Article: Digambara canon

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In thi

Image of a siddha
Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain

The Digambara canon or siddhānta comprises numerous texts. Two are believed to be all that remains of the original Pūrvas and were composed in the 2nd to 3rd century. The rest of the canon is made up of later texts, called the Anuyogas or ‘Expositions’, which are categorised into four classes. The Anuyoga texts may be grouped in different ways, sometimes presented in one class, sometimes in another according to the criteria used, so their number and positions are not universally agreed.

The two oldest scriptures are the holiest because they contain elements of the Pūrvas created by Mahāvīra’s chief disciples that captured and shaped his teachings. Both the ṢaṭkhaṇḍāgamaScripture in Six Parts – and the Kaṣāya-prābhṛtaTreatise on Passions – are highly technical works on karma. Though written in the 9th century, chiefly by Vīrasena, the commentaries are usually read alongside them, since they are hard to understand otherwise.

Since there is no agreement on the texts that comprise the Anuyoga group of scriptures, the number of texts is fluid. The Anuyogas were written between the 2nd and the 11th centuries CE, either in Jaina Śaurasenī Prakrit or in Sanskrit. They explore various key fields of knowledge and conduct, such as the behaviour of mendicants and laity, cosmology, the soul and philosophy.

On the whole, Digambara scriptures have received less attention from scholars in the West than their Śvetāmbara counterparts. This is principally because of the higher number of Śvetāmbara manuscripts in the West, a result of earlier and more frequent historical encounters between Europeans and Śvetāmbara Jains. Digambaras have also resisted attempts to make their holy works widely available for research until relatively recently. For these reasons, statements about the Digambara canon can be made with less certainty than similar ones about Śvetāmbara scriptures.

Like the Śvetāmbara sacred writings, Digambara scriptures are written in Prakrit and have been the focus of commentaries almost since their composition.

Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama – Scripture in Six Parts

In Jain and wider Indian culture, high places are sacred. The peaks of Mount Girnar in Gujarat are holy to both Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains, as well as to Hindus. Like all Jain temple-cities, Girnar has many temples dedicated to the Jinas at its top an

Mount Girnar
Image by Nilesh Bandhiya © GNU GPL

The oldest Digambara text is supposedly based on one of the Pūrvas, a small part of which had been remembered by the monk Dharasena, who lived in the 2nd century CE. Tradition has it that he passed it on to his disciples after calling them to his retreat on Mount Girnar, in the ‘Moon Cave’. Puṣpadanta and Bhūtabali committed the teachings to writing. Thus it could be that this work is actually the first written text of the Jains. This explains why Puṣpadanta and Bhūtabali are venerated during the Digambara festival of knowledge, the Śruta-pañcamī.

The Scripture in Six Parts is an extensive treatise on Karmakarma theory, which includes calculations and subdivisions. Dealing with karma and its attachment to the soul, and with the nature of karma, it is written in concise prose, mostly in the aphoristic style. It is highly technical and widely accepted as meant only for specialists. It involves a lot of methodology and scholastics akin to what the Śvetāmbara tradition has preserved in the Cūlikā texts, such as the Nandī-sūtra or in the Anuyogadvāra-sūtra.

As its name suggests, the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama is in six parts.

Parts of the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama



English meaning




'states of the living'




'karmic bondage'




'thoughts on karmic bondage by living beings'




'experiencing the karmas'




'structurally similar groupings'




'great karmic bond'

40,000 granthas

This table is based on Nand Lal Jain 2004: xiv to xv and Divakar 2000, I: 16ff.

The last part, 'Mahā-bandha', is also called 'Mahā-dhavalā' – 'Great Luminous'. It has been transmitted separately, probably because:

  • it is much larger than all the other parts put together
  • Vīrasena has not commented upon it (Jain in Diwakar 2000, I: 14).

The eminent scholar monk Vīrasena completed his commentary on the first five parts in 816 CE. Written in both Prakrit and Sanskrit, this commentary is known as DhavalāLuminous.

Kaṣāya-prābhṛta – Treatise on Passions

Compiled by the monk Guṇabhadra in the 2nd to 3rd century CE, the second Digambara scripture is also based on the Pūrvas. It deals with the passionskaṣāyas – or attachments to things of the world. These passions are the result of the deluding karmamohanīya-karma.

The Kaṣāya-prābhṛta is written in 180 verses. It is short and rich. It has to be read with the Jaya-dhavalāVictoriously Luminous. Vīrasena began writing this extensive commentary in Prakrit and Sanskrit but it was completed by Jinasena in 820 CE.

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