Article: Prakīrṇaka-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Hymns of praise

The Prakīrṇakas of the Vīra-stava and the Sārāvalī are devotional songs. Hymns of praise have a special place in Jain scriptures. Despite its title, however, the Devendra-stava is not a hymn.

The Vīra-stava is one of the first surviving Śvetāmbara hymns to the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. The oldest instance is the one found in the second Aṅga of the canon. This short text starts by listing 26 names or epithets which can be applied to Mahāvīra. Each of them is then analysed and explained in turn.

Sanskrit epithets for Mahāvīra in the Vīra-stava

Sanskrit epithet for Mahāvīra

English meaning



‘who does not grow’ seeds that will create a jungle of rebirths



‘who kills the enemies’ of passions, troubles and attacks, and therefore ‘who is worthy’ of praise or homage



‘who is worthy of homage’



‘god’ – with divine qualities



‘victorious’ over the cycle of rebirth






‘extremely compassionate’



‘who knows all’



‘who sees all’



‘who has reached the other side’ – that is, who has totally mastered all teachings and has crossed the ocean of rebirth



‘knower of the three times’ of past, present and future



‘lord’ – honorific title



‘who has put an end to attachment’






‘teacher to all the three worlds’ of the Jain universe






‘the best favour in the three worlds



‘venerable’ – honorific title



‘maker of ford’ across the river of rebirths


Sakkehiṃ namaṃsiya or Sakk’-abhivandiya

‘revered by Indra’, the king of the gods



‘lord among the Jinas’



‘increaser of prosperity’



‘Hari’ – a name of the Hindu god Viṣṇu, one of the triad



‘Hara’ – a name of the Hindu god Śiva, one of the triad



‘Brahmā’ – a name of the Hindu god Brahmā, one of the triad



‘Buddha’ – ‘enlightened one’

The last four names give Mahāvīra titles usually associated with one of the three main Hindu gods or the Buddha. These are a way of saying that he is superior to them and that he includes them all in himself.

The Sārāvalī is noteworthy as the first text in the Śvetāmbara canon that deals with Mount Shatrunjaya, even though it might not be very old. The holiest among the holy places for the Śvetāmbara Jains is here given one of its numerous names – Puṇḍarīka-giri. The text is a praise of this sacred hill, offering information, legends and details of benefits resulting from religious practices performed there.

Although it is called ‘hymn of praise’ – stava – the Devendra-stava is a technical treatise describing particulars of the ‘kings of gods’, and is thus related to scriptures about the Jain universe. A lay man starts with a praise to the Jina. When he states that the Jina’s qualities are paid homage to by the ‘32 kings of gods’, his wife asks about them. The remaining 305 stanzas are devoted to this subject. All the technical aspects of the four main classes of gods are dealt with in turn. These gods are the:

The last part of the work is concerned with the general and particular features of ‘gods’ as a category. It covers various parameters such as the colours of their souls, their size and the types of knowledge they have.

Jain universe

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the yellow and blue mountain range of Mānuṣottaraparvata or 'Mountain Beyond Mankind'. In Jain cosmology human beings can live only in the Two and A Half Continents, up to the inner half of the third continent.

Mountain Beyond Mankind
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Two Prakīrṇakas discuss Jain cosmology, a substantial topic underlying religious doctrine. It is thus an important element of religious belief and features in other holy writings.

The Dvīpa-sāgara-prajñapti is a supplement to what is found in other texts of the Śvetāmbara canon describing the Jain universe. This Prakīrṇaka focuses on components that are not dealt with extensively in these other writings. Among these items are the:

  • Mānuṣottara mountains, which mark the boundary of human life
  • Añjana mountains
  • Ratikara mountains
  • Kuṇḍala continent
  • Rucaka continent.

The Tīrthodgālī is a long text concerned with:

This last will occur at an extremely distant period of time, when King Kalkin insults the Jain teaching. The comprehensive description of the figures of Jain Universal History – the Jinas, the Cakravartins, the Baladevas and the Vāsudevas – takes place in the context of a broader discussion on the cycles of time. This describes the descending eras – avasarpiṇī – and the descending eras – utsarpiṇī.

General teaching

Two of the Prakīrṇakas cover general topics of Jain doctrine.

The Catuḥ-śaraṇa deals with the ‘four refuges’ of the:

The text censures bad actions and praises good actions.

The Candra-vedhyaka first appears to deal with rather common subjects in the Jain faith. They are:

  • proper conduct, characterised by modesty and respect for religious hierarchy – vinaya
  • the ideal teacher – ācārya
  • the ideal discipleśiṣya
  • the virtues of victory resulting from proper religious conduct
  • the qualities of knowledge
  • the qualities of monastic life.

But the last section, which deals with the qualities of proper death, brings it closer to the Prakīrṇakas that have fasting unto death as their central topic. This section explains in detail the mental state and purity of mind which should mark out the human being at the hour of death. This is especially important for the Jain ascetic. A peaceful mind, purified by confession of all possible transgressions, is the ultimate condition for a pious death. It is significant that in the version edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya (1984) this last section is increased by a sizable group of stanzas that focus more on internal purity than on external rituals (Caillat 1992). The title Hitting the Mark means being prepared to reach the goal at the hour of death.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Text starts

    Text starts

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

  • Final colophon

    Final colophon

    Bodleian Library. Prakrit c.1. Unknown author. 1465 CE

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