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The Heavenly Jerusalem and the
Paradise of Vaikuntha


Titus Burckhardt

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Winter, 1970). © World Wisdom, Inc..

WE reproduce a miniature of the Heavenly Jerusalem taken from a manuscript of the eleventh century, the so-called "Apocalypse of Saint-Sever",[1] which belongs to a certain group of medieval manuscripts, mostly of Spanish origin and all stemming from a single prototype, a commentary on the Apocalypse written by the Asturian monk Beatus de Liébana towards the end of the eighth century. The same image of the Heavenly Jerusalem occurs in most of these manuscripts, with only slight variations, so that one can admit that its composition goes back to the prototype, which is now lost.

The Heavenly Jerusalem from the Apocalypse of Saint-Sever (11th century)
The Heavenly Jerusalem from the Apocalypse of Saint-Sever (11th century)

The artist made use of a kind of abstract perspective, familiar to medieval readers or spectators: he represented the heavenly city as if seen from above, with its walls projected on to the horizontal plane. In this way, he could figure the twelve gates facing the four cardinal points: east, north, west and south, according to the sacred text (XXI, 13). The same iconographical scheme shows clearly the square form of the city: "And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth..." (XXI, 16). The Heavenly Jerusalem is in fact the "squaring" of the heavenly cycle, its twpassagelve gates corresponding to the twelve months of the year, as well as to the analogous divisions of the greater cycles, such as the precession of the equinoxes which, in the ancient world system, is the greatest of all the astronomical cycles and therefore the largest measure of time. The Apocalypse mentions "twelve thousand furlongs" as the measure of the city's circuit; this number corresponds to the "great year" of the Persians and is in fact an approximate measure for half the equinoxial cycle, namely for the time of the reversion of the equinoxes (12960 years). Upon the walls of the heavenly city are seen twelve angels, who are the guardians of the gates (XXI, 12), and under each gate is figured one of the twelve apostles, whose names are written on the city's foundations (XXI, 14). Under the gates are also figured twelve circles or spheres with inscriptions referring to the twelve precious stones garnishing the foundations of the wall (XXI, 9). In older manuscripts of the same group, however, these circles clearly represent the pearls of which the gates are made: "And the twelve gates were pearls: every several gate was of one pearl" (XXI, 21).

In the midst of the city the divine Lamb is standing; on his right we see the Evangelist, and on his left the Angel with the golden reed measuring the city (XXI, 15).

For the medieval spectator it would have been clear that the city was in fact not only a square but a cube: "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" (XXI, 16). The heavenly Jerusalem is really a crystal, not only because of its transparent, incorruptible and luminous substance but also because of its crystalline form. It is the "crystallization", in the eternal present, of all the positive and essentially indestructible aspects of the temporal or changing world.

*          *          *

This miniature of the Heavenly Jerusalem was published in a book dealing with the symbolism of the cathedral,[2] which prompted a reader in India to send the here inserted drawing of the mandala of the Paradise of Vaikuntha, the celestial abode of Vishnu, together with a translation of the corresponding passages of the Skanda Purana.[3] The resemblance of the mandala with our miniature of the heavenly city is indeed surprising; it is even more complete if one compares the corresponding scriptural texts.

Tripada <a class=Vibhuti Vaikuntha-Manimandapa" border="0" />
Tripāda Vibhūti Vaikuṇṭha-Maṇimaṇdapa

Like the Heavenly Jerusalem, the divine abode of Vaikuntha has twelve gates facing the four cardinal points. The mandala shows these in exactly the same manner as our miniature. There is one feature, however, which seems to mark an essential difference between the two images, namely the Tree of Life pictured in the center of the Vaikuntha-mandala, whereas the center of the Heavenly Jerusalem is the Lamb. But this difference is due to an iconographical economy only; it veils an even deeper analogy, for the Apocalypse mentions also the Tree of Life in the center of the divine city: "In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month..." (XXII, 2).

The central field of the Vaikuntha-mandala is divided into small squares; there should be 12 x 12=144 compartments according to the Purana; our drawing has 13 X 12, probably by mistake. The same division into 12 x 12—and sometimes 13 x 12—squares marks the central field of the celestial city in some of the older manuscripts of the Beatus-group.[4] The number 144 is mentioned in the Apocalypse as the measure of the city's wall (XXI, 17); its nature is solar and cyclical, 144 X 180=25920 being the number of years contained in the complete cycle of the equinoxes.

The four corners of the Vaikuntha-mandala represent secondary shrines; they are divided into 16 compartments each, which makes 64 altogether, the number of cosmic perfection. This is also the number of squares in the chequer, the astapāda, which is a mandala of the cosmos in the form of a battlefield of the devas and asūras.[5]

Like the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem in our miniatures, the gates of Vaikuntha are adorned with twelve circles; they probably indicate the twelve guardians or Pratiharinīs who embody twelve spiritual or divine qualities; these in a way correspond to the twelve angels of the Heavenly Jerusalem as well as to the twelve precious stones, the nature of which is incorruptibility and luminosity. It is the windows of the upper story of Vaikuntha that are made of pearls.

Both the Heavenly Jerusalem and the sacrificial hall (mandapa) of Vaikuntha are said to be built of crystal and gold, precious stones and pearls. Both are self-luminous: "In this self-luminous, brilliant sanctuary no sun is shining, no moon and no stars", says the Purana, and the Apocalypse: "And this city has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (XXI, 23).

On the top of the roof of Vaikuntha is a golden pitcher filled with the Milk of Immortality. It has no direct analogy in the Heavenly Jerusalem; but it clearly reminds one of the symbolism of the Graal; incidentally, we may observe that the sanctuary of the Holy Graal, as described in "Titurel", is directly related to the Heavenly Jerusalem and its cyclical implications.

We now reproduce the extract from the Skanda Purāna (Utkala Khanda, ch. 48, Suta Samhita and Kapila Samhita) and beside it the analogous passages of the Apocalypse.

Tripāda Vibhūti Vaikuṇṭha-Maṇimaṇdapa Apocalypse
Behold the Temple of Gems standing on the White Island surrounded by the Ocean of Milk. In the midst of the Milk-Ocean the Sacrificial Hall is made of precious stones. It is built of pure crystal and is unshakable. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
Having the Glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (XXI, 10, 11).
The interior of the Temple is in twelve by twelve parts and is shining with the fiery brilliance of the Sun. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits (XXI, 17).
It is resting on sixteen pillars made of emeralds and has twelve portals towards the four directions of space. And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates... On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates (XXXI, 12, 13).
Deathlessness (amrta), Bliss (ānanda), Growth or Increase (pusti), Happiness (tuṣṭī), Prosperity (pusā), Delight (rati), Steadfastness (dhriti), Moon-like Luster (śaśini), Illumination (candrikā), Splendor (kânti), Heavenly Light (jyoti), Fortune (śrī), these are the twelve guardians of the portals. These Pratiharinīs, who are guarding the portals are all very young and beautiful. And at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (XXI, 12).
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (XXI, 14).
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald  the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst (XXI, 19, 20).
The walls of the secondary shrines in the four corners are made of rubies and have perforated windows with sixteen openings.
These are sixteen parts (kalās), by adding which the full number of 64 kalās is obtained.
The beautiful sacrificial Hall is emitting a light equal to a crore of Suns, and that light will endure to the end of all the kalpas. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever (XXII, 5).
In the center of the Hall there is the stainless Tree (of Life) arising from the shining, hundred-petaled lotus. And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (XXII, 1, 2).
Its roof has two storyes and is covered with golden tiles. Between the stories there is a perforated wall made of pearls. On the top of the roof is a beautiful kalaśa, a golden pitcher filled with the Milk of Immortality. The flagstaff is made of coral, and the flag is motionless. Two divine birds are sitting by the side of the kalaśa in perfect silence.
In this self-luminous, brilliant sanctuary no sun is shining, no moon and no stars. This is the abode of Nārāyana, who is beyond the changeable world and beyond the unchangeable. I worship this Puruottama, who in all the three worlds is the most difficult to approach. And this city has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof (XXI, 23.)


[1] Cod. Lat. 8878 of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, fol. 207 v-208. 11

[2] Titus Burckhardt, Chartres und die Geburt der Kathedrale, Olten 1962.

[3] For this documentation we are indebted to Miss Alice Boner, Benares, the author of important studies on Hindu sculpture and architecture • cf. Principles of Composition in Hindu Sculpture, Leiden 1962, dealing with the geometrical patterns (yantras) underlying the Hindu sculptures of the cave period, and Silpa Prakāśa, a manual of Hindu architecture, translated by Alice Boner and Sadāśiva Rath Śarmā, Leiden 1966.

[4] Cf. Ms. of San Isidoro in Le6n, National Library Madrid, B. 31.

[5] See The Symbolism of Chess, by Titus Burckhardt, in the Spring number of Studies for Spring 1969.

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