Selected Speeches on Prakrit and Jainology ► Prakrit Literature : Retrospection

Posted: 31.05.2012

Keynote Speech

As a freelance explorer I studied and evinced keen interest in Prakrit language and literature. My contact with late A.N. Upadhye kindled my interest and inspired to continue the Prakrit studies which became part of my svādhyāya, 'self-recitation'. However, I was unable to devote more time to Prakrit till I retired in 1996. After my superanuation I could happily revive my Prakrit studies.

But in the meanwhile I was not cut away from its connection. His Holiness Parama Pūjya Svasti Śri Cārukīrti Bhattāraka Svāmiji floated a new organization, which later blossomed to become a prominent Institute, for the propagation and promotion of Prakrit Studies and Research. His Holiness made me a Trustee and entrusted the responsibility of organising the first National Prakrit Conference at Bangalore in 1990. Incidentally that was the period when Bangalore University had deputed me to attend an International Conference at Torento from where I went to America and England with my wife Prof. Kamala Hampana. But I cut short my journey and returned to attend the pending work and went to Poona to personally meet Prof. A.M. Ghatge whom I knew well from 1966 when I had stayed for some wee at the Deccan College to attend Advanced Course in Phonetics.

Furthermore I came in contact with some International Prakrit luminaries. It is not necessary to give a list of Prakrit scholars or works since you are all familiar with such information.

Therefore, befitting this National Seminar I confine to delineate the vicissitudes of Prakrit studies and status, and to contemplate on solutions to overcome the problems. The period between the third and first centuries bee, was in fact the Prakrit age of Indian Epigraphy. The position in Karnataka was not different. Ever since Kārdamaka Rudradāman I, the śaka king, got inscribed his famous Junāgadh (Gujarat) Rock Edict in 150 CE, containing his praśasti in excellent Sanskrit, then on Sanskrit became the Universal Indian Literary Language to rule the roost. The Age of Prakrit, as a corollary, was superceded by the Age of Sanskrit. Albeit, luckily, thanks to the Rāṣṭrakūṭas, in the context of Karnataka, the Age of Kannada felicitously replaced the Age of Sanskrit.

Astonishingly, out of about 125 Prakrit inscriptions so far discovered in Karnataka, including big and small charters, and a good number of them coming from Sannati (Gulbarga Dt.), none of them show any affiliation to Jainism. Contrarily, many of them exhibit close relationship with Buddhism.

Even there, after the sixth century CE, Prakrit disappeared from the epigraphical record, never to be revived for inscriptions thereafter. Yet it retained its residual status, reaching to still greater heights of glory in the literary cultural order.

The Prakrit speaking Jaina community of the pre-Aśokan times who reached and settled in Karṇaṭaka, Tamiḷnadū and Āndhra, gradually and completely assimilated the local dialects. However, the men of letters continued to speak and write Prakrit, side by side with the indigenous languages. Consequently Kannada borrowed hundreds of words from Prakrit. The wholesale borrowing of Prakrit words was not just one way traffic. Kannada was both a borrowing language and a lending language. A.N. Upadhye has noted the Deśi words which had crept into Prakrit lexicon. In fact Dr. (Mrs.) Ratna Shreyan prepared a thesis under the guidance of A.N. Upadhye, dealing with the indigenous elements assimilated by Prakrit dialects.

Since Jaina patriarchs insisted on priority for local languages considering sarvabhāṣā-mayī Sarasvatī - 'All languages are speeches of Sarasvatī'. As a natural corollary, Kannada had come to the fore. Practically Prakrit swayed Kannada literature from the beginning up to the medieval period, by lending its diction, style, theme and metres. The campu style and literary form, which is the crew de la créme of early Kannada literature, owes its origin to Prakrit. Similarly, kanda, ragaḷe and sāmagatya metres, so popular in Kannada poetry were derived from Prakrit models. Nemicandra (1175 CE), one of the major poets in Kannada literature, composed and experimented two Prakrit stanzas and inserted in the middle of his Kannaḍa poem the Neminātha Purāṇa. He describes that Vasudeva, father of Krsna, entered the royal assembly majestically like an Ardha-Māgadhikāvya! Possibly this is one of the best compliments to the glory of Prakrit poetry.

Reverting again to the statement I made earlier that none of the extant Prakrit inscriptions in Karnataka belong to Jainism (but belong to Buddhism), further developments need to be explained. Contrary to the above fact, none of the extant Prakrit works in Karnataka belong to Buddhism. Instead, all the extant literary and sāstra works in Prakrit, Sanskrit and Kannada, from the beginning up to the twelfth century, are of Jaina affiliation.

During the epoch making Imperial Rāṣṭrakūṭa dynasty Prakrit witnessed its palmy days. Puṣpadanta, greatest o Apabhraṁśa poets, was extended shelter and patronage by Nanna, minister. Manyakheṭa became his second home where he wrote his magnum opus the Tisaṭṭi-Mahāpurisa-Guṇālaṅkaru, a Mahākāvya and the two other narratives, the Jasahara-cariu and Ṇāyakumāracariu. Neither the Kadambas of Banavāsi nor the Gaṅgas or the Bādāmi Calukyas could produce or patronise Prakrit poetry.

Surprisingly, when the Calukyas of Kalyāna superceded the Rāṣṭrakūṭas, Prakrit also lost its patrons. The nexus of Rāṣṭrakūṭas and the Gaṅgas was going strong but surprisingly it came to an abrupt end. The consecration of the 58.8 feet high monolithic colossus of Gommaṭa on the crest of Doḍḍa Beṭṭa and the unique granite Basadi on the summit of Chandragiri hill at Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa became the culmination of the Gaṅga-Rāṣṭrakūṭa’s artistic achievements and the Gommaṭasāra of Nemicandra ācārya (981 CE) became the final Prakrit work of merit in the Deccan.

Albeit, it should be said to the credit of the age that the reign of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas turned out to be the Golden Age of Prakrit works. Apart from Mahākavi Puṣpadanta, Svayambhu (C. 850-900 CE) was another important Apabhraṁśa poet of the period who inspired Puṣpadanta and wrote Svayambhu chandas. He composed his works in the border area of Karnataka and Mahārāshṭra, during the reign of Amoghavarsha Nṛpatuṁga (g 14-78 CE). Svayambhu followed Raviṣeṇa's Padmacarita (676 CE).
Recent researches indicate that poet Kanakāmara (c. 10th century) of the Karakaṇḍa-cariu has equated the hero of his poem with Kṛṣṇa III (939-67). The crowning glory of this age was the composition of the rare commentaries - the Dhavalā, Jayadhavalā and Mahādhavalā, Pearls of Digaṁbara canons in Prakrit. We owe our unbound gratitude to His Holiness Syādvāda Siddhānta Cakravarti Svasti Śri Cārukīrti Bhaṭṭārakji for getting these scholia rendered in to Kannada.

Poets and pontiffs alike were trained in the traditional scriptures and other allied disciplines. Vyākaraa, Tarka, and Jaina Siddhānta were the three important sections of their study. These three formed major subjects in the prescribed curriculum to obtain mastery over traditional knowledge. Hence a healthy competition inspired the saints to become scholars in Śabdāgama or grammar, Yuktyāgama or Tarka, and Paramāgama or Jaina Siddhānta (philosophy). Similarly, they were keen on becoming experts in jīvaṭṭhāṇa, (jīvasthānā), Kṣudraka-bandha and bandha-svāmitva-vicaya, which are the first three parts of the Ṣaṭ -khaṇḍa-āgama, 'scripture of six parts'. Whoever masters these three sections and subjects was entitled for the title of Traividyadeva or Traividya-Vrati or Traividyāspada. Akalaṅkadeva, Diwākaraṇandi, Māghaṇandi, Dāmanandi, Rāmacandra, Śṛtakīrti, Adhyātmi Bālacandra and a few others possessed the unique title of Traividyadeva, 'Lord of the three branches of knowledge'. Such scholars who possessed proficiency in these and similar courses were also honoured with the biradu or titles of Siddhānta Cakravarti, or Saidhāntika Cakravarti, Rāddhānta Cakravarti, Sidhānta-Ratnākara. Nemicandra-ācārya, teacher of Cāmuṇḍarāya possessed the title of Siddhānta Cakravarti. Adhyātmi Bālacandra's professor Nayakīrti had the cognomen of Samasta Saiddhantika Cakravarti and also Rāddhānta Cakravarti, because he was an expert disputant.

The epithet cakravarti being applied to a renouncer is interesting and needs an explanation. In the context of Jaina mythology, Cakravarti or 'Universal Emperor' is one who has conquered with his army all the Ṣaṭ-khaṇḍas, six-khaṇḍas i.e., the three parts to the north of Vijayārdha Parvatha and the other three parts to the south of the same Mountain. After Tīrthankara, who is supreme of the three worlds, Cakravarti, the Lord of six-khaṇḍas and 32,000 māṇḍalikas is puṇya-puruṣa, 'fortunate person'. After Cakravarti, Indra is the third Holy person who is chief of 32 lakh Vimānas and fortunate to perform the pañcakalyāṇakas, 'celebration of five auspicious events in the life of Tīrthaṁkara', to all Tīrthaṅkaras. The Tiloyapaṇṇatti (550 CE) of Jadi Usaha (Yati Ṛṣabha) has recorded an interesting measurement of the strength and competence of Indra, Cakravarti and Tirthankara as follows [Hampana: Indra in Jaina Iconography: 2003:16-18]:


  • A bull has the strength of 12 man power,
  • Male buffalo has the strength of 12 bulls,
  • Horse has the strength of 12 male buffalos,
  • Elephant has the strength of 100 horses,
  • Lion has the vigor of 100 elephants,
  • Śārdūla has the might of 10,000 lions,
  • Aṣtāpada has the strength of 1,00,000 Śārdūlas,
  • Baladeva of Ten Aṣtāpada,
  • Nārāyaṇa of Two Baladevas,
  • Cakravarti of Nine Nārāyaṇas,
  • A Deva of One Lakh Cakravarti's,
  • Indra (Saudharma) of Sevan Lakh deities,
  • Tīrthaṅkara has the might of countless Indras.

In the context of Jaina Ācāryas, the worldly six khaṇḍas are compared to the six khaṇḍas of Ṣaṭkhaṇḍa-āgama. Thus the master of Ṣaṭkhaṇḍa earth becomes Cakravarti and the master of Ṣaṭkhaṇḍa-Siddhānta becomes Siddhānta Cakravarti, emperor of the spiritual lore.

Chief Pontiff Svasti Śri Cārukīrti Bhaṭṭāraka Paṭṭācārya Svāmīji has, with his M.A. in Philosophy and M.A. in History, has mastered the Sarvārthasidhi of Pujyapāda Devanandi Ācārya and the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍa-Āgama as well. Considering all these aspects, it is befitting that this National Seminar, August Assembly of Scholars, resolve to bestow the unique title of

Siddhānta Cakravarti

to Parampūjya Svasti Śri Cārukīrti Bhaṭṭāraka Paṭṭācāryaji.

Let this go into the History as part of the outcome of this Nation Seminar.

Prakrit in particular and Jainism at large has suffered a setback because of prejudices and sectarian outlook. From the reign of Vijayanagara Empire and in the post-Independence period Prakrit lacked political support and the backup of literary circle. However, in the late 19th and the 20th century Prakrit scholars in India and Europe did yeomen service to keep alive the lamp burning. The celebrated German scholars and the illustrious Indian pandits casted and re-casted Prakrit texts with Translations.

But in the 21st century Prakrit scenario is not bright. Most of the modern scholars are experts only in Sanskrit. Great challenges are ahead and Prakrit has to swim against the current. It is not a job potential subject. Is it possible to include Prakrit as one of the optional languages in the schools and colleges curriculum? Can the Universities strengthen the existing Prakrit departments and open an independent department in other Universities? Can we revive and resurrect Prakrit to its early status? - These are Yakṣa praśnas, 'important questions and difficult to answer'.

I am more optimistic than pessimistic, even in adversaries. Where there is a will there is a way. The doors of making an humble beginning are thrown open. I take this opportunity to suggest some steps that may lead us to reach our goal. We can contemplate on positive phased action.

From the past two decades Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa has become a major seat for promoting Prakrit studies at the State, National and International level. Prakrit degrees and certificates are awarded in the annual convocation. In other words an excellent infrastructure is at our disposal and we have to encash this advantage. To start with, summer school of Prakrit teaching should be organised simultaneously at all the district head-quarters which can further be extended to Taluka centres. For this purpose a batch of 40-50 dedicated teachers, including retired officials should be trained here, under the umbrella of National Institute of Prakrit Studies and Research [NIPSAR]. Prominence should be given to women.

I go a step further in requesting all the students and staff of NIPSAR in the campus and the staff of Matha to start conversing the whole day (and every day, seven days in a week, 30 days in a month, 365 days in a year) in Prakrit. It may sound peculiar and funny now, but be sure you are going to draw the attention of whole country.

Thirdly, I request our Parama Pūjya Bhaṭṭārakji who is an unique saint-scholar and who has achieved great feats, to organise an International Prakrit conference at Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa. Four years ago Pūjya Jagadguru of Taraḷabāḷu Mutt had organised an International Sanskrit conference and it was a grand success. If we are to organise International Prakrit Conference in 2009, November, we have to start now itself. It takes one full year to organise it properly and methodically. The next International Prakrit Jñānabhārati Award of 2007, 2008 and 2009 can be awarded at the same International Conference. With such a conference Prakrit will attract the attention of scholars all over the world and it will be like a literary Prakrit Mahāmastakābhiśeka.

I thank Paramapūjya Bhaṭṭārakji by paying great regards - namostu.

My gratitude is not less to my learned friend Prof. Premsuman Jain who has been kind to request me to should the responsibility of this keynote address.

Subsequent to this speech, all the three suggestions made by the author were fulfilled. Parampūjya Svasti Śrī Cārukīrti Bhaṭṭārakji was crowned with the title of Syādvāda Siddhānta Cakravarti at Bangalūru on 28-06-2009, by an august assembly consisting of all sections of Jaina Saṁgha. And in October 2010, under Pūjya Śri Cārukirti Bhaṭṭārakji’s guidance International Prakrit Conference was also successfully organised at ŚravaNabeLagoLa. And the International Prakrit Jñānabhārati Award for the year 2007, 2008, and 2009 were also awarded in the same International Prakrit Conference.

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