Paul Marett


A Note on the Jain Sacred Literature

The sacred scriptures of the Jains are of great antiquity and scholars are not certain about their dates and mode of compilation. Originally there were sixty texts, comprised in three groups known as the Purva, Anga and Angabahya. Forty- five texts survive to this day, the fourteen Purva texts and the twelfth Anga (which is believed to have contained a summary of the Purva) having been lost. The Purva texts are said to go back to the time of Parsva, 250 years before Mahavira. From references to them in other works it appears that they contained arguments to refute the beliefs of their opponents, as well as Jain beliefs on astronomy and the nature of the universe, esoteric matter on astrology and the achievement of occult powers, discussion on the soul and its bondage by matter and karma. The (now-lost) twelfth Anga contained five sections, giving, it is believed, the main teachings of the Purva texts, and including traditional history down to Mahavira which formed the basis of later writings.

Passed down by word of mouth by many generations of monks, the final written version of the scriptures is believed to have been put together at the council of Valabhi in 450 A.D. They are written in Ardhamagadhi, a Prakrit or popular spoken language (as distinct from Sanskrit, the learned literary language of India) and contain a variety of matters relating to Jain doctrine, the Jain way of life, regulations for monks and nuns and stories illustrating moral and religious questions. The Anga texts (the word 'anga' means a limb, i.e. a part of the canon) form the oldest surviving group of the generally accepted sacred literature. The actual process of compilation of these eleven texts as we have them today is still a matter of research for scholars but they undoubtedly incorporate much very ancient material. The Angabahya is a collective name for the remaining texts of the canon, which are regarding as subsidiary to the Anga. The thirty-four texts comprise the Upanga (twelve in number), Chedasutra (six), Prakirna (ten), Mulasutra (four) and two independent Chulikasutra texts. Whilst the Svetambara accept the Anga and Angabahya texts as the sacred canon, the Digambara tradition is different.

Apart from these scriptures Jain monk-scholars were later to produce an enormous amount of writing known as Expositions (Anuyoga). These writings, by both Svetambara and Digambara writers, may be classified into four groups, comprising respectively biographical, scientific, disciplinary and philosophical works. They range in date from the first century A.D. through medieval times, and indeed later. Amongst the Svetambara may be mentioned Haribhadra (eighth century A.D.), Hemacandra (twelfth century) and Yasovijaya (seventeenth century). Kunda-Kunda (perhaps second century), Jinasena (ninth century) and Somadeva (tenth century) may be mentioned as representative Digambara writers. Biographical details of Kunda-Kunda are obscure but amongst his writings the Samayasara, an important philosophical treatise dealing with the nature of the soul (jiva), is widely-read. Whilst Kunda-Kunda wrote in Prakrit, the author of the famous Tattvarthasutra, Umasvati, used the scholarly Sanskrit. This work is an epitome of Jain doctrine in 357 verses. Haribhadra's Dharrnabindu is a well-known manual of morals and asceticism. One of the most popular Jain sacred texts is the Kalpa Sutra, a very ancient work which gives biographies of the twenty-four Tirthankara, the succession of Jain pontiffs for many generations and rules for the life of monks during the rainy season. It is widely read during Paryusana and heard with devotion by the people.

Jain monk-poets wrote hymns of praise to the Tirthankara, poems glorifying Jain doctrine and conduct, and made an important contribution in basic recitations used in worship by the people. The preachers used the languages of the masses in an instructive and entertaining way and, apart from Prakrit and Sanskrit, Jain literature is found in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Marathi and other Indian languages. Recently Jain scholars have started translating their sacred literature into English (a process begun by European scholars in the nineteenth century) to make it available to scholars and others in the West.

The twenty-four Tirthankara of the Present Half-cycle of Time

Images of the Tirthankara may be identified by the emblems usually depicted on the pedestal: these are noted below. Parsva is depicted with a canopy of seven hooded snakes above his head, Suparsva has a similar canopy usually of five or nine, but not seven, snakes. According to tradition Malli, the nineteenth Tirthankara, was a woman but this is not universally accepted. The suffix-natha is often added to the names of most of the Tirthankara.

1. Rsabha or Adinatha (bull)

2. Ajita (elephant)

3. Sambhava (horse)

4. Abhinandana (ape)

5. Sumati (a bird, described as curlew, partridge or red goose)

6. Padmaprabha (lotus)

7. Suparsva (swastika)

8. Chandraprabha (moon)

9. Suvidhi or Puspadanta (crocodile, sometimes dolphin or crab)

10. Sitala (four-petalled emblem)

11. Sreyamsa (rhinoceros)

12. Vasupujya (buffalo)

13. Vimala (boar)

14. Ananta (hawk or bear)

15. Dharma (thunderbolt)

16. Shanti (deer)

17. Kunthu (goat)

18. Ara (elaborated swastika, or fish)

19. Malli (water jar)

20. Munisuvrata (tortoise)

21. Nami (blue lotus)

22. Nemi or Aristanemi (conch shell)

23. Parsva (snake)

24. Mahavira (lion)

The Jain Calendar

The regular festivals of the Jain year follow the traditional Indian calendar so the dates vary somewhat from year to year in the European calendar. Each Indian month is divided into the bright half (when the moon is waxing) and the dark half, and the days are numbered within each half-month. The Indian months are given below alongside the European months within which they fall. The year is often given according to the Vikram Samvat era which commenced in 57 B.C. (abbreviated V.S.) or, in Jain circles, according to the Ira Nirvana Samvat, commencing with Mahavira's nirvana in 527 B.C. It must be remembered that the Indian New Year falls around October in the European calendar.

The table below shows the more important dates in the Jain calendar. Jains also remember the five great events in the life of each Tirthankara (conception, birth, renunciation, omniscience, moksa). These occasions are kept as days of fasting, semi-fasting or other religious activities. Although more than one commemoration may fall on the same day, they are too numerous to have been included here. In addition, pious Jains fast partially or totally on the 2nd., Sth., 8th., 1 lth., and 14th. day of each half-month, or engage in other religious activities.

Jain Festivals And Holy Days

Indian Falling Bright Day Festival

month within or Dark

European half



Karttika Oct/Nov Br 1 New Year (Gautama's omniscience; Start of accounting year for Jain businessmen)

Br 5 Jnana Pancham (adoration of knowledge

Br 8-15 Karttiki Atthai (eight-day fasting and worship, particularly of the siddhachakra)

Br 14 Four-monthly Chaturdashi (marked by pratikraman, repentance, ritual)

Br 15 End of Chaturmas, four month rainy season retreat: monks move out. Pilgrimage to Satrunjay resumes after being discontinued during rainy season. *

Dk 10 Mahavira’s Renunciation

Margasirsa Nov/Dec Br 11 Maunagiyaras (day of silence)

Pausa Dec/Jan Dk 13 Rsabha's Moksa

Magha Jan/Feb Within this month 15 days are devoted to 19 great events relating to 14 Tirthankara

Phalguna Feb/Mar Br 8-15 Phalguni Atthai (eight day fasting and worship)

Br 14 Four-monthly Chaturdashi

Caitra Mar/Apr Br 7-15 Oli(nine-daysemi-fast)

Br 13 Mahavira Jayanti (Birth of Mahavira)

Br 15 An important date for pilgrimage to Satrunjay*

Vaisakh Apr/May Br 3 Aksaya Trutiya (Rsabha broke his one-year fast with sugar cane juice and modern devotees do the same)

Br 10 Mahavira's Omniscience

Dk 13 Shantinatha's Birth and Moksa

Dk 14 Shantinatha's Renunciation

Jyaistha May/Jun Within this month 7 great events relating to 6 Tirthankara are celebrated

Asadha Jun/Jul Br 6 Mahavira's Conception

Br 8-15 Asadhi Atthai (eight-day fasting and worship)

Br 14 Four-monthly Chaturdashi

Sravana Jul/Aug Dk 12 Beginning of eight-day Paryusana (Svetambara)

Dk 15 Public reading of life of Mahavira from the Kalpa Sutra

Bhadrapada Aug/Sept Br 1 Reading of Mahavira's birth from the Kalpa Sutra

Br 4 Samvatsari (last day of Paryusana, nearly all Jains fast, annual confession and forgiveness)

Br 5-14 Paryusana (Digambara)

Asvina Sept/Oct Br 7-15 Oli (nine-day semi-fast)

Dk 14 Roopa Chaturdashi (or Chhoti Diwali) (followers came for last sight of Mahavira as he commenced his last sermon)

Dk 15 Diwali (Mahavira's Moksa: worship of Mahavira in the morning general illumination at night to symbolize the light of knowledge)