Selected Speeches on Prakrit and Jainology ► The Ādipurāṇa: The Genesis Of Human History

Posted: 07.06.2012

The Ādipurāṇa, 'Lorebook of the Beginning', by Ācārya Jinasena (770-870 CE) narrates vividly socio-cultural aspects of the earliest times of human history. Incidentally it brings out socio-anthropological and metaphysical conceptualism of various philosophical theories and their development in the context of evolution of human society including the Jaina society. Jinasena's eloquent description of the concept of cosmology and the genesis of Jaina history are principally based on the facts consistently maintained by Jaina religious tradition. The Ādipurāṇa, Jaina version of the Universal History, has a practical significance as a repository of Lore and exemplification which outweighs such much older texts.

The Ādipurāṇa must be clearly understood before Jaina way of spiritual life, tradition and religion could be adequately grasped. The $Extraordinary epic is almost an epitome of Jaina culture and civilization which has assimilated the socio-cultural currents of its contemporary period. The Jaina order has its own style and method of recording past events. The Ādipurāṇa is an ideal representation of that venerable hoary tradition. It is Kathā and Itihāsa-Purāṇa, containing archaic legendary tales of the great personalities with historical knowledge. 'People get gems from the ocean, and similarly the readers get gem like precious lessons from the Purāṇa' [Jinasena, Ādipurāṇa, Parvan 2,verse 116].

A forerunner of a great literary style and system, cognoscente Jinasena was responsible for the standardization of the Purāṇa format. Imparting ahimsā cult of non-injury for over eighty years, the centurian Jinasenācārya heralded a socio-cultural, politico- spiritual and literary revolution by authoring the Ādipurāṇa, also known as the Pūrvapurāṇa. During the glorious epoch of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa’s, Ācārya Jinasena (770-870), an encyclopaedist, planned and brilliantly executed the methodical documentation of social, economic, cultural and ethical life of human beings, in the light of Jaina perspective. In the process, he has systematically explored the knowledge and wisdom stored up in the Jaina ethos. The Ādipurāṇa, "Lorebook of the Beginning", the veritable cultural encyclopaedia of Jaina church, rests upon concepts which are exclusively Indian and possesses the character of a categorical ancient tradition. In this perspective, the Ādipurāṇa assumes majestic proportions.

The Rāṣṭrakūṭa era (735-973 CE) ushered in palmy days for Jaina literary renaissance, and Ācārya Jinasena, most illustrious patriarch revered by the Jaina church was the crème de la crème of the age. Gifted with unquestionable literary flair, he has authored prominent works of extraordinary merit, both in Prakrit and Sanskrit. By any standard, undoubtedly, Jinasena, respected as Kalikāla-sarvajña, the omniscient of kali era, was the uncrowned monarch of the Jaina literary world of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa age. His works, the Pārśvābhyudaya, 'the prosperity of Arhat Pārśva', the JayaDhavalā Ṭikā, 'the victoriously luminous gloss' (oh the Kaṣāya-Prābhṛta), and the Ādipurāṇa, 'the Lorebook of the Beginning', are of historical importance and are regarded as tour de force, feat of skill, with a stamp of authority and permanency on them.

For the first time in the Jaina literary practice Jinasena defined the visage of Mahāpurāṇa: "I shall recite the narrative of the sixty three ancient persons of the Tīrthaṅtkaras, of the Cakravartins, of Baladevas, of half Cakravartins (Vasudevas alias Nārāyaṇas) and of their opponents (Prati-Vasudevas alias Prati-Nārāyaṇas). The work is called Purāṇa because it relates to the great persons, or because it is narrated by the great sages, or because it teaches the way to great bliss. Other writers say that, because it originated with the old poet it is called Purāṇa, and it is called Mahā, great, because of its intrinsic greatness. The great sages have called it a Mahāpurāṇa because it relates to Mahāpuruṣas, great men, and because it teaches the bliss [Ādipurāṇa, 1.20-23]. Purāṇas contain the biography/legend/story of mainly one hero/great person (śalākā puruṣa), whereas Mahāpurāṇas narrate the account of all the sixty-three great men. "The Mahāpurāṇa is a term peculiar to the Jain literature and means a great narrative of the ancient names. There are Purāṇas or old tales in the Jain literature, but they narrate the life of a single individual or holy person. The Mahāpurāṇa on the other hand, describes the lives of sixty-three prominent men of the Jain faith [Vaidya, P.L.: "Intro": xxx].

According to the Jaina notion the manifest universe has the outline of a man standing with arms akimbo and legs apart. The universe with all its components is eternal and has neither a beginning nor an end. In other words nobody created it nor can anyone destroy it. Within this vast but finite three-dimensional structure are vertically ordered three tiers. The Jambūdvīpa, named after the jambū tree, is in the middle tier called Madhya-loka. [Ādipurāṇa A. 48-50] The Jambūdvīpa, the world of human activity, contains seven continents, including Bharata-kṣetra in the centre of which lies Bharatavarṣa, the present subcontinent of India, separated from one another by six great mountains. The continents are divided into karma-bhūmi, realms of action, and bhoga-bhūmi, realms of enjoyment.

In the everlasting universe the wheel of time revolves incessantly in half-circles. The units of cosmic time are divided into two parts, namely the utsarpiṇī-kāla, half progressive in the ascending order, and avasarpiṇī-kāla, half-regressive in the descending order [Ādipurāṇa, Parva 3, Verses 17-18]. The realms of action and enjoyment, i.e., the karma-bhūmi and bhoga-bhūmi, are subject to these temporal cycles of half-circle period. In the context of human life, the systematic concept of utsarpiṇī and avasarpiṇī deserves a detailed description because they mark the gradual evolution and devolution in happiness, physical strength and stature, span of life, and the length of the age itself.

Each of the utsarpiṇī and avasarpiṇī kālas, the half-circle eons of time in the manifest universe, are further divided into six subdivisions, as follows:

a) the six units of utsarpiṇī, progressive half-cycle;

  1. duṣamā-duṣamā, extremely unhappy
  2. duṣamā, unhappy
  3. duṣamā - suṣamā, more unhappy than happy
  4. suṣamā - duṣamā, more happy than unhappy
  5. suṣamā, happy
  6. suṣamā - suṣamā, extremely happy [Ādipurāṇa 3. 22-51].

b) the six units of avasarpiṇī, regressive half-cycle

  1. suṣamā - suṣamā, extremely happy
  2. suṣamā, happy
  3. suṣamā - duṣamā, more happy than unhappy.
  4. Duṣamā - suṣamā, more unhappy than happy..
  5. duṣamā, unhappy
  6. duṣamā - duṣamā, extremely unhappy.

At the end of utsarpiṇī-kāla, the ascending half-circle, the revolution of the age reverses and from there on the period of avasarpiṇī-kāla, the descending half-circle commences. The process goes on in unbroken succession.

The concept of Suṣamā and Duṣamā eon reminds us of the concept of the yugas of world of Kṛita, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali-Yugas, in which the living conditions deteriorate from better to worse, and where the position and status of human life is almost identical.

Curiously, the Bharata-Kṣetra, our earth, is, at the present time, in an avasarpiṇī-kāla, the regressive half-cycle, which commenced 3 years and 3 ½ months after Vardhamāna, Mahavira's nirvana, release from bondage, in 527 B.C., and it is of 21,000 years duration.

Thus in the last three stages of utsarpiṇī period and in the early three stages of the avasarpiṇī period, human beings were benefactors of celestial gifts from the kalpa - Vṛkṣa, wish-fulfilling tree, and hence enjoyed life without physical labour. But difficult days set in the other stages, since the Punya-bhūmi and kalpa-Vṛkṣa disappeared paving way for the Karma-bhūmi. [Ādipurāṇa 9.35-51].

During the period of suṣamā-duṣamā of avasarpiṇī-kāla, the process of degeneration had set in, but yet it was still a bhoga-bhūmi. Being conscious of the deteriorating conditions, man began to wake up to his environments. For the first time he felt the necessity of seeking proper guidance. Thus, fourteen kulakaras (Manus), Law-givers, born one after another guided human beings. Nābhirāja, last of the Kulakaras, and Marudevi, his consort, became the parents of Ṛṣabha (s.a. Ādideva, Ādinātha, Purudeva), the 15th Manu and the first 'Tīrthaṅkara, expounder of Jaina Religion [Ādipurāṇa 3.152; 11.9].

Consequent to the changes in the phenomenal world, men had to work to earn their livelihood. It is in this context that Ṛṣabhadeva taught the arts, science and culture of living. He was the harbinger of human civilization. He virtually inaugurated the age of action, founded the social order, family system and pioneered the different human activities, [ibid, 16. 180-82].

Ṛṣabha taught the art of cultivation of Land. Since he guided the mankind and informed the method of growing sugarcane,

Ṛṣabha earned the epithet of Ikṣvāku, the sprout of sugarcane. He also tutored the three 'R's of reading, writing and arithmetic. For the benefit of his two daughters, Brāhmi and Sundarī, Ṛṣabha invented the art of writing and arithmetic. The ancient Indian Brāhmi script received its name after Brāhmi, his daughter.

Bhārata, his eldest son, was the first Cakravartin, universal emperor, i.e., paramount sovereign, and our country was named after him as Bhārata. Bāhubali, second son of Ṛṣabha, was the first Kāmadeva. [ibid. 16.7; 17.76].

Thus, for having guided mankind in the most primitive age to meet the situation in their own simple ways, Ṛṣabhadeva verily earned the cognomen of 'Prajāpati', lord of creatures, Ādideva, first-lord, and Ādibrahma, 'the first creator', in a sense acceptable to Jaina tradition. Ṛṣabha did not create the world, but he created the organisation of human society.

At the beginning, all mankind was a single caste-manuṣya-jātirekaiva (Ādipurāṇa 38.45). The discovery of new means of livelihood lead to divisions. Ṛṣabha, prior to his attainment of Jinahood responded to the excessive lawlessness prevalent among the people by taking up arms and assuming the powers of a ruler. This resulted in the establishment of the warrior Kṣatriya caste, and subsequently arose the merchant vaiśya and craftsman śūdra castes. Gradually different means of livelihood were invented and people were trained in different arts and crafts, [ibid, 16.184-85].

Later Bhārata, the first Cakravartin, universal emperor, and eldest son of Ṛṣabha, introduced dvijas, twice-born. This newly formed deva-Brāhmaṇans were entrusted with the care of Jinālayas and the performance of elaborate rituals: "Thus the Jainas converted the varṇa system into what was for them an acceptable form. The role of theistic creation was eliminated, and the existence of a class of 'spiritually superior laymen', analogous to the Hindu Brāhmaṇas was justified on the basis of conduct, rather than of some irrevocable cosmic order" [Jaini, P.S: 291].

Jinasena felicitously accomplished a careful integration of the traditional Hindu Saṃskāras, rites and rituals, into the Jaina fabric. While Jainizing some important social norms, Jinasena was keen on evolving a parallel system which would remain uniquely Jain, inspite of apparent conformity with Hindu practices. Classification of Kṣatriya, Brāhmaṇa, Vaiśya and Śūdra, does not follow the Hindu mythology of describing their origin from various parts of the body of Prajāpati. The Jaina Śūdra can perform all the lay ceremonies and attain the quasi-mendicant status. The Jinas are not avatārapuruṣas, divine incarnations, but they achieved that exalted status to which man can aspire. This universe was not created by Jina or any god, and it cannot be destroyed by Jina or any god. Jaina Purāṇas sanctify only human heroes and extol their virtues and heroic deeds and victories, preserving different recensions of such accounts. The designation of novel categories of Śalākā-Puruṣas, Illustrious Beings, in Jaina Purāṇas made the narratives more attractive. The beginning portion of the Purāṇa is closely connected with the origin of civilization at the start of a new time cycle. A useful discourse on the concept of time, space, and universe unfolds along with epochs of the Manus. The contents of the Purāṇas are traced to the now extinct 'Pūrvas', ancient ones, possibly a synonym for the Purāṇa itself. The Jaina Purāṇas were composed in Prakrit, Sanskrit, Apabhraṃśa, Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati and Rājastāni.

Jinasena, it should be said to his credit and merit, is eminently successful in this creative endeavour, with considerable literary skill and traditional wisdom. Fully and ably exploiting the rich potentialities embedded in the hagiography of Ṛṣabha, saint-scholar-poet, three in one, Jinasena accomplished a fusion of the primitive with the profound elements of the first stage of man's socio-religious awareness, animism.

Jinasena knew different narrative Kathā styles such as ākṣepiṇī, 'narratives of one's own views', and vikṣepiṇī, 'narratives deploring incorrect views', and their application to achieve desired effect on the readers. His preference for saddharma-kathā, 'religious narrative', evidently projecting the prominence of Dharma over the other two Puruṣārthas, 'values of life', of artha, 'acquirement of wealth', and kāma, 'gratification of desire', finally to attain mokśa, 'final emancipation'.

The accumulated knowledge of Jaina Lore and the pith and marrow of the canonical texts was passed from one generation to the succeeding ones. In the process, the Pre-Jinasena scholar-saints like Kūcibhaṭṭāraka, Śrīnandi and Kavi-Paramesṣṭin, who were versed in the Purāṇic lores and wrote in the last quarter of seventh and early decades of eighth century, had shouldered the responsibility of carrying forward the quintessence of the Purāṇa concept, much earlier to Jinasena. Obviously, the Mahāpurāṇa had a deep - rooted tradition.

Since none of the preceding 'works is extant, it is rather difficult to assess how far adept Jinasena is influenced by his predecessors. However, Jinasena, on his own accord, has acknowledged some of his forerunners like Siddhasena, Samantabhadra, Yaśobhadra, Pujyapāda, Bhaṭṭa Akalaṅka, Śivakoṭi, Jaṭāsimhanandi, Kāṇabikṣu, Śripāla, Pātrakesari, Vādisimha, Vīrasena, Jayasena and Kavi-Parameśvara. [Ādipurāṇa 1.43-60] Albeit, Jinasena is remembered, revered, and reckoned as one of the more luminous and celebrated author. He symbolised the spiritual upsurge of his times, combining in himself the erudition of a scholar, the sensitivity of a poet and a passion of a reformer. The Ādipurāṇa is marked by a high degree of excellence and sensibility. Imparting ahimsā cult, Jinasena heralded a socio-cultural, politico-spiritual and literary revolution by authoring the Ādipurāṇa. Paragon of the Jaina heritage, Jinasena, had an access to all the major works of the early ācāryas. The entire Śrutabhaṇḍāra, library of palmleaf manuscripts, was at his disposal. He studied under Vīrasena abd Jayasena, cognoscenti professors of late 8th century. As a privileged royal teacher, he had the first-hand knowledge of political affairs. He was thorough with the Canda-Paṇṇatti, the Jainbūdiva-Paṇṇatti, the Tiloya-Paṇṇatti, the Sūriya-Paṇṇatti, Prakrit works of fourth and sixth century, which deal with the astronomy and the nature of universe.

Jinasena intended and designed to author the entire Mahāpurāṇa himself. Accordingly he wrote the Ādipurāṇa (s.a. Pūrvapurāṇa), a massive epic poem. Since Jinasena breathed his last before commencing the Uttarapurāṇa, the work was continued and the latter was authored by his disciple Guṇabhadra who thus completed the project of Mahāpurāṇa at Baṅkāpura (Karṇaṭaka) in C.E. 898. Albeit, with Jinasena began the era of systematic organisation and clearer conceptualization of the Purāṇa, re-cast in the mould of Sanskrit language. He made improvements on, and advances over the known frame of hagiography of the sixty three Mahāpuruṣas olim Śalākāpuruṣas, men of eminence, and updated the Nirgrantha position in the cultural milieu of the ninth century, when the imperial Rāṣṭrakūṭas were at the zenith of their political power in the Deccan.

To say that Jaina authors of the Ramayaṇa and Mahābhārata theme tried to debunk the Valmīki and Vyāsa versions, is just unjust. Different versions and traditions, which were complimentary, and sometimes contradictory, were current simultaneously. The authors adopting a version of their choice developed it according to their fancy. The Uttarapurāṇa, second half of the Mahāpurāṇa, narrates the story of Ramayaṇa and Mahābhārata, which often deviates and shows variations when compared with the epics of Valmīki and Vyāsa. The plus point of the Jaina Kathā is that Rāvaṇa, Duryodhana and Kama, are depicted as men of many virtues and valorous acts. Jaina Purāṇas elevate these characters without denigrating other main characters. Thus, the Mahāpurāṇa has provided worthy models to the masses. Interestingly, there are two traditions even within the Jaina version.

The Mahāpurāṇa is the microcosm of the Jaina world and the Ādipurāṇa is its artery, the heart of Jaina literature. In a country that has already been walked over a legion of Indian mystic masseurs over the centuries, it is remarkable that the Mahāpurāṇa continues to allure the reader, even after eleven hundred years. The Mahāpurāṇa is not just a great epic; it is philosophy, history, mythology and spirituality - all rolled into one. At the same time, it is the richest storehouse of Ākhyānas, Upākhyānas, myths, legends and tales in all its colour and variety. Again, it is the vault of the culture of Indian peninsula, vividly describing the genealogy, chronicles, geography, the flora and fauna, and traditions of ancient times. This emphasises its significance and singularity.


Select Bibliography:

  • Guṇabhadra: Uttarapurāṇa, (ed) Pannalal Jain, Bharatiya Jnanapith, Varanasi, 1954.
  • Hiralal Jain: Bharatiya Sanskritime Jaina Dharmaka Yogdan, Bhopal, 1962.
  • Jinasena: Ādipurāṇa, (ed) Pannalal Jain, Bharatiya Jnanapith, Varanasi, 1963. (with Hindi Translation in two parts)
  • Johnson, Helen M: The Lives of Sixty-three Illustrious Persons, 6 volumes, Baroda, 1962. Revised Edition, 2009. Revised by Muni Samvegayash Vijay Maharaj, Ahmedabad.
  • Nagarajaiah, Hampa: A History of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas of Malkhed and Jainism, Bangalore, 2000. Revised Edition 2010.
  • Padmanabh S. Jaini: 1. The Jaina Path of Purification, California, 1979. 2. Collected Papers on Jaina Studies, New Delhi, 2002.
  • Paul Dundas: The Jains, Routledge (1992) 2002.
  • Pushpadanta: Mahāpurāṇa; (3 parts), (ed) P.L. Vaidya, Bombay 1937-47.
  • RavisheNa: Padmapurāṇa, (ed) Pannalal Jain, (with Hindi Translation), Kashi, 1958.
  • Vimalasūri: Paumacariya, (eds) H. Jacobi and Punyavijaya Muni, Varanasi, 1962.
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