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Browsing: Āvaśyaka-niryukti (Or. 13786)

Image: Beginning of Therāvalī

Title: Beginning of Therāvalī

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13786
Author:
Bhadrabāhu
Date of creation:
1391
Folio number:
1 recto
Total number of folios:
38
Place of creation:
Patan, Gujarat
Language:
Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
Medium:
paper
Size:
29.5 x 11.5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Background

Niryuktis are Prakrit verse texts that mostly provide mnemonic material for oral teaching. Written in the variety of Prakrit known as Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī, they are Śvetāmbara scriptures. A niryukti is often related to a sūtra. But niryuktis are not commentaries in the strict sense of the term, as they do not provide literal explanations of the text to which they are attached.

Many niryuktis are rather short. The Āvaśyaka-niryukti is quite special, since it is so extensive. Part of it is connected to the Āvaśyaka-sūtra, a Śvetāmbara canonical scripture of formulas to be recited during the performance of a Jain’s daily duties, the central one of which is repentancepratikramaṇa. But the scope of the Āvaśyaka-niryukti is very broad, and it amounts to a quasi-encyclopaedia of Jain doctrine.

In some manuscripts, like this one, the text opens with a Therāvalī – 'Garland of Elders'. A homage to the early teachers of Jainism, it can be compared to the second section of the Kalpa-sūtra, the Sthavirāvalī.

Since the Jinas are the source of all teaching, the text also includes information about them. Many verses give the biographical data of all the Jinas in table form, but the text focuses on the lives of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha, and the last one, Mahāvīra. A large section called Gaṇadhara-vāda provides the opinions of each of the 11 direct disciples of Mahāvīra on various philosophical issues.

A large number of verses in this text are lists of words or proper names that are the starting points for stories. These stories are developed in the prose commentaries that have been written on the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, namely a cūrṇi in Prakrit, numerous ṭīkās or vṛttis in Sanskrit and also texts in vernacular languages. Thus the Āvaśyaka-niryukti is also a compendium of Jain heroes.

This manuscript is valuable because of its early date. As indicated in its final colophon, it was copied in 1421 CE (1478 VS) in Patan, one of the most vibrant Jain centres in Gujarat and a place noted for its cultural wealth and heritage.

Glossary

Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
Gaṇadhara
'Supporters of the order'. This term is used for the first mendicant disciples of a Jina. They are able to understand his teachings properly and can pass them on. A gaṇadhara leads his own group of ascetics until he becomes enlightened.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Jina
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation . A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world , but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
Kalpa-sūtra
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
Pratikramaṇa
'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.
Pūjā
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.
Sūtra
In common use it refers to any sacred text. However, strictly speaking, it means an extremely concise style of writing, as illustrated in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, or a verse.
Śvetāmbara
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Vikrama-saṃvat
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
Mahāvīra
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
Disciple
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Penance
A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.
Scripture
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
Sanskrit
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
Prākrit
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
Gujarāt
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Patan
A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.
Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.
Elder
A term used for a man who is one of those listed in early sources as the direct successors of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.
Commentary
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.
Ṭīkā
A category of Sanskrit commentary generally written in prose.
Cūrṇi
A class of Prākrit commentary. Written in prose, the cūrṇis were composed between the 6th and 8th centuries CE.
Niryukti
A class of early Prākrit verse commentary in the Śvetāmbara tradition.
Colophon
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
Vernacular
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.

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