Absent Lord ► Valor The Transformation of Warrior-Kings ► Warrior-Kings Transformed ► Identity and the Dadagurus

Posted: 03.07.2015

These same dilemmas and ambiguities are directly reflected in ritual culture. In an earlier chapter we have seen that there is an inherent instability in the dominant ritual culture of the image-worshiping Svetambar Jains. At one level, the identity of the worshipers of the Tirthankar gravitates powerfully in the direction of kingship. Momentarily they become the kings and queens of heaven who are the models for the veneration of ascetics. Such worshipers might even hope to become "actual" gods and goddesses in a future birth. For those worshipers who see themselves as ex-Rajputs, moreover, the rite is also a movement backward in symbolic time; it recalls their own lofty origin. The gods, in this context, represent a past paradise, and a possible future one, for ex-kings who respect ascetics. But even in ritual culture, these images seem vulnerable to challenge. The fact that asceticism is the central value of the rite acts as a powerful corrosive on the royal image of the worshiper. Therefore, in a regnant interpretation of the meaning of worship, the image of kingly generosity gives way to that of the ascetic's giving up.

In the ritual subculture focused on the Dadagurus, however, the pressure of ascetic values is relaxed. Chapter Three showed that these figures are Jain ascetics who can be worshiped as gods who will aid their devotees in worldly matters. In other words, they provide a method for lay Jains to pursue worldly values through ritual, but ritual of a sort that is nonetheless indisputably Jain.

In this chapter we see how the aid rendered by the Dadagurus is rooted in a paradigm of Jain social identity. The Dadagurus, as noted before, are basically generic figures. They really stand for all the great ascetics of the socially significant past. The Dadagurus' worshipers belong to a community that sees itself as having come into existence when warrior-kings learned to respect Jain ascetics by being healed or aided in other ways by such mendicants. From that time forward, the two roles became frozen: Warrior-kings exchanged the protection of the swords they had laid aside for the protection of powerful ascetics. The Dadagurus represent that formative moment. Therefore, when devotees stand before the Dadagurus, they reclaim the magic of those far-off days. They are kings and queens in need of healing, and are invoking an old bargain. These roles are the basis of the ritual subculture associated with the Dadagurus. As we have reiterated frequently in this book, Jains worship ascetics. Unlike the cult of the Tirthankars, however, the cult of the Dadagurus does not impose ascetic values on the worshiper. The Dadagurus are genuine Jain ascetics, but the very basis of the ritual relationship between them and their devotees is very different from the relationship between Tirthankar and worshipers. The Dadagurus are helpers; the worshiper's object is not emulation but connection. When the cult is examined in relation to caste and clan origin mythology, we see that the identity it imposes on devotees coincides with their social identity as members of a Jain caste. Here the ambiguities associated with the worshiper's identity seem much less acute than in the worship of the Tirthankars.

We may now return to Rddhisar's puja - the principal rite of worship for the Dadagurus - and examine it in a more general context. When we do, we see it links the present, through history and transhistory, to eternal principles. Devcandraji's snatra puja is located in eternity; the events it enacts have existed always and will always exist through infinite time. The puja of Parsvanath's five kalyanaks connects eternity with manifested sacredness. Parsvanath's career on earth - and this is true of all the Tirthankars' earthly careers - causes eternity and "history" to touch. His was a particular career, different from that of all other Tirthankars, except with respect to the five kalyanaks. These crucial five events, though always exactly the same, bring forth beneficial power at particular times, power that lingers on in the cosmos even after its source has departed. The worship of the Dadagurus, in its turn, connects this beneficial power - manifested last in the career of Lord Mahavir - to the identity and vitality of a living Jain community.

When Jains worship the Tirthankars they are in contact with eternity. The actions performed and the roles taken have always existed, and will always exist, in the beginningless and endless repetitions of cosmic time. At this level the tradition is focused on the timeless predicament of the unliberated soul's wanderings in samsar. When Jains worship the Dadagurus these acts and roles are duplicated, but on a different plane; they are brought into connection with the world in which worshipers actually live. The Tirthankars create, and eternally recreate, the fourfold order of Jain society. By contrast, the Dadagurus were the creators of historical Jain clans.[1] Those who worship the Tirthankars are archetypal Indras and Indranis, the kings and queens of the gods. Those who worship the Dadagurus are the sons and daughters of kings who became Jains when powerful monks came to their aid. The cult of the Dadagurus is a ritual subculture that enlarges the religious tradition to which it belongs in very important ways. It utilizes standard features of Svetambar ritual culture, but reinterprets them and changes their context radically. In so doing, it bridges the gap between the tradition's highest values - ascetic values oriented toward liberation-and the material and social landscapes inhabited by men and women who remain in the world.

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Title: Absent Lord / Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture
Publisher: University of California Press
1st Edition: 08.1996

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