The seven oceans in the Purāṇas and elsewhere


  • Stella Sandahl



It is unclear when the notion of seven oceans originated. The Vedas have only four oceans. However, the seven oceans are present in the much later Purāṇas. The oceans seem to represent a fantasy about the good things in life, such as milk, curd, ghee, wine, and sugar cane juice. The same picture is present in the Mahābhārata with the exception of the sugar cane ocean. These oceans also represent a transition from cattle-herding nomadic society to a settled agricultural society. Although there is a description of a ritual called the saptasāgaramahādāna in the Matsyapurāṇa, performed by merchants before sailing out on a trading expedition, the Purāṇas were written by Brahmins for Brahmins. The seven oceans in the Buddhist literature are very different, even though they share the same names to a certain extent. Here we are clearly dealing with merchants crossing dangerous oceans in pursuit of riches, which in its own way corroborates the fact that Buddhism was an anti-brahminical sect with its main following among vaiśyas and kṣatriyas.