Article: Sūri-mantra-paṭa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Pattern and illustrations

This detail from a sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the mantra hrīṃ flanked by a pair of eyes. Both highly auspicious symbols for Jains, they are frequently found in yantras, sacred objects and manuscripts and are tools of meditation and religious worship.

Hrīṃ and eyes
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

This round sūri-mantra-paṭa is rather elaborate, with seven circles, not counting the central one. It is similar to number 14 in the standard collection edited by Muni Jambu-vijaya in 1977. At the top, in the centre of the page, is hrīṃ, the magic and sacred syllable, flanked on each side by an eye. The pair of eyes is believed to convey auspiciousness and can be seen on other sacred objects.

Since it is sober and chiefly text, this example contrasts with modern sūri-mantra-paṭas, which are often painted in vivid colours and have little text, such as this one on Flickr and this one on HereNow4U.

Mantras

In the central circle is the main formula, which here pays homage to Gotamasvāmin, referring to Indrabhūti Gautama, the first disciple of Mahāvīra. An image of Gautama is frequently placed in the middle of a sūri-mantra, because he was the 24th Jina's highest-ranking disciple and the first mendicant in Mahavira's monastic lineage. He is the spiritual example whom mendicants seek to imitate.

Moving from the outside in, within the second circle homage is paid in turn to the 24 Jinas, whose names are given in 24 boxes.

The paṭa contains many formulas of homage, such as those to:

Occasionally, there are scattered Sanskrit stanzas where homage to these deities is offered. For instance, there is a verse dedicated to Śrī-devī in the left side of the bottom part of the yantra. On the right side, in the middle part, there is a stanza in Prakrit offering homage to the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Monastic order

This detail of a 500-year-old sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the footprints – pādukās – of Jinacandra-sūri. A holy figure's footprints are sacred and this painting underlines the holiness of Jinacandra, one of the most eminent Kharata-gaccha monks and a Dādā-guru

Footprints of Jinacandra-sūri
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

It is clear that this sūri-mantra-paṭa is connected to the Śvetāmbara monastic order known as the Kharatara-gaccha, which has been present in Western India, especially Rajasthan, since the 11th century. Indeed, the sūri-mantra 'clearly played a significant part in establishing sectarian identity for the followers of an ascetic group like the reforming Kharatara Gaccha' (Dundas 1998: 36) and in the legitimation of their leaders.

Paradoxically, the name of the order itself does not appear. Instead, the phrase ‘our gaccha’ – asmad-gaccha – is given at several places. In the top-left corner there is a list of names of the successive heads of the Kharatara-gaccha order, so the identity of the order as the Kharatara-gaccha is clear. The list of sūris is given as:

  • Vardhamāna-sūri
  • Jineśvara-sūri
  • Jinacandra-sūri
  • Abhayadeva-sūri
  • Jinavallabha-sūri
  • Jinadatta-sūri.

Vardhamāna-sūri (died 1031 CE) was the founding teacher of this monastic order in the 11th century. The deity Dharaṇendra is thought to have revealed the meaning and secret of the sūri-mantra to him, and thereafter this monastic order has considered the yantra a magic spell. Jineśvara-sūri is the monk who consolidated the order. Then come his disciples and successors.

The monastic lineage is continued in the top-right part of the maṇḍala as:

These are two teachers who succeeded each other as monastic leaders in the 12th century. Thus they are not contemporary with the diagram, but illustrious predecessors who are offered homage. Jinapati-sūri is one of those who could win over yoginīs through the use of the sūri-mantra (Dundas 2000).

The name of Jinacandra-sūri appears also on the lower part of the left side of the diagram, above the footprints – pādukās. This text pays homage to him:

śrīJinacandrasūri-pādebhyaḥ sadā namo ‘stu //

May there always be homage to the feet of Jinacandra-sūri

Several heads of the Kharatara-gaccha had the name Jinacandra-sūri and lived in very different times. The footprints are usually commemorative, so it indicates that the Jinacandra-sūri referred to was not alive when the yantra was made. It is likely that the footprints and homage refer to the one listed in the top right, who is one of the Dādā-gurus. These are the major teachers of this monastic order, who largely owe their fame to their miraculous powers (see Babb 1996).

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