Digambara Jaina Collections of Manuscripts

Posted: 17.05.2016
Updated on: 02.10.2016

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London

Jaina collections of manuscripts are related to my study in Indian epistemology and logic, and hence unknown or rare texts in Jaina collections have always been a focus. It seems that, unlike Śvetāmbara, Digambara collections of manuscripts are less known and accessible to researchers. Throughout the years of my search for such manuscripts, I have come across a few such places which still house a great number of unstudied, valuable materials.

One such place is Anekant Gyan Mandir (Anekānta Jñāna-Mandira Śodha-Saṁsthāna) at Bina-Etawa (BīnāIṭāvā, Madhya Pradeś, 24°12´ N, 78°12´ E), Sāgar District (my visit: Feb., 2008). They primarily house paper manuscripts, with hardly any palm leaf granthas. The director, Brahmacari Sandeep Saral, has published a useful catalogue Anekānta Bhāvana Grantha-ratnāvalī, which serves as quite a reliable guide.[1] The person in charge and the staff are helpful and welcoming to visiting researchers. The collection contains, for instance, some manuscripts of Akalaṅka's Aṣṭa-śatī, Vidyānanda's Aṣṭa-sahasrī, Akalaṅka's Nyāya-viniścaya and Vādirāja's Nyāya-viniścaya-vivaraṇa, Anantavīrya's Siddhi-viniścaya-ṭīkā, and other works of Digambara philosophers. There must have been direct links between the Bombay community and the Digambara monks of Bīnā-Iṭāvā in the past because I have come across some transcripts of Mumbai manuscripts in Bīnā (aged about 80–100 years), e.g. a Bīnā copy of the Mumbai Siddhiviniścaya-ṭīkā manuscript.[2]

A real treasure, and practically unknown to research, is a private collection housed at Idar (Īḍar, Gujarāt, bordering Rājasthān, 23.83´ N, 73.0´ E), namely Śrī Sambhavanāthjī Digambara Jaina Mandira and Bhaṇḍāra, which is located near the Viśvakarma Temple (Parśvanātha Digambara Mandira) in the Pavitranagar section of town (my visit: Feb., 2008). The person in charge and, at the same time, the owner, is Mr. Ashvin P. Gandhi, who inherited the collection from his father. This is a private Digambara family collection that came into existence at the turn of the 19th/20th century, when Mr. Gandhi's grandfather began to acquire manuscripts from private owners in order to preserve them. The collection was subsequently brought to Īḍar early in the 20th century from the South and expanded by Mr. Ashvin P. Gandhi's father. Unfortunately, in the late 1970s, during a brief absence of the family, there was a robbery and a few hundred manuscripts were stolen, never to be recovered. Currently there seem to be approximately 3,000–4,000 palm leaf manuscripts, a large number of them in Kannaḍa script, alongside some paper manuscripts. There is no catalogue, except a few running inventory books that mark the acquisition of particular manuscripts. This is, however, a highly unreliable source of information, because not infrequently the titles in the books do not match the real contents of the manuscripts, or the numbers in the inventory books do not correspond to actual manuscripts on shelves. Besides, the manuscripts are badly maintained and many are in a poor condition, due both to the inadequacy of expertise of the present staff and to the complete lack of funds. Access to the collection is next to impossible. I know of decade-long efforts of a number of Indian researchers, primarily from Gujarāt, who have been trying to see the collection, but with no success. It seems that, if I am to rely on the owner's words, I was the first outsider not only to see but also to photograph some of the manuscripts (Akalaṅka's Nyāya-viniścaya, Vidyāpati's Nyāya-viniścayâlaṅkāra, Vādirāja's Nyāya-viniścaya-vivaraṇa) during my brief visit in 2008.

Texts as holy objects (Temple in Karkal, Mysore, 2008)

Another important and still unexplored collection is that of Indore (Iṁdaur, Madhya Pradeś; 22°72´ N, 75°88´ E), housed at the Kundakunda Jñānapīṭha, alternatively known as Kund Kund Gyanpeeth Pustakalay. It is related to the architectural pearl of early 20th-century Jaina architecture in Indore: the Mirror Temple (Kāṁca Mandira). Again, this is a private effort of Bimal Ajit Kumar Singh Kasliwal, who has brought together manuscripts from various small private collections in Madhya Pradeś, which are now under the supervision of Dr. Anupam Jain. First contacts with the owner were rather difficult and it was neither possible to directly work on manuscripts nor to photograph them. However, the story has a happy ending: many (all?) manuscripts have been digitized and are available via National Mission for Manuscripts, but also the whole collection of approximately 90 DVDs has been copied and made accessible to researchers. The identifications do not always correspond to the contents, but in most cases they do. They are all paper manuscripts in North Indian scripts (no Kannaḍa manuscripts), a few hundred of them, primarily narratives, works on ritual and conduct, canonical works, but hardly any philosophical works on epistemology or logic. The number of 12,500 books, usually mentioned by the institution, is not the number of manuscripts.[3]

Rājasthān has a number of small private collections. Occasionally, their owners are wary of strangers and either claim to have no manuscripts at all or admit to having them but in the end one is never given the privilege of seeing even a single leaf. A good example is Ailak Pannālāla Digambara Jaina Grantha Bhaṇḍāra of Rānīvāla Mansion in Beawar (Byāvar; 26.10°N, 74.31°E), in Diggi Mohalla, owned by the Raniwala family (my visit in Feb., 2014) a visit to which proved to be futile.

Worth mention are small Digambara bhaṇḍāras in Jaipur (Jayapura), such as Digamber Jain Nasiyan Bhattarakji and Apabhramsa Academy (26.54°N, 75.48°E) or Digambar Jain Mandir Sanghiji (my visit: Feb., 2008), which have some valuable and still unknown and unused material, mostly on paper, in North Indian scripts. Some important texts are: Samantabhadra's Āpta-mīmāṁsā, Akalaṅka's Tattvârtha-rāja-vārttika, Akalaṅka's Aṣṭa-śatī, Prabhācandra's Nyāya-kumudacandra. A very useful computerised list of all the bhaṇḍāras' collections has been prepared by Mr. Vipin Kumar Baj, related to Digambar Jain Mandir Sanghiji.

Mumbai has a couple of tiny collections of manuscripts, the most important being Candraprabhā Digambara Mandira Pustakālāya (near CP Tank; 18°95´ N, 72°82´ E) (my visits: 2012, 2013). There are perhaps 100–200 paper manuscripts (no palm leaf), and the access (including photography) was unrestricted. Temple staff was very friendly and welcoming. Beside narratives, canonical works, and ritual texts, there are some important philosophical treatises, e.g. Anantavīrya's Parīkṣâmukhalaghu-vṛtti, Dvija-vadana-capeṭā ascribed to Aśvaghoṣa, Narendrasena's Pramāṇa-prameya-kalikā, etc.

Karnāṭaka abounds in small collections of manuscripts, often very important, with some tiny ones still kept under house roofs. The best known are the National Institute of Prakrit Studies and Research (Śrī Dhāvala Tīrtham, Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa), related to the Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa Jaina Maṭha, Shree Jain Matt of Moodbidri (Śrī Jaina Maṭha, Mūḍabadrī), and the Kārkal Digambara Jaina Maṭha. The largest of these, with about 15,000 titles in 5,000 bundles, is the collection of Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa (12°86´ N, 76°52´ E).[4] It is well catalogued. Access can be difficult, but not impossible. Everything depends on Bhaṭṭāraka Carukīrtijī. It is a rich source of important philosophical works, such as Akalaṅka's Laghīyastraya, Vidyānanda's Aṣṭa-sahasrī, Samantabhadra's Āpta-mīmāṁsā, etc. Next in  size is Shri  Jain  Mutt of Moodbidri (13°07´ N, 74°99´ E), renowned for housing the famous Cha-kkhaṁḍâgame manuscript (my visit: Jan., 2008). Access depends entirely on  the bhaṭṭāraka of the Maṭha, Carukīrtijī. There is a list of the manuscripts with some signature numbers but these, on examination, never matched the actual manuscripts on the shelves and the lists, in the form I could briefly see them, were mostly unreliable. We have reason to believe that this collection may contain some unknown and highly important manuscripts, and can only hope that the collection will be made more accessible in future. A nearby Kārkal Digambara Jaina Maṭha (13°20´ N, 74°99´ E) is a very friendly place, though the manuscript collection is tiny, 2–3 dozen manuscripts, with no material related to philosophy.

Sample folios of Akalaṅka’s Laghīyas-traya manuscript kept at Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa (catalogue no 64). (Courtesy, NIPSAR and Pujya Bhattarakji)

Sample folios of Vidyānanda’s Aṣṭa-sahasrī manuscript, dated Vikrama-saṁvat 1825 (1767 CE), kept at Bīnā (mss no 5838).

A collection hardly known to anybody is the Jinakanchi Jain Mutt of Mel Sithamoor (Jina-kāñcī Jaina Maṭha), i.e. Melchitamur / Melsithamur (12°27´ N, 79°51´ E), in Villupuram District, 139 km south-west of Chennai (Tamilnādu) (my visit: Feb., 2008). Lakṣmīsena Bhaṭṭāraka, a retired bank director, is extremely helpful and  friendly, and aware of the importance of the manuscript collection and its proper preservation— in stark contrast to the highly conservative local community, strongly opposed to any outsider consulting the manuscripts. All the manuscripts are stored in two large, solid metal locked closets, housed in a dust covered attic of an office adjacent to the Bhagwan Parshwanath Digambar Jain Temple. The local community has no funds to preserve the manuscripts. There is no one in the village who has any knowledge of scripts or manuscripts, considered holy objects. I was told that there was no extant manuscript list at all, despite the fact that some of the manuscripts bore paper labels with 'Library Access Number', and occasional titles (but these instances were rare). To examine all the manuscripts was a rather tedious work under such circumstances, because to do so required reading the beginnings and colophons of hundreds of manuscripts. The key to one of the two closets was missing and attempts to open it failed, so I was able to examine the contents of just one of them. My rough estimate is that there are about 1,500 manuscripts. They are predominantly in Kannaḍa script, with a large number of (paper and palm leaf) manuscripts in Sanskrit, but in Tamil script. Of the most important manuscripts in the collection are one of Prabhācandra's Nyāya-kumudacandra and the Nyāya-dīpikā (in Tamil script).

A slightly better known place is Digambar Jain Math of Thirumalai, related to Shree Kshetra Arihantagiri (Arahantagiri, Tamilnādu; 12°56´ N, 79°20´ E), Polur Sub-District, Tiruvannāmalai District, 155km southwest of Chennai, about 65 km away from Melsithamur (my visit: Feb., 2008).[5] There are just a handful of manuscripts.

Surprisingly, despite occasional difficulties, private or temple collections of the Digambaras pose less difficulties than Indian state institutions, such as the  Oriental Research Institute of the University of Mysore, the Oriental Institute of the M.S. University of Baroda, or the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library of the Madras University Library in Chennai, which during my visits either made it outright impossible to consult manuscripts, impose prohibitive prices, or introduce time consuming red-tape procedures which effectively impede any access.

A very active place to explore is Devashram of Arrah (Devâśrama, Ārā; Bihār) (25°55´ N, 84°66´ E). Based in Patna, Mr. Prashant Kumar Jain of Arrah, has managed to digitise a large number of manuscripts and printed editions which he makes available to researchers.[6]

Generally, Jaina manuscripts are housed in various institutions of which we can distinguish the following categories: in (1) Jaina bhaṇḍāras either specially constructed or specifically meant to house manuscripts (e.g. Jain Mutt of Melchitamur, Sri Jain Matt of Moodbidri, Anekānta Jñāna Mandira Śodha-Saṁsthāna of Bīnā, Hemacandrācarya Jaina Jñāna Bhāṇḍar of Pāṭan), (2) in the precincts of Jaina temples in adjacent rooms assigned to house manuscripts, usually in locked closets (e.g. Śrī Sambhavanāthjī Digambara Jaina Mandira/Bhaṇḍār of Īḍar, Kanakagiri; Candraprabha Digambara Mandira Pustakālāya of Bombay, Digambar Jaina Mandira Saṅghījī of Jaipur), (3) on rare occasions in Jaina temples themselves, in the temple space and displayed on a stand the way Tīrthaṁkāras' images (murti) are displayed (e.g. Kārkal, some Digambara temples of Jaipur), (4) in Jaina academic institutions or semi-academic institutions affiliated to a temple and supervised by the trustees of the temple (e.g. Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa's National Institute of Prakrit Studies and Research, the Syādvāda Jaina Mahāvidyālaya of Vārāṇasī, Digamber Jain Nasiyan Bhattarak Ji and Apabhramsa Academy of Jaipur), (5) in academic institutions directly not affiliated to any religious establishment but run and supervised by the Jaina community (e.g. Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology, Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology, Pārśvanāth Vidyāśram / P.V. Research Institute of Vārāṇasī), (6) in government secular academic institutions, such as universities (e.g. Oriental Research Institute of the University of Mysore, Banaras Hindu University of Vārāṇasī, Oriental Institute of the M.S. University of Baroda), (7) private collections either of Jaina devotees or manuscripts collectors (not necessarily affiliated to Jainism).

All photos are by the author.

Piotr Balcerowicz (www.orient.uw.edu.pl/balcerowicz) is Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, University of Warsaw. He specialises in philosophical traditions of Asia and the West as well as in intercultural relations and contemporary history of Asia, especially South-Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.