A Glimpse of Jaina Kavyas in Kannada


By Dr. M. D. Vasantharaj


The Jainas have made a valuable contribution to Indian Culture as a whole and this contribution occupies a prominent place in the history of India. Jaina art and architecture have gained tremendous appreciation from all quarters. The temples of Mount Abu, the Gomateswaramonolithic statue of Shravanabelagola, the imposing Manastambhas standing in front of many Jaina temples in South India, the paintings in many temples and the Jaina caves are all recongnised for their grandeur and rank among the best in the world as pieces of art and architecture.

In the field of literature the Jaina contribution has covered almost all the branches of learning, such as Kavya, Purana, Alankara, Chandas, Vyakarana, Jyotisa, Ayurveda, Ganita, Religion, Philosophy, etc. The Jains did not have a bias for any particular language and they therefore composed works in almost all the Indian languages. The Thirthankaras preached their Dharma in Prakrit, a language which was understood by people, from the highest strata of society down to the lowest. Their preachings were compiled by their desciples and were preserved in an oral tradition for a long time and later on in the 2nd century A. D. An attempt was made to preserve the same in writing. The credit of initiating this, goes to Acharya Puspadanta, who at Banavasi, an ancient well known town of Karnataka, initiated to put into writing the 'Kammapayadilpahuda', and as a result, the 'Satkhandagama' the most venerated Agama of the Digambara Jains, came into being. This was followed by the composition of other Agama works such as 'kasayapahuda', Kundakundacharaya's works, 'Mulachara' etc. Dravyanuyoga, Karananuyoga and Charananuyoga are the main subjects dealt with in these Agama works. The subject matter of Prathananuyoga still continued in the oral tradition and finally, in the 9th Century A. D., Jinasenacharya and Gunabhadra Swami moulded it into the 'Mahapurana' in the style of Mahakavya. This serves as the main source book for most of the later Jaina literature composed in Sanskrit, Apabhramsa, Tamil and Tannada languages.

Here a work about the Mahapurana, which has served as a source for many of the Kannada kavyas, and also as a model for the composition of kavyas in general, is necessary. This work depicts the lives of 63 prominent personages viz., 24 Tirthankaras, 12 Chakravartins (the overlords of the entire Bharataksetra), the 9 Vasudevas (or the Ardha-chakrins-the overlords of half of Bharataksetra), 9 Baladevas (elder half brothers of Vasudevas) and 9 Prativasudevas (Enemy­Vasudevas from whom the Vasudevas snatch away the overlord-ship of Bharataksetra). This work is also known by the title 'Trisasti(=63) Salakapurasa Carita'. Jinasenacharya and Gunabhadra Swamin, the authors, have embedded in this great work all the topics pertaining to Jaina tattvas or Siddhanta. Ths stories serve as vehicles for teaching the essence of the Tattvas. The Jainas, particularly in south India, regard this Mahapurana as a sacred work and worship it as 'Shuruta'. Further this Mahapurana is considered also as the final authority in deciding matters of doubt, for example, regarding the compatibility of partners before marriage, undertaking a business and so on. For this the answer of this holy work is sought with a specific ritual. Apart from this religious adoration, the work is appreciated as one of the best Mahakavyas. As regards the source material for kannada kavyas here it is necessary to mention, in addition to Mahapurana two more works; namely 'padmacarita' of Ravisenacharya' (6th Century A.D.) and 'Harivamsapurana' of Punnata Jinasenacharya (8th Century A.D.).

It can be seen from the available prakrit, Sanskrit and Kannada literature of Karnataka, that Jaina literature in these languages, stands as the earliest. The Jaina Kannada Kavyas, in addition to being the earliest, are admired, even to this day, for their poetical excellence.

The Kannada Adipurana of the poet Pampa is the earliest and best of the available Kannada Kavyas. It narrates the story of Risabhanatha, the Aditirthankara, in Kavya style. It brims with beautiful descriptions and rasas such as sringara, vira etc. But the main rasa, as it is usual with the Jaina Kavyas, is the santaras. The picture of the incidence of Nilanjana's dance presented by the poet, may be noted here for its descriptional beauty and expression of the sentiments of sringara giving rise finally to the shantarasa.

In the Sanskrit Adipurana of Jinasenacharya, which is the source and model for Pampa's Kannada Adipurana, Nilanjana's dance has been depicted in just a few stanzas and is not as impressive as Pampa's depiction. Pampa's description of the arrival of Nilanjana, the nymph dancer, on the stage is marvellous. When the stage is set for the commencement of the dance, the nymph appears and her reflection in the gems studded in the ornaments worn by the courtiers on their chests gave the impression that she has penetrated their hearts. Here there is an indirect suggestion of how the jivas are influenced and are captivated by sensuous objects and as a result are lost in the whirlpool of mundane existence. However in this regard, it should be noted, that there is a difference between a would be Tirthankara or a jiva destined to attain nirvana in the near future and the other souls. A would be Tirthankara or a jiva destined to attain nirvana in the near future, though attracted by sensuous objects, is not ensnared by them just as a crystal, which appears to get tainted by the colour of an object that comes in contact with it, but is not blemished by it. Nilanjana's dance performance, in fact, finally leads to be awakening of Rushabhadeva. In the midst of the performance Nilanjana's life comes to an end and because she was a nymph her body simply vanishes from the scene. But Indra, fearing a break in the sentiment i.e., Rasabhanga, immediately creates, with his divine power, another person who resembles the original Nilanjana. However this could not escape the sharp notice of a Rushabhadeva. Immediately he ponders over the vanity of wordly life and decides to pursue the life of renunciation to attain the abode of permanent bliss i.e., the state of Mukti or Nirvana.

Though there are clear evidences of Kannada Kavyas being composed as early as at least the 8th Century A. D. Pampa, who lived in the 10th Century A. D. is considered as the Adikavi and also as the greatest of the Kannada poets even to this day. Pampa's other well known work is 'Vikramarjuna Vijaya' also known by the title 'Pampa Bharata' the story of which is based on Maharshi Vyasa's Mahabharata.

Ponna, Ranna, Janna and Nagachandra alias Abhinava Pampa are other reputed names among the' Jaina' Kannada poets. Ponna, a contemporary of Pampa, was bestowed with the title 'Kavichakravarti' - 'Poet emperor'. His Shantinatha Charita is considered as one among the most meritorious Kannada Kavyas.

The poet Ranna, who is also bestowed with the title 'Kavichakravarti' by his patron King Tailapa, has carved for himself a name as a poet of great merit. His Kavya 'Sahasa Bhima Vijayam', well known also by the title 'Gadayuddham' ~as gained admiration and appreciation by one and all. The story of this kavya is based on the Mahabharata story, in particular, the event of the Mace­fight between Duryodhana and Bhima. Here it is necessary to note the special 'feature of the Jaina version of the epic stories. The characters in these stories are neither simply wicked and devilish on one side, nor simply virtuous and divine on theothe side, but are human in nature, having both vices and virtues. Ranna's Duryodhana is an human as any other character in the story. in this Kavya of Ranna, the reader admires Duryodhana and pities his downfall at the end. In other words he is the tragic hero of this kavya. The following incident depicts the heroic virtue of Duryodhana. Abhimanyu, who is the son of Arjuna, the deadly enemy of Duryodhana, is killed in the battle field. Now Duryodhana goes near the dead body of Abhimanyu and laments and says '0 Abhimanyu of matchless might, others can not dream of your valour. I pray to you just for this much- 'May we be blessed with even just a part of your powers'.

(Asamabala bhavadvikrama­ 
masambhavam perarge ninna naanitam
Praarthisuvenabhimanyu nija
saahasaikadeshaanugunamemagakke gadaa)

Poet Ranna is credited with many other works of which 'Ajitanatha Purana' is considered as a work of high merit.

'Yashodhara Charita' is the well known work of Poet Janna. This marvellous piece of poetry depicts, in a touching manner, the horrors of himsa and sensuality. King Yashodhara is disgusted with life, having witnessed the committing of adultery by his most beloved queen. When his mother enquires as to why he is morose and not gay as usual, he tells lie that he had a bad dream. His mother, thereupon, suggests sacrificing a hen to the family deity to thwart the befalling evil. Yashodhara is horrified on hearing this, and refuses to agree to this cruel act. Now his mother suggests sacrificing a hen made of riceflour, and not of a living hen. Yashodhara accepts this suggestion as he did not want to hurt his mother's feelings, and as a result commits 'Sankalpa himsa' (Killing by intention) which causes him and his mother to wander in samsara taking birth in the animal world and living horrible torturous lives. However atlast the two souls after becoming awakened take to the path of liberation.

Nagachandra, who is very well known by the name 'Abhinava Pampa' is a very popular poet. He is the author of 'Ramachandracharita' and 'Mallinathapurana'. Of these two the former brought him fame and name as a poet of merit. The story of this kavya is based on Padmacharita (or Ramayana) a Sanskrit work of Ravishenacharya. Usually in the Brahmanic versions of the Ramayana, Ravana, the Pratinayaka (or the adversary of the hero) of the story, is depicted as a very wicked devilish person; whereas Abhinava Pampa's Ravana is a virtuous, heroic person, but for the unfortunate incident of allowing himself to becoming a prey to the beauty of Sita, the wife of Rama. This work maintains its popularity even to this day.

One more poet of high merit, that has to be mentioned here, is Bandhuvarma. 'Harivamshabhyudaya' and 'Jeevasambodhane' are the two works that have given him a place of recognition as excellent poet. Although the Harivamshabhyudaya, is indebted to the Harivamsha Purana of Punnata Jinasenacharya for its material content, it is nevertheless an independent piece of poetry because of the skillful execution of the material by the poet. Though the central figure of this kavya is Neminatha, the twenty second Teerthankara, episodes such as those related to Vasudeva, Charudatta, Krisna-Balarama, and Kaurava-Pandavas, have made the poetry more attractive and charming.

Bandhuvarma's 'Jeevasambodhane' is also a noted piece of poetry in which several stories are narrated in an attractive manner. 'Sateedharma Sara' is one more work, which has been recently discovered and has been attributed to this poet.

There are many other Jaina poets who have enriched the Kannada Kavya literature with their contributions and the description of the same is beyond the scope of this article. The contribution of the Jains does not limit itself to the Kavya literature alone. Their contribution to the field of Shastras - such as medicine (including medicine for animals), Jyotisha, Grammer, Siddhanta etc., is acknowledged with respect.

The Jainas maintained and are maintaining their own distinct way of life based on the philosophy preached by the Tirthankara. Their social service has at no time, been sluggish nor selfishly restricted to their own community.

Thus they live a life true to their philosophy - 'Samata Saruabhuteshu' - A life of equality with all living beings, and 'live and let live'.



Author : By Dr. M. D. Vasantharaj, No. 86, 9th Cross, Naviluraste, Kuvempunagara, Mysore-570023

Article Source : Book "Rishabh Saurabh" Published on the occasion of Seminar on "Jaina Heritage of Karnataka, held at Bangalore ( Organised By Rishabh Dev Foundation, Delhi ) on 4th & 5th April 1994"


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