Article: Vāsupūjya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Vāsupūjyanātha, Vāsupūjya-svāmin or Lord Vāsupūjya is the 12th of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. The word Jina means 'victor' in Sanskrit. A Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma through practising extreme asceticism and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara or 'ford-maker' in Sanskrit – that is, one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience.

Vāsupūjya is not an historical figure. He is not singled out for individual biographies in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Treated like most of the other Jinas, he is provided only with basic biographical information. This information is fairly standardised and remains identical throughout later sources except for occasional variations, or confusions, in numbers.

The literal meaning of his name is he ‘who deserves to be worshipped by Vāsava’ – that is, the lord of gods, Indra, or ‘by the Vāsavas’. These are a category of Jain gods who intervene in the Jinas’ lives. Hence it has positive connotations referring to spiritual power, and also to brightness as vasu is a word for ‘sun’. The 12th Jina has the same name as his father – Vasupūjya.

The main difference between the accounts and descriptions of the Jinas’ lives among the two main Jain sects relates to whether they married or not. The general trend is that, according to Digambara biographies, the Jinas do not assume the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks. The situation offered by Śvetāmbara sources is different, as the case of the 12th Jina demonstrates.

Vāsupūjya is one of the Jinas whose life is contemporary with a triad of great figures:

  • the Baladeva Vijaya in Śvetāmbara sources, Acala in Digambara sources
  • the Vāsudeva Dvipṛṣṭha
  • the Prativāsudeva Tāraka.

Basic information

This detail from a manuscript painting is of a buffalo, an important animal in Jain myth, It is the emblem – lāñchana – of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanatha or Lord Vāsupūjya. The buffalo is also the symbol of the Īśāna heaven, the second paradise of 12.

Buffalo
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti.

The standard Digambara biography of Vāsupūjya is found on pages 87 to 96 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa, composed in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 64 to 91 in volume III of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-caritra.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture. These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Parents

This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had, at least in Śvetāmbara sources. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of Vāsupūjya, Hemacandra does not give any explanation for his name, which is derived from that of his father, Vasupūjya. The Āvaśyaka-niryukti, a Prakrit work from the first centuries of the Common Era, which gives an explanation for the names of the 24 Jinas, provides a literal analysis of the word. It is clearly a compound noun, meaning ‘the one who deserves to be worshipped by V.’ (verse 1085). Understanding of whom is designated as ‘V.’ differs because it can mean all of the following:

  • the Vasus as a class of gods who intervene in the Jinas’ lives
  • an equivalent of Vāsava, which in turn may refer to the lord of gods, Indra
  • the god of riches, Kubera, since the word vasu means ‘riches’ or ‘treasures’.

These deities are then seen in relation to their behaviour when the Jina-to-be is in the womb of his mother, namely:

  • Kubera demonstrated his devotion to the embryo by repeatedly filling the royal treasury with various gems
  • Indra showed his devotion in his own way, which is not described further.

The Digambara author Guṇabhadra favours the understanding of ‘V.’ as referring to Indra.

Parents of Vāsupūjya

Mother

Father

Jayā – Śvetāmbara
Jayāvatī or Vijayā – Digambara

Vasupūjya

Places

Of the five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – four take place on earth and are associated with a specific village or town in the sources. Archaeological evidence often helps to identify the old names with modern places. Even when it is lacking, there is a tendency to carry out this identification process. Associating auspicious events with certain locations makes these places sacred to Jains, so that they are potential or actual pilgrimage places and temple sites.

Places associated with Vāsupūjya

Last incarnation and birthplace

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Campā

Campā

Campā

All the major events of Vāsupūjya’s life thus took place in Campā or Campāpurī. Its connection with the 12th Jina is recorded in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri.

Campā is modern Champapur, located 6 kilometres from the station of Bhagalpur, in Bihar, eastern India, near the Ganges river.

It is undoubtedly an old Jain site, since it is mentioned very often in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures as having been visited by various Jinas. Thus Vāsupūjya is one of those who are clearly rooted in the area that is the birthplace of Jainism. Champapur has a temple dedicated to him, with images. None of them, however, seems to be especially old.

About 40 kilometres to the south of Champapur lies the hill of Mandar-giri, where Vāsupūjya is said to have practised austerities, reached enlightenment and attained final liberation (Titze 1998: 202). This particular pilgrimage site is frequented more by Digambaras than members of the other main Jain sect.

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