Some Aspects of Jaina Narrative Literature (3/4)

Published: 26.06.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Some Aspects of Jaina Narrative Literature


5.1   Tradition of Comparative Study of Religions

  1. Vivid information on the religions and sects of ancient India
  2. The saints of different schools of thought like- Caraka, Pānduranga, Gautama, Aviruddha etc.
  3. Different religious leaders and their ideologies are found even in one text.
  4. Dhurtākhyāna reviewed a few of mythical beliefs of his time [7th C. A.D.]
  5. A meeting of different religious leaders called by the King to test the merits and demerits of their convictions in 8th C. A.D.
  6. Dharma Parikśā was a of Tradition of Comparative Study of Religions

5.2   Symbolic Jaina Narratives- Leśyā Tree

  1. There are six kind of Leśyās namely: Kŗşņa (black), Nila (blue), Kapota (dove-grey), Teja (yellow), Padma (pink) and Śukla (white). The Lesya is the functioning of yoga, or the activities of thought, word and body as tinged by the Kasayas.
  2. Ācārya Nemicandra has given a very illuminating example of the different thought-paints occasioned by the activities of the mind.
  3. This example of Leśya tree tells us that the first traveller is obviously the morally worst and the last one is the best, the first three, (worst, worse and bad) being designated inauspicious and the last three (good, better and best) the auspicious ones. The set signifies wanton cruelty, gross negligence, rashness, lack of self-control, wickedness and violence and the second set represent the gentlemanly qualities, human behavior, abstinence from sins and evil deeds, self-control and the like.

5.3  The allegorical Jaina works

  1. In Uttarādhyanasutra there is the parable of three merchants. Three merchants set out on their travels, each with his capital. One of them gained there much, the second returned with his capital, and the third merchant came home after having lost his capital. When this applied to Dharma, the capital is human life the gain is heaven; through the loss of that capital, man must be born as a denizen of hell or a brute animal (VII.14-16).
  2. The parable of Five grains of rice [pady] in The Nāya-dhammakahāo.
  3. Sudharma explains the parable of Five grains of rice[pady] to Jambu that these four women represent the monks some of whom do not keep the five great vows at all, others neglect them. The better ones them conscientiously, but the best of whom are not content with observing them, but propagate them also.

5.4  Madhubińdū dŗştānta in Jaina literature

  1. The parable generally known as Madhubińdū dŗştānta in Jaina literature and “Man in the Well” in world literature.
  2. The parable is intended to remove the infatuation of persons destined to be liberated. Its meaning stands thus; the man stands for the soul; the wandering in the forest for the wandering in the four grades of Sańsāra: the wild elephant is the death; and the demoness, the old age. The Vaţa tree stands for liberation; the well, the human existence; the cobras, the four passions. The clump of reeds stands for the period of one’s life, age; the two rats, the white and dark for nights. The honey-bees are the various diseases; the boa-constrictor is the hell; and drops of honey stand for monetary sense-pleasures.
  3. The most superb model of allegorical exposition is the Upamiti-bhavaprapancakathā, in Sanskrit, of Siddharşi [906 A.D.] The entire range of Jaina doctrines in this pattern of the allegory has been presented by Siddharşi. Prof. H. L. Jain concluded his remark that-'after reading this, one is reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This allegory in English also aims, like Siddharşi’s composition, for the spiritual betterment of the worldly soul.

5.5  Types and Characteristics of Jaina Stories

In fact the narrators have themselves described in their works the varied types of the stories. It leads us to note that there are many forms of the Jaina tales from the point of the view of subject, character, style, language and so on.

5.5.1  From the point of view of subject matter the Jaina stories have been classified under the following heads:




These stories give prominence to ritualistic practices, charity, worship, virtue of self-restraint etc.



Stories of the traders



Romantic love stories



Mixture of the above mentioned Dharma, Artha and Kāmakathās.


There are three types of stories

Divine, Human and Mixed of both.


Super Human stories.

Most of the Jaina stories belong to this category.

 5.5.2  The relationship of these stories with world literature.

  1. The stories like Madhubińdu dŗştānta (The parable of the honey-drop),
  2. The story of Agadadatta
  3. The story of Sodasa, the story of Prasannacandra and Valkalacirin, the story of five rice-grains etc.
  4. The story of Sukumālaswāmi
  5. The story of Yaśodhara

6.0  Prākŗta Language and Literature

The Jaina literature is written in many languages and dialects. Indo- Aryan languages have, as it is well- known, three stages of development. They are:

  1. The old Indian or Sanskrit.
  2. The middle Indian or Prākŗta and Apabhrańśa
  3. The new Indian or Bhāşā

Jainas have made use of the languages of all the three stages; however, the oldest Jainaworks are not written in Sanskrit, as one would expect, in the old Indian, Sankrit, but in Prākŗta.

6.1  Special features of Prākŗta Language

The heritage of Prākŗta is an valuable treasure of India.

    1. Since it developed out of the language of the common people and since it continued to be used by them, this language of the common people is called Prākŗta.
    2. Mahāvīra and Buddha used Prākŗta in their teaching for the enlistment of the culture of the people.
    3. It earned the status of state language during Aśoka’s time, and fame continued for hundreds of years.
    4. It was adopted as a powerful medium of communication in the society as almost all the characters in the major Indian dramas speak in Prākŗta.
    5. In their writings Indian literary critics have also preserved hundreds of Prākŗta verses in the form of quotations, because of their simplicity and sweetness.
    6. Thus Prākŗta language has been the preserver of Indian culture.

6.2   Prākŗta Poetry Literature

    1. Gāthāsaptsati:
      This is the first available collection of stray verse in Prākŗta literature. It is a compilation of 700 verses of poets and poetesses of that time.
    2. Vajjālaggam:
      The other work of stray Prākŗta verses is the Vajjālaggam. In this work the poet Jayavallabha collected the 795 beautiful verses of several poets and divided them into 96 groups (vajja) on the basis of their subject matter.

6.3  Sanskrit and Apabhrańśa Literature. The Jaina Literature in other Languages

Jainas have been able to enrich their literature in different languages like Prākŗta, Apabhrańśa, Hindi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati and others

1. Sanskrit Jaina Literature

The Jaina Saint-poets opened new vistas and newer dimensions in almost all the areas of poetic activities. The Purānas, the Mahākāvyas, the laghu Carita Kāvyas, the messages poems, the poetic prose and the poetics, Campus the panegyrics and allegorical compositions.



The Ādipurāņā

Ācārya Jinasena


The Yaśaśtilaka Campu

Ācārya Somadeva





Upamitibhava prapancakathā


2. Apabhrańśa Literature

    1. Special value for the North Indian languages
      It is of special value for the study of New Indo-Aryan, especially many of our North Indian languages of today. The regional languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi,Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Bihari, Udiya, Bangali, Asami and the like have grown from the soil of Apabhrańśa language and literature.
    2. Apabhrańśa flourished by Jaina authors
      Apabhrańśa, which enjoyed the credit of being the national language of Northern India for a very long time, has been nourished by Jaina authors. From the 6th Cent.A. D. to 15th Cent. A. D. the cultivators Apabhrańśa language were Jainas.
    3. Prominent writers of Apabhrańśa
      Svayambhu (8th Cent. A.D.) and Puşpadanta (10 th Cent. A.D.) are the prominent writers of Apabhrańśa literature. It is of great importance to note that they selected Rāma and Kŗşņa for composing the Prabandha-Kāvya in Apabhrańśa literature. Joindu, Muni Ramasimgha, Devasena etc. are the prominent ethicospiritual writers who have been recognized as the precursors of Kabir, Tulsi and other mastic poet-saints of India.

6.4   Literature of South Indian Languages

    1. Ratnatraya of the Kannada literature are: Mahākavi Pampa, Ponna and Ranna.
    2. Many Purāņās and Kāvyas are written by Jaina authors in Kannada.
    3. In Tamil many of the major Kāvyas and minor Kāvyas have been written by Jaina authors. Works like the Silappadikaram, Jivaka Cintāmani etc. are of great eminence.
    4. The great Kural is looked upon as the Veda in Tamil country. There are some grounds for the claim that the author was Jaina by persuasion.

 7.0  Jaina Works on Scientific Subjects

There are innumerable secular writings in Prākŗta and other languages on Grammar, Meter, lexicography, mathematics, astrology and music, and other subjects as well.

    1. The Suryapannatti, the fifth text of Upānga , deals with astronomy.
    2. The Candapannatti, the seventh text of Upānga describes astrology of Indian tradition.
    3. The Vivāhapadala is another Prākŗta work which deals with wedding astrology.
    4. The Tiloyapannatti, Gommaţasāra and other many Prākŗta texts are considered essential for the history of Indian mathematics.
    5. The Paiyalacchinamamala is reprehensive work of lexicography.
    6. The PrakriPaingalam and Alaņkāradappana are closely related with Indian poetics.
    7. Angavijjā written by an unknown author or authors. It is work of importance for reconstructing India's history of the first four centuries after Christ. It is an encyclopedic work for highlighting the cultural materials it contains.
    8. Thakkura Pheru wrote six scientific works: Vastusāra on architecture and iconography, Jyotişasāra on astrology and astronomy, Ratnaparikśā on gemology, Gaņitasāra on arithmetic, Dhātutpatti on metallurgy and perfumery trade, and Dravyaparikśā on assay and money-exchange.

8.0   Cultural Significance of Jaina Literature

Jaina literature presents a realistic picture of socio-economic life of ancient Indian people. It is important also for having a study of contemporary society and culture.

    1. There are descriptions of several quizzes and question-answers in different contexts.
    2. Social service was popular in different forms. Like


      Public welfare centre



      contained a bunch of trees for shade



      picture-gallery for entertainment



      a centre for getting free food



      Medical aid centre



      Saloon and make-up room


      Anātha Maņdapa

      An orphanage



      free boarding facility for the by passers.



      welfare centre for the needy people

    3. A variety of textiles and ornaments mentioned in Jaina literature:
      1. Rallaya-Kambala- it was prepared by the wool of Rallaka sheep of Kashmir
      2. Jaddara-Jadara - Chadara in Persian - A kind of Bed sheet
    4. Economic Life and Voyage:
      Enough material about Local-trade, foreign business, sea-travels, agriculture productions different artistic skills etc. is available in Jaina literature. There are some technical terms of ancient trade, like:
      1. Desiya-Vaniya-meli= Local trader's Association
      2. Adattiya=a broker
      3. Dinna-hatta-Sanna=deciding the cost of goods by signs of hands
      4. Panjara Purisa= Specialist in weather
      5. Sijjhau-Jatta= wish you a happy voyage
      6. Potavaniya=sea-merchant and Naulagga=Money bag or purs
    5. New Geographical places identified from Jaina literature
      1. Kundungadwipa, Candradwipa and Tarādwipa
      2. Ādraka Deśa is identified with Andaman Island.
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Artha
  2. Aśoka
  3. Body
  4. Buddha
  5. Caraka
  6. Deśa
  7. Dharma
  8. Dharmakathā
  9. Gautama
  10. H. L. Jain
  11. International School for Jain Studies
  12. JAINA
  13. Jaina
  14. Jinasena
  15. Kasayas
  16. Lesya
  17. Leśya
  18. Leśyā
  19. Mahāvīra
  20. Muni
  21. Punjabi
  22. Rajasthani
  23. Ratnatraya
  24. Rāma
  25. Sanskrit
  26. Soul
  27. Tamil
  28. Tulsi
  29. Veda
  30. Violence
  31. Yoga
  32. Ācārya
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