Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting
Known as stavan or, in Hindi, bhajan, Jain hymns are composed and performed to praise the Jinas. Written in every language Jains have used, the predominant pada form reflects Jain involvement in Indian poetics and in the bhakti devotional movement more commonly associated with Hinduism.
Musically, Jain hymns can be grouped into the folk genres of devotional music in western India, such as Gujarāti rās-garbā and Rājasthāni folk music. More modern musical influences such as Bollywood film melodies are also clear, although the Jain style of singing hymns descends from traditional popular music.
As a central element of Jain worship, hymns form part of the morning ritual and are essential to most religious ceremonies, such as offering alms to a mendicant. Religious songs are especially important in public festivals and celebrations, such as the ordination of a monk or nun, or the completion of a fast. Hymns are sung solo and by mixed groups or male- or female-only choirs in temples and domestic settings, in public and private worship.
In all settings and occasions, Jain hymns aim to help individual souls advance along the cycle of rebirth. The hymns most frequently use the rasa of peace to create a mood of tranquillity among listeners and performers, fostering the meditation necessary for spiritual development.
Both main Jain sects agree that Jain hymns have a mythological beginning, stemming from when the king of the gods first praised the qualities of the Jinas. They believe that the daily hymn Sakra Stavan is based on this exaltation, which lists many images that help to form basic concepts of the Jina.
Although Jains have drawn on elements of the Hindu tradition of bhakti poetry in developing religious songs, they have adapted it to their philosophical ideas and practices. Jain hymns stress praise of the Jinas and extol their virtues.
According to both Śvetāmbara and Digambara mythological traditions, hymns in Jain worship derive from praise given to the Jinas by Śakra, the king of the gods. This has become the Śakra Stavan, recited as part of the daily morning prayers. Memorised by all observant Jains, the text provides a list of images for Jain devotional literature while also giving it a mythological pedigree. Many of the epithets for Jinas in hymns come from this and other texts recited as part of the morning worship. They are memorised by many Jains more often than any other long text so these images create the basis of understanding what a Jina is and what a Jina can do.
Jains have participated fully in the bhakti devotional movement but they have done so in ways that support their religious beliefs. Jain writers have composed thousands of devotional hymns, the most popular of which are performed daily.
Jain hymns draw on bhakti poetry aesthetics in language, metaphor and poetic metre and form discussed below in turn. However, these hymns differ from the standard trope of Hindu bhakti poetry, which focuses on passionate attachment to a god and cajoling of the divinity for favours. Instead, Jains emphasise the cultivation of spiritual progress and praise of the Jinas’ virtues.
Jain involvement in the bhakti tradition parallels the developments in bhakti literature more broadly. Jains have used the same poetic forms and devices as their Hindu counterparts. In addition, Jain bhakti poetry often shares metaphors with Hindu bhakti verse. For example, hymns addressed to the Jina Neminātha or Lord Nemi share with hymns addressed to the Hindu god Kṛṣṇa the focus on romantic love and the suffering of separation.
Hymns that are still commonly performed to this day include those by the great Digambara writers:
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
From the Sanskrit for 'devotion', the bhakti movement originated in the late medieval period. It revolved around the emotional experience of devotion to religious figures and gods, stressing that caste, ritual and complex religious philosophy were unimportant compared to expressing overwhelming love for the deities. Showing this by repeatedly chanting the deity’s name is a powerful devotional practice, because the chanter both praises the god and moves nearer to spiritual self-realisation. These emotional experiences were often recorded in poetry and hymns, which became a repertoire of devotional hymns for later devotees.
The informal term used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, in the state of Māhārāṣṭra. It is one of the largest centres of cinematic production in the world. The Bollywood blend of melodrama, comedy and action enjoys a huge following in India and among the diaspora. Typical Bollywood movies are lengthy, colourful musicals featuring song and dance numbers involving large numbers of people, and music is a key ingredient in films’ success.
A vernacular language used throughout northern India for centuries. It is still spoken but has disappeared as a literary language.
Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.
A gathering of believers that has come together to perform group acts of worship.
Vision, insight or perception. It works with the quality of jñāna – knowledge in the soul – to gain deep, true understanding and is ever-changing.
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
Also called goma, dhamal is a form of folk music and dance found in Gujarat and associated with the Siddi people. The Siddi’s traditional dances and songs clearly show the influence of their descent from Africans who came to India as slaves, soldiers and merchants over hundreds of years.
A barrel-shaped drum from northern India, the dholak is very popular in folk music and Bollywood tunes. Drummers use their fingers to play both ends, one of which gives a bass sound while the other has a treble pitch.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. 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.
Religious initiation through which a man or woman leaves the householder or lay status to become a mendicant. Parts of this ritual renunciation are public ceremonies, depending on the sect.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
Originally from Gujarat, garba is a form of folk dance popular all over India and among the diaspora. Meaning 'womb' or a type of lamp in Sanskrit, the garba was initially a devotional dance performed by women at night to improve fertility. The dancers whirl and move in circles around the central point, traditionally where an image of the goddess Durga was placed, though there are many variants today.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
One of the best-known avatars of the deity Viṣṇu the preserver, Kṛṣṇa is one of the principal Hindu gods. Since his name means ' dark blue', 'dark' or 'black' in Sanskrit, he is usually depicted with blue or black skin. Often shown as a boy or young man playing a flute, Kṛṣṇa is a hero of the Indian epic, Mahābhārata, and protagonist of the Bhagavad Gītā. Jains believe he is the cousin of Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina.
Usually written as Marathi in English, Marāṭhī is a language widely spoken in western and central India. It is the official language of the Indian state of Māhārāṣṭra, usually written in English as Maharashtra.
Meaning 'nine nights' in Sanskrit, Navrātrī is a Hindu festival celebrating the divine feminine principle of śakti. At each of the four annual Navrātrī festivals the festival-goers worship nine forms of śakti. Dancing has an important role in the festival although customs vary according to region.
The act of being appointed as a member of the clergy of a religion. It is a formal ceremony that consecrates a believer into the holder of a religious office.
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.
A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:
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:
Literally 'colour' or 'hue' in Sanskrit, rāga has come to mean 'beauty', 'harmony' and 'melody'. Consisting of five or more musical notes from which a melody is created, the rāga is one of the melodic modes of Indian classical music. Traditionally, rāgas express the moods of different times of day or seasons to help create an emotional response in the listeners.
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
A dance blending the women’s garbā dance and the men’s rās dance. Performed by both men and women, the rās-garbā is is a key part of the Navrātrī festival and is very popular all over India and among the diaspora. The dancers move in circles while bending, whirling and jumping around. They may hold sticks – dāndīyā or dandiya – and strike them against each other. Contemporary rās-garbā dances may be very fast and the music a mix of bhangra and Bollywood tunes.
'Taste’ or anything that gives taste, such as condiments or sauce.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
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.
A wind instrument with two reeds, which looks similar to the Western oboe, the śenāī is found in northern India. Commonly spelt shehnai, its sound is considered highly auspicious so it is often played in temples and at weddings.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
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.
'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.
A pair of drums played with the palm of the hand and the fingers. The smaller drum on the right is called dayan and the larger one on the left bayan. The dayan is made of wood while the bayan is usually made from one of a variety of metals or clay. The heads of the drums have a large black spot in the centre. The tabla is a very popular instrument in Indian music, both classical and folk.
Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
British Library. Or. 16192. Unknown author. 1744
British Library. Or. 13741. Mānatunga. Perhaps 18th to 19th centuries