Article: Sacred writings

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Editing scriptures

The Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā, the monumental edition of the 45 holy Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks. Inspired by Ānandasāgara-sūri, the book is often enthroned as a sacred object in temples. This one is in the Agam Mandir in Surat, Gujarat

Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Digambara canon in the strict sense has been edited only once, after many difficulties, and is not transmitted through several independent manuscripts. The problem of a critical edition thus does not arise.

The situation is different for the Śvetāmbara Āgamas, which have been transmitted in western India through palm-leaf and paper manuscripts without break since the 12th century. The material available is nearly overwhelming in its quantity. However, there is no manuscript where all the holy texts are found together. They are copied either individually or in small groups. Editions of published material therefore use different manuscripts for different texts.

In the absence of any central religious authority, there is no need to have a single edition that would be the final word. Instead, a multiplicity of editions of various types and varying standards has been published since the end of the 19th century, and continue to be published.

Critical editions based on palm-leaf manuscripts, which provide critical apparatus such as a glossary or references, are a quite recent phenomenon. Beginning with publication in 1968, these critical editions are:

  • those started under the impulse of Muni Puṇyavijaya and lay Jain scholars, and published by the Mahāvīra Jain Vidyālay in Mumbai, as the Jaina-Āgama-Series
  • the Ladnun edition, published by Ācārya Tulsi and Ācārya Mahāprajña of the Terāpanth.

These editions are not identical. The editors have diverging views on the way commentaries should be used in textual history. A notable editorial project is the ‘Illustrated Agam’ edition started by the Sthānaka-vāsin monk Amar Muni in 1992. It shows how leading intellectuals make the scriptures accessible to large audiences by finding attractive new ways of presenting them.

Holy writings as sacred objects

In addition to honouring the contents of sacred texts, Jains venerate them as holy objects in themselves. Jains pay homage to the scriptures as a body or as single items in various ways. Scriptures are sometimes found in temples in the shape of books, symbols or quotations inscribed on the walls. They are frequently the focus of religious rituals. Holy books play important roles in festivals celebrated by the Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects, both as representations of knowledge and as physical objects.

Digambara

Found in Digambara temples, a śruta-skandha-yantra represents the scriptures and scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna. In the form of a tree, it has 24 branches showing types of sacred texts. This example in Tamil Nadu is surrounded by Jina images.

Śruta-skandha-yantra
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, the earliest Digambara scripture, is housed in a temple in Mudbidri, Karnataka. For a long time it was worshipped only. It became available to study only in the 1930s.

The authors of the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama are at the heart of the festival of Śruta-pañcamī.

The sect of the Tāraṇ Svāmī Panth has temples in Madhya Pradesh where books have replaced images on altars and are worshipped.

The metal or brass śruta-skandha-yantras are visual representations of the teachings found in temples. They take the form of a tree with 24 branches showing the various types of scriptures. These sit alongside images of goddesses or Jinas. They can be adorned with garlands of flowers.

The headquarters of the Kānjī Svāmī Panth sect, which originated in the 20th century, has extensive scriptural engravings. Kundakunda’s works are inscribed on the walls of the main temple at Songadh in Gujarat.

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