Article: Sūri-mantra-paṭa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

A sūri-mantra-paṭa is a type of mystical diagram – maṇḍala or yantra – inscribed with formulas of homage and magic syllables – mantras. Most Jain yantras are used in rituals and meditation by both mendicants and lay people, and are important parts of worship. In contrast, only Śvetāmbara monks use sūri-mantra-paṭas and primarily in certain situations.

The sūri-mantra-paṭa is associated with the highest monastic rank of sūri, from which it gets its name. It is particularly linked with Indrabhūti Gautama. As the leading disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, he provides a model of spiritual devotion and leadership for the worshipper. Śvetāmbara mendicants use this mystical diagram to mark the elevation of a monk to the level of sūri, a title for the leader of a religious order. According to tradition, the sūri-mantra was also used to perform miracles and win converts.

Sūri-mantra-paṭas take the shape of either circles or squares and consist of sets of mantras and auspicious symbols arranged in patterns on a square cloth. The mantras are phrases or syllables that invoke the powers of the Jinas and other holy figures as well as key Jain concepts or beliefs. These phrases and the auspicious illustrations are believed to aid the worshipper's prayers and meditations, and bestow good fortune on the devotee.

Sūri-mantra-paṭas are known from the 15th century onwards and are still made today. They are usually kept within the monastic community and are seldom found outside Indian collections, yet one of the highlights of JAINpedia is the sūri-mantra-paṭa held by the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) in London. Its rarity is also due to its age, because it is one of the earliest known examples. It looks decidedly different in style from those favoured by contemporary Jains. In addition, the RAS paṭa bears two auspicious symbols on its reverse side, which were uncovered during recent conservation work.

Purpose

This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief, depicted in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. It is a visual summary of key Jain doctrines

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

A sūri-mantra-paṭa is a special kind of mystical diagram. A mystical diagram is a maṇḍala or yantra and is usually described as a paṭa when it is on cloth. Yantras can be painted on paper or marked out in ink and are of many kinds. At the heart of Jain worship for all sects, different maṇḍalas are used for various purposes.

Only Śvetāmbara monks of the highest monastic rank use the sūri-mantra-paṭa. Like all yantras, it contains mantras and other auspicious words and symbols to perform worship and to help in meditation.

The best-known examples of mantras today are the:

Using the yantra

This manuscript painting shows Indrabhūti Gautama preaching. The white-clad monk is fanned by a servant and sits on a lotus, symbols of worldly and spiritual rank. King Śreṇika and his family sit separately from the lords and ladies of the court

Indrabhūti Gautama preaches
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak monks, especially the Kharatara-gaccha and the Tapā-gaccha, use these sūri-mantra-paṭas for recitation of mantras and for meditation or worship when they are initiated into the higher grades of religious hierarchy. Indeed, this type of yantra takes its name from the term sūri, which is the highest monastic rank, used for the head of a monastic order. Traditional records describe sūris harnessing the power of the maṇḍala to perform miracles to make converts and placate evil deities.

When a monk is considered by his elders to be spiritually eligible to receive the rank of a pontiff, he is given this title in an initiation ceremony performed in the presence of the fourfold community. The guru whispers a mantra in his right ear, signifying that he has now attained the position of a sūri.

The earliest reference to such a ritual is possibly by Haribhadra, in the 8th century. He has 'a description of how a pupil, on the appropriate day and in a suitable state of purity, should be given the sūrimantra by his teacher along with sprinkling of the head with sandalwood powder (abhivāsanā), the latter being a consistent feature of ascetic ritual'

Dundas 1998: 36

Sometimes, the term 'sūri-mantra-paṭa’ is improperly used as a generic name when a monk receives a lower title than sūri. In this case the proper mantra is the vardhamāna-vidyā.

More generally, monks who worship a sūri-mantra-paṭa wish to emulate Indrabhūti Gautama or Gautama-svāmin, the foremost disciple of Mahāvīra, who is an emblematic figure of both disciple and teacher (Dundas 1998). According to tradition, the practice is said to have originated at the time of Mahāvīra. He instructed his disciple to compose the mantra, which is regarded as 'the best of all' – sarva-śreṣṭha. Hence Gautama is often shown at the centre of the diagram.

The chroniclers of the Kharata-gaccha monastic order have taken particular care to show that monastic teachers could use the sūri-mantra for more than the ritual for teacher consecration. Other uses would be to:

demonstrate his authority within his sect by mastering through meditation and ritual the various magic powers embodied in the mantra, such as curing disease and overcoming enemies, and thus to transform himself into the latter-day equivalent of Gautama, the miracle-working favourite disciple of the twenty-fourth tīrthaṃkara, Mahāvīra

Dundas 2000: 233

These activities were intended to win over ascetics of other creeds or yoginīs who controlled pilgrimage places (Dundas 2000).

Shape and material

A sūri-mantra can be square or round. It can be drawn and painted on paper or on cloth. If it is on cloth, it is called a paṭa.

If the sūri-mantra-paṭa is a circle, it is normally placed within a square. It consists of a varying number of concentric circles and can be of different levels of complexity. Such a diagram can also be viewed as a miniature representation of the Jain universe.

Different sūri-mantra-paṭas are reproduced in Shah 1948 and Jambuvijaya 1977, or in catalogues of Jain art objects. One is exhibited permanently in the L. D. Museum in Ahmedabad. Another one from around 1600 is available at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and is described in Pal 1994: 228–229.

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