On creating a map of Early Buddhism

Thanks @Vimala for the map, it’s awesome! I’ve wanted to do this for such a long time.

It seems that Google Maps offers a simple and useful UI for creating such a map. Maps are one of Googles core properties, and there’s no doubt they’ll keep this at the cutting edge of what’s possible for an online map service.

We can add the known places, as you have done, and also regions (such as the countries) and journeys are no problem.

As time goes on we can enrich the data with pictures and video.

Just playing around, I’ve added Magadha, a video for Nalanda, and an image for Hell.

In the long term, I do have a couple of concerns about using Google.

  1. Just generally, relying on Google’s infrastructure is a bit dodgy. It’s an ad company, after all.
  2. More specifically, I can’t see what the data is or how to extract it. I understand that Google Maps uses KML as its back end, so it should be interoperable with open source services. But it would be a shame if we were to add bunches of data only to find that it’s locked in to a proprietary system.

While obviously it would be a lot more work, perhaps in the long term we could look at developing our own app, based on the several excellent modern open source mapping libraries that have emerged in the last few years. We could use Google Maps as an interim solution.

In the meantime, though, why don’t we add what we can to the current app. The next trick will be to figure out how to integrate it with SC!

For those who want to see the trial map. It is here:

I have made a kml file from our own data and filtered out the items that had actual coordinates, which is less than half. The kml file for the full data-set:

And the kml file for the data-set that just contains the entries that have coordinates:

It is basically just a rough dump of the sc_dppn data we already had.
It might be good if somebody goes over all the placenames that we have no coordinates for at the moment and add those where possible.
It should be fairly easy to integrate with SC through the kml file.
I suggest to only make changes in the kml file on SC rather than on google itself.


Awesome, indeed! What utter fun! A little while ago I made a map for myself to get an idea of where the Majjhima played out. It was mostly guess work, so it’s brilliant to have something to cross-reference with. Much thanks!

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It would certainly be good to review these. But in the majority of cases the ones not listed will be unknown.

That’s fine as far as adding places goes. But what about things like defining regions and lines? Using a GUI is ideal for this, it would be a nightmare to write them in straight KML. Anyway, I am in HK and will have a bit of free time over the next couple of days, so I’ll play around with it and see what the possibilities are.

Scratch that, you can export the data right from the app.

Things that I’d like to see done with the map:

  1. Hide the default names of towns, political regions etc. But keep geographical elements like rivers and mountains.
  2. Add the 16 janapadas as regions (polygons).
  3. Add media for as many entries as possible. Even just a photo would be good.
  4. Add significant journeys. The most important are two:
  5. The Mahaparinibbana
  6. The journey of the 16 brahmins in the Parayanavagga.
  7. Edit the icons to make them more fun and useful.

@Aminah, would you interested to help out with this map?

I’d be most glad to, although I think I’d need a little pointing in the right direction.

With reference to some of the points above:

  1. In my own map I did start to include regions as polygons, but didn’t have sufficient information to take that to completion (I’ve seen a few maps with the janapadas plotted, but they don’t perfectly correspond with each other and in any case are too vague for me to feel confident I’d get it right). I further notice that where I’d estimated Magadha to be doesn’t exactly match yours.

  2. Sources?

  3. I also did include a basic route for DN16, although having never read it in full, I can’t be certain that there aren’t a number of towns that haven’t been included.

  4. I’m not sure my ideas of either ‘fun’ or ‘useful’ match other people’s! :smiley: For me (in addition to colour coding) the search field is the most useful thing anyway.

As an aside, my experience was that using layers was quite helpful so that particular elements can be turned on and off as needed (after a while things can get a bit cluttered).

Also, yes the .kml file Google offers can be successfully imported into, eg. the Openstreetmaps based facility UMaps, but much as it is great, my feeling is that Google’s search capability is simply far superior and, for instance, allows me to find where MN 107 was delivered instantly where UMaps doesn’t.

Anyway, just let me know what, where, when and so on and I’ll get on it.

You can make them in the GUI and then I can download it again as kml and replace our kml with that.

I will add @Aminah to the people who can access the map. Have fun!!!

PS. Any particular reason why the Niraya hell is situated in Turkmenistan???

Using Google Maps as a starting point is a good idea, but I agree that having it in-house would be the best for future safety and integration with SC.

I used the KML that @vimala exported and placed it in OpenLayers and this is what I got:

This is just a very quick test and there are many things that may be configured, OpenLayers is sometimes a bit hard to work with, but it is very potent. There should be other good/better options out there. I just want to express the possibility of eventually importing all the information in-house.

Count me in if there is anything I can do to help, this is a great idea!


because it’s… well, hell :grin:

at least in the human rights aspect

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See this article:

The Door to Hell in Turkmenistan has been burning its flames since 1971. Somehow, the hole continues to burn since it was accidentally drilled into by geologists.

That’s the same feature that’s in the map…

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I can’t remember the exact documentary, but archaeologists usually are able to find places and landmarks described in the Suttas and other references, including those of Asoka, I think it was a serious documentary.

After a little bit of tinkering:

  1. As far as I can tell, this would only be possible through Google Maps API, bu then I’m not especially technically accomplished so I may well be wrong.
  2. Extremely crude regions have been added, but I highly doubt their accuracy - they’ve more been added as a basis for further editing guided by better-founded information.
  • the size of the regions was almost entirely guessed by relation to neighbouring markers

  • based on map comparison with Ven. Ānandajoti’s, as well as the given information and description from the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, I’ve particular doubts about Sūrasena and Assaka.

  • Not wanting to delete anything, I’ve left the original markers in, but in effort to be both practical and ‘fun’ I’ve converted them into little fortress icons and put them in a new layer. Should duplication not be cared for whoever can easily get rid of them (however, myself, finding that most of the time it’s easier to have the polygon layer turned off, I’d probably choose to keep it).

  1. Well, I don’t know about ‘many’ but this was the best thing I saw while having a quick look for stuff.

  2. Done, with reference to Ven. Ānandajoti’s maps.

  3. Eeer, well again I don’t know about that, but it’s definitely given rise to a ‘blue Buddha’ that I don’t desperately struggle to relate to.

  • as there is a preference for using a kml file, ‘icon fun’ is limited to the pre-set icons.

With regard to the unknown locations, I’ve added a layer with a few possible additions that can be confirmed or deleted as whoever pleases. I’m guessing Gonaddha and Vedisa (not on the original list) as identified in the Parayanavagga route must be reasonable approximations. Likewise, Nādika and Pataligama from the DN16 route seem like safe-ish bets.

Also, as MN 34 states that Ukkācela lies on the Ganges and is with in the Vijjian territory , there’s only so wrong the guess can be. Piya Tan identifies Devadaha on the Rohini river and elsewhere it is stated that it ‘brackets’ Lumbinī.

Finally, I have my doubts about Rāmagāmaka (did Koliya go that far south?) and Cātuma & Amalakīvana (given as the exact same location as Kapilavatthu).

Who is to say what more will come of more tinkering!

There’s a lot that is known, especially most of the major sites, but still many obscure villages and whatnot that are only mentioned in passing in the suttas. Sometimes we have a vague notion where they are (“in Magadha”, for example), but not the precise location.

That looks very nice!

Are there links to this, or is it just an offline app?

Yes, I think you’re right. We can leave it for now, concentrate on getting the main data in there.

Good, thanks, I’ll investigate. We know little about the exact boundaries. Vajji/Magadha is defined by the river. Kosala and Magadha were fighting over Kasi, so the boundaries were not fixed. Simply to indicate a general region is the best we can do.

Here is a map Brahmali and I made for our Authenticity book, it might be helpful:

I’m not sure what these are. Do you mean, they are the original coordinates for the janapadas? If so, best delete them. I’m applying the following:

  1. Castle for capital cities.
  2. regular circle for other towns and villages.
  3. Dhamma wheel for Buddhist temples.
  4. There’s a Jain symbol for Jain temples, too!
  5. “Leafy tree” symbol (not sure what it is supposed to be for) to stand for natural features, mainly forests, shrines, and so on.

As for media, there will be images on Wikipedia and similar for many of the sites. Video can be good, but just an image already helps a lot. I should clarify that I’m looking for actual images of the places, not historical reconstructions. (although there might be a place for that if they’re done well.) The point is to convey that this is a real place, not some mythical land. The video you put in for Magadha is great!

As for the questions as to location, maybe we should open up a new thread and we can list these questions there and sort out what we can.

Thank you.

I did just a quick test, I will work on it so that it is more ‘useful’, I can upload it in a git repository (I usually use Bitbucket) or send you the files if you think that is better.

Great. I’ve been adding stuff this morning, so best use the latest version.

I haven’t changed what you did, or checked or corrected data. Mostly just adding media, changing icons and so on.

You’ll see how far I got by the icons. Basically I am trying to eliminate the default “pin” icon. So anything with that still hasn’t been changed.

I think this is turning out really well. With a bit of work we can make something really fun and useful. It’s a nice “wow” factor. For someone who is new to the suttas, to realize that these are actual places!

Looking good. Maybe we can add some little Asokan-pillars as placemarkers in the appropriate places too.
In the file placenamesall.kml you can find more descriptions of places that are not on the map because we had no coordinates, but for some there is a general description in the coordinates-field.
For instance, you added Ukkācela as an unknown location, which you can find in this file with the description:

		<name>Ukkacelā / Ukkaceḷā / Ukkavelā / Ukkaveḷā</name>
		<description><![CDATA[A village in the Vajji country, on the banks of the Ganges, on the road from Rājagaha to Vesāli and near the latter. </p><p>Once while Sāriputta was staying there, the Paribbājaka Sāmaṇḍaka visited him and talked to him about Nibbāna. <span class="ref">SN.iv.261–262</span> Some time later, after the death of Sāriputta and Moggallāna within a fortnight of each other, the Buddha came to Ukkacela on his way to Vesāli and at a gathering of the monks uttered high praise of the two chief disciples and spoke of the loss the Order had sustained by their death. <span class="ref">SN.v.163<em>f.</em></span></p><p>The Cūḷagopālaka Sutta was also preached at Ukkacela. <span class="ref">MN.i.225</span>]]></description>
			<coordinates>in the Vajji country, on the banks of the Ganges, on the road from Rājagaha to Vesāli and near the latter</coordinates>

I have added this particular instance to the map now.

Actually, that was me. I created that layer as I wanted to proceed as non-destructively as possible, and mark my proposed additions very clearly so that they could be easily deleted (or identified for adoption). If they are acceptable (of all of them I think Bārānasī is about as accurate as it’s going to get - not to mention an odd omission from the original list), naturally they can be moved out of this category.

I don’t think we want these in the primary layers, we are sticking with the places from early Buddhism.

But another layer with the Ashokan materials would be interesting, to show the expansion of Buddhism.

Here I’ll just note a few things about the map, not directly to do with geography.

  1. The dictionary entries aren’t styling properly, especially as regards the references. presuming we can’t use HTML inside these descriptions, we should process the text before adding so as to read well in plain text.
  2. We should find out how to remove modern political data. (It seems this is not possible in My Maps)
  3. The diacriticals look terrible, we should figure out how to use SC’s sans font here. (Also not possible in My Maps)
  4. We need to stylistically distinguish the names of regions vs. places. Larger all caps would do it.
  5. Adding our own icons might be nice.
  6. In many cases the places have multiple names. These were included to help the lookup on the SC site to match them. In the map, we only need one name.