What are the "three worlds" being referred to in this shloka of the Bhagavad Gita?

न मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किञ्चन |

नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव च कर्मणि || 3.22||

na me pārthāsti kartavyaṁ triṣhu lokeṣhu kiñchana

nānavāptam avāptavyaṁ varta eva cha karmaṇi

"There is no duty for me to do in all the three worlds, O Parth, nor do I have anything to gain or attain. Yet, I am engaged in prescribed duties."

I have searched to find some commentaries on this shloka but there aren't any that I can find that directly address the part of the shloka referring to the "3 worlds".

Are they the Underworld, Earth and Heavens? If so, can this be verified in any way? Is this referred to in another part of the Mahabharata outside of the Gita? This is giving me quite the headache.


3 Answers 3


The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad V.xiv.1 (Swami Madhavananda translator) says:

'Bhumi' (the earth), 'Antariksa' (sky) and 'Dyaus' (heaven) make eight syllables, and the first foot of the Gayatri has eight syllables. So the above three worlds constitute the first foot of the Gayatri. He who knows the first foot of the Gayatri to be such wins as much as there is in those worlds.

There are other references throughout the Upanishads. Search for Gayatri on this website for more references. The three worlds are sometimes referred to as the three cities also. There was a prior question on the three cities.

  • Why is the underworld (Patala) not included?
    – Charlie
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:38
  • 2
    the idea of underworlds or hell is a later idea developed in the Puranas. It is not present in the Upanishads or Vedas. The Gita is a summary of the Upanishads. Aug 2, 2018 at 14:00
  • Dont you think that Gita also has the concept of hell or naraka? It's explicit in BG 16.16 & implicit in several other verses. Whether hell itself is the underworld or not, could be a matter of interpretation. @Charlie
    – iammilind
    Aug 4, 2018 at 1:37
  • @SwamiVishwananda, you don't think naraka exists ?? why do we need Yama dharma raja then ?
    – ram
    Aug 4, 2018 at 7:24
  • @ram It is a despicable existence, but an existence on this earth. You need only to walk on some streets in Kolkata or Mumbai to see... Aug 5, 2018 at 8:20

These three Lokas are mentioned in various scriptures.

For example, in ChAndogya Upanishad 2.17.1:

prithivi hingkArohantariksham prastAvo dayurudgitho
disho pratihArah samudro nidhanmetAh shakkaryo lokeshuu protAh ||

Prithvi is the HingkAra. Antariksha is PrastAva, Dyuloka is Udgitha, the directions are PratihAra and the ocean is Nidhana. This SAman named Sakkari is established in these worlds.

In this verse is prescribed a mode of worship where a SAman Mantra called Sakkari is said to be established in the various Lokas and thus it should be worshipped being viewed as identical with those Lokas (worlds).

Therefore the five components of the SAman are said to be identical with the three worlds, the directions and ocean.

So, the three Lokas are Prithivi (Earth), Antariksha (Mid-world or Sky) and Dyuloka (Heavens).

Similarly, in ChAndogya Upanishad 2.23.2 it is stated that Lord PrajApati meditated on these Lokas and as a result of which the three VedaVidyAs (Rik, Yajus and SAmans) emerged and eventually the three alphabets viz- Bhu, Bhuvah and Swah evolved.

The verse is as given below:

PrajApatirlokAnabhyatapat tebhyohabhitaptebhyas traiyvidya samprAsravat
tAmabhyatapat tasya abhitaptAyA etyAn aksharAni samprAsravanta bhurbhuvah swariti ||

These three letters, known as the Vyahriti Trayas, correspond to the three Lokas as follows:

Bhu --- The Earth, Bhuvah --- The Midworld or Sky and Swah --- The Heavens. We also say Bhurloka, Bhuvarloka and Swarloka that's why.

The same thing is mentioned in other scriptures like Manu Smriti:

2.232. He who neglects not those three, (even after he has become) a householder, will conquer the three worlds and, radiant in body like a god, he will enjoy bliss in heaven.

2.233. By honouring his mother he gains this world, by honouring his father the middle sphere, but by obedience to his teacher the world of Brahman.

If we want to include the Nether worlds (Atala,Vitala, PAtAla etc) then those will not come in the three Lokas' list but we have to consider the 14 Lokas instead (7 higher and 7 lower Lokas).


As per the theory of Trailokya, those regions are:

  • Kāmaloka is the world of desire, typified by base desires, populated by hell beings, preta, animals, ghosts, humans and lower demi-gods.
  • Rūpaloka is the world of form, predominately free of baser desires, populated by dhyāna-dwelling gods, possible rebirth destination for those well practiced in dhyāna.
  • Arūpaloka is the world of formlessness, a noncorporeal realm populated with four heavens, possible rebirth destination for practitioners of the four formlessness stages.

However the 3 material worlds also Could be:

  • Swarga -- Heaven -- higher (the highest is Brahmaloka)
  • Bhuloka -- Planet -- middle (we also call it the mother earth)
  • Naraka -- Hell -- lower (some call it pAtAla loka or the underworld, but not sure)

A person resides in these worlds depending on the 3 guna-s (qualities) of the Prakruti (material nature). When the Sattva increase, one goes upward. The increase Rajas binds the one in the middle and the Tamas pulls one down to the lower regions.

BG 14.18 - Those with sattva (illumination) go higher [regions]; those with rajas (passion) remain in the middle [regions]; those with tamas (ignorance), who conform to the lowest actions, go down [regions].

BTW, the region of Naraka (hell) may not be found in other scriptures, however, it's found in Gita:

अनेकचित्तविभ्रान्ता मोहजालसमावृताः। प्रसक्ताः कामभोगेषु पतन्ति नरकेऽशुचौ
BG 16.16 - Bewildered by numerous thoughts, caught in the net of delusion, (and) engrossed in the enjoyment of desirable objects, they fall into a foul hell.

Similar things are also explained in other verses.

The verse in the question suggests that the lord doesn't have any interest in either of the regions and is indifferent. Yet, he acts as per his responsibility.

BG 3.22 - In all the three worlds, O Partha, there is no responsibility for Me to fulfil; Nothing remains un-achieved or to be achieved. Still I continue in Karma.

When one acts as per his responsibility viz. Dharma, one is said to be having an increase quality of sattva. Hence, such beings ultimately liberates via heavens. Lord Krishna also went to heavens after his death as discussed in this answer.

  • Trailokya is a Buddhist concept I believe
    – Charlie
    Aug 2, 2018 at 10:41

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