Article: Ānandghan

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.

Life

This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows Śvetāmbara monks listening to a senior mendicant. The teacher is the largest figure, indicating his importance, and he sits on a low dais with a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front

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.

He appears to have been a Śvetāmbara monk but never used his monastic name in his poetry. Instead, he uses the name of 'Ānandghan' in his verse, which may reflect his poetic concerns.

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.

Dates and origins

This photograph of Mount Abu, a hill station in southern Rajasthan was taken around 1898. Mount Abu is a major pilgrimage site near the town of Dilwara, with five white marble temples renowned for their delicate carvings.

View of Mount Abu
Image by Archibald Adams © public domain

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.

Monkhood

Ānandghan seems to have been first initiated as a Śvetāmbara monk, probably in the Tapā-gaccha monastic order, under the name Lābhānanda.

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).

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