By Swami Harshananda
Saptadvipas literally means ‘the seven islands’.
The geography of this earth as described in the purāṇas is enigmatic though interesting. Originally, the whole earth was one landmass. The sun was traversing always on one side of it leaving the other side eternally dark. So the great king Priyavrata drove his chariot round on earth, in seven concentric circles. He thus created seven dvīpas or islands and seven samudras or oceans.
The following are the details of historical Saptadvipas:
- Jambudvipa - This is the first of the seven islands and is spread round the mountain Meru which is the axis. It is surrounded by the lavanasamudra, the ocean of salt-water. Āgnidhra, the eldest son of Priyavrata, was its first ruler. He later on divided it into nine khaṇḍas or parts or continents and gave it to his nine sons. These came to be known as varṣas in their names such as Ajanābhavarṣa, Kimpuruṣavarṣa, Harivarṣa and so on.
- Plaksadvipa - Second of the seven islands, it is surrounded by the ikṣusamudra, the ocean of sugarcane juice. Idhmajihva, the second son of Priyavrata, was its first king.
- Śālmalidvipa - This is the third island, surrounded by surāsamudra, the ocean of wine. The first ruler was Yajñabāhu.
- Kuśadvipa - This is the fourth island which is surrounded by ghṛtasamudra, the ocean of ghee. Hiraṇyaretas was its first monarch.
- Krauñcadvipa - This island, surrounded by the sea of curds, was ruled by Ghṛtapṛṣtha the fifth son of Priyavrata.
- Śākadvipa - Encircled by the sea of milk, Sākadvīpa, the sixth island, was administered by Medhātithi.
- Puṣkaradvipa - Surrounded by the ocean of pure water, this island had Vītihotra as its first king.
Saptadvipas as per Indologists
These seven islands have been identified by Indologists as follows:
- Jambudvipa - Asia
- Plaksadvīpa - South America
- Śālmalīdvīpa - Australia
- Kuśadvīpa - Oceania
- Krauñcadvīpa - Africa
- Sākadvīpa - not identified
- Puṣkaradvīpa - North America
- Priyavrata is considered as an incarnation of Viṣṇu, who established organised human dwellings for the first time.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore