Repetition in Jaina Narrative Literature [Part 5]

Posted: 23.03.2012
Updated on: 13.04.2012

http://www.herenow4u.net/fileadmin/v3media/pics/CFJS_FU/CfJS_Archive_of_Jainology_Logo.jpg


The paper was published in Indologica Taurinensia (Vol. XI, 1983, pp. 27-75).


 

§ 9. The Universal History

Literature on the Universal History is different from Varga Literature in so far as the latter potentially carries possibilities of endless variations whereas the former is concerned with a definite mythological subject, the history of the sixty-three great men. However, in terms of complexity and quantity we can hardly compare one with the other. The Universal History produced a literature in its own right whereas our so-called «Varga Literature» is a very limited development.

Both literary genres demonstrate systematic forms of narrative repetition. We shall, however, not start by mentioning the points of contact. We shall first of all describe the Universal History as a mythological theme which underlies various literary works (§§ 9-10). In the five sections that follow (§§ 11-15) we shall try to analyze some of the more important Śvetāmbara works with reference to the UH.

The Universal History is not isolated in the ancient Indian milieu. There are structural parallels and parallels of content in Buddhist mythology (§ 1), and there are many parallel motifs in Brahmanical literature (even if we ignore all those Jaina narrations which did not belong to the nucleus of the UH but were included later). Some points of contact are less known than others, and publications of a more general character treat the three traditions separately. The UH has been studied by several scholars. [27]

It is difficult to say how the UH (Śvetāmbara version) developed. We have earlier (canonical, post-canonical) and later sources, and taken in its entirety the material is of considerable extent. What strikes us is that on the one hand data in the canon is limited and somewhat scattered, while on the other hand fairly early canonical works («middle-canonical») already depict facets of the UH which presuppose a fairly advanced stage of its development. Thus we have no «proto-history». On the whole we can divide the Śvetāmbara literature on the UH into three sections:

  • Hemacandra's encyclopaedic version (12th century),
  • earlier versions (differing in date, size, character, and all incomplete), and
  • later versions (incomplete, unoriginal).

The basic impression for the student of the UH is clarity. If there is anything «easy» in the vast domain of Jaina thought, it certainly is - or seems to be - the UH: a clear chronological background («our» avasarpiṇī with its six subdivisions), a limited number of well-defined series (24 Jinas, 12 Cakravartins, 9 Triads [28] ), and systematic repetition as the overriding principle: members of the same series have similar biographies. All this is summed up by H. von Glasenapp on p. 261 of his book on Jainism. [29] There are, nevertheless complications and irregularities. We will try to enumerate such cases in a list. [30] For simplicity's sake we shall introduce for our discussions on the UH the neologism «sarpiī» as a general term for both «avasarpiṇī» and «utsarpiṇī».

  1. The system (63 great men) according to the table on p. 261 of von Glasenapp's Jainismus belongs to our sarpiṇī and to our continent (Bharataketra, the southernmost continent of Jambūdvīpa). But there are other systems (following the same pattern) in other sarpiṇīs and/or on other continents. This means a multiplication not only of the figures within the series of one system but of the system as such.
  2. The 63 great men of our system are spread over 32 periods (so-called ghas) - a technical device for the organization of the narrative material within the avasarpiṇī. For the exact distribution the reader is referred to fig. 8. [31]
  3. Each great man is related to three dimensions and part of three series: systematic, genealogical, and karmic dimensions (Ṛṣabha = 1st Jina/son of Nābhi/last member in a chain of reincarnations).
  4. An underlying principle (which is non-repetitive) is «deterioration», the Golden Age at one end and the destruction of life at the other. This is seen inter alia as a regression in number, e.g. in the lifespan of the Jinas (fig. 8). The regression is irregular or semi-irregular (e.g. compare the vara-sahasra sequence in fig. 8).
  5. There are irregularities in the general structure which do not belong to the field of regression. Thus Jinas 16, 17 and 18 - and only these three - are Jinas and Cakravartins at the same time.
  6. The material of the UH is either repetitive or non-repetitive. In the former case, we have three main types of repetition: slot-filler repetition, repetition of stereotype episodes/repetition of tale-types (of motifeme sequences). The three categories of mahāpuruṣas are not uniform in this respect. Again the different biographies within one and the same series contain a varying amount of non-repetitive material (=original material). There are also fluctuations in the rendering of the «stereotype episodes» (§ 14).
  7. There are similarities between the Jina («Dharmacakravartin»), the Cakravartin, and the Vāsudeva («Ardhacakravartin»).

Our list is analytical and abstract. It does, for example, not say (point 1) how many systems there are in all, nor does it indicate (point 3) whether the three dimensions are correlated in one way or the other.

Above, we have characterized the «earlier versions» of the UH as «differing in date, size, and character, and all incomplete». Here, and in the case of Varga Literature, it is problematic to explain away structural features by historical hypotheses. It can be argued that the present Varga Literature is a substitute for an earlier Varga Literature which was lost. But although this may be correct it will never explain - as is intended in that line of argument - the peculiar character of the extant works. Even in ancient days there was a huge mass of narrative literature (always adaptable to catechetical requirements) which could have been used to replace what had been lost. Similarly it is quite possible that a complete version of the UH existed in earlier times but fell into oblivion for one reason or the other. But considering the fact that there were intense literary activities in the canonical and post-canonical periods it is surprising that during a thousand years or so no comprehensive version of the UH has been prepared. Śīlāṅka, who lived before Hemacandra and beside him was the sole Śvetāmbara author who wrote a «complete» version of the UH, used it mainly as a frame for his literary activity and treated all those biographies which were of no interest to him in a superficial manner. Obviously, the UH was not en vogue during those centuries and things were left as they were. It can likewise be synchronically argued that the tabular matter was considered as the general background and that every author was free to relate selected portions in full.

Multiplication of mythological figures is common in Indian tradition. Whatever the historical roots, it is possible to multiply a figure, i.e. to transform an individual into a type. Normally, this procedure is connected with the fabrication of names and the construction of a chronological frame (different representatives of the type in different periods). Narrative elements are however no basic requirement. For us, the absence or presence of narrative elements (connected with each individual figure) is the criterion for using either the term «multiplication» or «repetition» (strictly speaking «multiplication plus repetition»). In the case of the UH (63 great men and 7 Kulakaras in «our» system) we are concerned with «repetition».

Another related phenomenon is what we would call «categorization». Here the movement is in the opposite direction: different stories are made similar so as to form one category. [32] Normally, stories combined in one «category» have intrinsic motifemic similarities, and this similarity can be reinforced by the generalization of certain features. Such developments are not missing in the UH. But as they are not part of our discussion we mention here only the Brahmanical avatāra doctrine as the easiest way of demonstrating what is meant.


Footnotes:
[27]
[28]
[29]
[30]
[31]
[32]

Visitors Locations

Click on map to enlarge...