Contributed by Nalini Balbir
Ānandghan or Ānandaghana, who lived in the 17th century, is best known as a mystical poet. Supposed to have been a Śvetāmbara monk, he wrote hymns to the Jinas and spiritual songs in a vernacular language close to Gujarati, Rajasthani and Hindi. He is part of the trend for both devotional poetry and exaltation of the Self, also known as the Absolute or the soul. For this reason and because he is also regarded as a powerful yogi, he has often been compared to the Hindu Sant poet Kabīr.
A mysterious figure in many aspects, Ānandghan is best remembered for two collections of poetry, one of which was compiled after his death. These poems underscore that the path to the Absolute lies within, with individual effort advancing the soul towards its final liberation. The tone is direct, sometimes conversational, and the poet uses alliterations, comparisons and puns. The language is plain and easy to understand, containing spiritual truths in terms that are accessible to a wide audience. The imagery is standard for bhakti poetry, working on more than one level and familiar to many listeners and readers. Jain beliefs shape the work but are not overpowering, with little technical detail or attempt to persuade. Ānandghan wrote poems that are non-sectarian and have a tone of universality that is appealing not only to all Jains but also to followers of other faiths.
The popularity of Ānandghan's hymns seems to have been constant, with the poems circulated in manuscript and book form and, more recently, in records and digital media. Even so, until the 2013 translation of a selection of Ānandghan's poems by Bangha and Fynes, with a substantial introduction, nothing in non-Indian languages was really available on this author. However, sound scholarship on Ānandghan was accessible in Indian languages. It consists of reference editions and translations in Hindi or Gujarati, which are listed in the Further reading tab on the left.
Senior monk teaching
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Hardly anything fully reliable is known about the life of Ānandghan, whose works do not provide any hint. He is known to have lived in the 17th century but his exact dates are a matter of hypothesis.
Similarly, there is some evidence that he may have come from Rajasthan, but there is no solid proof of this.
Ānandghan's absence from monastic records indicates that he may have been something of an outsider, not quite a full member of the formal monastic hierarchy. Later legends position Ānandghan as something of a rebel against authority.
According to the latest estimation, based on several datable events during the same period, Ānandghan could have been born before 1624 and died before 1694 (Bangha and Fynes 2013: xxvii–xxx). This is the year of the oldest available manuscript of one of his works, the Cauvīsī.
Ānandghan's name is associated with that of the famous Jain ideologue Yaśovijaya. It is possible that the two of them met. Yaśovijaya wrote an eight-verse praise of Ānandghan called the Aṣṭapadī and is credited with a commentary, which is untraced so far, on one of Ānandghan's collection. Both of them are shown in legends as having had a lot of respect for each other.
Where Ānandghan came from is not fully clear either. Legends connect him with places in Rajasthan such as Mount Abu, Jodhpur and Merta. In this last place there is a sacred hall dedicated to Ānandghan – Ānandghan kā upāśray (Desai 1998: 48; Bangha and Fynes 2013: xxxi). The language Ānandghan uses in his verse is 'a mixture of different dialects' (Bangha and Fynes 2013: xxxi), leaning towards Rajasthani. This may support the idea that he came from the region of modern Rajasthan.
According to a Gujarati text, he was the younger brother – which can mean either by birth or a spiritual, monastic brother – of Satyavaijaya Paṃnyāsa. He was:
a famous ascetic of the Tapāgaccha lineage, who, disillusioned with factionalism, refused to accept the religious leadership of the Tapāgaccha and started the saṃvegī lineage, from which all contemporary Tapāgaccha monks claim their descent
Bangha and Fynes
page xxix, 2013
In the 17th century, records of Jain monastic history are available, especially for Śvetāmbara monastic orders. There is information on several religious teachers but there is no solid material about Ānandghan. This might suggest that he was a freelance ascetic who lived on the fringes of organised religious communities rather than being a full member of any of them, and that he was definitely not part of monastic hierarchy. 'He doesn't fit well into our models of late-medieval Śvetāmbar Mūrtipūjak Jain mendicancy' (Cort in Bangha and Fynes 2013: x) and can best be defined as an 'outsider to the mainstream ritual, institutional and devotional culture of the late-medieval Tapā Gaccha' (Cort as previous: xvi).
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.
In Sanskrit, literally ‘an explanation for the fools'. Usually written in Gujarati, a bālāvabodha is a type of commentary on Jain scriptures, which are generally written in Prākrit.
From the Sanskrit for 'devotion', the bhakti movement originated in the late medieval period. It revolved around the emotional experience of devotion to religious figures and gods, stressing that caste, ritual and complex religious philosophy were unimportant compared to expressing overwhelming love for the deities. Showing this by repeatedly chanting the deity’s name is a powerful devotional practice, because the chanter both praises the god and moves nearer to spiritual self-realisation. These emotional experiences were often recorded in poetry and hymns, which became a repertoire of devotional hymns for later devotees.
The chief creator god in Hinduism, who has red skin and four heads and four arms. One of the triad of principal gods along with Śiva and Viṣnu.
A vernacular language used throughout northern India for centuries. It is still spoken but has disappeared as a literary language.
(1874–1925) Jain monk credited with over a hundred books, who became heavily involved in debates about idol worship.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
Vision, insight or perception. It works with the quality of jñāna – knowledge in the soul – to gain deep, true understanding and is ever-changing.
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.
One of the best-known avatars of the deity Viṣṇu the preserver, Kṛṣṇa is one of the principal Hindu gods. Since his name means ' dark blue', 'dark' or 'black' in Sanskrit, he is usually depicted with blue or black skin. Often shown as a boy or young man playing a flute, Kṛṣṇa is a hero of the Indian epic, Mahābhārata, and protagonist of the Bhagavad Gītā. Jains believe he is the cousin of Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.
Often known by his title Mahātma – meaning 'Great Soul' – Gandhi (1869–1948) was one of the leaders of the struggle for Indian independence. Influenced by the Jain notion of ahiṃsā, his policy of peaceful non-co-operation was a key factor in the British withdrawal from India.Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience continues to inspire activists around the world.
The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.
A single-sex group of ascetics that vows to follow rules set out by a founding religious teacher. They formally renounce the world to become monks and nuns. They usually have a hierarchy of leaders at different levels to govern them.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.
Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.
The highest soul, the liberated soul, the Absolute, often used instead of siddhi. Jains believe that a soul or ātman can achieve liberation from the cycle of birth through its own spiritual development. This concept has been called God in Western thought since the start of the Christian era.
The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
Literally 'colour' or 'hue' in Sanskrit, rāga has come to mean 'beauty', 'harmony' and 'melody'. Consisting of five or more musical notes from which a melody is created, the rāga is one of the melodic modes of Indian classical music. Traditionally, rāgas express the moods of different times of day or seasons to help create an emotional response in the listeners.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
The language spoken in Rajasthan, in north-western India, and surrounding states. It is also spoken in some parts of neighbouring Pakistan. Also the adjective describing people, things or places in or associated with the state of Rajasthan.
An avatar of Viṣṇu, the preserver or protector who is one of the three major Hindu gods. Rāma is a prince of Ayodhyā and is often shown with blue skin, holding a bow and arrow. The epic poem Rāmāyaṇa recounts his adventures as he searches for his wife Sītā, who has been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. Blending Jain values into the story, the Jain Rāmāyaṇas cast him and other figures in the tale as some of the 'great men' of Jain Universal History.
The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.
Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
During the 15th to 17th centuries of devotion – bhakti – this term is applied to holy sages who worshipped and praised God as the Absolute in the form of poems – pads – which were sung.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
The principal destroyer or transformer deity in the Hindu religion. One of the triad of major Hindu gods, along with Brahmā the creator and Viṣṇu the preserver or protector. Śiva is often depicted with a third eye, a crescent moon on his forehead, matted hair and smeared with cremation ashes.
A title of respect often used to indicate holiness or divinity. It honours a person or place and is also added to the name of written or sung texts, such as scriptures. It is added before the name, for example Śrī Ṛṣabha.
A title for the leader of a religious order among the Śvetāmbaras. It is a higher position than ācārya.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
The conversion of words from one alphabet into the corresponding letters of another alphabet. The text is not necessarily translated into another language, just put into another alphabet.
Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.
(1624–1688) Śvetāmbara Tapā-gaccha monk who wrote extensively on Jain philosophy.