The Cosmic Man is a visual representation of the Jain universe. In this painting, the figure is partitioned into three main regions: urdhva loka (heaven) represented by the upper body, madhya loka (earth) represented by the waist, and adho loka (hell) represented by the lower body. Jains believe that souls move between the three realms according to the accumulated karma of their previous incarnations.  


Painting of the Cosmic Man (2015.18.1) before treatment

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Detail of figure

The five peaks of Mount Meru are depicted along the hips and represent the center of the physical world in which we live. Home to humans, adho loka is a place of both good and bad, pain and pleasure. The Cosmic Man holds maps of this human realm in his hands. Above the human realm is Urdhva loka, the abode of the souls that have either very little karma or have escaped the cycle entirely. Stratified below the human realm is madhya loka, home to tortured souls in constant physical and mental torment. 

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Detail of border and text

Outside the body of the Cosmic Man fourteen deities recline on palanquins. Sanskrit texts appear throughout the background. Patterned and floral borders. frame the image. Paintings like these were often used to decorate pavilions in celebration of the career achievement of monks or hung in temples for worshippers to view. They also served as visual aids to understanding the fundamental underpinnings of Jainism.