Jainism Panels at the Annual Conference on South Asia and the American Academy of Religion

Posted: 29.05.2018

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London


In late October 2017 at the 46th Annual Conference on South Asia, hosted by the University of Wisconsin's Center for South Asia in Madison, there were four papers presented on Jainism-related topics.

Steven M. Vose (Florida International University) presented the paper, "Forming the Traditional Modern Ascetic: Translating Textual and Visual Tropes in Representations of Rājacandra (1867-1901)." Vose analyzed two biographies of Rājacandra, focusing on their depictions of his memory performances (avadhāna), a popular practice in the 19th century, comparing them to the two most frequently used photographs of him. The comparison revealed two ways that modern empirical methods blended with traditional categories of value to demonstrate his spiritual advancement. Vose argued that the extensive discussion of avadhāna performances in his biographies, even though Rājacandra himself repudiated the practice as a hindrance to spiritual advancement, uses a traditional practice to connect him with a category usually reserved for monks (i.e., the śatāvadhāni, one who can attend to 100 different tasks at once) while satisfying the requirements of modern empirical standards to prove his uniqueness. Vose then compared the photographs of Rājacandra's emaciated body to stone images of the Jinas and of famous monks and nuns, as well as to photographs of Mahatma Gandhi. Here, he showed that the model for Rajacandra's bodily presentation is modern, as the appreciation of the depiction of his thin body comes not from traditional categories, which neither show nor describe Jinas' bodies as emaciated (tapaḥkṛśa), but from modern photographic images of ascetic bodies. Vose concluded by showing recent sculptures of Rājacandra's body and their ritual use in the Dharampur Mission.

Lynna Dhanani (ABD, Yale) explored the relationship between stotra and mantra in Hemacandra's twelfthcentury Sanskrit hymn, the Mahādeva Stotra, in which he lauds the Jina as Śiva. Focusing on the last seven verses, which contain an explication of the mantra, arhan (which in Prakrit is more commonly found as arhaṃ, for the Sanskrit arhant), she shows how Heamcandra associated each of its phonemes with a Hindu god and with the attributes linked to a Jina's omniscience. She contextualized her analysis of this Jain mantra with passages from earlier Jain texts and from the chapter on meditation and visualization in Hemacandra's Yogaśāstra to show that this unique exposition in the Jain context closely mirrored the explication of the mantra aum found in certain Vedic texts and in several Śaiva stotras. Hemacandra described a Jain mahāmantra in a manner reminiscent of a Hindu mahāmantra that would have been familiar to his intended audience, the Śaiva king Kumārapāla, Dhanani argued that Hemacandra's discussion of a mantra within stotra allowed him to demonstrate his knowledge of two ritual systems and their corresponding textual traditions while presenting a doctrinal exposition of the Jina's omniscience and highlighting its role in demonstrating the correctness of the Jain path to the Hindu king.

Hemacandrācārya, Pārśvanātha Daherāsar Pāṭaṇ (Photo: Steven Vose May 2010)

Jahnabi Barooah (University of Michigan) examined praśastis, eulogistic verses appearing at the end of many Jain manuscripts composed in western India in the period c. 1200-1600 CE. Despite largely fading from public inscriptions after Islamic polities were established across the subcontinent beginning in the thirteenth century, praśastis continued to be composed, appearing frequently in Jain manuscripts. Barooah examined several previously un-translated Jain praśastis and other scribal remarks to interrogate this period, during which manuscript culture and literary production burgeoned in the region. Through her close reading of these "genealogical microhistories," she shed new light on the emergence of new power elites, literati associations, centers of manuscript production, and the rise of professional authors and scribes. Further, by examining the broader aesthetics of patronage in the region, she was able to assess why Jain patrons sought to legitimize their family histories through the use of praśastis, despite their decreasing popularity among other communities Miki Chase (Johns Hopkins, PhD student) presented, "Producing a 'Useable Past': Jain Discursive Engagements with Atheism and Secularity." Chase argued that Hindu, Islamic, and modern secular challenges to Jain religiosity have produced strands of a dominant discourse around "Jainism," which she traces as a semantic and lexical field. Modern Jain intellectuals, monks, and scholars, as well as international scholars who study Jainism, use such English terms as "secular," "atheist," "(non-) materialist," "rational," "modern," and "scientific" to illuminate "Jainism" as such. Using critical discourse analysis to examine patterns of both Jain discourse and scholarly discourse on Jainism, this paper illustrated how Jains have fashioned new rhetorical engagements with "Jainism" as a semantic field in a way that is socially and politically meaningful to the construction of a modern Jain identity.

American Academy of Religion (AAR)

In November 2017, the Jain Studies Unit at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), hosted the panel, "Region and Identity in the Study of the Jains," organized by Gregory Clines (ABD, Harvard). The panel featured two papers on medieval western India and two on modern diaspora communities in the UK.

Clines spoke on "The Multiple Regions and Multiple Languages of Early Modern Digambara Literature." He offered a careful reconstruction of the relationship between Sanskrit and regional language literatures in the Digambara tradition centered in Idar, Gujarat in the fifteenth century, the period in which Gujarati literature burgeoned. Examining the relationship between region, language and communal identity, he argued that understanding the interrelationship among these three factors is the key to theorize "vernacularization" properly. Specifically, he focused on the "work" that Sanskrit and vernacular literatures do in specific contexts in order to help us understand why one author might compose in both linguistic registers. Focusing on the Digambara author Brahma Jinadāsa who composed works in both Sanskrit and the local vernacular, Clines argues that Jinadāsa undertook a self-conscious project of composition and dissemination of works in both languages to express an identity that was at once a "localized cosmopolitan" and a regionally specific one. Jinadāsa composed tellings of the Rāmāyaṇa in both languages, a Padmapurāṇa in Sanskrit and a Rām Rās in the vernacular. Wishing to move beyond the didactic function of the Rāma story to ask why these texts were composed in their respective languages, Clines focusesd on the social interests the author expressed in each work. The cosmopolitan reach of the Sanskrit telling, he argued, spoke to Jinadāsa's desire to connect his monastic order (gaṇa) to the broader Jain tradition; vernacular compositions served a "complementary" purpose of localizing his order's authority among the laity in the Idar region. To do this, he showed how Jinadāsa constructs himself as an author in each text. In the vernacular, Jinadāsa emphasizes his immediate guru and the local monastic order; he also emphasizes local lay religious practices. In the Sanskrit, Clines showed that Jinadāsa connects himself to the long lineage of the Digambara tradition going back to Kundakunda; the monk also evoked the translocal world of pilgrimage networks. Clines also showed that while Jinadāsa claims to be the creator of the Rām Rās, he claims merely to be the "inheritor" of the Sanskrit telling passed down through his lineage, specifically declaring that he was working from Raviṣeṇa's seventh-century Padmapurāṇa, to show that he was qualified to re-tell the Rāma story. Clines' work sought to challenge and refine current theories of vernacularization as well as Pollock's conceptualization of regional languages as "cosmopolitan vernaculars."

Aleksandra Gordeeva Restifo (ABD, Yale) analyzed medieval depictions of life in the City of Aṇahilavāḍ, the capital of the Caulukya Empire encompassing much of present-day Gujarat. The vibrant capital was central to Śvetāmbara Jain prosperity and as such was hotly contested among the various mendicant orders (gaccha) for families and clans affiliating with the tradition. Restifo compared the court poet Rāmacandra's Kumāravihāraśataka with three of the Kharatara ācārya Jinadattasūri's works: the Gaṇadharasārddhaśataka, Upadeśarasāyanarāsa, and the Carcarī. Restifo argued that "attitudes toward aesthetic pleasure and artistic expression...delineated religious affiliations and were part of personal religious identities." While Rāmacandra, a student of Hemacandra, lauds the city's potential for leading a spiritual life, tying literary and other artistic performances to the vibrant and properly spiritual daily life of the temple, Jinadatta uses doubleentendre to subtly critique the city as itself the setting of a drama, going so far as to critique Jain monks for their interest in artistic production and to make clear that the temple, as a site for attaining liberation, should not be a site for sensual pleasures. Restifo pointed out the ambiguous nature of the Kharatara monk's criticism of artistic production, noting his mastery of the poetics of each of his works. She further argued that a seventeenthcentury commentary was composed at a time when the Kharataras were losing out to the Tapā Gaccha as an effort to re-assert the importance of the Kharatara emphasis on correct ritual praxis.

Anja Pogacnik (ABD, University of Edinburgh) presented a comparative study of Jain youth under 30 in India and England to understand how Jains living in Leicester conceptualize their status as living in a diaspora, in terms of social and geographical changes from India to England as well as inter-generational changes to religious practices and ideas. Examining how locality influences religious expression and religious practices and attitudes, she foregrounds "interpretative variability" of what counts as proper to the practice and expression of Jainism. Variables such as contact with other Jains, accessibility of religious centers, and attitudes of the surrounding non-Jain society toward their faith, she shows, affect how Jain youth perceive what is important about their tradition. She notes that Leicester Jains lack the "stabilizing influences" on Jain practice, which leads to greater degrees of reinterpretation of certain practices, self-consciously modifying them from the way of older generations, rejecting temple ritual and prioritizing indepth understanding of doctrines. Pogacnik shows that the importance youths placed on the supremacy of Jainism did not diminish, but rather the contours of what counted as "essential" to being a practicing Jain tended to conform with those of a generalized Protestant Christian ethos, placing greater emphasis on reading and understanding scriptures, on philosophy and internal dispositions rather than ritual performances, and rigid adherence to dietary strictures as part of an overall strategy of self-discipline. Emma Tomalin and Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds) presented their analysis of the recent survey of Jain communities in England to show patterns of settlement and integration, focusing on the various types of religious centers established since the 1990s. The general trend shows that Jains have created spaces from home shrines to temples made from converted homes to full-scale temple complexes. They further showed that as the Jain community has grown, Jains have moved from an earlier tendency to form caste (jāti)-specific centers to form sect- or tradition-specific centers, including several Digambara centers. They argued that an analysis of the built environment can help scholars to identify ever subtler patterns of community development and change, showing how Jain communities are maturing in terms of identity formation in contemporary, "super-diverse" England.

Ellen Gough (Emory University) responded. The New Directions in the Study of South Asian Religions panel, hosted by the Religion in South Asia (RISA) Unit featured two papers on Jainism. Lynna Dhanani presented another part of her thesis on Hemacandra's hymns in Sanskrit, focusing here on the intertextual and devotional elements of his Vītarāga Stotra. Dhanani showed how Hemacandra, in his quest to convert the Caulukyan Śaiva King Kumārapāla to Jainism, placed the genres of śāstra, biography, and stotra in conversation with one another. She showed how Hemacandra uses the flexible genre of stotra to reiterate fundamental notions of Jain doctrine in ways similar to both his Yoga Śāstra and certain narrative moments in his voluminous Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra. Drawing on passages that articulate Hemacandra's polemical views on the inferiority of Hindu gods and the superiority of the Jina, Dhanani argued that Hemacandra's stotra extracts from these other textual materials a normative definition of Jain devotion in order to negotiate its value within the larger arena of Indian religiosity.

In "From Hilltop Ascetics to Courtly Advisors: The Development of Jain Monastic Communities and Literary Production in Ancient Tamil Nadu," Julie Hanlon (University of Chicago) analyzed archaeological sites and early Tamil literature to reconsider the prevailing historical narrative about the development and growth of the Jain community in South India. Using archaeological evidence to reassess the extent of the Jain presence in the region from the 3rd century BCE to the 6th century CE, she shows how Jains slowly gained political power and an ever-greater presence in royal courts of the region. While the predominant narratives speak of Jains in pejorative and negative terms as outsiders who migrated into Tamil Nadu, they fail to account for how they integrated into Tamil society and how Jainism gained popularity in the Tamil South. Rather than merely North Indian outsiders who competed with Hindu bhaktas for royal patronage, she shows that Jain authors may have been some of the earliest authors of Tamil literature, using indigenous Tamil literary genres to propagate Jainism. She supports her analysis of literature with the archaeological and epigraphic evidence of sites located in the hills surrounding Madurai. Anne Monius (Harvard) responded.

Samosaraṇa of Sīmandara, Sīmandhara Svāmī Mandira, Mahesāṇā Photo: Peter Flügel 25.12.2017

Steven M. Vose is the Bhagwan Mahavir Assistant Professor of Jain Studies and Director of the Jain Studies Program at Florida International University. Vose's PhD dissertation focused on late medieval Śvetāmbara literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Old Gujarati to understand how mendicants' intellectual practices facilitated the encounter between Jains and the Delhi Sultanate in the early fourteenth century.

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