In Defence of Icons in Three Languages - The Iconophilic Writings of Yaśovijaya

Published: 30.07.2010
Updated: 09.07.2015

International Journal of Jaina Studies
(Online) Vol. 6, No. 2 (2010) 1-45


John E. Cort

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 13th World Sanskrit Conference in Edinburgh, July 12, 2006. My thanks to Paul Dundas, Peter Flügel, Kristi Wiley, and J. B. Shah for their assistance. All translations are mine, unless noted otherwise.ons are mine, unless noted otherwise.

In this essay I use the term "icon" instead of "image" to translate the various Indic terms - mūrti, pratimā, bimba, vigraha - for three-dimensional sculptural representations of Jinas that are worshiped either in temples or in home shrines. Whereas earlier (Cort 2001: 219, n. 2; 2005: 4388) I chose "image" over "icon," or else simply used the relevant Indic term, in this essay I intentionally use "icon" in order to bring across into English the emotional and spiritual power of the Indic terms.

Yaśovijaya's use of both classical and vernacular languages creates a difficult dilemma in transliterating his discussions into English. I have used both Sanskrit and Prakrit transliterations, in which the medial and final short -a is spelled, and Hindi and Gujarati transliteration, in which it is omitted. I have sought to represent the classical or vernacular spellings and pronunciations according to the different social and intellectual milieus. I ask the reader's forbearance with my inevitable inconsistencies in transliteration.


The seventeenth century was a time of great sectarian change and controversy among the Śvetāmbara Jains of western India.  Among the most widely-disputed subjects was the status and orthodoxy of Jina icons and their worship.  During this period the great Mūrtipūjaka Tapā Gaccha monk and intellectual Yaśovijaya (1624-1688) wrote a number of texts in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Gujarati that in whole or in part advanced a defense of icons.  This article summarizes eight texts (two in Sanskrit, one in Prakrit, and five in Gujarati) devoted solely to this subject, and then analyzes major themes that emerge in the texts.  Yaśovijaya employed four arguments in defense of icons.  (1) Icons are legitimated by the canonical hermeneutic of nikṣepa, or applying multiple viewpoints to any topic under investigation.  (2) The worship of icons does not contravene the central Jain ethic of ahiṃsā or non-harm.  (3) The worship of icons is supported by a careful reading of both the Śvetāmbara scriptures and their commentaries.  (4) Finally, the study of Jain history shows clear evidence of the long-standing use of Jina icons.  Yaśovijaya combined his deep knowledge of Jain literature with his skill as a logician and debater to articulate this “theology of the icon” that has remained an important element in Tapā Gaccha ideology until the present.  This investigation of Yaśovijaya’s iconophilic writings demonstrates the centrality of icons to Jain ritual, devotional and intellectual culture.


In Defence of Icons in Three Languages - The Iconophilic Writings of Yaśovijaya

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a period of vast change in north Indian Jainism, changes so far-reaching that scholars are only beginning to grasp their significance. This period saw the rise of a large number of new sects, lineages and congregations, all of which articulated new visions of what Jainism was and should be. Seemingly every aspect of Jain doctrine and practice came under scrutiny, and was the subject of intense debate and disagreement among competing Jain groups. Among these disputed subjects was the status and orthodoxy of icons and their worship.

Within the Digambara communities there was the continuing influence of the bhaṭṭārakas, the landed pontiffs, and the elaborate ritual culture that would later come to be called the Bīsapantha ("Twentiers"). In the urban centers of northwest India arose the lay movement known as Adhyātma ("Spiritualism"), that borrowed elements from both the existing Digambara and Śvetāmbara traditions, and that helped lay the groundwork for the rise of the Terāpantha in the early eighteenth century (Cort 2002). In Bundelkhand in central India a Digambara aniconic community developed around the charismatic Tāraṇ Taraṇ Svāmī (1448–1515) (Cort 2006).

The Śvetāmbara communities saw even more new movements. In Ahmedabad and the surrounding area, the layman Loṅkā (c. 1415–1489) started a new iconoclastic sect (Flügel 2008). While his immediate followers partially re-integrated back into the icon-worshiping mainstream of Śvetāmbara society as the Loṅkā Gaccha, a lineage that always had an at best uneasy relationship with other Śvetāmbara groups, the iconoclastic movement was revived by five separate mendicants who broke away from the Loṅkā Gaccha and started their own groups. The five further splintered, and formed a spectrum of lineages and lay followers that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would come to be known as Ḍhūṇḍhiyās ("Seekers") and Sthānakavāsīs ("Hall-Dwellers") (Flügel 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, forthcoming). Another offshoot of the Loṅkā Gaccha was the Bījā or Vījā Mata, about which little is known. Roughly the same time as Loṅkā, also in Gujarat, saw the rise of the largely lay sect that followed the teachings of Kaḍuā Śāh (1438–1507) (Dundas 1999).

The various lineages, gacchas, that comprised the mainstream Mūrtipūjaka fold saw an increasing number of splinters. The Tapā Gaccha during this period rose to a position of prominence in Gujarat under the leadership of its ācāryas Ānandavimalasūri (1491–1540), Vijaya Dānasūri (1497–1566), Hīravijayasūri (1527–1596), Vijaya Senasūri (1548–1615), and Vijaya Devasūri (1578–1652). But it was by no means a unified organization. There were many localized, domesticated and largely autonomous branches of the Tapā Gaccha. Ānandavimalasūri reinstituted the practice of full-fledged mendicancy, but the lineage also saw the continued practice and re-emergence of patterns of laxity. Under the influence of powerful lay leaders, especially the nagarśeṭh Śāntidās of Ahmedabad, the Tapā Gaccha split into multiple domesticated groups. They eventually came to form the thirteen besnās or "seats" of the śrīpūjyas, domesticated pontiffs. This development in turn generated a response, the creation of a small group of full-fledged mendicants known as saṃvegī ("[liberation]-seekers") under the leadership of Paṅnyāsa Satyavijayagaṇi (1623–1699).

Pārśvacandrasūri (1480–1565) broke away from the domesticated Nāgorī Tapā Gaccha and formed the eponymous Pārśvacandra Gaccha, which played an important if still only dimly perceived role in helping shape the Loṅkā Gaccha and Sthānakavāsī canons of scripture. Other Mūrtipūjaka gacchas such as the Kharatara, Añcala (or Acala), Pūrṇimā, and Upakeśa Gacchas vied for the loyalty of lay congregations, merchant leaders, and Rajput and Muslim royalty. Finally, there were dozens of local domesticated lineages, known to us only through a handful of inscriptions on icons consecrated by their monks, and very rarely from texts or manuscripts.

The differences among these many groups are still not well understood, and much will probably never be known. Only a few of the groups generated educated intellectuals who wrote texts and thereby left us an investigable historical record. Most of the texts that were written were in the vernacular, and a large number remain unedited and even unread in the manuscript libraries of western India. But the large number of extant and published texts dealing with issues of sectarian identity is clear evidence of the turmoil of the times.

Late Medieval Tapā Gaccha Intellectual and Ritual Culture

Among the most important Jain intellectuals of this period - and, arguably, all of Jain history - was Mahopādhyāya Yaśovijaya (1624–1686).[1] He was a prolific author on seemingly every topic that could be of interest to a seventeenth-century Jain. To study all of his output would be a task of many years, and new manuscripts of his texts continue to be unearthed in the Jain libraries of western India. He composed in four different languages: Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gujarati, and Hindi.[2] In some cases issues of audience and subject matter determined his choice of language, but we lack a full understanding of the strategies behind his intentional polyglossalia.

As with many of the Jain authors of his time, the thread that ties together his vast oeuvre can be simply stated as a concern to define Jain orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Some of this involved restating positions that had been articulated for over a millennium, as seen in his frequent quoting from all levels of scripture and commentary, as well as many of the "church fathers" such as Haribhadra, Abhayadeva and Hemacandra. The turbulent times in which he lived also generated many new issues, and therefore new challenges as to what was and was not orthodox and orthoprax Jainism. Among these was the status of icons and their worship.

In the introduction to her translation of the defense of icons by St. Theodore of Studion, who in the early ninth century expanded and refined the first elaborate theology of Christian icons advanced a century earlier by St. John of Damascus, Catherine Roth (1981: 8) has written of a pattern in the development of Christian doctrine:

"The Church has usually made explicit formulations of doctrine only when forced to do so by the pressures of controversy. For this reason, dogmatic arguments tend to be formed by opposition with the arguments of the adversaries. This is true not only of the early councils' teachings on trinitarian theology and on christology, but equally on the defense of icons. The arguments in favor of icons were developed in reaction to iconoclastic criticisms."[3]

Just as the Christian theology of icons developed in large part, especially in its philosophical sophistication, in response to several centuries of increasingly sophisticated iconoclastic critiques, so the Śvetāmbara theology of icons developed largely in response to the arguments against icons by Loṅkā and his followers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is noteworthy that whereas the rise of iconoclasm within the Śvetāmbara tradition resulted in the development of a sophisticated Śvetāmbara Jain theology of the icon, the lack of any corresponding iconoclastic tradition among the Digambaras means that there has not been an equally sophisticated Digambara theology of the icon.[4]

The comparison with the Christian iconoclastic controversy holds in one further element. The eventual victory of the Christian iconophiles means that we have at hand no complete iconoclastic texts. As Charles Barber (2002: 83) has recently summarized the situation,

"One of the primary losses that followed upon the iconophile victory in the debate over the limits of Christian visual representation is the iconoclasts' own complete presentation of their arguments. We depend upon the fragmentary quotes that appear in iconophile refutations for traces of the iconoclastic position. Cast in a negative light, these fragments become unworthy and illogical mutterings by reactionary and conservative negators of an iconophile tradition."

In the Jain case there was no total victory for the iconophiles, as the iconoclastic Sthānakavāsīs and Terāpanthīs are still very much alive and well. But, for complex reasons I will not go into here, only traces remain of the original iconoclastic arguments. [5] For the most part, to gain any adequate sense of the criticisms advanced by Loṅkā and his successors we depend on the writings of the iconophilic authors - foremost among them Yaśovijaya, but also others such as the Tapā Gaccha author Dharmasāgara and the Kharatara Gaccha author Samayasundara - which we must then flesh out with what we know of later Sthānakavāsī iconoclastic arguments.

The fifteenth-century iconoclasts were not the first Jains to articulate doubts about icons. Scattered throughout the Śvetāmbara textual tradition, all the way back to the early commentarial layers of the early centuries of the Common Era, we find discussions that indicate a degree of anxiety about icons, temples, and the worship of icons. While we do not know who it was that either explicitly opposed icons, or less explicitly voiced anxiety about them, a careful reading of, for example, the narratives of the "Living Lord" (Jīvantasvāmī) icon of Mahāvīra, and the ethical discussions of the unavoidable violence involved in digging a well in order to get life-sustaining water, indicate that there were such voices.[6]

Further, there has long been a tension in Jain doctrine and practice between two modes of spirituality. On the one hand we find an acceptance of human embodiment and the related need to use material objects in the religious life. Jainism is not an idealist philosophy, but instead has always accepted the reality of physical matter. On the other hand, however, the definition of the liberated soul as pure spirit, unencumbered by and unattached to matter, has provided grounds for more dualistic attitudes that often slide into a total rejection of the material in favor of the spiritual and immaterial. This tension has been articulated in terms of the relationships between dravya and bhāva ("matter" and "spirit"), niścaya and vyavahāra ("absolute" and "relative" levels of truth), and jñāna and kriyā ("knowledge" and "ritual").

Not until Yaśovijaya do we see a full-fledged theology of the icon. Yaśovijaya's formulation has been so influential, at least within Tapā Gaccha circles, that it has been adopted wholesale by Tapā Gaccha intellectuals in the past two centuries in their defense of icons against the renewed criticisms of various iconoclastic groups, both from within the Jain fold such as the Sthānakavāsīs and Terāpanthīs, and from without, such as the Ārya Samāj.

Yaśovijaya did not develop this defense of icons all on his own. A generation earlier the Tapā Gaccha intellectual Mahopādhyāya Dharmasāgaragaṇi (d. 1596) had refuted the criticisms of icons by Loṅkā and his followers. While Yaśovijaya disagreed with Dharmasāgara on some important issues, there are common elements in their defenses of icons as well.

Yaśovijaya was one of a number of mendicants who did much to define Tapā Gaccha ritual, devotional and intellectual culture in the seventeenth century, a formulation that has continued to the present. Much of the ritual culture I present in my 2001 Jains in the World was given shape during this period. Yaśovijaya was among the small group of saṃvegī ascetic mendicants who followed the five great vows (mahāvrata) of a mendicant in their fullest form. This lineage, which in the twentieth century has grown to be almost the only expression of Tapā Gaccha mendicancy, was founded and led by Yaśovijaya's contemporary Paṅnyāsa Satyavijayagaṇi. While Satyavijaya did not, as far as we know, author any texts, he was instrumental in establishing the foundation for the continued existence of the full-fledged mendicant lineage.

A slightly older contemporary of Yaśovijaya, and possibly a colleague, was the mystical poet Muni Labhānanda, better known by his nom-de-plume Ānandaghana (1603–1673). His exact affiliation with and position in the Tapā Gaccha is vague.[7] He represents a style of anti-institutional, free-lance ascetic renunciation that has always played an important role in Jain spirituality, but which is rarely well recorded. We know of Ānandaghana because of his mystical and doctrinal hymns, many of which are still sung today.[8]

A contemporary of both Yaśovijaya and Ānandaghana was Ācārya Jñānavimalasūri (1637–1725). As an ācārya he consecrated many icons, and led a number of congregational pilgrimages (saṅgha yātrā). He composed dozens of Gujarati texts, many of them hymns and vernacular explanations (bālāvabodha) of doctrinal texts.

Another contemporary of Yaśovijaya was Upādhyāya Sakalacandragaṇi (fl. 1587- 1604). Among his many texts are two that have remained central to Tapā Gaccha ritual culture. He is credited with compiling from older sources the Pratiṣṭhā Kalpa, the ritual manual for the consecration and installation of icons that is still used today. He also composed the text of the vernacular Gujarati Sattar Bhedī Pūjā, the "Seventeenfold Worship," which is performed in the context of icon and temple consecrations, as well as annually in every temple on its anniversary. It serves as an expiation for all the ritual faults (āśātanā), intended and unintended, that have taken place in the temple, and so serves a role in the temple cult similar to that of pratikramaṇa in the meditative and renunciatory lives of Jains.

Three more contemporaries of Yaśovijaya bear mentioning. Among the many texts by Upādhyāya Vinayavijaya (d. 1675) is his Subodhikā Ṭīkā on the Kalpa Sūtra, which he wrote in 1640. This commentary is recited annually in the Tapā Gaccha performance of Paryuṣaṇ, and is the primary way that this important Mūrtipūjaka canonical text is vectored into contemporary Tapā Gaccha ritual and intellectual culture (Cort 2001: 152). At the time of his death in 1675 Vinayavijaya was writing a Gujarati telling of the popular story of King Śrīpāl and his virtuous wife Queen Mayṇasundarī, the Śrī Śrīpāl Rājāno Rās. He died before it was completed, and this task was finished by Yaśovijaya. This remains the most popular of the many tellings of this story, which explains the centrality of the siddhacakra in Jain ritual culture.[9]

Upādhyāya Meghavijayagaṇi (fl. 1653-1704) was a prolific author of Sanskrit texts who was active in the latter part of the seventeenth century. He composed a number of long Sanskrit mahākāvyas, and technical treatises on grammar, logic and astrology.

His Yuktiprabodha was an extended critique of the Digambaras, in particular the Adhyātma movement led in Agra by Banārsīdās. He also composed praise hymns, and the Arhad Gītā, an exposition of the basic principles of Jain spirituality that echoed the structure of the Brāhmaṇical Bhagavad Gītā.[10]

Finally was Mahopādhyāya Mānavijaya (1651–1714). In 1675 he wrote the Prakrit Dharma Saṃgraha, a text briefly outlining the proper conduct of both mendicants and laity. It provided the framework for an extended commentary (vṛtti) on these subjects that Mānavijaya wrote under the direct guidance of Yaśovijaya. Yaśovijaya then wrote a further commentary (ṭippaṇa) on the text himself.[11]

Not all of these intellectual contemporaries of Yaśovijaya were part of the small movement to return to the full-fledged ritual observance of mendicancy. While the saṃvegī movement clearly saw itself as distinct and special, as marked by its decision to wear yellow colored robes in order that everyone could clearly distinguish them from the white-robed and laxer Tapā Gaccha monks, the degree of cordial interaction and cooperation among monks of both persuasions warns us against reading an overly ideological or agonistic interpretation onto the saṃvegī movement. To give just one small example, Satyavijaya requested permission from his guru Ācārya Vijaya Siṃhasūri, whom later sources view as lax, to adopt formally the stricter mendicant rules through the rite of kriyoddhāra.[12]

Yaśovijaya's Writings in Defense of Icons

Within this collective Tapā Gaccha intellectual and institution-building effort Yaśovijaya was the star. His writings in defense of icons were part of an agenda to define Jain orthodoxy and orthopraxy that both shaped Yaśovijaya's career and was shared with a number of contemporaries.[13]

While references to and discussions of icons and their worship are found in a number of Yaśovijaya's works, he devoted eight texts exclusively to this subject.[14] The most important of these was his Sanskrit Pratimā Śataka, "One Hundred Verses on Icons," which he wrote in 1657. On these verses Yaśovijaya wrote an extensive commentary, his Bṛhadvṛtti, "Extended Commentary." He employed an extensive array of citations from Śvetāmbara scriptures and other authoritative texts; H. R. Kāpaḍiyā lists ninety-one texts from which Yaśovijaya quoted (1966: 248–50). Much of the text was directed against the critique of icons on the part of the followers of Loṅkā, whom Yaśovijaya pejoratively called the Lumpakas, the "breakers" or "destroyers." [15] He also took to task the slightly earlier Tapā Gaccha intellectual Dharmasāgara, as well as Pārśvacandrasūri, on specific points concerning icon worship.

The Pratimā Śataka was the subject of one further commentary, the Laghuvṛtti, "Shorter Commentary," composed by Bhāvaprabhasūri in 1737. Bhāvaprabhasūri was a yati of the Pūrṇimā Gaccha who lived at the gāḍī (seat) at Ḍhaṇḍher Vāḍo in Patan, a seat which still exists today, although only on the farthest margins of Jain society (Cort 2001: 45). Bhāvaprabhasūri's commentary added little new to our understanding of the Pratimā Śataka, and in many places simply paraphrased Yaśovijaya's commentary.

The other Sanskrit text that Yaśovijaya devoted entirely to the subject of icons was his Pratimā Sthāpana Nyāya, "The Suitability of Establishing Icons." This is a short, fragmentary prose text that runs to seven-and-a-half pages in the printed edition of 1920. In it Yaśovijaya argued that establishing and worshiping Jina icons leads to a good rebirth, not a bad one. In the opening of the text he wrote that the Jina "in due course grants liberation to people who [perform] pūjā according to the seventeenfold ritual,[16] as was done by the laywoman Draupadī, the Vijaya deities, and the deity Sūryābha, [all of whom performed pūjā] according to the rite that was within the framework of the scriptures [sūtra], and was explained in the scriptures." [17] Yaśovijaya here affirmed that the descriptions of Draupadī, the Vijaya deities and the sun god Sūryābha worshiping icons as found in the Śvetāmbara scriptures are authoritative precedents for the contemporary performance of that worship.[18]

Yaśovijaya's one Prakrit text on icons was his twelve-verse Kuvadiṭṭhantavisaïkaraṇa, "The Explanation Using the Example of the Well," to which he added a Sanskrit commentary, the Tattvaviveka, "Investigation of the Essentials." With ample citation of Abhayadeva and Haribhadra, Yaśovijaya argued that the negative karma one accrues from harm to earth-bodies in digging a well is more than outweighed by the good karma that derives from providing water for the needs of many living beings. In a similar manner, the negative karma accrued through the use of water, flowers, and other living things in pūjā is more than outweighed by the good karma one accrues from this laudable ritual activity.

Yaśovijaya composed five texts in Gujarati devoted to icons. In 1667 he spent the rainy-season retreat (cāturmāsa) in Idalpur, a suburb of Ahmedabad. There he wrote his Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, "Hymn of a Bill of Exchange in the Form of a Hymn to Mahāvīra," in order to convince the Sthānakavāsī layman Meghjī, son of Dośī Mūlājī, of the appropriateness of icon worship.[19] This Gujarati text is nearly as wide ranging in its topics as the Sanskrit Pratimā Śataka, and would appear to serve to bring the arguments of the Sanskrit text written a decade earlier into a more accessible Gujarati. Since the text was directed at a Sthānakavāsī layman, Yaśovijaya omitted his arguments against Dharmasāgara and Pārśvacandrasūri. In 1792 Muni Padmavijaya, a mendicant in the saṃvegī branch of the Tapā Gaccha, wrote his Bālāvabodha commentary on Yaśovijaya's text in the city of Radhanpur in north Gujarat, "for the benefit of myself and others." [20] According to Padmavijaya, he based his text upon a Bālāvabodha commentary written by Yaśovijaya himself, but no manuscript of this text is known to be extant. Padmavijaya's text is largely in Gujarati, with a praśasti in Sanskrit.

The other Gujarati texts are short hymns. He composed the Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Stavan ("Hymn on Establishing the Jina Icon"), also known as the Kumati Latā Unmīlan ("Uprooting the Creeper of Willful Ignorance"), in 1662. In ten verses Yaśovijaya recited the basic history of icon worship in the Śvetāmbara tradition from Bharata, son of Ādinātha, at the beginning of the third spoke of this cycle of time, through the fourteenth century restoration of Śatruñjaya by Karam Śāh. As a result of its focus on Śatruñjaya, this hymn is also known as the Śatruñjay Uddhār Jin Bimb Sthāpan Stavan ("Hymn on Establishing the Jina Icon during the Renovation of Śatruñjay"). The argument here was quite simple, yet at the same time demonstrates how pre-modern Jains could exhibit an understanding of historical "facts" as being fully authoritative, an understanding that shows striking similarities with modern social scientific historicist theory. In the refrain, Yaśovijaya addressed his willfully ignorant, or heretical (kumati) audience, saying, "O ignorant one! Why do you uproot icons? They are established in accord with the Jina's teaching." [21]

Yaśovijaya composed three texts, of fifteen, nine, and seven verses, called Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Sajjhāy ("Primer on Establishing the Jina Icon"), also known as Jin Pratimā Adhikār Sajjhāy ("Primer on the Authority for the Jina Icon").[22] The sajjhāy (Sanskrit svādhyāya) is a commonly found genre in the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaka tradition, to which insufficient scholarly attention has been paid. They are short vernacular verse texts - catechisms, if you will - that are easy to memorize and lay out the basic points of Jain doctrine on any given topic. They seem to be especially studied by sādhvīs (nuns). In those samudāys (lineages) of the Tapā Gaccha that forbid sādhvīs from studying many of the classical texts, the sādhvīs learn and retain their doctrinal training from sajjhāys. Just as a Sanskrit or Prakrit sūtra text is designed to be easy to memorize, so that a preacher can easily deliver the authoritative root text verbatim to an audience, and then expound upon it according to what he has studied, a vernacular sajjhāy can be memorized and sung by any mendicant or lay person in order to have at hand the basic tenets of Jain orthodoxy.

In the fifteen-verse text, Yaśovijaya briefly laid out almost all of the arguments in favor of icons that he developed at much greater length in his more philosophically oriented texts, although he again left aside his arguments against Dharmasāgara and Pārśvacandrasūri. The refrain is similar to that of the Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Stavan, as Yaśovijaya simply said, "O ignorant one! Why do you uproot icons?" [23]

Yaśovijaya's Theology of the Icon

Let me now turn to the contents of Yaśovijaya's defense of icons - what I am calling, with an obvious nod to the extensive parallel literature in the western and especially the eastern orthodox Christian traditions, a "theology of the icon." There are four basic elements to Yaśovijaya's defense of icons. First, he argued the necessity of icons based on the Jain hermeneutical tool of the nikṣepas. Second, he showed that icons and iconworship are not the source of harmful binding karma due to hiṃsā or harm; rather, they are the cause of meritorious karma. Third, he cited passages from a large number of early Jain texts that depict Jains worshiping icons. This element in his argument also entailed a discussion of what constitutes Jain scripture, and the meaning of the contested term caitya. Finally, he advanced the evidence of history, to show the universality or icon worship in Jainism.


Nikṣepa, literally "putting down... a word... in order to subject it to a systematic consideration" (Alsdorf 1974: 257), is a distinctively Jain hermeneutical tool, the importance of which in Jain intellectual culture has been underemphasized.[24] In the words of Ludwig Alsdorf, whose 1973 article remains the best English language introduction to the topic, the nikṣepa is a "system of subjecting key words to an investigation by applying a scheme of fixed viewpoints" (ib.). The system was first developed in the Nijuttis, the earliest level of commentaries on the scriptures. Every key word in the text, starting with the title, was analyzed according to four categories or perspectives.

To quote Alsdorf again (ib., p. 258),

"Nāma is the designation; what is considered first of the nikṣepa object is its purely linguistic side, the designation as such. Sthāpanā is the pictorial or material representation of the animate or inanimate, concrete or abstract nikṣepa object, its effigy or representation. Dravya denotes the substantial, material, concrete, non-mental aspect, bhāva the mental, psychical, spiritual, religious one."[25]

As Alsdorf himself noted, there are striking similarities between nikṣepa and other elements in the mature Jain epistemological tradition with its strong perspectival emphasis, such as the seven nayas or "viewpoints" in the sapta-bhaṅgi-naya. It also fits well within the larger South Asian tradition, with its preference for context-sensitive rather than context-free ways of thinking (Ramanujan 1989, Hallisey 1996).

When using nikṣepa, the interpreter applies each of the four categories or lenses to the object at hand. Nāma involves a thorough philological explanation of the term, both in terms of etymology and specific usage. Sthāpanā involves explaining the particular form in which the object is manifest in this instance. Dravya involves explaining the more basic material aspects of the object. The difference between sthāpanā and dravya is that between mode or form and substance; for example, the sthāpanā nikṣepa of a Jina icon involves its iconography and craftsmanship, whereas the dravya nikṣepa involves analyzing whether it is made of wood, metal, stone, or some other material. Finally, bhāva involves investigating the object in terms of its mental states and abilities, as well as its deeper spiritual significance in the literal sense, as pertaining to spirit or soul (jīva, ātman).

Yaśovijaya started both the Pratimā Śataka and the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan with a simple statement that all four of the nikṣepas are equally important in the worship of the Jina. In the second verse of the Pratimā Śataka he said, "The three [nikṣepa] starting with nāma [i.e., nāma, sthāpanā, and dravya] are collectively the cause for [the fourth nikṣepa,] the spiritual apprehension (bhāva) of the Lord." [26] In the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan he more explicitly asserted the importance of sthāpanā nikṣepa, that is, the icon of the Jina: "On the basis of the five levels of scripture I investigate the sthāpanā nikṣepa, by which one attains bliss." [27]

At issue here is how one uses the nikṣepa methodology to understand the liberated and therefore disembodied Jina. An iconoclastic understanding of the Jina is that since he is now in a state of pure soul, enjoying the four infinitudes of perfection, one must give precedence to the bhāva nikṣepa. In terms of dravya nikṣepa, the disembodied Jina no longer is associated with matter. Nor, therefore, from the perspective of sthāpanā nikṣepa, can one speak of the Jina having a material form. Both the dravya nikṣepa and the sthāpanā nikṣepa are relevant only to the past life of the Jina, when he was still connected with matter due to karma, and not to the present, when he has broken all connections with matter. The icon does not represent the Jina in his pure bhāva nikṣepa, but only in his impure and no longer appropriate sthāpanā nikṣepa. As such, the icon is worthy of neither veneration (vandana) nor worship (pūjā).

This iconoclastic interpretation has been advanced by Sthānakavāsīs for several centuries. Presumably it was also the one advanced by the Lumpakas, for Yaśovijaya took issue with it. He argued on three levels.

The first was simply to assert that the scriptural authority for the nikṣepa methodology requires one to view all four as equal, not to prioritize bhāva over the other three. In the second verse of the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan he cited the canonical Anuyogadvāra Sūtra and Sthānāṅga Sūtra that there are four nikṣepas, and that they are authoritative.[28] In several of his vernacular hymns he underscored the equality of all four nikṣepas, and therefore the validity of worshiping icons, by simply saying that according to the scriptures the icon (pratimā) is the equivalent (sarkhī, sarikhī) of the Jina himself, and so worship of the icon is therefore the same as worship of the living Jina. For example, in the Kumati Latā Unmīlan he wrote, "People should worship the Jina icon thrice daily as equivalent to the excellent Jina himself." [29]

The second argument is one that is found, mutatis mutandi s, in most religious traditions that have had to defend the use of material forms against dualistic critiques that prioritize the spiritual (or mental) over the physical. In his commentary to the second verse of the Pratimā Śataka, Yaśovijaya explained that without reverence (ādara) for the three nikṣepas of nāma, sthāpanā and dravya, it is not possible to come to revere the bhāva nikṣepa.[30] As embodied beings, we must use our embodiment, in the form of the first three nikṣepas, in order gradually to come to an experience of the purely spiritual, the bhāva nikṣepa. Without the foundation of the other three it is not possible to attain the fourth.

Finally, Yaśovijaya turned the table on the Lumpakas by applying the methodology of the nikṣepas to the scriptures themselves. The Lumpakas argued that in the absence of a living Jina, the scriptures are the sole authority in the current time. Yaśovijaya noted that in the auspicious benediction at the beginning of the Bhagavatī Sūtra, one of the most important of all Śvetāmbara scriptures, the gaṇadhara Sudharmā, in addition to venerating the five worthy lords of Jainism - Jina, Siddha, Ācārya, Upādhyāya, and Sādhu - venerated the scriptures themselves, and the Brāhmī script in which the scriptures were written down.[31] Yaśovijaya asked, "If it is acceptable for Sudharmā to venerate the script, then how can the Lumpakas argue that it is forbidden for a Jain mendicant to venerate an icon of the Jina?" [32] He explained that in fact the written syllables which Sudharmā venerated are the sthāpanā nikṣepa of scriptural knowledge itself. Further, said Yaśovijaya, no one argues that it is forbidden to venerate the physical embodiment of the scripture in the form of written texts, i.e., the dravya nikṣepa of śruta.[33] In his commentary to the Pratimā Śataka he argued that it is illogical for the Lumpaka to accept the veneration of the contemporary physical form of the Jina's teachings as a manuscript, but forbid the equivalent veneration of the contemporary physical form of the Jina himself as an icon.


The second major theoretical issue around which the debate concerning icon worship in Jainism centered was hiṃsā. In brief, Loṅkā and his followers argued that the worship of icons is inevitably tied up in harm (hiṃsā) to living beings, and so is karmically detrimental to the person performing the worship. Among the standard offerings in pūjā are animate objects such as flowers and fruit. Another standard act in pūjā is the anointing (abhiṣeka, snātra) of the icon, which involves harm to the beings in the water. The performance of āratī, waving a lamp in front of the icon, and the waving of incense (dhūpa) both involve fire, and so harm beings in the air. The Lumpakas in essence likened pūjā to the Hindu rite of sacrifice (yajña). For centuries Jains had elided the difference between the Brāhmaṇical yajña, which usually was a vegetarian offering into a fire, and the less elite rite of bali-dāna, or sacrificial offering of living beings such as chickens, goats and buffalo. Jains lumped all of this together into a single violent act, and Hemacandra had termed the Mānava Dharmaśāstra a hiṃsā śāstra or "scripture of violence" on the basis of this conflation of Brāhmaṇical sacrifice and violence.[34] Echoing this, Loṅkā and his followers characterized the Jain practice of icon worship as nothing more than an ethic of harm (hiṃsā dharma), and in contrast defined their rejection of idols and idolatry as an ethic of compassion (dayā dharma) for all living beings.

Yaśovijaya addressed this critique in multiple ways, and his defense of the entire ritual culture of icon worship from the charges of it being suffused with hiṃsā represents the most complex aspect of his defense of icons. My discussion here will only touch on the main elements of his argument.

At its most basic, Yaśovijaya's position was simply stated in verse eleven of his fifteen-verse Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Sajjhāy, when he said, "They [the opponents of icon worship, the Lumpakas] say, 'In worship of the Jina [icon] there is harm (hiṃsā) to immobile beings (thāvar, sthavara).' But there is no such sin (pāp), so come and worship." [35]

This was not an argument; it was simply a statement of faith. Explaining why there is no strongly binding negative karma involved in icon worship was therefore Yaśovijaya's task. At this point Yaśovijaya advanced two interrelated arguments. The first was that the negative karma one accrues in the act of icon worship is more than outweighed by the positive karma. The second was that one must not look only at the external action. Despite the stereotypes, held both by Indian philosophical traditions other than Jainism, and by many scholars of Jainism, that Jain karma theory is more concerned with action than intention, we find that Yaśovijaya prioritized intention over action, without going so far as to eliminate the Jain doctrine of the physical basis of karma.

Yaśovijaya advanced various examples to demonstrate that the benefit from pūjā outweighs the harm. The most famous of these is the "example of the well," the kūpa dṛṣṭānta. This is an ancient defense of icons and other religious activities that inevitably entail harmful action. As Yaśovijaya wrote in the second verse of his Kuvadiṭṭhantavisaïkaraṇa, "Understand that icon worship is like digging a well; the welfare of both oneself and others arises from it, and it is not marked by a total initiation of harm." [36] He expanded on this in his commentary to say that digging a well makes pure water available. This is an act deserving of praise (anumodana), just as are ablution (snāna) and the other ritual acts in pūjā, which lead to merit (puṇya) for both oneself and others.[37] In his detailed exposition of this point, Yaśovijaya quoted extensively from Haribhadra's Pañcāśaka and Ṣoḍaśaka, Hemacandra's Yogaśāstra, the Bṛhat Kalpa Sūtra Bhāṣya, the Mahāniśītha Sūtra, the Niśītha Bhāṣya, and other authoritative Śvetāmbara texts.

One of texts he quoted, the Mahāniśītha Sūtra, states that the karmic benefit (phala) from icon worship is equal to that from gifting (dāna) and other basic rites within Śvetāmbara mendicant ritual culture.[38] Yaśovijaya discussed this in the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan. According to the canonical Aupapātika and Bhagavatī Sūtras, just as the kings Kuṇika and Udāyana were awakened to right faith through the act of dāna, so the laypeople of Tuṅgīya attained right faith through their physical offerings to Jina icons.[39] The key is that the recipient of the dāna be a suitable recipient (supātra); in this case, dāna leads to the donor attaining the first guṇasthāna or rung on the path to liberation.[40] If dāna is therefore a laudable activity for a Jain layperson, despite the inevitable harm involved, then so is icon worship. Yaśovijaya repeated this in his Gujarati Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Sajjhāy, in which he said, "In confession (paḍikamaṇ, pratikramaṇa), gifting (dān) to a mendicant, and in his traveling (vihār) there are special kinds of faults (doṣ) due to harm (hiṃsā). But when one weighs the gain and loss, why should one feel such enmity (dveṣ) toward an icon?" [41]

The issue of the inevitable harm associated with the basic actions of a mendicant is one upon which he also expanded in the Pratimā Śataka. In particular, he devoted an extensive discussion to the unavoidable harm in a mendicant crossing a river. But this harm does not mean that mendicants do not cross rivers. Rather, there are ritual means for dealing with the negative karma accruing from the hiṃsā to water-bodies. We see here, as in many other places in Yaśovijaya's writings, a concern to balance a strict adherence to Jain doctrine with the practicalities of everyday life, whether as a mendicant or a layperson.

Yaśovijaya gave a final example of an action in which the benefit far outweighs the harm. In verse thirty-eight of the Pratimā Śataka he explained that the incidental harm caused when a mother rushes to snatch her infant from the jaws of a snake is inconsequential, for it prevents much greater suffering. In the same way the harm involved in icon worship is inconsequential in comparison to the degree that it is a means to lead people out of the world of rebirth.[42]

All of Yaśovijaya's examples stressed the need to look not just at external actions in which there appears to be harm. He was not a scriptural or doctrinal literalist. For Yaśovijaya it was always more important to understand the intention behind an action than to focus on the mechanics of the action. He said in verse fifty-nine of the Pratimā Śataka that there is no hiṃsā from actions performed for the sake of dharma as long as the intention (āśaya) is true (sad).[43]

At the heart of Yaśovijaya's argument concerning karma and hiṃsā is a distinction among three kinds of harm. He said in the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, "Hiṃsā is seen in the noble deeds of a layman. But when one considers the distinctions among hetu, svarūp, and anubandh, then [the Sthānakavāsī position] is destroyed." [44] In other words, those who argue that icon worship is pervaded by hiṃsā, and is therefore detrimental to the karmic state of the worshiper, lack an adequate understanding of the nature of hiṃsā and karma. They conflate all types of hiṃsā into only the most harmful sort.

Yaśovijaya drew on a number of earlier sources to develop a tripartite classification of hiṃsā. To the best of my knowledge, Yaśovijaya was the first to use this specific terminology.[45]

First there is hetu hiṃsā. This results from actions that are performed for worldly reasons. They might not involve the intentional taking of life, but they certainly do not involve conscious protection of lives.

The second is svarūpa hiṃsā. This results from actions performed in the pursuit of dharma. Since one must distinguish between the dharmas of mendicants and laity - in the words of Yaśovijaya's disciple Mānavijaya in his Dharma Saṃgraha, between the dharma of the sādhu and the dharma of the gṛhastha - one must also distinguish between types of svarūpa hiṃsā. For a layperson, who has not renounced the use of the material world, certain types of svarūpa hiṃsā will be acceptable that are not acceptable for a mendicant, who has renounced the use of the material world. In both cases dharmic actions should be undertaken in such a way both that no lives are lost, and instead lives are protected. Nonetheless, it is the rare action that is totally free of hiṃsā. It is not possible to avoid all svarūpa hiṃsā until the thirteenth guṇasthāna; but svarūpa hiṃsā by itself does not prevent the arising of omniscience.

Finally there is anubandha hiṃsā. This results from actions done from inexcusable ignorance. Lives are lost, and there is inadequate, if any, concern to protect lives. An action involving anubandha hiṃsā cannot be considered part of dharma.

It is possible to renounce both hetu hiṃsā and anubandha hiṃsā, for these are forms of harm which arise because the person has not generated the right intention of ahiṃsā. But it is impossible to renounce svarūpa hiṃsā. If icon worship is performed with the right intention - if it is performed for dharma, for the pursuit of the Jain path, not out of any selfish worldly ends - then it results in neither hetu hiṃsā nor anubandha hiṃsā, but only in svarūpa hiṃsā. Any negative karma from this is negligible, especially in comparison to the significant accrual of positive karma, or merit (puṇya). The mendicant strives to attain a state in which there is no karmic bondage at all; but this is possible only for one on the very highest rungs of the guṇasthānas, the enlightened soul who has overcome all desires (rāga) and so is desireless (vītarāga). This state is far beyond that of the pious layman. He still acts based on desires; but if his desires and his intentions are pure, then his actions will result only in puṇya, which still advances him along the religious path. Yaśovijaya wrote in the Pratimā Śataka, "It is said in the scriptures that karma done out of desire is merit, while that done without desire is true religion (dharma). Having understood this, the true perspective is not that there is [only] a single path for the wise person." [46]

We see here that Yaśovijaya clearly understood that there are two ways to be an orthodox and orthoprax Jain. On the one hand there is the path or dharma of the mendicant, of whom there are strict expectations that all conduct be aimed at a maximum avoidance and elimination of hiṃsā. Equally valid is the path or dharma of the layperson, who has to live in the world and so cannot be expected to live as renunciatory a life as a mendicant. This is, of course, a viewpoint very much in line with most orthodox Jainism. But where the line is between levels of inevitable hiṃsā that are and are not acceptable for a layperson has always been a matter of disagreement within the Jain community. In the case of icons, Yaśovijaya viewed the amount of hiṃsā as acceptable, whereas the iconoclastic followers of Loṅkā did not.


In his Gujarati Daśmatādhikāre Vardhmān Jin Stavan ("Hymn to the Jina Mahāvīra on the Subject of Ten [False] Sectarian Views"), Yaśovijaya exclaimed that the followers of Loṅkā who opposed icon worship kept complaining that icon worship traduced the central Jain ethic of compassion, but then undermined the very basis of mendicant life due to their ignorance of the scriptures: "'Compassion, compassion,' the complaint issues from their mouths. But they do not see the authority of scripture." [47] An on-going source of contention between the Mūrtipūjaka and iconoclastic branches of the Śvetāmbara tradition has been their different understandings of what constitutes authoritative scripture. A number of scholars in recent years have pointed out that even among the Mūrtipūjaka lineages there have been different ways of understanding scripture, that the Sthānakavāsī and Terāpanthī canons of thirty-two or thirty-one texts were not created in order to excise references to icons, and that the iconoclastic lineages have not rejected all levels of commentary out of hand.[48] I will not attempt to untangle all the issues here. Instead, I will simply point out some of the key features of Yaśovijaya's discussion of scripture, and indicate what they might tell us about possible alternative understandings of scripture among the followers of Loṅkā who were contemporary with Yaśovijaya.

In brief, we can identify two broad issues. First is how to deal with references to icons and icon worship in the root sūtras themselves. This involves disagreements as to which texts are authentic and authoritative. It also involves a long-running philogical disagreement over the meaning of the key term caitya in the earliest textual levels. The second issue concerns the authority of the four levels of commentary upon the sūtras: niryukti, bhāṣya, cūrṇi, and ṭīkā.

One of the most important texts in the Mūrtipūjaka traditions has been the Mahāniśītha Sūtra.[49] Its textual history is complicated, and among Mūrtipūjakas it has not always been accepted as fully authoritative. To quote Paul Dundas (2002: 76):

"[A]lthough the sixteenth-century image-worshipping Śvetāmbara Dharmasāgara regarded the... Mahāniśītha as having been produced by Mahāvīra's disciples and so viewed acceptance of it as one of the touchstones of adherence to a correct form of Jainism[50]... sectarian suspicions of the text would have undoubtedly been aroused by the fact that it is written in Mahārāṣṭrī, a dialect of west Indian belles-lettres, rather than the scriptural language Ardhamāgadhi and that it also contains references to goddesses and magic spells not found elsewhere in the canon which suggest a much later period of composition. The story of the rescue and restoration of a dilapidated manuscript of the Mahāniśītha from a temple in Mathurā seems little more than an attempt to concoct an antiquity for it, and the Sthānakvāsīs and Terāpanthīs accordingly refuse to accept its authority."

In a number of places Yaśovijaya cited the Mahāniśītha in defense of icons. For example, in verse nine of his Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Sajjhāy he wrote, "The fruit of worshiping a Jina icon is the same as that of gifting (dān) and the other (rites). This is found in the Mahāniśītha. Your ignorance is shaped by a succession of darkness. What goes on in your mind?" [51]

A rejection of the authority of the Mahāniśītha, therefore, was an easy way to undermine his arguments. But in the verse immediately preceding this, Yaśovijaya had written, "[When you say] 'Veneration of a Jina icon is hateful (dveṣ),' you ignore the deep meaning of the sūtras. The scriptures are enumerated in the Nandī. How can you dispute this?" [52]

Yaśovijaya referred here to the list of the Jain scriptures found toward the end of the Nandī Sūtra, one of the two texts on scriptural hermeneutics accepted as authoritative by all the Śvetāmbara lineages.[53] Since the list includes the Mahāniśītha, he argued that the latter text must be accepted as authoritative.

A similar disagreement occurred over the status of the Āvaśyaka Sūtra. In the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, Yaśovijaya cited the hymn to the twenty-four Jinas found in this text in the context of the necessary rite of veneration of the twenty-four Jinas (covīśatthaya), and the performance of kāüssagg before the sthāpanā nikṣepa of the Jinas in the form of icons, as further proofs of the authenticity of icon worship.[54] He established the authenticity of the Āvaśyaka Sūtra by citing the Bhagavatī and Nandī Sūtras, both of which refer to it as authoritative.[55] He then responded to the objection that the Āvaśyaka Sūtra existed in so many recensions that none of them could be authoritative. Here Yaśovijaya said that this is sheer ignorance, and calls on the authentication of tradition (paramparā) to establish the meaning of the text.[56]

References to icons are found not only in texts such as the Mahāniśītha and Āvaśyaka whose authenticity is disputed. They are also found in texts that are firmly in the iconoclastic canon. Four references to icons come in for extended discussion here. These are the description of Draupadī worshiping a Jina icon in the Jñātādharmakathāḥ, the description of the sun god Sūryābha worshiping a Jina icon in the Rājapraśnīya Sūtra, the description of the layman Ānanda worshiping a Jina icon in the Upāsakadaśāṅga Sūtra, and the description of the magically flying caraṇa mendicants worshiping the fifty-two eternal (śāśvata) icons of the Jinas on the eighth continent of Nandīśvaradvīpa in the Bhagavatī Sūtra. Each of these passages provides its own problems for the iconophilic defense. Yaśovijaya argued that Draupadī worshiped an icon of a Jina, not some other deity, and that at the time of her worship she possessed right faith.[57] Similarly, he argued that Sūryābha had right faith just as a human can.[58] The iconoclastic argument was that before her marriage Draupadī was not yet a true Jain and so lacked right faith, and that as a deity Sūryābha lacked right faith as well. They cannot, therefore, serve as exemplars for the practice of contemporary Jains who do have right faith.

A major point of disagreement concerns the meaning of the word found in the various passages for icon: caitya.[59] The iconoclastic argument is that this term does not refer to an icon; rather, it refers either to a knowledgeable mendicant (jñānī), or else to knowledge (jñāna) itself in the abstract. Yaśovijaya replied to this in a number of places. In verse forty-nine of the Pratimā Śataka he wrote, "Those who say that the meaning of the word 'caitya' is 'jñāna' do violence to the evidence." [60] In his commentary he explained that the claims that caitya means jñāna in the Praśnavyākaraṇa, the tenth Aṅga in the canon, are patently wrong: "Those [icon]-smashers who would say that the meaning of the word caitya in the Praśnavyākaraṇa is knowledge are single-minded and do violence to the clear authoritative evidence." [61] He repeated this in the fifth verse of his Jin Pratimā
Sthāpan Sajjhāy, where he wrote, "For the meaning of 'caitya' in service to a muni, see the tenth Aṅga [Praśnavyākaraṇa]." [62] Similarly, in the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, Yaśovijaya asked, "On what basis do you say that the meaning of caitya is jñān?" [63] In the next verse he stated that when the flying mendicants worshiped the caityas, they worshiped eternal icons (pratimā).[64] Later he said, "The meaning of the word "caitya" is "icon" [pratimā]; there is no other [meaning]." [65]

Not all the descriptions of the worship of Jina icons occur in the sūtras. In fact, there are relatively few descriptions in the sūtras themselves, and far more in the various levels of commentaries. The authority of the commentarial tradition therefore also entered into the debate. Peter Flügel (2008: 228f.) has recently shown that it is inaccurate to say that iconoclastic authors completely reject the commentaries. This point had earlier been made, albeit in a much more combative context, by Muni Jñānsundar (1936: 34–36), who showed how modern Sthānakavāsī and Terāpanthī authors relied upon the Sanskrit commentaries.[66] Kalyāṇvijay (1966c: 475f.) has described how it was only in the twentieth century that Sthānakavāsī authors began the systematic study of Sanskrit grammar and the Sanskrit commentaries. It is clear that the followers of Loṅkā did not attribute to the layers of commentary the full authority granted by most Mūrtipūjaka intellectuals.[67]

This was indicated when Yaśovijaya wrote in the Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Sajjhāy, "Investigate the ṭīkā, cūrṇi, bhāṣya, investigate the niryukti. Investigate the sūtra. [They all] explain the basis of the icon. This will drive off a bad rebirth." [68] Two verses later he again stated that icons are seen to be legitimate if one studies the full body of the scriptures, which are described as being "five-limbed" (pañcāṅgī): "Know that the Jina icon is equal (sarikhī) to the Jina. Know this from the five-fold (pañcāṅgī) [scriptures]." [69]

Yaśovijaya explained the five layers a bit more fully in his Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, where he wrote: "O Lord, in the fifth Aṅga [Bhagavatī Sūtra] you say that there are three kinds [of anuyog, exposition]: the first is the meaning of the sūtra, the second is said to be [that of the sūtra] mixed with the niryukti, and the third is the entirety." [70] By "entirety" he referred to all five scriptural levels. By saying that it was Mahāvīra himself who gave the explanation of how the knowledge is transmitted in the scriptures, Yaśovijaya said that all five levels together constitute the ultimate Jain authority.[71]

A similar explanation of the scriptures as being fivefold is found in a hymn by Yaśovijaya's slightly older contemporary Ānandaghana. In a verse from his Covīśī (also Caubīsī), a set of twenty-four hymns devoted one each to the Jinas, he wrote, "cūrṇi, bhāṣya, sūtra, niryukti, vṛtti, and the experience of the authoritative tradition of teachers: these are known as the limbs of the Doctrine Man. Whoever cuts one off will attain a bad rebirth." [72]

Paul Dundas (1996: 73) has summarized Ānandaghana's point:

"[T]he sūtra text is here not privileged by being depicted as the head or the most important part of the doctrine-man and is instead understood by Ānandghan as merely an equal participant in a broader and interrelated nexus involving root scripture, commentary and interpretation."

Clearly Yaśovijaya and Ānandaghana were responding to an alternative understanding of scripture, one that either prioritized the original sūtras over the later four layers of commentary, or else rejected the commentarial layers altogether.[73] The commentarial layer that was particularly at issue was that of the niryuktis, the very earliest layer. Yaśovijaya devoted three verses of his Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan to explaining the necessity of reading the sūtras with the aid of the niryuktis:

"Sūtra and niryukti are said to be of two kinds in the third [chapter of the] Anuyogadvāra [Sūtra]. Those who don't accept this are fraudulent and deceitful. Who can support them? The meaning that is tightly bound in the sūtra is expanded in the vast niryukti. How can those who do not avail themselves of this expansion adequately study the path? Those who say that the niryukti has been lost are stupid. Why then hasn't the sūtra been lost as well? Those who accept the readings that have come [from the teacher tradition] are at peace."[74]

The very nature of the sūtra genre is its brevity; one needs the more expansive niryukti to receive the full meaning. This was, of course, something that Yaśovijaya knew well, as most of his own longer compositions - including the Pratimā Śataka and the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan itself - required extensive prose commentaries that were wrapped around brief verse cores. Yaśovijaya here also tied the ability to understand the received scriptural tradition of the sūtras and the four layers of commentary to the established lineage of teachers.

In the sixth section of the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan, Yaśovijaya articulated the orthodox Tapā Gaccha position that there are limitations on the ability and authorization of laypeople to recite the sūtras on their own. To gain access to the necessary sūtras - the six āvaśyakas - a layperson must first undergo the upadhāna tapas, as described in the Mahāniśītha Sūtra.[75] Ideally this should lead to the person taking formal renunciation.[76] While it is not expressly forbidden for a layperson to study the scriptures on his own, he will not obtain their full meaning.[77] Clearly, Yaśovijaya argued, this disqualified as authoritative the interpretations advanced by the layman Loṅkā and his followers, for they were flying blind, so to speak, in the absence of proper guidance from authorized teachers.


References to events and people in Jain universal history are peppered throughout Yaśovijaya's writings on icons. For example, in the Pratimā Śataka he said that since it was not wrong for Bharata, the son of the first Jina Ādinātha, to build the first temple of this era, then neither was it wrong for contemporary people to build temples.[78] In the Vīr Stutirūp Huṇḍīnuṃ Stavan he pointed out that Ādinātha, when he was the first king of this era of time, before he renounced the world and became the first Jina, created sculpture and the other arts for the benefit of living beings. This is an obvious justification for the sculptural work of the icon-maker, just as Ādinātha's creation of writing authorized the work of a scribe in copying manuscripts of the scriptures.[79] The above-mentioned discussions of the worship by Draupadī, Sūryābha, Ānanda, and the caraṇa mendicants, also are fully "historical" for Yaśovijaya and his fellow iconworshiping Jains.

Yaśovijaya's clearest use of history as a proof for icon worship came in his ten verse Jin Pratimā Sthāpan Stavan of 1662. This short hymn is a listing, in Gujarati verse, of key precedents from Jain history for the building of temples and worshiping of icons. He started by referring to the many restorations of Śatruñjay, the first of which was done by Bharata.[80] He devoted a verse to the Mauryan King Samprati, grandson of Aśoka. Samprati is credited by Jain sources for enabling the spread of Jainism outside of its homeland in northeastern India. In addition to making it possible for mendicants to travel outside this area, he spread Jain culture by building 125,000 temples and installing 12,500,000 icons.[81] In the ninth century Vimal Śāh built his famous temple atop Mount Ābū, in which he installed 1,000 icons. Two hundred years later was King Kumārpāl, the great Jain king of the Caulukya or Solaṅkī dynasty. During his reign he built 5,000 temples and installed 7,000 icons. A century after him came the brothers Vastupāl and Tejpāl, ministers who basically ran the Vāghelā kingdom. They are credited with 5,000 temples and 11,000 icons. During that same time Dhanno Saṅghvī [Dharṇā Śāh] built the magnificent temple at Rāṇakpur.[82] A century later Samro Śāh renovated Śatruñjay, which had been damaged by the troops of the Delhi Sultan. A final restoration of Śatruñjay was effected in the fourteenth century by Karam Śāh.

Yaśovijaya's litany is a very interesting example of a pre-modern use of history as an authoritative proof (pramāṇa). According to Yaśovijaya, the very fact that all these famous Jains of the past built temples and installed icons, including many of the temples and icons that Yaśovijaya and his fellow Jains saw around them in the seventeenth century, served as a validating proof that icons and their worship are acceptable in Jain ritual culture. While history was a powerful argument for the Christian defenders of icons during the iconoclastic controversy (Sahas 1986: 60f.), to my knowledge Yaśovijaya was the first to use history as a proof in the Jain defense of icons.

Dharmasāgara and Pārśvacandrasūri

Most of Yaśovijaya's writings on icons were devoted to defending them from the criticisms of Loṅkā and his followers. But these were not the only disputed aspects of the Mūrtipūjaka ritual culture of icon worship. Much earlier in the millennium, the Kharatara Gaccha had argued that women should not be allowed to perform those parts of icon worship that involve touching the icon, due to the inherent impurity of a female body (Balbir 2003b: 263). The A(ñ)cala and Pūrṇimā Gacchas argued that since a mendicant has totally renounced the material world, he should not be involved in the consecration of a Jina icon. He might be present at the event, but he should not perform the actual consecration (Balbir 2003a: 57; Dundas 2009). Yaśovijaya addressed neither of these disputes in the texts under review here.[83] He did, however, address two issues on which he disagreed with near contemporaries in the Mūrtipūjaka tradition, one in his own Tapā Gaccha, and the other in a rival lineage.

Yaśovijaya devoted verses seventy through eighty of the Pratimā Śataka to addressing some of the positions advanced a century earlier by Dharmasāgara (d. 1596). At the heart of his disagreement with Dharmasāgara was the status of icons that have been consecrated by mendicants in other lineages. According to Dharmasāgara, mendicants in other lineages were by definition heretics and fallen pseudo-monks. The majority within the Mūrtipūjaka tradition has long affirmed that the consecration (añjana śalākā) of a Jina icon can be performed only by an ācārya or other high-ranking monk. Only he has the spiritual power to make the consecration effective. In ways that are at best obscure, the consecrating mendicant transfers some of his own accumulated merit to the icon itself (Cort 2006b). This merit persists for many years. In a passage by Ṭhakkura Pheru in his 1316 Vāstusāra Prakaraṇa, the author averred, "Even if it is broken, an icon which was established more than one hundred years ago by a person of excellent virtues is still fit for worship. The worship of such an icon is not without fruit." [84]

Dharmasāgara took this consensual position among Mūrtipūjakas and applied it, in an argument that was unique in Jain history, to the opposite case. Since the moral qualities of the person consecrating an icon persist in the icon, he argued, one should not worship an icon consecrated by a person either of unknown virtue, or of known bad virtue. Almost all Jain temples are full of icons that have been consecrated by mendicants of many different lineages. Some of these are fully renunciant lineages, others are domesticated caityavāsī lineages. In many cases it is not possible to tell who consecrated an icon, as either there is no inscription, or the inscription is so badly worn as to be illegible. But on many icons - nearly all metal icons, and a large number of stone ones there is a clearly legible inscription detailing who consecrated the icon. In both these cases Dharmasāgara argued that one should only worship icons consecrated by mendicants of known excellent virtue - in other words, mendicants in what he said was the only true Jain lineage, the Tapā Gaccha. Otherwise the bad karmic residue attached to the icon would manifest in the worshiper.

Yaśovijaya disagreed with this position. Similar to his exposition of the three kinds of hiṃsā, in which he stressed the importance of inner intention over outer ritual performance, here too he stressed that worship is beneficially fruitful if it is performed with the proper devotional intention (bhakti bhāva), regardless of who consecrated an icon.[85]

The other disagreement was with Pārśvacandrasūri (1480–1565), the founder of the Pārśvacandrasūri Gaccha. He formed this group when he broke away from the Nāgapurīya Tapā Gaccha in 1507 in Nagaur (Nāgapura).[86] Pārśvacandrasūri argued that icon worship at best results in a mixture of good and bad karma, and therefore is of only limited spiritual value. Yaśovijaya again argued for the primacy of intention (bhāva) over action (kriyā). He agreed that in the end it is necessary for a soul to attain a state of total dispassion (vītarāgatā) and thereby overcome the affects of all karma, both good and bad; but for the layperson, who operates in a world in which there are desires (sarāga), icon worship when performed with pure intention results only in the accrual of merit (puṇya).[87] Again we see Yaśovijaya affirming the validity of lay Jain practices, against a position that unduly prioritized the mendicant path.

Conclusion: In Defense of Icons

We do not know what, if any, immediate response there was from his opponents to Yaśovijaya's elaborate and sophisticated theology of the icon. The iconoclastic and aniconic followers of Loṅkā have left us very little by way of a literary trail until the twentieth century, since for reasons of mendicant propriety it was considered inappropriate for mendicants in the Sthānakavāsī traditions before the twentieth century to engage in literary activity (Flügel 2008: 194). Not until the early nineteenth century, therefore, do we have any clear evidence of public debates between Śvetāmbara iconophiles and iconoclasts, when Muni Vīrvijay (1773-1851), a younger contemporary of Padmavijay in the small saṃvegī branch of the Tapā Gaccha, argued with the iconoclastic Sthānakavāsī Svāmī Jeṭhmal in the context of a court case in the Ahmedabad District Court.[88] This was the first in a series of debates, many of them recorded in Hindi and Gujarati pamphlets and books published by local congregations on inexpensive paper that has by now largely disintegrated. The debates raged especially between the latenineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. In all of these, the writings of Yaśovijaya have remained foundational for the iconophilic position. Some of the evidence in favor of icons advanced by later authors reflects the changed global context of colonial India, but most of the theological and textual arguments they employ derive directly from the writings of Yaśovijaya.[89]

While there was much that was original in Yaśovijaya's defense of icons, and his arguments show his usual brilliance and through knowledge of the Śvetāmbara textual tradition, it is also clear that he did not create this defense out of thin air. The strength of Yaśovijaya's arguments lay as much in his ability to marshal earlier textual positions and combine them with his own thinking to advance a coherent, well-rounded defense of icons.

It is important to note the number of times Yaśovijaya returned to the defense of icons in his writings. We can take this as evidence that the worship of icons of the Jina was a contentious issue among seventeenth-century Śvetāmbara Jains, even if the other side of the argument is silent in the historical record. It is also noteworthy that he wrote in defense of icons in three languages. He wrote in Sanskrit, still in seventeenth-century India the language of sophisticated intellectual production. He wrote in Prakrit, to root his argument in the scriptural language of the Jains, and thereby give it the luster of scriptural authority. He wrote in Gujarati, in several genres, in order that his argument not be restricted to Sanskrit-reading intellectuals. He wanted his argument to reach as wide a range of mendicant and lay Śvetāmbara Jains as possible; since many of them did not read Sanskrit fluently (if at all), writing in Gujarati was an essential aspect of his program.

Finally, the concerted effort Yaśovijaya dedicated to the defense of icons reminds us of just how central icons have been to Jain ritual, devotional and intellectual culture for centuries (Cort 2010b). If icons were marginal to Śvetāmbara Jain identity, they would not have been the source of concerted criticism and defense. Yaśovijaya's Lumpaka / Sthānakavāsī opponents to a significant extent defined their rejection of aspects of the dominant Śvetāmbara practice around the rejection of icons. Yaśovijaya, therefore, was called to defend icons throughout his career, and in so doing helped shape subsequent Mūrtipūjaka intellectual culture, and also contributed an important chapter to a global history of arguments between iconoclasts and iconophiles.


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