Article: Digambara canon

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Other scriptures

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 scriptural tradition is extremely rich and interesting. As well as the two main scriptures, the Digambaras include several other reference works in their canon, which are known as the Anuyogas or ‘Expositions’. These were composed between the 2nd and the 11th centuries CE, either in Jaina Śaurasenī Prakrit or in Sanskrit. They are grouped in four categories, representing various fields of knowledge and learning.

Digambara Anuyogas or ‘Expositions’


English meaning




‘First Exposition’

Jain epics presenting Digambara versions of:




  • Rāmāyaṇa

for example the 7th-century Padma-purāṇa by Raviṣeṇa



  • Mahābhārata

for example Jinasena’s Harivaṃśa-purāṇa, from the 8th century



  • ‘Jain universal history’, called Mahā-purāṇa in Sanskrit


  • Jinasena’s 8th-century Ādi-purāṇa
  • Guṇabhadra’s 9th-century Uttara-purāṇa


‘Exposition on Calculations and Techniques’

Treatises on technical matters:




for example:

  • Tiloya-paṇṇatti of Yati Vṛṣabha, dating from the 6th to 7th century
  • 11th-century Triloka-sāra of Nemicandra-Siddhānta-cakravartin



for example, Nemicandra-Siddhānta-cakravartin’s Gommaṭa-sāra


‘Exposition on Conduct’

Treatises on:




for example:

  • Vaṭṭakera’s Prakrit-language Mūlācāra, composed around the 2nd century
  • Śivārya’s Bhagavatī Ārādhanā or Mūlārādhanā deals in particular with fasting unto death and is an important source of stories developed in later collections



  • lay conduct

the 5th-century Ratnakaraṇḍaka-Śrāvakācāra by Samantabhadra is one of the earliest works on this topic



  • purity of the soul

Kundakunda’s works from the 2nd to 3rd centuries, such as the famous Samaya-sāra, deal as much with monastic accomplishment as with inner development and purity of the soul. They are the starting point of the Digambara mystic tradition and inspired several Jain thinkers, from Yogīndu to Rājacandra.


‘Exposition on Substances’

Treatises on:




  • Jain doctrine

Umāsvāmin’s comprehensive Tattvārtha-sūtra is the standard work



  • philosophy

various philosophical works by:

  • Samantabhadra in the 5th century, such as the Āpta-mīmāṃsā
  • Akalaṅka, such as his commentary on the Apta-mīmāṃsā or his 8th-century Nyāya-viniścaya

This table of topics and texts should be viewed as presenting a sample of authoritative works, in no way giving an exhaustive list. Certain texts may appear in different anuyogas, according to the classification system used.


The holy texts of both the Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects are written in the Prakrit language. In Mahāvīra’s time Sanskrit was used for the sacred texts of the brahmins and was the language of the elite. It is likely that Sanskrit was not used to write down the Jain teachings so that they were as widely accessible as possible. Since Mahāvīra’s teaching was ‘open’ to all – suggested by the term pavayaṇa – it was written in the most commonly used language.

The Digambara siddhānta is written in Jaina Śaurasenī Prakrit. Its chief differences from other forms of Prakrit are to do with phonetics so somebody who understands one Prakrit can also understand other forms. Digambaras also used a later form of Prakrit known as Apabhraṃśa, which is the language of some poetical treatises and narratives.

Since the 14th century, regional languages became more widely used in teaching and commenting on scriptural texts. Prakrit and Sanskrit remained in use, however, with different languages chosen according to the context and education levels of the expected audience. Digambaras in north India tended to employ Hindi and Rajasthani, found in the commentaries called vācanikās. Those in the south used Kannara or Tamil. These may be lengthy, detailed explanations or word-to-word paraphrases, more or less translations.

Studying and teaching the siddhānta

This detail of a manuscript painting shows Digambara novices and monks. Full monks go naked as part of their vow of non-possession while novices wear white garments until they are ready to renounce the world fully

Monks and novices
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

A range of attitudes towards ways of using the holy texts can be found among Digambara Jains. Through the centuries scholar monks have referenced the scriptures to give authority to their opinions in intellectual arguments. Despite the crucial role of scriptural knowledge in spiritual progress, many Jains have not had direct access to the holy writings. Attitudes to reading the scriptures differ among the various Digambara sects and may depend on whether the reader is lay or mendicant. The idea of publishing the scriptures has also been hotly contested.

Proof of scriptural knowledge being used to support arguments is plentiful since the medieval period. The sectarian divisions common among Digambaras from at least the fifth century were often fuelled by different interpretations of various holy texts. Scholar monks tended to quote phrases and whole sections of certain works. One popular method of promoting viewpoints included scriptural quotations in the format of a dialogue of questions and answers. These texts – praśnottaras or bols – remain favoured pedagogical tools.

The Digambara subsects demonstrate a variety of attitudes towards allowing access to the holy writings. Some mendicant orders allow monks of a certain rank to study scriptures but the main method of transmitting the teachings is still lectures by senior monks. Students may enter into discussions with their teacher, but on the whole they are expected to listen.

The complexity of many of the Digambara texts puts them beyond the reach of readers who lack a thorough knowledge of karma theory and various philosophical fields. Lay access to scriptures is usually under mendicant supervision or via monastic sermons and specially created material. Ordinary Jains can read stories, hymns or digests that are targeted at the lay readership.

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