Four corners of the world

Several cosmological and mythological systems portray four corners of the world or four quarters of the world corresponding approximately to the four points of the compass (or the two solstices and two equinoxes). At the center may lie a sacred mountain, garden, world tree, or other beginning-point of creation. Often four rivers run to the four corners of the world, and water or irrigate the four quadrants of the earth.

Cosmological Diagram. Aluvihara, Sri Lanka 0475.jpg
Tibetan conception of four rivers dividing the world into quadrants

In Christianity and Judaism, the Old Testament (Genesis 2:8-14) identifies the Garden of Eden, and the four rivers as the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, and Gihon. The Tigris runs to Assyria, the Euphrates to Armenia, the Pishon to Havilah or Elam, and the Gihon to Ethiopia.

In Mesopotamian cosmology, four rivers flowing out of the garden of creation, which is the center of the world, define the four corners of the world. From the point of view of the Akkadians, the northern geographical horizon was marked by Subartu, the west by Mar.tu, the east by Elam and the south by Sumer; later rulers of all of Mesopotamia, such as Cyrus, claimed among their titles LUGAL kib-ra-a-ti er-bé-et-tì, "King of the Four Quarters".

In Hinduism, the sacred mountain Kailash has four sides, from which four rivers flow to the four quarters of the world (the Ganges, Indus, Oxus (Amu Darya), and Śita (Tarim)), dividing the world into four quadrants. Another account portrays a celestial mountain, Mount Meru, buttressed by four terrestrial mountain ranges which extend in four directions. Between them lie four sacred lakes, through which the celestial river divides into four earthly rivers, which flow to the four corners and irrigate the four quadrants of the Earth. Buddhism and the Bon religion of Tibet have similar accounts.

Earth symbol.svg
The astronomical symbol of Earth represents either the four quadrants of the world or the four continents.

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