Article: Jain Rāmāyaṇas

Contributed by Eva De Clercq

Literary forms

This manuscript painting depicts the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the 'universal gathering' – samavasaraṇa. This Sanskrit term means the event during which the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings – human beings, animals and deities. It also describe

Mahāvīra and the universal gathering
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The Jain story of Rāma is not found in the most ancient Jain literature, the Śvetāmbara canon, though the categories of Baladevas, Vāsudevas and Prati-vāsudevas are listed.

The stories of the mahā-puruṣas or ‘great men’ are typically told in the Jain Purāṇas, often also called Caritas. The oldest of these narrating the Jain Rāmāyaṇa is a Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit poem, called Paüma-cariyam, in Sanskrit Padma-caritaActs of Padma. It was composed by Vimala-sūri, who lived in or before the fifth century. The title refers to the principal character, Rāma, who is here named Padma – Lotus – to distinguish him from (Bala)rāma, the brother of Kṛṣṇa and the ninth Baladeva. Styled as a Purāṇa, the Paüma-cariyam begins by describing the narrative setting of Mahāvīra’s samavasaraṇa, which is attended by Śreṇika, the king of Rājagṛha. Śreṇika asks to hear the story of Rāma and the Rāmāyaṇa according to the Jain faith, whereupon the first disciple of Mahāvīra tells him the story.

Vimala-sūri’s version of the Rāmāyaṇa became the most popular and influential of all Jain Rāmāyaṇas. It is the model for many later well-known Jain Rāmāyaṇas, including Hemacandra’s famous full biography of all the ‘great men’ – Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra.

Famous Jain Rāmāyaṇas

Title

Author

Detail

Paüma-cariyamActs of Padma

Vimala-sūri

written in Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit, before the 5th century

Padma-purāṇaPurāṇa of Padma

Raviṣeṇa

written in Sanskrit in 678

Paüma-cariuActs of Padma

Svayaṃbhū-deva

written in Apabhraṃśa, in the 9th to 10th century

Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritraLives of the 63 Great Men

Hemacandra

12th century

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