Article: Story Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Aṅga 8 – ending rebirths in this existence

This manuscript painting shows a Jina in the lotus position of meditation. His jewels, the parasol and pedestal show he is a spiritual king. His dark skin indicates he may be Nemi, the 22nd Jina.

Image of a Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The eighth Aṅga has the Prakrit title of Antagaḍa-dasāo and the Sanskrit title of Antakṛd-daśā. This work is divided into eight sections and narrates the life stories of 57 men and 33 women. Through the practice of right behaviour, penances and austerity, especially various kinds of rigorous and long fasts, these 90 people put an end – anta-kṛt – to the cycle of rebirths in their present existence. They do not have to undergo further rebirths and reach salvation when they die.

Princes and queens whose spiritual careers are described in the first five sections are introduced as characters contemporary with the 22nd Jina, Ariṣṭanemi or Lord Nemi. They belong to the family of Ariṣṭanemi’s cousin, Kṛṣṇa. The stories are staged in:

  • today’s Gujarat
  • Kṛṣṇa’s capital city, Dvārakā
  • Mount Raivataka, alias Girnar, where Nemi reached emancipation.

Nemi intervenes in each of the stories as an adviser, a religious teacher who knows the past and can predict the future. One of the famous episodes in this text is the destruction of Dvārakā, which he foretells. The characters feel disgust for worldly life and wrong doctrines after listening to Nemi’s preaching and become initiated as mendicants. They request his permission to take up certain practices or learn from him about incidents in their previous births. All of them die through fasting – sallekhanā – which is the most pious and sacred form of death as it implies voluntary decision and non-attachment.

There are a number of well-known characters whose stories are told here in a lively fashion and retold by later authors as well. These include Devakī and her six sons, and Gajasukumāla.

The monk Gajasukumāla is a famous Jain martyr. He was tormented by the brahmin Somila, his enemy in a former birth. Somila put wet clay and burning coals on the head of the meditating monk. Despite this, he stood firm in his meditation and did not move at all.

In sections 6 to 8 the teaching Jina is Mahāvīra, the 24th. The setting is Rājagṛha in eastern India, ruled by King Śreṇika. The men characters are craftsmen, traders and businessmen who are enlightened by Mahāvīra’s teachings, turn to mendicant life and practise repentence and austerity. They have to face the malignity of people they have offended earlier, yet stand fast and attain salvation. One example is Arjuna, who had been a murderer before he heard Mahāvīra preach.

One of the most famous stories in this part of the Antakṛd-daśāḥ is that of Prince Atimuktakumāra. Once, while he was playing, he happened to see Indrabhūti Gautama and other wandering monks during their alms-round. He asked them who they were, then took Gautama by the finger to his house, where his mother offered them alms. He then asked to accompany Gautama and bow down to Mahāvīra. After listening to the Jina's sermon, the prince requested permission from his parents to become a monk, which they gave very reluctantly as he was so young. Jains who are in favour of child initiation – bāla-dīkṣā – often offer the example of Atimuktaka to support their case. His story and personality have attracted story-tellers as well.

Women characters also feature in these tales. They are queens, wives of King Śreṇika. After learning about their sons’ deaths and rebirths in hell, told in the Narakāvalikā, the fifth Upāṅga, they renounce worldly life and become nuns – āryā. They practise rigorous penances. Their monastic interlocutors are Mahāvīra and Āryā Candanā, the leader of the nun community. The series of fasts these ladies observe is detailed with technicalities, and the leanness of their bodies is described. Religious life culminates with the ultimate penance of fasting unto death.

A recurring scene in the Antakṛd-daśāḥ is that of a young man persistently asking permission from his reluctant parents to leave worldly life and become a monk. This theme of Jain literature is always treated with a tone of realistic emotion, showing protective parents who can do nothing against their children’s powerful will.

Aṅga 9 – rebirths in the highest heavens

This painting from a manuscript shows gods enjoying luxury and amusements in the heavens, the highest of the three worlds of traditional Jain cosmology. Though the souls born as gods in the upper world have pleasurable lives, they are still bound in the c

Gods enjoy life in the heavens
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The ninth Aṅga – the Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasāo in Prakrit, the Anuttaropapātika-daśāḥ in Sanskrit – has 33 male characters at its centre. Each man has an individual story, with the 33 stories divided into three sections. The point common to all the stories is that the men become exemplary Jain mendicants who, as a consequence, are reborn as gods in one of the five highest abodes of the Jain universe. Just below the moon crescent representing final emancipation, the Pañca Anuttara-vimānas comprise the heavenly realms of:

  • Vijaya
  • Vaijayanta
  • Jayanta
  • Aparājita
  • Sarvārtha-siddha, in the middle.

After their rebirths as deities, these men are born in Mahā-videha as human beings and reach emancipation.

The initial section has ten stories. As usual, the first one is detailed and the following ones are identical except for changes in names, locations, durations and so on. Set in Magadha, the tales recount how the Jina Mahāvīra teaches and explains the present situation by talking about these past births and predicting future births. The ten characters are all sons of King Śreṇika, well-behaved princes who each married eight princesses, then turned to monastic life after they heard Mahāvīra’s teaching, even though their parents were extremely reluctant. Learned mendicants, they practised austerities, culminating with fasting unto death.

In the second section, there are 13 characters who are also the sons of King Śreṇika and Queen Dhāriṇī. This section is very similar to the previous one.

The final section again focuses on ten characters, with the life story of the first one detailed, and the rest identical. Dhanya is the son of Bhadrā, a prosperous lady – no indication is given about her husband. He was a handsome man, whom his mother married to 32 wives. Then he went to listen to Mahāvīra’s teaching and decided to turn to monastic life, which his mother could not prevent. Dhanya led a perfect ascetic life, practising good conduct, fasting, studying and so on. The leanness of his body, described in detail in all its parts, is in contrast with its inner radiance. Mahāvīra praises him. Dhanya is reborn in the Sarvārtha-siddha heaven and later reaches emancipation.

The story of Dhanya became famous over the centuries, and has been told in the various languages the Jains have used, together with that of Śālibhadra.

Aṅga 11 – results of karma

The 11th Aṅga is called Vivāga-suya in Prakrit, Vipāka-śruta in Sanskrit. The first part describes the results of bad karmas, which are sufferings – duḥkha-vipāka – through the life stories of ten characters. The second section discusses the consequences of good karmas, which are happiness – sukha-vipāka – through the lives of ten other characters.

Only the story of the first one in each part is narrated at length. The pattern is applied with changes in names and places for the remaining ones.

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