Article: Bhaktāmara-stotra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Commentaries and translations

Pages of a miniature edition of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, showing verse 26 facing a modern illustration. The original Sanskrit is given in Devanāgarī script, with Gujarati translation in Gujarati script below. The picture shows a scene of homage

Pages of a modern Bhaktāmara-stotra
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The popularity of the Bhaktāmara-stotra is evidenced by numerous commentaries in Sanskrit and vernacular languages, and by many poetic or prose translations. Contemporary Jains may know it in either Sanskrit or modern languages.

Scholar-monks wrote commentaries on the hymn probably soon after its composition, with the earliest surviving commentary dating from the 14th century. Commentaries are still being produced on this widespread song of devotion.

Examples of significant commentaries in Sanskrit on the hymn are in the table.

Important Sanskrit commentaries on the Bhaktāmara-stotra

Author

Date

Details

Guṇākara

1369 CE (1426 VS)

Written by a Śvetāmbara monk, who was a pupil of Guṇacandra-sūri of the Rudrapallīya-gaccha.
Besides word-to-word explanation of the verses, it includes mantras associated with each stanza plus stories showing the positive effects of reciting the hymn. It was published in Kapadia 1932.

Kanakakuśala

1595 CE (1652 VS)

Produced by a Śvetāmbara monk, who was a pupil of Hīravijaya-sūri of the Tapā-gaccha.
This is mainly a word-to-word explanation of the verses (Kapadia 1932: 126–151).

Meghavijaya-gaṇi

17th century

Written by a Śvetāmbara monk, who was a pupil of Vijayaprabha-sūri of the Tapā-gaccha.
This is mainly a word-to-word explanation of the verses. It was published in Kapadia 1932.

Surviving translations of the Bhaktāmara-stotra into vernacular languages date back to the 17th century. Translations are still being undertaken in modern times. Recent translations may be recorded and circulated on modern audio technology. Contemporary Jains may prefer these for their devotions to the original Sanskrit text.

The table gives details of some important vernacular language translations of the hymn.

Important translations of the Bhaktāmara-stotra into vernacular languages

Author

Date

Language

Details

Muni Devavijayaji

1673

Old Hindi

‘Devavijayaji has used different forms of melodies or rāga in composing the different poems. When these are sung by groups of singers with appropriate accompanying instruments it creates an atmosphere of joy and serenity’ (Kapashi 2007: 91)

Hemaraj Pande

Hindi

 

 

Nathuram Premi

  • 1907
  • 2012
  • Hindi
  • English
  • Translated and edited by a Digambara lay scholar
  • Manish Modi translated Premi's translation into English

Mavji Damiji Shah

 

Gujarati

Translation using a metre different from the original, with one stanza translation for each original verse (Pandit and Shah 1999: 428–436).
'It is usually sung by people in various groups and functions. […] Many audiocassettes have also been released of this Gujarati version’ (Kapashi 2007: 90)

There are also many modern presentations of the contents of the hymn, which may show sectarian orientations. There are also several contemporary imitations of the poem that reuse certain phrases (see examples in Cort 2006: 102).

Stories

Hymns can be recited or sung out of pure devotion. But Jains also chant or sing them to gain various benefits. Several stanzas of the Bhaktāmara-stotra emphasise the quasi-miraculous power of reciting the Jina’s name, once it is designated as a mantra, as in verses 42 or 46. It can remove all types of fears and cure various diseases. Further, the hymn's impact – prabhāva – or its greatness – mahiman – is made clear in stories of various characters whose experiences shows how they were protected by the hymn. A similar pattern can be found for another fundamental Jain hymn, the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra.

Such stories are found in the commentaries. The main source is Guṇākara’s commentary, which has 28 tales. Each story is associated with a specific verse, and points to its efficacy in particular circumstances. Thus each verse is put in context, and made alive through a gallery of word-portraits from various times and places (see Kapashi 2007: 105–112).

After reciting one or several verses of the hymn, the figures in the tales are rescued from difficult or perilous situations. The wicked people who had caused them torment or endangered them are also punished. It is impossible for a Jina to intervene in human activities in such contexts, as he is liberated from worldly affairs, so his female attendant – yakṣī – acts instead. The yakṣī Cakreśvarī is thus a recurring character in the stories. As the intermediary between the human being and the Jina, she decides to grant protection to the hymn's chanter.

The table summarises the situations in which chanting the Bhaktāmara-stotra results in the reciter's rescue or gain.

Stories in Guṇākara’s commentary associated with Bhaktāmara-stotra verses

Verse number

Story number

Summary

1 to 2

1

A king puts a merchant down a deep well.

3 to 4

2

A poor merchant is caught in a storm while on a boat. A monk tells him to recite verses 3 and 4 of the hymn. He is saved with the help of Cakreśvarī and becomes rich (see pages 427 to 428 of Lefeber 1995 for translation).

7

3

The houses of two Jain merchants become totally dark, covered with dust by a yogi who is infuriated that they did not come to worship him.

8 to 9

4

A poor man, named Keśava, is attacked by a lion in the jungle, then tricked by a stranger, who puts him down a well.

11

5

A poor merchant meditates on this verse and finds his life changed.

12

6

The Jina's superiority over various Hindu gods is demonstrated through this story

13 to 14

7

A young woman refuses to eat at her wedding-feast before she has recited the hymn. She chants it that night and receives magic garlands.

15

8

A wicked yogi paralyses King Sajjana’s body and no cure can be found. A Jain teacher is asked for help. While Jain monks meditate on stanza 15, a deity anoints the feet of one of them with water, which thus becomes holy. Following the Jain teacher’s advice, this monk is brought before the king and the water from his feet cures the king.

16 to 17

9

A father finds the way to teach his non-believer son.

18

10

A minister is saved in the jungle and also receives various boons.

19

11

Learning the hymn leads to the gaining of a magic gem.

20

12

After meditating through the night on the 20th verse of the hymn, the monk Vijayasena-sūri receives from the goddess Cakreśvarī the ability to answer all questions.
King Mahīpati’s wife is pregnant. The king asks the brahmins what will happen in his house in the future, but they remain silent. The monk Vijayasena-sūri is called to the court and asked the same question. He says that the queen will give birth to a son with three eyes and that on the 12th day the royal elephant will die. Then he goes back to his lodgings.
Everything happens as he had foretold. The king calls him back, praises him and becomes a faithful believer in Jainism.

21

13

A Jain monk had acquired supernatural powers through regular recitations of this verse. When he is in an area where everybody had converted to other religions, he shows the people the Hindu gods, including Śiva, bowing down to the Jina (see a full translation on pages 429 to 430 in Lefeber 1995).

22

14

A Jain monk liberates people from a troubling yakṣa, a Buddhist teacher reborn.

23

15

After the same Jain monk meditates on verse 23 of the hymn, the goddess Cakreśvarī grants him the ability to overpower wicked gods. As a consequence, he is able to transform an enraged, wicked goddess representing false doctrine into a peaceful one who bows down to him (see full translation on page 430 to 431 in Lefeber 1995).

25

16

These verses are said to include an important mantra.

26

17

A merchant who had many troubles learns the verse ‘Praise to you’ from a monk. He chants it and the goddess of prosperity makes him wealthy (Cort 2006: 99–101).

27

18

King Sātavāhana has everything to be happy, except for a son. He tries everything to get one, but in vain.
He meets a Jain monk, who advises him to meditate in particular on the 27th verse of the hymn, for then Cakreśvarī will fulfil his wish. The king does so and on the third day the goddess appears before him. She offers him a flower garland for his wife to wear. If she does, she will surely give birth to a son. And the deity disappears.
Everything happens as planned, and the perfect son is called Cakrādāsa, in honour of Cakreśvarī.

31

19

Gopāla is a good-natured man but poor. A Jain monk advises him to meditate on the hymn. One night, he dreams of the first Jina with the royal symbol of the three parasols. The next day he instals a Jina image that has appeared from the ground and chants the hymn in front of it. Gopāla meditates and has amazing dreams for six months.
While he is meditating on the 31st verse, Cakreśvarī gives him the favour of a kingdom. It happens that the king of Siṃhapura dies without an heir. Gopāla is chosen to be king through the procedure of the ‘five marvels’, becoming King Devadatta.
Other dignitaries do not recognise his authority at first, but through Cakreśvarī's power they finally come to respect him fully.

33

20

A very poor man meets a Jain monk who teaches him the doctrine and gives him an image of Lord Pārśva. He starts worshipping it regularly. While he is meditating on the 33rd verse of the hymn, a celestial palace appears before him and Cakreśvarī descends from it. Happy with the man’s devotion, she offers him a jewel. She places it on his arm, where it will help him have power over everything, and disappears.
The man has to face thieves who want to steal his jewel. News spreads of his courage and devotion, and he is finally appointed chief of police at the royal capital.

34

21

Prince Somarāja has lost his position and home, so is forced to wander. He meets a Jain monk, who teaches him the doctrine. He recites the hymn.
It so happens that he arrives in a town where the royal elephant has just gone mad, broken his chains and is charging about wreaking havoc. The elephant reaches the place where the princess is playing with her friends. The prince runs towards her, reciting the hymn in a low voice. Reciting the 34th verse, he masters the elephant, thanks to the presence of Cakreśvarī.
Somarāja and the princess fall in love. After some adventures they live happily together.

35

22

Devarāja, a pious but poor Jain, recites the hymn and practises religion as his religious teacher has taught him. He takes a job travelling with a merchant's caravan. They wander through the jungle and halt for a break. Devarāja takes a bath and begins chanting the hymn.
The caravan notices an impressive and furious lion approaching. Out of fear, they all rush to where Devarāja is. Thanks to Cakreśvarī, who is satisfied as Devarāja recites the 35th verse, he can make the lion stop. The king of beasts bows down to him and throws three pearls in front of him.
All of the travellers praise the power of the hymn. Devarāja teaches Jainism to his companions and all of them become Jain devotees. They respect Devarāja as their teacher. He becomes rich.

36

23

A businessman is saved from a forest fire.

37

24

Suspecting her husband of planning to kill her, a devout lady recites the hymn. Then she finds that the snake he has hidden in a pot changes into a garland of flowers.

39

25

Fearing that his younger brother Guṇavarman wants to take his place, the king banishes him. Living in the forest, as it is the rainy season, Guṇavarman recites the hymn. While he is meditating in particular on verse 39, Cakreśvarī appears and asks him which favour he would like. She gives him the favour of a kingdom, and disappears.
The king comes out with his full army. He asks his men to kill Guṇavarman. All alone, Guṇavarman stops the attack and is victorious.

40

26

Dhanāvaha is a good merchant who has heard the teaching of a Jain monk and puts it into practice, especially the vow of non-violence. He also recites the hymn.
As he is no longer rich, he travels by boat to Ceylon. On the way back, the captain says that there is a goddess to whom they have to give an animal offering or they will die. The merchant refuses, despite the captain’s insistence, because this goes against his principles.
He continues to recite the hymn silently. As he remembers verse 40, the goddess appears in front of him and offers him a jewel. She asks him to choose a favour. He asks her to make the killing of animals stop, and she agrees. The boat reaches its destination in no time.

41

27

Prince Rājahaṃsa is afflicted with terrible diseases. He meditates upon the hymn, in particular on verse 41. This satisfies the goddess Cakreśvarī, who cures him completely.

42

28

A Jain lay man is arrested and imprisoned after false accusations, but is miraculously released as a reward after meditating on verse 42 of the hymn (see full translation in Lefeber 1995: 432–433).

Besides those found in Guṇākara’s commentary, stories from other sources are also known. See a telling of the story of the poor carpenter Devala, whose attention was caught by the hymn's fifth verse. Another one relates to verse 18.

Contemporary Jains are usually very familiar with the stories that make the Bhaktāmara-stotra such a central song of devotion.

Recitation and worship

Cover of a miniature edition of the Bhaktāmara-stotra. This is the Śvetāmbara version of the hymn, in 44 verses, with information in Gujarati script. This book is edited by Muni Shri Candraratnasagara and costs 37 Indian rupees.

Miniature copy of the Bhaktāmara-stotra
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Bhaktāmara-stotra is one of the hymns most widely found in worship and ritual. It is used in private or communal acts of worship and is also the focus of a dedicated rite – Bhaktāmara-pūjā.

Most Jain houses have a copy of the Bhaktāmara-stotra. The text is available in many forms as there is an infinite number of popular editions. In particular, this hymn can be read in miniature books no larger than 5 by 7 centimetres, which may have the Sanskrit text, a translation in Gujarati or Hindi and some illustrations. Its popularity is further evidenced by the availability of a fairly large number of manuscript copies in Jain manuscript libraries.

The most common way of using the Bhaktāmara-stotra is for a Jain to read or recite it at home. It seems unanimously accepted that the most appropriate time is the early morning. Worshippers are recommended to face the east or the north during recitation. Mendicants also chant or recite this hymn, which is at the centre of Jain 'devotional culture' (Cort 2006).

In addition, the hymn itself is the object of ceremonial worship – Bhaktāmara-pūjā. There are other famous hymns that are similarly the centre of worship, but not many. Examples include the:

Nowadays collective worship ceremonies are increasingly organised and provide occasions for people to gather for religious and social purposes. They take place in India but also among the Jain diaspora communities in the UK and USA. Examples in London reported on the HereNow4U website include:

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