Article: Cūlika-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The name cūlikā – ‘appendices’ – has become a common generic term for two particular texts in the Śvetāmbara canon. The Nandī-sūtra and the Anuyogadvāra-sūtra are treated separately from other groups of scriptures because they provide a methodological and ‘epistemological context’ (Dundas 2002: 76) for the whole canon.

The word ‘appendix’ suggests that they come at the end. But this is slightly misleading, as the Nandī-sūtra is often said to come first of all Śvetāmbara holy writings because of its contents. The two Cūlikās complement each other in focusing on different aspects of the concept of knowledge, a crucial theme for Jains. Correctly understanding the truth is a necessary forerunner of behaving properly, which, in turn, is required for spiritual progress towards final liberation from the cycle of rebirth. The Nandī-sūtra discusses the five types of knowledge, particularly the two 'indirect' kinds. The Anuyogadvāra-sūtra is a technical treatise on analytical methods, a kind of guide to applying knowledge. These twin texts underscore the central status of the Jain concept of anekānta-vāda, which emphasises how meaning is nuanced and how there are many different ways of interpreting something. From this point of view, the Cūlikās can be considered to come before the other scriptures.

Like most other texts of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Cūlikās are written in a combination of Ardhamāgadhī and Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit.

Titles and subjects

To some extent, these ‘appendices’ – the two cūlikā texts – can be considered to run in parallel with one of the main Digambara scriptures, the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama. All these writings:

  • share methodological concerns

  • develop the notion of parameters and methods that can be used to analyse complex concepts from multiple angles.

The approach of considering different factors so as to bring out the multiple shades of meaning of a term or notion is, in a way, anekānta-vāda. Central to Jain thinking, this concept of many-sidedness – in opposition to the idea of a single, absolute meaning – can be applied to virtually everything.

Titles of the Cūlikās

Prakrit title

Sanskrit title






Plate 20 from the 1998 'Illustrated Śrī Nandī Sūtra' illustrates the four stages in 'perception knowledge' – abhinibodhika-jñāna or mati-jñāna. These lead gradually from a faint notion to a definite idea through reasoning.

Stages of knowledge
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

The Sanskrit term nandī conveys an idea of delight. It is also a technical term in Sanskrit drama for the first stanza of a play, which pays homage to one of the gods. The Nandī-sūtra of the Śvetāmbara canon, which is written in prose and verse, may be regarded as an auspicious beginning from several angles. Indeed, Muni Puṇyavijaya writes that 'It has secured the position of an auspicious introductory prayer in the beginning of Āgamavācana [the words of the Canon]' (1968: Introduction p. 31).

According to the Śvetāmbara tradition, the Nandī-sūtra is the work of ‘Devavācaka’, who was the pupil of Dūsa-gaṇi. It is likely that this is the predecessor or the same person as Devarddhi-gaṇi, who oversaw the final redaction of the Śvetāmbara canon during the fifth century. The Nandī-sūtra appears to collect together materials that are partly found elsewhere in the canon.

It discusses the concept of knowledge, which is a vital topic for Jains because proper understanding underpins correct behaviour and, thus, spiritual advance towards liberation.

Introductory matter

This picture from a manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra dates from 1512. It depicts the elder Jambū-svāmin and his eight wives

Jambū-svāmin and his eight wives
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The Nandī-sūtra starts with verses of homage to:

These verses are the usual auspicious formulas found at the beginning of most Jain texts.

The celebration of the community is expressed through images with which it is associated. Many of these images are significant in wider Indian culture, but they all underline the central importance of the notion of community. Symbols linked with community for Jains include:

  • city
  • wheel
  • chariot
  • lotus
  • moon
  • sun
  • sea
  • mountain.

After these standard introductory elements comes a praise of Mahāvīra’s disciples and the elders who succeeded them. These early Jain teachers are named and celebrated in successive verses. This is what is technically known as Sthavirāvalī or, in the Prakrit form, Therāvalī. Other examples familiar to Śvetāmbara Jains are the second section of the Kalpa-sūtra and the preamble to the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, the fourth Mūla-sūtra.

The list of elders starts with Sudharman and Jambū and closes with Duṣya-gaṇi. Nothing is known about him, but he may have been the predecessor of Devarddhi-gaṇi. This teacher is known as the redactor of the Śvetāmbara canon during the fifth-century council at Valabhī, Gujarat.

One stanza then lists metaphorical terms for the two categories of audience members. Using 14 mnemonic terms the listeners are contrasted as:

  • those who are worthy of receiving teaching because they will pay attention and benefit from it
  • those who are unworthy of it.

Each of the terms is explained in the commentaries to the Nandī-sūtra as well as in those on the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, where the same stanza is found (Balbir 1993). For instance, the term:

  • ‘mosquito’ means a bad pupil because he may learn something, but will inflict pain on his teacher
  • ‘sieve’ is the pupil who does not retain anything he has heard.
EXT:contentbrowse Processing Watermark

Related Articles

Related Manuscript Images - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2021 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.