Article: Upāṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Upāṅgas 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 – story scriptures

Upāṅgas numbering 8 to 12 form a group of connected texts, which are presented as five sections of a single work. They all deal with stories of rebirths, recounting tales of births in the hells – in number 8 – to the highest heavens – number 12.

Upāṅga 8 – Narakāvalikā

In this manuscript painting, hellish beings endure some of the tortures of the lower world, such as being attacked by animals or other hell-beings. Suffering is a big part of living in the lower world of the three worlds of the Jain universe. Souls who ha

Infernal tortures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The eighth Upāṅga contains ten stories. According to the usual pattern in Jain story collections, only the first one is narrated in detail. The others are identical, except for changes in character names and minor details.

The setting is Magadha in eastern India, as the protagonists are the ten sons of King Śreṇika and their mothers. Characters who are part of the Śreṇika family, such as Kūṇika, Cellanā, Abhaya-kumāra, are also present. The prevalent atmosphere is one of death and tragedy because the story is that of an enormous battle, in which Śreṇika’s sons by different mothers are killed. They are fighting on the side of Kūṇika in his war against King Cetaka of Vaishali.

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra features in the stories as the teacher who explains the future destinies of the sons. All will be reborn in the fourth hell as a consequence of their aggressive behaviour – hence the title of the work, which means ‘Series of Hells’. They will then be born in the Mahā-videha area of the Jain universe and from there will reach emancipation.

The previous births of the characters form an important part of the text. Mahāvīra narrates them as explanations for the present situation.

Upāṅga 9 – Kalpāvataṃsikā

Pairs of gods enjoying lives of pleasure in the heavens are shown in this manuscript painting. The ornate furnishings and flowers, and the deities' jewels and rich clothing emphasise the luxury of living in the highest of the three worlds of Jain cosmolog

Pairs of gods in their heavenly palaces
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The ten stories in the ninth Upāṅga feature King Śreṇika’s grandsons.

After listening to Mahāvīra’s teaching, they all enter the monastic life. They are exemplary ascetics, following the rules and practising austerities. Mahāvīra predicts that, as a consequence, they will be reborn deities in ten out of the 12 lower heavens – the kalpas – hence the title of the work. Next they will be reborn in the Mahā-videha and reach emancipation.

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