Article: Devarddhi-gaṇi

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Devarddhi-gaṇi and Devavācaka

Some writers in the Jain tradition, such as the 13th-century mendicant Devendra-sūri, identify Devarddhi-gaṇi with an author called Devavācaka.

Devavācaka is attributed with authorship of an important canonical text, the Nandī-sūtra, in the Prakrit commentarycūrṇi – on the scripture written in 676 CE. This would mean that Devarddhi-gaṇi composed the Nandī-sūtra.

This view, however, has been challenged by a leading Śvetāmbara monk-scholar, Muni Puṇya-vijaya. He argues that the monastic lineages of the Kalpa-sūtra and the Nandī-sūtra are different, and that two varying spiritual affiliations for one person would be impossible. Muni Puṇya-vijaya thus concludes: ‘To our mind Devavācaka and Devardhi are two different persons’ (1968: English introduction, page 42), and states that ‘Devavācaka composed the Nandi-sūtra before 523 V.S’ (= 566 CE).

Role in writing down the teachings

In this manuscript painting half a dozen monks represent the chief disciples – gaṇadhara – of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. The gaṇadharas orally transmit the Jina's teachings, which pass down the generations until the scriptures are written down.

Disciples of Mahāvīra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Devarddhi-gaṇi led the final Valabhī council, which produced the Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara sect. This fifth-century recitation was the last meeting to collate and clarify traditional oral teachings, which devotees believe came originally from the Jinas themselves. Later sources disagree about when these councils took place.

The final council was held in Valabhī, Gujarat. It took place ‘980 or 993 years’ after Mahāvīra’s death according to some traditional sources, which is 453 or 466 CE. All the texts comprising the Śvetāmbara canon were written down there. This council is said to have been supervised by the religious teacher Devarddhi-gaṇi Kṣamā-śramaṇa, who is unanimously associated with it in Śvetāmbara sources.

The final recitation is reported in works written several centuries after the events they describe. A representative account is the one given by Samayasundara, a 17th-century Śvetāmbara teacher belonging to the Kharatara-gaccha monastic order.

Please think over the matter looking at reality: 980 years after Mahāvīra, because of a famine which lasted for 12 years, numerous religious teachers died and knowledgeable people had disappeared. People thought that the Jinas’ teachings should be preserved at all cost and that this preservation depended on the canon for the benefit of generations to come who would be enlightened. Out of devotion for the tradition and at the insistence of the community, Devarddhi-gaṇi summoned to Valabhī all the religious teachers who had survived. From their mouths, he progressively collected as he thought fit all the paragraphs in the Āgamas that had been spared, whether they had something less or more, whether they were lacunary [=had gaps] or not, and put them to writing. Thus after this collecting work, it is Devarddhi-gaṇi who became the author of the totality of the 45 Āgamas, even if, originally, they had been uttered by Mahāvīra’s disciples
(anukrameṇa sva-matyā saṃkalayya pustakārūḍhāḥ kr̥tāḥ, tato mūlato gaṇadhara-bhāṣitānāṃ api tat-saṃkalanāntaraṃ sarveṣāṃ 45 api āgamānāṃ kartā śrī-Devarddhi-gaṇi-kṣamāśramaṇa eva jātaḥ)

Sāmācārīśataka of Samayasundara, page 77b
See also the Sanskrit extract in Jacobi 1879: 117

A passage like this one ascribes a very important responsibility to Devarddhi-gaṇi, as Samayasundara calls him kartā – ‘author’. He goes on to explain that, even though Devarddhi did his best to collect and harmonise the material he got, this did not mean that all inconsistencies or difficulties had been removed. Samayasundara thus admits that there are oddities in the scriptures, which can be explained by the existence of conflicting variants.

Further, there are hints in late commentaries on the Kalpa-sūtra that this work was also put into writing by Devarddhi-gaṇi or even that he was its author (see Sanskrit extracts in Jacobi 1879: 116). However, there is no firm evidence that Devarddhi-gaṇi was involved with writing down or composing this scripture. Such hints may have been a way of associating him with one of the key texts for Śvetāmbara Jains.

Oral transmission of Jain teachings

This śruta-skandha-yantra represents śruta-jñāna – verbal or scriptural knowledge. This second type of knowledge is crucial for spiritual progress as the scriptures record the teachings of the Jinas. The Jina's ‘divine sound' pours down to his follower.

Source of religious knowledge
Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0

All Jains believe that the Jinas provide the original teachings for the Jain faith, especially Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. The Jinas reveal the same essential truths, according to the needs of the society into which they are born. They pass on these principles in speech, beginning the chain of oral transmission. After being passed on for generations by religious leaders known as elders and teachers, these oral teachings are eventually written down, creating the scriptures.

The roots of the different Śvetāmbara and Digambara canons can be traced to the physical split in the Jain community around 300 BCE. Large parts of the teachings had been forgotten already, such as the Pūrvas and the 12th Aṅga, the Dṛṣṭi-vāda, which both sects agree was lost by the fourth century BCE. The group of Jains who can be thought of as ancestors of the Śvetāmbara sect recognised that the famine that drove some Jains south endangered preservation of the tradition. They began to organise official recitations – vācanās – or ‘councils’ to consolidate knowledge of the teachings.

It is clear that each of the main councils was held in a different place and associated with a specific religious teacher. But the time they took place is extremely uncertain. It should be borne in mind that all the accounts which refer to these councils are much later than the events themselves and that there are disagreements between sources as well.

The table shows that there is no unanimous tradition about giving a date or agreement about any dates even when they are provided.

Main recitation councils

Place

Religious teacher

Traditional date

Historical date

Pāṭaliputra, eastern India

Bhadrabāhu

160 years after Mahāvīra ?

3rd century BCE ?

Mathurā, north India

Skandila
(Wiles 2006: 70–71)

837 years after Mahāvīra ?

circa 350 CE ?

Valabhī, Gujarat, western India

Nāgārjuna
(Wiles 2006: 70–71)

827 years after Mahāvīra ?

circa 350 CE ?

Valabhī

Devarddhi-gaṇi or Devavācaka

980 or 993 years after Mahāvīra ?

453 / 466 CE ?
500–525 CE ?

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