Repetition in Jaina Narrative Literature [Part 1]

Published: 09.04.2012

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


§ 1. Introduction [1]

By using the word «repetition» in the title of the present paper we do not want to indicate that we are concerned with a well-defined phenomenon. As a consequence, no systematic presentation or classification can be envisaged. We can also not claim to have come across specific repetition phenomena which have not been noticed previously. What we propose to do is this: In order to understand repetition in Jaina narrative literature (mainly but not exclusively narrative repetition) we shall study certain sections of the literary material where repetition is an important element. Our approach is therefore midway between strategies which emphasize the «general» (general theories) and strategies which focus attention on the «particular» (particular pure and simple, particular in the sense of «irregular»).

The paper is specialized in character but not isolated. Several points were discussed with colleagues (B. Bhatt, M. Pfeiffer, C. Tripathi), and the publications mentioned include a few titles which do not belong to the field of Indology (and which are concerned with theory). In one or two cases express acknowledgement has been postponed to a later occasion. We are grateful to the Bhāratīya Jñānapīha (Delhi) for their permission to reproduce part of a diagram from Ksu. Jinendra Varni's Jainendra Siddhānta Kosā (fig. 8). C. Schlieker has prepared the typed sheets and helped us in finalizing the English text.

Repetition is found in narrative and non-narrative literature, and as a structural factor it is common to Jaina and Buddhist tradition. But if we compare repetition in Jaina literature with repetition in Buddhist literature, we cannot fail to notice differences in the character of the phenomena as well as differences of emphasis («former Jinas» more important than «former Buddhas»). It would also appear that in modern research Buddhism was mainly studied as an «Erlösungsreligion» (dhamma) and as a subject of interest to historians (Buddha, sagha), whereas Jainological studies - though still in a less advanced stage - were free from such factors. Thus the Universal History (with its repetitions) played right from the beginning an important part in all surveys of Jainism whereas in the study of Buddhist literature the more extravagant forms of religious imagination received less attention. [2]

Repetition is also found in Brahmanical literature (avatāras in Vaiṣṇavism, lambhas in the Bhatkathā). But there it is less pronounced. Here and elsewhere we have an especially close connection between Jainism and Buddhism, a fact which is not always easy to describe in historical terms (mutual influence? early contacts? common Indian heritage? common «Māgadhan» heritage?).

We cannot include such a wide field of issues in our present survey. As indicated above we shall concentrate on certain sections of Jaina literature where repetition is of special importance. On the one hand we have to consider «Varga Literature» (canonical), on the other the «Universal History» or «history of the sixty-three great men» (partly canonical and partly later than the canon). See §§ 2-8 and 9-15 respectively.


§ 2. Varga Literature in General

In the present context it is convenient to isolate a certain section of canonical literature and to employ for the works concerned the general term «Varga Literature ». This comprises the following works (or rather «texts»):



Jñātādharmakathā(8.5 pp., 0,34% of the canon)


Upāsakadaśā (34 pp., 1,38%)


Antakṛddaśā (29,5 pp., 1,20%)


Anuttaraupapātikadaśā (7,5 pp., 0,30%)


Vipākasūtra (46 pp., 1,86%)



Nirayāvalikā (15 pp., 0,61%)


Kalpāvataṁsikā (2 pp., 0,08%)


Puṣpikā (15,5 pp., 0,63%)


Puṣpacūlikā (2,5 pp., 0,10%)


Vṛṣṇidaśā (4 pp., 0,16%).


The total of upāṅgas 8-12 is 39 pp. (1,58%), the total of all the texts is 164,5 pp. (6,66%). [3] Varga texts show similarities in content, structure, and vocabulary (details below). This was the guiding principle for the ancient redactors when the canon was arranged in its present form. However, similarity exists only to some extent, and proximity in the canon does not mean that all the ten texts form one single block (see above). Nor can we speak of an arrangement of the texts. This could create the impression of true works which already existed but had, at a certain point of time, to be integrated into the set-up of the canon. Only in some cases is this valid, while in other cases literary material of the varga type had to be utilized or even enlarged in order to obtain twelve (eleven) aṅgas and twelve upāṅgas as complete sets. «Varga» stands for «chapter» and is frequently used in Varga Literature. Only for this reason do we employ «Varga Lit.» as a generic term (thereby following W. Schubring, see § 3 infra, end).

Varga Literature is narrative with a scattering of dogmatical matter. Its main peculiarity is the casual and sketchy repetition of stories. Any given story may be multiplied by the instruction to repeat it in full with a few minor changes (name of the hero etc.). Thus we have side by side genuine stories, hypothetical stories, and intermediate cases. Such stories often form chains of ten. This uniformity is reinforced by other factors: cliches are used freely («varaka-repetition»), the same names occur in more than one varga text, and upāṅgas 8-12 are traditionally considered to form one block (upāṅgas 8-12 = Nirayāvalikāśrutaskandha, vargas 1-5). We have to distinguish between the extant Varga Literature and Varga titles (works, chapters) mentioned in traditional lists (Sthāna, Nandī). These lists (compare § 17 on «ancient criticism») reflect an early stage in the development of Varga Literature. The texts and the manuscript material have been studied by A. Weber, W. Schubring, H. R. Kapadia, J. Deleu (systematic study), C. Tripathi, and K. K. Dixit. [4]


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Indologica Taurinensia

Compiled by PK

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