Article: Bhaktāmara-stotra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

One of the most popular devotional hymns of the Jains is the Bhaktāmara-stotraDevoted Gods hymn. Both main sects of Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras accept it, counting 44 and 48 stanzas respectively. It is dedicated to the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, frequently known as Ādinātha, meaning ‘First Lord’. The title comes from the first verse, which says that ‘his feet enhance the lustre of the jewels set in the crowns lowered by the devoted gods’.

Both sects claim Mānatuṅga, author of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, yet little is known about him. Recent scholarship considers that he was ‘a Śvetāmbara devotional poet who lived in the second half of the 6th century A.D.’ (Wiley 2004: 53). Mānatuṅga is the main character in several legends surrounding the hymn's composition. Though they may vary, the stories all stress the supernatural powers created by reciting the Bhaktāmara-stotra.

The hymn is written in Sanskrit in an elaborate poetical style. The Bhaktāmara-stotra focuses on the characteristics and traits of a Jina. Most prominent are the Jina's radiance and absolute serenity, which are features of his utter perfection.

As a favourite Jain hymn, the Bhaktāmara-stotra has generated a number of commentaries, the earliest dating from the 14th century. Many of these include the stories involving Mānatuṅga and other tales associated with the hymn, which is often given a magical value. These tales tend to emphasise the freedom from fear and life's difficulties that reciting it brings to devotees.

Many Jain followers know the original text by heart and may daily recite or meditate upon it. The hymn is also part of the Jain tantric tradition, in which worshippers chant mantras and reflect on mystical diagrams – yantras. Unusually for a Jain hymn, the Bhaktāmara-stotra is the object of worship in a dedicated ceremony, called Bhaktāmara-pūjā. It is commonly the focus of a collective rite, a popular approach especially among Jains outside India.

Translated into many languages from the original Sanskrit, the hymn continues to be popular among contemporary Jains. Long the subject of illustrations to aid religious concentration, the Bhaktāmara-stotra has recently also been honoured in the construction of dedicated temples.

Befitting its status as a fundamental Jain hymn, the text is often recorded on manuscripts that are frequently noteworthy artefacts. JAINpedia has two digitised examples of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, held in the British Library in London, including one complete manuscript. Because of their beauty and importance in the literature and practice of the Jain faith, these items are highlights of the manuscripts on the website.

Author and legends

Gods compose hymns of praise dedicated to the first Jina, R̥ṣabha, and devotees do the same. This illustration of the second verse of the Bhaktāmara-stotra is from the 1992 edition of the 'Illustrated Bhaktamar Stotra'.

Gods composing hymns of praise
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

The composition of the Bhaktāmara-stotra is unanimously ascribed to an author named Mānatuṅga, who was a Jain monk. The titles ācārya – ‘teacher’ – or sūri – ‘pontiff’ – may be attached to his name. But historical information about him is scarce, and his date remains a matter of hypothesis or controversy.

With both major sects claiming him as a member, Mānatuṅga and his famous composition are accorded authority among all Jains. Various tales relating to the creation of the hymn share the episode that demonstrates the power of the hymn and belief in the Jain doctrine. This features Mānatuṅga’s recitation of the Bhaktāmara-stotra freeing him from the chains that bind him.

All available sources date back to the 13th century or later. They are:

Of the bio-hagiographical writings, two have accounts of Mānatuṅga:

  • Prabhācandra's Prabhāvaka-carita, completed in 1277 CE
  • the 1304 Prabandha-cintāmaṇi by Merutuṅga.

All types of sources present Mānatuṅga as an ‘ancient teacher’ (Jacobi 1932: VII):

Different sources pretending to be based on tradition yield the following approximate dates of Mānatuṅga A.D. 300, 420, 630, 850, 925 or 1050

Jacobi 1932: VII

According to recent Indian scholarship (Dhaky 1997), Mānatuṅga could have lived in the 6th century CE. The earliest commentary on the hymn, however, dates back only to the 14th century. This gap is difficult to explain if the hymn were composed so early.

Ācārya Mānatuṅga is associated with Bhojpur, located 30 kilometres from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. The tale of the composition of the hymn always involves the poet’s release from chains. The story continues with Mānatuṅga’s staying in this locality, where he practised penance and ended his life by fasting to death. Mānatuṅga’s association with Bhojpur has led to the establishment of artefacts and memorials here, such as:

  • a shrine
  • an ‘emancipation-rock’ – siddha-śilā
  • holy footprints – pādukās.

The neighbouring village of Ahu has the ruins of 48 pillars, which are supposed to represent the jail where Mānutuṅga was kept. Their number is the same as the number of stanzas in the Digambara hymn.

The Prabhāvaka-carita story has an interesting feature. It says that Mānatuṅga was the son of a businessman. He renounced the world and became a Digambara monk, taking the name Mahākīrti. Later on, his sister converted him to the Śvetāmbara path. Whether historical fact or not, this successive affiliation to the two principal Jain sects explains why both groups consider:

  • Mānatuṅga to be theirs
  • the Bhaktāmara-stotra to be authoritative and famous.

Creation of the hymn

This highly decorated manuscript page is from an 18th-century copy of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, one of the most popular Jain prayers. The figure in the centre is the first Jina Ṛṣabha. An auspicious image of a Jina or god often appears at the start of a text

Bhaktāmara-stotra opening
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

There is no doubt that the Jain tradition regards Mānatuṅga as an important figure with great charisma. The composition of the Bhaktāmara-stotra has attracted attention in the various commentaries and profiles of Mānatuṅga. The poet gains his freedom and demonstrates the supremacy of the Jinas, especially compared with the deities of Hinduism, the majority faith in India.

According to one version of the tale behind the hymn, three poets were called to the court of King Vr̥ddhabhoja in Avanti, in central India. When they were asked to demonstrate the marvels of their poetical art:

  • Bāṇa recited a hymn called the Caṇḍikā-śataka, which is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Caṇḍikā, ‘the Terrible’
  • Mayūra, also a Hindu, recited the Mayūra-śataka
  • Mānatuṅga asked to be put in chains, then started to recite the Bhaktāmara-stotra, whereupon the chains fell off and the locks broke.

As a result, the king paid due attention to the poet and the Jain faith.

In a slightly different version, Vṛddhabhoja, the king of Avanti, jailed the Jain teacher Mānatuṅga and held him in chains. This was meant as a test, for the king wanted to witness a miracle. The monk meditated for three days and on the fourth day composed this hymn. He chanted the second-last stanza. This is numbered 42 in the Śvetāmbara version while it is 46 for Digambaras.

Second-last stanza of Bhaktāmara-stotra

Sanskrit text

English translation

āpāda-kaṇṭham uru-śr̥ṅkhala-veṣṭitâṅgā

Their bodies wrapped in large chains from head to foot,

gāḍhaṃ br̥han-nigaḍa-koṭi-nighr̥ṣṭa-jaṅghāḥ

Their legs strongly rubbed by thousands of wide chains,

tvan-nāma-mantram aniśaṃ manujāḥ smarantaḥ

the men who always remember the magic formula of your name

sadyaḥ svayaṃ vigata-bandha-bhayā bhavanti

immediately and spontaneously become free of the bonds of fear

The chains broke instantly and Mānatuṅga walked freely out of the prison. The king was astonished, and convinced by the power of devotion to the Jina. Vṛddhabhoja became Mānatuṅga's follower.

Yet another variant of the story says that Mānatuṅga was kept in a prison with 48 locks. When he recited each of the 48 stanzas of the hymn, each lock broke in turn.

A slightly different version in the Digambara tradition is found on the HereNow4U website.

The setting of the story may show variants, but the main motif is identical. The chains or locks binding the poet break after he recites one or all stanzas in the hymn. Whether the story sets the Jain poet in competition with non-Jain colleagues or not, it is also clearly meant to show the superiority of Jainism and the Jinas over Hindu gods and goddesses.

Mānatuṅga's works

The ascetic Mānatuṅga is known to have composed several works, all of them hymns of praise.

Hymns by Mānatuṅga

Title

Meaning

Object of praise

Language

Stanza

Bhaktāmara-stotra

Devoted Gods

first Jina, Ādinātha or Lord Ṛṣabha

Sanskrit

44 or 48

Bhaya-hara-stotra or Namiūṇa-stotra

Remove the Fear or After Bowing Down

23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva

Prakrit

21

Bhatti-bhara or Pañca-parameṣṭhi-stavana

A Load of Devotion or Hymn to the Five Entities

Five Entities worthy of Devotion

Prakrit

35

Mahāvīra-jina-stavana

Hymn to the Jina Mahāvīra

24th Jina, Mahāvīra

Sanskrit

18

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