Selected Speeches on Prakrit and Jainology ► The Concept Of Śāstra-Dāna

Posted: 22.06.2012

Socio-Cultural Dimensions

Paper presented at the International Workshop on JAINISM AND SOCIETY, organised by the Department of Centre for Jaina Studies, London University - SOAS, March 23-25, 2006

The Śrāvakācāras, 'books of layman's discipline', have prescribed the ideal path of householders[1]. As such, in the Jaina social organisation every laity is expected to carry out six duties:

devapūjā gurūpāsti svādhyāyaḥ saṃyamastapaḥ
dānam ceti gṛhastānām ṣaṭ-karmāṇi dine dine ||

The worship of Jinas (devapūja), listening to and venerating teachers (guru-upāsti), the study of scriptures (svādhyāya), restraint (saṁ yawa), austerity (tapas), and benevolent practice of charity (dāna) - are the six daily routine enjoined to every householder. Consequently this formed a nucleus for a number of socio-cultural and religious activities leading to the path of (spiritual) progressive life. All of the above mentioned six everyday duties of the householder are complimentary to each other. Albeit, this paper attempts primarily to;

  1. Analyse the socio-cultural dimensions of dāna in its historical perspective.
  2. Substantiate how this ancient practice contributed to the strength and solidarity of the Jain Saṁgha.
  3. Elucidate the theme and thesis with suitable illustrations of historical persons who heralded an era most germane to the present discussion.

The basic concept of dāna, 'charity', or alms-giving is oecumenical and a common code of all tenets. But Jainism has accorded more prominence and incorporated it as obligatory for the frair and the laity. The Jaina philosophical and literary texts have emphasised its importance and fruits at length. The salient feature of the virtue is that it keeps a fair amount of check on the laity's acquisitive infatuation and leads to limited attachment to possessions (parigraha prāmaṇa). The practice of dāna is considered so imperative for the laymen that a Prakrit gāthā states:[2]

jai gihatthu dāṇeṇa viṇu jagi pabhaṇijjai koi
tā gihatthu pavkhi vi havai jeṁ gharu tahavi hoi ||

In this world, if anybody without dāna could be called an householder (gihatthu; Sanskrit, gṛhasta), then even a bird (paṁkhi; Sk. Pakṣi) can be called so, for it too has a house (a nest) to live in. Similar stanzas are there to stimulate the soul's capacity to engage in charity. Samantabhadra states -

kṣitigatamiva vaṭabījaṁ pātragataṁ dānamalpamapi kale
phalaticchāya vibhavaṁ bahuphalainiṣṭaṁ śarīra bhrutām ||

The tiny banyan seed, when finds favourable field in the proper season, blooms into a huge tree and provides shelter in plenty. Similarly, even a small charily to a worthy recipient at the appropriate time will yield greater benefits.

According to Umāsvāti and Samantabhadra dāna encompasses atithi-saṁ vibhāga, 'sharing with (ascetic) guests', and vaiyāvṛtya, 'rendering service to monks/nuns'. Vasunandi and Amrtacandra designate it as atithi-dāna, 'giving alms to the (ascetic) guest', and atithi-pūjā, 'adoring the guest', respectively. These references indicate that the vow dāna holds a significant position in the Jaina social organisation. Ācārya Vācaka Umāsvāti (350-400) of Ucchair-nāgara-śākhā indicales that even parting with money for favour amounts to dāna-anugrahārtham svasyati-sargodānaṁ. Bhaṭṭa Akalaṅka (720-80) also believes that giving gift is for favour of grdce-sva-paro-pakāronugraḥ (infra). Self-help and altruism are the two varieties of assistance: Svopakaraḥ puṇya-saṁcaya paropakāraḥ samyag-jñādi vṛddhiḥ ||  (Rājavārtika)


Accumulation of moral merit for the donor, and increase of superior knowledge for the done - are the merits of dāna.

The motto of dāna concept is to create a homogeneous and happy society. The elevated individual status in the socio-religious structure of the Jaina community gets electrified by the practice of 'giving'. The spiritual joy, probably the true reward of this concept, increases the desire for 'giving' more and more. In the final analysis, it turns out to be the major motivating factor. It can serve as a paradigmatic example of catalyst agent to inspire the householder to lake and walk on the righteous path. Possibly the practice of Caturvidha-dāna during the upāsaka (śrāvaka) period is a step forward towards complete withdrawal from domestic world and terrestrial interests. Taking into account the overall ratio between men and women, popularity / practice of renunciation amongst women is higher and consistent from the ancient historical times of Arhat Pārśva. Analogous with this, the percentage of the Caturvidha-dāna in general, and the śāstra-dāna in particular, is relatively higher amongst women.

With this in background, this paper confines hereafter to discriminate and discuss the social scope of śāstra-dāna, without concentrating on the other three of the four-fold dānas of food (āhāra), shelter(abhaya), and medicine (bhaishajyaor auṣadha).

In the galaxy of the l0th century Jaina householders known not only for living a pious and successful life but also for prabhāvanā, 'illumination of Jinadharma", Attimabbe shines like a polar star. Attimabbe transmitted a prestigious four-fold dāna culture embodied in Jainism. Analogous with the phrase mahā-puruṣa, 'Great-Man', poet Ranna frequently refers to Attimabbe as mahā-sati, 'Great-Women', and as mahā-sati-tilake, 'eminent among the Great-Woman'. Befitting such epithets, Attimabbe had royal recognition. Five of the early emperors of the Kalyāṇa Cālukya Imperial dynasty, Tailapa (973-97), Iriva Beḍaṅga Satyāśraya (997-1007) - Ayyaṇadeva (1008), Vikramāditya V (100N-14) and Jagadekamalla Jayasimha (1015-42) - had extended their honour and patronage to Attimabbe and her son Aṇṇigadeva, both known for their Caturvidha-dāna, with special thrust on śāstra-dāna.

In one of his verses included in the Ajita-Purāṇa-Tilakam  [Canto XII, verse 9] poet Ranna has listed the names of her senior contemporary celebrities who performed the meritorious act of prabhāvunā. 'illumination', last among the eight limbs of Samyag-Darśana, "Right-vision of Jainism'. Būtuga II (936-61), the Gaṅga chief, Maruḷadeva (961-63) and Mārasimha II (963-74), both Mahā-maṇḍaleśvaras and sons of Būtuga. Cāmuṇḍarāya (950-8,2). minister and general of the above Gaṅga kings, Śaṅkara-gaṇḍa (964), chief of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa army - were the great patrons who illuminated the splendour of Jaina creed between the fourth and sixth decades of the tenth century. Being the Governors and feudatories of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas, they were heroes of many historical battles, fought and won in favour of their overlords. At the same time they were noble persons and upāsākas of eminence who devoted their leisure hours to protect/ promote their faith. Thanks to their committed contribution, Jainism assumed a major role in the Deccan and its status/ popularity enhanced manifold.

Poet Ranna concludes the above cited verse by declaring that Attimabbe was the only venerable lady who perpetuated and even excelled the above referred illustrious men in the laudable act of prabhāvanā. No other person, man or woman, is accorded such an highly developed biography nor is allotted great deal of space in literature and epigraphy as that of Attimabbe. Ranna praises and identifies her with venerated legendary figures, in an extraordinary manner: "Ādinātha and Ajitanātha are the first and second among Tirthaṅkaras, Bharateśa and Sagareśa are the first and second amongst Cakravartins, 'Universal emperors', and amongst the best of donors are Śreyāṁśa in the beginning of ages and the śrāvaki 'laity', Dānacintamaṇi Attimabbe in the present age - are the first and second respectively.[3]

Mallapayya alias Mallapa (910-75 CE), Attimabbe's father and general of the army, had commissioned poet Ponna, a great poet and polymath, to author the Śāntipurāṇaṁ, the Lorebook of Śāntinatha, the 16th Tīrthaṅkara for the merit of Jinacandra (900-55), preceptor of the family. Ponna completed the Śāntipurāṇaṁ in the year 960 of the Common Era, fairly a long poem in campū style, consisting of 1637 verses of four-lines each, and interspersed with prose passages, spread over 12 chapters. Mallapa and his younger brother Punnamayya (915-70 CE), got a thousand copies of the poem neatly copied on palm leaves with the help of many scribes, and freely distributed as an act of śāstra-dāna.

Poet Ponna is one among ratna-trayas 'the three gems' of Kannada literature, the other two being Pampa (941) and Ranna (950-1016). Because of its poetic excellence, the Śāntipurāṇaṁ turned out to be Purāṇa�–Cūḍāmaṇi, 'the crest jewel of the traditional legends (of Tirthaṅkaras)'. Hence, more copies of the poem were a desideratum. Attimabbe (950-1010) immediately arranged for the second edition of the poem by employing dozens of skilled scribes who could neatly and meticulously copy from the original. Writing on the palm leaf requires experience, concentration and patience. It is a love's labour, and time consuming physical exercise. Albeit, Attimabbe immediately swung into action and got another one thousand copies of the Śāntipurāṇaṁ and distributed as a pious act of śāstradāna to the śruta-bhaṇdāras, 'libraries', invariably attached to Jaina temples. Thanks to her timely decision, the excellent poem Śāntipurāṇaṁ has survived to this day.

Attimabbe, chip of the old block, also patronised Ranna. the second poet-laureate to be honoured with the prestigious title of Kavi-Cakravartin, 'emperor among poets', the first being Ponna who was a protégé of Mallapayya, father of Attimabbe. Ranna composed and completed the Ajita-Tīrthaṅkara-Purāṇa-Tilakam, 'the excellent Legend of Ajita, the second Tīrthaṅkara', a campū poem in twelve chapters, in the year 993 CE. Again she donated 1501 copies of this poem along 1501 ornamental wooden shelves for placing idols, 1501 Jinabimbas, images of Jina, 1501 gongs, 1501 festoons etc., as an additional act liberality.

Attimabbe took delight in giving gifts - is notable. Because, when it comes to the question of dāna, some grumble, turn around and avert from one's face, either taunt or insult the supplicant. Many donors donate with pale face or with arrogance or with excessive pity. Contrarily, Attimabbe ignored and transgressed such undesirable acts, but consistently desired and loved to spontaneously give greater gifts to such an extent that generosity superseded her first name. Thus, in charity she virtually became a wish fulfilling celestial gem (cintāmaṇi).

Both the poems, the Śāntipurāṇaṁ and the Ajita- Tīrthaṅkara-Purāṇa-Tilakam, have been acclaimed as extraordinary classics of Kannada literature. Poet Ranna has delineated a comprehensive socio-cultural history of Dānacintamaṇi Attimabbe's unparalleled donative activities which are corroborated by contemporary epigraphs.

Protecting the scripture was legacy for generations to come. Enhancing the traditional knowledge is acclaimed as an act of paragon virtue. It is said - jñānaṁ trailokya durlabhaṁ - knowledge is a rare thing in all the three worlds. Thus, in a bid to salvage the near extinct glosses of erudite saint-scholars, the three noble souls - two upasakis and an upāsaka, embarked upon restoring it for posterity by their meritorious act of śāstra-dāna. They felicitously transmitted a prestigious culture embodied in Jainism which enhanced its social status and popularity in the Deccan. Without the practice of śāstra-dāna custom, Jainism would have suffered an irreparable loss of very valuable corpus of canonical literature. Besides, since it acted as a catalyst agent, Kannada literature in particular witnessed palmy days.

The massive canonical text, Ṣaṭ-Khaṇḍa-āgama, 'the Scripture of Six Parts', by the celebrated Bhūtabali and Puṣpadanta Ācāryas, is an ancient and sacred work. The significance of this work in the socio-religious history of Digambara sect needs no exaggeration. In brief, it is considered as the Śruta-devatā, 'the Canon-God'. Emanating as marvels of human authorship, the Dhavalā, 'the Luminous', and the Jaya Dhavalā, 'the Victoriously Luminous', the two noted commentaries on the above Ṣaṭ-Khaṇḍa-āgama, are indeed spiritual revelations.

The illustrious erudite scholar-saint Vīrasenācārya (CE 735-820), of Pañca-stūpa-anvaya olim Sena Saṁgha, a cohort of Mūlasaṁgha, 'Root Assembly' or the original congregation of Digaṁbara lineage, and royal teacher of Govinda III alias Jagattunga (793-814), emperor of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa dynasty, wrote the Dhavalā commentary consisting 72,000 verses, single handed, in CE 816. He started the second commentary, the Jay a Dhavalā, 'the Victoriously Luminous', but could compose only 20,000 Slokas. His pupil, Jinasenācārya, continued and completed the work by composing the remaining 40,000 granthāgras. The style of these two extraordinary glosses is termed as the maṇi-pravāla śaili, 'the crystal and coral style', to denote a happy blending of the words of alien and indigenous languages.

Once it so happened that the copies of the above commentaries, the Dhavalā and. Jayadhavalā, had become rare and only a single copy was preserved in the Siddhānta Basadi at Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa. Under such pathetic condition, two pious laywomen and a layman spontaneously shouldered the praiseworthy responsibility of getting the above voluminous work recopied, as an act of śāstra-dāna. The interesting episode of the work so felicitously accomplished needs an in extenso description.

Jinnapayya alias Jinna of Kupaṇa, modern Koppaḷa which was once a well-known Ādi-tirtha, ancient Jaina seat, was a devout votary and a bee at the lotus feet of Jina. The virtuous Jinna was singular for copying Manuscripts and had earned fame for his beautiful handwriting. His lettering looked as though the best of pearls were arranged in a string to make a garland to bedeck the neck of goddess of learning.

At the request of Ravideviyakka, Jinna, the best of the scribes of the age, copied the Dhavalā commentary, with care and devotion. The joyous Ravideviyakka gladly gifted the precious and lovely recopied manuscript to Śubhacandra, patriarch of the original Digambara congregation. The extant palmleaf manuscript is unique in content and format. The length of each leaf is 25 inches with a width of three inches each. The rare manuscript, containing 592 palm-leaves, is also embellished with diagrams and colour pictures.4 It was copied in CE 1112 in the holy premises of the Jaina temple dedicated to Arhat Pārśva. The shrine, which no longer exists, was commissioned by Bācaladevī, beloved spouse of Bhujabala Gaṅga Permāḍideva (1103-18), a feudatory of Tribhuvanamalla Vikramāditya VI (1076-1125), emperor of the Kalyāṇa Cālukya dynasty. Mahā-maṇḍaleśvara Bhujabala-Gaṅga Permāḍideva was chief of Maṇḍali - Thousand principalities which included a major portion of the modern Shimoga District in Karṇāṭaka. The above Jina Pārśva temple was built in CE 1112 at Bannikere, a village near Shimoga [Hampana: 1999-B].

Devamati alias Ravideviyakka, consort of Cāvuṇḍa Poysaḷa Seṭṭi, was the daughter of Nāgaletāyi. Būcirāja was her brother and Daṇḍanāyakitti Lakkale, wife of Daṇḍanāyaka Gaṅgarāja, was her sister. Devamati's daughter Gaṅga Mahādevī was queen consort of Bhujabala-Gaṅga Permāḍideva, mentioned above.

Caudhure Rakkasayya and Akkaṇabbe, the ideal house­holders, had built two Jinālayas, and were singular for giving gifts and śāstra-dāna. Prince Śāntivarma, their son, merrily continued the family tradition of śāstradāna. Mallikabbe, Śāntivarma's spouse by her matchless act of śāstra-dāna, carved a niche in the hall of fame. Udayāditya, her ward and a far famed scribe of the age was entrusted with the responsibility of recopying the Mahābandha, 'the Great Karmic Bond', the sixth khaṇḍas or part of the Ṣaṭ-khaṇḍa-Āgama, 'scripture-in-six-parts', a huge commentary of 40,000 granthāgras. Mallikabbe, consort of Śāntivarma, a pious lady votary, was over whelmed with joy to donate the recopied commentary to her preceptor Māghaṇandi Siddhāntadeva. This act of śāstra-dāna coincided with the udyāpana, the ritual performed at the end of completing the religious vow of the śrī-pañcamī, without let.

Similarly Bhujabala Aṇṇa Śreṣṭhi (early 12th century), leading trader and burgher, volunteered himself to arrange for a recopy of the Jaya-Dhavalā, 'the victoriously luminous'. Accordingly he got it copied from a proficient professional scribe and presented the same to ācārya Padmasenamuni.

The śāstradāna concept expanded the secular scope of dāna by leaps and bounds. Originally, in the context of the śikśāvratas, the vows of spiritual discipline, dāna was confined to giving alms to spiritually advanced persons, preferably mendicants. But, without losing the kernel of the dāna concept, śāstradāna enlarged it immensely, and encouraged the meritorious pursuit of svādhyāya, the study of the scriptures. One need not take the vows to engage in giving. Thus the śrāvaka (upāsaka) could continue to be a house holder and yet support the recluse. The ascetics had no fixed place of residence and because of being possessionless, were unable to engage in dāna. Therefore dāna was an exclusive privilege of the layman and laywoman. The concept once again demonstrates the primary importance that the Jaina community had accorded to knowledge and learning.

Although all the four categories are linked and grouped under the umbrella of Caturvidha-dāna, each one of them may act/exist independently and the result may also vary. The laity gives alms to the monks/nuns and there it ends. Thus the āhāra-dāna is an end in itself. Similar is the case with abhaya-dāna and bhaiṣajya-dāna. With abhaya-dāna or karuṇā-dāna, the person in distress gets relief, and with auṣadha-dāna, the diseased person is relieved of his illness. So much so, in all these three types of dānas, only the concerned persons are the beneficiaries, whereas the benefit of śāstradāna is unlimited and gets multiplied. It has a far-reaching and perpetual influence over generations. It is like spilling drops of oil into water where it spreads.

However, this need not ignore the importance of other gifts, n the broader sense dāna is the positive side of ahiṁsā. All the four varieties of dāna are meritorious. But all are not equal in their impact and reproductively. The extended scope of the śāstra­dāna may not make it superior to the other three under the category of caturvidha-dāna, but will definitely establish its singularity.


Reference Books / Volumes:

  • Epigraphia Carnatica, Volume II (Revised), Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa Inscriptions, Mysore, 1973: Inscription Nos.: 82,135,155, 158, 160 and 484.
  • Epigraphia Carnatica, Volume VI (Revised), Mysore, 1977, Inscription No. Krishṇarājapeṭe 3, CE 1118.
  • Epigraphia Carnatica, Volume VH-i (B.L. Rice), Inscription Nos.| Shimoga 4, 6, 10, 57, 64, 97.
  • Gogi Hanumakshi (ed): Gulbarga Jilleya Śāsanagaḷu (Kannada), Hubbaḷḷi, 1996.
  • Nagarajaiah, Hampa (Hampana):

    1. Jaina Corpus of Koppaḷa Inscriptions X-rayed, Bangalore, 1999, A.

    2. The Later Gaṅgas: Maṇḍali-Thousand, Bangalore-1999, B.

    3. Ananya (Kannada), Bangalore, 2004.

  • Padmanabh S. Jaini: The Jaina Path of Purification, California, 1979.
  • Setters: Inviting Death, Dharwad, 1986.
  • Williams R: Jaina Yoga - A survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras, London, 1963.


Jaina terms

Dānavrata: ritual of alms-giving to monks and nuns.

Dāna: fourfold of giving i. food, ii. residence, iii. medicine, and iv. books.

Śikśāvratas: rituals prescribed for the layman and they are of four varieties:

1. Deśāvakāśika, the spatial-temporal limits for activities.

2. Sāmāyika, equanimity or state of super-consciousness.

3. Poṣadhopavāsa, fasting on the holy days.

4. Dāna, giving alms to spiritually advanced persons.


Gratitude unbound:

This author gratefully acknowledges -

  1. The blessings of His Holiness Svasti Śri Cārukīrti Paṇḍitācarya, chief pontiff of Mūḍabidure Jaina diocese, who so generously permitted to photograph the required pages from the unique Dhavalā palm-leaf manuscript.
  2. The help so willingly extended by Yajñeśvara (Yajña), well-known photographer, and Dr. Amṛta Malla.
  3. Dr. Peter Flugel. Professor. Centre for Jaina studies, SOAS. London University, who suggested the topic for this paper presented in the International workshop on "Jainism and Society".



Willem Bollee (ed): Samantabhadra Deva's Ratnakaraṇḍaka Srāvakācāra, Sundara Prakashana, Bangalore, 2010.

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