Article: Ānandghan

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

'Cauvīsī'

This manuscript painting depicts the 16th Jina Śāntinatha or Lord Śānti, with lay people around him, raising their hands in worship under a domed roof. The statue's jewellery, ornate headdress and open eyes indicate that it belongs to the Śvetāmbara sect.

Worship of Śānti
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

This work of Ānandghan is a collection of 24 poems praising the Jinas and is a characteristically Jain poetic form. Most of the poems are quite short, even though they vary in length, but they are intended to be sung. A well-known tale depicts the hymns being passed on via singing, a tale which also links Ānandghan with the famous monk Yaśovijaya. Despite this, there seems to have been a healthy custom of making written copies of the anthology from the time of Ānandghan onwards.

The cauvīsī is a typically Jain form of poetry, which has been illustrated by several Jain authors in all the languages they used. This Indian word, which can also have the forms covīsī, cobīsī, cobīśī, means 'set of 24' and is used for poems addressed in devotion and praise to each of the 24 Jinas.

Ānandghan's Cauvīsī is no exception. But he did not write the hymns to the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, and to the 24th, Mahāvīra. Given these Jinas' importance, it is slightly puzzling to note that these two hymns have been handed down in completely different versions. This is clear from the very different hymns in the two commentaries on the Cauvīsī that have survived. These are the:

The 22 hymns which Ānandghan composed mostly have between six and 11 verses. The longest ones are those dedicated to the:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, with 15 verses
  • 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi, which has 17 verses.

Each poem has a refrain and a musical mode – rāga. According to legend, the author sang these hymns sitting in a temple in Mount Abu, where a group of leading and learned Śvetāmbara Jain monks happened to listen to him. Among them was Yaśovijaya, who memorised all of the devotional songs. This tale stresses the oral transmission of the hymns.

On the other hand, the Cauvīsī seems to have been widely transmitted in writing as well. Kumarpal Desai, editor of a 1980 critical edition of the text, has collected 174 manuscripts that were copied in the 18th and 19th centuries (pages 152 to 297). This fairly large number points to the continued popularity of the collection.

'Bahattarī'

Ānandghan's second major work is the Bahattarī. The title means '72' but the work does not refer to anything connected to this number. It contains brief verses with musical modes, which were handed down in both writing and the oral tradition. Ānandghan did not compile the collection himself but the anthology of this name was formed by 1775 and became a standard reference. The number of poems varies according to the edition.

The Bahattarī consists of short poetical units – pads – like those composed by the famous bhakti poets Sūrdās and Mīrābāī, addressed to the Hindu god Kṛṣṇa, or the poems of spirituality and transcendence composed by Tulsīdās and the Sant poet Kabīr. They are sometimes known as adhyātma pads – 'spiritual verses'. Each of them is connected with a musical mode – rāga.

The songs in the Bahattarī were transmitted both orally and in written form, in anthologies of varying lengths, although the Bahattarī collection is the main one. However, Ānandghan's songs form a kind of fluid body of work, in that many poems attributed to him may not be his. Like other poets of this type, Ānandghan's name has worked as a magnet to attract numerous similar poems, the authorship of which is uncertain. Bangha and Fynes's selection (2013) thus places at the end what they call 'Songs Forgotten', which are found only in part of the manuscript tradition.

Manuscripts of the pads present variations in the number and identity of songs they collect, ranging from 75 to 89. The first printed collection, published by the lay man Bhimsingh Manak in 1876, has 107 songs. This became a kind of reference but the 1974 Khairad-Jargad critical edition contains 124 hymns. Up to 152 songs are attributed to Ānandghan today (Bangha and Fynes 2013: li).

Themes

The poems of Ānandghan demonstrate several characteristics. Firstly, they emphasise the primacy of the internal spiritual journey to fulfilment of the soul. The tone and vocabulary are plain and quite informal, talking directly to the reader or listener. Thoughout, the poet uses simple language that can be easily understood but which also conveys deep insights. Typically for bhakti poetry, the verse uses imagery of love and separation that can be read on several levels.

Finally, although the Jain perspective can be found throughout Ānandghan's work, it is not insistent, technical or sectarian. The poems display openness towards all religions and sects and stress the internal nature of spiritual progression, which must be undertaken by an individual alone. Rituals and teachings are not as important in this progress as individual effort.

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