Article: Bhaktāmara-stotra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Two versions

A 20th-century poster showing 48 yantras – mystical diagrams – that correspond to each of the stanzas in the Digambara Bhaktāmara-stotra. This poster is on the wall of the Digambara temple in Pondicherry.

Digambara yantras
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Mānatuṅga is recognised as a Jain religious teacher of great prestige in both the Śvetāmbara and Digambara traditions. The Bhaktāmara-stotra, which is his most celebrated work, is also famous among lay devotees and mendicants of both sects.

The only difference lies in the number of stanzas in the versions of each sect. They total 44 for the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks and 48 for the Digambaras. The non-image-worshipping Śvetāmbaras of the Sthānaka-vāsins and Terāpanthins also admit 48 verses. See for instance the Illustrated Bhaktamar Stotra, produced by Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsins.

The four additional verses found in the 48-verse version lie between stanzas 31 and 36. Verses 28 to 31, which both sectarian versions have, describe four objects associated with the state of a Jina, underlining his royal status. The extra stanzas add four more attributes. The total list of eight qualities corresponds to what is known as ‘miraculous phenomena’ – prātihārya. These are present when a Jina reaches omniscience – kevala-jñāna – and preaches during the general assembly – samavasaraṇa.

The ‘miraculous phenomena’ – prātihārya – of the Bhaktāmara-stotra

Verse number

44-verse version – Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks

48-verse version – Digambaras, Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsins and Śvetāmbara Terāpanthins

28

aśoka tree

aśoka tree

29

lion-throne – siṃhāsana

lion-throne

30

fly-whisks – cāmara

fly-whisks

31

triple umbrella – chattra-traya

triple umbrella

32

drums – dundubhi

33

rain of flowers – puṣpa-vṛṣṭi

34

halo – prabhā

35

divine speech – divya-dhvani

The prātihāryas form a clear set in the Digambara tradition. In the older Śvetāmbara tradition, however, the term is not used, although the elements do exist. This has resulted in a number of positions regarding the Bhaktāmara-stotra, including:

  • Śvetāmbaras arguing that the other sect has added four verses to complete the set that exists elsewhere in the Digambara tradition
  • Digambaras holding that the original number of verses is 48, citing the fact that the number of diagrams associated with the hymn is always 48
  • recent Indian scholarship (Dhaky and Shah) asserting that the absence of four verses is a sign that the hymn was composed when the concept of prātihāryas was not fully developed in Śvetāmbara sources.

The situation is even more complicated because each term in the eightfold set is allotted one stanza in the Kalyāṇa-mandira-stotra. This is a famous hymn dedicated to the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, that is quite close to the Bhaktāmara-stotra in style.

Hymn of devotion to the first Jina – to a Jina

This detail from an 18th-century manuscript of the Bhaktāmara-stotra shows the first Jina, R̥ṣabha, in meditation. Dedicated to R̥ṣabha, the hymn is attributed to Mānatuṅga. The story of the hymn's composition demonstrates the power it bestows.

R̥ṣabha meditating
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The poet has composed a hymn of praise to the first Jina, who is specified at the beginning. However, the hymn pays more attention to the general attributes of the Jina concept than to the individual qualities of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina.

In the opening stanzas Mānatuṅga pays homage ‘to the two feet of the Jina, who is like a support in the beginning of the era’ – yugādau – and then says ‘I will praise the first Jina’ – prathamaṃ Jinendraṃ.

But no name as such appears in the poem. The Jina is first referred to as 'him' and later, as devotion increases closeness, is addressed as ‘you’. No individual reference or name relating to the life of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Ādinātha, ‘the Lord of the beginning’, is found otherwise. There is no mention of a specific feature except allusions to ‘his sun-like colour’, which can be understood as referring to the golden colour of this Jina. Even so, other Jinas are associated with the colour gold.

The Bhaktāmara-stotra is, rather, a hymn to any Jina because it deals primarily with the nature and attributes of a Jina as a supreme entity. Beyond karma and rebirth, he is dispassionate, representing infinite knowledge as well as bliss. The hymn is thus a celebration of the liberated soul. It is the result of full devotion – bhakti – to a spiritual being. Many other Jain hymns narrate a specific Jina’s life in the form of a praise, but not this one. Here the poet explicitly states that devotion justifies his undertaking and gives it any quality it might have.

Two features are repeatedly underlined in the devotional song. These following qualities make a Jina distinctive and create a special atmosphere:

  • radiant light and perfect brightness, which are unequalled
  • perfect serenity and peace, also unmatched.

To demonstrate the first point, the poet systematically compares with the Jina other well-known standards of light or brightness, particularly the sun and the moon.

The second characteristic is compared with the three main Hindu gods of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. The Bhaktāmara-stotra does not go into polemics, but verse 15 clearly states the common idea that these Hindu deities are liable to be attracted by female beauty and thus may lose their steadiness.

Another recurring theme of the hymn is the emphasis on the Jina’s perfection. He has only positive qualities, with no defects or impurities. These qualities are beyond expression.

Demonstrating devotion in the Jain faith involves mentioning, remembering or reciting a particular name, because it is credited with a special power. It is significant that the name is described as a mantra. It can remove all kinds of physical fears or dangers, which are duly described in the latter stanzas as fear of:

  • elephants
  • lions
  • fire
  • snakes
  • war
  • water or sea-travel
  • disease
  • imprisonment.

As such, the Bhaktāmara-stotra is part of the ‘Seven Remembrances’ – Sapta-smaraṇas – or ‘Nine Remembrances’ – Nava-smaraṇas. These are the groups of hymns that make up the heart of Jain liturgy among Śvetāmbaras.

In modern times this hymn has been seen as containing a definition of divinity in the Jain sense of the word. In the late 19th century Muni Ātmārām argued that it proves Jains are not atheists (Cort 2006: 99).

Contents

An act of devotion, the Bhaktāmara-stotra is also a masterpiece of Sanskrit poetry, demonstrating skill and clarity without pedantry. It is rich in imagery and alliteration, making it a powerful song of devotion and a favourite of many Jains.

All the stanzas are composed in the same metre, known as vasantatilakā. Each of the four lines that makes up a stanza has 14 syllables. Each set of 14 syllables has exactly the same rhythm:

long long short long short short short long short short long short long long

Far from being dry, the hymn is suffused with images, lightly suggested by the numerous comparisons found throughout. Alliteration appears frequently, as the first words immediately show:

bhaktāmara-praṇata-mauli-maṇi-prabhāṇām

[the feet of the Jina which enhance] the brightness of the jewels in the crowns lowered by the devoted gods.

The poet often appears to select words for that purpose from the vast repertory of Sanskrit synonyms.

All these features make the Bhaktāmara-stotra a good piece to recite and listen to. Indeed, numerous Jains know it by heart or read it in the original Sanskrit, even though they are not otherwise conversant with the language.

Forty-eight stanzas of the Bhaktāmara-stotra

Verse number

Summary

1 to 2

The poet's respectful homage at the feet of the Jina of the ‘beginning of the era’, ‘the first Jina’ (stanzas 1 to 5)

3

The poet states his humility when facing this bold task

4

An attempt to express the Jina’s qualities is as bold as a plan to swim across the ocean

5

But devotion is the reason why the poet wants to praise him

6

Only this devotion gives him the ability to complete the task and will give the work any quality

7

The benefits that result from the praise

8

These benefits explain why he embarks on the task

9

Let alone the praise, the mere mention of the Jina is beneficial

10

People praising him may imagine becoming comparable to him

11

The sight of him offers full satisfaction, like consuming an elixir

12

The essence of the Jina is serenity

13

The perfection of his face surpasses that of the moon, who becomes pale during the day

14

He is the refuge of all good qualities

15

He is a paragon of steadiness, not subject to any disturbance from external factors. He is compared with Mount Meru

16

He is better than any lamp

17

He has a greatness that surpasses the sun, who can be hidden in clouds

18

He has more brightness than the moon, who can be obscured by eclipses (stanzas 18 to 22)

19

Thus there is no need for the sun and moon

20

Knowledge is far superior in him than in other gods like Śiva and Viṣṇu

21

After seeing what these gods are like, the poet finds the Jina provides satisfaction that cannot be found elsewhere

22

The mother of a Jina is superior to all other mothers, like the eastern direction where only the sun rises

23

The Jina is the supreme being, perfect. Having realised this, one conquers death. There is no other path to liberation

24 to 25

With knowledge as his essence, he gathers in him the qualities of the highest gods or saints – Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva and Buddha

26

A simple and famous stanza: ‘Praise to you, O Lord, remover of the pain of the three worlds. Praise to you, stainless ornament of the earth’s surface. Praise to you, supreme lord of the triple world. Praise to you, O Jina, you dry up the ocean of rebirth'

27

The Jina is the refuge of all qualities. No fault goes to him – they have enough homes elsewhere!

28

The first miraculous phenomenon for a Jina – the aśoka tree

29

The lion-throne

30

The fly-whisks

31

The triple umbrella [of royalty]

32

The drum

33

The rain of flowers

34

The halo

35

The divine speech

36

Lotuses spring up where the Jina walks

37

His splendour in setting out the doctrine and his brightness are without parallel

38

People who take refuge in him have no fear of even the most powerful elephant

39

Even the most ferocious lion does not attack those who have taken refuge at the Jina’s feet

40

His name is like water, capable of extinguishing the fiercest forest fire

41

The man who has in his heart his name, which is like a snake-charm, can easily face a violent snake that comes towards him with bad intentions

42

By reciting his name, even the army of powerful kings is destroyed instantly, like darkness pierced by the rays of the sun

43

Those who have taken shelter at his lotus feet gain victory in the most terrible wars

44

By remembering him, even those who are in a boat tossed on agitated waves go on the ocean without fear

45

Those who are attacked by terrible diseases such as dropsy and have lost hope of survival become as beautiful as Kāma, the god of love, if their bodies are smeared with the pollen of his lotus feet

46

By always remembering the magic formula of his name, one is freed from the bonds of fear

47

As if scared away, all kinds of fear instantly vanish for the intelligent people who recite praise to him (stanzas 47 to 48)

48

Prosperity goes spontaneously to those who wear the garland of this hymn around their necks

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