Article: Śvetāmbara canon

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Holy writings as sacred objects

First page of the Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā, showing photographs of two Agam Mandirs and image of the Āgama-puruṣa – Āgama man – embodiment of the holy writings. Ācāryā Ānandasāgara-sūri published the 45 holy Āgamas of the Śvetāmbaras in one volume

First page of Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The scriptures are of key significance to Jains not only for their contents. Jains pay homage to them as holy objects in themselves. Jains venerate the sacred writings as a whole or as single items in various ways. Temples sometimes house scriptures in the shape of books, symbols or quotations inscribed on the walls. The holy texts frequently feature in religious ceremonies. Festivals celebrated by both the Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects have holy books at their heart, both as symbols of knowledge and as physical objects.

Among Mūrti-pūjak sects, there are specific worship ceremonies – pūjās – and specific ritual diagrams – yantras – honouring their 45 Āgamas.

Copies of the Kalpa-sūtra are displayed in public. The text and the book itself are at the centre of the festival of Paryuṣaṇ. The festival of Jñāna-pañcamī is an annual occasion where books of the Āgamas are dusted, repaired, copied and so on.

The Mūrti-pūjak leader Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri inspired the 1999 publication of the Śvetāmbara Āgamas, known as Āgama-mañjūṣā. Weighing several kilos, the single monumental volume is enshrined in glass boxes in temples and is an object of worship.

New transmission methods

Interior walls of the Āgam Mandir in Palitana, Gujarat, are covered with inscriptions of the 45 holy Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks. Agam Mandirs were invented in the 1940s to display scriptures for worship

Engravings of the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak scriptures
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Though the scriptures themselves are not open to all, since the 1940s new methods of passing on the traditional teachings have been devised. Visual art is a favourite mode, since it can be appealing and suitable for all ages. Specially targeted at younger generations, who may not be familiar with all the cultural and religious traditions of the past, these methods are designed for lay people. They are intended to make it easier for lay people to understand the principles of the Jain faith and to show them the relevance of the scriptures in today’s life. With the role of ideologues for the Śvetāmbara community, learned monks are often at the forefront of efforts to spread knowledge of the Āgamas.

Main collected editions of the Śvetāmbara Āgamas

Name

Date and place of publication, publisher

Brief description

Edition sponsored by Rāya Dhanapatisiṃha

1874–1900 Calcutta

equivalent of 'printed manuscripts', with Sanskrit and Gujarati commentaries

Āgamodaya-samiti
edited by Ānandasāgara-sūri

1911 onwards

first true edition of Mūrti-pūjak scriptures

Amolaka Ṛṣi edition

1915–19

text of the 32 Āgamas of the Sthānaka-vāsin with Hindi translation

Suttāgame
edited by Pupphabhikkhu

1954–55
2 volumes
Gurgaon, Haryana

Prakrit text only of the Sthānaka-vāsin canon

Ghāsīlāla Mahārāja edition

1936–1980

Sthānaka-vāsin scriptures with Sanskrit transposition and Hindi and Gujarati translations

Jaina-Āgama-Series
edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya

1968 onwards
Ladnun, Rajasthan
Jaina Viśva Bhāratī

critical edition of Mūrti-pūjak scriptures

Aṃgasuttāṇi
edited by Ācārya Tulsī

1968 onwards
Ladnun, Rajasthan
Jaina Viśva Bhāratī

critical edition of Terāpanthin scriptures

Āgama Prakāśana Samiti series
edited by Yuvācārya Madhukar Muni

1979–94
Byāvara, Rajasthan
Jināgama Granthamālā

Sthānaka-vāsin scriptures with Hindi translation

Illustrated Āgamas
edited by Amar Muni

1993 onwards
Delhi
Padma Prakashan, Agra, Diwakar Prakashan

Sthānaka-vāsin scriptures with Hindi and English translation and colour illustrations

Āgamasuttāṇi
of Muni Dīparatnasāgara

2000
30 volumes
Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Āgama Śruta Prakāśana

Mūrti-pūjak scriptures with niryukti and Sanskrit commentaries

Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri inaugurated a new type of temple in the 1940s. The Āgam Mandir contains inscriptions or engravings of all the 45 scriptures of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak sect (Balbir forthcoming 2012a). Considered to have the status of a Jina image, they are thus meant for worship, or at least darśana – being seen. The main Āgam Mandirs to date are in Surat, Palitana, Sankheshvara, all in Gujarat, and Pune in Maharashtra.

Sthānaka-vāsin mendicant Amar Muni began working on the ‘Illustrated Agam’ edition in the 1990s. Emphasising pictures to help readers understand the texts, the books use the visual styles of Indian comics and Indian mythological serials familiar to 20th-century audiences (Balbir forthcoming, 2012b).

These examples demonstrate how the Āgamas remain of vital importance to all the Śvetāmbara sects, primarily as religious teachings but also as a cultural notion of identity and heritage that can adapt to new environments.

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Contents

Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

  • Text

    Text

    British Library. Or. 2105 ms. C. Bhadrabāhu. 1449

  • Sthavirāvalī section

    Sthavirāvalī section

    British Library. I.O. San. 3177. Unknown author. 1437

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