tasty Water.

22b-24. Thus the seven continents and the oceans together extend to twenty-five million three hundred and fifty thousand (Yojanas), O son of Pṛthā. In the two fortnights, viz. the dark and the bright, the ebb and the flow of the tide is observed to be five hundred and ten Aṅgulas.

Beyond these is the golden ground, O great scion of the family of Kurus. It extends to ten crores (of Yojanas).

25-27. It is the place where Devas sport about. Beyond that is the mountain Lokāloka which is circular in shape and which extends to ten thousand Yojanas. Beyond this is the terrible darkness difficult to be seen and devoid of living beings.

From the seven oceans up to this, the distance is proclaimed as thirty-five crore one million nine hundred and forty thousand (Yojanas), O Phālguna.

28-31. The Kaṭāha (i.e. the semi-spheroidal shell) of the Cosmic Egg extends to a crore of Yojanas. The Cosmic Egg is united to this Kaṭāha at the middle of Meru. The distance from this spot in all the ten directions should be known as fifty crores (of Yojanas). There is a mountain named Meru[2] in the middle of  Jambū Dvīpa. Its total extent from top to bottom should be known as one hundred thousand Yojanas. Its extent underneath (the earth) is sixteen thousand Yojanas and the height (above the ground) is eighty-four thousand Yojanas. Its extent on the top is thirty-two thousand Yojanas. Its top is like a shallow tray. It has three peaks.

32-33. Brahma’s residence is on the middle peak: that of the Three-eyed Lord is on the north-east (peak) and that of Vāsudeva (i.e. Viṣṇu) on the south-west (peak). The peak of Brahmā is golden; that of Śaṅkara is of gems and jewels and that of Keśava is of silver. On the four sides of Meru there are supporting pillar-like mountains.

34. Mandara mountain is in the east; Gandhamādana is in the south; Vipula is in the west and Supārśva in the north.

35. Kadaṃba (Nauclea cadamba) should be known (as the chief tree) on Mandara; Jaṃbu (wood apple tree) on Gandhamādana, Aśvattha (ficus religiosa) on Vipula and Vaṭa (banyan tree) on Supārśva.

36. These chief mountains have the width of one thousand and one hundred (Yojanas) each. On the tops of these, there are four parks.

37. The park on the east is Caitraratha by name; that in the south Gandhamādana; that in the west should be known as Vaibhrāja and the park in the north is Citraratha.

38-40. Know from me the four lakes in the four quarters. In the east is the lake named Aruṇoda; Mānasa is the lake in the south; in the west is the lake named Śītodaka and in the north Mahāhrada.

These pillar-like supporting mountains are twenty-five thousand Yojanas in height. The mass of each of them (i.e. width) is said to be a thousand Yojanas.

There are many Kesara mountains also (i.e. mane-like mountain ranges).

41. To the south of Meru there are three Maryāda mountains (forming the boundary line). They are the three mountains,[3] namely Niṣadha, Hemakūṭa and Himavàn.

42-43. They are a hundred thousand Yojanas in length and two thousand Yojanas in width. There are three mountains to the north of Meru,[4] viz. Nīla, Śveta and Śṛṅgavān. Mālyavān is to the east of Meru and the mountain named Gandha to the west.[5] Thus the mountains all round (Meru) in the Jaṃbū Dvīpa have been recounted.

44. The fruits of the Jaṃbū tree growing on Gandhamādana mountain have the size of great elephants. The continent is known as Jambū Dvīpa after the name of the tree.

45. There was a Manu named Svāyaṃbhuva (son of the Self-born Lord). He was the first Prajāpati (‘Patriarch’). There was a woman named Śatarūpā. Prajāpati married her. He had two sons named Priyavrata and Uttānapāda.

46. Dhruva, the son of Uttānapāda, was extremely righteous. He propitiated Viṣṇu with great devotion and obtained an everlasting abode.

47-48. Ten sons were born to Priyavrata, the saintly king. Three of them took to renunciation and resorted to the Supreme Being. The remaining seven sons were installed (as rulers) by him in the seven continents. The eldest who was well-known as Āgnīdhra became the overlord of Jambū Dvīpa.

49. He had nine sons, O son of Pṛthā. They are known as the lords of the nine Varṣas[6] (sub-continents). Those Varṣas continue to be known after their names even today.

50-51. Each of them is known as extending to nine thousand Yojanas. There are sub-continents in all the four directions of Meru. Between the two mountains Gandha and Mālyavān the sub-continent is called Ilāvṛta of golden ground. The subcontinent between Mālyavān and the ocean is called Bhadrāśva.

52-55. The sub-continent between Gandhavān and the ocean is known as Ketumāla. The sub-continent between Śṛṅgavān and the ocean is known as Kurukhaṇḍa. The subcontinent between Śṛṅgavān and Śveta mountains is called Hiraṇmaya.

They say that the sub-continent between Sunīla and Śveta mountains is Ramyaka. The sub-continent Harikhaṇḍa is between Niṣadha and Hemakūṭa (mountains). The subcontinent between Himavān and Hemakūṭa is known as Kiṃpuruṣa Khaṇḍa. The sub-continent between Himālaya and the ocean is known as Nābhikhaṇḍa.

56. The sub-continents Nābhi and Kuru have the shapes of bows and Himavān and Śṛṅgavān are glorified (i.e. described as being) in the place of the bow-string.

57. Ṛṣabha was Nābhi’s son. Bharata was born of Ṛṣabha. This sub-continent is glorified as Bhārata also after his name.[7]

58. It is here that one acquires (the four objectives of) Virtue, Wealth, Love and Liberation.[8] All the other subcontinents are places of experiencing pain, enjoyment of pleasures, O scion of the family of Kuru.

59. In the continent Śākadvīpa,[9] there is the tree Śāka (teak) extending to a thousand Yojanas. It is after its name that the continent is known as Śākadvīpa.

60. The overlord of that too is Priyavrata himself under the name Medhātithi.

61. It has seven sub-continents named after his seven sons, viz. Purojava, Manojava, Vepamāna, Dhūmrānīka, Citrarepha, Bahurūpa and Viśvacāra.

62. In the continent of Śākadvīpa the persons named Ṛtavrata, Satyavrata and Anuvrata mutter the names of the Lord of the nature of Vāyu (i.e. Wind-god).

63. The Japa is as follows: “May that immanent Lord protect us, the Lord who enters the living beings and divides them with his own bright rays, who controls (all the inner organs) and in whose control lies the entire universe.”

64. In the continent Kuśadvīpa[10] there is that stump of Kuśa grass a thousand Yojanas (in height). Since the continent is distinguished with Kuśa as its symbol, it is called Kuśadvīpa.

65. The Lord of that continent is Hiraṇyaromā, son of Priyavrata. There are seven sub-continents named after his sons, viz. Vasu, Vasudāna, Dṛḍha, Kavi, Nābhigupta, Satyavrata and Vāmadeva. The four castes are called Kuliśa, Kovida, Abhiyukta and Kulaka. They eulogize the Fire-god.

66. “O Fire-god (the knower of all created things), you are the carrier of oblations directly to the Supreme Brahman (or you form a part of the body of the transcendental Barhman). Worship the Supreme Person by sacrifice (sacrificial oblations) offered to gods who are the limbs of the body of the Cosmic Person.”

67. In the continent of Krauñca there is a mountain named Krauñca.[11] It extends to ten thousand Yojanas. It was this mountain that was pierced by Guha. The symbol of the continent Krauñca is that mountain.

68. The overlord there is the son of Priyavrata named Ghṛtapuṣṭi. There are seven sub-continents named after his sons, viz. Āma, Madhuruha, Meghapṛṣṭha, Svadhāma, Ṛtāśva, Lohitārṇava and Vanaspati.

69. The castes are called Guru, Ṛṣabha, Draviṇa and Devaka.

70. They eulogize the Lord in the form of water.

71. The Japa is: “Waters are endowed with the powers and vigour of the Supreme God. They purify the three worlds, viz. the earth, the firmament (Bhuvarloka) and the heaven (Svarloka). They are (naturally) the destroyers of all sins and afflictions. They touch the world of their own accord (for its purification).”

72. The fragrance of the tree named Śālmali (‘silk-cotton’) spreads to a thousand Yojanas. The continent marked by it is called Śālmalidvīpa.[12]

73. The overlord is Yajñabāhu, the son of Priyavrata. There are seven sub-continents named after his sons, viz. Surocana, Saumanasya, Ramaṇaka, Devabarhi, Pāribhadra, Āpyāyana and Abhijñāna.

74-75. The castes are called Śrutadhara, Vīrya, Vasundhara and Iṣandhara. They worship Lord Soma (the Moon-god). The Japa is as follows: “May Soma be our shining Lord—Soma who during the bright fortnights and dark fortnights divides his own digits between Pitṛs and Devas and also to all the subjects below.”

76. There is a Plakṣa tree named Gomeda. It is very beautiful. Under its shade the (people of the) continent have attained increase in fat on account of their greed (for the fruits thereof). This continent is called Gomedadvīpa.[13]

77. Idhmajihva, the son of Priyavrata is the ruler. There are seven sub-continents named after his sons, viz. Śiva, Suramya, Subhadra, Śānti, Aśapta, Amṛta and Abhaya.

78. The four castes named Haṃsa, Pataṅga, Ūrdhvāñcana and Satyāṅga worship the Lord Sun-god.

79. “We meditate on the Sun whose form is that of Viṣṇu, who is the soul of the problem that arose there(?) as well as of the immortal Brahman and of Mṛtyu.”

80. The continent (called Puṣkara) appears to be dazzling on account of one million gold leaves extending to a thousand Yojanas. That is the symbol of the continent called Puṣkara.[14]

81-83. The overlord of that continent is the son of Priyavrata named Vītahotra. His sons are Ramaṇaka and Dhātaka. There are two sub-continents called by their own names. In between them, there is a circular mountain named Mānasācala in which Lord Sun revolves.

84. There are no (different) castes. All of them are equal and they meditate on Brahman.

85. The japa is: “Whatever Liṅga constituted of rites (? karmamayam) people worship with a sense of difference (between God and the devotee) is the Brahma-Liṅga which is one and non-dual. Obeisance to that Lord.”

86-87. They entertain neither anger nor malice by acquisition of merit or sin. Ten thousand and twice that is proclaimed as the life span respectively (in the two continents). Accompanied by their beloved ones, they perform Japa and they sport about like the immortal ones.

Henceforth I shall describe to you the position of the higher world.

Footnotes and references:


Originally the earth was regarded as consisting of four continents (caturdvīpi). Later on it came to be regarded as consisting of seven continents (saptadvīpi). Our text enumerates these continents in vv 16-22a. These Dvīpas were believed to be concentric, circular and each surrounded by an ocean of different contents such as water, milk, wine, sugarcane juice etc. It is interesting to note that ancient Greeks, Chinese, Arabs believed in seven divisions of the world on the basis of climate, habitat etc. Each of our Purāṇic continents (except Krauñca) has a special representative tree indicating the climatic conditions of that continent.


This mountain is now identified with the Pamirs (vide AGP pp 47-52).


These are identified as follows:

Niṣadha represents Hindukush Kunlun chain;

Hemakūṭa is the Ladakh-Kailash-Trans-Himalayan chain; and

Himavān represents the great Himalayan range (AGP p. 53).


They are located thus:

Nīla represents Zarafshan-Trans-Alai-Tienshan chain;

Śveta is the Nura-Tau-Turkistan-Atbashi chain;

Śṛṅgavān represents Kara-Tau-Kirghiz-Ketman chain of mountains (AGP p. 53).


Although our text posits Mount Mālyavān to the east of Meru (Pamirs) and Gandha, i.e. Gandhamādana to the west of Meru, BhP, MtP differ regarding their location. Taking into account all evidence, Mālyavān represents the Sarikol range while Gandhamādana represents the northern ridge of the great Hindukush arch known as Khwaja Mohammad Range.


The nine sub-continents or Varṣas are delineated in vv 50-56. The early original concept of four-continented (Caturdvīpī) earth is now replaced by the Saptadvīpī concept.


This is confirmed in BhP XI.2.15.17, VāP 33.51-52, MkP 53.39-40 and in Jaina tradition. But MtP 114.5-6 derives ‘Bhārata’ from √bhr and identifies him with Manu—a Gupta-period attempt at Brahminization.


This importance of Bhāratavarṣa is endorsed in BhP V.17.11, BdP 1.2.16-7, VāP 1.45-77, MtP 114.6-7, MkP 55.21-22. It is also called Karma-bhūmi.


VV 59-63 describe Śākadvīpa.

Each dvīpa has its special characteristic tree (indicating the climatic region), founder-king, castes with special names, presiding god and sub-continents. Kuśadvīpa is described in vv 64-66.


Kuśadvīpa is described in vv 64-66.


VV 67-71 describe the Krauñcadvīpa. But no special tree to indicate climatic zone is mentioned here. The mountain Krauñca is its special feature.


Śālmali (Silk-cotton)-dvīpa is described in vv 12-75.


Gomedadvīpa described in vv 76-79 is also called Plakṣa in other Purāṇas as that tree, i.e Plakṣa, is its representative.


Puṣkaradvīpa described in vv 80-87 appears to be a land of casteless sages.

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