Jains and the Other: Understanding Religious Identities

Posted: 27.04.2016
Updated on: 02.10.2016

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London


From 1-2 May, 2015, Yale University hosted the firstever international graduate student conference on Jainism. Thanks to generous support from the JivDaya Fund, the Lex Hixon Visiting Speakers Fund in the Department of Religious Studies, and the South Asian Studies Council at Yale, graduate students from across Europe and the United States were able gather to discuss the theme of the conference, "Jains and the Other: Understanding Religious Identities."

On Friday evening, Phyllis Granoff, Lex Hixon Professor of World Religions at Yale, gave the keynote address, "On Students and Teachers: Reflections from a Jain Medieval Text." Granoff shared stories from the Sanskrit text the Upadeśaratnakara by the 15th-century Śvetāmbara monk Munisundarasūri that illustrate various types of problematic students: students who are in love, students who are consumed by hatred, students who are foolish, and students who have already been taught the wrong thing. Certainly many of the students in the audience could recognize themselves in these medieval examples!

The following day, Lynna Dhanani, from Yale University, opened the first session on "Medieval and Pre-modern Jain Literature" by presenting her paper, "Making the Inaccessible Accessible: Aṣṭapada as Kailāsa." She showed how the site of the liberation of the first tīrthaṅkara, Ṛṣabha, was termed "Aṣṭapada" in early 7th-century Digambara and Śvetāmbara literature, but, Padmapurāṇa, became identified with Mount Kailāsa due to Śaiva influence. While early texts such as the Digambara Tiloyapaṇṇatti and the Śvetāmbara Kappa Sutta claim Aṣṭapada as an inaccessible mountain, Digambara Purāṇas from the 7th-9th centuries, and later Śvetāmbara texts influenced by these Digambara sources, make the mountain "accessible" – locatable on this earth and thus replicable in sculpture and painting – by identifying it with Śiva's abode, Mount Kailāsa.

Gregory Clines, from Harvard University, then read his paper, "Religious Identity and Narrative Emplotment: Jinadāsa in the Harivaṃśa Purāṇa and Rām Rās." Drawing upon the work of Paul Ricoeur, Clines asked how the introductory verses of two texts by the 15th-century Digambara poet Brahma Jinadāsa presented different portraits of the author. In the Sanskrit Harivaṃśa Purāṇa, Clines explained, Jinadāsa provides a lengthy praise of his mendicant lineage beginning with Kundakunda, establishing himself as a Sanskrit poet in the tradition of his predecessors such as Jinasena. The vernacular (Maru-gurjara) Rām Rās, on the other hand, praises only Jinadāsa's most immediate gurus, "localizing" the text. These examples, Clines argued, should encourage scholars to focus on questions of genre and language rather than thinking of Jain purāṇic literature as a coherent whole.

Aleksandra Gordeeva of Yale University presented the final paper of the panel on literature, "Literary Adaption in Sanskrit Drama: Jain and Hindu Tellings of the Hariścandra Tale." Gordeeva compared two dramatic versions of the tale of King Hariścandra, the Caṇḍakauśika by the Hindu court poet Kṣemīśvara (10th century), and the Satyahariścandra by the Śvetāmbara Jain monk and poet Rāmacandra (12th century) to examine how playwrights in medieval India negotiated their religious identities. She showed that while the Hindu Kṣemīśvara focuses on the conflict between dharma and ritual, Rāmacandra, perhaps influenced by Jain teachings, emphasizes the evil nature of illusion.

Aaron Ullrey from the University of California at Santa Barbara opened the second panel of the day "Tantra and Science" – with his paper, "Cruel Kalpas and the Goddesses who Occupy Them: Aggressive Magic in Two Jain Tantras." Ullrey argued that two Digambara tantric texts, the 10th-century Jvālāmālinīkalpa and the 11thcentury Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa, while both presenting a hotchpotch of ritual techniques, have an internal logic dictated by the characteristics of the presiding goddesses of each text, Jvālāmālinī and Padmāvatī, respectively.

Knut Aukland of the University of Bergen then presented his paper, "Science, Academia, and Jain Identities: The Scientization and Academization of Jainism." Aukland discussed the ways in which modern Jains have looked to establish ties with academic institutions and label Jain teachings as "scientific" in order to promote their religion.

Ellen Gough of Yale University concluded the panel with her paper, "The Tantric Worship Practices of Modern Śvetāmbara Monks." Drawing upon fieldwork in Ahmedabad, Gough analyzed one Śvetāmbara ācārya's daily worship of a tantric diagram painted on cloth, the sūrimantra paṭa. She described the recitation of the sūrimantra, the tantric purification rites (dehaśuddhi), the placement of mantras on the body (nyāsa), and the display of hand gestures (mudrā) Ācārya Nandighoṣasūri performs as he sprinkles scented sandalwood powder (vāsakṣepa) on the cloth diagram daily. Since the vāsakṣepa consecrated in this worship is gifted to laypeople and thought to bring worldly success, Gough argued that this worship of the sūrimantra paṭa has grown popular in the last 100 years because mendicant lineages are becoming increasingly splintered and ācāryas wish to gain and keep lay supporters.

Tillo Detige (Ghent University) began the next session – "Jains Through Time and Space" – with his paper, "Genealogies of Opposition, Archaeologies of Selves and Others: The Digambara Jaina Bhaṭṭārakas." Detige presented a Foucauldian, archaeological and genealogical analysis of various moments of opposition to bhaṭṭārakas, looking at different ways in which reformers understood bhaṭṭārakas as something "other" than the ascetic Digambara ideal. Examining the 17th-century Adhyātma and Digambara Terāpanth movements, along with early 20th-century and presentday opposition to bhaṭṭārakas by naked munis, Detige assessed how Western colonial, capitalist, and sociopolitical influences shaped Digambaras' narratives about the so-called decadent, morally unsound bhaṭṭāraka.

Julie A. Hanlon, from the University of Chicago, then read her paper, "Jains, Merchants, and Kings: An Examination of the Socio-economic Role of Jains in Tamil Nadu, South India 300 BCE-600 CE." Hanlon examined archaeological and epigraphic evidence from Tamil Nadu to link Jain monastic communities with trade, merchants, and political elites in the period between 300 BCE and 600 CE.

Tine Vekemans, from Ghent University, then presented the final paper of the session, "Moving the Jina: Practices and Narratives of Jainism in New Global Environments." Drawing upon her fieldwork amongst the small community of Jains in Belgium, mostly Gujarati Śvetāmbara mūrtipūjakas working in the diamond industry, Vekemans assessed some possible trajectories of the development of Jainism outside of India.

The final session of the day opened with Lucas den Boer (University of Groningen)'s paper, "Perspectivism and Apologetics: The Role of the Other in Jaina Doxography." Den Boer focused on a passage from the 15th-century Guṇaratnasūri's Tarkarahasyadīpikā, a commentary on Haribhadrasūri's Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya, that deals with the materialists, the Cārvākas. He showed how Guṇaratnasūri expertly imagines a Cārvāka denial of the existence of the soul in order to refute these claims and confirm Jain doctrine on the nature of the soul.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse, from Ghent University, also focused on the Tarkarahasyadīpikā in her paper, "Jain Philosophers in the Debating Hall: When Correct Argumentation Requires the Use of Hermeneutical Devices." Gorisse focused on the text's section on the refutation of a God (Īśvara) as a conscious maker, demonstrating how Guṇaratna's multiplicity of interpretations of the phrase "constituted of parts" provided a Jain way of refuting the Naiyāyika claim that if something has parts, it must be an effect, and thus must have a creator.

Victor D'Avella, from the University of Chicago, read the final paper of the day, "Hemacandra's Linguistic Synthesis and the Definition of Poetry." After providing an overview of the 12th-century Hemacandra's nine main works on grammar and lexicography, and two main works on poetry, D'Avella showed how Hemacandra's definition of poetry is in agreement with non-Jain Sanskrit works on poetics such as Mammaṭa's Kāvyaprakāśa. Nonetheless, D'Avella showed, Hemacandra's works on poetics and grammar are decorated with Jain conceptions and philosophy.

After the completion of the four sessions, Steven Vose from Florida International University offered a response to the papers. Participants agreed that the diversity of topics presented, and the range of methodologies used –from literary studies, to archaeology, to philosophy, to art history, to anthropology – confirmed that the future of Jain studies remains quite promising. Students of Jainism will simply have to avoid falling in love, hating others, learning the wrong things, and being foolish.


Ellen Gough is an assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Emory University.



Mahāvīra, Mahāvīrālaya Kobātīrtha 2015

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