Article: Songs of devotion

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Evocation of mood – rasa

Lay men and women kneel in prayer before a large idol of a Jina in a temple. The idol's plain style and downcast eyes are characteristic of Digambara images.

Lay people worship a Jina
Image by Sheetal Shah © Sheetal Shah

Writers of Jain hymns try to conjure up a feeling to heighten the devotional sentiments of their work. A hymn’s rasa – creation of mood – usually aims to arouse certain emotions in the subject of the song. However, Jain hymns do not hope to evoke any feelings in the Jinas who are their subject. Jinas are detached from earthly concerns and thus do not feel moods. Clearly, therefore, the poetry of Jain devotional songs is intended to create sentiments in the singers and listeners.

There are eight rasas outlined in Bharata's Nāṭyaśāstra:

  • love – śṛṅgāra
  • humour – hāsya
  • pity or compassion – kāruṇa
  • anger – raudra
  • heroism – vīra
  • terror – bhayānaka
  • disgust – bībhatsa
  • wonder – adbhuta.

Udbhaṭa was a rasa theory author of the early ninth century who added the ninth rasa of calm or peace – śānta. This became the mood that many hymn poetics aim to create. While there are devotional hymn lyrics that seem designed to achieve the rasa of love or the rasa of compassion, most hymns employ the rasa of peace.

Therefore the singer and listeners might hope to attain calmness through the use of śāntarās or the sentiment of peace in the hymn. This would help them meditate, a duty for all Jains and a vital part of spiritual progress.

Lyrical ornaments – alaṅkār

Jain hymns use traditional Sanskritic methods of ornament – alaṅkār – to help produce attractive, meaningful lyrics. These techniques use both the:

  • meaning of words – for example, simile and metaphor
  • the sounds of words, such as rhyme, alliteration and repetition. These latter aid the musicality of the words and the hymn in general.

The focus of the alaṅkār school of poetics is simile. The most widespread simile in the hymn is the rūpaka – identification of image and subject. For example, the qualities of the Jina can be compared to something that people understand as more everyday experience. An example of this form of simile occurs in the contemporary hymn Money or God:

Money is dull stone and God is shining gold,
Tell who you love, Money or God?

In this hymn, the Jina is compared to gold – a shining, pure and valuable thing – and contrasted with stone – a mundane substance but one used to make the very images in front of which the Jains are singing.

Jain devotional songs also use śabda-alaṅkār – the ornaments of sound and word including alliteration, rhyme, metre and so on. These poetic ornaments create the effectiveness of the hymn as a song.

The poetic devices most frequently used in Jain religious songs are rhyme and alliteration.

Rhyme is heavily used partly because of the Sanskritic languages in which early Indian verse was composed. Jain hymns are generally written in Hindi and Gujarāti, which both use the grammar order subject—object—verb. This order makes rhyming at the end of lines easier. If the subject remains the same in number and gender, the verbs at the end of the line make them end with a rhyme over at least two syllables. An example, though there are hundreds, from Kesarīyā O Kesarīyā, a contemporary stavan:

Tara Gīto Hu Gāu, Manmandir Padharāvū
Tarī Mudrāo Vārī Jāū, Vārī Jāū
Jal Kalaśa Marāvū Snātra Vidhīye Karāvū
Mārā Antarnā Mel Dhoyarāū.

Alliteration is the most common poetic device after end rhyming. It is utilised in two ways, when:

  • initial consonants or vowels are repeated
  • different words with the same root are brought into play.

For example, repeated roots are used to create poetic impact in the well-loved hymn He Karuṇānā Karaṇārā:

He Karuṇānā Karaṇārā, Tārī Karuṇāno Koī Pār Nathī?
He Sankapanā Haraṇārā, Tārī Karuṇāno Koī Pār Nathī?
Me Pāp Kavyā Che Evā, Hu Bhūlyo Tārī Sevā
Mārī Bhulonā Bhūlanārā, Tārī Karuṇāno Koī Pār Nathī?

Form – pada verse

Men and women perform the whirling rās-garbā dance, closely associated with the Navrātrī festival. Dancing plays a significant part in Navrātrī, which celebrates the divine feminine principle of śakti.

Rās-garbā dance
Image by Hardik jadeja © CC BY 3.0

Jain hymns are part of the bhakti devotional poetry movement of India and share its central formal aspects. Jains use the pada form for most of their hymns.

The pada usually have four to seven rhyming couplets and use the first or second line of the whole poem as a refrain throughout. Following Jayadeva and the South Indian bhakti poetry style which influenced Jayadeva, padas usually have the poet's name in the last line. However, many of the newer religious songs do not include the poet’s name at the end.

Garbā poetry, which accompanies garbā dance at Navrātrī, is also in pada form.

The popular hymns performed in Digambara temples called Darśan Paths are also in the pada form. This shows how both major Jain sects have adopted this popular religious poetic form.

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