Article: Bhaktāmara-stotra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Mantras and yantras

This manuscript page shows the yantra – mystical diagram – for verse 26 of the Bhaktāmara-stotra. This one is a svastika, a highly auspicious symbol in Indian culture. Each verse of the hymn has an accompanying yantra and mantra – auspicious syllable.

Auspicious yantra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

A full performance of worship involving the Bhaktāmara-stotra implies reciting the verses but also chanting the mantras and contemplating the accompanying drawings of mystical diagrams – yantras. Both these elements have developed in association with the Bhaktāmara-stotra. Each verse has come to have its own mantra and yantra, as manuscripts show.

One manuscript of the 44-verse version of the hymn on JAINpedia, under the British Library shelfmark Or. 13741, is a good representative of this trend. Each of the verses has the:

  • original Sanskrit verse, called ‘poem’ – kāvya
  • corresponding mantra
  • procedure to draw the corresponding diagram, all of different forms
  • diagram itself, filled with the syllables of the mantra.

Such manuscripts are also widely known among the sect of the Digambaras. The website of the International Digamber Jain Organization provides digital versions of examples held in India, such as this lavishly illustrated manuscript and this colourful manuscript.

This tradition is continued in modern handbooks on the ritual of Bhaktāmara worship (Pandit and Shah 1999). Comparisons of the mantras and yantras in various sources suggest that there are traditional associations, though it is not set in stone. The same mantras and similar yantras are used for a given verse, but several variants are found.

On the other hand, independent yantras relating to this hymn are also available.

Bhaktāmara ceremony

Among all sects the full Bhaktāmara ritual takes place only on certain occasions. These include (Cort 2006: 107) the:

In a complete Bhaktāmara worship rite – Bhaktāmara-pūjā – several components of worship play a role, as shown in the photographs and report on the Herenow4U website. Here are the stages of a Śvetāmbara pūjā carried out in London in 2005, as reported in Kapashi 2007 (pages 153 to 155).

First, the area for worship is cleared and washed with milky water, which is regarded as holy. A Jina image is placed in the middle of a three-tiered platform. The initial stage is the bathing and anointing of the Jina figure – snātra-pūjā. This is a re-enactment of the lustration or bathing ceremony at a Jina’s birth.

Then preliminary mantras are recited. These mantras may be recited on any occasion and are not reserved for this ceremony.

Next a diagram of the rāyaṇa tree, which is associated with the first Jina’s omniscience, is drawn on the floor. Six small shrines are also drawn, dedicated respectively to:

  • the gods who are the guardians of the directions – kṣetra-pālas
  • Gomukha, who is R̥ṣabha’s yakṣa
  • Cakreśvarī, who is his yakṣī
  • Mānatuṅga-sūri, the author of the hymn
  • the footprints of the first Jina
  • the footprints of a teacher.

Then 44 yantras, one per stanza, are drawn and kept ready.

Next, the Sanskrit verses for remembering the Jina, the yakṣa, the yakṣī and the poet are recited.

Then worship of each stanza is conducted in the following way:

The first verse is recited and an offering (sweet, betelnut, etc.,) is made. At the same time yantra No. 1 is worshipped and anointed. A priest [pujārī] loudly recites the mantra for worship and after that one person strikes a stick twenty seven times on the bronze plate or thālī. This is somewhat like ringing a bell and is done rhythmically with a pleasant sound. Then a lighted lamp dīpaka is placed around the tree, which has been drawn on the floor. The worship of the first verse is thus completed. The same procedure is followed for the remaining verses

Kapashi 2007: 155

Finally, the ritual of completion is carried out with holy milky water, which is poured into a bronze vessel. People put a few drops on their heads, or carry some home to be given to their relatives.

During the worship rite, the officiating priest may recount stories demonstrating the powers of the hymn. The whole event ends with a community meal. The whole ritual is usually said to last up to two days, but is nowadays achieved in six hours (Kapashi 2007: 155).

There are variants of this general scenario, as Cort's description of the ritual (2006: 107–109) shows.

Illustrations

The devotee wears a garland of the first letters of the 48 verses in the Digambara hymn. The Bhaktāmara-stotra is dedicated to the first Jina, R̥ṣabha, at the top. On the right, prosperity is shown as the goddess Lakṣmī.

Final verse of the Bhaktāmara-stotra
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

Traditional manuscripts and modern publications of the Bhaktāmara-stotra use paintings and drawings quite often. In addition to the yantras that usually accompany the text, painted scenes may illustrate the text. Like the yantras, such depictions may help worshippers focus on their prayer and avoid distractions.

There are a few Digambara manuscripts of the Bhaktāmara-stotra where the verses are illustrated by figurative paintings and scenes. They do not depict the stories from the commentaries, but the text of the verses. Thus abstract concepts are translated into pictures (Granoff 2010). The picture is divided into several elements, which are accompanied by words from the text as captions. The pages look rather like or are presented like those of comic books. These paintings are thus reworkings of the words of text in a different medium.

These manuscripts show features characteristic of Digambara paintings, such as the:

In modern popular editions produced among Śvetāmbaras, similar paintings are found, but Mānatuṅga is depicted as a Śvetāmbara monk.

A devotee finds the presence of such paintings effective.

There are many means of attaining deep concentration in chanting a devotional song. The simplest available means is looking at an illustration. In the illustration the form of our Lord and the sentiments of the devotee appear to take tangible shape. The visual depiction of the meaning of the words we recite, when seen in the illustration, makes us understand the essence effortlessly, and that visual imagery is absorbed by the mind. As such, looking at the illustration[,] besides simplifying the meaning of the words, helps [with] achieving concentration. The problem of distraction from meditation and devotion is automatically solved. It is my personal experience that[,] while reading the couplets[,] when I look at the illustrations there appears a stability in the thoughts, a harmony in feelings and an unprecedented and undescribable emotional involvement. There rises a feeling of proximity with the Lord. Even while looking away from the scene, the image lingers on for some time. The memory of pure feelings and images keep the mind engrossed in devotion

Illustrated Bhaktamar Stotra, Preface, page 7

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