Jain Literature and Contribution of Acharyas


Jain Literature and Contribution of Acharyas

Jain Literature and the Contribution of Acharyas

The Jain scriptures are popularly known as 'Agama'. Just as the 'Vedas' have an important place in Vedic tradition; the 'Tripitakas' in Buddhism; the 'Gurugranthasahib' in Sikkhism; the 'Torah' in Judaism and the 'Bible' in Christianity, similarly, the Agamas playa pivotal role in Jainism. They have been divided into six parts:

1) Anga- pravista(anga)

2) Ananga - pravista (upanga)

3) Mulasutra

4) Chulika Sutra

5) Cheda sutra

6) Avasyaka (which forms a part of the chedda sutra)

1) Anga:

It is believed that, after attaining omniscience, all the knowledge delivered to his disciples by Lord Mahavira was compiled by the 'Ganadharas' (chief disciples) in twelve Angas. They are collectively known as Dwadashangi or Ganipitaka. Thus, the twelve Angas are the oldest and original part of the canonical literature. The following is a brief description of each Anga:

i) Acharanga

The Acharanga primarily deals with Jain ethics and the rules of conduct for ascetics. Lord Mahavira's life and philosophy is also narrated in it.


The Sutrakritanga discusses the weakness of some other philosophers due to their one-sided outlook regarding reality, rites and rituals. It deals with the doctrines of different heretical sects.

iii) Sthananga

The Sthananga deals with the classification of jiva, matter and other objects from a numerical point of view. For example, in the first chapter we find the description of jiva. In the second chapter, jiva is classified in two categories. In the third one, it is categorised in three categories. The classification of jiva continues in this way reaching up to ten. We refer to this as the numerical point of view.

iv) Samavayanga

It also deals with miscellaneous topics from the numerical point of view,

v) Bhagavati (vyakhyapragyapti)

The Bhagavati is the most important Jain canon, dealing with 36000 questions asked by Gautama, the first Ganadhara, and answers given by Lord Mahavira.

vi) Gyatadharmakatha

The Gyatadharmakatha contains stories and parables given by Lord Mahavir which expounds philosophical facts.

vii) Upasakadasa

The Upasakadasa elaborates the code of conduct for the householder. It gives the biographies of the ten principal shravakas (lay disciples) of Lord Mahavira.

viii) Antakritdasa

The Antakritdasa narrates the biographies of many saints who attained salvation through austerities and penances.

ix) Anuttaropapatikadasa

The Anuttaropapatikadasa gives an account of those ascetics who were reborn in one of the five supreme heavens at the last phase of their cycle.


The Prasnavyakarana deals with the ethical aspects of Jain philosophy, especially the causes of the influx of karma and its inhibitions. It also recounts four types of narrative viz. akshepani, vikhshepani, samvejini and nirvejini.

xi) Vipaksutra

The Vipaksutra explains the bondage, operation and fruition of meritorious and unmeritorious karma.

xii) Dristivada

According to Svetambara tradition ristivada is not available, it has been completely lost. Even though Dristivada has been long lost, the contents of this Agama have been referred to and explained in the Nandi and Samvayanga Sutras. By studying them, we come to the conclusion that Dristivada was a prominent and very vast sutra which contains purva. It was divided into five parts viz.

(a) Parikarma;

(b) Sutra;

(c) Purvanuyoga;

(d) Purvagata;

(e) Chulika.

The fourteen purvas were the constituents of the fourth part, the purvagata. This Dwadasangi (the above twelve canonical texts) occupies a prominent place in the Jain canonical literature. Its validity is inherent in its nature.

The Jain agama are replete with exhaustive knowledge on almost all subjects. The fourth section of the twelth Anga, the Dristivada - which has been lost - is believed to contain the knowledge of fourteen purva viz. the

(1) Utpad purva;

(2) Agrayaniya purva;

(3) Viryapravada purva;

(4) Asti nastipravada purva;

(5) Gyanapravada purva;

(6) Satyapravada purva;

(7) Atmapravada purva;

(8) Karmapravada purva;

(9) Pratyakhyan purva;

(10) Vidyapravada purva;

(11) Kalyanapravada purva;

(12) Pranapravada purva;

(13) Kriyavisal purva;

(14) Lokbindusar purva.

The contents of these works provide detailed information about six kinds of substances; all kinds of living organisms; the things that exist for eternity, those which were to come into being for a transient time and their time of extinction; five kinds of knowledge; truth, soul, karma, mantra, the benefits of austerities; the lifestyles of ascetics and householders; birth, death and a detailed description of the whole universe. All the Agamas are written in Ardhamagadhi, which was the language of the time of Lord Mahavira.

2) Upanga:

The Upangas are the scriptures composed by different Acharyas. They are twelve in number:

i) Aupapatika

The Aupapatika contains lectures of Lord Mahavira on the birth of twenty-two different types of living beings in addition to a variety of other religious subjects.

ii) Rajprashniya

The Rajprashniya contains the dialogue between the ascetic Keshi and king Pradeshi.

iii) Jivabhigam

The Jivabhigam contains lectures on the jiva, ajiva and their classification.

iv) Pragyapana

The Pragyapana describes Jain ontology and metaphysics.

v) Jambudvipa-pragyapti

The Jambudvipa-pragyapti provides the geographical description of Jambudvipa (i.e. accounts of rivers and mountains etc.)

vi) Chandra-Pragyapati

The Chandra- Pragyapati contains the description of the moon.

vii) Surya-Pragyapati

The Surya-pragyapati contains the description of the sun and other celestial bodies.

The last five upangas are:

viii) Kalpika

ix) Kalpavatansika

x) Push pika

xi) Pushpachoolika

xii) Vrshnidasa.

These Upangas contains descriptions of heaven and hell, battles of king etc.

3) Mula Sutra

The Mula Sutra are two in number:

i) Dasvekalika

The Dasvekalika was compiled by Acharya Shayyambhava. It contains the code of conduct for the ascetics.

ii) Uttaradhyayan

The Uttaradhyayan concerns various subjects such as leshya, karma, soul etc. and includes a number of fascinating stories.

4) Chulika Sutra:

i) Nandi

Nandi is a scripture of Jain epistemology. It discusses nature and the types of knowledge.

ii) Anuyogadwara

The Anuyogadwara is a compendium of Jain technical terms. In addition there are incidental references to Pramana (valid knowledge) and Naya (partial viewpoints) as well as other principles of Jain logic.

5) Chedda Sutra

The four Chedda sutra contain explanations and regulations of the ascetic life. They are:


ii) Brihatkalpa

iii) Nishitha

iv) Dasashrutaskandha

6) Avasyaka sutra

This scripture is learnt by all the monks and nuns.

The synods to revive the Agama

Approximately one hundred and sixty years after Lord Mahavira's nirvana, a severe famine occurred that lasted' for twelve years. During that period of scarcity, it became extremely difficult for the Jain monks and nuns to follow the code of conduct laid down by their Lord. It was impossible for them to retain the extensive lore of the Agamas in their memories, and since there was no tradition of writing the Agama, varying and incomplete versions remained. Therefore, a convention was held at Patliputra after the famine under the leadership of the venerable Acharya Sthulbhadra. In that synod, a uniform edition of all the Angas were prepared. In the historical Jain tradition, this is known as the first vachana (synod) of the Agama.

The second attempt to save the Agama was made during the period between Vir Nirvana era 827 to 820. Two conventions (vachana) were held - one at Mathura and the other at Vallabhi. The former convention was presided over by Acharya Skandil and the latter by Acharya Nagarjuna. The vachanas are referred as Mathuri vachana and Vallabhi vachana.

Both vachanas were held at different places at the same time. During this period the agamas were collected and compiled. They were given written form in the last vachana of Vallabhi.

Prior to that time, the Agamas were not yet written, they were orally transmitted. The last convention was held in Vallabhi after Vir Nirvana (year 980) under the guidance of Devardhigani Ksmasramana. By this time, large portions of the sutra which had been passed down from generations orally, were forgotten. Whatever could be revived by memory was written down and systematically organized and presented in the form of the Agamic text.

Commentary Literature

The Jain sutras have four forms of their commentaries viz. the Niryukti, Bhashya, Churni and Tika (vrti).

The Niryukti is written in the prakrit language, in a form of a verse called Catha. Acharya Bhadrabahu (8th century) is considered to be the most renowned writer of Niryuktis.

Bhashya is also written in Prakrit verses. Jinbhadragani (7th century) and Sanghadasagani (6th century) are the most famous writers of Bhasyas.

Churni is written in prose having a mixture of both Prakrit and Sanskrit language.

Jinadasagani (8th century) and Agastya singh are considered the most authentic authors of Churnis. Tika or vritti is a form of commentary written exclusively in Sanskrit and explains all Prakit words in Sanskrit.

Acharya Haribhadra (8th century), Silank and Abhayadeva (11th century) were the writers of Tikas. Abhayadeva (11th century) wrote the commentaries on nine Anga. Acharya Haribhadra (8th century), Acharya Silanka Malayagiri and Maldhari Hemchandra (12th century) were also known writers of commentaries.

Other renowned Jain scholars are Acharya Siddhasen (5th century), Umaswati (3rd century), Samanthbhadra (4th, 5th century), and Mantung (12th century). They were scholars of philosophy but also wrote extensively on grammar, geography and a variety of other subjects.

Acharya Haribhadra, a Brahmin by birth, who later converted to the Jain faith, composed 1444 Prakaranas (short treatises) on various subjects. Yogavimsika Yogasatak, Yogadristisamuccaya and Yogbindu Prakarana are the best examples of his works.

Acharya Hemchandra(12th, 13th century) was one of the most eminent authors of Jain literature. He wrote the famous Siddhahemshabdanusasana, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar in Sanskrit language. It is said that he could dictate hundreds of different subjects simultaneously to 84 different scribes, never losing the sequence of his thoughts. In addition to the works on grammar in Sanskrit and Prakit, he also dealt with a variety of Jain topics.

Upadhyaya Yashovijayaji( 18th century) was a prolific writer. He has written on nearly every aspect of Jainism in Sanskrit, Prakit and Cujarati. He wrote his work on Nyaya in the Navya-nyaya (i.e. neologic) style. His work Anekanta Vyavastha (also written in the Navya-nyaya style) helped re-establish the Anekantvada. Likewise, Jaintarkabhasa and Gyanabindu are his two important contribution of Jain in field of Pramanashastra, and Nayapradipa and Nayarahasya are his important works on Nayavada.

Contemporary Works

In the field of literature, scholars of 21st century like Pandit Sukhalaji Sanghavi, Pandit Mahendrakumarji Jain and Pandit Dalsukh Malvaniya have successfully provided new interpretations of ancient works. Most recently Dr. A.N. Upadhya, Dr. Hiralal Jain and Dr. Nathamal Tatia have also edited many ancient texts with critical commentaries.

At present, H.H. Acharya Mahapragya (21st century) has been performing the enormous task of editing the Jain canonical texts along with critical notes on them. He began his work under the auspicious guidance of the (Late) H.H. Gurudev Shree Tulsi in 1954 A.D. All the thirty two principal texts have been published by Jain Vishva Bharati Ladnun in 1974.

Many foreign scholars shows great interest in Jain teachings and literature. Some of them have translated Jain works into their respective native tongues. Professor Herman Jacobi, a German scholar, translated four Jain Agama into English, making them widely accessible to the world. His series of works are called" Sacred Books of the East". Many other scholars, such as Professor Walther Schubring, Professor Alsdorf, Joseph, Deleu, Norman, and Brown have taken a keen interest in Jain philosophy as a result of these works. Their efforts are very successful and commendable.

Among the modern Jain literature that is available today, there are very few works that deals with the original teachings of Lord Mahavira. However, the under-utilised resource of canonical texts contains the most valuable and precious material for scholars of comparative religions.


Recently, Muni Punya Vijayji and Muni Jambu Vijayji have made important contributions to Jain studies by preparing critical editions of canonical and other ancient texts of the Shvetambar tradition. The Digamber Acharya Muni Vidyanandji has undertaken the commendable task of editing with annotations some of the sauraseni texts. 

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