Article: Jain Mahābhāratas

Contributed by Eva De Clercq

Nemi’s biography

This manuscript painting shows Prince Nemi’s renunciation in two parts. First he visits his fiancée Princess Rājīmatī and then he flees the scene, upset by the distress of the animals about to be killed for his wedding feast

Nemi's renunciation
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The boy who will become the 22nd Jina, Nemi or Ariṣṭanemi, is the son of Samudravijaya and younger cousin to Kṛṣṇa. Nemi grows up to become a man of unequalled power. Noticing this, Kṛṣṇa becomes worried for his own sovereignty. He arranges for Nemi to marry.

Just before the wedding, the young prince wanders around the park and is struck by the wailing animals which have been lined up to be slaughtered for his wedding banquet. Filled with disgust, he renounces the world.

The monk Nemi achieves omniscience and becomes a Jina. He roams the land preaching to his followers, including Kṛṣṇa and his other relatives, until he achieves final emancipation on Mount Girnar.

Story of the Pāṇḍavas

The five Pāṇḍava brothers from the epic 'Mahabharata'. The woman on the right is Draupadī, wife of Arjuna in the Jain poem. Jain tellings of the 'Mahabharata' underline values such as non-violence and are part of Jain Universal History.

Pāṇḍava brothers and Draupadī
Image by Vaticanus - Bob King © CC BY 2.0

One day in Dvāravatī, Kṛṣṇa receives a visit from five men, the Pāṇḍavas or sons of Pāṇḍu. Their rivalry with their 100 cousins, the Kauravas, has led to several attacks on their lives and years in exile.

The tale of the Pāṇḍavas’ adventures commences. When the eldest of the Pāṇḍavas is seduced into gambling away all their possessions in a game of dice, the five brothers spend years in exile in the forest. They then spend one year incognito at the court of King Virāṭa. They are accompanied throughout their exile by Draupadī, who, according to the Jains, is the wife of one Pāṇḍava brother, Arjuna. In Vyāsa’s Mahābhārata, Draupadī is considered the wife of all five brothers. After this period of exile, they all return to their ancestral city but again have to flee to avoid war.

When they arrive at Kṛṣṇa’s court in Dvāravatī, the brothers form an alliance with him and assist him in the fight against Jarāsaṃdha.

According to the Jains, the great clash between Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas that is the centrepiece of the Hindu Mahābhārata is in fact the battle between Kṛṣṇa and Jarāsaṃdha. These latter are the ninth Vāsudeva and Prati-vāsudeva, and the Pāṇḍavas are among Kṛṣṇa’s many allies, whereas the Kauravas fight on the side of Jarāsaṃdha. Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa and the Pāṇḍavas are victorious over Jarāsaṃdha and the Kauravas.

Narrative cycle of the Bṛhat-kathā

Aside from the epics and other religious stories, other more or less secular narrative cycles developed in India. One example is known as the Bṛhat-kathāGreat Story – first attributed to Guṇāḍhya. The original Bṛhat-kathā being lost, this narrative cycle survives in many later retellings, including some composed by Jains.

The Bṛhat-kathā centres on the adventures of a prince, Naravāhanadatta, who gains 26 wives. The Jains include this narrative cycle in their Mahābhārata. They ascribe Naravāhanadatta’s amorous adventures to Vasudeva, Kṛṣṇa’s father, before the birth of his sons. This part of the Jain Mahābhāratas is generally referred to as Vasudeva-hiṇḍiWanderings of Vasudeva.

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