Absent Lord ► Magical Monks A Ritual Subculture ► A Ritual Subculture ► Ascetics as Gods

Posted: 18.06.2015

If we focus solely on the worshipers, there is hardly any difference at all between the worship of the Dadagurus and the Tirthankars. Here those who worship are the same lay men and women playing the same role as admirers and supporters of ascetics. We are dealing, that is, with the same basic ritual culture. But there is nonetheless a striking contrast. The Dadagurus are in some ways very Tirthankar-like.[1] However, because of their unliberated status, their relationship with worshipers is very different, as are the meanings that are assigned to that relationship. To put it otherwise, the cults of the Dadagurus and the Tirthankars are truly quite different in content and spirit, despite their formal similarities. For this reason, the cult of the Dadagurus emerges as a subordinate and partially separate ritual subculture.

Perhaps the most striking difference is that soteriology is displaced by the miraculous fulfillment of worldly desires. As we have seen, normative interpretations of the eightfold worship stress the theme of liberation. The text of the Dadagurus' worship, however, is focused on magic. As in the case of Chagansagar, this is sanitized magic, legitimized in Jain terms. In the hagiographies the magic tends to be rationalized as a means of promulgating and protecting Jainism. In the cult of the Dadagurus this same magic is refocused as a source of aid to individuals. Long ago the Dadagurus came to the aid of Jains (or, as we shall see in the next chapter, Jains-to-be) in times of difficulty. The position of the worshiper now is analogous to that of those whom the Dadagurus aided then; they too hope for the Dadagurus' miraculous assistance. Typical phrasings from the hagiographies expressing this idea are bhay se mukt karna (to liberate from fear) and dukh se mukt karna (to liberate from sorrow). The term mukt, of course, can also mean "liberated" in the soteriological sense. It is therefore possible to say that liberation from worldly fears and problems replaces liberation from the world's bondage as a central theme in the Dadagurus' cult.

The theme of world renunciation is also given a different context in the cult of the Dadagurus. In the modern hagiographies the Dadagurus' magical abilities are directly associated with asceticism; their power, for example, is called yogbal (power of yoga) or tapobal (power of asceticism).[2] Thus we see that their asceticism has been decoupled from direct association with the path of liberation and instead has been linked with magical power. This magical power, in turn is connected directly with the worldly well-being of those whom the Dadagurus assist. This, indeed, is the whole point of their cult. While worship of the Tirthankars tends to be rationalized as an act of renunciation (tyag), worshiping the Dadagurus is based on the desire for miraculous intervention in one's worldly affairs; it is about getting things, not giving things up.

All this rests on the base of a relationship between worshiper and object of worship fundamentally different from that obtaining in the cult of the Tirthankars. The worship of the Dadagurus is not reflexive; the benefits bestowed come from the object of worship, not from the worshiper himself or herself (as in the case of the eightfold worship).[3] As we have noted, this is possible because the Dadagurus, unlike the Tirthankars, are unliberated, and are therefore present in the world and available for transactions with worshipers. Their worldly presence is signaled in several ways in the rite itself. The inclusion of sthapna stanzas in the rite's text reflects the sense that they can actually be invoked at the site of a rite of worship. Moreover, although rice is offered to the Dadagurus as it is to the Tirthankars, there is a significant difference in the way it is offered. As noted already, in the case of the Dadagurus the crescent and dot at the top of the diagram (standing for the liberated state) are omitted and replaced by a representation of a flag, an explicit acknowledgment of their unliberated state.[4]

The difference between the Dadagurus and the Tirthankars is most explicitly evident in the treatment of food offerings. As we know, when food is offered in the eightfold worship and in other rites directed at the Tirthankars, it is never recovered by worshipers and consumed; according to the ambient ideology of the rite, the food is renounced, not offered in the expectation of transformation and return. In the case of the Dadagurus, however, food offerings can be recovered and consumed. The only prohibition that seems to apply is that the retrieved offerings should not be consumed within the temple or shrine itself. Sometimes devotees simply take the offered sweets out of the temple at the end of a rite. At the end of major Dadaguru-puja's, edible offerings are often distributed at the temple gate as people leave. Experienced ritualists have told me that a more acceptable procedure is for only a small portion of the offering to be taken into the temple; some incense ash can then be taken from the Dadagurus' altar and sprinkled on the larger portion remaining outside, which can be distributed to devotees. But however it is done, the crucial point is that the Dadagurus belong to the same world of giving and taking as their worshipers. They can therefore engage in transactions and confer blessings through returned offerings.[5]

Indeed, so present are the Dadagurus in their worshipers' world that individuals sometimes encounter them in person. Certain dadabari's are reputed to be especially miraculous (camatkari), and among these is the dadabari at Malpura mentioned earlier.[6] This dadabari originated in a miraculous fashion. According to one version, fifteen days after Dadaguru Jinkusalsuri's death at Deraur (now in Pakistan), he miraculously appeared to a Brahman at Malpura and indicated where a stone with his footprints was buried. He said that this place would be his principal place of worship and the place where his miracles (camatkar s)would occur. The dadabari was then established with these footprints as the principal objects of worship, and the descendants of the Brahman became the shrine's pujari's.[7]

Jinkusalsuri still frequents the vicinity. For example, at this same dadabari a devotee told me of how he once got lost in the darkness while on a pilgrimage there from Jaipur. He was approached by a small boy, dressed in white, who pointed out the way; this was Jinkusalsuri. Reports of such sightings are common, especially of Jinkusalsuri, who seems to have a special propensity for visual manifestations.

The Dadagurus are visualized as ascetics in their posthumous state. I have no survey data on visions of the Dadagurus, but most informants seem to believe that when they appear they appear as ascetics.[8] The white dress in the above mentioned appearance suggests mendicant garb. In a frequently reproduced picture of Jinkusalsuri's famous postmortem rescue of devotees in a sinking boat (Kantisagar, n.d., illustration 22, and found in many other collections), the Dadaguru is portrayed as a mendicant, floating among the clouds in the sky with a beam of force emanating from his upraised right hand. And in one line of Rddhisar's text (dhvaj puja, verse 4), one of the Dadagurus manifests himself in white clothes with a saffron mark on his forehead and wearing a garland of flowers. When I asked a knowledgeable friend about this latter line, he pointed out that this is simply what people see when they see the Dadagurus' images - that is, images of ascetics with marks of worship - in temples.

At first glance these manifestations of the Dadagurus as ascetics are puzzling. The Dadagurus become gods after death, but gods, on first principles, cannot be ascetics. When I raised this issue with friends and acquaintances, they saw the point of my query, but they had clearly never given much thought to the matter. One friend remarked in response that the Dadagurus "appear as we remember them," by which he meant to say that they are remembered as they were in life - as ascetics. It would seem, therefore, that in the imaginations of devotees, the Dadagurus represent figures in whom the identities of ascetic and deity are somehow quite unproblematically fused. I suggest that this is an important fact.

What kind of beings are the Dadagurus We know that they are powerful ascetics to whom Jains (or Jains-to-be) can appeal for aid.[9] But in this they are not unique, for they are not the only powerful beings to whom Jains appeal directly for assistance in worldly matters. As we know, the Jain pantheon includes various deities who will also come to the aid of pious devotees. In this sense the Dadagurus are simply part of a larger pantheon of unliberated deities. In fact, they are often called Gurudev or Dadagurudev, the term dev meaning "deity." Frequently the term devatma is used to describe the Dadagurus in postmortem manifestations. Many of my informants compared the Dadagurus directly to the Tirthankars' attendant deities (adhisthayak dev s) and to the Bhairavs who guard temple precincts.

But the matter does not end here. The cult of the Dadagurus has a centrality in the religious life of Jaipur's Svetambar Jains that other unliberated deities do not, and this is something that has to be explained. I suggest that one of the reasons for this is that although they are deities they are not merely deities like any others. The crucial difference is that they are beings who behave as deities but, because they are ascetics, belong to the category of beings who are (unlike deities) truly worthy of worship.[10]

The tendency of devotees to visualize the Dadagurus, even in their present state, as ascetics is a significant datum. It indicates that, in the minds of devotees, the Dadagurus' mendicant status is crucial to who they are. They are powerful beings who aid their worshipers. This power is partly legitimized in Jain terms by the fact that the paradigm for its exercise is the promulgation and protection of Jainism. This, however, is also true of other unliberated deities. More fundamental is the fact that their power is linked to their asceticism. Their asceticism, in turn, connects them - through a disciplic lineage (as Rddhisar's text asserts) - to Lord Mahavir, the last Tirthankar of our region and era. The Tirthankars are the very model of worship-worthiness. Thus, through the links of this chain, the Dadagurus are beings in whom helpful powers and worship-worthiness are connected. This is not true of the other unliberated deities. The Dadagurus therefore offer the possibility of pursuing worldly interests through a mode of worship that, because it is focused on them - that is, on them as ascetics - is consistent with the tradition's commitment to the idea that asceticism is at the heart of worship-worthiness.

It is sometimes said, often by Jains themselves, that the cults of the other helpful deities are simply Hinduistic add-ons: sops to the ignorant, and not truly Jain. Whether this is true or not, it points to the truly essential thing about the Dadagurus' role in the tradition to which they belong. As beings in whom the attributes of ascetics and deities are fused, they provide a way of seeking worldly help from powerful beings that is fundamentally in tune with Jainism's dominant values, which are ascetic values.

Share this page on: