The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Bhumi Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Dhritarashtra asks Sanjaya to describe the island of Sakadwipa.
‘There are many islands that extend over the earth, O King,’ says Sanjaya, ‘but I will describe only the main ones. The Jambu mountain, to begin with, extends over an area of eighteen thousand six hundred yojanas.
‘The extent of the salt ocean is said to be twice this. The ocean has many islands that house many kingdoms that are adorned with gems and corals. These islands also contain many mountains variegated with metals of diverse kinds.
‘It is peopled by Siddhas and Charanas, and is circular in form.’
Sanjaya now tells of an island called Sakadwipa. ‘It is said to be twice as large as Jambudwipa, my lord. Seven great mountains stand on this island, decked with jewels, gems and precious stones.
‘The first of these mountains is Meru, the abode of the gods, the great sages, and the best of Gandharvas. The second is Mount Malaya, stretching out toward the east. It is here that clouds are said to take birth before dispersing themselves to cover the sky.’
‘The third mountain is called Jaladhara, where Indra takes his daily bath. It is from this mountain that we receive rains. Fourth on the list is a mountain called Raivataka, which has been placed in the constellation of Revati by the Grandsire.
‘To the north of Raivataka, O King, stands the mountain called Syama, built of the blackest rock you can imagine. The complexion of the dwellers of this mountain is also dark. It is for this reason that the mountain is called the Dark Mountain.
‘The sixth and seventh mountains that dot the island of Sakadwipa are Durgasaila and Kesari. The breezes that blow on these two are all charged with a divine fragrance. Each of these seven mountains is double the size of the one mentioned immediately before it.
‘So Meru is the smallest of them all, though in significance it is the most important because the gods have made their homes there.’
The Varshas of Sakadwipa
Sanjaya continues: ‘There are also seven varshas into which the island of Sakadwipa is divided. The varsha of Meru is called Mahakasa, that of Malaya is called Kumudottara, that of Jaladhara is known as Sukumara, the one next to Raivataka is named Kaumara.
The one of Syama is called Manikanchana, that of Durgasaila is known by the name of Mahapumana, and finally, the varsha of Kesari is called Mandaki.’
Sanjaya now tells of a large tree that stands in the middle of Sakadwipa. ‘A tree called Saka, O King,’ he says, ‘equal in height and breadth to the tree of Jambudwipa. It has many worshippers among the Siddhas and the Charanas, not to mention the gods themselves.
‘The people here are virtuous, O King, and the four orders are devoted to their respective occupations. No instance of theft has ever been recorded on this island, and the numerous rivers that flow here are all sin-cleansing.’
The Four Oceans
‘Over to the north, O King,’ says Sanjaya, ‘exists an ocean whose waters are clarified butter. Then there is an ocean filled with curd. After that comes an ocean filled with wine, followed by one which holds water.
‘Each island as we move further north is double the size of the one preceding it, and in the middle island of them all, a mountain called Goura stands, made of red arsenic.
‘On the western island is a mountain called Krishna, which is the favourite abode of Narayana. Kesava repairs there every once in a while to guard the profusion of gems, and from there he bestows grace upon the beings of the universe.
‘The celestial clump of grass called Kusa grows in an island called Kusadwipa, and the salmali tree on the island of Salmalika.
‘A mountain called Maha Krauncha that contains a mine with precious stones stands on the island of Krauncha. This is worshipped by men of all four orders that live in those parts, O King.’
‘A mountain called Gomanta also stands here, sir, which is huge and contains all kinds of metals, and where Narayana always resides, possessed of eyes like lotus leaves.
‘In Kusadwipa, there is a mountain by the same name that is decked with corals and built with gold. This mountain, however, is inaccessible and can only be viewed from a distance.
‘The four mentioned before, along with two others named Sumida and Harigiri, form the six principal mountains of this region. The intervening spaces between these hills double as we move further and further toward the north.
‘The first of these varshas is called Audhido; the second is called Venumandala; the third goes by the name of Suratha; the fourth, Kambala; the fifth, Dhritimata; the sixth, Prabhakara; and the seventh, Kapila.
‘Around Krauncha are other mountains of note, too, like Vamanaka, Andhakara, Mainaka, Govinda and Nivida. The region near Krauncha is called Kusala; that near Vamanaka is Manonuga; the one next to Manonuga is called Ushna.
‘Then comes Pravaraka, followed by Andhakaraka. The country after Andhakaraka goes by the name of Munidesa, and then comes Dundubhiswana, teeming with Siddhas and Charanas.’
Prajapati is said to dwell on the mountain of Pushkara, situated on the island of the same name. All the gods and all the great sages worship the self-create reverentially in this place, using diverse gems from all over Jambudwipa.
In these northern islands, Brahmacharya, truth, self-control, and also the health and life expectancies of dwellers increase in the ratio of one is to two as one moves northward.
There is only one country that rules over the land of all these islands, says Sanjaya, and the king is the Supreme Prajapati himself. He is the father and the grandfather. This is a magical land, where cooked food appears of itself and the creatures living there eat it daily.
Then comes the island of Sama, which is in the shape of a star with four corners, and it has thirty three mandalas in all. The four elephants that bear the weight of the firmament are said to live here, worshipped by all.
The sizes of these elephants are indescribable and have never been ascertained. Their names are Bharatas, Vamana, Airavata and Supratika.
Respiration of Earth
‘Winds blow irregularly from all directions in this region, O King,’ says Sanjaya. ‘The elephants capture them inside their trunks and let them out.
‘This process of respiration by the diggajas allow for the air to move down to the Earth, where all the living beings draw breath and use it as one of the primary life forces.’
Sanjaya rounds off this treatise by giving a short account of the heavenly bodies and of the planet Swarbhanu. The planet is said to be globular, its diameter twelve thousand yojanas and its circumference forty two thousand yojanas.
‘The diameter of the moon, we are told, is eleven thousand yojanas, and its circumference is thirty eight thousand nine hundred Yojanas.
The diameter of the sun is said to be ten thousand yojanas, with a circumference of thirty five thousand yojanas. (Interestingly, the sun was thought to be smaller than the moon in those times.)
With these details, we come to the end of the Bhumi Parva.