Article: Sūri-mantra-paṭa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Content

This temple ceiling is painted with the nine celestial entities in the centre of concentric rings featuring various deities and their vehicles, and selected yakṣas and yakṣīs of the Jinas.

Heavenly entities and gods decorate a temple ceiling
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Maṇḍalas usually contain both pictures and text. The text is usually a set of mantras plus instructions while the illustration consists of auspicious symbols.

The textual parts of this yantra comprise Sanskrit or Prakrit formulas of homage to teachers and deities or concepts such as kinds of knowledge and spiritual attainments. These are arranged in the concentric circles of the maṇḍala, occasionally divided into compartments. The phrases are partly standardised, but they can be arranged in different ways, so that there are hardly any identical sūri-mantra-paṭas. Over the centuries many Jain teachers have commented upon these formulas (Jambuvijaya 1977). They are interspersed with magic syllables such as hrīṃ and śrīṃ.

The devotee invokes all beings, from Jinas to deities, so that they enhance the worship connected with this diagram. This is expressed in the Sanskrit phrase:

pūjāṃ pratīcchantu, svāhā

May such and such deities / demons / teachers …. grace the worship

This phrase recurs in most yantras.

In some portions of the text, there are instructions for using the maṇḍala. There are indications of the number of times a mantra should be recited and what kind of worship or meditation it should be used for.

Yantras always include auspicious symbols. These auspicious symbols may be miniature pictures of Jinas or other holy figures, some of the eight auspicious symbolsaṣṭa-mangala – or pairs of eyes. A pair of eyes is believed to convey auspiciousness, and is thus also found on auspicious jars – mangala-kalaśas. The origin of this auspicious symbol is unknown, however.

Ritual handbooks

It is often considered that only oral transmission could guarantee the preservation of the sūri-mantra, that it was secret and not written down. Yet it has become a special literary genre with ritual handbooks produced in the medieval period, which give various versions. Details of some examples are given in the table and are taken from Dundas 1998: 38 and Jambuvijaya 1977.

Sūri-mantra ritual handbooks

Title

English rendering

Author

Date

Mendicant order

Mantra-rāja-rahasya

Secrecy of the Kings of Mantras

Siṃhatilaka-sūri

13th century

Kharatara-gaccha

Sūri-mantra-kalpa

Ritual of the Sūri-mantra

Rājaśekhara-sūri

14th century

Maladhārīya-gaccha

Sūri-mantra-br̥hat-kalpa-vivaraṇa

Explanation of the Large Ritual of the Sūri-mantra

Jinaprabha-sūri

14th century

Kharatara-gaccha

Sūri-mukhya-mantra-kalpa

Ritual of the Main Mantra, the Sūri-mantra

Merutuṅga-sūri

14th to 15th centuries

Añcala-gaccha

Royal Asiatic Society yantra

The rare sūri-mantra-paṭa in the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Dated 1499, it is one of the oldest surviving examples and, being mainly textual, looks quite different from contemporary ones.

Sūri-mantra-paṭa
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

Sūri-mantra-paṭas are normally used only by mendicants within their monastic orders. They are rarely found outside the Śvetāmbara monastic community or outside collections in India so the one held by the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) is very valuable. It is also one of the oldest surviving sūri-mantra-paṭas. Unfortunately, the provenance of this object is not documented even in the institutional archives, but a great deal of information can be gleaned from the paṭa itself.

The RAS example is round and looks quite different from the majority of modern-day sūri-mantra-paṭas because it is chiefly textual. As with all maṇḍalas, it contains numerous mantras intended to invoke:


This sūri-mantra-paṭa is associated with the Kharatara-gaccha sect. This Śvetāmbara monastic order emerged in western India around the 12th century. The maṇḍala dates back to 1449 CE, according to the date written on it, which appears to be genuine. The RAS sūri-mantra-paṭa may never have been used as a tool of worship or meditation, however.

Conservation and restoration work in 2013 uncovered two more yantras on the back of this sūri-mantra-paṭa, which may have been hidden for centuries.

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