Article: Story Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The five ‘story Aṅgas’ form a distinct group within the group of 11 Śvetāmbara holy scriptures called the Aṅgas. The label of ‘story Aṅgas’ is here given to works numbered 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11. All of these use narrative techniques to pass on key beliefs of the Jain faith. These are mostly parables or tales that follow the fortunes of characters as they move through the cycle of rebirth. The story Aṅgas translate complex religious concepts such as karma and soul into clear narratives, working religious, ethical and philosophical notions into the action of the tales. These Aṅgas show how an individual’s behaviour influences the courses of later lives that are played out in different parts of the Jain universe.

The tales give interesting insights into socio-cultural aspects of daily Indian life in the past. The characters come from various backgrounds, with the kings, merchants, sea-traders, thieves, fishermen, butchers and so on being described in their normal activities. This data, however, is not easy to make use of because of uncertainties relating to chronology.

Many of the stories first found here have become favourites, told and retold down the centuries. The 19th Jina, Mallinātha or Lord Malli, features in Aṅga Number 6. In contrast to the Digambaras, the Śvetāmbaras believe that Malli was female, the only Jina to be a woman. This crowns the often opposing beliefs surrounding women and spirituality held by these two main Jain sects.

The other six Aṅgas cannot be categorised so easily, as their subjects and forms are more varied. Despite this, they can be thought of as the ‘reference Aṅgas'. They mostly set out details of the rules for mendicants and fundamental Jain concepts, such as cosmology and ethics and details of Jain doctrine.

Meaning ‘limbs’ in Sanskrit, the Aṅgas are the main set of canonical scriptures or Āgamas for the Śvetāmbara Jains. The other primary Jain sect of the Digamabaras has a different canon, known as the Siddhānta. Along with the Aṅgabāhyas – ‘not limbs’ – the Aṅgas comprise various texts, all written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and all composed at different times.

Number and titles

Śvetāmbara monks walk down a Mumbai street accompanied by lay men. The monks are barefoot and holding their mouth-cloths and monastic staffs. Jain mendicants live in small bands and travel most of the year in the traditional wandering lifestyle – vihāra

Śvetāmbara monks
Image by Hoorob – Robert Tyabji © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

There are 12 Aṅgas in the Jain tradition, although one of them – known as the Dṛṣṭi-vāda – has been considered lost since early times. Therefore only 11 Aṅgas were first written down by the forerunners of the Śvetāmbara sect. Rejected as canonical scriptures by the Digambara sect, these 11 Aṅgas are emblematic of Śvetāmbara Jain identity.

The titles of the Aṅgas can be understood in various ways. This table gives rough equivalents.

Eleven Aṅgas of the Śvetāmbara canon

Number

Prakrit title

Sanskrit title

Translated meanings

1

Āyāraṃga

Ācārāṅga

‘On monastic conduct’

2

Sūyagaḍa

Sūtrakṛtāṅga

‘On heretical systems and views’
Prakrit sūya is an equivalent of the Sanskrit sūci – ‘[wrong] views’

3

Ṭhāṇaṃga

Sthānāṅga

‘On different points [of the teaching]’

4

Samavāyaṃga

Samavāyāṅga

‘On “rising numerical groups”’ (Kapadia 1941: 126)

5

Viyāha-pannatti or Bhagavaī

Vyākhyā-prajñapti or Bhagavatī

‘Exposition of explanations’ or ‘the holy one’

6

Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo

Jñāta-dharmakathānga

‘Parables and religious stories’

7

Uvāsaga-dasāo

Upāsaka-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on the Jain lay follower’

8

Antagaḍa-dasāo

Antakṛd-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on those who put an end to rebirth in this very life’

9

Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasāo

Anuttaropapātika-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on those who were reborn in the uppermost heavens’

10

Paṇha-vāgaraṇa

Praśna-vyākaraṇa

‘Questions and explanations’

11

Vivāga-suya

Vipākaśruta

‘Bad or good results of deeds performed’

Story works

There are five Aṅgas that are narrative works. These demonstrate the significance of stories in the passing on of the teachings of the Jinas.

The following Aṅgas may be described as 'story Aṅgas':

  • Number 6 – Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo or Jñāta-dharmakathānga
  • Number 7 – Uvāsaga-dasāo or Upāsaka-daśāḥ
  • Number 8 – Antagaḍa-dasāo or Antakṛd-daśāḥ
  • Number 9 – Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasāo or Anuttaropapātika-daśāḥ
  • Number 11 – Vivāga-suya or Vipāka-śruta

Forms of the 'story Aṅgas'

These works take the form of short parables, or, mostly of life sketches featuring men and women from various backgrounds. The purpose is to show how one’s own behaviour determines results in future births and is determined by past lives as well. Apart from exceptional cases when one has the ability to remember one’s own past life, the mediator, who knows both about past and future, is a Jina, especially Mahāvīra.

Repetition is used as a pervading narrative technique (Bruhn 1983). In the second parts of Aṅgas 6 and 11, only the first story is narrated at length. The other ones are identical, with minimal changes of names, location, numbers and so on. This method is a way to increase the population of Jain heroes and heroines.

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