Article: Festivals of knowledge

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śruta-pañcamī

A woman passes printed translations of Jinasena and Guṇabhadra’s Mahāpurāṇa, the standard Digambara version of Universal History. These scriptures are exposed for ‘darshan’ or 'sight' at the Bhandari Basadi, Shravana Belgola in Karnataka

Digambara canon on display
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Digambara celebration of Śruta-pañcamī – 'Scripture Fifth' – has a similar name to the Śvetāmbara festival of Jñāna-pañcamī and shares many features. The motive of the Śruta-pañcamī is also to celebrate the importance of the written word in preserving and passing on the teachings of the Jinas but it is slightly different.

Śruta-pañcamī takes place on the fifth day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha, equivalent to mid-May to mid-June. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit term Śruta-pañcamī  is 'Scripture Fifth' and the festival commemorates the day on which the Jain scriptures are supposed to have been first written down.

In the Digambara understanding, Bhūtabali and Puṣpadanta were Jain monks who compiled the available teachings and wrote them on palm leaves around 150 CE. Called the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama – 'Scripture in Six Parts' – this body of holy texts is considered to be the ultimate source of the Jinas' teachings for the Digambaras.

The celebrations during Śruta-pañcamī are basically the same as those at the heart of Jñāna-pañcamī. Manuscripts, books and religious teachers are at the centre of the festival. The former are worshipped and new copies of the sacred writings are produced in manuscript or print. Monks are praised in hymns dedicated to them, celebrating their activities in the area of teaching and preserving the scriptures. Again, Sarasvatī may be worshipped as the patron deity of learning.

The Digambara festival is oriented more towards the spiritual elements of the holy day than the Śvetāmbara Jñāna-pañcamī. In honouring Bhūtabali and Puṣpadanta as the original models of scriptural transmission, Śruta-pañcamī focuses on religious knowledge without the blending of worldly concerns found in the Śvetāmbara equivalent.

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