Article: Reference Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Form of the Bhagavaī Aṅga

Indrabhūti Gautama in a painting from a 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript. The chief disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, Gautama is an important Jain figure and features in many scriptures and tales.

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

This Aṅga mostly uses the dialogue form, although it also uses other methods. In a large majority of cases, the dialogues feature Mahāvīra. He is questioned by Indrabhūti Gautama, his first disciple, on a variety of subjects, in the town of Rājagṛha, in Magadha, eastern India. But a large gallery of other debating characters is also on stage, such as the disciples Roha, Maṇḍiyaputta, Māgandiyaputta, and the setting varies. Even if the text is in formalised dialogues, it gives an insight into vibrant debates on doctrinal issues, with Mahāvīra’s answers on them. These answers are more statements than arguments, however.

The teachings are presented in a variety of patterns, such as:

  • dialogues
  • question and answer
  • exemplary conversion stories
  • episodes
  • refutations of heterodox views
  • references to and quotations from other works (Deleu 1970: 25).

Long quotations from other works are characteristic of the fifth Aṅga. The Prajñapanā, the fourth Upāṅga is the most quoted work, with entire passages of it incorporated into the Bhagavaī Aṅga. In fact these works are traditionally perceived as being closely connected to each other.

Contents of the Bhagavaī Aṅga

In the nucleus of the Aṅga, the same topic may be dealt with at various places. It starts abruptly with the discussion on whether ‘the action that is being performed equals the completed action’ – calamāṇe calie – and unfolds into a very loosely connected series of topics. In the accretions, on the other hand, ‘vast yet well-delimited doctrinal domains are systematically explored in the course of wholly uniform dialogues’ (Deleu 1970: 24). Among the most conspicuous topics discussed are:

The conversion stories features people from various social and religious backgrounds who happened to cross Mahāvīra’s path and who heard the right doctrine from him. They are often mentioned as examples in other scriptures as well.

Well-known examples of conversions in the Bhagavaī Aṅga




a brahmin


a monk, follower of the 23rd Jina, Pārśva


a dissident, probably a follower of the Ājīvikas


a king who became an ascetic in the forest


a king who became an ascetic in the forest


a noble lady


a merchant, a Jain devotee

Section 15

In this detail from a manuscript painting Śvetāmbara monks receive alms from lay people. This manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, a major text outlining the rules of monastic life, dates back to the 16th century

Giving alms to Śvetāmbara monks
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This section, which might have been an independent text originally, provides information on Mahāvīra’s career that is not detailed in other scriptures. It focuses on the second phase of the 24th Jina’s encounter with Makkhali Gosāla, the leader of the Ājīvika movement.

During their first meeting, Gosāla had learnt from Mahāvīra how to perform penance, which creates bodily heat – tejas – to burn away karma. He then directed this heat on two of Mahāvīra’s disciples, who were burnt to death. Then he turned it on Mahāvīra, saying that he would die from fever in six months. Mahāvīra directed this fire back on Gosāla, who died shortly thereafter (Wiley 2004: 136). Mahāvīra, however, had fallen ill from this heat. A Jain lay woman named Revatī gave him the remedy and he recovered.

Revatī is a role model for Jain women and her story illustrates the proper giving of a gift to a mendicant. This Aṅga features her tale for the first time.

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