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Jain Biology: Botany

Published: 21.10.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

SEED [1] is the most fundamental thing in the study of plants. Seed is the material cause of the entire vegetable kindgom and it is also the end product, i.e. the life of a plant begins with the germination of the seed, passes through several stages and terminates with the production of seed. The chapter therefore starts with the classification of seeds. They are of four kinds [2]:

  1. Seeds of some plants are located on the top e.g. Koraṇṭaka - agrabīja
  2. Seeds of some plants are located in the root e.g. Lotusbirk  - mūlabīja
  3. Seeds of some plants are located in the knots e.g. Sugarcane - parvabīja
  4. Seeds of some plants are located in the stem e.g. fig tree, woodapple tree - skandhabīja

Terms ahābieṇaṃ and ahāvagaseṇa refer to the material and the auxiliary causes of the reproduction of a particular species of plant. The former (yathābīja) asserts that the plant which develops from a seed will be similar to its parent (from which the seed was shed). One cannot grow a mango-tree from the seed of a neem-tree. The latter term (yathāvakāśa) means the soil, water, time etc. which are the auxiliary causes for reproduction. One can get a crop of rice only if one sows the rice-seed in a well tilled soil, in the rainy season and so on. One cannot grow rice on rocky soil without adequate water and in summer. All the auxiliary causes are necessary for the reproduction of plants

Terms kammovaga and kammaṇiyaṇeṇaṃ [3], on the other hand, refer to the transcendental causes of the reproduction of a particular species of plant. Birth of an individual organism(animal or plant) in a particular species, at a particular time and in a particular place is neither arbitrary nor accidental but the very precise result of the individual's karman, which again is the result of its actions in the past life or lives. The determination of the species, the life-span, the time and the place of birth, the status, feeling of pleasure or pain and all such other fundamental factors of the individual's life are the combined result of the four aghātin karman viz., (i) body-making (Nāma) karman, (ii) status-determining (Gotra) karman, (iii) feeling-producing (Vedanīya) karman and, (iv) life­span determining (Āyuṣya) karman and their relevant sub-categories. This is referred to by the terms [4], tajjoṇiā, tassambhavā, and tavvakamma. The organism which comes into existence as a plant or a part of a plant is the result of the rise of vegetable (vanaspalikāya-sthāvara) nāma karman.

In this canon the vegetable kingdom is classified into:

  1. TREES: These are perennial plants with self-supporting woody main stem, usually attaining a large size and developing woody branches at some distance from ground. Those which grow from the ground have their roots below the earth's surface and which attach them to earth and convey nourishment to its parts from the soil.[5]
  2. Trees which are born from trees: Instead of originating and growing from the earth, this class of trees spring from other trees which have their roots in the earth. Since they have no direct connection with the earth, they get their nourishment from the trees which support them.
  3. Trees which are offshoots of the trees which themselves grow from other trees which are earth-based. They obtain their nourishment from the above trees from which they have sprung.
  4. Parts of the tree-based trees—root, tuber, trunk, branches,twigs, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds—
    These four sub-divisions of trees are repeated by substituting
    (a) creepers (b) grasses (c) herbs (d) shrubs in place of trees.
    The last are Kuhaṇas which have no sub-division
    1. Creepers are defined as plants that creep along ground or
    2. Grasses are defined as small plants, blades and leaves and stalks of which are eaten by horses, cattle, etc. Plants belonging to the order Gramineae (in Botany cereals, reeds and bamboos are included while popularly they are excluded).
    3. Herbs are defined as plants of which leaves etc. are used for flavor, food, scent and medicinal purposes. Their stems are not woody or persistent but dies down after flowering.
    4. Shrubs are neither trees nor grasses nor herbs. They are defined as woody plants without main trunk of tree but divided into separate stems from near the ground and with above-ground parts which persist in winter.
Nourishment of Plants

We now come to the literal meaning, as discussed in the scripture, i.e. the nourishment (of plants) in Botany.

All the living organisms obtain their nourishment (for survival and growth) from the nutrient fluids extracted from the earth. This is referred to by the phrases, "puḍhaviṇaṃ siṇehaṃāhāreṃti". Term, 'siṇeha' (sneha) means nutrient fluids; trees which have their roots in the earth have the ability to extract various nutritive substances from the soil, transform them into a fluid mixture and conduct this watery sap, rich in nutrients, upwards through the stem and distribute it to all the parts.This nutritive mixture is composed of the inorganic minerals (earth-bodies), water-bodies, fire-bodies, air-bodies, bodies of plants; they deprive many mobile and immobile organisms of their life and extracting the nutrients from their dead bodies, ingest them in the form of the above mentioned sap. The nutrients are digested, absorbed and assimilated by ite trees which build various parts from these. Such parts are of different colours, smells, tastes, touches and forms.[6]

In the same way and in nearly the same words, all other classes of plants, vegetables, viz., grasses, herbs, and shrubs growing from earth and growing from trees etc. are treated. After finishing with these trees, the creepers, grasses, herbs and shrubs growing in water are taken up and they are also treated in nearly the same way and in nearly the same words. Names of further sub-divisions of neither the trees nor grasses etc., have been given. The only names given are those of the last special class of plants (vanaspativiśeṣa) growing on the earth; these are:

Aya, Kaya, Kuhaṇa, Kaṃḍuka, Uvvehaliya, Nivveliya, Sacatra, Catraka, Vasaṇiya and Kura.

Similarly names of the special class of plants growing in water, are given; these are:

Udaka, Avaka, Panaka, Saivāla, Kalambuka, Jalakumbhī, Kaśeruka, Kacabhaṇiya, Utpala, Padma, Kumuda, Nalina, Subhaga, Saugaṃdhika, Puṇḍarika, Mahāpuṇḍarika, Śatapatra, Sahasrapatra, Kalhara, Kokanada, Arvinda, Tamrasa, Kamalamūla, Kamalanāla, Puṣkara and Puṣkarākṣibhaga.

Some of these are easily identifiable:

Avaka is grassy plant growing in marshy land—Blyxa Octandra.

Saivāla is the aquatic plant Vallisneria, popularly known as kalambuka is the Kadamba—Nauclea Kadamba.

Kaśeruka is a kind of grass—Scirpus Kysoor.

Utpala, Padma, Kumuda, and Nalina are well known varieties of lotus; Puṇḍarika and all those which follow are all varieties of lotus or parts—stalks, fibres, eyes etc.—of the lotus.


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Edited by:
Prof. Muni Mahendra Kumar

Ladnun-341 306 (Rajasthan, India)

First Edition: 2008 Printed at: Shree Vardhman Press, Naveen Shahdara, Delhi- 110032

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  1. Aghātin Karman
  2. Daśavaikālika
  3. Daśavaikālika Sūtra
  4. Gotra
  5. Karman
  6. Nāma
  7. Sūtra
  8. Sūtrakṛtāṅga
  9. Udaka
  10. Vedanīya
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